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Volume 702: debated on Thursday 4 November 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Great British Railways: National Headquarters

4. What steps he is taking to identify the most suitable location for the headquarters of Great British Railways. (904016)

May I start by saying that my thoughts are with those affected by the tragic incident in the river at Haverfordwest at the weekend, where three lives were lost? My thanks go to the emergency services. The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is currently investigating. Similarly, my thoughts are with everyone affected by the rail incident that took place in Salisbury this weekend. I am grateful to the train crews and drivers, and the services that looked after those who were injured. Our thoughts go to the families of all those affected.

The Great British Railways transition team is designing a selection process for the headquarters and details will be announced shortly.

Stockton-on-Tees was home to the world’s first passenger railway. The discussion about building that railway was held in Stockton town hall. The first track of that railway was laid in Stockton. The first ticket was sold in Stockton. Last week, Michael Portillo backed our bid. I understand that Thomas the Tank Engine and even the Fat Controller are on board. Can the Secretary of State think of anywhere better than Stockton to be the home of Great British Railways?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent case. I was not aware of the Fat Controller’s involvement, but that could well nail it. When the competition launches, everywhere with a strong railway connection will be able to apply, so we can find a new HQ for Great British Railways.

Putting Stockton to one side, not only does York have a unique railway heritage, but it is home to 10% of the national railway workforce. It is a beautiful and wonderful city. Does my right hon. Friend agree it would make the perfect home for the headquarters of Great British Railways?

It is also the home of many beautiful trains of the past, including the Mallard, which I went to see very recently. My hon. Friend makes a very strong case. I can see that the whole House is looking forward to entering the competition to find the new HQ for Great British Railways.

I am now tempted to call the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who will reinforce that point.

But of course, Mr Speaker. York is not just about 200 years of the history of the railways; it is home to some of the leading rail engineers of the future and digital rail, as well as leadership from our operations and rail systems. This cannot just be about hotspots where people have their favoured city; it must also be about bringing the rail community together to ensure we make the most of the future for our rail systems. Will the Secretary of State look very closely at the bid from York?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I should point out that the competition has not been launched yet, but I am very impressed by the extent to which the whole House is in favour of their areas. York, of course, will have a very good bid. There is a serious point to this, which is that it is important we have the right HQ for Great British Railways, as we bring the entire network together. I am sure that York, as well as many other towns and cities, will have an excellent case to make.

Rail Investment in the North: Levelling Up

2. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of his policies on rail investment in the north of England on the Government’s levelling up agenda. (904014)

Building Northern Powerhouse Rail in full with a stop in Bradford city centre will help to transform Bradford’s economy and draw much-needed jobs and investment into the district, yet the Government are now believed to be scrapping the plans for NPR. Will the Minister give me some certainty today and either commit to the plan, or admit that the reality is that the Government have no intention of delivering real, transformative change to the economy and lives of people in West Yorkshire?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I know Bradford well, as I represent a constituency just down the road, on the sunny side of the hills. The Government are committed to supporting the aspirations of local leaders across West Yorkshire. We recognise that Bradford is an important economic centre in the north, with a growing and young population. We continue to look at the evidence for building a new station in Bradford, and decisions, as he knows, will be outlined in the integrated rail plan in due course.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the Salisbury train collision and I wish those who have sadly been injured a speedy recovery. We must, in the near future, get to the bottom of how such an incident could ever have occurred.

After the Budget, northern leaders were left even more bemused than before about Government plans for the north. There was no mention of Northern Powerhouse Rail and nothing more on HS2’s eastern leg or the midlands rail hub. There is still no rolling programme of electrification and no sign of the mythical integrated rail plan, which Ministers have kept referring me to for over a year. What a complete lack of ambition for the north. How did this happen? Was it because the Secretary of State could not convince the Chancellor to invest in our country’s railways, or was it because the Chancellor thought that giving tax cuts to already wealthy bankers was far more important?

Let us not pretend that we are not getting on with the job of investing in the north of England. We have invested £29 billion in northern transport since 2010, and in the Budget that the hon. Gentleman referred to, we announced over £1 billion for Greater Manchester, over £830 million for West Yorkshire and £570 million for South Yorkshire. I am delighted to say that the integrated rail plan is not just coming soon—it is now coming very soon.

When it comes to investment in the north, I welcome the recent investments in the feasibility work for Ferryhill station and the Weardale line. Of course, I am disappointed with what happened regarding the knock-back for the Leamside line, but I ask the Minister to work with us and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) to look at funding streams and at potentially getting that into the integrated rail plan. Will he also assure the people of Ferryhill that knocking back the Leamside line does not in any way impact the Ferryhill project?

My hon. Friend continues to make a powerful case for his constituency and investment in local transport schemes. As he knows, I have family ties with Ferryhill—my father was born there—and I am very keen to support local people’s aspirations. I know that he has been lobbying the Secretary of State, the Rail Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—and myself on this issue. We will continue to work with him to see what we can do to support local aspirations.

International Travel: Covid-19

3. What steps his Department is taking to help make international travel (a) easier and (b) less expensive during the covid-19 pandemic. (904015)

Thanks to the successful vaccine roll-out, the Government have been able to open up international travel and help to make it cheaper to use, with 135 countries and territories now covered by our inbound vaccination policy.

The aviation and travel sectors are pivotal for my constituents in Bracknell and right across the UK, sustaining many jobs and livelihoods. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what is being done to review testing requirements for passengers and travellers and to regulate the wildly varying and often exorbitant cost of testing?

As the House will know, we have reduced the number of tests required to just one single lateral flow test on day two for everybody who is vaccinated, as well as for under-18-year-olds. My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I spoke to the Health Secretary this morning about the site that it runs to ensure that the prices shown there are accurate for the traveller, so that people can travel as normally as possible as we come to this Christmas and new-year period.


As announced in the spending review on 28 October, the Government are investing more than £5 billion over this Parliament in highways maintenance, enabling local highway authorities to fill in millions of potholes a year, repair bridges and help to resurface roads up and down the country. The spending review has also fundamentally protected the Government’s plans for RIS2, the second road investment strategy, while adjusting for schemes that are now progressing to a different timetable.

More than 300 of my constituents have already signed my petition backing plans to improve junction 28 of the M1. It has been a constant bottleneck; residents of Pinxton and South Normanton are so often stuck there for a very long time. Will the Minister commit to working with me to make sure that we can deliver plans to improve that junction?

Yes, of course. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his petition. I can reassure him that National Highways has now submitted information on the scheme to the evidence base that will help to inform the next stage of road investments. Thanks to his effective lobbying for his constituents in Bolsover, I can confirm to the House that National Highways has commenced a further study to assess the long-term future of junction 28 of the M1 to consider how planned growth may affect current and proposed schemes.

Bus Services

The Government will invest more than £3 billion in buses during this Parliament, including a new dedicated £1.2 billion fund for London-style bus transformation deals to improve infrastructure, fares and services.

Harrogate has electric buses already, and they are very popular for their ride quality and their environmental benefit. I am keen to see their benefits extended, particularly to Knaresborough, where we have two air quality management areas and the very high-volume No. 1 route. Will the Minister update the House on where we are with the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a superb champion for Harrogate and Knaresborough and has extensive experience of public transport. I am sure that he will appreciate the recent announcement of £355 million of new funding for zero-emission buses, which is in addition to the existing £120 million for the ZEBRA scheme. On ZEBRA, we also announced last week that almost £71 million of the funding has been awarded to Warrington, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Kent, Cambridge and Peterborough. We continue to work with a further 17 local transport authorities that will submit proposals. One of those areas is North Yorkshire; I understand that Harrogate and Knaresborough are part of the defined area. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on the matter.

I welcome the Minister to Transport orals for what I believe is her first set of questions.

In April, I raised the devastating impact of Government cuts on rural transport networks, which has led to what CPRE calls “transport deserts”. I asked for

“assurances…that significant investment will be offered”

to support rural bus networks and

“ensure that our rural communities are genuinely connected”.

The Minister of State told me:

“There can be no greater champion of buses than the Prime Minister”.—[Official Report, 29 April 2021; Vol. 693, c. 501.]

He then gave assurances that funding was on its way.

Six months on, rural communities are still bearing the brunt of the Government’s failure to act. Many of the funding announcements in the Budget were nothing more than rehashed and repackaged initiatives that will do nothing to tackle the transport deserts that blight the lives of ordinary people in so many rural communities, towns and villages. I ask again: will the Minister offer rural bus networks the tangible and significant investment that they so desperately need? Will she offer a firm deadline for when that will be done?

As the hon. Member will know, in last week’s spending review, we set out an unprecedented level of support for buses, including zero-emission vehicles. This Government are supporting the bus network through manufacturing and through the infrastructure required as we decarbonise, as set out in our transport decarbon- isation plan.

Back in 2017, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) was the buses Minister. As he will remember, we had many discussions about the Bus Services Act 2017 and audiovisual announcements. Incredibly, some four and a half years on, the proposals for audiovisual announcements have still not been implemented. When can I expect to see and hear them on buses in Cambridge?

We have a slight problem, in that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) is trapped outside because Insulate Britain have blocked access to the House. That is totally unacceptable: it is interfering with democracy, and it is not what should happen. It is a tragedy that his constituents will not be represented by the hon. Member for Broxtowe, but I ask the Minister to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Cycling and Walking

It is slightly ironic, is it not, that the question is about cycling and walking, and how we can decarbonise transport. While I am sure that those people outside have decent intentions, the way in which they are going about their business is completely unacceptable.

We need to continue our business here, so I can happily update the House with the information that my Department is investing an unprecedented £2 billion in active travel over the course of this Parliament, which is the biggest ever boost for walking and cycling.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) would have asked a supplementary question, and I know that he wanted to talk about areas in his constituency, because that is all he ever does. [Laughter.] He wanted to talk about Mini-Hollands and how they can change people’s behaviour when it comes to cycling, and to mention the town of Stapleford. The Department’s publication “Gear Change”, which could be described as a manifesto for cycling, refers to Mini-Hollands. Expressions of interest have been received from more than 30 local authorities wishing to build them—including Nottinghamshire County Council—so they are clearly remarkably popular. We are working on a list in order to progress to the next stage, and will receive a feasibility study in the next financial year.

Scotland’s active travel budget will soon amount to 10% of the transport budget, which means that at least £320 million a year—nearly £60 per person in Scotland—will be spent on walking and wheeling. The Department for Transport plans to spend less than £7 per head. When my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) put that to the Secretary of State, he was disbelieving. Now that he has seen the proof, why is the Department short-changing active travel in England?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very pleased about the amount of money that the Scottish Government are receiving for cycling and walking in a devolved settlement via the Barnett formula, but the figures that he has given are not correct. Spending on cycling and walking in England has doubled from a paltry £3.50 per head in 2010 to about £10 per head now, and obviously, given the massive increase in spending on cycling and walking—the largest that we have ever had in this Parliament, as a result of the Prime Minister’s “Gear Change” plans—that will continue to increase.

Does the Minister, who is also the Rail Minister, agree that a key element of any cycling and walking plan should be better parking provision for cycles at railway stations?

I thank my right hon. Friend—a former Transport Minister—for his question. That is absolutely the case. One of the best gala dinners I have ever attended was the “cycle to rail” gala dinner, where awards were given for the best schemes of that kind. We are investing a huge amount of money in new, secure cycle parking around the country, and I went to see some of it not so long ago in the great city of Hull.

Glasgow Airport: Airspace Modernisation

8. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of the airspace modernisation proposals for Glasgow airport. (904024)

Glasgow airport is engaged in the airspace modernisation programme, and is working with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Airspace Change Organising Group to develop its proposals.

With COP26 kicking off this week, the environmental impact of flying is at the forefront of many attenders’ minds. What assessment has the Minister made of the environmental benefits of potential airspace changes?

UK airspace is among the most complex in the world, but it has not been modified significantly since the 1950s. Airspace modernisation will enable us to have more direct, quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, and will harness new technologies such as performance-based navigation. As set out in the “Jet Zero Consultation”, the Department’s analysis shows that

“Moving to best-in-class aircraft, operations and airspace modernisation could deliver 25-36% of CO² savings by 2050”,

bringing benefits not only for the hon. Lady’s constituents but for the whole United Kingdom.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Rolls-Royce is now developing an aviation jet engine that will run on 100% sustainable fuel? When that happens, will it not show that flying can be not only fun but clean?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am aware of that engine that is being developed; in fact, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to see it only this week. There are a number of exciting technologies with new aerospace advancements including sustainable aviation fuel that will deliver precisely the guilt-free flying that my hon. Friend refers to.

We have an analogue airspace system in the digital age; the Minister is right in what he says. With the better ascents and descents of planes and the elimination of holding patterns, we will not only improve noise abatement but cut carbon emissions by up to 26%, as he rightly said. This is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to the climate crisis, so can the Minister tell us what he is personally doing and how he is talking to the industry to unlock the funding we need to enable this programme to continue?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. There are a number of aspects to decarbonising aviation. There are the existing efficiencies as well as sustainable aviation fuel and the £180 million that we have recently announced on that. Then there is the longer-term but still rapidly advancing technology that was referred to earlier. He is also quite right to talk about airspace modernisation, and the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021, which was put through in the last Session, was a major part of that. It gives the Government extra powers. After the pause that took place during covid, we have given £5.5 million for the future airspace strategy programme, which is taking place as we speak.

Rail Services

We are reforming rail guided by the “Great British Railways: Williams-Shapps plan for rail” White Paper. This will improve services for passengers and drive taxpayer value for money at the same time.

After many years of waiting, we have seen the electrification of the Manchester to Liverpool and Manchester to Preston railway lines. We are now looking forward to the electrification of the line between Bolton and Wigan. Can my hon. Friend confirm that this is going to go full steam ahead?

Stepping back in time at the Dispatch Box, Mr Speaker. Steam is not necessarily an option for that particular line, but I am pleased to confirm that on 1 September this year, £78 million to electrify the route between Wigan North Western and Bolton was announced. It will enable greener electric trains—rather than Thomas the Tank Engine—to run along that route, with more seats to serve passengers across Greater Manchester. The scheme is on track and targeted for completion by 2024.

In Bath, we are still waiting for the full electrification of our lines, so perhaps the Minister will take that on board too. The direct line from Oldfield Park station in Bath to London Waterloo will be cancelled in December. Will the Minister reconsider these service cuts, which will make travel into south London nearly three times more expensive for my constituents and force them to use the underground while covid cases are rising?

On the hon. Lady’s last point, using the underground—and other trains—is one of the safest methods of transport in the covid pandemic. I believe that the air on the underground is exchanged every three minutes, and on trains every six minutes. They are perfectly safe. She referred to the consultation that has just finished on South Western Railway services, and she is quite correct: passenger numbers on that service are remarkably low. I will happily meet her to go through that, and we can talk about how we can improve those services.

Roadside Rescue and Recovery: Statutory Fees

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on ensuring that the statutory fees for roadside rescue and recovery are set and distributed in an equitable manner to ensure the long-term viability of that sector. (904029)

The Home Office is currently considering responses to a targeted stakeholder consultation on the level of statutory fees for vehicle recovery.

I thank the Minister for that response. The fees paid to the often family-run businesses that provide this service have not risen since 2008, and there are cases of operators receiving less than 50% of the statutory fee. This is both unsustainable and unethical. Will my hon. Friend work with her counterparts in the Home Office to put in place arrangements that properly ensure the long-term viability of this industry, thereby keeping our roads safe?

Absolutely. The Home Office is reviewing the responses to the consultation on the level of statutory fees for vehicle recovery. The purpose of the consultation is to gather evidence to ensure that fees are adequate to meet the current costs and operational needs of a sustainable vehicle recovery service. I welcome my hon. Friend’s keen interest in this area, and I will work alongside our colleagues in the Home Office as we progress this necessary update.

Rhondda Tunnel

I hope it will be very soon because, frankly, the harness is ready. The mines rescue service is ready to dangle the Secretary of State down a hole, and I will be right behind him.

On a serious point, the Rhondda railway tunnel is a disused tunnel that is 3,443 yards long. It belongs, oddly, to Highways England, so it is the Secretary of State’s responsibility. If we are able to reopen it as a cycle path, as many people hope, it would be the longest cycle path in Europe. It would be a major local attraction, which would be good for tourism and jobs in an area of outstanding beauty that unfortunately has terrible financial deprivation. The Secretary of State is welcome.

I did a bit of research following our last exchange at the Dispatch Box, and it transpires that National Highways owns the tunnel at the moment. I would be happy to transfer it to a local group, the Welsh Government or the local council, with money for the purpose. The hon. Gentleman is welcome to take that up, and I look forward to taking up his offer of a harness at some time in the future when I can see it fully open.

UK Transport Network: Decarbonisation

Our world-leading transport decarbonisation plan sets out how transport will be cleaner and greener, leading to healthier communities and supporting tens of thousands of jobs.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is a world-leading plan, and there is so much going on in the rail industry. As the Secretary of State well knows, cars are still the biggest emitter and the biggest contributor to air pollution. The key is switching to electric vehicles and hybrids. What is his Department doing to encourage local authorities to put up more charging points so the inflection point can happen sooner?

My hon. Friend is right. As the House is bored of hearing, I have been driving an electric car for the past two and a half years, and they are fantastic. People need to be convinced that they will be able to fill up and add energy when required, which is why we have put £2.5 billion into the process not just for grants for those cars but for the infrastructure itself.

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that yesterday I was looking at a new design that will be unveiled at COP26 next week for an iconic electric charger that I hope will one day be as familiar as the black taxi, the red phone box and many other iconic street items in order to encourage that move.

With COP under way, the Government should be sending the strongest signals on transport decarbonisation. On the one hand we have the chief scientific adviser telling people to fly less, as did a report from the nudge unit that the Government quickly deleted and suppressed, but on the other hand the Chancellor is cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights and the Prime Minister flew back from COP on a private jet for a supposedly urgent appointment that turned out to be a dinner for Telegraph journalists. Does the Secretary of State agree with the chief scientific adviser, or does he agree with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister? He cannot do both.

I will tell the hon. Lady who I do agree with: the Climate Change Committee. She may not be familiar with this, but it has said that its “overall assessment” is that our net zero strategy, launched this week at COP26, is “ambitious and comprehensive”. On the transport element specifically, the CCC says that it is very positive, rating our plans for transport decarbonisation as the highest in terms of planning; ours is the only sector with good plans and the funding, with incentives. So I hope she will accept that when it comes to transport we are doing everything we can.

The net zero strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan are full of climate buzzwords but are not backed up by the required investment. We have already heard about the paucity of active travel funding in England, but let us look at another area—buses. The Prime Minister boasted about his 4,000 green bus pledge, but that represents just 10% of the English bus fleet, whereas the Scottish Government have committed to helping fund 50% of our fleet—the equivalent of 20,000 buses. When will this Government’s ambition and investment match their rhetoric?

The hon. Gentleman points out the wonders of the Barnett formula, which allows our record-breaking funding of electric buses, which the Prime Minister has led, to be carried over into Scotland, where that money is able to be used in a way that is helpful. This does not get around the fact that, as we all remember, the Scottish Government have failed to meet their own carbon reduction targets. So I suggest he looks closer to home before criticising the enormous amounts of money coming through the Barnett formula.

We now come to Question 13, and, once again, the Member of Parliament cannot access the House to represent democracy and his constituents. Once again, these people are blocking democracy, and the fact that Members who are actually trying to talk about these issues are being blocked from doing so is totally counterproductive. So what I would expect is for the Minister to answer Question 13, please.

Heathrow Airport Third Runway: Carbon Cost

I agree entirely with you, Mr Speaker, and observe that it is not only ironic, but totally counterproductive that a Member of Parliament who wished to ask Ministers about carbon is prevented from doing so by protesters purporting to care about carbon. I will do my best to answer my hon. Friend’s question, anticipating what he might have asked. I anticipate that he would have asked me, on behalf of his constituents in Windsor, about Heathrow expansion. He would have expanded on the carbon cost of a third runway, which is what is set out on the Order Paper. Of course, Heathrow expansion is a private sector project, which will need to meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change. He is right to raise those questions. Clearly, the aviation sector has a big part to play in delivering the UK’s net zero commitment. Were he here, I would hope to be able to reassure him that we are continuing, through technology and aviation, to look for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation, to ensure that we can transition to guilt-free flying. We will be setting out the final jet zero strategy early next year, which will show how we can support the benefits of air travel and the opportunities that aviation decarbonisation can bring to the UK. I say to the whole House and to everyone who is concerned about this issue that it is emissions, not flying, that is the problem.

Heavy Goods Vehicle Driver Shortages

14. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the ongoing shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. (904035)

I regularly meet my ministerial colleagues, and together we have implemented 28 measures to alleviate the HGV driver shortage. So far, these measures are resulting in an extra 1,000 applications every week.

The Prime Minister was warned of this crisis way back in June, but it took until last month for there to be a paltry offer of 5,000 temporary visas, to fill 100,000 vacancies. The Government recently told the Select Committee on Transport that this crisis was going to last until the end of 2022—that is more than one whole year of empty shelves, port backlogs and rising prices. This is unacceptable incompetence. What is the Government’s plan to end this now?

First, it is important to set this in context. This is a global issue. I met my German counterpart here in Parliament just yesterday and it is estimated that by 2027 Germany will have a shortage of 185,000 HGV drivers. We have been taking action, and not just in the past few weeks, as the hon. Lady suggests; since I became Secretary of State, I have launched 28 measures, which are having a real impact. I mentioned that 1,000 more people are becoming lorry drivers each week—or, rather, are having their applications for a provisional signed through. We have actually got 1,000 a day applying for those forms, so we are starting to see those numbers come through. The Opposition leader tells us what his solution is, which is to issue 100,000 visas, which would completely undercut our own lorry drivers and take us back to square one.

East Birmingham Tram Line

Thanks to our hard-working Mayor, Andy Street, diggers are in the ground for the very first part of the East Birmingham tram line, to Digbeth from the city centre. We just awarded, in the spending review, over £1 billion to the West Midlands for transformative projects such as this, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give all his support to our Mayor in the delivery of this important levelling-up priority.

Last week’s Budget was a step forward, but if we strip out the re-announced money, we see that it was actually £1 billion less than the Mayor asked for. That shortfall jeopardises our potential to build the 8-mile tram line through east Birmingham, so will the Minister meet me and other Members from east Birmingham so that we can explain to him the cross-party ambition to build the line? We cannot connect what are the poorest communities in the country with the wealth created by High Speed 2 without the tram line, and we cannot level up what is, in effect, the fifth-biggest city in Britain without it.

The Minister responsible for trams, my hon. Friend Baroness Vere, would be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss that and other local priorities. He will be aware that the £1 billion announced in the spending review is only one part of the transport investment that is going into the region. I hope that more good news will be announced for the West Midlands as part of the upcoming integrated rail plan.

Topical Questions

Mr Speaker, you have rightly highlighted the Insulate Britain protests outside the House that are preventing Members from getting into the Chamber, which is completely unacceptable. I therefore thought it would be helpful to update the House: following my requirement that National Highways seek injunctions against the protesters, 475 injunctions have been served to protesters at their homes for contempt of court, of which 32 are due to come to court, nine of them later this month.

When it gets to the point that protests against climate change prevent Members of this House from getting here to hold Ministers to account and be heard, it is clearly counterproductive. Contempt of court can lead to unlimited fines and prison sentences. We will act through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to resolve the gap in the law that has led to this situation.

Five years ago, Sheffield looked as though it was going to benefit from a whole range of levelling-up measures for rail infrastructure, but then the electrification of the midland main line was abandoned in 2017; a positive 2016 report on a new road tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester seems to have lain in the bottom of some ministerial drawer since; and the high-speed rail line between Sheffield and Manchester seems to have become an upgrade to the Hope Valley line which, however welcome, means that trains will get to the very high speed of under 60 mph. The one thing we have left is the eastern leg of High Speed 2. Will the Secretary of State now commit to that eastern leg going ahead? Or is this simply another example of Sheffield being not levelled up but, together with whole parts of the east midlands, being forgotten about and left behind?

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s lack of ambition. He says that only the east midlands line is left; he is wrong: there are still other upgrades to be considered, such as the midland main line and many others. I am afraid he will have to wait for the integrated rail plan, but I think he will be excited when it is delivered.

T3. The Mayor of London is making cuts to seven bus routes in my constituency and has halted the upgrade to South Kensington tube station, at the same time as he has increased the congestion charge to £15 a day for my constituents. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this reeks of financial incompetence on the part of the Mayor and Transport for London? (904004)

You will not be surprised, Mr Speaker, to hear me say that my hon. Friend is absolutely on the nail. She has listed a litany of problems that the Mayor has created; I shall add to it. She did not mention the 31% increase in council tax for her constituents through the mayoral precept. Also, the Mayor is now considering bringing in checkpoints for anybody driving into London: it would cost £1,000 a year for non-Londoners at checkpoint Chigwell and elsewhere around the capital. It is completely unacceptable and we will fight it all the way.

May I begin by sending my thoughts and prayers to those injured in Sunday’s train crash, particularly the badly injured train driver, and, of course, I pay tribute to the emergency responders.

The British people are looking for leadership on climate change. The Budget was the clearest indication yet that the Government lack ambition, urgency and commitment after a wearying 11 years in power. The Government saw cuts to domestic aviation taxes, yet baked in inflation-busting rail fare increases and did nothing to reverse the rapid decline in bus use. Of the 4,000 new zero-carbon buses promised by the Prime Minister two years ago, not a single one is yet on the road. The roll-out of electric charging points is sluggish, and, today, there are 1 million more diesel vans on the road than when the Government came to power. So, next week, when Transport Day meets at COP26, what will change?

I note that the hon. Gentleman is not listening to the Committee on Climate Change. I will not repeat its quote, but it did say that the transport sector and our plans are particularly world leading. We have actually reduced greenhouse gas by a quarter since we came to power. We are the first country in the world, as he well knows, to legislate for net zero by 2050. In the Budget, we announced another £620 million for that transition to zero-emission vehicles and £180 million for sustainable aviation fuel. The plan that Labour is proposing—and I notice that the GMB union that supports it is proposing—is to stop people from flying, or to allow them to go on holiday only once every five years, and to prevent them from using their cars.[Official Report, 16 November 2021, Vol. 703, c. 4MC.]

With respect, our position on aviation and decarbonisation is absolutely clear. I want to stop the Transport Secretary not from flying, but perhaps from flying his own private plane.

Turning to smart motorways, it has been 10 months since I asked the Secretary of State to reinstate the hard shoulder immediately. No action followed. Instead, he ploughed ahead on smart motorway roll-out. Since then, whistleblowers have come forward confirming our worst fears: broken equipment; a lack of monitoring; and, ultimately, lives being placed at risk. This failure has had a devastating impact on people’s lives. Now that the Transport Committee has published its damning report and the families of those who lost loved ones on smart motorways were forced into Parliament Square this week to protest, will he do the right thing and immediately insist that the hard shoulder is reinstated today?

We all share the passion and desire to make sure that our roads are as safe as they can possibly be. Sadly, 1,700 people die a year on our roads. It is important that we do everything possible. The Transport Committee that the hon. Gentleman quotes did not say quite what he said. It actually said:

“The evidence suggests that doing so”—

in other words simply putting the hard shoulder back in—

“could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury.”

It was the noble Lord Prescott who started to introduce smart motorways. As far as I am aware, I am the first Secretary of State—there have been 12 since—who has been working consistently with an 18-point plan and £500 million to get them sorted out.

T5. I am aware that the Government are about to legislate on vehicle modifications for reasons of road safety. Can the Minister please reassure me that this will not unduly affect our legitimate engine tuning activities, our buoyant classic and prestige car markets and also our world-leading motor sports industries, all of which are pivotal for sustaining many thousands of jobs. (904006)

I can assure my hon. Friend that our intention for this consultation is to prevent modifications that negatively impact on road safety, vehicle security and the environment. Department for Transport officials have been instructed to ensure that proposals do not prevent activities such as restoration, repairs or legitimate improvements to classic cars, or do any damage to the motor sports businesses involved in these activities. Motor sport is an important sector for society, our economy and our heritage and I thank my hon. Friend for all that he does in championing this important area, as he is a fantastic advocate.

T2. Rail services on, to, and from Teesside are probably some of the worst in the country, with hand-me-down diesel trains and intermittent services. Soon we will have the 200th anniversary of the start of the railways, which was the Stockton and Darlington railway. Any chance of improvements before then? (904003)

There are a whole host of massive improvements going on across our railways. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about individual diesel multiple units around the Stockton area and how they can be improved. The massive increase in new rolling stock on our railways is extraordinarily good for all passengers up and down the country, and helps with our decarbonisation targets.

T7. I very much welcome the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), outlining the good news in the Budget on the delivery of more buses towards our target of 4,000 zero-emission buses. There are three manufacturers here in the UK that can deliver these buses, including one with a production line in Scarborough. Will the Minister give me a guarantee that these orders will be placed with UK manufacturers? (904009)

As Scarborough and Whitby is the proud home of Alexander Dennis coaches, I know that my right hon. Friend will welcome the firm acceleration that is supporting thousands of zero-emission buses, thanks to a further £355 million of funding announced in the spending review last week. With £71 million extra for our zero-emission bus regional areas scheme, we are bussing back better with a cleaner, greener kind of horsepower.

T4. One of the largest city-to-city journeys to work in the country is between Bradford and Leeds, and those journeys are mostly by car. At scale, Northern Powerhouse Rail would support a 400% increase in rail travel and take 64,000 car trips a day off the roads. With COP under way, do this Government have a strategy to ensure that our covid recovery is by rail, rather than by road, and will that include—because it should—Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, with a city centre stop in Bradford? (904005)

The hon. Lady tempts me to speculate on the contents of the integrated rail plan. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), she will have to wait and see. However, the Government recognise the importance of Bradford, and particularly the connectivity of Bradford to Leeds—two incredibly important northern cities. I hope that we will publish the integrated rail plan very soon.

T9. The Birmingham cross-city line is, I am told, the second busiest rail line in the whole United Kingdom. A continuation of it is the route from Lichfield to Burton via the National Memorial Arboretum. At present, that line is only used for freight traffic. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visit—without a harness—so that he can have a look at the rail line for himself and see what a valuable addition it would be to the rail network? (904011)

I would be delighted to visit. I am sure that the Secretary of State would as well; he definitely does not need a harness to visit places. We are well aware of the opportunities that exist in this area and the importance of the National Memorial Arboretum to so many people. I look forward to continuing conversations with my hon. Friend in due course.

My inbox—and, I am sure, those of many other Members—is mounting up with complaints from constituents who have been waiting months for responses from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about drivers’ applications. Many of them are professional drivers, of whom there is a shortage at the moment. One of my constituents who was renewing his licence has not had a reply in time and now cannot work. Will the Secretary of State assure us that something is being done to catch up with the backlog?

I bring the hon. Lady and the House good news. It was reported a few weeks ago that there were 56,000 outstanding licence applications at the DVLA, where there had been a long-running strike during covid. The good news is that that 56,000 is now down to just 16,000, of which 4,000 are returned within five days. Those are the new applications. The remainder are being worked on quickly and do not, in fact, stop anybody from driving. They are largely renewals, changes of address and so on. Drivers are allowed to continue driving while waiting for those to be returned, but we will have even that list down within the next week or two.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do appreciate your understanding when I was blocked getting into the House earlier today by the protesters.

Last year, thankfully, the Prime Minister came to Broxtowe to announce “Gear Change”, which provides £2 billion-worth of cycling and walking funding. That indicates that active travel is really at the heart of the Government’s agenda. I have in Broxtowe a town called Stapleford where people have put in an expression of interest for something called Mini Holland, which sounds fantastic. Will the Minister explain what that scheme is all about and how the process will work?

I will try to amend my answer from earlier. I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend in his place, as he should be, representing his constituents despite the Tarquins in the world outside. I can honestly say to him that “Gear Change” is an extremely important document that has a whole host of pledges that we would like to happen, Mini Hollands being one of them. Where they have been introduced before—Waltham Forest in London is a good example—we are getting towards nearly 50% of all journeys taken within the area being by active travel. That is a massive change in how people go about their business, and indeed massive acceptance by communities that might have been sceptical about them beforehand. They are really valuable schemes.

The Secretary of State and the Chancellor press-released that the Budget would invest in northern transport, but once again the north-east was entirely overlooked. It costs more for a Geordie to go four stops up the West Road on a bus than it does for a Londoner to traverse the whole of London city, so when will the Secretary of State level down bus prices?

The hon. Lady will be familiar with our enthusiasm for buses and the “Bus Back Better” strategy. I have personally been involved with putting tens of millions of pounds into the excellent Nexus system, which helps to connect communities as well. She will simply not find a Government more keen and excited about levelling up transport and bringing it all the way up the country no matter where hon. Members are from.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is very seldom that I become furious, but I am absolutely apoplectic about missing my question this morning due to those reprobates outside who are doing their cause no good whatsoever. I was sitting in my electric vehicle—I know the Secretary of State has one as well—coming here with the sole purpose of putting pressure on the Government to reduce carbon emissions from aviation from Heathrow airport, so it is absolutely bizarre that they should have blocked that question. My question now, which I will slightly rephrase, is: given that aviation is one of the greatest contributors to CO2 emissions, do the Government have any plans to continue to put downward pressure on CO2 from aviation?

I am very glad to see my hon. Friend here fighting for his constituents, as ever. I am glad that he made it in past the protestors to make that entirely forceful and appropriate point on their behalf. He is right to acknowledge that aviation is one of the harder to decarbonise sectors, and clearly it has to make a big contribution. The Government are working very hard to make sure that the carbon emissions in aviation are reduced, through technology and innovation, because we wish to see guilt-free flying. We have consulted on the “Jet Zero” strategy. Next year we will publish the final “Jet Zero” strategy, which will explain how we can keep the benefits of air travel and the opportunities that it has for the UK while ensuring that it is done on a vastly reduced carbon emission basis.

Since City of York Council barred blue badge holders from accessing our city centre, it seems also that the Government are delaying implementing fully accessible transport. We heard earlier about the five-year delay on audio-visual for buses, but also, in commissioning active travel schemes, the Government are not making them accessible either. Will the Minister talk to the companies that are putting in place e-travel active travel schemes to ensure that they have an accessible form of vehicles as well so that we can increase motability for disabled people?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I think I completely understood it, but in case I have not, perhaps it is worth us meeting to clarify this. Yes, we are spending a huge amount on active travel. Another pledge in “Gear Change” is to have e-bikes going out across local communities, and they are being rolled out now, as they should be. This is determined by local authorities, and perhaps it is a question of localism, but let me meet her to work out what the problem is and rectify it, because we should be able to give it a good nudge from the centre.

There can be no better place to Bus Back Better than the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, because, sadly, in a survey of 230 residents from across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, people said to me that fares are not fair, reliability is non-existent and there is not good connectivity for places such as Brindley Ford and the great village of Milton. The Secretary of State joked with me recently that I must have broken WhatsApp, because I kept bombarding him with demands and messages. He should save himself a load of hassle, give Stoke-on-Trent the £90 million it wants for the Bus Back Better strategy, and ensure that we level up in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent.

Absolutely yes, Mr Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend for his championing of Bus Back Better. The Government are absolutely determined that great bus services be available to everyone, especially those in Stoke-on-Trent. Our national bus strategy explains how we will make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co-ordinated and cheaper. We are more than doubling dedicated bus funding compared with the previous Parliament.

Making aviation net zero is clearly a big challenge. Earlier, the Secretary of State said that it is not flying that is the problem, but emissions from aircraft that use fossil fuels. Will he meet me to discuss ideas around synthetic fuels that scientists from the University of Leeds have brought to my attention?

The new agreement between the Department for Transport and Greater Anglia on running the railways in East Anglia has omitted the previous commitment in the franchise to reinstate through-services from Lowestoft to Liverpool Street. Greater Anglia has agreed that it will look at that over the next six months. Will my hon. Friend work with it and me to see whether it is possible to do that?