Skip to main content


Volume 728: debated on Thursday 2 March 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Bus Services

11. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services in England since 2019. (903828)

Covid-19 resulted in significant reductions to bus service levels and passenger numbers. To mitigate that, the Government have provided more than £2 billion in emergency and recovery funding to keep vital bus services running. On 17 February, we announced a further extension to that support until 30 June. As a result, bus service provision in England outside London remained at more than 85% of pre-covid levels in 2021-22, despite patronage and commercial fare revenue remaining significantly lower.

Stagecoach bus services from Doncaster to Worksop—numbers 21, 22 and 25—have daily cancellations due to driver shortages that have been going on for a long time. Posts are put on the Tickhill Community Forum on Facebook by Clare Cutts every day. At a time when we need to shop more locally and support our economy, what more can we do to put pressure on bus companies to deliver the services that we need?

My hon. Friend, who is a champion for his Don Valley constituency, raises an important issue. I know how important local bus services are to him and to people across the country, and how constituents can be frustrated by service cancellations. Bus operators are facing a number of challenges, which the Government continue to work with the sector to address. I look forward to meeting him in Don Valley in the coming weeks to discuss the issue further with him and other operators.

On Monday evening, I got a letter from Arriva North West about 13 bus routes being scrapped and two depots being closed in the Northwich part of my constituency, as a result of a strategy called “Bus Back Better”. What is better about that? What will the Minister do to ensure that my constituents can get to their place of work, school or college and go about their everyday business? I ask him to step in.

The hon. Member raises some important questions. I know that Conservative colleagues have met Arriva in recent days, and I met my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) about the Arriva issues in the area yesterday. My understanding is that D&G Bus is already looking to provide some of the services that Arriva has decided to remove itself from. I note the hon. Member’s concern about the issue and if he would like to meet me, I would be delighted.

Effective and reliable public transport is essential for our local communities. Reductions in local services in Blyth Valley, including the X10 and X11 to Newcastle, mean that my constituents plan their journeys only to find that the buses are late or simply not coming at all. Many groups who are already at a disadvantage, including the young, the old and people on a low income, rely on those vital services to access healthcare, education and leisure. It is critical that we do not let them down. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will do everything we can to ensure that those bus services run effectively?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Government know how important bus services are to local communities across the country, which is why we recently announced additional investment of £155 million not only to continue protecting those services but to ensure a three-month extension to the £2 cap on bus fares to help working people in places such as Blyth Valley who are getting out there every day. We want to help to address the cost of living crisis and encourage people back on to our network. We are committed to working with the sector to ensure that bus services reflect the needs of communities and deliver our ambition for everyone with access everywhere.

I do not expect the Minister to know about the 31 bus route in Plymouth, but I do expect him to care about the people who can no longer get that bus because it has been axed—the older people who cannot get to their GP or hospital appointments as easily or bring back their shopping from town. Will the Minister agree to adopt Labour’s policy of handing power over bus routes back to communities? Will he finally give the south-west its fair share of bus funding?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Plymouth City Council receives £85,000 a year through the bus service operators grant and has been allocated a total of £599,000 in emergency and recovery funding for bus services since March 2020. I would be delighted to look at that further, and look forward to visiting Plymouth in the near future.

In 2020, the Government promised to deliver 4,000 zero-emission buses in this Parliament, but just 341 have been ordered, and only six are on our roads. At this rate, it will take 23 years to meet that target, and we will not get diesel buses off our roads completely until the end of the century. With manufacturers ready to deliver a brighter, greener future for Britain’s buses, when will the Minister get out of first gear and match their ambition?

The hon. Member has clearly missed our announcement this morning of extra buses across the country—an extra £25 million going into York, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and delivering 3,452 zero-emission buses, to date, on that 4,000 target, so we will definitely get there before the end of the Parliament.

Electric Vehicles: Zero Emissions

2. What recent progress he has made on the implementation of the zero emission mandate for electric vehicles. [R] (903819)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is great to see you in such robust form this morning, if I may say so.

A technical consultation on the zero-emission vehicle mandate design’s features was held between April and June of last year. Responses to that consultation are currently being analysed, and the Government will publish their response, alongside a final consultation on the full regulatory proposal, and an accompanying cost-benefit analysis, in the near future.

The industry is extremely concerned about the timings, and fears that it will be left with just six months before implementation on 1 January 2024. Most industry observers would say that at least 24 months is needed for a successful mandate to be introduced. Does he agree that the industry should be concerned about this, and that we need to act much more quickly? Should the Government not also be looking at delivering an infrastructure mandate?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. Of course, he will be aware that this is an extremely complex issue, because it involves manufacturers, charge-point providers, energy suppliers and other players in this important and evolving market. There was a Green Paper consultation in 2021. There has been a second consultation on technical issues, as I say, and we work very closely with all those players, and the industry, precisely to ensure that, when this lands with all of its complexities, which it will do in the near future, it lands properly, effectively, and to the benefit of all.

The constituency of Gainsborough is 600 square miles, and it takes half an hour to get anywhere even when travelling at the speed limit. What is the Government plan to help rural areas when electric vehicles become mandatory for sale in 2030?

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Government’s plan is for more than 300,000 charge points to be in place by then. That will be led largely by the private sector, and we meet regularly with all the charge point operators. Their plans are escalating and will be massively supported and benefited by the zero-emission vehicle mandate. With that, and technological advances, we anticipate that there will be ample opportunity for people in rural areas to use electric vehicles.

Last year, UK car production slumped to a 66-year low. The covid pandemic, supply chain shortages, and chaos at Dover have left this key industry fighting for survival. Manufacturers are crying out for a shred of certainty, but far from supporting them and the 150,000 workers they employ, this Government are leaving them in a state of limbo. With less than a year to go before it takes effect, why is the Minister still keeping the design of the zero-emission vehicle mandate a well-guarded secret? When can manufacturers expect finally to get some clarity from the Government to allow them to plan for the future?

The hon. Lady wildly overstates the issue with regard to electric vehicles. In 2022, we had the second largest market across Europe for electric vehicles, which demonstrates the level of energy and support we are giving the industry, including £2 billion of public money. We consult closely with both large car manufacturers and small manufacturers, who have quite different interests in many different ways. They will be quite comfortable with this important mandate when it comes out, and they will be because we have consulted extensively on it with them over the past two years.

Although we support a zero-emission vehicle mandate to accelerate the switch to zero-emission driving, the Government need to get a grip on it. Businesses—be they manufacturers, dealerships or fleet purchasers—cannot plan, and consumers are in the dark. That chimes with the overall approach to zero-emission driving, with just over 7,000 EV charging installations last year when 33,000 are required annually to meet the 300,000 target. Will we hear more about the mandate, the charger network expansion and equalising the VAT levied on home charging versus street charging in the upcoming Budget?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I will not comment on the Budget; as a former Financial Secretary, I will certainly not attempt to trespass on the Treasury’s prerogative on tax issues. What he will know, of course, is that the vast majority of that investment is coming from the private sector. Of course, that will itself be massively boosted by the zero-emission vehicle mandate. I met one of the largest charge point operators only this week, and they were perfectly clear that the one thing that will do more than anything else, not just to reduce carbon but to support the development of that industry and that transition, is the mandate, which we will publish, as I say, in the near future.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

3. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues, (b) transport sector bodies and (c) trade unions on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. (903820)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to start by offering our sincere condolences to the people of Greece following the terrible rail accident yesterday. My thoughts, and I am sure those of the whole House, are with the victims, first responders and all those affected. The Prime Minister has written to the Greek Prime Minister to offer the Government’s condolences, and we stand with our colleagues in Greece, ready to offer assistance should they require it.

Turning to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I meet regularly with Cabinet colleagues and transport industry stakeholders to discuss industrial action, including facilitating a fair and reasonable offer for the trade unions, which I was pleased to see Transport Salaried Staffs Association members vote in favour of last week. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill aims to balance the ability of workers to take strike action with the needs of the public to go about their daily lives. The 12-week consultation on minimum service levels for passenger rail provides the opportunity for the public and stakeholders, including trade unions and transport bodies, to provide their views.

May I associate myself with the comments that the Secretary of State made about the situation in Greece? Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

The Department’s consultation document for rail minimum services legislation seeks views on setting a minimum service level in Scotland, which is interesting because the responsibility for ScotRail and Caledonian sleeper services are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Will the Secretary of State meet me, as part of the consultation process, to discuss what the response of his Department will be if the Scottish Parliament refuses to implement the minimum services legislation because it assesses that the legislation is not conducive to good industrial relations and dispute resolution?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the purpose and substance of the Bill is to regulate employment rights and duties, and industrial relations. Those are reserved matters that are within the responsibility of the UK Government. In the consultation on passenger rail in Great Britain, we of course welcome the views of devolved Administrations. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for rail has already had such conversations with Transport Ministers from the Scottish Government.

Aviation: Noise and Fuel

4. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential (a) health and (b) economic impact of noise pollution on communities below aircraft flightpaths. (903821)

The Government recognise that there are impacts associated with aircraft noise and keep all relevant evidence under review. The Department for Transport has previously commissioned research on the effects of aviation noise on annoyance, health and wellbeing, and has tasked the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out a further survey this year. All major airports are required, as the hon. Lady will be aware, to map their noise impacts on a common basis every five years, and some do so annually.

I thank the Minister for his response. My constituents and thousands of residents across west and south-west London and neighbouring counties constantly have to put up with the roaring engines of aircraft overhead at all hours of the day and during much of the night. There are real fears, based on international evidence, that that noise may intensify as a result of airspace modernisation. Will the Minister commit to reinstating the independent noise ombudsman, and to working with Environment Ministers to make aircraft noise a statutory nuisance, so that those residents might have some redress in future?

The hon. Lady will be aware that there have been noise-related restrictions on major airports including Heathrow for many years and, more recently, noise maps and noise action plans at Heathrow. Of course, we recognise the seriousness of this issue. It is worth saying that technology is already making a significant difference—new aircraft models make 30% to 50% less noise on take-off and landing—but we intend to consult later this year on proposals for the next night-flight regime, beginning in October 2025.

The Secretary of State made no commitment on the production of sustainable aviation fuel in the UK at a recent airports conference. This week, the Minister for aviation in the other place said at a pilots reception that airspace modernisation was stuck in the muck. The Government’s Jet Zero Council has achieved exactly what it said on the tin: zero. Labour has a plan for a cleaner, greener future. Get your finger out, Secretary of State!

It seems to have passed the hon. Gentleman by that we had a detailed consultation on SAF investment. We have put £165 million into the advanced fuels fund to support five UK sustainable aviation fuel plants, which builds on the “Green Fuels, Green Skies” competition, and we plan to introduce a sustainable aviation fuels mandate in 2025. Modernisation is an extremely complex issue, but it is also vital, in part in order to ensure a more protective approach where possible to the issue of noise impact, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson).

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the Transport Committee’s report published today on alternative fuels? One of our recommendations is to build on the work the Government have already done on SAF by introducing a contracts for difference model, which would help to make the UK a world leader in this technology.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his report and the work he is doing as the new Chair of the Transport Committee. We are aware of the calls for CfDs. He may have seen the report published by Philip New on this issue. We are already working on not merely the mandate but a clearing house to support testing and certification. Of course, we will continue to look at the question of CfDs, but the mandate and the work we are doing towards that remains the Government policy, and rightly so.

Decarbonising aviation is difficult, and no one would say otherwise, but there are quick wins to reduce carbon, such as airspace modernisation, which is likely to cost under £30 million, and sustainable aviation fuels, which will be the bridge fuel until future forms of propulsion are introduced. The Government have provided some funding for SAF plants in England and Wales, but the support is dwarfed by support offered elsewhere. Without a CfD model in place to support SAFs, the Government will not get their five plants operating by their target date, and they are nowhere near their long-term targets for SAF use, are they?

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman raises the question of airspace modernisation. He may not be aware that the environmental benefits are already in place. The introduction of free route airspace in 2021 over Scotland is estimated by National Air Traffic Services to save the carbon dioxide equivalent of the power used by 3,500 family homes every year. He is right that this is a complex issue, but it is also one on which the Government are taking a wide range of energetic measures, and we will continue to pursue those, as we have described.

Road Condition

During this Parliament, the Government are investing over £5 billion in highways maintenance for local authorities across England outside London. That is in addition to the sustainable transport settlements provided to eligible mayoral combined authorities. It is up to each local highway authority to decide how best to spend that funding, and the Government do not generally intervene or override local decision making in these matters.

Additional Government funding for road maintenance has made a significant difference to the quality of road surfaces across many local authorities, including my own in Blackpool. Ahead of the Budget, can the Minister reassure the House that he will continue to lobby the Treasury for additional funding to spend on local roads in England?

I was delighted to visit recently the site near my hon. Friend’s constituency. Great investment is going into the road to link Windy Harbour to Skippool. That is something that I know he has been campaigning for, alongside our hon. Friends the Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).

As part of the 2021 spending review, the Department worked hard with the highways sector to develop a strong and evidence-based case to the Treasury for a long-term highway maintenance settlement. I assure my hon. Friend that I will continue to make every effort this time, pushing equally strongly—perhaps even more strongly —for sustainable funding for our highways. However, it is worth reflecting on the fact that more money is an important factor, but how we decide to spend it is also very important. I look forward to campaigning with him for a council that can really deliver for the people of Blackpool over the coming months.

Highway maintenance funding continues to be cut for the remainder of this Parliament, resulting in over a tenth of our roads falling into poor condition. When will the Minister finally bring our roads up to the standards that people expect?

The hon. Lady should reflect on the fact that we have put £5 billion into pothole funding between 2020 and 2025, with millions of potholes being filled every year. The three-year settlement for highways maintenance announced in the spending review is there, and as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), I will be pushing the Treasury for more money to go in this direction.

Rail Modernisation

The railway needs fundamental reform and, last month, I set out how this Government will deliver it. We will move towards a more customer-focused and commercially led industry, bringing track and train together through the creation of Great British Railways as a new guiding mind for the sector. While we move forward with reform, the Government continue to hold both train operators and Network Rail to account to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers rightly expect.

Modernisation takes many forms and, in my constituency of Sedgefield, we eagerly await the modernisation of infrastructure through Ferryhill station’s bid under the Restoring Your Railways scheme, which will be the first stage on the Leamside line. We also have Hitachi Rail, which has played a significant role in levelling up the north-east since the factory was opened by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015. Hitachi has created 800 highly-skilled jobs in the region since that factory opened, and is also driving vital innovation in battery and digital technology to modernise the railways. I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that his Department will make prompt decisions on the business cases under Restoring Your Railways.

Order. [Interruption.] No, I will decide when you sit down. Sit! We are meant to be asking questions, not make a War and Peace statement before we get there. Come on, quickly.

Apologies, Mr Speaker. To conclude, I ask my right hon. Friend to visit my constituency and see these outstanding opportunities.

The Government recognise the contribution of Hitachi to the railway supply chain, particularly its success in winning 89% of long-distance orders since 2010, including the order for High Speed 2 rolling stock. It is important that the Government give full and careful consideration to business cases for new orders, to make sure that they offer best value to the taxpayer, and I recognise my hon. Friend’s continued support for the reopening of Ferryhill station, as well as the work undertaken by Network Rail and Durham County Council. The business case for that scheme has been updated and is being carefully considered by the Department, alongside all bids under the Restoring Your Railways scheme.

After being inundated with complaints from the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale, does my right hon. Friend agree that the TransPennine Express rail service is no longer fit for purpose?

I welcome that question. I am clear, and have made it very clear to TP, that the current service is unacceptable. That company has delivered a detailed and measurable recovery plan aimed at building back a reliable service, but any substantial improvement to that service requires the co-operation of the trade unions, which is yet to be forthcoming. I have weekly meetings to monitor TP, and both I and the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), have recently met that company to discuss performance improvement. TP’s current contract expires on 28 May this year. The Department, in partnership with Transport for the North, will make decisions in due course and, of course, update the House accordingly.

At the past two Transport questions, I have asked about Yorkshire’s railway network. In November, the Minister, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), said that assessing options for a new station in Bradford was “an incredibly high priority”, and in January he told me that the Sheffield to Leeds route study would be out “shortly”. I have not heard anything more about either since. When can we expect some good news in Yorkshire?

The good news for the hon. Gentleman is that we have made progress on that, and we are hoping to set out what will happen on that publicly in the very near future. He does not have too long to wait and I hope he will have news that he will welcome.

Network Rail has said that 278 miles of track must be electrified every year to reach net zero. Last year, the Government added only 1.4 miles of newly electrified track, including Bath, and we are still waiting for electrification. To meet our net zero targets, will the Secretary of State commit to electrifying all new railway lines?

The hon. Lady will know that we have electrified 1,200 miles of the rail network in Great Britain since 2010, and that work continues. We clearly think that electrifying the rail network is important for our net zero commitments, and we will continue to make progress. I hope she will welcome that.

TransPennine Express has been providing unacceptable levels of service to the north and the midlands for years—well prior to covid—and now they are at truly dire levels. The operator of last resort has made it clear to the Transport Committee that it has capacity and can bring TransPennine Express under its remit. Is the Secretary of State confirming that for ideological reasons he will refuse to step in and provide a better service to the north and the midlands?

First, in an earlier answer, I said that the service was currently unacceptable. One of the points I made is that, at the moment, ASLEF is refusing to do rest-day working, which is a significant problem. I did what I was asked to do and made sure that a more generous offer for rest-day working could be made. ASLEF is refusing to do so. It requires the co-operation of all involved in rail services to deliver a good service. On the specific contract, it expires on 28 May. We will make decisions and announce them to the House in due course, but I say to the hon. Lady that, if we take services into the operator of last resort, we take over all the things and take them with us. If we do not resolve the issues with the trade unions, then just taking in those services will not actually improve the services to passengers at all. Her obsession with nationalising things is ideological. We want to improve the services for passengers.

Railways Funding and HS2

8. How much funding his Department plans to provide for railways in (a) Wales and (b) England during the remaining HS2 construction period. (903825)

Good morning, Mr Speaker. The HS2 construction period extends beyond the horizon of the five-year funding cycles for Network Rail. When it comes to the existing railway, £44 billion has been committed from 2024 to 2029—a 4% real terms increase on maintenance and renewals to keep the railway running safely and reliably.

The Minister is aware of the compelling case for Wales to get its population share of HS2, which is £5 billion—particularly as Scotland has had its share—in the light of years of under-investment. He will also be aware that Transport for Wales has worked up £2.5 billion of projects to be delivered in the next 10 to 15 years. Will he commit his officials to working with Transport for Wales to look at joint working and joint funding to move ahead together, so that we can deliver higher productivity, move towards net zero and strengthen the Union? Can we meet in due course to discuss progress?

I very much enjoyed the meeting I had with the hon. Member and Professor Mark Barry in January. In regard to the point he makes about HS2, the UK Department for Transport is funded to spend money on heavy rail infrastructure in Wales, rather than the Welsh Government receiving Barnett-based funding. Conversely, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive receive Barnett-based funding, but rail in Scotland and Northern Ireland does not benefit from any UK Department for Transport spending. When it comes to the enhancement portfolio, which we are looking to publish shortly, we very much expect to be working with our partners across Wales, and I continue to make myself available to meet the hon. Member to hear his ideas.

Can the Minister confirm what plans he has for improving the midland main line and reopening the Ivanhoe line through North West Leicestershire? Has his Department done a cost-benefit analysis of full electrification of the midlands main line, and how does he think that might compare with the cost-benefits of the eastern leg of HS2, which is set to run from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway?

The hon. Member makes the point and it is important that we link those projects together so that the full benefits of HS2 drive the enhancements we make to the existing railway, and indeed vice versa. I am happy to write to him to set out further details with regard to the projects he has mentioned.

HS2: Preventing Fraud

9. What steps the Government are taking to prevent fraud associated with HS2; and if he will make a statement. (903826)

The Department requires HS2 Ltd to adopt and implement policies and practices to guard against fraud. HS2 Ltd has an experienced counter-fraud team to protect taxpayer funds against the threats of fraud, bribery, corruption and other malpractice. HS2 Ltd further works with the Department, the Public Sector Fraud Authority, law enforcement and supply chain partners to ensure that Government counter-fraud standards are met or exceeded.

My constituents in South Northamptonshire remain angry and disillusioned about not just the way that their reasonable requests for proper mitigation and compensation are ignored and delayed by HS2, but the huge amount of waste they see daily. I would like the Minister to expand on how, with costs spiralling out of control, he will deliver good value for taxpayers’ money.

I have every sympathy with the constituents of my right hon. Friend and others on the line of route. There is disruption, but we seek to minimise and mitigate it. I am aware of the area she represents as my family live close by. I have a meeting with her and officials next week to go through cases she has. I would just say that HS2 will really deliver for this country: 30,000 people employed; 2,500 businesses supporting HS2; 97% of that supply chain in the UK. There are impacts, but there will also be great delivery once the line is built.

As the Minister will know, plans for the construction of HS2 to Manchester involve the severing and mothballing of the Metrolink line through my constituency to Ashton-under-Lyne. We have put a sensible counter-proposal to HS2 to keep that line open and provide a new depot for the maintenance and storage of the trams. HS2 says that it will cost so much money to do that—more than the cost of installing the entire Metrolink line in the first place—that it cannot be done. What actual oversight is there of the fantasy figures coming out of HS2?

There is great oversight of the figures. It relates to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom). A report is put out every six months to show the transparency and we do bear down on costs. With regard to the matter mentioned by the hon. Member, I have been to Manchester and heard about the issues there. The problem is that the current two depots are on one side; it would actually make more sense, when the line is built, for them to be on either side. I know that officials from HS2 and the Department for Transport are in discussions with the team in Greater Manchester. The matter is before the Bill Committee, so it would not be appropriate for me to go into further detail.

Southeastern Railway

10. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the performance of Southeastern Railway since its timetable change on 11 December 2022. (903827)

Southeastern’s new timetable was designed to improve resilience. The operator faced some initial challenges introducing the new timetable, so established a joint taskforce with Network Rail to identify and resolve issues. Changes have already been made, including adding services and carriages where required and we are already seeing an improvement. The taskforce will continue to monitor performance and make changes as required.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer and for his letter of the 28th of last month, but, as he will know, that very evening, there was yet another dangerous incident at London Bridge due to overcrowding. On 7 February, I was on a train which, due to delayed trains, was so overcrowded that someone fainted in my carriage. The system has been cut back to the point where there is no slack in it. Whenever there is a delay, there is dangerous overcrowding. The Minister has to address that before something serious happens to an individual. We were told that there would be no delays when the new system was brought in, because it would be so efficient that we would not have any of that congestion, but it has been worse. The Minister has to face up to that. He gave Southeastern permission to do that. We need to change the timetable.

The hon. Member will be receiving another letter from me this morning, because I have always said that I would listen, as did the Secretary of State, and that we would try to make improvements as the case was demonstrated. I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French), who have met me and the Secretary of State to make the case for their constituents. I can confirm that we have agreed to the reinstatement of a direct off-peak service to Charing Cross on the Bexleyheath line, which will run hourly, Monday to Saturday. This service will be in addition to the current timetable, meaning a total of 309 services will operate each week direct to and from Charing Cross on this line. I hope the hon. Member will welcome that good news.

If the Minister had been on the 8.27 from Chislehurst today, he would not have seen very much by way of improvements, that is for sure, because it ran late, as ever. Is not the problem that, because of the loss of direct services on the Hayes line into Charing Cross and equally the cutback in direct services on the north Kent line into Cannon Street, unsustainable numbers of people are having to change trains at London Bridge? I have seen the chaos there, and I have actually stood outside the station, because it has had to be closed on occasions. It is not safe, Minister. At some point, somebody will get injured or killed as a result of this.

Will the Minister please get officials to sit down with south-east London MPs and get this sorted out?

Of course, I am very sorry about that issue. As my hon. Friend points out, there was a points failure, which caused issues in terms of crowd controls at London Bridge. I have spoken to Network Rail and it is looking to work with Transport for London, which of course has experience of overcrowded tubes, and we will learn lessons from that. However, I also hope that he will have heard about the changes we are making. The timetable change was brought in to try to add more resilience and to reduce cancellations, but we have got issues with Network Rail infrastructure and of course we have industrial action. All those matters I seek to resolve.

First, may I pay my respects following the tragic rail crash in Greece? I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with our Greek friends.

Last year, the Minister oversaw timetable changes on Southeastern routes, but the Government refused to consult on those changes because they did not want to listen to passengers. In a parliamentary debate in December, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I and indeed hon. Members from across the House warned the Minister that the upcoming changes and cancellations of Southeastern routes would be bad for passengers and would lead to overcrowding, but he did not listen. Now that these changes have caused the predictable chaos he was warned about, will the Minister finally listen and end the misery this Government are inflicting upon Southeastern passengers?

That is patently not the case, because during that debate I made it quite clear that consultations would be better than they had been. I also made it quite clear that I would listen and, if the case were made to change the timetable, I would do so. This morning—obviously, earlier than the lines that have been written—we announced that these changes had been made. In fact, the very first individuals to be made aware of that were the MPs. They have had that information first; it is important to me that they receive that information first. We will continue to listen and learn. We had to make savings on Southeastern, and £10 million was taken off. The savings are because season tickets collapsed to 32% of pre-covid levels. If the hon. Member is pledging to fund the railway no matter what and make no changes—

Order. Minister, I think we have got the message. Can I just say to Members that this is about equality in going from one side to the other? I know it is important, and I am sure if you catch my eye during topicals you may have a chance of getting in then, but do not glare at me because I am trying to be politically right for both sides.

Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” It is quite clear that patterns of business travel have changed dramatically post covid, yet when I asked the Minister this week about the balance between first class and standard class travel in the north and the midlands, not only did he not know, but he did not even seem to be interested. Will the Minister now, with these changing business patterns, re-examine the case for HS2, or is he just frightened of the answer?

I am not frightened of the answer at all. I am an advocate for HS2 because, as I have mentioned, it will level up the country, interconnect our great cities, reduce the time for a train to Manchester by 54 minutes to one hour and 11 minutes, and deliver not just jobs for this country, but jobs we can export to other high-speed rail lines across the world.

Rolling Stock Manufacturing: North-east England

14. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the future viability of rolling stock manufacturing in the north-east. (903831)

Me again, Mr Speaker.

The Government recognise the importance of the rolling stock supply chain on both the national and local economies. Since 2010, over 5,300 vehicles ordered by train operators in the UK have been assembled at manufacturing facilities across the country, reflecting in the region of £10.6 billion on orders for rolling stock built in the UK since 2010.

As we have already heard this morning, Hitachi Rail is one of the anchors of north-east manufacturing expertise and innovation, supporting hundreds of jobs at the Newton Aycliffe site and thousands more in the wider supply chain, and it is incredible that the north-east will have a role in manufacturing the UK’s very first high speed trains for HS2. However, in the interim will the Minister now provide urgent clarity on the short-term rolling stock pipeline so that this exemplar of north-east manufacturing continues to support regional and economic growth long into the future?

I was up in the north-east, in Tyne and Wear, last week, where it was a pleasure to meet the Tyne and Wear Metro Nexus team as they unveiled their new Class 555 trains, and I wish them well in that endeavour. Hitachi was one of the bidders for that and of course over 1,000 carriages have been built at the Newton Aycliffe plant, including orders for Great Western, TransPennine Express, East Midlands Railway and West Coast. I will happily write to the hon. Lady to give her the answer she seeks, but I assure her that I am supportive of all our great railway manufacturers in this country.

Last month I was delighted to visit the Hitachi Rail manufacturing facility in Newton Aycliffe, where 800 highly skilled employees are delivering world-class manufacturing excellence. They told me that they need certainty from the Government, but briefings, leaks and rumour about the future of HS2 are pouring out of this Department. Will the Minister categorically deny that his Department is working on any plans that would slash what is left of the eastern leg and leave Yorkshire and the north-east permanently entirely cut off by cutting high-speed platforms at Euston?

I hope I made it clear, in answer to one of the hon. Member’s colleagues who was not as supportive of HS2 as I am, that we are absolutely committed to delivering HS2 trains from London to Manchester and going over to the east as well, but of course we have to look at cost pressures. It is absolutely right that HS2 focuses on costs; that should be expected of the Government and the taxpayer. We will continue to do so, but I can tell the hon. Member that I am absolutely committed, as are the Secretary of State and the entire Department, to delivering HS2 and the benefits for this country.

Topical Questions

It may interest the House to know that today the Government are investing £25 million to roll out 170 zero- emission buses on to our streets. They are built in Northern Ireland by Wrightbus, which I visited just a few weeks ago, and these buses will benefit passengers and communities across Yorkshire, Norfolk and Hampshire, showing how we are pulling together as a Union to decarbonise transport. We have had a lot of conversations about buses, so it is also worth noting that we have extended the bus recovery grant and the popular £2 fare cap, renewing our commitment to the bus sector, getting more passengers on board and helping the public with the cost of living.

In Newcastle, we need reliable, affordable and accessible bus services, but all we get is lame excuses and short-term sticking plasters. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the bus recovery grant will be extended past June, and when will he make the much-promised, long overdue payment of £163 million to Transport North East so that it can improve services?

We have extended the bus recovery grant for a further quarter and extended the £2 fare cap, which has been very popular. We are currently working on our plans subsequent to June, but the hon. Member will know that we work very closely with devolved Metro Mayors across the country to devolve central Government funding to them so that they can make the right decisions for their local areas, and we will make further announcements in due course.

T4. Two weeks ago, I met members of Harrogate Youth Council, who are running an anti-harassment campaign focusing on public transport. Will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to keep people, in particular young people, safe on our buses and trains? (903846)

I welcome the work of the Harrogate Youth Council. They should be aware that 95% of buses have CCTV. The trains I mentioned coming up to Tyne and Wear have been designed to contain and reduce antisocial behaviour. What I would really love to do is take the Harrogate Youth Council’s ideas and, when I meet the British Transport police chief constable next week, try to match them and feed back to my hon. Friend.

That would be unfair. Maybe three, even. But they keep offering a meeting to bring together the Welsh Government, the British Government and the local authorities that are interested in the Rhondda tunnel. This has been going on forever and I never, ever get that meeting. When is it going to happen?

I hope I am not the one the hon. Gentleman does not like. I can assure him that if he checks his box, he will find an invitation from the roads Minister, the Minister responsible for this at the Department for Transport, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), to meet him and the team from Wales. I hope that he will then be very happy indeed and that we meet his expectations.

T7. While it is obviously right to develop other forms of transport, does the Secretary of State agree with me that in rural areas in particular the car is here to stay? Is it not therefore very important that we have adequate road infrastructure in place before any sizeable developments are begun? (903849)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. About 60% of journeys are made by car, and the car remains incredibly important, particularly in rural areas like his and mine in Gloucestershire. Almost half the Government’s budget for investing in the strategic road network is for renewing, maintaining and operating existing network, but he makes a very good point about ensuring that, as we develop communities and businesses, the road infrastructure is adequate for those developments. I have noted his point carefully and will discuss it with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in due course.

T5. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that the safety of hundreds of primary schoolchildren and parents who are unable to use the demolished footbridge at the Park Lane junction on the dangerous A5036, as a result of a lorry collision, is paramount. Will he therefore instruct National Highways to stop its bureaucratic stalling and replace it as a matter of urgency? (903847)

National Highways has a statutory responsibility in many planning applications, but it seems to be very tardy in coming to conclusions, particularly on the Brocks Pine surf reef application, off the A31, which has now been more than 18 months in indecision. What will be done to ensure that National Highways gets on with it and takes a decision, either yes or no?

National Highways has been working with the applicant and its transport consultants to resolve questions on this development. The applicant has not yet provided National Highways with the information it needs to enable it to provide a recommendation. I will write to him when it does so.

T8. In light of the Windsor framework, which will provide more favourable economic conditions for trading in Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State consider providing more transport infrastructure in Wales to mitigate that and to help Wales take advantage of more trade into Northern Ireland and into the single market via Ireland or Northern Ireland? (903851)

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the Windsor framework, which is a fantastic agreement with the European Union to resolve the issues that resulted from the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope every Member of this House will welcome it in due course when they have had time to study it. His point about Wales was, I think, answered by the rail Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). We work very closely with the Welsh Government. We are looking at improvements in the rail network enhancement plan and will make announcements in due course.

Many people in England pay an additional road tax to cross a river, be it the Humber, the Thames, the Tyne, the Mersey, the Trent, the Itchen or the Tamar. In 2020, a freedom of information request revealed that National Highways is responsible for maintaining 9,392 road bridges already. Will the Department investigate bringing all crossings on main routes under National Highways control?

My hon. Friend is a champion for the people of Cornwall. The Department has no plans to introduce tolls anywhere else on the strategic road network, which is a long-standing Government policy. The provision, upkeep and operation of significant crossings is funded by toll incomes at local level, but as always, I would be happy to meet her to discuss that specific local issue.

T6.   A number of my constituents are sick with stress, trapped in blighted homes with a pressing need to sell, but cannot do so as a result of the East West Rail preferred route announcement three years ago. Every day that the DFT dithers and delays announcing the route is another day of misery for my constituents. Will the Minister stop playing with people’s lives, put a support package in place and get that handful of cases sorted out today? (903848)

I am happy to meet the hon. Member. I recently had a tour around both the options for East West Rail as it comes into Cambridge. I know that he has issues with residents with properties on the line of route, and I am happy to discuss those cases with him so that I can better advise him and his constituents on how they can get help.

Could the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), tell me the benefits that my constituents will see with the recent award of the South Western Railway contract to FirstGroup and MTR? I would be particularly keen to understand whether the accessible footbridge for Dorchester South station is contained within it.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, Dorchester South station is one of 300 applications for the Access For All tranche, which will be announced later this year. I assure him that South Western Railway passengers will gain benefits from the continuity of the service provider, including better real-time information to passengers and other changes that we have in mind to improve the passenger experience. I look forward to working with him on this matter.

T9. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers meet me to discuss the increased restrictions on the movement of special types of general orders and abnormal loads, which are having a hugely detrimental effect on companies such as Cadzow Heavy Haulage in Blantyre? (903852)

The Minister and I have spoken almost daily about the Melton bypass. Could he update me on his conversations with the Treasury about that? I also thank the Government for the five upgrades that they have delivered to the A1, where work has now started.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is pleased with the work that we are doing. She has been a real champion of it and has never failed to bend my ear at every opportunity. I hope to make a further announcement on this matter shortly.

I am worried that the Minister did not listen to concerns about the Southeastern timetable from both sides of the House. I travel from St Johns and every single day there are delays and overcrowding. The timetable changes were not consulted on. It is good that Ministers announced some changes, but why not reverse them all and do the right thing? The service was better before.

I reiterate that when season tickets are reduced by the figures that we have seen—32% compared with pre-covid levels—we have to make changes to add more resilience, to ensure that trains do not have to cross lines, to reduce cancellations and to improve punctuality. I am meeting the hon. Member and her rail service groups because I do listen and, as has been reflected today, I will make changes where they make sense.

My hard-pressed constituents are still suffering a totally unacceptable number of cancelled rail services by TransPennine Express every morning—just yesterday from Huddersfield, the 6.49, the 7.01, the 7.30, and the 7.46. How on earth are my constituents expected to get to work, school, college or university? When will TransPennine Express get a grip and when will we strip them of the franchise?

As the Secretary of State made clear, we should all try to fix the systemic problems that exist on the route. Let me give one example: at the moment, when a driver calls in sick—and there are sickness rates of 14%—another driver will cover it only if they are working under rest day working. However, the unions will not agree to rest day working, so the train gets cancelled. If hon. Members are interested in fixing these issues, they should look at the parties responsible and not just at the operator.

Further to Question 4, the Minister will be aware of plans to significantly increase flights in and out of London City airport over my constituency and many others in east and south London. Can he assure the House that a decision on the matter will not be made while the Civil Aviation Authority’s survey of noise pollution is still being conducted?

I obviously cannot comment on the situation at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. If he wishes to take the matter up with the aviation Minister, I am sure that she would welcome it.

What is the Minister doing to ensure there is better information sharing among councils to deliver safer taxi and private hire services across the country?

My hon. Friend will know that his local council, Bolton, is one of the best at information sharing with respect to taxi driving licences across the country. I hope that councils such as Birmingham, Manchester, Sefton, Newcastle and Liverpool will get on board with the voluntary scheme before the mandatory element kicks in soon, because we should not leave people at risk on our services.

When I met the Minister, he gave me assurances that Southeastern timetables would improve in Erith and Thamesmead. He mentioned this morning that all south-east London MPs had received an update. I am one of the MPs who has not. There is an impact on my constituency, so I would like to know why I have not received that update. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) has kindly shown me the letter, which partially addresses some of the issues with off-peak services on the Bexley line, but does not address over- crowding across the board, most of which occurs during peak times. Will the Minister look into the matter urgently?

The email with the letter will have been sent to four hon. Members; the hon. Lady is one of them. If it has not yet got through, I suspect that that is because of a systems issue rather than anything else, but as soon as I leave the Chamber I will make sure that she gets it. I make the point again that I am a user of Southeastern and of London Bridge, and I am aware of the issues. We will continue to reflect, adapt and change where the case is made—I assure the hon. Lady of that.

The roads Minister is aware of my campaign to upgrade junctions 28 and 29 of the M1. Will he commit to visiting both junctions and meeting local stakeholders?

I would be absolutely delighted: I regularly drive on that road and it almost feels as if I have been meeting them, given the slowness of the traffic, particularly at junction 28. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in the area to discuss the matter further.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the plans being developed at the University of Sheffield’s advanced manufacturing research centre, with Boeing, to research and potentially to manufacture ultra-lightweight materials for planes. If not, would he like to visit Sheffield to meet the relevant parties and better inform himself of a development that could be really exciting not just for Sheffield, but for the whole UK?

I am sure that the aviation Minister in the Lords will be interested. I certainly have an interest, as the former aviation Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who was responsible for the Aerospace Technology Institute. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman of my interest in the matter, and let us take it up further outside the House.

I wish Ministers had seen me trying to drag a baby, a toddler and a buggy up and down the steps at Stroud station as part of my campaign for accessibility measures. I am able-bodied, so it is even more difficult for people with disabilities and elderly people. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the Access for All scheme so that I can go back to Great Western Railway and give an update?

I am grateful for that question from my constituency neighbour across the River Severn. We have spent £900 million on Access for All accessibility upgrades. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss her specific proposals for Stroud station.

May I place on the record my thanks and gratitude to the Department, and to the Secretary of State in particular, for his visit to Wrightbus and for this morning’s announcement of more than £25 million of investment in jobs there? Those jobs will create opportunities for transport in Norfolk, Yorkshire, Portsmouth, Hampshire and York. What a fantastic announcement—I congratulate him on that wonderful news. We have the best product being made by the best workers for everyone across the United Kingdom.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I hugely enjoyed my visit last month to Wrightbus, a very impressive company that has grown tremendously over the last few years and is both developing electric buses and working on hydrogen developments. It is fulfilling part of our wish to decarbonise the transport network, and it is also fantastic to see it demonstrating the importance of our Union in delivering on our net zero commitments.

I thank the Minister for his recent visit to my constituency. Does he agree that the proposal to invest £100 million in a new bus and tram interchange for Bury town centre is an excellent example of the way in which transport investment can level up all parts of the country?

My hon. Friend has made a massive case for investment in his constituency, including Bury market and this new transport infrastructure, which is indeed a great example. I will be meeting officials from Transport for Greater Manchester again in the near future, and will keep my hon. Friend up to date on progress. The excellent work that he does in his constituency does not go unnoticed.

Thanks to the Scottish Government’s help with the cost of living crisis and their promotion of sustainable public transport, about 23 million free bus journeys have been made by people aged under 22 across Scotland. That has undoubtedly benefited not only those young people and their pockets, but the environment. What plans does the Minister have to replicate this successful Scottish Government policy in England?

All the bus service investment plans across the country contain individual plans tailored for the regions, and that includes the provision of youth services. The British Government are doing it on a tailored basis in accordance with local need. That is where I think those decisions should be taken.

Yes, Mr Speaker. In his answer to me, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) mentioned that he was sending a letter to Members who were affected by the changes that he had announced. When I looked at my emails later, I noted that that communication had been sent at the exact moment I sat down after asking my question, which denied me the opportunity to quiz the Minister further about his announcement. While the off-peak services to Charing Cross are welcome, he has not dealt with the overcrowding at peak times. I do not know how I can obtain redress for this, Mr Speaker, but at least I have put it on the record.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have heard what the hon. Member has said, and I shall be happy to meet him if he wants to discuss the matter further. However, I feel pleased that I have been able both to write to him and to address his concerns in the Chamber.