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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 30 June 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—

Modernisation of the Railway

The Government are delivering on the reforms set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, making passengers’ journeys easier, more reliable and more affordable.

I am very passionate about this subject. Fylde is home to a number of world-class events, bringing thousands of people into our great county, but they need good rail connections. I am delighted that the project to double the number of services on the South Fylde line remains very much on the Government’s agenda, with a bid still under consideration. With similar projects progressing to the next stage of development, and some seeing shovels in the ground, what assurance can the Secretary of State give me that we will see similar progress on the South Fylde line?

I think the whole House recognises my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the South Fylde line. We received the strategic outline business case in November 2021, we continue to review that and the next steps will be outlined in the coming months.

It was game, set and match Eastbourne last week, at the conclusion of our pre-Wimbledon tournament. That international event puts us on the map as a visitor destination, with its global coverage, but our great potential is wrapped up with our transport links. In that light, what progress has been made with Network Rail’s proposals to extend high-speed services to Eastbourne to enhance those links to the continent, London and the north?

My hon. Friend serves her constituents incredibly well. Again, a strategic outline business plan for high-speed services from St Pancras to Eastbourne is in, and I can confirm that the status of the project will be updated very shortly, in the rail network enhancements pipeline—RNEP.

The census figures show the east of England to be one of the fastest growing areas of the country, and Cambridge is fast within that, but in recent months the Treasury appears to have been going cold on some of the important rail developments in the region, particularly Ely junction and the completion of the Bedford-Cambridge east-west line. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Treasury and what has the response been?

Or course we have a record investment in the railway—nobody can argue with that; I believe the figure is £34 billion for developments. We will be publishing the RNEP shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to see more in that—that is without even mentioning the £96 billion, not in his region, but for the midlands and north through the integrated rail plan. There have never been a Government more committed to rail, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to find out more.

The reality is that Wales has higher levels of rail track than it has received in investment from the UK Government. Also, commitments on electrification beyond Cardiff have been scrapped. Will the Secretary of State set out when he is going to start investing in the railway lines right across Wales? Or are the Tories simply going to keep underfunding Welsh railways?

I am passionate about rail, including in Wales. I will be announcing more in the RNEP, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait too long for that. I think he can see that, as I have already pointed out to the House, the Department for Transport has a lot of success in its discussions with the Treasury, which is how we have managed to invest record amounts in rail under this Government.

We love the passion, but do not forget Coppull railway station. I call the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.

Last week, our part-time Transport Secretary claimed it was a stunt to suggest that he could do anything to resolve the rail disputes. At the weekend, that claim was blown apart, as it was revealed that a policy he issued means that he has direct powers over train operators to get them to follow his directions on disputes. Can he explain to the British public why on the eve of last week’s strikes he found time to wine and dine Tory donors, but still cannot find a single second to resolve these disputes?

I think that I have actually just discovered the root of the hon. Lady’s accusation that I am a part-time Transport Secretary. Just to correct the record—and I will give her the opportunity to withdraw her remarks—I can tell her that I was not, in fact, at the event that she mentions. I am full-time on this job. It would be rather surprising, to get to the nub of her case, if the Transport Secretary were not setting the overall mandate for a negotiation that is extremely important for the future of rail in this country.

The railway is continually being modernised, and anybody who says differently is being disingenuous. I do wonder, though, whether the Government’s modernisation is just an excuse for cuts in a workforce reform programme, including compulsory redundancies. I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for the response I received this week on the inordinately high track access charges that ScotRail has to pay. It was not that helpful, but I thank her none the less. Can the Secretary of State explain in detail why ScotRail, running broadly similar services by distance travelled, had to fork out £340 million versus Northern Rail’s £150 million?

The one thing I would say is that ScotRail has been run latterly by the Scottish Government. The amount of delays even before that was extremely high. The disputes that have taken place, despite ScotRail being taken into public hands by the SNP, have been particularly pronounced. On his detailed questions, I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State to write back to him.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Today, Newcastle-under-Lyme submits its business case for our £23.6 million town deal, which will be granted through the towns fund. Given his answer, I know that the Secretary of State will welcome the transport projects that we have in place, including the new circular bus route and most importantly, in light of what he has just said, the 40 electric vehicle charging points in the town centre, which will support 375 journeys to work each day by electric vehicles. Will the Secretary of State welcome those measures in our town deal, and will he come up to Newcastle to see the projects for himself?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done in winning that funding. He mentions the important work that will happen with 40 new electric chargers in his patch. It is worth pointing out that this country now has more rapid chargers per mile of road than any other European country.

The Government have recently cut the plug-in grant, and the UK is now the only major European country without any incentive in place to switch to electric vehicles. How will this help us end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and become net zero by 2050?

Just to correct the record: that is not true. We still have the grant for vans, for taxis and for other vehicles. The reality is that when the grant, which is a direct payment to people buying their cars, was first brought in, it was envisaged that, by 2020, about 5% of cars would be electric. In fact, we have reached 20% in roughly that time, so that is clearly working. It is better to put the £2.5 billion into the investment of the infrastructure—the rapid charging—particularly given the price of electric cars and the fact that second-hand cars have started to come on to the market. This country is doing very well with electric cars. It is time that the Opposition recognised that fact, with one in five cars now electric.

A reliable charging network is vital to give motorists the peace of mind that they will be able to charge their car wherever they are in the country. We will need up to 480,000 public charging points by 2030. However, the Government have set themselves no target on the roll-out. The electric vehicle infrastructure strategy simply contains an expectation of at least 300,000 charging points. The Government are pinning responsibility solely on local councils and providing no national co-ordination. Placing the entire burden on our already overstretched local authorities means that we will be woefully unprepared for 2030. When will the Transport Secretary finally do something useful and set a national charging points target and give motorists the confidence they need to make the transition to electric?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady has, like me, been driving an electric car for the past three years, but in that period of time I have noticed that the number of chargers available publicly has gone up a great deal. In fact, it has doubled since I have been Secretary of State. We have also said that by 2030, in just seven and a half years’ time, we will increase that 10 times to 300,000 public chargers. It is also the case that the majority of people charge their vehicles on driveways or off-street parking at home—about 70% of the total. Our entire emphasis, through the levy fund on local authorities, is to enable people without off-street parking to park on the street. That fund is delivering great work. She underestimates how much progress this country is making.

Rural Bus Services

3. What steps he is taking to ensure the provision of bus services to rural areas that have not been successful in securing funding following the submission of a bus service improvement plan. (900809)

We have contacted all local authorities not receiving immediate BSIP funding and are working with them to help improve their local bus services.

The Dorset BSIP has returned no investment to rural Dorset. In the light of that, will the Minister consider giving Dorset Council the power to run its own services? Will she also consider enabling journeys using concessionary bus passes to attract the full commercial value of that journey to the operator?

I thank my hon. Friend for his determination to secure better bus services in West Dorset. In our national bus strategy, we committed to reviewing the annual concession reimbursement guidance and calculator that he refers to. I reassure him that we will continue to fund the practical support to develop enhanced partnerships. I know he has frequent meetings with my noble Friend in the other place, Baroness Vere, in which he will be able to discuss his specific question further.

As the Prime Minister apparently contemplates a third term, we on Tyneside are left facing bus fare rises and reduced services. I will ask the question I have asked many times before but have still to receive an answer to: when can we on Tyneside expect to see our bus fares levelled down to those in London, at £1.65 to cross the entire metropolitan area?

I have written to the hon. Lady with specific information. At the October 2021 spending review, the Department announced £1.1 billion of dedicated funding for BSIPs, which is part of the £3 billion new spend on buses over the Parliament.

I apologise to the Secretary of State, but what he has said raises even bigger questions about what he has been doing with his time.

From near-record delays on railways, mile-long tailbacks at Dover, disruption at airports and the first national strike in three decades, everything this Transport Secretary is responsible for is falling apart, and now so is his promise on buses. From October, when the covid funding runs out, there will be four buses across the whole of South Yorkshire after 10 pm. That is four buses for more than 1.3 million people. That is not levelling up, is it? It is managed decline.

To date, the Government have made available more than £2 billion of support through emergency and recovery grants since March 2020 to mitigate the impact of the pandemic for bus and light rail services. Those measures are in addition to the £200 million provided annually directly to commercial operators to keep the fares down and to run an extensive network through the bus service operators grant.

Train Service Providers

4. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of proposals in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail on the choice of train service providers available to rail passengers. (900810)

Great British Railways will incentivise improved services for rail users through new passenger service contracts, and there will be opportunities for new and innovative open access services where spare capacity exists.

I share the Minister’s attractive vision for more choice and variety on our railways; the trouble is that that is not what the Government’s plans will introduce. They weaken competition, reduce choice and extend state central planning and control enormously. Anyone using Hull Trains, Lumo or Grand Central Rail can kiss them goodbye, because they will be the last of their kind. I could understand it if these proposals were being introduced by a Labour Government, but they are not. It is we Conservatives who are doing this, not them. I urge Ministers to take a long, hard look in the mirror before introducing any legislation based on these plans.

I am conscious of my hon. Friend’s strong interest in open-access services. Where there is spare capacity on the network, we will support applications from open-access providers who promise new and innovative services that benefit passengers without leading to significant costs for taxpayers. To be clear, I assure him that as part of the Government’s reform proposals the Office of Rail and Road will maintain its role as the independent regulator for access, ensuring that applications are treated fairly, and it will be able to direct GBR to grant access should it think it appropriate.

We have been waiting for Chorley railway station for four years, but there we are; I hope it is better elsewhere. I call shadow Minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

This Government are presiding over complete transport chaos. We have had backlogs at the ports and backlogs at airports, even though people cannot get passports, and our railways came to a grinding halt thanks to Tory-induced rail strikes. While millions of Brits are suffering from Tory tax hikes, inflation and stagnant wages, rather than doing his job the Transport Secretary has been busy touring media studios to union-bash, pitting rail workers against the British public and washing his hands of all responsibility. Now Ministers are proposing to use agency staff to cover absences, which is both unsafe and reckless. If I can organise and attend meetings with both the Network Rail chief executive and the RMT union general secretary, why are Ministers finding it so difficult? Is it because the Tory Government are prioritising stripping workers of their rights—[Interruption.]

Order. When I stand up and ask the shadow Minister to sit down, I expect him to sit down, not just carry on ranting. I do not think that is acceptable. I worked with him to get him in at this point, because he would not have got in otherwise. Please do not take advantage of the Chair or the Chamber. We expect your question to be shorter. Minister, I am sure you can answer briefly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to put on record that we had a very good meeting following your request for a meeting about stations in your own constituency. [Interruption.] He is nothing if not enthusiastic.

Going back to the matter of industrial action, let us be absolutely clear: we are incredibly disappointed that the unions took the step to go down the route of industrial action. It should be the last resort, not the first resort. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about meetings, he will know full well that it is the place of the employers to have the negotiations with the union, not for the Government. It seems a bit rich that the Opposition go on and on but the simple thing to prevent the strikes—[Interruption.]

Reopening Railway Lines and Stations

Through the £500 million Restoring Your Railway fund we have already reopened the Dartmoor line, and we are supporting more than 45 other promising schemes. This month we announced £15 million to further develop nine schemes to level up areas and grow the economy.

Last year the leader of Ashfield District Council announced in the local paper that the Maid Marian line was a goer and claimed full credit. This year he has announced to the local paper that it is not going ahead and blamed the Government. Will the Minister please confirm exactly where we are with the Maid Marian line just to avoid any more embarrassment for the council leader?

I am happy to give the clarity that my hon. Friend is seeking. I know he takes a keen interest in and is a passionate supporter of the Maid Marian line. Although the bid to reopen the Maid Marian line to passenger services was unsuccessful as part of the Restoring Your Railways programme, I want to be absolutely clear that the case will now be considered under the remit of the Toton study. This is the best opportunity to get the line reopened, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it further.

My hon. Friend will know that it was not just Beeching who cut stations serving Stoke-on-Trent; it was also the last Labour Government. Will she confirm that this Government are determined to deliver rail improvements to Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, and that reopening the line from Stoke to Leek via Milton, with services running on from Stoke to Longport and Kidsgrove, is a serious option for relieving transport deprivation and chronic road congestion for all?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the importance and the benefits of good rail connections to levelling up. He will know that the Stoke-Leek line has successfully secured initial development funding of up to £50,000, and we will be working with the scheme’s promoters to develop a full business case so that a decision can be made later this year.

The Minister will know that the railways have not only a large number of old stations but a lot of property. Will she take seriously making some property from the rail sector available in Huddersfield close to the George Hotel, where we desperately need the perfect site for the rugby league museum? Could she look into that, because there is a lot of property around the hotel? We desperately need her help. Will she intervene?

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific point in his constituency. I would be more than happy to look into it and respond to him.

I am pleased that the reopening of the Barrow Hill line to passenger services has reached the next stage of the review. The problem is that it will be a heavy rail service to a reopened Sheffield Victoria, which has very poor connectivity. Will she look again at the idea of a tram train, following the successful service between Sheffield and Rotherham, which would go into the centre of Sheffield and have real connectivity there? People could then use the newly reopened Beighton station to access it. I know the Minister has offered to meet me already, but will she have a look at that in advance of our meeting?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the step forward with the Barrow Hill line, and I will certainly look at the issue he raises in advance of our meeting.

Re-establishing a new railway station in St Athan has been a priority for me for some time. The Minister and I have met on several occasions, but we have also discovered that the Welsh Government failed to include it in the new stations fund programme. Will the Minister therefore agree to meet me again, so that we can consider how we can best take this project forward? It is a priority not only for me but for the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Secretary of State knows that he has promised twice to come to the Rhondda to be dangled down a hole into the Rhondda tunnel. We are happy to welcome him at any time. I have had a meeting with him and one with the Minister. They keep promising that they will get this sorted, and that there will be another meeting with all the different stakeholders. We chase and chase, and just like you have seen, Mr Speaker, nothing ever gets done. Can they please sort out the Rhondda tunnel so that we can open it up? It will be a great historic reinvention.

Mr Deputy Speaker—sorry, Mr Speaker. Three strikes and I will be out. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is a matter for the Welsh Government. I have had a meeting with him, and I am more than happy to have another meeting with him, but it is time that the Welsh Government put some money forward.

The Minister and I have met to discuss the notorious Tisbury loop arrangement before. Can she update the House on what she proposes to do about this, since for the expenditure of very little money, she could dramatically improve services between Waterloo and Exeter?

I know that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter before, and I will be happy to give him a written update on the Tisbury loop.

Legalisation of e-Scooters

Safety is our priority, and we continue to assess ongoing e-scooter trials, international experience and further research to inform forthcoming legislation.

Vehicle standards remain a reserved issue, so any changes legislated for by the UK Government will impact on Scotland. What data have the Government gathered through trials on the impact that changes would have on people with sight loss, and how will Ministers share trial data with the Scottish Government, as no trials have taken place there yet?

The hon. Member is absolutely correct. The 30 e-scooter trials have been hugely successful across England and will inform how we legislate, but let me assure her, and thank her for the opportunity to say, that we will share our data. We will publish it and the findings, and we will of course work with the Administrations across Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

A27: Shoreham to Worthing

7. What recent progress has been made on developing options for the upgrade of the A27 between Shoreham and Worthing. (900814)

National Highways is currently finalising option proposals for the A27 upgrade scheme. We expect that the proposals will be put to public consultation later this year.

The Minister will be aware that the A27 between Worthing and Shoreham is so congested that at times it resembles the biggest car park in the south-east of England. Last week, National Highways produced a summary of all the failed suggestions it has come up with. At the same time, Transport for the South East came up with much more imaginative proposals, including tunnelling options at some pinch point junctions, which many of us have been suggesting for the past 25 years. What do we need to do to get Transport for the South East’s proposals translated into action, after waiting decades for these improvements?

I thank my hon. Friend for the powerful points he has made. The Department is very aware of the draft report by Transport for the South East, and I thank it for that report. The proposals are being considered carefully and looked at closely by the Department, and I know that the Roads Minister will respond in detail in due course.

Road Maintenance

9. What support his Department is providing to local authorities for the repair of potholes and road maintenance. (900817)

The Department is investing more than £5 billion over this Parliament in local highways maintenance, which is helping to fix potholes and other road defects.

The roads in Buckinghamshire are a mess—they are some of the worst in the country—and Buckinghamshire Council blames a lack of funding from central Government when it says that it cannot invest in long-term repairs. What specifically are the Government doing to help the worst-affected parts of the country address the backlog of potholes and road repairs?

The Government are putting in approximately £950 million a year, and have committed to do so for over three years. That enables local authorities to plan over the longer term to manage their highways assets and to tackle potholes and other defects. I note that Buckinghamshire Council is putting £100 million into a four-year highway improvement programme, which is a clear sign of a Conservative council working with Conservative MPs to achieve results.

Inter-city Rail Links

10. What steps he is taking to expand inter-city rail links between London and the nations and regions of the UK. (900818)

The Department is levelling up rail links and growing the economy through near-term investment in additional inter-city services and longer-term investments such as High Speed 2 and the integrated rail plan.

In December, we welcomed the first direct rail connection from Middlesbrough to King’s Cross for 31 years, helping to boost connectivity between Teesside and London. Will the Minister consider asking his officials to help us build a business case for extending the service through to Redcar Central, which would further unlock the potential across Teesside and connect the UK’s largest freeport with our capital city?

Redcar is a fantastic part of the country, and my hon. Friend is a valued, consistent and doughty champion of his constituency. I understand that Redcar station is to receive a £6 million refurbishment, thanks to his hard work. As his hard work continues to prevail and Redcar continues to thrive, I am sure that LNER will consider extending its service to this vital northern town, which, as he says, is home to the UK’s largest freeport.

Rockets and Satellites

We have established the framework to enable the first launch to space from the UK, and we remain on track for it to happen later this year.

We have heard a lot about railways around the country this morning, but Cornwall is leading from the front when it comes to rockets and satellites. This year, we expect to see the first launch from UK soil, when lift-off takes place at Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. One hundred and fifty-seven businesses across Cornwall are now linked with the space industry. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Civil Aviation Authority makes progress as soon as possible with issuing the necessary licences to ensure that the launch can take place this summer.

I have seen for myself the beauty of Cornwall and the ingenuity at Spaceport Cornwall’s integration facility. It is thanks to the championing of my hon. Friend, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), that in partnership with Virgin Orbit, and with the CAA and the UK Space Agency firmly on board, we will see the first ever space launch from UK soil later this year.

Automatic Route Setting: Railways

12. What assessment he has made of the (a) management and (b) specifications of the use of automatic route setting on railways. (900820)

Automatic route setting is an existing system that Network Rail has used for more than 30 years to support the safe and efficient running of our railways. I am delighted to report that this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £1 billion investment in digital signalling on the east coast main line, which will mean faster, safer and more regular trains for millions of people.

My constituent Paul Day is a recently retired signaller for Network Rail. While in his role, he provided the Office of Rail and Road and Network Rail with nearly a decade’s-worth of information about the safety issues posed by poor data quality, data management and information security on the nation’s rail network. Despite the fact that he first raised his concerns in 2012, nothing has changed, with Network Rail’s 2018 report highlighting that the issues were the same as those identified in 2015. Does the Minister agree that the lack of accountability in the rush for further automation cannot be ignored any longer? Will he meet me and my constituent to look at the issues further?

We will never compromise on the safety of our railways and the UK railway network will remain one of the safest in Europe. It is important to emphasise, however, that ARS is not a safety system and would never be able to override one. Interlocking is a key safety part of the signalling system and would never permit ARS to set a train into a collision. The Department has invested in early design and testing work to enhance traffic management systems, and we will continue to invest record amounts to ensure that our railways remain some of the safest in Europe.

Active Travel

York should be the UK’s cycling capital—it is the home of Active Travel England and it is easy cycling terrain. It was seeing sustained growth, but the growth in car journeys is now exceeding the growth in cycling, and there are concerns about accidents, confidence and a lack of infrastructure. The active travel budget is woefully small compared with that for roads, and less than a third of what is needed to reach the 2025 target for cycling and walking, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that the funding is in place for the scale of modal shift that is needed?

The hon. Lady shares the Prime Minister’s ambition to ensure that half of all journeys are walked or cycled in towns and cities by 2030, as set out in “Gear Change”. We are investing more money than ever—£2 billion—and we have established Active Travel England in York. We have now appointed Chris Boardman MBE as England’s active travel commissioner and I will soon publish the second cycling and walking strategy. Mr Speaker, put simply, there has never been a better time to get on your bike.

The shift from cars to all modes of transport, which will benefit us in environmental and health terms, would undoubtedly be improved by a better ticketing offer for the railways. Does the Minister agree that it is the Government’s job to ensure a well-functioning ticketing system, as opposed to mandating Great British Railways? We have some of the world’s leading ticketing companies putting forward innovative new offers, and it would be better to ensure that shift by incentivising those companies.

That is a bit of a stretch from the question on active travel, but I agree that it is equally important to have modal continuity between active travel and public services. I suggest that my hon. Friend meets the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), about that specific question.

Although it is important for people to move from cars to more active travel, the reality for many of us in rural communities is that we cannot, because the bus services are not there and cars are our mode of transport. One way to do it would be through a park and ride—in other words, for people to make their journey from the countryside to the town, park, then ride on a Glider. Is the Minister looking at that?

I certainly am. We are looking at all ways to reduce congestion and enable people to be fitter and to get from A to B in the most cost-effective way. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member to talk in more detail about all the roles of active travel, lift sharing and park and ride, and the different ways people can now get around with the modern transport revolution.

UK Supply Chains

I thank the Minister for that very brief answer. I recently met Rick Bromley, who runs a road haulage business in my constituency, and he was very concerned about the impact of rising fuel prices on the industry and the uncertainty that such prices are creating. What assessment have the Minister and the Department made of the sustainability of the haulage sector given the current uncertainties?

I will reply at more length now, if that is what my hon. Friend would like. We recognise that the cost of fuel, driven by global factors, means that businesses are of course facing increased operating costs, and we are taking steps to mitigate that. My hon. Friend will be aware that we cut fuel duty by 5p in the spring, and we have recently instructed the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of competition in the fuel retail market to ensure that customers and businesses are not getting ripped off.

Mr Speaker, I apologise for my lack of a tie earlier this morning. You know that I usually take my sartorial choices incredibly seriously, given how much the media like to comment on them.

From fashion to transport chaos. We know that the Government have allowed supply chains to deteriorate to breaking point over the past few weeks. Countless businesses are on the verge of going bust, and the knock-on impact on families has been heartbreaking given the full force of the cost of living crisis. Throughout this, the Secretary of State has been and continues to be missing in action. Time and again, he has refused to meet the Mayor of London to agree a long-term funding deal for Transport for London, jeopardising UK-wide supply chains. He did nothing—nothing—to halt last week’s rail strikes, and instead just attacked the workers, who had legitimate grievances. It is clear that the Secretary of State does not care about fixing supply chains; instead, he spends his time making TikToks. So will the Minister get a grip on the transport chaos?

Let me enlighten the hon. Member. There is, for example, the action we have taken on HGV drivers. We have taken 33 measures, which have been praised by Logistics UK. That is what we are doing. This Department has a very firm grip of the transport network, and that is why we are seeing results.

Shrewsbury-Black Country-Birmingham Railway

15. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of updating and improving the Shrewsbury-Black Country-Birmingham railway line on employment, training and educational opportunities for people in local communities. (900826)

We are expecting to receive a strategic outline business case from Midlands Connect in July, which I hope will set out the potential impacts of this scheme on employment, training and education.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As she says, a business case is going in to her Department in July to increase the line speed between Shrewsbury and Birmingham, which could be done by 2025 if signed off quickly. Will she use her good offices to agree the funding for the outline business case, so that we can finally level up for Shropshire with connectivity and speed to our regional capital, Birmingham?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that rail projects such as this are a vital way of levelling up and growing the economy right across every part of the country. I look forward to receiving the business case next month, and I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and stakeholders to discuss the scheme further.

Industrial Action: Railways

17. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900828)

18. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900829)

The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated the cost of the RMT’s strike action to be at least £91 million due to workplace absences. However, Network Rail has estimated the direct cost of last week’s strike to the rail industry to be between £100 million and £150 million.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the rail industry has been well documented, as have been his and the Chancellor’s extensive efforts in providing support for our railways during that time. Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that, after two years of taxpayers’ money being spent subsidising the rail industry, the RMT chose to strike instead of accepting the pay rise it has been offered or continuing to negotiate?

My hon. Friend is right, but it is actually even worse than that. Not only was £16 billion of taxpayers’ money put in—£600 per family in this country, or £160,000 per individual railway employee—but the RMT balloted for strike action under the false pretence that there would not be a pay rise, when in fact the pay freeze had already ended. That is unjustified and unjustifiable action that the whole House should be condemning.

Given the significant cost of the strikes, what progress can we make towards the introduction of minimum service levels, like they have in many other European countries, albeit as a longer-term solution?

We are intending to progress with minimum service levels. That is in our manifesto, and we will be introducing legislation later this year. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, minimum service levels exist in civilised countries such as France, Italy and Spain, and it is about time we had them in the UK as well.

Will the Secretary of State explain why it is that when essential goods such as fuel are in short supply the price has to go up, but when essential workers are in short supply, their wages are expected to go down?

As I have explained to the House, a pay rise was already on the cards, and it is false to have called a strike on the basis that there would be a pay freeze. The pay freeze had ended. It is also untrue to say that there needed to be wide-scale compulsory redundancies. Indeed, we had a voluntary redundancy programme, where 5,500 members of staff came forward, and we only accepted 2,500 of them. This strike has been called on the false pretences that I have described. It is time to end the strike and ensure that people get back to work, and it is time for those on the Opposition Benches to condemn the strikes.

Topical Questions

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.