Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 13 October 2022

I recently addressed the 41st International Civil Aviation Organisation triennial assembly, where I set out the key challenges that aviation faces and urged action, particularly on Russia’s violation of international law and on tackling climate change. It was a historic moment in two ways. First, in a triumph for those who respect the rules-based international order that ICAO and the wider UN system is built on, Russia was voted off the ICAO governing council for the first time in its history. Russia has shown a blatant disregard for its obligations under the treaty governing international civil aviation—the Chicago convention—and it is right that it no longer has the privilege of serving on the council.

Secondly, the assembly agreed to a new climate goal of net zero international aviation emissions by 2050. This is a historic milestone, not just for the future of flying but for the wider international commitments that we have all made to meet the Paris agreements. Now, the real work begins to put in place the measures to achieve that goal, including the technology, efficiencies and clean fuels that are central to our jet zero strategy.

My constituents in Blaydon are hugely concerned about the availability and reliability of our local bus routes. We were pleased to be granted funding under the bus service improvement plan programme, but will the Secretary of State assure me that Transport North East will receive that grant? If so, when?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. She will have heard earlier much discussion of the investments that we continue to make in buses. I am happy to ask the Minister who oversees the portfolio to discuss that with the hon. Lady in more detail.

T2. Previous Ministers for rail have been up to the National Memorial Arboretum to see the existing freight line between Lichfield and Burton. It would be remarkably cheap to convert it into a passenger rail line. It would relieve traffic on the A38 and provide direct contact for veterans to go to the National Memorial Arboretum. So, having had a load of Ministers coming up, may I invite my right hon. Friend—a very good friend—the Secretary of State to come up and visit me at the National Memorial Arboretum, which she will enjoy, and see the benefits of making that line available for passenger traffic? (901595)

I thank my hon. Friend. His invitation sounded so wonderful that I, as the Rail Minister, insisted on coming to the Dispatch Box to accept it. I do note that the proposed scheme was previously unsuccessful under the restoring your railway programme, but I am happy to continue working with him to explore opportunities to improve the rail transport offer in this area.

It was an honour to attend the anniversary mass for Sir David Amess at the Tomb of St Peter with the all-party parliamentary group on the Holy See on Friday. It was a truly moving moment.

It has been five months since the Government promised to take legal action against P&O Ferries. Given that the chief executive himself admitted to this House that he had disregarded employment law and would do so again, when will the Insolvency Service finally deliver its decision and strike him off as a director?

The hon. Member will know that the Government have taken a variety of actions and considered very carefully the position in relation to P&O. He talks about the Insolvency Service and, obviously, this is a matter for it.

T4. Over the summer, the Mayor of London conducted a consultation on expanding the ultra low emission zone across outer London. Two thirds of those responding said that they do not want it and that they want it stopped. Clearly, the Mayor is preparing the ground to introduce this against Londoners’ wishes, so will my hon. Friend on the Front Bench—whoever is going to answer—agree that we should completely reject this imposition on motorists in outer London and make sure that the Mayor cannot use any of the subsidy that is being provided to Transport for London to introduce such a scheme? (901597)

With a daily charge of £12.50, I can understand why my hon. Friend’s residents are concerned. I remind him that the Mayor’s powers do not allow for revenue-raising schemes in their own right, but only those that deliver policy outcomes such as those relating to air quality and/or congestion. The consultation, which has been run by the Mayor, is now closed and we are expecting a response this year. I understand that my hon. Friend may have concerns about how responses have been considered as part of that consultation, and I would support him in directing them directly to the Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

We all shared a deep anger at the actions of P&O Ferries. Although we welcomed much of what the Government said in response at the time, we are yet to see the action match the rhetoric. In welcoming the Secretary of State to her place, I ask her whether she will confirm in this Maritime UK Week that her Department will continue working with all relevant stakeholders, including the maritime trade unions, in delivering the nine-point plan to address P&O’s actions and ensure that workers’ rights are protected from a race to the bottom.

I look forward to continuing to extend the work that my predecessor set running to build that relationship, improve the workplace environment for our seafarers and to ensure that the terrible decisions that were taken by P&O cannot happen again.

T9. The Borderlands growth deal is a fantastic example of the UK Government delivering for local people, but transport officials are delaying and dragging their feet over the next steps to extend the Borders railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle. The lack of progress is frustrating for me, local campaigners and my local council. Will the Minister agree today to urgently speed up this process so that we can deliver better transport links across the Scottish Borders? (901603)

My hon. Friend will know that I am only too keen to enhance the links across the border rather than put border infrastructure in place as others would wish to do. We are currently considering advice regarding next steps for the proposal. In particular, I am keen to see a feasibility study in place for the restoration of the whole rail route. I would be happy to put in writing more details for him in the very near future.

T3. Bus services in the market towns of my constituency are some of the worst in the country. People who cannot drive in those towns are unable to access not only their high street, but hospital appointments. Studies have shown that for every £1 invested in bus infrastructure we generate about £8 in economic benefits. Will the Secretary of State support me in helping to level up rural market towns and pass my Bus Services Bill to improve this critical piece of local infrastructure? (901596)

The Government are committed to improving bus services and, as the hon. Member will have heard, we have already committed £2 billion during the pandemic and a further £1 billion that will help MPs across the area and support their constituencies.

I welcome the entire ministerial team to their positions. I understand that they will want to take time to consider the various matters in front of them, but I ask them to recommit to page 53 of the decarbonising transport plan, promising £2 billion for active travel to ensure that we meet a target of 50% of all urban journeys being conducted by active travel. Do those two commitments stand today?

I have read the decarbonising transport plan and I am aware of the importance of active travel. I did not particularly notice what was on page 53, but I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. As I have already said, the Government are committed to active travel. We have already committed £4 billion through a variety of measures through the Department for Transport, and across Government we are committed to ensuring that active travel remains on our agenda.

T5. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for transport safety and as a resident and MP in London, I know that a default ban on pavement parking works—there can be exceptions. Across this House, MPs representing English constituencies have been demanding a ban on pavement parking. We are still waiting for the outcome of three consultations of almost two years ago. When will the Department for Transport come forward with a plan to ban pavement parking in the rest of England? (901598)

This issue is important to me personally; we will be continuing to work through it at pace and, as soon as parliamentary time allows, make sure that we bring forward the legislation we need.

It is welcome that the North Hykeham relief road, championed by myself since 2004 as a requirement for my Lincoln constituents as part of the eastern bypass, was highlighted by the Government as a project for accelerated delivery in the Chancellor’s mini-Budget. However, the welcome £110 million DFT funding is still £80 million short of the estimated total cost of the scheme. Is consideration being given by current DFT Ministers or officials to upgrading the £110 million by inflation?

My hon. Friend is a remarkable champion for Lincoln. He will forgive me if I quote the late Queen and say that I am in my salad days as a Minister, so perhaps we could meet directly and I could look at the scheme details at more length.

T6. Given that more than 1 million people are using e-scooters on roads across the UK and the UK transport Bill will seek to legalise them, Guide Dogs Scotland has concerns for the safety of people with sight loss. What plans are there to cap the speed, weight and power of e-scooters, introduce mandatory dock parking and provide a sufficient public information campaign so that the law is understood and those with sight loss feel confident using our streets? (901599)

The hon. Member makes an important point. We have a number of pilots relating to e-scooters. A lot of people are using them, but we must ensure that they use them safely. When we bring in regulations to ensure that people can continue with that method of travel, we will of course consult widely and discuss how we can do that safely.

Sadly, too many local residents and passengers have experienced cancelled and disrupted Avanti West Coast train services over recent months, despite the excellent service of the team at Macclesfield railway station. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Avanti’s day-to-day operational performance over the period of the new short-term contract will also be a material factor in determining who will be awarded the long-term National Rail contract to operate west coast services after April 2023? Local passengers deserve better.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The current service is not acceptable, as I have made clear directly to Avanti’s most senior management, and significant improvements are needed. We will be monitoring Avanti’s performance over the next six months, particularly the implementation of its recovery plan, before making a decision in April 2023.

We do need that fourth round of the active travel fund, because it not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but reduces congestion, improves health and frequently increases economic activity through extra footfall. Will the Government commit to it?

My hon. Friend is right. Active travel is very important and further information on the process will be published shortly.

T8. It is not just the Prime Minister’s economic mess that is keeping my Putney constituents up at night, but the deafening return of Heathrow early morning flights. Some are coming in at 4 or 4.30 in the morning, when they should not be before 6 o’clock. Flights should start at 6, but Heathrow keeps pushing the boundaries. Will the Secretary of State publish the data on exactly how many late-running flights are being granted special dispensation to break the night-time curfew, the reasons why and what action she will take if it transpires that Heathrow is breaking the restrictions on it? (901601)

I am interested to hear that, although I would note that now the economy is reviving Heathrow has gone back to being the busiest airport in Europe. But it must operate within the law and we will investigate any evidence that that is not the case.

Parishes in my constituency such as Ditchling and Ringmer want to introduce road safety measures including reducing the speed limit and cutting the number of HGVs coming through the villages, but they have been told by the local highways authority that not enough fatalities have occurred. Will the Minister outline how we can change the policy so that we can make villages in my constituency safer?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her rural communities and villages. We know that inappropriate speed is particularly significant, and speed limits are one tool to address that. We believe that local transport authorities are best placed to know their local areas, so the Department for Transport has rightly given the power to vary speed limits to them and issued guidance to support them in striking the balance between safety, the data, enforcement and other factors when making those decisions. I am happy to write to her with further details.

Thank you, Mr Speaker: I was beginning to lose hope.

The previous Prime Minister made a promise on Northern Powerhouse Rail, but when the announcement came it did not include a new line. This Prime Minister has made a promise on Northern Powerhouse Rail, but will we see a new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford that is not an upgrade of the trans-Pennine line; when will the funding be delivered; and when will spades go in the ground? We need that line for the growth that the Government want to see.

I am delighted to note the support from the Opposition for the statement that the Prime Minister made last week, as I am sure she will be. We will certainly make sure that we set out in detail soon, having engaged with those in the region who have a clear interest in the detail of the plan and how we ensure that we deliver the many benefits that project will bring at the same time as minimising the impact of construction.

Creating a passing loop on the South Fylde line would double the number of trains coming into south Blackpool every hour, assisting businesses such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach to create new jobs and investment. Will the new Minister meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) to discuss the opportunities that could deliver?

Over the summer my constituents experienced atrocious service from local bus companies, with elderly and frail constituents forced to wait for hours at bus stops without knowing whether a bus was coming or not. Will the Minister with responsibility for buses, and my neighbour the Secretary of State, meet me so we can sort out at least an acceptable bus service for my constituents?

The Secretary of State would be happy to meet the hon. Lady, and I am sure the buses Minister would be too.

I thank the Secretary of State for reaching out to me in the early days in her new role. I urge her to make a final, binding decision on the tunnel at Stonehenge on the A303. We have been waiting nearly eight years for a definitive statement and I would welcome a decision by the end of this month.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I read a weighty document on the A303 recently, and perhaps we can meet to discuss it in more detail.

I welcome the new Ministers to their places. What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the excellent Winnington bridge and transport corridor round 2 bid?

We are always keen to hear positive proposals to help to level up our communities, and we meet regularly with ministerial colleagues. I am particularly passionate about the role rail will play in levelling up, but roads and other aspects are important as we make sure that communities get the investment they deserve.

Whenever there is a major delay at the channel crossings in Kent, motorways in my constituency are turned into lorry parks and Kent comes to a standstill. The fact is that Kent is carrying the can for a gap in our national infrastructure. May I urge my right hon. Friend to work with Kent MPs on this problem and be the Transport Secretary who solves it?

I am pleased to have had a brief discussion with my hon. Friend about the importance of Kent and queues in relation to Kent, Dover and the borders. I am very happy to meet the Kent MPs, and I am sure the Secretary of State will be fully engaged in this issue.