The Secretary of State was asked—
Ely Rail Capacity Enhancement: Benefit-Cost Ratio
As a fellow Blue Fox, I always had a lot of time with David, and a great friendship. I join you, Mr Speaker, in your tributes to him and James. I also reflect that last Friday marked 70 years since the collision involving three trains at Harrow and Wealdstone station where 112 people lost their lives in our worst peacetime rail incident. We remember those who were lost.
The benefit-cost ratio for the Ely area capacity enhancement was calculated and assured by Network Rail as part of the development of the outline business case for the scheme. We have no reason to doubt the robustness of the benefit-cost ratio.
I welcome the Minister to his place, and indeed the new Front-Bench team. The project is backed by MPs across the east of England because it would increase capacity by 30%, enabling more passenger and freight services and delivering a major boost to growth. Given the overwhelming economic benefits that it offers, will the Government ensure that this much-delayed project, for which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been campaigning for more than a decade, is now fast-tracked and moves to the next phase?
My hon. Friend is a strong champion for the Ely scheme, and I recognise the potential for the benefits that he highlighted. It is, though, worth noting that the scheme would require significant public funding with a total cost of up to £500 million, so we need to consider that as part of reviewing patterns of rail travel post the pandemic. We will therefore seek to provide as much clarity as possible when we publish an update to the rail network enhancements pipeline.
Major Transport Infrastructure: North of England
Mayoral combined authorities across the north of England each received a share of £5.7 billion over five years from the city region sustainable transport settlements to transform their local transport networks. That builds on nearly £33 billion of central Government spending on transport across the north since 2010 as well as the £96 billion committed to the north and midlands through the integrated rail plan.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her post and thank her for her answer. Doncaster Sheffield airport is a strategic asset not just for South Yorkshire but for the wider north and an important part of our national transport infrastructure, but it is about to close. She has received numerous meeting requests from both the Mayor of South Yorkshire and Members across the House along with specific concerns about how closure would diminish our civil contingency capability, potentially with severe consequences. Will she agree to an urgent meeting to sit down with the Mayor and Members of Parliament from across South Yorkshire so that we can work together and do everything we can to keep DSA open?
The Government are incredibly disappointed that air operations at Doncaster Sheffield airport are expected to close from the start of November. We recognise that that will be difficult news for those who use the airport as well as businesses and people working there. Of course, it was ultimately a commercial decision made by the owners of DSA. I have held several meetings with both local leaders and the Peel Group to encourage them to work together towards a solution for the site that will benefit local people and the region’s economy.
I welcome the Government’s recent commitments to accelerating infrastructure investment and in particular the comments about Northern Powerhouse Rail. Will the Secretary of State encourage spades in the ground for the Ferryhill station project, which is progressing, and meet me and others with regard to the work already being done to put plans in place for the Leamside line and the opportunities to bring it into the full Northern Powerhouse Rail project?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for all transport infrastructure in County Durham, having been so before and indeed now that he is in the House. I will ensure that he can sit down with our rail Minister to discuss in greater detail the investments that we are making. The growth plan, which the Chancellor set out a few weeks ago, sets out clearly why transport infrastructure is critical to helping our economy to grow. We have a broad range of projects that we are both accelerating and continuing with the investments that we have committed.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, this is an incredibly urgent and serious issue. I am not sure what meetings the Secretary of State is referring to, but will she now agree to meet local leaders?
I have asked my officials to meet the Mayor of the combined authority in the very near future to continue the discussions we have already had, but, as I say, this is ultimately a commercial decision by the airport owners. We want to work with them and the authority to find the right solutions.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. May I urge her to continue the work of the former cycling Minister and Active Travel England, who were enthusiastic supporters of the improvement and upgrading of the cycle route between Newcastle and Hexham, and ultimately to Carlisle, to a cycle superhighway? This has the treble benefits of increasing commuting capability, cutting cost of living, and creating both active travel and a tourist destination.
My parliamentary neighbour is nothing if not a champion for all things active travel. I would be very happy for him to sit down with the new cycling Minister to discuss that in more detail. I agree with him absolutely that we need to look at such important cycleways, which offer a series of new economic opportunities, and get those spades in the ground as quickly as possible.
I call shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.
I welcome the new Secretary of State and the entire ministerial team to their place. We look forward to shadowing them. I am afraid that we are not off to a great start, though. The Prime Minister promised to protect Doncaster Sheffield Airport during her leadership campaign, and she gave a promise to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who I do not see in his place this morning, at her first Prime Minister’s questions to do what she could to protect the airport. This is not just a commercial decision. The Mayor has written to the Peel Group this morning with names of potential bidders and a reiteration of financial support to keep the airport running. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the Mayor and Members across this House, and consider using her powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to keep this strategic asset running?
Department for Transport Ministers and officials have been clear throughout that the Government support our regional airports and that they provide a vital contribution. Throughout the period of review carried out by the Peel Group, Transport Ministers have been working together—I am very pleased to hear there are new proposals on the table—with the local authorities and the Peel Group to find ways forward. On the issue the hon. Lady raises relating to the Civil Contingencies Act to prevent closure, I have looked at that in some detail. While all things under the Act are owned and determined by Cabinet Office Ministers, I am not persuaded that the closure of DSA could be undertaken under that Act.
What did the Prime Minister mean when she said she would protect Doncaster Sheffield airport?
As I say, we continue to show that support for our regional airports, but at the end of the day this is an airport held in ownership by the Peel Group and we want to continue to work with it. As I said to many colleagues, we continue to provide the technical support from DFT officials that may help to find a solution, but at the end of the day a solution is offered and accepted, or not, at that level with the Peel Group.
Private Hire Operators: VAT
I know the hon. Gentleman is a keen champion for this area, given that he is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. He will know that the question of whether a private hire vehicle operator needs to pay VAT depends on two factors: whether he is acting as principal or as agent; and whether he meets the VAT threshold. As he will also know, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for VAT.
I welcome my near constituency neighbours to their posts. I hope they will get behind a brilliant public transport scheme that Cambridge craves and the country needs Cambridge to have. There are 16,000 private hire operators across the country and an impending court case could change the complicated relationship between customer and operator. The worry is that if that change comes into effect, as a consequence of the court case, many small operators could be at risk. What plans does the Department have to deal with that contingency? Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the industry to discuss that further?
I welcome the hon. Member’s championing of a great area in the country in the east of England. I am aware of the litigation that he refers to. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is considering any implications that that may have on VAT payable by private hire vehicle operators. As he will know, the Government keep all taxes under review at all times. I am sure that the Minister responsible for this area, Baroness Vere in the other place, will be happy to meet him.
Stations Outside Cities: Regeneration
The Government recognise that stations are the heart of many communities across our country, providing vital transport links. We are investing in stations through the new stations fund and the restoring your railway programme, as well as through wider enhancement and renewal schemes. We are also providing accessibility improvements through the £383 million Access for All programme.
I am grateful for that answer. No region is more poised to deliver growth for this country than the east, with agritech, cleantech, biotech and every other tech, but we are being held back by terrible infrastructure. The residents of East Anglia want a commitment to regional rail—what Network Rail dismisses as small regional routes—right at the heart of a growth vision. Will my right hon. and hon. Friends agree to support the role of stations in rural areas? There are 52 in East Anglia. They could all be innovation hubs and be redeveloped. They are going nowhere at the moment. In particular, there is Wymondham station in my patch, where disabled passengers have to go to Norwich to change platforms. We have waited 10 years. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made big commitments. Will the Minister meet me to drive rural stations for growth?
I am always delighted to meet colleagues who share my passion for investing in our rail network and who recognise that our stations are not just a handy place to board a train, but are sometimes the heart of a local community. We are investing in our stations: for example, we recently delivered a new mobility hub at Norwich station in the east of England. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend.
Staveley station in my constituency, on the Lakes line from Oxenholme to Windermere, has 41 steps to get up to it. It is 100% inaccessible to anybody with a mobility problem. That is an outrage. We have bid into several pots over the years, but because it is not a main line station, it never qualifies for any funding. Will the Minister meet me and local rail campaigners to make sure that Staveley station is accessible for everyone?
As the hon. Member will know, we are making great progress on accessibility through our Access for All programme across our stations. We are also completing an accessibility audit of all the stations on our network. I am happy to meet him to talk about his station and I look forward to announcing, in the next year, the latest round of stations that will benefit from Access for All improvements.
Let us hope they do Chorley at the same time.
I welcome the Minister to his new role and thank him for all his work in the Home Office.
Will the Minister commit to the upgrade of Witham train station, which has been under debate and discussion for many years? Importantly, will he help with the accessibility issue at Marks Tey station? I also invite him to come to Marks Tey station to look at the work that is needed to make it fully accessible.
I have a feeling that I will hear quite a lot about Chorley station over the next few months, Mr Speaker.
Turning to matters in Essex, I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend in her place, campaigning hard for her constituents. I would be delighted to visit—I expect that that is an invitation I really cannot refuse.
Luton town station is our gateway to our town centre. People use it to go to work and football fans use it to go to the match, but as local people know and consistently tell me, it is not fit for purpose. It is decrepit and run down. Will the Minister outline the details of when the Access for All work will begin to install lifts to the four out of five platforms that are inaccessible? More importantly, to grow our local economy, will he commit to funding a comprehensive renovation to the station to make it fit for the 21st century?
I am happy to respond in more detail, perhaps in writing, about when work is planned to take place. I recognise the important role that the station plays at the heart of her constituency and community.
Cycling Targets: 2025 and 2030
The Department estimates that a minimum of £4.4 billion is likely to be required to meet its cycling and walking objectives to 2025; and further, that a minimum of £5.5 billion is likely to be required to meet the objectives to 2030. The actual amount will depend on a wide variety of factors.
I am sure the Minister agrees that there is nothing nicer than seeing schoolchildren in local streets learning in a supervised way how to cycle safely, particularly as interest in cycling has grown post pandemic. Will she commit today to ensuring sufficient funding for every single local authority to maintain its cycling classes, so that children can learn and so that we can tackle air pollution together by having more children cycling safely on streets and being taught manners and the best way to cycle in our local environments?
I agree that it is important to learn from a young age how to cycle safely. That will ensure that as children grow older, they are more willing to engage in active travel rather than being in cars. I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government will offer cycle training to every primary school child in England, building on the record of 500,000 training places offered in 2022-23.
Earlier this month, 250 cyclists, including me, took part in the Cycle Winchester mass ride around the city. I also joined the school cycle bus from Twyford into Winchester during the conference recess, which was potentially a better use of my time. We are excited by the mini-Holland schemes in Hampshire that are already being invested in. In a few weeks, I will take a walk around the city to see the work that we have done investing in those plans. Can the Minister tell me whether the Government are committed to the active travel fund and when the fourth tranche of applications to it will open?
I am delighted to hear about my hon. Friend’s active travel. I remember that his constituency has a very impressive company that converts bicycles to electric bicycles. Announcements in relation to the fourth fund will be considered and made in due course.
The Minister has just outlined the fact that nearly £10 billion of investment will be required to meet the targets. One of the only good things to come out of covid has been the expansion of cycling networks and opportunities. Will she guarantee to the House today that that will not be one of the areas that has to be cut as a result of the Government’s economic plans?
I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already spent significant funds on active travel. There are core funds available, but there are also funds from other Departments, such as the levelling-up fund, the highways maintenance fund and the future high streets fund. Much of that money is already committed. I remind the hon. Gentleman about the poor record of the Labour party, whose funding for active travel was significantly less than we have already put in to this important area.
The Government have provided nearly £2 billion of support since March 2020 through emergency and recovery grants to ensure that our bus sector survived throughout the pandemic. That is on top of the £1 billion of transformation funding that will make our bus services faster, more reliable and cheaper across much of England.
I thank the whole House for the very kind comments about Southend’s greatest ever champion: Sir David Amess, my predecessor. They will be much appreciated by everyone in Southend West as we remember Sir David on Saturday.
Southend, and indeed the whole of Essex, did not benefit at all from the Government’s bus service improvement plan earlier this year, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that new cities such as Southend can bus back better? Will the Minister assure me that those areas that missed out last time will be at the top of the list for funding in future schemes?
My thoughts are with Sir David Amess’s family today. I am grateful that my hon. Friend has mentioned him.
My hon. Friend is a very keen champion for her area. I am aware that her area was not successful in the funding round that she mentions, but I am pleased that Essex County Council and Southend-on-Sea City Council have been awarded some funds to maintain bus services, with totals of £1.5 million and £330,000 respectively to support the development and delivery of their bus service improvement plans and enhanced partnerships. That is in addition to their bus recovery grant allocation and the practical support on offer, which includes guidance and training to ensure eligibility for any further BSIP funding.
We’ll miss the bus at this rate.
Will the Minister acknowledge that there are sometimes problems with important transport links that run between destinations in different transport authority areas? Will she seek to address that, and will she talk to Hertfordshire County Council and Transport for London about restoring the 84 bus route between Chipping Barnet, Hadley and Potters Bar?
My right hon. Friend has made an important point, because, of course, transport crosses corridors. As she will know, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London, and the Government have agreed with Transport for London a £1.2 billion multi-year settlement to secure the long-term future of London’s transport network, including bus services. Where bus-tender routes operate across transport authority boundaries, we expect the local transport authorities involved to work closely with bus operators.
David Amess was a parliamentary mate. He was a proper parliamentarian. We miss him dreadfully. He would not like me to call him a mate, mind, but it is the truth.
Is the Minister aware that hydrogen-powered buses are widely available? I think there are already 16 on the streets of Belfast—I should have been speaking at a sustainability conference in Belfast today—but hydrogen-powered heavy goods vehicles and trucks, including waste trucks, are also available. When will local authorities have proper subsidies to enable them to get those hydrogen-powered buses and trucks on the road, now?
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we have a wide variety of energy sources for our transport system. The hon. Gentleman will know that only last week the Secretary of State announced £24 million for Teesside to expand its hydrogen works. I am aware of the hydrogen-powered buses; significant Government funds are available for them, for electric buses, and for various other mechanisms.
Workers in Angus, from Kirriemuir to Arbroath and from Montrose to Brechin, are stuck because of the lack of buses, itself due to a lack of drivers. They are going cap in hand to their employers to explain why they are late for work, and they are having to take taxis home because the bus had never turned up. I have canvassed a good many colleagues in this place, and I know that this is not a Scottish issue—it extends across the British Isles—so I ask the Minister please not to remind me that transport is devolved. This is a UK issue requiring UK intervention, with training for drivers and support for operators.
I am sorry, but I will remind the hon. Gentleman that transport is devolved. If there are issues in Scotland, he knows where to address those points. However, I also remind him that we have invested nearly £2 billion in buses over the pandemic, in addition to the £1 billion invested to ensure that our buses become more reliable and cheaper throughout the country.
Since covid, commuter bus routes from Hemel Hempstead into London have been cut. The reason for that is lack of demand, because people are working from home and there is no encouragement for them to come back into London. We observe that dangerous development when we drive into London each day and see that there is less and less traffic. Is there no way in which the Department can encourage people to have the confidence to come back into London so that we can put on these buses again from Hemel Hempstead?
The Government have broadly welcomed people back to work—my right hon. Friend will know that we are encouraging civil servants to come back to work and leading by example here in Parliament—and we do encourage people into our towns and cities: as he will also know, we recently spent £60 million on introducing a £2 fare cap for single tickets on most bus services in England outside London between January and March to encourage travel across the country.
The Minister will not necessarily know what the 8, 27 and 655 bus routes in my constituency have in common. The answer is that they have all been cut completely, or substantially reduced, in the last few weeks. That means that NHS workers cannot travel to their shifts, pensioners cannot travel to the Crystal Peaks shopping centre, and kids cannot travel to and from school. Will the Minister reflect on the fact that the previous Prime Minister told us that people would not need a timetable, because the service would be so good that they could just walk to the bus stop and get on a bus? They do not need a timetable for many routes now, because there are no buses running.
Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, agree to meet the Mayor and Members of Parliament for South Yorkshire to discuss the cuts, and how additional Government funding could save these essential services?
I will, of course, pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request to the Minister responsible for buses, Baroness Vere. I am sure that she will consider it. I point out that the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority received £1.6 million from the local transport authority recovery funding from April to December this year.
I welcome the new shadow Minister, Simon Lightwood.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the new Transport Minister’s own area of Cambridgeshire, dozens of crucial bus services, including school routes, will be slashed imminently. Can the Minister explain why they think it is fair that communities in Cambridgeshire and many others across the country did not receive a penny to improve bus services after a £2 billion cut to the bus back better strategy, while the same Government will this year hand over billions of pounds of tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations? Is it not the truth that under this Government bankers are being put before buses and the services that millions rely on?
The hon. Member makes an important point about buses more broadly and in the Cambridgeshire region. I reiterate that the Government have invested £3 billion in buses, and Stagecoach East is getting £427,000 every month to support bus services. Government considered the bids as they were put forward by the Mayor, and I know the Mayor is considering very carefully how he can resolve this issue in Cambridgeshire.
Modernising the Railways
The need to reform our railways is now even stronger than when the “Plan for Rail” White Paper was published in 2021. The lasting consequences of covid-19 on passenger numbers and revenue, and the impact of strikes on railway customers, have increased the need for reform. The Government will ensure we have a modern railway, fit for the 21st century, that meets customers’ needs, supports growth and decarbonisation, harnesses the best of the private sector and connects our communities.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of opening the new disabled access ramp at Accrington station, as part of our wider plans to make this station and others across Hyndburn and Haslingden accessible for all. As we have two further stations in the pipeline—Church and Oswaldtwistle, and Rushden—can my right hon. Friend confirm that these bids will be looked on favourably? To modernise our railway stations, we need to make sure that everybody can use them.
I absolutely agree, and I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend was in attendance to open the improvements at Accrington station, where the existing non-compliant ramp was modified. The Department recently received 309 nominations for the next round of Access for All, including Rushden and Oswaldtwistle, and I will look to announce the successful stations next year.
York’s powerful rail cluster is driving innovation and modernisation across the rail network—a real asset to Great British Railways. Obviously, we are waiting to hear what is happening to the headquarters of GB Railways and the relocation outside of London, because the timetable has slipped. Will the Minister say when he is planning to announce where that new headquarters will be?
I have had many powerful representations made on behalf of York, including from the local council at last week’s Conservative party conference. We will confirm our intentions around announcing the location of the headquarters shortly.
Modernising our railways and maintaining services are vitally important. Thousands of residents in Old Bexley and Sidcup have already completed my survey outlining their concerns over Southeastern’s December timetable changes on the Bexleyheath and Sidcup lines. Will the rail Minister please meet me again to discuss these concerns and Southeastern’s lack of consultation?
As always, my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for his constituents. He has already been in contact with me a number of times and I think we may have a meeting scheduled, at which I look forward to exploring these issues further with him.
Leuchars train station in my constituency is the only station serving St Andrews. It is a hub for local communities and the large number of tourists and students who go to the town, but the access bridge installed in 1995 is no longer fit for purpose and those who require step-free access cannot use it. I have been in contact with the Scottish Government and I am pleased with what the Minister has said about funding announcements next year for Access for All, but can he provide clarity on who is the final decision maker?
My understanding is that accessibility is a reserved matter, hence we will announce the successful stations as the UK Government. Obviously, in looking at access, we will liaise with the Scottish Government on potential priorities. We want to make sure that there is a fair spread of spending across the UK, looking at a number of factors, including usage, how inaccessible a station is, and the type of facilities it provides.
Accessibility is a real issue at some stations in Cannock Chase; at Rugeley Trent Valley, for example, there is a footbridge to two of the platforms. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can modernise stations across Cannock Chase to ensure that they are accessible for everyone?
I recognise the representations that my right hon. Friend makes, and I will be happy to meet her. We have already agreed improvements that should deliver over 100 more accessible step-free routes. The vast majority of passengers are now able to make their journey through a step-free station, but we recognise that, due to the historical nature of much of our infrastructure, far too many stations still are not able to be used by all. That is why we asked for nominations; we have received 309, and we look forward to announcing next year the next list of stations to receive improvements.
The Scottish Government recently took ScotRail into public ownership, which has revitalised the industry, created new stations and effectively decarbonised train travel. They have also chosen to end the Caledonian Sleeper contract, because it does not give value for money to the taxpayer. When will the UK Government fully devolve Network Rail so that Scotland’s railway is fully under the control of Scotland’s Government?
I understand why the SNP, given its plans for a border at Berwick, may not see having an integrated rail network across the entirety of Great Britain as a priority. We believe it is right that we have an integrated rail network and infrastructure across Great Britain, and that is why it remains a reserved matter.
I welcome the new ministerial team to their place.
To address the failure of privatisation and fragmentation, just last year the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), announced the launch of Great British Railways. There were promotional videos with Michael Portillo and a nationwide campaign to host the new headquarters, with towns and cities investing enormous time, effort and money in their bids. There is a huge transition team, and millions of pounds of public money has already been spent. But now we hear that the whole thing is being scrapped and will not be included in the transport Bill. I appreciate that this Government are infamous for their U-turns and creating confusion, but can the Minister confirm: has Great British Railways been stopped in its tracks?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my place and I look forward to perhaps more constructive exchanges. We are taking forward an ambitious programme to reform our railways. We look forward to confirming the position on the Great British Railways headquarters in the very near future. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, for those of us who remember his clarion call to bring back British Rail, that hardly brings back memories of amazing customer service and quality provision compared with what we have today.
I, too, welcome the new Minister to his place. I often talk favourably about Scotland’s record on rail modernisation, as we actually get on and modernise infrastructure while down here the Tories focus on pushing the sector to “modernise”—to cut the workforce’s terms and conditions. Following similar comments from the Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary at the weekend, Mick Lynch of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers said yesterday that in Scotland we have an attitude of wanting to resolve workforce disputes, whereas down here the Government want to exacerbate them for political reasons. Has this new team at the helm asked Network Rail and the train operating companies to get round the table and properly negotiate with freedom? If not, why not?
Again, as the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has met leading members of the unions, but we are not the employer in this dispute. It is important that the unions sit down, stop striking and get on with coming to a deal that is fair not just for workers but for taxpayers, who have put £16 billion into supporting our railways over the last couple of years.
Bradford-Manchester Rail Journey Times
The Prime Minister has been clear that the Government will deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail in full and it will stop at Bradford. That is a pledge I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his team, and I also welcome his comments. As he will know, Northern Powerhouse Rail will slash journey times from Bradford to Manchester dramatically, bringing much-needed and immense investment to Bradford. He is right to say that the Chancellor and Prime Minister have previously made this commitment, so will he add some further clarity to this excellent news for Bradford by setting out today a timetable of funding and construction, and when the Government will finally start work on this programme in full?
I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman shares my enthusiasm for that project, which, as he says, will make a massive difference for communities in Bradford. As he will appreciate, I am not going to lay out the detailed construction timetable here in the House, but we certainly intend to engage with leaders in the region and look forward to setting out further details in due course.
I call the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.
Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the billions of pounds in growth and tens of thousands of jobs, depend on HS2 being delivered in full. So will the Minister guarantee that the HS2 leg beyond Birmingham to Manchester will not be the victim of his Chancellor’s kamikaze Budget?
We have already got the Bill for the line through to Crewe through this Parliament. The next Bill, for phase 2b and the line up to Manchester, will soon be before its Select Committee. People can see our commitment to HS2: we are building it.
Transport Sector Vacancies and Shortage Occupations
The Department regularly reviews the impact of labour shortages on the transport industry. Currently, there are currently 54,000 vacancies in the transport and storage sector, so my officials are in frequent contact with Home Office colleagues to ensure that the needs of the transport industry are reflected in their next review of the shortage occupation list.
Despite issues remaining for many, the HGV driver shortages, exacerbated by Brexit and covid, have marginally improved and drivers are now receiving the higher pay they rightfully deserve, although working conditions remain an issue. Many of the recruits are coming from the bus driving sector, which is causing significant driver shortages, cuts to timetables and service cancellations across the UK, and which is having an impact on passengers and net zero ambitions. What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary on expanding the shortage occupation list to include bus drivers?
The newly established transport employment and skills taskforce is already taking steps to identify and address the shortage of skills and jobs across the transport sector that we face now, and it is thinking about how we tackle this for the future. We are supporting new HGV driver training through apprenticeships and we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to support jobseekers to become HGV drivers. We want to make sure that we grow this pool. This is a challenge not only in the UK, but across the world, and we want to make sure that we are at the front end of bringing these new young people into this industry.
Transport for London: Long-term Funding Settlement
Well, this is not remotely intimidating!
The longer-term settlement agreed with the Mayor in August sets a framework for Government funding until March 2024 and gives certainty on transport in London. It is based on commitments made by the Mayor during previous agreements and it is now down to the Mayor and Transport for London to deliver. Progress under the most recent funding settlement will be regularly monitored to ensure fairness to the national taxpayer.
I thank the Minister for that answer.
May I also commemorate the tragedy that took place 70 years ago last weekend at Harrow & Wealdstone station, in my constituency? A number of events were held in Harrow to commemorate that event, and I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) for mentioning it.
On the long-term settlement for TfL, the Mayor has committed £500 million-worth of savings, but thus far we have heard nothing about what savings are to be made, and it appears that no progress has been made. Will the Under-Secretary commit to holding the Mayor to account and making sure that those savings are resolved before that funding is provided to TfL?
The long-term funding settlement does not include a condition that requires the Mayor to make or report on specific savings targets. It is for the Mayor and TfL to deliver within the funding outlined in the settlement, which provides security until March 2024 and is, I remind my hon. Friend, the fifth package of support the Government have provided to TfL for covid recovery. I remind the House that TfL was originally set up to be independent of central Government in terms of its income and spend. The current settlement returns to that model as a whole, and it is for the London Mayor to decide how he controls his costs and looks for efficiencies within TfL. We will continue to monitor his progress to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used fairly to support London’s commuters.
Motorists: Fuel Costs
I regularly discuss fuel prices with Cabinet colleagues, particularly those in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Our Departments are working with the Competition and Markets Authority, which is currently looking at fuel prices. We will continue to work together and with representatives of the fuel industry on this issue to ensure that motorists are paying a fair price at the pump.
Rural constituencies such as mine in Broadland, where public transport is limited, are disproportionately affected by high fuel costs. It is sometimes overlooked that people also have limited choice as to which forecourt to fill up at. I am struck by the effectiveness of the price-comparison requirement in Northern Ireland, which is used to get consistently lower forecourt prices; are we considering that policy in England?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to focus on the challenges in rural areas, including my own constituency, which is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct a thorough review. He is also right that although the price of fuel in Northern Ireland has historically been lower than the rest of the UK for several reasons, we absolutely consider the fuel price checker provided by the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland—along with cross-border competition with petrol stations in Ireland and lower overheads—to be part of the reason for those lower costs, and we are considering that possibility to help us to assess our own.
Let us hear the voice of Northern Ireland: Jim Shannon.
I do not think I am the voice of Northern Ireland, but I do my bit for Northern Ireland. Is there any intention to work with the Treasury to formulate VAT reductions for small and medium-sized businesses that pay a mileage allowance to staff and are struggling to meet those costs?
The hon. Member is indeed Northern Ireland this morning, as he sits alone on his Bench, and we are always pleased to hear him raise such important issues. Questions of finance are, of course, for the Treasury, but I will make sure that point is raised with Treasury colleagues.
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.
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?
Who wants the question?
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.
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.
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.
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 call the Chair of the Select Committee, Huw Merriman.
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.
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.
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.
I call Mick Whitley for Question T7. He is not here.
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.
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.
I call Alex Sobel.
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?
A quick yes will do.
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.