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Topical Questions

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 30 June 2022

I know the whole House will share our concerns about the potential for aviation disruption this summer. Millions of families are looking forward to getting away on holiday, which is perhaps the first one they have had since the pandemic. We appreciate that the airports are busy as they recover, but the last thing we want is a repeat of the scenes that we saw at Easter and half term. Let me stress that there is absolutely no excuse for further widespread disruption. It is more than 100 days since we announced the easing of travel restrictions; further to support the industry as it prepares for the summer, I am today announcing, with a written ministerial statement to the House, a 22-point plan to help recruit and retain staff, and improve resilience, so that disruption to passengers this summer is minimised, and if delays do unfortunately occur, so that travellers get properly compensated. Those measures are what we are doing, and we look to the aviation sector to do its part.

My constituents who work at the Alexander Dennis Limited factory in Camelon, along with many others throughout the industry, suspect that the Prime Minister’s green bus pledge will not be met. In the same timeframe, the Scottish Government have, per capita, ordered the equivalent of more than three times as many buses as the UK Government’s figure. Will the 4,000 buses be on the roads by the end of this parliamentary term?

T4. I thank the Minister of State for her recent response regarding the much needed upgrade of Haughley junction. I am sure that those on the Front Bench will be fed up with me banging on about this, but will the Secretary of State commit, right now, to upgrading Haughley and other important connectivity junctions in the east, such as Ely, so that we do not lose out on the levelling-up agenda? (900801)

I have spoken to my hon. Friend several times, including recently, about that scheme, and he is a keen campaigner for getting faster and more reliable trains from Clacton to London. We want to provide as much certainty as possible on rail enhancements, and we will set out our plans, including our proposals on Haughley junction, in the upcoming update to the rail network enhancement pipeline.

It is my great pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State to oral questions today, because he was absent without leave last time, and he is missing in action when it comes to aviation. He mentioned the chaos over Easter and the jubilee weekend, but he did not hold one meeting with aviation bosses during that time. Now EasyJet, among others, has announced that it could cancel 10,000 flights in the next three months. The Secretary of State needs to step up to the plate. He needs to go to the Prime Minister, knock on the door, and clean up the mess.

I am not sure what the question was. During the last oral questions, I was taking on the UK presidency of the International Transport Forum, which is the world’s most important international transport body. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that a Secretary of State should be doing that, he is very mistaken indeed.

T5. Leading on from my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), is my hon. Friend aware of the growing alarm across East Anglia about whether the Government’s long-term commitment to invest in Ely and Haughley junctions will be fulfilled? That improvement to the rail network will have significant levelling-up benefits across East Anglia and beyond, improve services for both freight and passengers, and help achieve our legally binding decarbonisation targets. Will she confirm that the rail network enhancements pipeline will prioritise this much needed investment? (900802)

My hon. Friend has previously raised the issue of Haughley and Ely junctions with me. We remain committed to publishing the RNEP update, which has been delayed by the need to take account of the impacts of the pandemic and the spending review. However, I want to be in a position where we can provide as much clarity and certainty as possible. We will set out our plans shortly.

The Secretary of State will doubtless be aware of the existence of proof that Inverness airport, having proactively asked about the private jet flight to Moscow two days after the Russian invasion, was told by NATS that it had no reason to intervene and that it should expect contact from the Department for Transport on anything specific. He sought to embarrass Inverness airport and blame it publicly. Would he like to correct the record and apologise to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd for his error?

As a pilot, I understand how NOTAMs—notices to aviation—work: they are the responsibility of either the pilot or the aviation operator, which in this case was the airport, to follow. There is simply no excuse for not following them.

With more strike days on the tube under this Mayor than his predecessor, his wanting to slash our bus services—in particular, the 24 and the 211 in my constituency—and with the Met now in special measures, does my right hon. Friend think it is time that the Department for Transport considers putting Transport for London in special measures?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Labour Members constantly call on me to enter into direct negotiations with the unions. They may be able to tell us whether the Mayor of London has done the same thing with the RMT strikes. If he has, it has not worked. If he has not, why are they not calling on him to do that?

To add to my hon. Friend’s lengthy list of problems, I got a letter yesterday from the monitoring officer at the Greater London Authority, who says that she will be referring to the formal complaints process guidance as a result of the Mayor’s releasing information about both the Elizabeth line and TfL in advance of the markets.

T2.   Transport remains the UK’s biggest generator of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide emissions. Road construction and the traffic that those roads support represents a large proportion of that. Does the Secretary of State agree, therefore, that rather than pursuing an outdated, destructive road project such as the Rimrose Valley Port of Liverpool access scheme in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), a complete rethink is needed and that imaginative, innovative and sustainable infrastructure is the only credible way forward in the face of a climate emergency? (900798)

The hon. Member makes a particularly important point, which is exactly why we are investing £577 million in research and development, more than half of which is on decarbonisation of transport, including programmes such as ADEPT live labs where we look specifically at how we can reduce carbon emissions from bituminous materials and road making provisions.

Many of the roads in north Buckinghamshire are in a perilous and dangerous state because of the thousands of heavy goods vehicle movements related to the construction of High Speed 2 and East West Rail. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a point of principle, that which those companies break, they should fix without question?

My hon. Friend remains a doughty champion of his constituency and the state of its roads. I continue to work with him to ensure that any damage done by HS2 or East West Rail is put right. The company has committed to that, and I will continue to work with him and his local councillors to ensure that that happens.

T3. We are back in another short-term extension of the Transport for London funding deal. The Government cancelled a series of meetings to discuss it, and business leaders are pleading with them to get on and provide a long-term spending deal. There is a very simple yes or no answer to this question: will the Secretary of State meet the Mayor to sort this out? (900800)

There have been numerous meetings with the Mayor, and they have included our officials as well as me from time to time. The Mayor has failed to bring forward his plan for the reform of pensions, missing the deadline and causing us to have to, in part, create an additional extension for that purpose. On Thursday or Friday of last week, he stood up and made a speech saying that he would dodge the difficult issues set up by his own independent review of the pensions and that there was not even a cause for having a pensions review, which has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds. The Mayor needs to start taking some responsibility for his own transport system in London.

I recently met the parents of Emily, a nine-year-old girl from the Vale of Belvoir who was killed in a tragic car accident. They want me to ask the Secretary of State what consideration he has given to graduated driving licences, which we know have saved lives around the world. Will he meet me to discuss the most dangerous roads in Rutland and Melton, particularly the A52 junction at Bottesford?

Reducing road deaths and injuries is something that I am very passionate about. We are working all the time with National Highways and the local highways authorities. I will certainly make sure that my hon. Friend gets an urgent meeting with the Roads Minister to discuss her specific issues.

T6.   During recent Transport questions, Ministers agreed to meet me and campaigners for Magor rail station, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), despite chasing them, we have heard nothing. Please could we have that meeting? It would allow us to urge the UK Government to work with the Welsh Government to deliver financial investment for cross-border rail, which the Burns review, the Union connectivity review and the western gateway partnership deem essential. (900803)

I assure the hon. Lady that my office has been endeavouring to set up that meeting. I will chase them and make sure that it happens.

The Mayor of London is consulting on cutting 18% of London’s bus routes. This will badly affect my constituency, with seven routes cut completely and seven severely affected, even though the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable are dependent on buses. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the Mayor needs to stop these plans?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have provided £5 billion to TfL. What the Mayor does with that money and how he spends it is his choice. As I mentioned a moment ago, rather than doing the difficult things—for example, tackling the pension fund that his own review says requires tackling—he is cutting buses for Londoners, and that cannot be right.

T7. The right hon. Gentleman used to be a pilot. He is now the Secretary of State for Transport and therefore responsible for making sure that air transport on these islands complies with the law. Does he accept as a fact that Inverness airport specifically asked the National Air Traffic Service if it was okay to let that flight go, and that it was told that, yes, it could? Does he also accept that his Department did nothing to intervene? And does he accept that it was a weakness in the sanctions regulations that led to any dubiety at all as to whether that flight should have been grounded? (900804)

No, no and no. For clarity, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and put a copy of the letter in the Library, explaining how a notice to airmen, as it used to be called—it is now called a notice to aviation—operates. As soon as it is issued, it is the job of the aviation organisation or pilot to obey it. There are no ifs and buts—a NOTAM is a NOTAM. It does not matter what anybody else says—that is what has to be followed. I will illustrate that in a letter to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope we can put this issue to bed.

The No. 7 bus, which connects Smallthorne, Chell, Packmoor and Kidsgrove, is sadly at risk, so could my right hon. Friend ask the Bus Minister to hold an urgent meeting with me, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and First Potteries, to make sure that this vital service is not lost?

T8. The measures that this Government are taking will not even touch the sides of the cost of living crisis, and transport policies are no exception. By contrast, Germany offers a pass for all regional and local public transport for just €9 a month, and the Irish Government have cut fares by 20%. Will the Transport Secretary consider such bold measures to ease the financial pressures on people and tackle the climate emergency? (900806)

I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about transport issues. I saw that she was on the picket line last week, although that, unfortunately, stopped hard-working people getting to their jobs to earn a living. I also know she will be a big fan of the recent great British rail sale, which saved the public £7 million, with lots of tickets up to half price. That was massively successful, with about 1.5 million tickets sold. I hope to repeat such exercises.

Will the Minister confirm that the DFT will use the upcoming Government response to the consultation on the renewable transport fuel obligation to fine-tune the regulations and stimulate the use of hydrogen in transport?

It is an absolute pleasure to respond to Mr Hydrogen on this issue, because we in the Department share his enthusiasm for hydrogen in the transport sector. We are looking at the RTFO to see how it could support hydrogen in transport more effectively while working with colleagues across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to do the same.

I thank the Rail Minister, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), for her announcement on 18 June about more funding for the development of the line between Poulton-le-Fylde and Fleetwood. Will she reassure my constituents, who are important stakeholders in that potential reopening, that they will be consulted by Network Rail as plans develop?

I was really pleased that we were able to make that announcement. I assure the hon. Member that, as we continue with that, we will keep in touch with her and stakeholders as appropriate.

There are media reports today that another 30 flights from Heathrow have been cancelled, with considerable disruption for many passengers. Many passengers have turned up to Heathrow not knowing that those flights were set to be cancelled, so it is disappointing that the Secretary of State has chosen not to initiate an oral statement on his response to the crisis. How many people does he think have been affected by the situation facing our airlines? And if he does not know, why not?

We have made it absolutely clear that the scenes we have seen at airports are unacceptable and that we do not want a repeat of them. It is important to remember that the responsibility for ensuring the safe, efficient operation of airlines rests with the aviation sector. We have announced a 22-point plan today to make it clear what the Government are doing in support.

On Saturday, I met RMT Scotland workers on the picket line at Glasgow central station and was incredibly proud to do so. One of the things they told me is that they are sick, tired and fed up of the Secretary of State vilifying them in public. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to RMT workers, our hard-working railway staff who keep the railways safe every day, and actually get around the table with them?

I am happy to clear this up: I think that railway workers are very hard-working people who have been sold a duffer by their union bosses, who are hard-line—in many cases—Marxists who want to bring this Government down and bring the country to a standstill. It is a great shame that the hon. Member is encouraging that, rather than condemning it. Fortunately, they are paid well above the average in the country—£44,000 for the average railway worker compared with only £31,000 for a nurse.