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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Electric Vehicles

11. What steps he is taking to improve the (a) quantity and (b) reliability of public electric vehicle charging stations. (906119)

The Government have committed £2.5 billion to vehicle grants and infrastructure to support the transition to electric vehicles.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, based in Amersham in my constituency, has pointed out that the cost of charging is still prohibitive for many companies. If a company with a fleet of vehicles wants to install charging points onsite, it probably also needs to install a substation, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is prohibitive. The BVRLA is therefore calling for a depot grant to help with those set-up costs. Will the Secretary of State consider introducing a depot grant to help companies with fleets to convert them to electric vehicles?

We are always looking at what more we can do. We put in £1.9 billion in the 2020 spending review, and we have enhanced that with an extra £620 million for the transition. I will always look at what else can be done. Electric vehicles—I can attest to this because I have driven one for several years—are dramatically cheaper than equivalent fuel vehicles, albeit that the infrastructure needs to be got right to make sure that they are chargeable.

The UK needs 480,000 EV charging points if we are to transition to electric vehicles. So far there are 28,000 publicly available charging points, and only 1,000 on-street charging points outside London. Last year, just 7,600 new charging points were installed. At this rate, we will have to wait until 2080 for everyone to be able to use an electric car. These figures are from the National Infrastructure Commission. How does the Secretary of State expect motorists to be able to play their part in the move to net zero if the Government are not delivering the charging infrastructure?

The hon. Gentleman presents a partial picture because he forgets that there are 300,000 chargers installed at people’s homes, with Government support. In addition, the figures that he quoted are now out of date. There are 29,500 public installations, 4,500 of which are rapid chargers—a 37% increase in 2021 alone. We will be ready for everybody to go electric.

It has been more than two years since the Prime Minister promised 4,000 new zero-emission buses—representing only about a tenth of the English bus fleet—by the start of 2025. It took them a while, and it has been a year since the launch of the zero-emission bus regional areas scheme designed to deliver on that promise, but the Government said it would only deliver funding for up to 500 zero-emission buses in England. One year on, how many buses have been ordered through the standard ZEBRA process?

I very much appreciate that answer, but it is completely different to the one I received to a parliamentary question on Monday, which was that the Government have ordered zero buses through the standard ZEBRA process since it launched but that they expect to do so later this year. I hope the Secretary of State might correct the record. The truth is that six months after the Prime Minister made his 4,000 bus pledge, the Scottish Government got on with delivering, with their SULEB—Scottish ultra-low emission bus—schemes delivering 272 buses, while just a fortnight ago Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth announced the first phase of the zero-emission bus challenge fund of £62 million for a further 276 buses. The nearly 550 buses delivered or ordered in Scotland are the equivalent of 5,500 in England. The UK Government are fiddling while the planet burns. When will the 4,000 buses be delivered?

As we said in our manifesto, we will deliver the 4,000 buses during this Parliament, and we are on track to do so. I have just given the hon. Gentleman the up-to-date information on the number already funded. The SNP spokesman makes a big fuss of this, but—I do not think he mentioned this—the Scottish Government missed their own legal emission targets under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. They were supposed to reduce the emissions but they missed the targets.

Transport Connectivity

We are carefully considering the recommendations from Sir Peter Hendy’s “Union Connectivity Review” and we will respond in due course.

I welcome Avanti West Coast’s £170,000 investment and the creation of a dedicated driver depot in Holyhead, but direct rail services between London and Holyhead, the UK’s second busiest ro-ro port and the main route connecting the UK and the EU, will reduce from nine per day prior to the pandemic to just two. What steps is the Minister taking to help providers return rail services across the UK to their pre-pandemic levels to support connectivity across the UK?

I commend my hon. Friend on being a true champion for Ynys Môn. We continue to work closely with her and operators on the development of attractive timetables that are reliable, deliver excellent performance and are good value for money. Thanks to her campaign and that work, the two trains per day from London to Holyhead will increase to four in May, and we are looking to bring back more.

There are conflicting views on East West Rail as a project to improve connectivity, but the one thing we all agree on in Bedford is that the delayed consultation response, the potential demolition of homes and concerns about the environment are taking a toll on residents. We need clarity, so will the Minister tell us whether the DFT is backtracking on the project? Will he instruct East West Rail to urgently publish its proposals?

I will ask the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) to respond in detail to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised as soon as possible.

Will the Minister update the House on where we are with improving connectivity between the south coast and the M4? Is the study in his Department on track to report in September? Will it include an upgrade to the A350 as it rumbles through Westbury and Yarnbrook in my constituency? Can he give any commitment at all to a relief road that will, after so many years, bring some relief to my constituents in the town of Westbury?

My right hon. Friend has raised the question of Westbury and the difficulties his constituents are facing. I have heard that very clearly, and I will ensure that he gets a detailed response from the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, on the progress.

Ministers will be aware that the Select Committee on Transport recently visited Leeds and Bradford as part of our inquiry into the integrated rail plan. Has the current Transport Secretary seen the former Transport Secretary Lord McLaughlin’s comments that the Government’s revised integrated rail plan goes against the best interests of people in the north of England? Is that why he has reduced Transport for the North’s budget by 37%?

The Secretary of State has met Lord McLaughlin recently, and he will no doubt have reiterated the point that I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman and everyone who asks about the integrated rail plan, which is that this is £96 billion of investment—the greatest from any Government in recent history.

The Hendy review recommended the creation of a UK-wide strategic transport network. It also identified a gap in north Wales. However, when Transport for Wales bid for funds to develop the business case for investment to fill that gap, it was declined. Will the Minister meet me to discuss and perhaps reconsider that?

We are committed to strengthening transport bonds throughout our Union. I note that the Welsh Government published a report recently saying that they did not support key improvements to the A55 in north Wales, nor the building of new roads, but I know that the roads Minister will be keen to meet my hon. Friend as soon as possible to discuss his individual concerns.

Connecting communities to the rest of the UK is crucial, but not at the expense of cutting off communities from their own locality. I urge the Minister to look again at plans in the High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill that will see the Metrolink from Piccadilly to Ashton-under-Lyne, which runs through my constituency, severed and mothballed during the construction phase, to be replaced by buses. It is unacceptable; can we look at that again?

The Department is very keen to work with local communities to ensure that the plan works. I know that the HS2 Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) will be keen to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss precisely that issue.

Sometimes the Government get criticised over rail, but in my constituency, we have had electrification, more trains and more capacity going to Wellingborough, and we are now getting it going north to the great cities, and we have our station being redeveloped. It is in the middle of the country, and we have Station Island there. Is this an example of what the Government are going to do elsewhere?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. Under the previous Labour Government, 63 miles were electrified, whereas we, up to the end of the relative period, have electrified 1,221 miles.

Happy St Patrick’s day to everyone, but especially the thriving Irish community in my Slough constituency. Industry data that I have seen shows that while passengers are battling to get on overcrowded trains, 21,000 fewer services are running today than there were pre-pandemic. With more people returning to rail, and to ensure that we do not have a car-led recovery, will the Minister now commit to restoring the services that have been cut? If not, why not?

Following the Williams-Shapps review, we have announced the creation of Great British Railways, which will create a truly passenger-focused service for the UK. I have already mentioned the £96 billion that has gone into the integrated rail plan, as well as the restoring your railway programme. The Government are focusing on getting passengers on to rail wherever possible.

Bus Driver Shortages

3. What discussions he has had with (a) operator and (b) trade union representatives on bus driver shortages. (906110)

My Department continues to work with trade representatives and operators to understand and mitigate the extent, impacts and reasons behind driver shortages.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, Mr Speaker. During the pandemic, bus drivers kept vital lifeline services going at huge risk to their health. Many now face reduced pay and conditions and disgraceful fire and rehire tactics employed by disreputable bosses, so they are understandably leaving the industry in droves. What steps are the Government taking to improve the pay and conditions of bus drivers, to encourage people to take up jobs in the sector, and to solve the current shortage?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to bus drivers, who worked throughout the pandemic. The Government supported the work of local bus services with £1.7 billion of funding throughout the period. We do not intervene, however, on the levels of remuneration in private businesses, with the exception of setting rates for the national minimum wage and the national living wage.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, Mr Speaker. During the height of the covid pandemic, bus drivers worked tirelessly, often at considerable risk to their health, to keep our vital services functioning by helping NHS staff and other essential workers reach their destination. This week, a Unite the union survey said that we now face bus driver shortages in 99% of garages, which clearly severely hampers services across the country. The same survey said that an average of 90% of respondents believe that the mass exodus is a direct result of low pay and poor working conditions. Those heroes of the transport industry clearly deserve something better, so is it not high time for operators to reward the efforts of our vital transport networks and the people who work on them, and give those bus drivers the pay rise and improvements in working conditions that they thoroughly deserve?

Similarly to several hon. Members, my grandfather was a bus driver so I always stand in solidarity with bus drivers across the country. The Government have supported buses with record amounts, not just with the money that we are putting in during the pandemic but with a doubling of bus funding compared with the previous spending review. We recently announced a further six months of the covid-19 support package for the buses and light rail sectors, worth a minimum of £150 million.

Rail Network: Accessibility

We have extended the access for all programme until 2024 with almost £400 million to improve accessibility. The programme has already delivered lifts and other access improvements at more than 1,500 stations, with more to come in the next few years.

Disability access on the rail network is a major issue across the country. In my constituency, campaigners in Levenshulme have been calling for step-free access for years. We are making good progress, largely down to the determination of the community groups and local representatives who have brought the issue to the fore. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that all stations have step-free access as standard, particularly Levenshulme, which is the busiest station with step-only access in Manchester outside the city centre?

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for raising your own station too. Levenshulme was nominated in the access for all main programme, but it was unsuccessful. The hon. Gentleman had a conversation with me about that. Let us be absolutely clear, however, that more than 75% of journeys are through step-free stations, compared with fewer than 50% in 2005. We are in the process of setting the funding envelopes for the next rail control period, which is 2024 to 2029. When further funding is available, any station without an accessible route into the station and to all platforms will be a potential candidate. It is an important topic. I recently visited Eridge station to see a project that had been completed there and as we know, it really makes a difference.

Transport for the North and Levelling Up

5. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of reductions in Transport for the North’s budget on levelling up in the north of England. (906112)

Transport for the North’s core funding for financial year 2022-23 totals £6.5 million, a rise of £500,000 on the previous year. This funding is in addition to the Government’s historic £96 billion integrated rail plan.

Shall we try again on this? On 18 November, the same day that Ministers ignored TfN’s recommendations in the disappointing integrated rail plan, Whitehall also removed powers from TfN and levelled down its funding by 37%; the main devolved power Ministers have left with TfN is over making staff redundant. Does the Minister agree with the TfN chair, Lord Patrick McLoughlin, a former Secretary of State for Transport, in his letter of 3 March, in which he warned that funding cuts to TfN will mean

“down-sizing of the organisation which in turn will result in redundancies”?

The right hon. Lady continues to focus on process while we continue to focus on delivery. It is not for the Government to comment on the business planning of a devolved transport body. TfN definitely has enough money to complete its statutory funding commitments, and it has far more money than any other sub-national transport body. On the staff affected by TfN’s move to become the Northern Powerhouse Rail co-sponsor, the Department has commenced discussions on the TUPE process and as such I am unable to comment further at this time.

Bus Stop Safety

Our national bus strategy has asked local transport authorities to consider the impact of roadside infrastructure on passenger safety and security.

After the tragedies in Plymouth, people, especially women and girls, must feel safe while waiting for a bus, so does the Minister agree that before Conservative-run Plymouth City Council cuts 211 bus shelters—a third of all Plymouth’s bus shelters—it must stop and seriously consider the impact that will have on the safety of people waiting for a bus?

We take safety, particularly of women and girls, very seriously and I realise the difficulties that have been faced in Plymouth. The hon. Gentleman will know that we recently commissioned our safety champions to work with stakeholders and they have now provided 13 recommendations which will specifically look at how we can protect women and girls on the transport network. I would welcome further consideration on the importance of bus shelters in use and also the illumination of those shelters as an important factor in protecting women and girls.

Bus safety is important, but so is train safety. Has the Department had any more thoughts about placing a simple sticker on the back of each train seat advertising the British Transport police text number so that passengers can summon help if required and also asking people to refrain from using bad language? I think the Minister will agree that this also fits nicely with the criteria for the Great British Railways headquarters competition in that Doncaster’s champion MP not only did his apprenticeship on the railway but also helped to secure a more pleasant trip for all future rail passengers.

I am most impressed by my hon. Friend’s doughty campaigning in wanting to headquarter Great British Railways in Doncaster. Of course I agree that antisocial behaviour on public transport is a blight; however, I suspect that there might be unintended consequences from some on-train requests, such as encouraging more swearing and passenger confrontations, but I agree that we should look at doing more in this area and a solution using positive messaging to promote considerate behaviour could be an option.

Does the Minister remember that two years ago a car ploughed into a bus stop in my Huddersfield constituency, killing a young girl and badly injuring two other people? That driver has never been found guilty of anything. He put forward a plea of automatism—that he was not actually in charge—and a clever lawyer got him off. What sort of justice is that?

I am sorry to be reminded of that case. We are currently looking at how the justice system works for all drivers and I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with an update on that piece of work.

Train Service Frequency: Netherfield, Burton Joyce and Carlton

7. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that the frequency of train services in Netherfield, Burton Joyce and Carlton returns to pre-covid-19 outbreak levels. (906114)

The pandemic is changing travel habits and we are starting to see some substantial changes in passenger demand for rail travel. As covid recedes, we must ensure that services are adjusted to meet changes in passenger demand. We are working with operators to consider what further changes might be possible at these stations.

There is a widespread view in Gedling that rail services could be improved. For example, Carlton recently lost its direct service to Matlock and many trains pass through Burton Joyce without stopping. I continue to have discussions with East Midlands Railway about how it might reach the maximum amount of services in its agreement with the Department. I would welcome the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how Gedling’s stations might fulfil their potential.

I appreciate my hon. Friend raising the matter and can see what a hard-working campaigner he is for his constituents. I assure him that we are working with the operator to consider what further changes might be possible, subject to passenger demand and the cascading of trains into East Midlands Railway. I am happy to meet him to discuss this in more detail.

Rising Fuel Costs: Impact on Motorists

8. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to mitigate the impact of rising fuel costs on motorists. (906115)

I place on record my celebrations for everybody celebrating St Patrick’s day, and a happy Purim.

With fuel costs skyrocketing and the average family facing an annual increase of £386 in petrol costs, my constituents are being forced to choose between getting to work and heating their homes. Does the Secretary of State agree that now would be the worst possible time to introduce a tax hike of £255 on working people who are already seeing their pay swallowed up by the costs of simply living?

The hon. Lady asks specifically about the additional costs of motoring during these difficult times with what we have seen happen to the crude oil price. I gently remind her that she voted against a measure in the Budget to freeze fuel duty for a 12th consecutive year.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for the 12-year freeze in fuel duty—that is extremely welcome—but given the increases in pump prices and the costs for average constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, we need to do more at the forthcoming Budget. The Treasury is getting more revenue from VAT, so we need to find ways to reduce that duty burden so that people in my constituency can fill up and continue to go to work. Will the Secretary of State speak to the Chancellor about that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the pressures that exist. As I mentioned, we froze fuel duty for the 12th consecutive year, which means that it costs about £15 less to fill up a family car than it would have done otherwise. He is right to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who is perhaps the most expensive Member of this House, having cost the Treasury tens of billions of pounds over the years for this worthwhile saving.

Alan Davie, Ian Roberts, Geddes and Laird are the hauliers who keep the economy of Angus moving, and by the Road Haulage Association’s estimate they are facing an 18% increase in operating costs purely on fuel. What discussions will the Secretary of State have with the Chancellor to get something sorted to keep our economy moving?

The hon. Member is right to point out the fantastic work done by haulage companies and all their workers. Over the next five years, the 2022-23 freeze will represent £8 billion off the fuel bill for motorists in this country, including the haulier sector, which I recently backed with 32 separate measures to ensure that it can continue to operate during what have been difficult times post covid.

It is a very happy St Patrick’s day in Ireland because fuel duty has been cut in the past week. I thank my right hon. Friend for what the Government have done on the fuel duty freeze, but the fact is that motorists are paying £1.60 or more for their petrol and diesel and we are heading for a de facto lockdown where parents cannot afford to take their kids to school and workers cannot afford to commute by car and have to stay at home. Will my right hon. Friend make appeals to the Treasury to cut fuel duty in the spending round next week?

I had not noticed that Parliament’s most expensive MP was in his place in the Chamber. My right hon. Friend’s work has been absolutely remarkable over the years: actually, after 12 years of the fuel freeze, the average family has saved something like £2,000 as a direct result of his excellent campaigning. I will of course have further conversations with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it will be for him to decide on the next measures.

The price of diesel is now so high that a typical van driver will be paying £800 more than they were a year ago. Meanwhile, wholesale oil prices have fallen by 28% in just one week. Those are prices millions of working people and families simply cannot afford, so why is the Transport Secretary still defending the record profits of oil and gas giants as they swallow up the pay of hard-working British people? Why does he not insist that any fall in the price of oil is passed on to the price of petrol and diesel at the pump?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about ensuring that any fall is passed on quickly. For example, I notice that Brent crude is down to $100 a barrel at the moment—it had been as high, I think, as $130 a week or two ago—and I want to see that passed on. But I am very curious as to why, given her deep concern about the cost of diesel, she voted against our move to freeze petrol and diesel prices this year.

The Transport Secretary thinks he is on to a very clever point given that Labour votes against Tory Budgets, but I remind him that the last time the Tories tried to put up fuel duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), now the shadow Chancellor, forced a vote in Parliament to delay the increase. People need help in the here and now as they struggle to make decisions over which basic essentials to cut. This has to be a wake-up call for the Government. The crisis shows exactly why this country must never again be left dependent on the oil and gas of foreign despots.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) mentioned the statistic of 1,000 electric vehicle charging units outside London—a stat that the Transport Secretary did not correct—which reveals the gross inequity of access in this country to EV charging units. The National Infrastructure Commission was also damning in its appraisal that the Government have no plan to deliver infrastructure. When will he publish the strategy on EV infrastructure that the industry is calling for, to help turbocharge the transition to cleaner transport?

I have to say again that words are one thing—I understand the hon. Lady is doing her job—but action is another. When individuals vote against measures that will freeze fuel prices for British consumers and motorists, they can hardly then stand there and say, “Why aren’t the Government doing something?” The Opposition could help: they could vote for it. On EV charging, I do not know where the stat of 1,000 chargers outside London comes from. It is completely untrue. There are nearly 30,000 chargers across the country, of which over 5,500 are rapid. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, we now have the fastest chargers in the west. I hope the hon. Lady will welcome that.

Rail Industry: Competition

As we create Great British Railways, we will work with the private sector to deliver for customers and taxpayers and restore competition through passenger services contracts as soon as possible.

As international rail travel opens up post the covid pandemic, Eurostar still has an effective monopoly on services through Eurotunnel. What can the Government do to encourage other companies, in particular rail companies from Germany and Spain, that have expressed an interest in running alternative services through the tunnel?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was fortunate enough recently to visit both Eurostar and Eurotunnel. What I can say is that the UK Government would support the growth of international rail services given the significant benefits they could provide for the UK. We stand ready to engage with partners to facilitate new routes where there is a commercial proposition to do so.

In York, it is about not just competition but collaboration. We have 100 rail companies leading in rail operations and in high-end rail engineering. We find that collaborative approach not only benefits the industry but takes the future of our railways forward. What is the Minister doing to invest in rail clusters, similar to the clusters in which her colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are investing in other areas of the economy?

What I can say to the hon. Lady is how important innovation is within the industry. With the new relationship between Great British Railways, the train operators and the innovators there are new opportunities to trial and roll out innovations more rapidly. Central to that will be the better management and exploitation of data, and GBR will be in an excellent place to do that.

We have gone from a situation where competition and franchising delivered £200 million in profits to the Treasury to the situation we have now, where the Government are funding rail to the tune of £15 billion. Some review of costs is of course inevitable. The Rail Minister spoke this week about workplace reform, so will she set out in more detail what those reforms will look like? Will the Government ultimately have the resolve to see this through?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. The Williams-Shapps plan for rail, which we published last year, set out the biggest change to the railway in three decades. We are committed to bringing forward that sector-wide reform. The country owes a great deal of gratitude to all railway workers for their vital work throughout the pandemic in keeping the UK moving, but it is important to recognise that the pandemic ushered in a financial crisis across the sector leading to interventions by Government to sustain the industry. Moving forward, the railway must be financially and operationally sustainable for the future so that it delivers the service that passengers want.

Levelling Up: Bus Services in Newcastle

10. What steps he is taking to improve the (a) quality and (b) affordability of bus services in Newcastle as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (906118)

Our levelling-up agenda includes investing £1.2 billion to deliver better and cheaper bus services across England, as set out in our bus strategy, which is part of more than £3 billion of new spending on buses.

The levelling-up White Paper promises to bring local public transport connectivity closer to London standards by 2030—so not as good as London, just less worse and not for another eight years. Newcastle needs affordable and accessible bus services now, not the cuts we are seeing. Transport North East’s bus service improvement plan sets out the improvements we need. Will the Minister fund it?

We hope to make more announcements on the latest round of funding very soon. Officials from the Department are working with representatives from the city regions, including Nexus and Transport North East, to establish options for integrated multimodal ticketing. We have of course already announced £5.7 billion for transport networks in the eight city regions, and the north-east, the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Combined Authority will receive their share of the funding once appropriate governance is in place.

Airports National Policy Statement 2018 and Jet Zero Strategy

12. If he will review the airports national policy statement 2018 following the development of his Department’s jet zero strategy. (906120)

We will not review the airports national policy statement at this time, but will consider the case again once the jet zero strategy has been finalised and there is more certainty about the longer-term impact of covid on aviation.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on airport communities, I know that many colleagues would like to know whether, in the light of the jet zero strategy, we now have the opportunity to spread the benefits of cleaner air travel to a larger selection of airports across the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend is quite right that the jet zero strategy provides the opportunity to spread cleaner, greener air travel across all parts of the UK. For example, the UK sustainable aviation fuel industry could create up to 11,000 green jobs while helping to level up with production facilities across the UK. We will be looking at regional aviation in our forthcoming aviation strategy.

I say in response to the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) that the Secretary of State committed to review the airports national policy statement last July. It has to be done urgently. Since it was adopted four years ago, our net zero commitment has become law, we have adopted a carbon budget and we have held the chair of COP26. What we know about the jet zero strategy and the implications and difficulty of delivering sustainable aviation fuels means that the review must surely come sooner rather than later to incentivise change.

The point that the hon. Member misses is that we have also had the jet zero consultation. A number of presentations have come in on that and we need to consider them carefully. There is a lot of interesting work going on and we will respond on that in due course, which will give us the context to consider jet zero and the impact of covid. We will then look at the ANPS again.

Net Zero Strategy: Rail Electrification

13. What assessment he has made of the potential role of rail electrification in the Government’s net zero strategy. (906121)

17. What assessment he has made of the (a) potential merits of and (b) UK capability for accelerating the decarbonisation of transport. (906130)

Our transport decarbonisation plan sets out how we will decarbonise the transport sector by 2050. Electrification will play an important role in decarbonising all modes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Rail Minister, has already said, over 1,221 track miles of electrification have been delivered in Great Britain since 2010, compared with 63 in the 14 years of the previous Administration, and we continue to expand the electrified rail network. For example, the integrated rail plan announcement confirmed that we will complete the electrification of the midland main line and deliver full electrification and upgrade of the trans-Pennine main line.

I thank the Minister for her answer. We are in negotiations with Midlands Connect and her Department about upgrades and new investments on the Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton line, which is a very important line in the west midlands. Will she give me a commitment that she will look at that with a view to electrifying the Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton line as soon as possible?

I can certainly give that commitment. I know that my hon. Friend has met with the Rail Minister and will do so again. As he knows, Midlands Connect is developing a business case for journey time improvements on the line connecting Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. This will assess the enhancements required, the timescales for delivery and the costs and benefits of the scheme.

Given the huge impact increasing transport costs are having on the cost of basic foodstuffs and day-to-day living expenses, does the Minister accept the Road Haulage Association’s estimate of an 18% increase in its members’ running costs? Is that another cost that will fall disproportionately on the poor? What action is the Department taking to ensure the poor are not expected to pay the price for a Government looking to escape the net zero tariff?

The decarbonisation of transport will bring benefits to our economy, our society and the environment. That is well and truly set out in our transport decarbonisation plan.

A14: Funding for Junction 10A

14. If he will ensure that funding for junction 10A on the A14 at Kettering is incorporated into his Department’s road investment strategy 3 from 2025. (906125)

The findings of the technical review for the A14 junction 10A have been completed by National Highways and form the high-level strategic outline business case for the scheme (SOBC). National Highways have confirmed they will be happy to share the technical review with my hon. Friend and meet him to discuss these in due course.

Residents in Kettering, Barton Seagrave and Burton Latimer desperately need junction 10A to be included in road investment strategy 3 from 2025 because with 5,500 new homes being built on the Hanwood Park development to the east of Kettering, Kettering will grind to a halt if this junction is not put in place. Would my hon. Friend be kind enough to secure a meeting for me with the Roads Minister so that we can progress this scheme?

My hon. Friend continues to be the strongest possible champion for this scheme and for his constituents. I know he met the Roads Minister to discuss this recently, but I know my noble Friend the Baroness Vere will be more than happy to meet him again. Discussions about this scheme remain ongoing.

The road investment strategy will now have to take into account remedial work on smart motorways. Just last week it was revealed that for almost a week prior to a tragic collision on the M4, vehicle detection technology, there to protect stranded motorists, had been broken. What is more, overnight it has been reported that one in six stopped vehicle detection cameras on the M25 are currently out of action. These serious flaws in safety-critical technology on smart motorways are continuing to put lives at risk. I beg the Minister to urgently address these serious flaws and, in the meantime, to reinstate the hard shoulder before more lives are needlessly lost.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, with which I have a lot of sympathy. We are committed to making sure that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the country. We want drivers not just to be safe, but, crucially, to feel safe and confident when driving on those roads. That is why we have listened to concerns and are taking forward the Transport Committee’s recommendations. We need to continue to work to ensure that smart motorways are as safe as possible for all road users.

Private Hire Drivers

15. What recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) adequacy of working conditions and (b) level of job security of private hire drivers. (906127)

The Government support the proportionate regulation of the sector and will shortly be consulting on guidance to licensing authorities on how they might best achieve that, while maintaining high standards in safety, accessibility and workers’ rights.

During the pandemic, the support available for taxi and private hire drivers around the country was patchy, and many experienced people have been lost to the sector. What assessment has been made of the situation and, in hindsight, what could have been done differently?

I pay tribute to the sector for how it dealt with exceptionally challenging times during the pandemic; the hon. Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to that. These have been unparalleled and difficult times across the entirety of the economy. The key thing is that now we have one of the most open societies in the world because of the success of the vaccine roll-out. I am confident that the sector and the wider economy will bounce back.

Topical Questions

I would like to update the House on the actions that we have taken to clamp down on Russian interests in the UK. As hon. Members have already seen, we have detained private jets that we believe are owned by, or connected to, Putin’s cronies. I can now confirm that we are investigating a small number of yachts moored in this country, which we also suspect are linked to Russian oligarchs. I have taken steps to ensure that they are unable to depart, and investigations are ongoing. I can reveal that 10 Russian-linked ships have been turned away or redirected on their course, and eight ships or their companies have severed their Russian ties.

I also inform the House of conversations that I have been having with my opposite number, the Ukrainian Transport and Infrastructure Secretary, who has asked me to thank the whole House for the cross-party support that has been provided. He said that the UK’s approach has been pioneering towards his country and that where the UK goes, others follow.

Let me declare my interest as a former employee of London Transport as a bus conductor and booking clerk. Transport for London has warned that it will be forced to cut one in five buses and 10% of tube services if it does not receive a long-term funding deal from the Government. It has been two years since the pandemic began and the Secretary of State has failed to come forward with this funding, despite offering 18 months of bail-outs to private rail companies. When will he finally stop playing political games with Londoners and provide TfL with a long-term funding agreement?

That would be £5 billion-worth of political games—because that is the amount that we have given to TfL to keep its services running. That has been an incredibly fair settlement. The hon. Gentleman talks about a longer-term settlement, but surely he would agree with us that we should see what is going to happen with the pandemic; as it completes, we are able to talk about other things, including capital grants. However, I think £5 billion should be recognised by the hon. Gentleman.

The A50-A500 corridor is absolutely critical to the economy of Staffordshire and improvements to those roads are vital for the levelling-up agenda in north Staffordshire. May I ask the Secretary of State to welcome the recent publication from Midlands Connect proposing a number of improvements on that route? Of specific interest to my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme are the plans and conversations he has had about improving junction 15 on the M6.

I commend my hon. Friend for the work he has been doing in that regard. We are very keen to ensure improvements and we will make sure that we continue to work with National Highways to try to provide those.

As you well know, Mr Speaker, I am a lifelong member of the Fianna Phadraig Irish pipe band in Wythenshawe; it is my great honour to stand at this Dispatch Box and wish one and all a very happy St Patrick’s day. I am looking forward to getting home this afternoon and joining my comrades to entertain the masses of Manchester.

Worrying news has just broken that P&O Ferries has been called to port as DP World, its owner, seeks the long-term viability of the ferry company. Major disruption is expected. Can the Secretary of State update the House about any discussions that he has had with DP World or P&O Ferries about any potential redundancies, and the fact that we do not want any crews who are made redundant to be replaced by foreign cheap labour?

It was remiss of me not to acknowledge St Patrick’s Day and Purim. Both are fun and enjoyable festivals, and I know that Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the country will be enjoying them.

On a much sadder note, I am concerned about the news that is breaking on P&O Ferries. I understand that it has temporarily paused its operations, which is causing disruption in the short straits between Calais and Dover, and at some other ports. I am working with the Kent resilience forum, and I have just instructed its members to become intricately involved, along with other partnerships. I will be taking further steps later today, which will include ensuring that my officials engage in urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, which is of particular concern to its workers.

If it is that serious and an emergency statement is required, the Chair will always be willing to listen.

T4. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, thousands of electric charging points are being installed across the country, including some in Basingstoke town centre, but what support is available to give people who do not have off-street parking access to charging points in residential areas? (906136)

I am pleased to hear about the good work that is being done by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council. We want to spread that across the country. Since 2020 we have committed £2.5 billion to support the transition to zero emission vehicles, offsetting their higher up-front costs and accelerating the roll-out of transport infrastructure. I should be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss more ways in which we can support her council.

T6. [R] For more than two months my constituency has been gridlocked while the Conservative-led council and Network Rail have been painting a bridge. Drivers are fuming, and firms have lost between 25% and 75% of their business. Ahead of the Commonwealth games and additional works in our towns, will the Minister agree to meet me to ensure that there is no repeat of this event? (906138)

I will take the time to look into the matter further, and will endeavour to write to the hon. Member.

T5. The Government’s proposal to move the headquarters of the Great British Railways out of London is a great levelling-up proposal. Clearly the headquarters will have to be in the east midlands, which is the poorest region in the country, and I would guess that they will have to be in a town whose rail history goes back to 1850, whose railway has probably been newly electrified and which has a station island where there could be a development, and whose council has welcomed the proposal. May I save the Secretary of State a lot of time, worry and energy by suggesting that he should simply announce today that the headquarters will be in Wellingborough? (906137)

My hon. Friend tempts me, but, as he will know, the competition closed yesterday. We have seen some fantastic bids from local authorities represented by Members on both sides of the House. There is real enthusiasm, and not just in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The shortlist will be announced in due course.

T7. The Secretary of State talked about electric buses earlier, but there is also the option of hydrogen. We have a groundbreaking hydrogen industry, while the Chinese have a real grip on electric bus technology. The West Midlands wants to buy hydrogen buses, and Northern Ireland wants to build them. The blockage seems to be the negative attitude of the officials in the Department. Can the Secretary of State sort that out, not only to help the environment in the west midlands but to give a much-needed boost to an emerging British industry? (906140)

I am delighted to hear of the right hon. Member’s enthusiasm for hydrogen, which I share. We are committed to rolling out a decarbonised transport economy, and I can assure him that there is equal enthusiasm in the Department. As for the scheme to which he refers, I will look into it, chivvy it on, and get back to him.

T8. When will the superb canopy restoration work be completed at Kettering railway station, and what other refurbishment and improvement works are planned for the station? (906141)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I know he has been and continues to be a great campaigner for his constituency. I can assure him that the Kettering station canopy works are due to be completed in April and that a new national rail contract is being negotiated that will consider future investment plans.

Over the past few weeks, contractors for HS2 Ltd have brought yet more disruption and, frankly, despair to my constituents, especially in Stoke Mandeville and Wendover. They have misled property owners, they have gone back on reassurances and they have started work for which they have no permission, which has had to be halted. Will the Minister for HS2 please remind HS2 Ltd that its pledge to be a good neighbour is not just a slogan, and that it demands action?

My hon. Friend continues to be a real champion for his constituency, as I saw at first hand when he took me on a tour of problem sites across Aylesbury. I note what he says and I will be more than happy to relay his message to HS2 Ltd. I also remind him and other colleagues across the House that, following my six-monthly progress report on HS2 yesterday, there will be a meeting at 2 pm today with the CEO of HS2 Ltd, Mark Thurston, and myself, which he will be welcome to attend.

In the nearly five years I have been an MP, four cyclists have died on Oxfordshire’s roads: Ling this month; Ellen last month; Samantha in 2020; and John in 2019. Speaking after Ling’s death, her husband James said that one day he hoped to take his children to the roundabout where she died and to tell them:

“Look, no one else dies here because of Mummy.”

The county council has rightly made cycle safety a top priority but it desperately needs Government help, particularly financially. Will the Minister consider meeting me to discuss how we can keep Oxfordshire cyclists safe and how we can avoid any more senseless deaths?

I am terribly sorry to hear of the sad passing of the hon. Lady’s constituents. We agree that infrastructure needs to be properly funded and of the highest quality. That is why the Government have promised an unprecedented £2 billion of investment in active travel over this Parliament. I would be very willing to meet her to talk about the work of Active Travel England and the ways in which our interim chief executive Chris Boardman is rolling out transport infrastructure.

Rising petrol costs are one of the many reasons that Andy Burnham’s original GM clean air zone plan is unworkable and should be scrapped. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking with colleagues from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that Mr Burnham’s desire to create the world’s largest clean air charging zone does not place unsustainable financial burdens on Greater Manchester businesses and residents who are reliant on certain types of motor transport and particularly vulnerable to increased petrol prices?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, needs to go back to the drawing board on this.

Will the Minister join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) in congratulating the Unite workers on refusing to unload Russian oil at Stanlow in Cheshire? What further measures is the Secretary of State applying to sanction Russian oil and gas?

Yes, I do join the hon. Member in congratulating them. That came after I wrote to all the ports and asked them not to allow in Russian ships and Russian-connected ships. I should point out that this is the only country in the world to have a Russian-connected ban at our ports, and we look forward to other countries joining our lead, just as Minister Kubakov explained.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on refusing the Mayor of London’s decision to remove the car park at Cockfosters station. Can it be a precedent, so that we can encourage motorists to park at stations and then use the London underground network to get into the centre of London? Will my right hon. Friend use that as a means to stop car parks being removed at termini throughout London?

My hon. Friend will have seen my action with regard to Cockfosters station. The plan would have removed all but 12 car parking spaces, and while I am keen to get people using active travel and all forms of travel, the idea that only 12 cars a day would turn up was ludicrous. It would just have meant other cars parking on the streets and inconveniencing residents. I encourage the Mayor of London to come forward with better plans than that.

The most recent NatCen baseline report on the Government’s inclusive transport strategy shows we are still a long way from having a fully accessible and inclusive transport and active travel system. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of his ITS commitments? In doing so, will he say why the deadline to report accessibility failures has been missed, why the consultation on bus stops has been paused and when the stakeholder group will next meet, as it has not met for over a year? Finally, how many staff are working full time on delivering these strategic commitments?

The hon. Lady asks a series of very good questions. We are working very hard on things like access for all on rail. She asks a number of bus-related questions, and we have put money into making sure that buses are more accessible through both signage and different types of communication facilities for people with disabilities. As she asks a series of questions, I will write to her with a detailed response to each of them. I hope she will find that useful.

In answer to Question 3, I think the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), said he is meeting the trade union representatives of the bus driver industry. Can he confirm that he is meeting the trade union representatives regularly? Has his Department assessed the levels of bus driver pay and the impact of the same on recruitment and retention?

In answer to Question 3, I said that the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, is regularly meeting trade representatives, not trade union representatives. As the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) will know, the bus operators are predominantly private sector companies. It is not for the Government to dictate wages in the private sector, apart from setting the national minimum wage and the national living wage, which, I am proud to say, was introduced by this Government.

The French Government have recently decided that car adverts in France must now encourage consumers to use more environmentally friendly modes of transport such as walking, cycling, car pooling and public transport as alternatives to driving. Will the United Kingdom Government consider that one small step to decarbonise transport and encourage active travel and living?

Our transport decarbonisation plan is world leading. The Prime Minister has said that we would like all short journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030. That is why we set up Active Travel England, led by Chris Boardman. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to explain that in more detail.

The Scottish Government are investing 10% of their total transport capital budget in active travel options such as high-quality walking and accessible cycling infrastructure to support people to choose active and sustainable travel. Why has the UK Government’s active travel budget failed to match those funding ambitions?

We are investing £2 billion in “Gear Change” and our active travel priorities. The climate sees no boundaries, so it is important that we work together. I am in regular contact with the devolved Administrations, and I think we can all learn from each other.

Ministers will be well aware of today’s announcement by P&O Ferries that there will be no sailings. I understand that 40% of its holdings are owned by a Russian company. This has left some of my constituents in Cairnryan unable to get home to Larne, and it has left people in Larne unable to get to Cairnryan. What can be done about this urgently? Will there be an opportunity to have a statement in the Chamber as soon as possible?

This emerging story is clearly causing great concern. I will be in regular contact, and I will take any appropriate steps. Of course I will meet the hon. Gentleman.