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Topical Questions

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 19 May 2022

May I put on record my sincere apologies for the fact that a letter about the Secretary of State’s absence was not received by you. [Interruption.] I will ensure that it never happens again.

The Secretary of State has travelled to the International Transport Forum to meet the largest gathering of international Transport Ministers from across the globe. The UK has taken the presidency of the ITF, an international, inter-governmental body on transport policy, at a pivotal time when the world faces multiple transport-related issues. The forum brings together 63 countries to work on shared goals, including making transport more connected, safe and resilient. Through the ITF, we will continue to work to tackle Russian aggression and to work with other like-minded partners to ensure Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine fails.

I regularly hear from residents in Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Turriff and other towns and villages across my constituency complaining about the excessive noises from car exhausts, as was mentioned earlier. I welcome the recent announcement of trials and pilot schemes for noise cameras, but I was disappointed to hear that they will apply only in England and Wales. Given that the legal framework for statutory nuisance rules for construction and regulations for vehicles are UK wide, what engagement has my hon. Friend, or other Department Ministers, had with the Scottish Government to see what can be done in Scotland, and is there scope for expanding the pilot beyond just England and Wales?

I know that this is a big issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Noise camera enforcement comes under policing, and policing is, of course, devolved in Scotland, but we continue to have discussions with the Scottish Government. We are keen to continue those discussions and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to see what more we can do on this issue.

Last year, the Chancellor slashed the road maintenance budget by £400 million, but we now know that those cuts are going even further. Pothole funding is set to be cut by 30% in real terms by the end of this Parliament. That is the equivalent of almost 12 million potholes every single year. Last year, the Chancellor confidently told the British public to enjoy National Pothole Day before the potholes are all gone, but that statement is now nothing more than a distant memory. Is that not further proof, if it were ever needed, that the Government are asleep at the wheel while road users continue to suffer on roads that are not fit for purpose?

Approximately £915 million a year has been committed for the next three years, which is consistent with funding levels for 2021-22. That will help local highways authorities manage their highway assets, including tackling potholes and other road defects across local road networks. As we know from the local elections, Conservative councils fix potholes faster than Labour councils.

T4. Many of my constituents work at London Luton airport and they want secure jobs that do not contribute to wrecking the planet. Sustainable aviation fuels can help with that, but we need a price stability mechanism, such as perhaps a contract for difference. Will the Minister update us on what action he is taking to give the industry that certainty so that we can fly sustainably? (900129)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about SAF, which is critical. We want the UK to be a world leader, and it has the potential to create more than 5,000 jobs; we have one of the most comprehensive programmes in the world. We are considering the role that a price stability mechanism, such as a CfD, might have. We are building the evidence base to support that. It is a complicated idea for SAF, but we are doing that work.

T3. The National Grid’s main east coast electricity cables cross the River Tyne overhead and act as a constraint on trade on the river, the more so since commercial demand now asks for higher and higher offshore structures to facilitate renewable energy. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) was able to put that point to the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions on 22 January 2020. The Prime Minister replied that“we will do whatever we can to ensure that it is sorted out as fast as possible.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 297.]That was widely welcomed on Tyneside by me and my colleagues as well as local industry. Would it be possible for me, my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside and my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) to have a meeting with the appropriate Minister to take the Prime Minister’s urgings forward? (900128)

I remind hon. Members—I know that Chief Whips and Whips do not know—that topical questions are meant to be very brief.

The Government are aware of the impact that electricity lines across the port of Tyne have on businesses in the area. Electricity network infrastructure is a matter for Ofgem as the energy regulator, but the Government continue to engage with the National Grid and the Port of Tyne authority to help find the right solution to manage a key piece of electricity network infrastructure in the area. Of course, I would be happy to arrange any suitable meeting for the right hon. Gentleman and his parliamentary colleagues.

T5. We were disappointed last year when our bid to reopen Grove station was not taken forward, although I realise that only 13 of the 89 proposals were. However, Wantage and Grove is set to have a population that is 59% larger in 2027 than it was a decade earlier, so the need for a station in the area has never been clearer, in addition to the environmental benefits of getting people out of their cars. Will my hon. Friend meet me so that we can discuss other avenues I might pursue to get the station reopened? (900130)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Grove station. Of course, I would be happy to meet him to discuss what future options might be available.

An MOT centre in Wombwell has told me that it is fearful for its future after hearing of plans for MOTs to be required only every two years. It says that after the previous six-month extension, 90% of cars were not fit for use on public highways. The proposals are bad for motorists and local businesses, so will the Government think again?

The Secretary of State has made it clear that we are always looking for ways to assist with the cost of living and, indeed, driving. Any decision to substantively modify testing requirements will be subject to appropriate consultation and legislation. It is right to keep the system under review, but no decision has been made and we will take seriously the responses from the consultation.

T6. Even before the pandemic, rail services to and from Carshalton, Carshalton Beeches, Hackbridge and Wallington stations were congested and infrequent, but Govia Thameslink Railway is still operating a reduced timetable as people return to the railways. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with GTR to encourage it to get back to pre-pandemic levels and, indeed, fund the Croydon area remodelling scheme to put more trains on? (900131)

As I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate, the pandemic has really changed travel habits. Operators are using this opportunity to reassess services to ensure that they provide the rail timetables that meet new passenger travel patterns and are fit for the future, but also, importantly, carefully balance cost, capacity and performance. Our new timetables are demand-led. Where operators have modified their timetables we will keep them under review as appropriate.

On Saturday, along with over 100 others, I took part in Newcastle’s Kidical mass cycle, and parents raised with me the challenges of getting kids to cycle to school and, related to that, the impact on air quality of cars idling outside schools. I got my cycling proficiency from Hill View Junior School. What are the Government doing to help children to learn to cycle, acquire cycles, and stop cars idling outside schools?

I think this is perhaps my favourite question of this session because we are improving and increasing the funding and support for Bikeability, which is a fantastic scheme rolled out right across the country enabling children—and adults, actually—to be equipped with the skills they need to ride on our roads and enjoy cycling.

T7. The integrated rail plan will see huge amounts of money invested into the TransPennine rail route, with major upgrades at not only Huddersfield railway station but Slaithwaite and Marsden in my constituency. How will the Minister ensure, though, that the disruption that will be caused during these much-needed works will be kept to a minimum and that local communities will be fully engaged with and consulted about the scale of the works needed? (900132)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As much notice as possible will be provided of any disruption along the route of the TransPennine upgrade, and we will continue to work with the industry and delivery partners to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum. In advance of closures, plans are being developed to ensure that sufficient services are maintained, whether by diverted trains or bus replacement services. We are also relying on innovation to ensure that we have to close the track for less time than previously.

The ministerial team will know that those of us who have been lifelong campaigners for road safety are extremely worried that in future our Government will accept lower standards of safety in car manufacture and design, and much else. Can the Minister assure me that we will not become the poor man of Europe in terms of safety and environmental standards?

T8. Like local authorities in so many other parts of the country, Worcestershire County Council was unsuccessful in its bid for Bus Back Better funds. Can the Minister assure me that the Department will give feedback to Worcestershire County Council so that next time it can bid back better? (900133)

Absolutely, yes. My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for local services. We are providing that feedback very shortly to ensure that local authorities, enhanced partnerships and bus operators can all work together and stand the greatest chance of success in future applications. That support will continue.

Earlier on, the Minister replied to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about safety in relation to P&O Ferries. The Minister will be aware of the occasion a month ago when a ferry between Northern Ireland and Scotland lost power in the Irish sea and was afloat for an hour and a half in one of the busiest places for boat and ship travel. Has he had any opportunity to talk to P&O Ferries to ensure that that dangerous situation, which could have led to an accident and loss of life, never happens again?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. Clearly, safety is the Government’s paramount concern, particularly in such circumstances. The Maritime Coastguard Agency is responsible for ensuring safety. I have had discussions with it about that, and we will make sure that any necessary steps are taken. If he would like a further briefing, I am happy to give him one.

T9. Will my hon. Friend detail how remote rural constituencies like mine will benefit from improvements to local transport services when our sparse population means that so many transport solutions are not commercially viable? (900134)

Rural communities are particularly close to my heart, because I live in one. It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency of North Devon to enjoy a ride along the Tarka trail, which was absolutely fantastic. We will continue to support walking and cycling, as I have set out. In terms of her specific question, I hope that she will look forward to our rural strategy. The Government provided £20 million, as we have heard, to the rural mobility fund, which is just one of the ways to improve services in rural areas.

I am proud, on behalf of Rother Valley, to support Doncaster’s bid to be the headquarters of Great British Railways. Doncaster is a great location that serves the whole of Rother Valley and the whole of South Yorkshire. Will the Minister look favourably on South Yorkshire’s bid to be the home of Great British Railways?

We had an amazing 42 bids for the Great British Railways headquarters and all have been carefully considered. The shortlist will be out shortly and I wish them all success.

We have heard a lot today about the restoring your railway scheme, and I remind the House that it was launched by the Prime Minister at the Fleetwood to Poulton line. Can the Minister say where the scheme is at, what the next stage is and when that decision will be taken?

I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for all things Blackpool North and Cleveleys. The next round of submissions for our restoring your railway programme—I was at the Dartmoor line just last week—is currently being considered, and we will be updating and announcing in due course.

The zero-emission vehicle mandate requires a smooth glide path in its transition towards the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles. Will my hon. Friend consider the impact that the smooth glide path has on smaller automotive manufacturers? Their commitment to achieve the 2030 ban is absolutely agreed, but the capacity to achieve the smooth glide path for those smaller manufacturers, such as Aston Martin, is much more difficult.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has referenced our zero-emission vehicle mandate. We continue to work with all manufacturers, including the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and I have been delighted with the enthusiasm and the determination to transition from a fossil-fuelled car manufacturing economy to zero-emission vehicles. I will continue to work with all manufacturers, and in particular Aston Martin.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for his support for Doncaster’s bid to become the home of the Great British Railways headquarters. Does the Minister agree with my hon. Friend and the wider community of Doncaster that Doncaster is the rightful home of the new Great British Railways headquarters?

Once again I am being tempted, but I am not going to show any favouritism, except to say that everyone will just have to wait.

Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning the threatened strike action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers at Green Park and Euston on 3 June, when many people from across the country will be wanting to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee?

It is always regrettable when we hear about disruption, because it is the passengers who really suffer from the distress and disruption caused. I just flag once again that it is this Government who have earmarked more than £16 billion of funding for passenger services since the start of the pandemic. That is equivalent to about £600 a household. This taxpayer-funded life support was the right thing to do, but it is important that we now get the right balance between what is right for passengers and what is right for the taxpayer.

Heritage railways are vital to the tourist sector, but they are struggling at the moment with coal supplies. Can the Minister give an assurance that she will do all she can to ensure that these heritage railways have access to the necessary supplies?

There are some fantastic examples of heritage railways up and down the country. I appreciate the importance of adequate coal supplies, and we will obviously keep that under close review.