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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 19 May 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—

Union Connectivity Review

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked me to pass on his apologies; he is absent from oral questions as he is attending the International Transport Forum annual summit, the world’s largest gathering of Transport Ministers, where the UK is assuming the presidency. We are carefully considering the recommendations of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review and intend to respond later this year.

Mr Speaker, if you want to go from anywhere in Scotland or northern England by train to anywhere in north Wales, chances are you will have to go through Chester. Will the Minister please hurry up with the consideration and get us a positive decision on the electrification of the line from Crewe to Chester, and on the remodelling of Chester station to increase capacity for signalling and passengers?

The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not passionate about the city of Chester and the region. I am very conscious that the strategic outline business case for improvements in and around Chester station was submitted, and that the document has been reviewed. My understanding is that work is still ongoing.

Does the Minister agree with me that the biggest impediment to rail connectivity between Scotland and England is the ongoing dispute between the rail unions and TransPennine Express, which has caused huge disruption to my constituents who use Lockerbie station. Is there anything the Minister can do to bring to an end these unwarranted cancellations and disruptions to services, particularly at the weekend?

I am very conscious of the disruption, which is really disappointing because of the distress it causes to passengers. It is important to recognise that from the start of the pandemic, the Government earmarked more than £16 billion for taxpayer-funded life support for passenger services. We absolutely urge the unions to work with TPE to identify ways of restoring rest-day working.

According to a written answer I received yesterday, the now publicly owned ScotRail pays the highest track access charges of any train operator; they are more than double the next highest figure and make up nearly a quarter of the entire total. The charges have increased by over 320% in the last five years. Does the Minister accept that those punitive charges reduce the Scottish Government’s capacity to boost even further the substantive investments made in transport decarbonisation, and will she commit to rebating ScotRail and the taxpayers of Scotland for those unjustifiable and exorbitant charges?

These are charges that all train operating companies pay, right across the country. I will not get into the detail of how they are worked out, but let us be absolutely honest: this Government are making a massive investment in the railways. That includes the £96 billion in the integrated rail plan. I know, Mr Speaker, that you are very keen to see investment and improvements in Chorley. No doubt we will have a conversation about that in future.

P&O Ferries: Staff Rosters

2. Whether he has made a recent assessment of the potential safety implications of roster patterns worked by seafarers employed on P&O Ferries’ vessels. (900101)

Responsibility for ensuring roster patterns comply with international hours of work requirements lies with the owner-operators and flag state. It is for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as the port state, to verify that those requirements are being met.

May I rapidly explain to the Minister why I tabled this question? On the intensive Dover to Calais route, P&O wants agency crew to work over 230 round trips before a period of rest. The experienced local crew it replaced worked 18 round trips before a rest period. This is where P&O is cutting its wage bill; it is not just doing it through minimum wage avoidance. Will he take steps to ensure that the legislation announced last week will cover roster patterns, so that the remaining major employers of British seafarers, such as DFDS and Stena, which have reasonable roster programmes, are not undercut by the likes of P&O, both on pay and maritime safety?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. If there are concerns that the MCA is made aware of, those will of course be investigated. With regards to the action we would take, the legislation announced is relatively narrow in scope and deals with the minimum wage aspect. However, the point the right hon. Gentleman rightly raises is being considered as part of the fair ferries national framework agreement being developed by the Department in conjunction with the UK Chamber of Shipping, operators and the unions.

What P&O did—and it was willing to admit this—was break the law. It refused to allow the usual consultation rights, and Parliament needs to do something to fix that. Surely the Government need to be in a position to take the likes of P&O on and get an injunction, so that consultation rights are left intact. Will the Minister speak to other Ministers across Government to ensure that this rather large hole gets filled?

Yes. My hon. Friend raises a very good point. There is a package of nine measures that we are taking to tackle the disgraceful behaviour of P&O, which the House is united in condemning. Conversations will go on between ourselves and other Departments, particularly the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which holds responsibility for the area of legislation my hon. Friend mentioned.

As the Chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), said, P&O brazenly broke the law, and it has faced no consequences for that action. Last week, the chief executive officer, whom the Transport Secretary said is not fit to be in charge of P&O, was promoted to the board. P&O is laughing in the faces of this Parliament and the public, and the Government are frankly letting the company get away with it. When will they get tough and seek a court order banning the entire board from office?

It is obvious nonsense that the Government are not acting. There are nine actions that we are taking to tackle the utterly disgraceful behaviour of P&O. The hon. Lady should be absolutely clear that P&O is responsible for this situation, not the Government; we are taking action. It is also worth remembering the model that Irish Ferries introduced in 2004, because the Labour Government did nothing, and she has done nothing. This Government are the ones who are taking action now.

I am back again, Mr Speaker, and I completely agree with the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). The Government have unveiled plans to allow ports to surcharge or block ferry companies such as P&O if they do not comply with national minimum wage legislation. I welcome anything that makes life harder for the likes of P&O, but why are the Government ducking their responsibility to amend and enforce employment law, and instead palming it off to the private sector? Is it not time that maritime employment law was devolved to Holyrood, and that a Government committed to taking action against the likes of P&O? Is it not time that that Government were given the power to get on with the job?

As I have explained, the Government are committed to taking action. We have nine points that we are addressing, and ports are being asked to act because they are the area where we have control and where we can enforce national minimum wage legislation. That is a critical plank of the action we are taking—it is not everything, but it is one of the most important things. We will continue to talk to colleagues across Government about any other steps we might take on employment legislation more generally.

Local Transport

Driving improvements to local transport services is vital to levelling up. That is why we have committed £5 billion this Parliament to do that.

Reductions in rural bus services in the Dewsbury constituency continue to be a major problem, particularly in villages without nearby rail access such as Grange Moor, Flockton and Emley, leaving many local people unable to access GP surgeries and local amenities. Does my hon. Friend agree that private bus companies and the West Yorkshire Mayor need to look at ways of improving and increasing bus services across rural areas, rather than just focusing on major towns and cities?

That is totally right. That should absolutely be the focus. The Government are determined that great bus services should be available to everyone, everywhere. We have recently announced that we will provide funding to improve bus services in a wide range of areas, and I am delighted with the £70 million that is being made available to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Rural transport networks are the arteries of our towns and villages—they bring life to our communities. However, the answer is not just big buses running the same routes on the same timetable every day; it is also partly about demand-responsive transport. The good news is that Wilshire Council recently won a £1.3 million grant from the Government to invest in demand-responsive transport in the Vale of Pewsey. May I thank the Minister for that award and ask what more the Government are doing to foment the revolution in demand-responsive transport?

I am grateful for the appreciation and, most importantly, his championship of rural communities and the solution that demand-responsive services represent. We recognise that they can really improve the availability of local transport. Our national bus strategy encourages local authorities to consider demand-responsive transport as one of the tools available for improving local bus service provision. As my hon. Friend says, we have provided £20 million from the rural mobility fund to areas across the country to trial demand-responsive transport solutions in rural and suburban areas. I am delighted, and will follow the progress that my hon. Friend is so keen to achieve.

Despite submitting an innovative proposal, Suffolk County Council was not successful in its bid for its bus service plan. It is disappointing that it first heard of this decision through the media, and it is yet to receive a full explanation of why its bid was not accepted. Will my hon. Friend meet the county council and Suffolk MPs to agree a strategy that will ensure that Suffolk has a fully comprehensive and properly integrated bus service?

We were really pleased to receive the bus service improvement plans from all the local transport authorities. On 4 April my Department sent a letter to those areas that were unsuccessful setting out our continued support, advice on enhanced partnerships, and many other ways that we will continue to improve the provision of local bus services. I will certainly ensure that the Minister responsible in the other place holds the meeting that my hon. Friend asks for.

I am going to raise the issue of local bus services as well. What plans are being put in place to make local bus services across Colne Valley more reliable, more regular, more affordable and more environmentally friendly?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion, and he has set out exactly what our national bus strategy wants to achieve. I am thrilled at the ambition that I am hearing from across the House—and, indeed, the country —for better bus services. That is what we want to achieve. I feel the disappointment, but as was set out in the letter of 4 April to the unsuccessful areas, this is not the end of the road—far from it. We will continue the support. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to join the meeting with the Minister in the other place, as we Bus Back Better, particularly in his community.

Given the growing popularity of the Worcestershire Parkway station, which is at the intersection of the North Cotswold line and the Cross Country line, will the Minister ask her colleague’s officials to look again at the compelling strategic outline business case for doubling the North Cotswold line between Oxford and Worcester?

The £500 million restoring your railway fund is supporting more than 45 schemes in England and Wales by providing funding and advice. In answer to her question, it would probably be most appropriate for her to have a meeting with the relevant Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton).

The Government’s help to local bus companies and help for light rail during covid has been appreciated, but already bus companies in Sheffield are starting to make cuts, particularly First. The Government have said that, come October, all covid support will end, and South Yorkshire received no funding whatever under the BSIP. Does the Minister understand that in Sheffield and South Yorkshire, come October, we are not going to get London-style services? Many parts are going to get no bus services whatever.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognises the support that has been provided for local services during the pandemic. It was not an insignificant amount; indeed, it was £2 billion. We have provided £2.5 billion in new funding to support improvements to bus services and, as was set out in a letter sent by my Department to unsuccessful areas, we will continue to support operators and local authorities as we roll out our national bus strategy.

Bus services are critical transport infrastructure in Newcastle, but too often my constituents are left waiting for long periods at bus stops for high-priced bus services, not knowing when the buses are going to come. That is only getting worse, with price increases and service cuts. When—I want a date, not talk about the Bus Back Better fund, because that is not going to do it—will my constituents get bus services of the same affordability and quality as London’s? A date, please.

This is an ongoing part of the progress that we are making to ensure that people throughout the country—everyone, everywhere—benefit from better bus services, in both rural and urban areas. As for specific dates, I should be delighted to write to the hon. Lady giving details of any further competitions or funds that might be available. Meanwhile, we will continue to help local authorities and operators—as we have been doing, particularly during the pandemic—to bus back better.

In my constituency we have four railway stations as well as a tube station, but one of those stations, Queenstown Road, has no step-free access and is also inaccessible in other respects, so constituents wanting to board a train on that line have to go to Waterloo. Obviously, we would all agree that this is not fair or right, and it goes against the Government’s commitment in their inclusive transport strategy. Along with other key stakeholders, I have been calling for funds to ensure that we can make Queenstown Road fully accessible and fully inclusive. Will the Minister meet me and other stakeholders to discuss how we can make that a reality?

Of course accessibility is a priority for the Government. As I have said, we want to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can benefit from local services. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Rail Minister, will endeavour to meet the hon. Lady to discuss specific proposals for step-free access.

Before the pandemic, the trains to Stansted airport ran every 15 minutes. Since the Department for Transport has been pulling the strings, the frequency has slipped to half-hourly, with a knock-on effect on local transport services. As passenger numbers return to their pre-pandemic levels over the summer, will the Minister revisit that decision as a matter of urgency?

I think the answer is yes, with £16 million of funding, but it would be sensible for the hon. Gentleman to receive further detail in writing from my hon. Friend the Rail Minister.

Buses are lifelines, and for four years we have worked incredibly hard in south Yorkshire to transform our services for the better. We have rightly been ambitious, putting forward a strong levelling-up fund bid and an excellent bus service improvement plan, but the Government supported neither. What advice can the Minister give those in our area, and many others around the country, who have the ambition to transform their services but need investment from national Government in order to do so?

I do not think I have heard such support for buses in any previous session of Transport questions, and it is brilliant to hear it, because we want to drive that patronage. We want to increase the number of people travelling on buses, and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is championing the cause. As for specific support, I think he should read the letter that we sent out giving details of the support available, and perhaps consider the levelling-up fund, which can also provide support for buses. The closing date for applications is noon on Wednesday 6 July. However, as I have already said many times, we will continue to help local authorities and bus operators to improve bus services for everyone, everywhere.

On Monday, I was in Bradford meeting local schoolchildren left stranded by cuts in Northern rail services. In Wakefield, some passengers will face a four-hour gap in services between 6 am and 10 am. The Transport Secretary has not said a word about the cuts, but has spent his week boasting about new routes in Sevenoaks. Of course the south-east needs routes, as does the rest of the country, but what message does that send to our northern communities? If Ministers mean a single word of what they say about levelling up, will they commit themselves to restoring those northern services to pre-pandemic levels, as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend the Rail Minister is shouting, “£16 billion”. There is also £96 billion for improved services in the integrated rail plan.


The Government are investing £2 billion in active travel over this Parliament. This will allow local authorities to create new walking and cycling routes, including new footbridges.

My constituents in Silsden and Steeton have waited far too long for a footbridge to be built over the busy A629 dual carriageway. Six years after a feasibility study was granted, nothing has happened, despite this Conservative Government awarding millions of pounds to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to fund projects just like this. Will my hon. Friend join me in calling on our Labour West Yorkshire Mayor and our Labour-run Bradford Council to stop dithering and delaying and get on and get that bridge built?

My hon. Friend remains a powerful champion of this and other transport priorities across his constituency. The Government have recently confirmed an £830 million settlement for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority as part of the city regional transport settlements programme. We expect to agree a finalised investment programme of public transport, walking and cycling improvements in the city region in the coming weeks.

Rail Services: South Wales and South-west England

6. What steps he is taking to improve cross-border rail services between south Wales and south-west England. (900105)

We are always looking for ways to boost connectivity between south Wales and south-west England, and have most recently introduced through services between Cardiff and Penzance as part of the December 2021 timetable.

The Union connectivity review and the Welsh Government’s Burns commission have both highlighted the need for new stations such as Magor on the south Wales main line to improve our cross-border rail services. Will the Minister commit to delivering funding for the long-awaited relief line upgrades, and will she meet me and campaigners to discuss the bid for a new station for Magor?

On the Union connectivity report, as I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, in response to Sir Peter Hendy’s review which was published last year, we have set aside development funding for projects to improve UK-wide connectivity. We are engaging with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders before issuing a formal response to that review. I am more than happy to meet her.

Transport for London: Finance

7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of Transport for London on its long-term financial arrangements. (900106)

After providing £5 billion to support Transport for London through the pandemic to date, we continue to discuss a potential longer-term funding settlement to provide TfL with financial certainty while ensuring fairness to national taxpayers.

My hon. Friend may be aware that the do-nothing Mayor of London has announced consultations on hammering hard-pressed motorists yet again, with an extension of the congestion charge, an outer London charge, a pay-per-mile charge and an expansion of the ultra low emission zone. Will my hon. Friend rule out funding those schemes, and will he penalise the Mayor of London if he goes ahead with them?

Decisions on road charging are of course for the Mayor of London alone to take, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the Mayor must not punish people who need to use their cars, especially at a time when people are struggling with the cost of living.

Bus Services

The national bus strategy, published in March last year, sets out the Government’s vision for delivering better bus services for passengers across England. In April, we announced over £1 billion of new funding for the bus service improvement plans, as part of a £3 billion investment in buses during this Parliament.

Well, we are back to buses. My local bus company is really struggling. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 3A, 19, 22, 39, U1, U2, U5 and D2 have all been cut, at a time when we must offer people proper alternatives to car travel. When can my constituents expect bus services to get back to at least pre-pandemic levels?

We have provided huge support for bus services across the country during the pandemic. I would like to remind the hon. Lady that since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 annual support for buses has been 15% higher in real terms than it was under Labour, and that bus fares rose far faster under the last Labour Government. This Government support buses and bus users and we will continue to invest in bus services across the country.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent were delighted to receive £31.7 million from this Conservative Government to bus back better, but sadly, First Bus still thinks it appropriate to cut some services despite this much-welcomed investment. Will the Minister meet me to talk about First Bus’s shameful local record? If that company cannot handle it, maybe there should be franchising in the city of Stoke-on-Trent.

My hon. Friend continues to make powerful points on behalf of his constituency. I am sure my noble Friend Baroness Vere, the Buses Minister, will be happy to meet him.

Well, well, well, the Minister and the buffoons on the Back Benches talk of enhancing bus services, but at what cost? Today, Labour party research—[Interruption.] I suggest the Minister listens to this. Today, Labour party research shows that ZEBRA, or zero-emission bus regional area, funding to the tune of £15 million has been awarded to Arrival, which is interesting because that bus company is run by one Mr Denis Sverdlov, one of President Putin’s closest allies. The funding will see Arrival’s buses on the streets of the UK, sanctioned by this Government.

This Government are supposed to have sanctioned everyone connected to the Russian Government as a result of the horrific war in Ukraine, so I have one simple question: why is millions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money being handed to one of Putin’s nomenklatura? This is not Bus Back Better but buses straight to Russia.

Dear oh dear, the shadow Minister is buffooning back better rather than bussing back better. I am more than happy to raise that issue with my noble Friend the Buses Minister. We will certainly look into the details of that allegation, but at a time when public transport users are beset by strikes that the shadow Minister will never condemn, he should look in the mirror at his own party’s record on supplying public transport across this country.

Noise Cameras

11. What progress his Department has made on assessing the effectiveness of noise cameras since the completion of initial research into their use. (900111)

Following encouraging initial research, further trials of the latest noise camera technologies have been announced to assess their effectiveness, and Members House are encouraged to submit applications for a trial in their local area.

I welcome the Government’s forthcoming acoustic camera trial, so much so that I have already submitted an application for a trial on the A34 bypass through Wilmslow in Tatton, although I hear that competition is stiff because of the number of applications submitted. Although I do not expect the Minister to give me advance notice of the result of Tatton’s application, if even places such as the A34 bypass through Wilmslow are not successful, will he consider having more trials in more places?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her interest in the scheme and for highlighting the nuisance of noisy vehicles in her constituency. We will be carefully reviewing all the applications received, and we will choose four sites that represent a wide range of urban and rural environments across England and Wales. We will then consider the results of those trials.

Villages in Meon Valley, including those along the A32, are blighted by noise from illegally modified motorcycle exhausts, so I am pleased the Minister has explained that the noise camera trial will move forward. Will Meon Valley be included in the trial to put an end to this unacceptable blight on communities in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the blight on her constituents, and I entirely understand why she does so. The noise camera trials will demonstrate whether the technology can be an effective enforcement tool that enables the police and local authorities to tackle the excessively noisy and illegally modified vehicles to which she refers. I know she will work with her local authority to apply for a trial in the best way possible.

I thank the Minister for his answers. The pilot scheme has a target of picking up excessive noise, which has an impact on people’s hearing over time that they might not notice. At the conclusion of the pilot scheme, will he share that information with the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Ministers? I feel the findings of the pilot scheme could benefit us back home in Northern Ireland, too.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The enforcement of such matters is devolved, which is why we are doing the trials in just England and Wales, but of course we will talk to the devolved Administrations to make sure the results are shared so that we can, if possible, roll this out across the UK.

Local Transport Plans: Decarbonisation

12. What steps he plans to take to help ensure that local transport plans prioritise decarbonised modes of transport. (900112)

As part of guidance to be published later this year, local transport plans will be expected to include quantifiable carbon reductions.

The opportunity to make a seismic transition to cycling and walking in our towns and cities is simply not being realised in places such as York, the home of Active Travel England. “Gear Change” is the right ambition, but local plans and local transport plans are just not reflecting it. So how will the Minister ensure that this ambition is instituted in planning? Will she publish the Government’s funding plan needed by 2025 and 2030 to achieve this cycling and walking ambition?

Goodness me, our ambition for cycling and walking is well and truly set out in our transport decarbonisation plan and “Gear Change”; it was the Prime Minister’s ambition that by 2030 half of all journeys in towns and cities will be walked or cycled. As the hon. Lady mentioned, the home of Active Travel England will be located in York. This is just one of the ways in which we are decarbonising the transport system, moving away from fossil fuels and to electrification. I am also delighted that she has 33 electric buses operating a park-and-ride system in York.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Minister and I both know that the quickest way to decarbonise the air around our nation’s great airports is to implement the airspace modernisation programme, which will allow for better take-offs, better landings, more efficiency and the ending of stacking. The good news is that guidance was issued in May—three years ago. Does the Minister want to take a punt on when the Government will implement it?

I think it best that the hon. Gentleman has a meeting with the Aviation Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—specifically on that point. As for how we will decarbonise the aviation sector, again we are not short on ambition, nor on progress. We have rolled out the “Green Fuels, Green Skies” programme, and we continue to work with aviation manufacturers and airports to ensure that we decarbonise the aviation sector.

Rail Journey Times: Bradford to Leeds

As part of the integrated rail plan, the Government will be upgrading the Calder Valley line between Bradford Interchange and Leeds to reduce journey times from about 20 minutes today to as low as 12 minutes.

Last year, the Government scrapped Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would have run from Manchester to Leeds, through Bradford, stating that it was too expensive. At the same time, they ignored the plans set out by the Mayor of Greater Manchester to look at serious alternative funding models. Those same models got the £19 billion Crossrail project built for London. So can the Minister tell me why something that is good in the capital is apparently too good for places such as Bradford? Has he even considered the serious alternative proposals set out by the Mayor of Greater Manchester?

Let me gently correct the hon. Gentleman: last year, we set out our integrated rail plan, which is a £96 billion investment in the railways of the midlands and the north. It is the biggest ever investment by any Government in the railways of this country, and that is five times as much money as was spent on Crossrail. We are committed to delivering improvements across the north of England to more places sooner than under previous plans, and I encourage him to get behind the plans. I am more than happy to meet anyone, including Transport for the North and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and I meet the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues from Bradford regularly to talk about other options. The Government have said that we will take an adaptive approach, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we get this right, but £96 billion is a huge investment in our railways.

Transport Costs

The Department consistently monitors how transport costs impact the cost of living and is investigating ways to reduce them further.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Of course we all know that petrol and diesel prices have hit record highs, and now the prospect of an embargo on Russian oil means they could increase further. Many of my constituents are struggling to fill up their tanks for essential use. The RAC has called on the Chancellor to reduce VAT on fuel costs, and many EU countries operate essential user fuel rebate schemes. What discussions has he had with the Chancellor about employing similar schemes and similar cuts in the UK?

At the spring statement, the Chancellor announced a temporary 12-month cut of 5p a litre in duty on petrol and diesel, to support motorists. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently wrote to the fuel companies to ensure that that cut was being passed on. Treasury Ministers continue to keep the matter under review and Transport Ministers continue to have regular conversations with Treasury Ministers about the importance of ensuring that motoring remains affordable.

The cost of rail travel could be reduced by maximising the income of the rail companies. On three of the four journeys that I took last week, there was no ticket inspection on the trains and none of the barriers were operational. Bearing in the mind the taxpayer support for the rail network, it is not only passengers who are being taken for a ride but the taxpayer. What will the Minister do to ensure that London North Eastern Railway, TransPennine and Grand Central—the guilty parties last week—maximise their income and reduce travel costs?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Revenue protection is of course incredibly important for all train operating companies. Taxpayers have put more than £16 billion into our railways during the course of the pandemic, so we need to continue to ensure that all operators do everything they can to maximise their revenues. I am interested to hear more details about not only my hon. Friend’s experience but that of other Members, because the Rail Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton)—and I are committed to ensuring that what my hon. Friend witnessed does not continue to happen.

Is the Minister aware of the huge costs for people who live in Wakefield and Huddersfield that have resulted from the fact that the small, regular and very good service between the two places was axed two years ago? It has meant that people have to travel in taxis and cars, which is much more expensive, so it is a disaster not only environmentally but financially. I was in Wakefield only on Saturday, and that is still a very important aspect of life and the cost of living for the people who live there.

I completely appreciate the importance of local rail services. We are working not only to restore rail services following the pandemic but, through things such as the restoring your railway scheme, to open new lines and services throughout the country. We continue to invest record amounts. As the lead on the integrated rail plan, I am particularly interested in ensuring that we get local services right throughout the north of England. I am happy to discuss with the Rail Minister the points the hon. Gentleman has raised, to see what more we can do in his area.

On Tuesday, we will see the opening of the fantastic Elizabeth line, which will run from east London right through the incredible town of Slough and on to Reading. It shows just what can be achieved when a Labour Government decide to make an ambitious public transport investment, as they did back in 2005 by introducing the Crossrail Bill. That stands in stark contrast to this Government, who are cutting services, jobs, safety checks and infra- structure projects throughout our rail network. The only thing they have increased is fares, and by eye-watering amounts. Will the Minister explain how huge cuts and huge fare hikes will do anything to get people back on to trains and to tackle the climate and cost of living crises?

Without wanting to test your patience with repetition, Mr Speaker, I emphasise again that the integrated rail plan in the midlands and the north is, at £96 billion, five times as big as the Crossrail project. I gently remind the shadow Minister of who the Mayor of London was when Crossrail was given the go-ahead and who the Prime Minister was when it opened. We are very proud of Crossrail and investing in London, but we are also very proud of investing in the midlands and the north.

Railways: Connectivity

The Government are investing record levels in rail enhancements across England and Wales. The £500 million restoring your railway fund is currently supporting more than 45 schemes to reconnect communities and reverse the Beeching cuts.

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Carno station action group, which has campaigned for more than two decades to reopen Carno station? I implore her to meet me to talk about the Welsh Government’s kind offer to put forward 25% of the funding to open the station at Carno in Montgomeryshire.

I know that my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for all things to do with Montgomeryshire, particularly for better transport. Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review supported further improvements between mid-Wales and the midlands. We are obviously considering them very carefully, but I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Diesel-only Trains: Decommissioning

We remain committed to phasing out diesel-only trains by 2040, and have electrified almost 800 miles of track in the past four years alone to support that goal.

The Minister is aware that the Global Centre of Rail Excellence being developed in Onllwyn in my Neath constituency is the first and only purpose-built UK rail test facility, which will test the capability and reliability of alternative diesel rail technologies. Will the Minister add “test British” to her “buy British” approach, so that all new and upgraded rolling stock endure a fault-free running period before being introduced into service in the UK?

The hon. Lady highlights exactly why electrification of our railways is so important and also the importance of British research, British innovation and British businesses’ involvement in the railway sector. On the point about electrification, I mentioned earlier that we had included almost 800 miles in England. I remind the House of the importance not just of electrification, but of the fact that it was this Government who, since 2010, have electrified more than 1,200 miles of rail, compared with just 63 under Labour.

We now come to topical questions, but, first, I want to let those on the Front Bench know that no letter was sent to me; it was sent to the Opposition. We have just had an apology. To all those saying that I have received a letter, I say, no, I have not. That is not good enough, and hopefully we will get it right next time.

Topical Questions

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.