Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

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.