House of Commons
Wednesday 17 May 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Offshore Wind: Employment
The future for Scotland’s offshore wind sector is bright. As part of our “Powering up Britain” package, the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme is currently open to applications. Through the scheme, we will distribute funding to support critical port infrastructure that will enable the delivery of floating offshore wind and provide quality employment opportunities for years to come.
It is not just in employment, but in community benefit that we are losing out. Ireland has ensured that €24 million per annum will go to coastal communities hosting offshore renewable projects. In the UK, there is a legislative gap, where onshore wind is providing benefits for communities but there is no provision for offshore wind and the communities onshore. In East Lothian, we have Cockenzie and Torness where the energy will come ashore, and on the horizon there will be turbines. Where is our share, if Ireland can see €24 million per annum going to its communities for far less hosting?
The growth of our green industries will lead to new jobs and many benefits for our communities, whether they be in East Lothian or in other parts of Scotland. To support this transformation and help people take advantage of the opportunities that the transition will bring, we will be producing a net zero and nature workforce action plan in 2024. We are starting with a set of initial proposals and actions from the net zero power and networks pilot working group, followed by a suite of comprehensive actions from those sectors by summer 2023, to ensure that communities such as those in East Lothian and across Scotland can take full advantage of the benefits of these projects.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course, equally important to offshore wind and the expansion of renewable energy in Scotland is marine energy, particularly from tidal stream. The Minister will know the importance of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. Does he agree that the whole process, and the special pots arranged for marine energy under contracts for difference, could be improved if Marine Scotland increased the speed at which it approves sites for future tidal stream development?
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable on such matters affecting Scotland. Scotland has indeed benefited significantly from the contracts for difference scheme, which is the Government’s flagship support scheme for large-scale renewable projects—some 27% of all CfD projects and around 23% of total CfD capacity. In relation to tidal, the contracts for difference round 4 awarded over 40 MW of new tidal stream power, and I think there are great opportunities going forward for Scotland to benefit further.
With the energy crisis, the importance of developing Scotland’s renewable energy sector has never been higher. The UK Government have no energy strategy—indeed, it is a sticking-plaster approach to the energy crisis, all paid for by the taxpayer, of course. In the 16 years of the Scottish Government, they have regularly launched glossy policy documents on renewables but have never delivered, especially on jobs. A scathing report from the Scottish Trades Union Congress said of the Scottish Government that “with energy bills soaring, climate targets missed and job promises broken, more targets without the detail of how they will be realised is unacceptable.” Does the Minister agree that only Labour has the solution to this crisis, creating high-quality, well-paid renewable jobs so that bills can be lowered, energy can be secured, and Britain can be an energy superpower?
I do not agree that Labour has any answers to any of the challenges facing our country, but the hon. Member is correct to highlight the targets missed by the SNP Government in Edinburgh. More than a decade ago, the SNP promised to turn Scotland into the Saudi Arabia of renewables, but just like the SNP’s promises to close the attainment gap, build ferries and create a national energy company, that promise has been broken and quietly abandoned. The growth of Scotland and the UK’s renewable sector will generate many new jobs across our country, and this United Kingdom Government are determined to maximise the opportunities for the Scottish workforce.
This UK Government want only to turn the UK into Saudi Arabia—never mind the Saudi Arabia of renewables.
It is critical to develop green energy jobs, but we also have to protect our environment—that is crucial. Unfortunately, waterways and coastal communities across the UK are being polluted by this Government’s refusal to stop pumping the equivalent of 40,000 days’ worth of raw sewage into them every year. It is little wonder that the SNP did not support Labour’s Bill to stop this disgraceful practice, as the Scottish Government do exactly the same. It was recently revealed that the equivalent of 3,000 swimming pools’ worth of raw sewage was dumped on Scottish beaches, waterways and parks last year. With both Governments allowing that sewage scandal to go on every day, and promises about green jobs and renewable industries broken, why should the public believe a word that the Scottish and UK Governments say about the environment?
This UK Government have a proud record of tackling sewage discharges. As the hon. Gentleman highlights, the policy is devolved to the Scottish Government. The SNP has a truly appalling record on allowing sewage to be dumped into Scotland’s waters, including at many environmentally protected sites. Recent press reports suggest that 7.6 million cubic metres of sewage were released into waterways of significance last year, including award-winning beaches and the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders. This is yet another example of where the SNP needs to clean up its act.
The UK Government remain firmly committed to the renewables industry across the United Kingdom, including the leading role that Scotland can play in delivering energy security and jobs. Over the past year, we have worked closely with the Scottish Government through the offshore wind acceleration taskforce to bring forward the deployment of offshore wind projects in the UK.
It costs an electricity generator almost £7.50 per megawatt-hour to connect to the national grid from the north of Scotland and £4.70 from the south of Scotland. That compares with 50p in England and Wales. Indeed, generators in the south of England are paid to connect to the grid. Does the Minister recognise that these unfair transmission charges—the highest in Europe—penalise investment in Scotland’s renewables sector and, if so, what is he doing about it?
By law, transmission network charging is a matter for Ofgem as the independent regulator. Transmission charges are set to reflect the costs imposed on the grid by generators and demand in different locations. That means that generators in Scotland pay higher charges than counterparts in England and Wales, reflecting the higher levels of transmission investment they drive. Ofgem recognises the importance of transmission charges to the deployment of Scottish renewable generation and the current concerns over the viability and cost reflectivity of charges. That is a key reason why Ofgem announced a programme of transmission charging reforms. I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that I recently met the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) to discuss what more the UK Government can do to address the concerns he has highlighted.
While the Scottish Government have announced an additional £7 million to support renewable hydrogen projects, Johnson Matthey, a leading producer of catalytic converters, has warned that the UK Government’s failure to invest in green hydrogen technology risks driving companies abroad. What are the Minister and the Secretary of State doing to persuade their Government to follow Scotland’s example and provide support for investment for companies driving green tech?
Billions of pounds of renewable energy projects are currently stalled because there is no capacity to connect to the national grid. Some companies have been told that it will take 15 years. The Government’s failure to invest in interconnectors and grid capacity is not only hindering investment, but is harming the achievement of net zero. Given this failure, on top of the failures with connection charges and with hydrogen, does it not make a compelling case to transfer responsibility for energy supply and distribution to Scotland, where we can get the job done?
The answer is certainly not independence. The answer is ensuring we are doing all we can to reduce connection timescales as a priority. As well as accelerating the timelines for building new network infrastructure, that is also about the process for new projects to connect to the grid, such as how the connection queue is managed. To address that, we will be publishing a connections action plan in the summer, setting out actions by the Government, Ofgem and network companies to accelerate connections for renewable projects and other energy network providers.
According to the Chancellor, the UK Government’s windfall tax is set to generate £40 billion over six years, and the Minister for Nuclear claimed that taxes on Scotland’s oil and gas sector covered half of the UK energy bill last winter. Until now, however, this Government have failed to support the Acorn carbon capture and storage project in north-east Scotland. Do the Secretary of State and his Minister accept that windfall taxes from Scottish oil and gas should be used not just to pay short-term bills, but to invest in Scotland’s transition to net zero economy?
The energy profits levy strikes the right balance by funding the cost of living support while encouraging investment in order to bolster UK energy security. The levy is helping to hold down people’s energy bills right across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, by partly funding one of the most generous cost of living packages in the world, worth around £96 billion or £3,300 per household. The hon. Lady shakes her head, but I know the benefits of the package for households in my constituency, across Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. We want to encourage the reinvestment of the sector’s profits to support the economy, jobs and our energy security, which is why the more investment a firm makes into the UK, the less tax it will pay.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although renewable energy provides a considerable proportion of Scottish and UK power, if we are to hit net zero, nuclear power is and will be required to fulfil a large proportion of the additional power demand? Has my hon. Friend had any discussions with the Scottish Government on building nuclear reactors, especially small reactors, in Scotland?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s belief that nuclear plays an important part in the UK’s energy strategy. This UK Government’s “Powering up Britain” strategy is a blueprint for the future of energy in this country. We will diversify, decarbonise and incentivise new energy production by investing in both renewables and the nuclear sector. By setting Britain on course to greater energy independence, “Powering up Britain” will deliver energy security, of which nuclear will be a key part.
Energy storage is vital to managing demand as we switch to green electricity, and pump storage hydro is the most efficient large-scale storage method. Scottish Renewables has called for UK capacity to be more than doubled by investment in six shovel-ready projects across Scotland. Why are this Government refusing to support investment in infrastructure that is critical to future energy security?
I simply do not accept the hon. Lady’s analysis or conclusions. This Government are very much committed to the infrastructure investment that is needed to allow this new technology to evolve. However, the technology highlighted by the hon. Lady presents an opportunity, and we will continue to work with the sector to deliver it.
Pump storage hydro is hardly new technology. It has been around since the ’60s and lasts a long time, but it needs time to get built. Despite planning to take £40 billion in windfall taxes from Scotland’s oil and gas sector, neither this Government nor Labour have committed to invest in Scotland’s carbon capture, pump storage hydro, tidal stream or hydrogen potential, or to reform the situation whereby Scottish generators pay the highest transmission charges in Europe. Is it not clear that Scotland’s immense renewable resources would be better in the hands of the Scottish Government?
Absolutely not. At the Budget, the Chancellor announced £20 billion of funding to store as much carbon and create as many jobs as possible through track 1 and beyond—unprecedented investment in the development of carbon capture, usage and storage. The Government have also announced around £2 billion in investment for CCUS, hydrogen and industrial decarbonisation technologies. We have already confirmed that the Acorn project in the north-east of Scotland seems to meet the track 2 criteria, and we look forward to working with the project to ensure that we get some good news as soon as possible.
Promoting Scotland Overseas
As the UK Government in Scotland, we have an important role in promoting Scotland internationally. The Scotland Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department for Business and Trade, and Scottish Development International work together to identify opportunities for trade and investment—a recent example being the Tartan Week celebrations held in New York.
With the UK Government out to diminish the Scottish whisky industry through higher taxation and our food sector through post-Brexit red tape and border problems, does the Secretary of State enthusiastically welcome the Scottish Government’s focusing more time and energy on promoting global Scotland and Scottish exports?
Yes, of course I do, and I also welcome the Scottish Government’s deciding not to ban advertising, for instance, for whisky producers. It is simply the case that the UK Government work with the Scottish Government in promoting Scotland overseas, but what we do not like is when the Scottish Government—I know this is what the hon. Gentleman was getting at—stray into reserved areas such as constitutional and foreign policy on those visits.
Promoting Scotland and the UK abroad is not about flags and anthems; it is about finding common cause with allies and working on common problems. The EU’s North Seas Energy Cooperation forum is a world-leading gathering of 10 coastal states around the North sea, including Norway, which is not in the EU, and Luxembourg, which does not have a coastline, and they are all agreed on trying to beat climate change by working on renewable energy. I had a parliamentary question answered just yesterday, saying that the UK does not want to join the North Seas Energy Cooperation. If the UK does not want to join, could the UK stop holding Scotland back, and we will get on with it?
The UK wants to promote Scotland’s food and drink industry and to promote renewables and the sale of renewables—for instance, to Vietnam—and we do that through trade deals. I say to the SNP: “Get behind the UK Government. Get behind the trade deals we’re doing. You’ve never found one you liked so far. Start supporting them!”
For the seventh year in a row, Scotland has been ranked the best performing nation or region outside London for foreign direct investment. That continues the trend of Scotland being the best performing nation in the United Kingdom. This investment has been achieved by the Scottish Government working to promote Scotland’s culture, innovative research and industrial strength overseas. Rather than continuing to undermine the work of the Scottish Government, should the right hon. Gentleman’s Government not be learning lessons from them on how to encourage wider foreign investment into England?
The hon. Gentleman should not be taking all the credit: that work is done by the United Kingdom Government. We have 282 embassies, high commissions and consulates in 180 countries, we work very hard promoting Scotland’s interests overseas and Scotland has a wonderful Foreign Secretary in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly).
The SNP Scottish Government’s attempts to promote Scotland internationally include awarding ferry contracts to yards in Turkey rather than in Scotland. However, given that just yesterday the SNP accepted it would be cheaper to build new ferries from scratch rather than complete the current ship at Ferguson Marine, does the Secretary of State agree with me that Scotland’s international reputation for shipbuilding has been severely damaged by the SNP, and worst of all, that islanders have been abandoned by these contracts, which are now six years late and more than three times over budget?
Yes, my hon. Friend is of course right. The island communities have been terribly let down by this Scottish Government. I know he is referring to the ministerial direction yesterday to carry on with the second ferry. Ministers should always spend taxpayers’ money efficiently, even if it means losing face.
Promoting Scotland overseas is vital, but so is the ability of tourists visiting Scotland to tour the fantastic islands. Earlier this week, the Scottish Transport Minister told the Scottish Parliament that he had overruled civil servants who had serious concerns about the continuation of the disastrous CalMac ferry project being a waste of taxpayers’ money. Scottish taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this poorly managed scheme and islanders have been left stranded. Last week, we learned that a Green Scottish Government Minister had chartered a private yacht to visit the Isle of Rum. Does the Secretary of State share my concerns that the Scottish Government are misusing taxpayers’ money while the islands are left without transport connections?
The Secretary of State will know that the Scottish Affairs Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into how Scotland is promoted internationally, and all we have heard is just how well the UK and the Scottish Government work together, and about the added value that the Scottish Government mission brings to that promotion. Why is he determined to pick a fight unnecessarily and get in the way of that business?
As the hon. Gentleman will know from my submission to his Committee and its inquiry, that is not what I think. I think that the UK Government should work with the devolved Administrations to promote them, and to promote trade, overseas. I also believe that when the devolved Administrations are using our missions overseas, they should not be using them to promote their plans for a separation, or to undermine our foreign policy.
Scotland-England Transport Connectivity
Scotland Office Ministers and officials have regular discussions with colleagues across Government about Lord Hendy’s Union connectivity review. I recently met stakeholders to discuss cross-border rail services between Scotland and England, and to learn more about a range of transport connectivity projects. We are also engaging with the devolved Administrations and other stakeholders to consider Lord Hendy’s recommendations.
Direct train services between Scotland and south-west England not only provide a useful connection for leisure travellers, but they boost our wider economies. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Transport about developing those services further, including direct links to Torquay and Paignton, as part of future planning for the cross-country franchise?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for such rail links. The Department for Transport is developing a new cross-country national rail contract that is expected to commence in October 2023. As part of timetable development, officials recently met representatives from Transport Scotland. The connectivity and other benefits of providing through services between Scotland and Torbay can be looked at during the development of the new cross-country contract.
The main artery between London, Edinburgh and Scotland is the east coast main line, on which run the fantastic Azuma trains that are built in Newton Aycliffe in my constituency. However, that line in north-east England is severely hampered in both capacity and resilience. Has the Minister spoken to the Department for Transport about supporting the Leamside line project, to add both of those?
Proposals to reopen the Leamside line were carefully considered as part of the development of the integrated rail plan. On the basis of available evidence and value for money analysis, the Government believe that the case for reopening the route would be best considered as part of any future city region settlement. The Department for Transport will continue its engagement with local stakeholders as any proposals are developed further.
The Government remain absolutely committed to the levelling-up agenda across all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Glasgow. I am happy to contact the Department for Transport on his behalf to get him an answer.
Highly Protected Marine Areas
We are committed to working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government on our shared ambition to protect marine ecosystems. However, we also note legitimate concerns from the fishing industry about the impact that the designation of highly protected marine areas may have on Scotland’s coastal and island communities.
Communities such as mine in Edinburgh West benefit from a strong Scottish fishing industry, bringing high-quality produce to our shops and restaurants. However, the controversial proposals to which the Secretary of State referred for highly protected marine areas would impose strict restrictions, which the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has called “fundamentally flawed”, on 10% of our waters. There has been no trialling and no pilot scheme. Will the Secretary of State commit to sharing details of the pilot scheme that the UK Government are running with the Scottish Government, and continue to press for measures that will support rather than restrict communities?
We will share the results of those pilot schemes. I reiterate what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions last week to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), which is that the Scottish Government should U-turn on this issue and respect the fact that fishing communities know what is best to preserve stocks and know what is best for future generations. The Scottish Government would do well to pay attention to them.
My right hon. Friend will agree with me and the fishing industry in Scotland that we are not against conservation and sustainability in principle. Does he agree that the haste with which the Scottish Government are trying to implement their highly protected marine areas policy is yet another case of the Green tail wagging the SNP dog, and that that could have an extremely damaging consequence for coastal communities across Scotland, including mine in Banff and Buchan? [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister was asked—
I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He is currently travelling to Japan to attend the G7 summit.
I am sure that colleagues from across the House will join me in congratulating Liverpool on its wonderful staging of the Eurovision song contest on behalf of Ukraine.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Royal Lancaster Infirmary is a 130-year-old crumbling hospital. It was meant to be one of the Government’s 40 new hospitals. However, the funding announcement has been delayed four times already. Can the Deputy Prime Minister reassure my constituents that this is not going to be another broken Tory promise?
May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend? I know how hard he has been campaigning on this important issue. The Home Secretary will have heard his remarks. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will put duties on those platforms. Ultimately, if fraud is being perpetrated, the police should take action.
It is a pleasure to welcome yet another Deputy Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box—the third deputy I have faced in three years. You know what they say: the third time’s a charm. I am also pleased to note that the Prime Minister has a working-class friend—finally.
I seem to remember that, after the loss of 300 Conservative seats at last year’s local elections, the right hon. Gentleman resigned, saying “someone must take responsibility”. After 1,000 more Conservative councillors have been given the boot by voters, who does he think is responsible now?
In the spirit of the right hon. Lady’s opening remarks, can I just say it really is a pleasure to see her here today? I was, though, expecting to face the Labour leader’s choice for the next Deputy Prime Minister if they win the election, so I am surprised that the Liberal Democrat leader is not taking questions today.
Mr Speaker, you will forgive me if I take the right hon. Lady’s predictions with a pinch of salt. After all, she confidently predicted that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would one day be Prime Minister. Remember, this is a man who wanted to abolish the Army, scrap Trident, withdraw from NATO and abandon Ukraine. What did she say to that? She could not wait for him to be Prime Minister.
It is absolutely amazing that while the Labour party is preparing to govern with a Labour majority, the right hon. Gentleman’s party is starting to prepare for Opposition. This week, at the National Conservative conference, the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) blamed the country’s problems on a “new religion”. He even hit out at the “dystopian fantasy of John Lennon”. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) identified falling birthing rates as the “overarching threat” to the UK. She criticised “woke” teaching for “destroying…children’s souls”, causing self-harm and suicide among young people. And the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) really let the cat out of the bag when he said:
“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever schemes come back to bite them, as dare I say we found when insisting on voter ID”.
The Deputy Prime Minister, while working in No.10, said he had to listen to the radio every morning to find out what was really going on in the country. Apparently, he was “surprised” on a daily basis by what he learned and most of his time was spent on “day-to-day crisis management”. Eleven years on, nothing has changed.
I am not quite sure what the question was there. If the right hon. Lady wants to talk about that sort of thing, we all know what is going on with her and her leader. It is all lovey-dovey on the surface. They turn it on for the cameras, but as soon as they are off it is a different story—they are at each other’s throats. They are the Phil and Holly of British politics.
The reality is that after 13 years of Tory rule, they are still lurching from crisis to crisis and wallowing in their own mess. They cannot solve the crisis, because they are the crisis. The right hon. Member should take more note of what is happening at his conferences in his party before trying to make up what is happening in mine.
The Prime Minister pledged that by March NHS waiting lists would fall. It is now May. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us whether, since the Prime Minister made that pledge, the number of people on waiting lists is higher or lower?
We are making good progress, for example with two-year waiting lists, but the right hon. Lady seems to forget a crucial fact. The United Kingdom experienced an unprecedented pandemic. Right before covid, GP satisfaction was high, delayed discharges were halved and ambulance targets were being met. She knows that right now in Labour-run Wales exactly the same challenges are being faced. The difference between us is that on the Government side of the House we have a plan to fix it, while she is too busy playing petty politics.
Even before the pandemic waiting lists were going up, so it does not wash that this Government, after 13 years in power, are blaming everybody but themselves for what people are having to put up with. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be claiming that 11,000 patients waiting more than 18 months is an achievement. The last Labour Government reduced waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks. He can come back to me when he has achieved that. The fact is that waiting lists are longer than when the Prime Minister made his pledge five months ago. The number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment is the highest since records began—7.3 million patients left waiting.
I know the Prime Minister has his own private GP, so maybe he does not appreciate the urgency, but he has left people like my constituent Carol waiting over a year for an urgent appointment, moved from waiting list to waiting list, with appointments cancelled again and again. If not now, when will waiting lists—
I gently say to the right hon. Lady, if she cares that much about access to our healthcare, why does she oppose our minimum service levels? They will provide emergency services with vital cover during healthcare strikes. Does she not think that vulnerable patients deserve that level of care, or is she too weak to stand up to her union paymasters?
We all want minimum service levels; it is this Government who have failed to provide them for all our trains and public services because they have run them down and mismanaged them for the last 13 years. It is not just waiting times; 13 years after the landmark Marmot review into child poverty, Sir Michael says that this Government are
“on track to make child poverty worse”,
with more than a quarter of our children living in poverty last year. When I was a young mum, I remember the sick feeling in my stomach not knowing if my wages would cover the bills, yet the right hon. Member’s Government have taken a wrecking ball to measures by the last Labour Government to eradicate child poverty, even abolishing the child poverty unit. They tried to justify that by saying that they no longer needed a child poverty unit because they have abolished the child poverty target. Can he tell us what level of poverty he considers a success?
I say to the right hon. Lady that this comprehensive school boy will not take any lectures from the Opposition party about the lives of working people.
We have introduced record increases in the national living wage—something that this party introduced and the Opposition party failed to. We have taken 1 million working-age people out of poverty altogether. That is the record of my party, and one of which I am very proud.
The last Labour Government made it their mission to reduce the number of children in poverty by a million. We achieved that. Under the Tories, child poverty is nearly back to the level it was at when Labour last inherited the Tory mess. After 13 years, the Tories are stuck in a conveyer belt of crises. While the right hon. Member’s party is preparing for Opposition with their Trump tribute act conference over the road, Labour has focused on fixing the real problems facing British people. They Tories have picked their side. They are for the vested interests, the oil companies and the bankers—for those who are profiting from the crisis, not those suffering from it. Whether it is failing the millions of people anxiously waiting for treatment or overseeing a rise in child poverty, while his colleagues spout nonsense at their carnival of conspiracy, I want to know, when will his party stop blaming everybody else and realise that the problem is them?
I will proudly defend our record in office: crime down 50%; near record levels of employment; and a record minimum wage. What is the Labour party’s record? Four general election defeats; 30 promises already broken; and one leader who let antisemitism run wild. That is why the British people will never trust the Labour party.
May I extend my deepest sympathies on behalf of the Government Benches and the Conservative party to Councillor Gillian Lemmon’s family? We all know how incredibly hard local councillors work and she was a strong representative of South Derbyshire. Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the people of Hilton ward will reflect on this by voting for Conservative candidates at the forthcoming election.
In 2016, the Deputy Prime Minister told his constituents in a blog that it was his duty to furnish them
“with all the facts that are available”
with regards to Brexit. Today, Brexit Britain faces higher food prices, a lack of workers, a shrinking economy and a decline in living standards. Why is he happy to ignore those facts?
We have one of the fastest growth rates in the whole of the G7. In fairness, we all know the policy of the SNP: this weekend, an SNP spokesperson said that we need “to undo Brexit”. If I were them, I would start by undoing the mess they have left Scotland in and start working with the United Kingdom Government, and focus on the priorities of the Scottish people, not the priorities of their party.
The only thing more deluded than that defence of Brexit is the Labour party’s supporting of it. Just today, the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer said that Brexit was a
“threat to our export business and the sustainability of our UK manufacturing operations”.
Even Nigel Farage can admit that Brexit has failed, so why can’t the Deputy Prime Minister?
One of the best ways to get behind industry in this country is to get behind the trade deals that we are striking with many countries around the world, which the SNP has singularly failed to oppose. I see that last week the SNP promised to build a new Scotland. I do not know if the hon. Lady is aware, but the SNP has been in power for 13 years, so perhaps it should stop its focus on independence and focus on the priorities of the Scottish people.
My constituency has a problem with Travellers pitching on private land and common land and causing a nuisance, currently on Parkgate Industrial Estate in Knutsford. Either the police do not have sufficient powers to deal with this issue, or they do have sufficient powers but they are not using them. Will the Deputy Prime Minister get the Government to speak with Cheshire police to ensure that they have the powers to deal with this blight on our local community and that they use them?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the misery caused by unauthorised encampments. I have seen this in my own constituency as well. I understand that Home Office officials regularly liaise with the National Police Chiefs’ Council on this, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have heard my right hon. Friend’s representations and I trust she will act on those.
The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of the ongoing concerns of Unionists in Northern Ireland about our ability to trade freely within the United Kingdom and its internal market, given the continued application of EU law on the manufacture of all goods in Northern Ireland. We now have proposals for a future border operating model that could potentially create further barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Will the Deputy Prime Minister give me an assurance that the Government will in law protect Northern Ireland’s ability to trade freely within and with the rest of the United Kingdom?
We have already shown a willingness to legislate to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the Union, and we are committed to providing exactly the protections to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred in respect of its unfettered access to the whole United Kingdom market. I can give those assurances, and of course we stand ready to work with the right hon. Gentleman and representatives across Unionism to reflect the further steps that are required to strengthen our precious Union.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. I am afraid that, sadly, this is what one might expect from a Liberal Democrat-run council. I join my hon. Friend in thanking the Guildford Street Angels for all their efforts, and I am sure that they, and she, will continue to make those views known to Guildford Borough Council.
I certainly do believe that. Let me say to those on the SNP Benches that it is only because of the strength of our United Kingdom that we are able to afford interventions to deal with, for instance, the cost of living, providing more than £3,300 for every single family in our United Kingdom which was paid for by a 75% windfall tax on oil and gas companies. That is a United Kingdom delivering on the cost of living.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I know that his constituents are anxious for the building work to get under way as soon as possible, but I also know that the Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with NHS England and the trust to support the development of the scheme. The trust is due to submit plans to the Department in the coming months, and the Department will work apace to review those plans.
I assure the hon. Lady and the House that the Government are committed to reforming the leasehold system to give homeowners more control and cheaper access to leasehold renewal, including a 990-year extension with zero ground rent. We will set out plans for further reforms later in the Parliament.
I think that my right hon. Friend is referring to the plans from the Labour party. It is quite interesting that this week, while we are pushing ahead with legislation to break the smuggling gangs, Labour’s big idea is to give foreign nationals a say in our elections. So there we have it. While the Conservatives will stop the boats, Labour will rig the votes.
It is quite extraordinary to take lectures from the Labour party about the railways when the head of the train drivers’ union sits on its national executive committee and was described by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) as “one of us”. No wonder Labour will not stand up to the militant rail unions; it literally lets them drive its policies.
Incredible regeneration work is taking place on Teesside, led by our Mayor, Ben Houchen. Sadly, we have seen a shameful attempt, led by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), to whom I have given advance notice of this question, to smear the amazing Teesworks project. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it was always an integral part of the business case that the private sector should co-invest alongside Government and that the Teesworks arrangements have been checked and approved by the Government? Will he reconfirm his full support for the Teesworks project, reassure investors and join me in calling for the Labour party to apologise for talking down Teesside?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to raise this issue. This is the UK’s first freeport and it continues to attract billions of pounds of private sector investment, creating jobs and supporting the local economy. I think the whole House will see through the inexcusable attempts by the Labour party to talk down those successes on Teesside, where local leaders are working tirelessly to improve that region for the first time in a generation.
I am very proud of the fact that this Government have given record numbers of people the opportunity to have jobs and employment, which is the surest route out of poverty. I believe that up to 3.6 million new jobs have been created under this Government.
It is truly excellent news to see England rising up the international league tables for reading to become the highest performing country in the western world. That is testament to the hard work of our teachers and the dedication of the Minister for Schools, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), to following evidence-based policy, but this progress will only be sustained if children are in school regularly and able to learn. Can I strongly commend to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government the ten-minute rule Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond)? It has cross-party support and delivers on key recommendations of the Education Committee and the Children’s Commissioner. The Government should adopt it as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight those brilliant figures, which show that we have now jumped to fourth best in the world for reading. I certainly see this in schools; it is much more demanding than it was in my day, and that is a tribute to the ministerial team who have done a fabulous job. I will of course examine the details of the ten-minute rule Bill to which he refers.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a brilliant first performance at Prime Minister’s questions. Will he keep the Government laser-focused on the issues that matter to people, such as the cost of living and the NHS, and on the issues of the future, such as artificial intelligence, which needs regulatory attention? And will he ignore the reactionary voices, no matter where they come from?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this. I am incredibly optimistic about the future of this country in industries across the piece, including digital and, indeed, film and television in my constituency. We are genuinely world leading, creating the high-quality jobs that we want for our children and grandchildren.
I really think this House needs a correction on the facts, given what we have heard from the Labour party. Because of our national living wage, which is defined as being at least two thirds of the median income, poverty is at its lowest point for years. We have lifted 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty altogether. That is the track record of this Government.
The people of Longport and Burslem, as well as the people of Porthill in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), are suffering because of cowboy waste disposal companies such as Staffordshire Waste, which has again been done for having waste on site after being given a notice by the Environment Agency. What support can I get to hold these people to account and to make sure their retrospective planning application for a site they are already using is rejected by Stoke-on-Trent City Council?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Such people are often associated with fly-tipping, which is a blight on our landscape. I will ensure that I raise all the issues he has raised with me with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who has ministerial responsibility.
I am sure that a ministerial colleague in the Department of Health and Social Care will be happy to have that meeting. I would just say that this Government have put more money into mental health services, and we are funding 150 wider capital schemes. This Government have made mental health services a priority.
This week is Wales Tourism Week, an opportunity to celebrate one of Wales’s most important sectors, which represents 10% of all jobs, supports Welsh farmers and food producers, and generates £6 billion of economic activity each year. Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who work in the Welsh tourism sector? Does he agree that the UK Government’s Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023 demonstrates their commitment to supporting the tourism sector, unlike Labour’s proposed tourism tax in Cardiff, which will undermine visits and jobs?
UK Car Industry
The automotive industry is vital. It is a vital part of the UK economy and it is integral to delivering on levelling up, net zero and advancing global Britain. After a challenging period where covid and global supply chain shortages have impacted the international automotive industry, the UK sector is bouncing back. Production is increasing, and in 2022 the UK’s best-selling car was the Nissan Qashqai, built in Sunderland.
The automotive industry has a long and proud history in the UK. We are determined to build on our heritage and secure international investment in the technologies of the future, to position the UK as one of the best locations in the world in which to manufacture electric vehicles. We are leveraging investment from industry by providing Government support for new plants and upgrades to ensure that the automotive industry thrives into the future. Companies continue to show confidence in the UK, announcing major investments across the country, including £1 billion from Nissan and Envision to create an electric vehicle manufacturing hub in Sunderland; £100 million from Stellantis for the site in Ellesmere Port; and £380 million from Ford to make Halewood its first EV components site in Europe.
We will continue to work through our automotive transformation fund to build a global, competitive EV supply chain in the UK, boosting home-grown EV battery production, levelling up and advancing towards a greener future.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Minister for her response.
The warnings from Stellantis overnight are deeply concerning, not just for my constituents who work at Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port, but for the automotive sector more widely. She will know of the huge efforts put in over recent years to secure the future of the plant and to move to electric vehicle production; significant contributions have been made from the management, the workforce, the local authority and the Government themselves. So it is beyond frustrating that just a couple of years later we find ourselves once again in a position where there is a threat to my constituents’ livelihoods.
We know what needs to be done to secure jobs in Ellesmere Port and in the wider automotive sector, because the sector has been telling the Government, as have we, that there needs to be a proper industrial strategy. So where is that strategy? Indeed, where is the Secretary of State? The EU is pumping billions into manufacturing as part of its green industrial plan, the US is investing trillions with the Inflation Reduction Act and we are being left behind. Every day this Government sit on their hands, that mountain to climb gets a little higher.
So we need urgent action, but I am afraid that all I have heard this morning is complacency. We need those gigafactories with spades in the ground this year, because we know the timescales that the industry invests across are long and it needs to see progress now. So will the Minister tell us what steps the Government are actively taking to increase the proportion of vehicle parts manufactured in the UK? We need to make sure our trading relationship with the EU is updated to reflect the global supply chain difficulties that all manufacturing industry is facing. So does she plan to make a formal request to reopen negotiations with the EU on the trade and co-operation agreement? It has been made repeatedly clear that without changes to the future trading arrangements, and without a proper industrial strategy, the UK car industry is at risk. What assurances can she give to my constituents that their futures matter to this Government? The UK car sector is the jewel in the crown of our manufacturing industry. If we lose it, it will not be coming back. So please, Minister, take action now.
The hon. Gentleman will know, when I respond to this question, just how seriously I take the sector, as he does—he and I have worked on this previously. I agree that the automotive industry is a vital part of the UK economy and I will go on to explain all the work we are doing there; if we add it all up, it is more or less a very strategic strategy. We know that it is integral to delivering on our levelling-up agenda, which is why it matters to so many constituents and why there are so many MPs in the Chamber today. We know that it matters to net zero and to advancing Global Britain. We also know how important this is to Members of Parliament because of the number of people who work in the sector.
The automotive industry employs around 166,000 people and includes major manufacturers, such as Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Toyota and BMW. We are leveraging investment from industry by providing support for new plants and upgrades to ensure that the UK automotive industry continues to thrive into the future. This includes Nissan’s £1 billion north-east electric vehicle hub, Ford’s £380 million investment in Halewood to make electric drive units, and Stellantis’s £100 million investment in Ellesmere Port for EV van production.
We work closely with the sector through the joint Government and industry-led Automotive Council, of which I am the co-chair, which discusses opportunities for growth, competitiveness and future opportunities. We also meet regularly with individual long-standing and new automotive companies to discuss a range of issues, including future investments.
On Government support, the Government and industry have jointly committed approximately £1.4 billion in innovative projects through the Advanced Propulsion Centre to accelerate the development and commercialisation of strategically important vehicle technologies, strengthening our competitive edge internationally. We also work on the automotive transformation fund, which puts the UK at the forefront of transition to zero-emission vehicles.
Of course, I must not forget the Faraday battery challenge, which, with an overall budget of £541 million since 2017, worked to establish the UK as a battery science superpower. This is what keeps us at the forefront as we try to adapt and use a new technology.
I wish to put it on the record that there are regular reviews of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that responsibility sits with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and is not something that I can respond to on its behalf. However, I can provide assurances—[Interruption.] I am just about to do so, if Members will allow me to continue. I can provide assurances that I and the Secretary of State for Business and Trade have raised these issues with our colleagues across Government and have had productive conversations with our counterparts in the European Union. We are aware of the concerns of UK and EU car makers about the challenges and, of course, we continue to make strong representations.
The automotive industry has been a huge success story for the west midlands and can be so in the future as we transition to electric vehicles. However, with 40% of the weight and cost of an electric vehicle being made up in the battery, it is vital that we get a battery manufacturing site in the west midlands. A site has been allocated at Coventry airport, immediately adjacent to the Battery Innovation Centre, where some innovative and brilliant work is taking place. Will the Minister provide Government support for the proposed gigafactory at Coventry Airport?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. He and I worked together on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. He has always been a passionate advocate for his constituency. It is indeed a fantastic proposal and we are keen to make sure that we can support as much investment as possible and that sites are set up for gigafactories. We know how important it is to ensure that the supply chain is as reliable as possible. If my hon. Friend would like to meet me, we can go through the proposals in further detail.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for securing this urgent question on an area of fundamental importance not just to his constituency, but to the prosperity of the whole country.
For months now, Labour and industry have been warning the Government that this cliff edge was coming. It is a statement of the blindingly obvious that the lack of battery-making capacity in the UK, combined with changes to the rules of origin, was a car crash waiting to happen. It is a fact that, without domestic batteries, there will be no domestic automotive industry in the UK, yet the Government have no strategy to bring in the investment and infrastructure needed, and the rules of origin just make that even more compelling. This deadline to conform with the rules of origin has not been a secret, but where is the urgency, the ambition and the determination to keep our world-class automotive industry in the UK?
Once again, industry has been treated to a Government who are fond of big-state, top-down targets, but completely missing in action when it comes to how to deliver on those targets. Dare I say it that, despite warning after warning, it is clear that this Government are asleep at the wheel. Labour has a plan, through our industrial strategy—which Members can read as it is published—not just to protect the industry and the jobs that we have, but to deliver even more. We will part-finance those eight gigafactories, create 80,000 jobs and power 2 million electric vehicles, matching the incentives on offer from our rivals.
This is not just about public investment; it is about planning reform, changes to business rates, domestic energy security and supply, and more. That is the action that is needed. With respect, the Minister has not really answered any of the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston yet, so will the Government outline how they will secure the battery-making capacity that we desperately need in the UK? What is the Government’s view on the suitability and application of the rules of origin as they currently stand? Finally, will the Government wake up, grab the steering wheel and get control of the situation before it is far too late?
It is a good to hear that the Opposition are expecting businesses to make decisions on promises that may or may not come down the line, and on promises of sums of money that have been allocated and reallocated a number of times by the Labour party. This is not just my view: look at the figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, showing that British commercial vehicle production grew by 39% in 2022, the best since 2012, with exports surging by 63%. We are determined to make the UK the best location for export-led automotive manufacturing.
I am going to talk not about a promise, but about the programmes that are in place to ensure that supply chains and gigafactories are here to support the whole automotive sector. I have spoken about the Advanced Propulsion Centre—perhaps the Opposition do not understand how important that is—the Faraday battery challenge and “Driving the electric revolution”. We must not forget the Envision AESC announcement of its investment in a gigafactory in Sunderland or Johnson Matthey confirming its investment in the construction of a factory in Hertfordshire for proton exchange membrane fuel cell components for use in hydrogen vehicles.
Discussions are constantly ongoing with other potential investors into gigafactories in the UK. We are not doing this by ourselves in Government, making decisions that seem good on paper; as I said, I co-host the Automotive Council and just this week—possibly on Monday or Tuesday, I cannot remember—I caught up with Aston Martin, Bentley Motors, BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren Automotive, Nissan, Stellantis, Tesla, Toyota and the Volkswagen group. They are keen to continue working with us to ensure that we have supply chains here in the UK.
To secure the future of our vital automotive sector, we need to manufacture batteries in the UK. The industrial strategy in 2017, which my hon. Friend the Minister referred to, established the Faraday challenge to build on our cutting-edge research capability. The battery innovation centre was set up to develop manufacturing capacity. While the strategy is vital, and must be refreshed and continued, it is necessary but not sufficient; we need activism. When Mrs Thatcher lured Nissan and Toyota to this country, she travelled to Japan to make the case for locating here. Does that level of activism exist in the Government, and will the Minister commit to ensuring that we have those investments from companies around the world in the UK?
I believe that my right hon. Friend was the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy when the decision on the Faraday battery challenge was taken. He made sure that £211 million of funding was in place, so that technology could be developed to make batteries as efficient as they can be. That is just one part of our trying to secure investment into the UK. I can confirm that meetings are constantly taking place, including at Secretary of State level, with companies based in the UK and overseas, meeting with chief executive officers and chief financial officers to ensure that the UK is seen as an attractive place to manufacture cars. There is a global challenge around supply chains—it is not just a domestic issue—and we are keen to ensure that the UK continues to be seen as the best place to manufacture cars.
The Minister is sticking her fingers in her ears and burying her head in the sand on this question. The Government were told time and time again about the rules of origin issues, and the car industry seems to be another casualty of the Government’s damaging Brexit. Increasing the uptake of low-emission vehicles is vital to meeting our net zero goals, but the UK’s disastrous trade deals are making the domestic manufacture of those vehicles impossible.
Stellantis has warned:
“If the cost of EV Manufacturing in the UK becomes uncompetitive and unsustainable operations will close.”
Has the Minister made an estimate of how many job losses it would lead to if the world’s fourth-largest carmaker closed its UK factories as a result of Brexit? Andy Palmer, a former chief operating officer, said that we are “running out of time” to get battery manufacturing in the UK, and that a failure to address the issues caused by Brexit will lead to the loss of 800,000 jobs in the UK. Car manufacturing has fallen sharply since the UK chose to leave the EU, from more than 1.5 million in 2016 to just 775,000. Does the Minister accept that the only way for Scotland to stop the decline of our industries is to gain independence and rejoin the world’s largest single market?
I would not expect anything less than a rerun of the conversation on Brexit. Fundamentally, the hon. Member does not like Brexit, does not like any trade deal, and does not even like the most integrated single market between England and Scotland, so I know that he has nothing appropriate to say.
Let us talk about the situation as it is: confidence in the UK automotive sector, and in the whole supply chain, has meant that Stellantis has invested more than £100 million in the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port. That will see the plant transition to become the first mass-market all-electric plant in the UK, producing electric vans from 2023. That shows the confidence that that particular firm has in the UK.
We know that the production of electric units will go up, whether for private or commercial use, and we are doing everything we can to provide support on some of the more challenging issues in car manufacturing, such as access to energy and the cost of energy, which we have been working on as well. It is internationally challenging—I accept that—but the UK continues to be incredibly attractive for car manufacturing.
Many of my constituents work at the Vauxhall Luton van factory, which makes the incredibly successful Vivaro, so this issue really matters to them and to me, and it matters for our industrial future. Will the Minister flesh out in a little more detail the plan to get more battery manufacturing capacity here in the United Kingdom? When will there be announcements? What number of battery plants does she believe the United Kingdom needs to have a successful car manufacturing industry?
I thank my hon. Friend for that incredibly sensible question. I have talked about all the programmes of work we have in place to attract gigafactories to the UK and to ensure that we are using the best technology that we can. We have the automotive transformation fund, which is building globally competitive electric vehicle supply chains, and I have spoken about the Faraday project, which will unlock a huge amount of research and development. We have Envision, too. We are working with and we constantly talk to other investors to help them come and establish gigafactories in the UK. We know how important it is to have supply chains to deal with the remarkable amount of cars being manufactured here.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we also published in the integrated review an updated report on critical minerals to ensure that we are able to access to those minerals and are not relying on a particular nation, but can diversify. As I have said, I co-chair the Automotive Council, and that will provide a huge amount of assurance to his constituents that we are working hand in hand with the sector.
The story overnight came from written submissions to my Committee’s inquiry on the future of battery manufacturing in the UK. Stellantis will be here in Parliament next Tuesday to give further evidence. The Minister will know two things: that she and her departmental officials are in ongoing negotiations with other car manufacturers in the UK beyond Stellantis, and that all the car companies are raising exactly the same issues and are asking for a step up in activity from the Government and an end-to-end industrial strategy to show that the UK is serious about the future of UK production of electric vehicles. Will the Minister confirm for the record that those assertions—that the Department is in negotiations right now with other car manufacturing companies and that they are raising exactly the same issues as Stellantis—are indeed correct?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for being here. I was once on his Committee. Overnight, I went through the transcript and some of the submissions to that inquiry, and I noticed the submission from Nissan. I know that nobody wants to pick out all the positive things that were said, but there was a great point on page 4:
“The UK has strong promise as an EV battery production location due to strong demand, a skilled workforce, and attractive manufacturing sites.”
We somehow seem to be forgetting all the positive things that are said in submissions by the automotive sector.
We are working with those in the sector, as I have said. I meet them regularly and was with them just this week to deal with a number of challenges, whether to do with the Inflation Reduction Act or gigafactories. I can, of course, confirm that we are working with industry to do everything we can to ensure that there is greater commitment to gigafactories here in the UK.
Manufacturing and industry in this country are definitely an ecosystem, and when we start to lose chunks of it, that not only devastates communities but affects wider supply-chain businesses. The Minister will know that steel is crucial to car manufacturing. Can she reassure me and my constituents that she is considering those supply-chain businesses and doing everything she can to ensure that we have a level playing field in this country, not just for the steel industry but for manufacturing more widely?
My hon. Friend is once again the lady of steel, raising the topic on behalf of the whole industry across the UK. She will know about our recent work to look at procurement and the whole lifecycle of supply chains, and to ensure that we are doing everything we can in the UK. She knows about our commitment to the steel sector—we have provided billions of pounds-worth of support for energy costs, and now there is a huge amount of support for decarbonisation—and because of her work, steel will not be left out of any conversation when it comes to advanced manufacturing.
Recharge Industries, the organisation that bought out Britishvolt, is committed to building a gigafactory on the Britishvolt site in Cambois in my constituency. However, there is a huge issue with Northumberland County Council relating to a buyback proposal on the land of the proposed gigafactory. Will the Minister please intervene to facilitate discussions between all parties to ensure that we are not let down again at the site in Cambois, and that Recharge Industries gets every support it needs from the Government to build that gigafactory and bring 9,000 jobs to the north-east?
We are pleased that Britishvolt has been successfully acquired. We know that investment supports high-quality jobs in industries of the future, and we are determined to ensure that the UK remains one of the best locations. We look forward to learning more about the Recharge Industries plans, and we continue to work closely with the local authority—it is not a Government decision—to ensure the best outcome for the site. Because I am so keen to ensure that we continue to have good news in this sector, I will commit to meeting the hon. Member this week so that he can ensure that the information I am getting from my officials is absolutely correct. If there is anything more I can do in relation to the local authority, I will do my best.
I am very proud to have the Vauxhall van plant in my constituency. I was going to ask the Minister whether the Government accepted that setting ambitious targets, such as the zero emission vehicle mandate, without a plan, alongside the issues with the rules of origin, was simply reckless, but I want to impress upon her that what we are debating impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. Will she accept an invitation to Luton South to visit the Vauxhall van plant and speak with workers there, and their representatives, to see how Government decisions impact on people’s lives?
We are very much aware of how this impacts on people’s lives. I can tell by the number of Members in the Chamber. I co-chair the Automotive Council, so I know how incredibly important it is that we are sensitive to the needs of the industry while delivering on our other ambitious targets, including net zero. For the meeting this week with the sector, I took a delegation over to the Department for Transport to explain a little further the challenges of the ZEV mandate. There is a huge commitment to delivering electric vehicles, but there are also challenges if we want to ensure that the UK automotive sector continues to be as competitive while delivering on our net zero ambitions. Of course, if the opportunity arises, I would be more than happy to visit the hon. Member’s manufacturing site when she is available. I will do my very best to try to make that happen.
In a written answer to me in November last year, the Minister said:
“The Government is committed to securing investment into the automotive sector, which will play an important role in levelling up across the UK and driving down emissions to net zero by 2050.”
In the light of that, today’s intervention by Stellantis is extremely worrying. If the Government cannot get an agreement to keep the current rules until 2027, what assessment have they made of the effect that the 10% tariff will have on the UK car manufacturing industry?
The hon. Member’s premise is wrong. I can list all the investments that have taken place in the sector, including £100 million from Stellantis in Ellesmere Port. That is taking place because there is confidence in the UK and in the supply chains. There has been a £380 million investment in Halewood. We have £1 billion of investment in the north-east hub between Nissan and Envision. That is all investment in the UK. Bentley announced £2.5 billion of investment in 2022 to produce its first battery-electric vehicles by 2026, securing 4,000 jobs at its Crewe plant. None of that was in the hon. Member’s script as she stood up.
We are aware of the rules of origin issue and it is raised with the Automotive Council, of which I am a co-chair. As I said earlier, the FCDO leads on this issue, but my Secretary of State is in constant contact to ensure that we get the best deal we can.
Stellantis’ warning that it might be forced to close its UK factories will be greeted with dread by the large number of my constituents who work in the Vauxhall car plant in Ellesmere Port, where I myself was employed for many decades. The automotive sector now faces an existential threat as a result of the Government’s recklessness in setting such ambitious rules of origin targets, with no clear plan on how they would be delivered. With 800,000 jobs hanging in the balance, can the Minister confirm that the Government are prepared to sober up, get real, and work with the EU to revisit the rules of origin requirements in the trade and co-operation agreement?
Stellantis gave evidence to the Select Committee on a number of issues, and it seems peculiar that just one particular point has been raised, which has been in process for quite some time. The confidence that the hon. Member can give his constituents is that Stellantis has invested over £100 million in the UK—that is the confidence that employees have as well. A series of submissions were made to the Select Committee, and I am sure that the Chair, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), will see a lot of activity on the website going forward. I read out the submission from Nissan expressing the confidence it has in the UK, as well as in us being able to deliver a huge amount of technological advancement in providing net zero vehicles. I ask the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) to read the submission in full, not just the snapshot that was in the news.
As the Minister will be aware, Sunderland is home to Nissan—it is in my constituency—and there are thankfully already shovels in the ground for the Envision AESC’s battery gigafactory, but we need more than one gigafactory. The sustainability of other UK manufacturing operations is at massive risk, as we have heard today, because the Government are incapable of seeing through any strategy. They knew this day was coming. When will the Government renegotiate the trade and co-operation agreement?
The hon. Member is absolutely right: there is a fantastic project with Nissan and Envision that will support 6,200 jobs in that supply chain, with more than 900 new Nissan jobs and 750 new jobs at the Envision gigafactory. By 2025, that site will see a projected 100,000 battery electric vehicles produced each year by Nissan; it is the first in the UK at that scale. All the other programmes of investment that I explained, whether that is the automotive transformation fund or the Faraday battery challenge, are what we are using to attract further investment in the UK, especially in gigafactories. That is exactly what we are working on—it is what I am working on as the co-chair of the Automotive Council.
The transition to electric vehicles means not only new battery and engine factories, but significant investment in car component factories such as Gestamp in my constituency, which has developed lighter, tougher car body parts. Multinational companies such as Gestamp are currently making crucial decisions about where to site the production lines of the future, so with the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU refining its response, what are the Government going to do to reduce energy costs both now and in the long term, to provide a coherent industrial vision and strategy, and real incentives for companies such as Gestamp to invest their new lines here in the UK?
Those are the exact conversations that we have been having for quite some time with manufacturers in the UK. Of course, IRA is not just a challenge for us, but a challenge internationally—the hon. Member has no doubt seen the response from Europe. We are also putting together a response collectively for all the manufacturers within the UK. It is important to note all the support we have given to energy-intensive industries, including the energy bill relief scheme, and now we have the supercharger coming down the line as well. Fundamentally, we also have the critical mineral refresh that is in the integrated review, which will provide further assurance that we can get hold of the basic goods—the critical minerals—that are needed to ensure that supply chains are reliable for manufacturers in the UK.
Never has an industrial strategy been more needed, and never have a Government been found more wanting. We have just 2.5 GW in production currently with Envision, and as the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said, it needs activism, but I am afraid the signals just are not there. As Chancellor, the Prime Minister gave a keynote speech to the automotive industry last May. He spoke for just one minute and 46 seconds, and the delegates were left feeling disrespected by his lack of commitment. Unfortunately, this does affect international corporates that are looking to invest, and between the US with its IRA and the investments in Europe—in Germany, France and Spain—we are in serious danger of losing out. As such, will the Minister please convene a cross-party meeting with the Automotive Council to discuss what the plan is to address this real crisis?
If Madam Deputy Speaker allows, I will be more than happy to go over the allowed one minute in my response, but I do not want to lose favour with her. The constant requests for the strategy are peculiar because I can tell Members exactly what we are doing. The Chancellor identified five key growth sectors for the UK, which of course include advanced manufacturing, and the Government have announced £500 million per year for a package of support for 20,000 research and development-intensive businesses. We have 12 new investment zones and we are saving £1 billion yearly by cutting red tape that is burdensome for big employers.
But the point is this: there are a number of challenges around supply chains. We are looking at that issue with the Automotive Council, and also through the integrated review and the critical minerals refresh. There was a challenge internationally when it came to energy costs; we had the EBRS and now we have the supercharger. I am the co-chair of the Automotive Council. I am sure that, if the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) wanted to attend, he could write to the co-chair and ensure there could be time for him to be there as well. That work is done collaboratively with all the automotive CEOs, CFOs and leading managers across the UK. I do not determine who comes to that meeting and represents the automotive sector; that is for them to decide.
In the UK, we have the largest queue to connect to the grid of any country in Europe, which is affecting the car manufacturing industry, including when it sets up new plants. One manufacturer that wanted to put solar arrays on its plant was quoted 2031 for grid connection and a £9 million cost; another one was quoted 2037. That is clearly hindering our chances of securing a prosperous car industry in this country and attracting more investment. What conversations is the Minister having with her colleagues to ensure that grid connectivity is resolved?
I thank the hon. Member for that question, because it shows that we have to work across Whitehall. Access to the national grid is a major issue for any of the large manufacturers and of course, as their plans grow, they need to have greater access over a faster timetable than one would have previously thought National Grid would make available. Conversations are taking place, in particular with colleagues who were previously in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who are now in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and are leading that relationship with National Grid. The issue comes up regularly in the meetings that we have with the manufacturing sector, and my priority is to support the advanced manufacturing sector, so the hon. Member can be assured that I am campaigning incredibly hard to make sure that all our advanced manufacturing sites—present or planned—get access to energy at a timetable that suits the business, not just National Grid.
It is deeply unimpressive for the Minister to come along today and talk about jam tomorrow—investments in future exotic technology and the investments that industry is making in that scenario—when what we actually need is conventional traction battery manufacturing capacity in the UK now. I am invested in this because of the supply chain in Scotland and because the United Kingdom has done everything it can to avoid any of the automotive foreign direct investment coming to Scotland. What will the Minister do to address the emergency of a lack of manufacturing capacity in traction batteries now, not different types of batteries in the future?
It is not about jam tomorrow: it is about money committed previously and money committed today. The transition to zero-emission vehicles is being supported by up to £1 billion for R&D and capital investments in strategically important parts of the electric vehicle supply chain, building on the £1.9 billion in spending review 2020. The Government have committed £620 million to support the transition to electric vehicles—that is committed today; it is not jam tomorrow. I ask the hon. Member to read all the submissions to the Select Committee, and to respond to the positive comments that have been made about why businesses continue to see the UK as a great place to manufacture cars.
If levelling up is to be more than just a slogan, we desperately need an industrial strategy that matches historical skills to new job opportunities. I want to impress on the Minister that, in 2002, Oldham Batteries in Denton closed for the last time. It made car batteries for a long time. It had been a company since 1894, but those skills are still there in Tameside. How do we match up future job opportunities that the green transport revolution brings to those skills that still exist in areas such as Denton and Tameside?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s point. There is no doubt a huge amount of skills in his constituency and it is absolutely right that he is coming here to represent them today. I have spoken about the Faraday battery challenge, which is about using new technology to ensure that we are producing the best batteries with the longest lifecycle. Forgive me; he is absolutely right: I should have mentioned the national electrification skills framework. That project is being continued by the Faraday battery challenge. It looks at the skills needed today, tomorrow and even further going down the line to ensure that these jobs and opportunities are spread across the UK. If he would allow, I am more than happy to write to him and to make sure, if it does not already, that that part of the Faraday challenge covers his region, too.
As well as a viable automotive industry, the UK badly needs adequate road infrastructure to drive electric vehicles on. Do the Government recognise that demand for private and commercial electric vehicles is stalling in the UK because there is insufficient charging infrastructure, which makes buyers reluctant to make the move? Will the Minister raise that with Transport colleagues and commit to Labour’s policy of implementing mandated regional targets to ensure that all parts of the country get the charging infrastructure they so badly need?
As I mentioned earlier, I went with a delegation of car firms over to the Department for Transport, and I can see a Minister from that Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on the Front Bench. As I mentioned, it included Bentley, BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover—I have to read them all out; they will complain if I miss them off—McLaren, Nissan, Stellantis, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Aston Martin. I think that is everybody. Infrastructure is absolutely key, and we are doing everything we can to put pressure on the Department for Transport as it works with its stakeholders to make sure that the roll-out of charging points, including fast charging points, is kept up to speed to make sure that buying an electric vehicle is as attractive as it can be.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that bus travel remains accessible and affordable for everyone, while bearing down on the cost of living.
Let me start by summarising the situation as we find it. People across the country are facing massive cost of living pressures following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. That is why we have a commitment to halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people greater financial security. For the bus sector, that comes on the back of a global pandemic that saw passenger numbers drop to as low as 10% of their pre-pandemic levels. However, bus journeys are now recovering to around 90% of their pre-pandemic levels outside of London. Taking the bus remains the most popular form of public transport, and millions of people rely on these vital services every day.
Local bus networks provide great access to work, education and medical appointments, driving economic growth across the country. They can be a lifeline for those for whom travelling by car or other forms of public transport is simply not possible. That is why over the past three years we have invested more than £3 billion to support and improve bus services in England outside of London. That level of investment was a sign of the times, but today, we need to move out from underneath the shadow of covid-19, where the sudden absence of passengers made it necessary for the Government to step in, first through the covid-19 bus service support grant, and later through the bus recovery grant.
We face a challenge to return the network to its pre-pandemic footing while confronting fundamental changes to travel patterns, but buses remain a critical part of our transport infrastructure for many people, especially outside London in suburban and rural areas. Billions in Government funding has been made available to keep fares down and to keep services up and running. Bus routes have been kept alive where they may have proven so uneconomic that they risked being scrapped altogether. Without them, whole communities would have lost out, risking people becoming totally disconnected, especially older and more vulnerable people. While we have seen overall patronage recover to around 90% of pre-pandemic levels, concessionary fares continue to lag significantly behind. We recognise that we can maximise opportunities to bring concessionary passengers back to the bus, and I will return to that point later.
Supporting bus services at their lowest ebb was the right thing to do. However, if the public purse alone props up bus services, that would not be a funding model; it would just be a failing business. It is not the business of this Government to allow our buses to fail. We must reform bus funding in the long term, and we will work with the sector to better understand the impact before moving ahead with any implementation. We must adapt to new levels of patronage, acknowledge that there are extremely challenging financial circumstances and balance the needs of taxpayers, the travelling public, operators and local authorities. All parts of the sector have their role to play.
The Government will play our part. Today, I can announce a long-term approach to protect bus services, keep travel affordable and support the bus sector’s long-term recovery. I can announce that the Government will provide: an additional £300 million over the next two years to protect vital routes until April 2025; £150 million between June 2023 and April 2024; and, another £150 million between April 2024 and April 2025.
Some £160 million of that funding will be earmarked for local transport authorities through the new bus service improvement plan plus—a mechanism to improve bus services while empowering local authorities to make the call on how services are planned and delivered. It comes in addition to the existing £1 billion of funding through the national bus strategy that has already been allocated. BSIP+ will be focused on communities that did not previously benefit from BSIP allocations. In addition, a further £140 million will be provided to operators through the bus service operators grant plus mechanism, supporting them with the services they run.
This package means that passengers can continue to rely on their local bus to get around. Alongside it, we will consult with operators and local authorities on measures to modernise and futureproof bus funding for the long term. This is part of the Government’s vision to improve connectivity through the bus services that this country relies upon. This funding and our bus vision will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunities in every part of the country.
At a time when the cost of living is a challenge for many, we also recognise that price is a key barrier to growth. The more affordable travel is, the more likely passengers are to get on board. We understand that every penny counts. The Government stepped up during the pandemic with support for businesses and their workers with low-cost loans and, most vitally, the furlough scheme. Following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the knock-on inflation caused by the energy price shock, we again stepped up. We have delivered an energy package of more than £90 billion, literally paying half the energy bills of households across the country, with extra support for the most vulnerable. We will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living pressures and give people financial security. We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.
In transport, we also understand the pressures placed on people’s finances. That is why we cut fuel duty by 5p a litre, kept train fare rises significantly below inflation and introduced the “Get Around for £2” bus scheme nationwide and provided the funding for local authorities in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and elsewhere to do the same. The nationwide scheme was initially for three months until 31 March this year. I then extended it until 30 June. Today, I can also inform the House that the Government will provide a further £200 million to continue capping single fares at £2 in England outside London until 31 October 2023. After that, we will continue to support bus passengers with the cost of living. We will replace the £2 cap with a £2.50 fare cap until 30 November 2024, when the Government will review the effectiveness of future bus fares.
Since the £2 cap was introduced, it has saved passengers millions of pounds, boosted businesses and put bums on bus seats across the country. This decision builds on the Government’s help for households initiative and supports everyone through the cost of living increases, especially those on the lowest incomes, who take nearly three times as many bus trips as those on higher incomes. It puts money back into people’s pockets and keeps them connected to key local services. It encourages millions of passengers to get back on the bus by knocking close to a third off the average single fare, and more for longer journeys. Taking that forward, my officials will work with the sector to confirm operators’ participation in the scheme. We will also undertake a review of bus fares at the end of November 2024 to support the sector in moving to a sustainable, long-term footing.
In conclusion, what I have shared with the House today is part of the largest Government investment in bus services for a generation. It exceeds our bus back better commitments by half a billion pounds, providing certainty to industry, securing value for taxpayers, protecting access to vital public services, delivering our priority to grow the economy, and helping people with the cost of living. All the while, we will work with the sector to reform bus funding in the long term. We will work towards affordable and reliable bus services for everyone, everywhere, all at once. That is what the travelling public deserves, and that is this Government’s ambition. I commend this statement to the House.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Our bus services are in crisis. Bus users across the country listening to the statement today—waiting for a bus that never turns up and robbed of a service they depend on—will be wondering, frankly, whether the Minister is oblivious or in denial, and whether he understands the scale of the Government’s failure, even on their own terms. His party made promises that voters were entitled to think would be kept.
Two years ago, in the middle of the pandemic and when its effects were well known, the Conservatives launched their bus back better strategy. With great fanfare, they pledged a great bus service for everyone, everywhere. They promised it would be one of the great acts of levelling up. They pledged buses so frequent that people would not need a timetable. They said the Government would
“not only stop the decline”—
in bus services, but
“reverse it”.—[Official Report, 15 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 50.]
Those promises made long after the effects of Covid were clear, and what has happened since? Last year, services fell by the second fastest level on record. Today, there are fewer buses on the road than at any time on record. Of the 4,000 zero-emission buses the Minister’s party promised, just six are on the road. Can that really be what the Prime Minister means by “delivery, delivery, delivery”? For bus passengers across the country, it sounds like “failure, failure, failure.” They are counting the cost of a party that simply has not kept its word and of 13 years of Conservative failure. In that time, 7,000 bus services have been axed. Those services were indispensable for connecting people to jobs, opportunities, friends and family. These lost connections have held back our economic growth, worsened our community life, and deepened our productivity problem. The Government promised transformation, but they have delivered a spiral of managed decline. Today’s announcement does nothing to stop that.
The funding announced to “support services” until 2025 is actually a significant cut—23% less than previous rounds of recovery funding and far short of what the operators have said is needed simply to maintain services. The consequence—whether or not the Minister will admit it—will be hundreds more services on the scrap heap. Even on the Government’s own terms, that is yet another extraordinary failure.
The Minister cannot hide from the reality with which so many people are living day to day. A woman in Hampshire told me she has to leave home three hours early for her hospital appointments to ensure she is there on time. There are students in Stoke who do not go into their town centre any more, because the bus back finishes at 7 pm. There are kids in Burnley who no longer have a school bus. What does the Minister have to say to them? Does he think their situation is acceptable after 13 years of Conservative Government? What hope does he have to offer them? This announcement shows that he is content simply to tinker around the edges of the broken bus system, to leave intact a system that gives local people no say whatsoever over the services they depend on, and to leave this country as one of the only in the developed world that hands operators unchecked power to slash routes and raise fares, with the people those decisions affect cut out altogether.
For years, communities have demanded that we fix the situation, and Labour will. Our plans will put communities firmly back in control of the public transport they depend upon. We will give every community the power to take control over routes, fares and services, and we will lower the unnecessary legislative hurdles that the Tories have put in their way. We will back the evidence showing that areas with local control and public ownership deliver greater efficiency, increased passengers and better services. Bold reform is needed, and 13 years into this Conservative Government, bus services are locked in a spiral of decline that communities are powerless to stop.
Today’s announcement shows that the Conservatives’ answer to this failing status quo is more of the same. After more than a decade of broken promises, the public will once again rightly conclude that the Conservatives cannot fix the problem, because the Conservatives are the problem.
It was delightful to hear the shadow Secretary of State’s prepared attack lines, because I do not think she actually listened to the statement. We are exceeding the bus back better commitment by £500 million. I note that the hon. Lady did not mention the fact that Sheffield city region is getting £3.15 million today—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady would let me speak, rather than shout at me from a sedentary position, she might actually learn something. Stoke, which she mentioned, has already had £31.6 million in BSIP funding. Hampshire, which she also mentioned, is also getting £3.6 million today.
The hon. Lady talked about her plan for the devolution of powers, but we have already done that. She does not seem to be paying any attention to what is happening in her own area of South Yorkshire, which has received £570 million. Greater Manchester is receiving over £1 billion over five years. That was never delivered by Labour in government, but delivered by this Conservative party right across the country. There are sustainable transport schemes and city region sustainable transport settlements—all delivered with money from this Government—[Interruption.] She shouts that this is about Labour Mayors, but we have done deals with Conservative Mayors and Labour Mayors. I do not care about party politics; I want to deliver for bus users right across this country.
That is different from the ideological approach taken by the hon. Lady, who seems to think that if everything was under total state control, everything would be better. We know from the past that that is not true. We want to deliver for people up and down the country. That is why we are extending the £2 bus fare, delivering for people on the lowest incomes right across the country. I know that the hon. Lady is in the pocket of the train drivers’ unions, but I suggest that she stand up for working people right across the country, the majority of whom use bus services.
Today, we are delivering £500 million of extra support and for an extra two years, not only for the cost of living, but for bus services right across the country. I think the hon. Lady would do well to follow our example and think of the long term, rather than ideological and political attacks.
I warmly welcome this announcement, not least because the Minister has taken on board the recommendations made in the Transport Committee’s March report on the national bus strategy. It is right to focus on the necessary longer-term reforms, and I particularly welcome the intervention on BSIPs, which the Committee found were a mixed bag across the country. Some are working very well, but other authorities were not able to deliver a good plan. Will the Minister assure me that his officials will work with local authorities to design good new bus strategies for the areas that do not have one?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question. He is absolutely right to point to bus service improvement plan funding as part of the package. We pledge to work with those local authorities, and will continue to do on delivering enhanced partnerships or franchising, depending on what they would like. My hon. Friend’s area of Milton Keynes will be getting £654,000 this year from the bus service improvement plan, which can go towards delivering the local services that are most under threat and protecting them for the future. The area will also benefit from the “Get Around for £2” scheme extension, and the £2.50 fare extension. Beyond that, on top of the money going directly to local authorities—not mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh)—local operators across the country will be provided with money this year and next, including franchise operators in places such as Greater Manchester.
In principle, I welcome today’s announcement on fares by the Government. Anything that helps to make bus travel more attractive and drives modal shift is to be welcomed. [Interruption.] Just wait—there’s more!
In Scotland, we have taken a different approach, and extended free bus travel to include every Scottish resident under the age of 22. The feedback thus far is that we are seeing a big increase in travel among those groups, getting them in the habit of taking the bus and normalising public transport. However, when it comes to real investment and spending on bus infrastructure, I am afraid the DFT is still lagging well behind. Of the 3,500 buses farcically claimed by the UK Government as helping meet their target of 4,000 zero-emission buses for England outside London, nearly a fifth are funded by the Scottish Government, over whom the Minister has zero jurisdiction. He is using the success of the Scottish Government and others to cover for their own failure.
Incidentally, four weeks ago the Secretary of State promised the House that he place a letter in the Library setting out the details of the pledge and of delivery thus far, but we are yet to see that letter placed in the Library.
In Scotland, ScotZEB 2—the Scottish zero-emission bus challenge fund 2—was announced just this week, providing another £58 million to further enhance and improve bus services across the country, including in my own constituency. This will bring Scotland’s zero-emission bus fleet up to about the equivalent of 8,000 buses in England. In contrast, of the 1,342 buses in England outside London claimed as funded under the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme, only six are on the road. If I looked out of the window of my constituency office in Renfrew, in 15 minutes I would see more zero-emission buses passing by, serving passengers and contributing to the net zero transition, than are actually on the road through this Government’s ZEBRA scheme.
Will the Minister do the right thing, unlock the logjam in the ZEBRA scheme in England and at least try to catch up with its success in Scotland, and will he confirm that every penny spent as a result of this announcement will be subject to Barnett consequentials to allow the Scottish Government to continue their investment in our public transport network—investment that builds for an electric future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, and I will address some of his later ones. On the Barnett consequentials—just to start off with that—all this money has been found within the Department for Transport. We are cutting our cloth without asking for more cash from taxpayers, which is exactly what we need to be doing in this situation.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman concentrated on talking about the ZEBRA scheme, which is not really the topic of today’s statement. It is interesting that he did not mention anything else because the Scottish national party is obviously not matching our £2 bus fare right across Scotland, which is quite a surprise. [Interruption.] Only people under the age of 22, the hon. Gentleman shouts at me, have free bus travel. People do not have that in Scotland; actually, it has no £2 fare cap at all. That is something we are delivering this year and will be continuing to deliver next year here in England.
In fact, one of the major bus operators spoke recently about the crisis of buses in Scotland due to the Scottish Government’s
“mix of ill-informed emotion and political dogma”,
while failing to help them meet the needs of reliant Scots—
Today’s announcement is welcome, especially given that in my own constituency we have seen a vital rural route—the 155—withdrawn, removing connectivity and unfortunately increasing loneliness, particularly among the older population. There is another route—the 638—which is a school service, that is under threat, causing great angst for those who use it. The extra funding for Kent and Medway is appreciated, but could the Minister confirm when he expects the money to be allocated in order for the local authorities in Kent and Medway to plan ahead for the next academic year and save the 638 from being scrapped?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is indeed right that Kent and Medway will be getting extra support. In Medway, that amounts to over three quarters of a million pounds. Across Kent, on top of the almost £19 million it has already had from its first BSIP, the council will be getting an extra £2.3 million as a result of this announcement. On top of that, she will also see local bus operators receiving similar amounts of money, so she will see multiple millions of pounds for her local bus services. On when the cash will get paid, I will write to her directly. It will come in tranches at different stages, and I will happily lay that out in a letter to her. However, she can reassure her constituents that money is available and that cash is coming in, and that the local council as well as local operators will be able to use that money to fund the vital local services she mentioned.
I look forward to discussing these issues in much more detail in my Adjournment debate on Government funding for local bus services this evening. The Minister will know, because we have neighbouring constituencies, how important bus services are to our constituencies and how absolutely essential it is to keep them, and he must know that this money will not be sufficient to maintain those services. This morning, the Minister claimed he was not going to pretend he can save every bus route. Can he confirm how many bus services he is willing to lose?
I would like to thank the hon. Lady for her question, and we will be able to go into this in greater detail later. As she knows, hers was the first ever Adjournment debate I did, and I am looking forward to doing one with her again tonight. [Interruption.] Well, what has changed, despite the comments of the shadow Secretary of State, is that the north-east has already received £117 million of its £163 million of BSIP funding, and in addition it will also be benefiting today. I spoke to the leader of the hon. Lady’s council, Councillor Gannon, earlier today, before I came to the House, and talked him through the BSIP funding for the future. I would say that we obviously cannot protect every route—some routes will need to change—but the funding being delivered today will be hugely important to her and my constituents. Gateshead has had the levelling-up fund bid for more than 50 electric buses, with £100 million already and more to come with the bus service improvement plan across the north-east. Only last week, £1 bus fares were rolled out across the north-east for under-22s, thanks to the funding from the Government. That was never delivered under the last Labour Government, and I would have thought she would welcome more cash being available.
I very much welcome the much-needed investment in buses. As the Minister has said, we have developed excellent plans to improve bus services, supported by the £31 million that the Government have committed to improve bus services in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that Stoke-on-Trent City Council now gets on and delivers on these plans?
I thank my hon. Friend, who raises a vital point. Some £31.6 million—one of the highest per capita amounts anywhere in the country—was given to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which now needs to deliver on its plans. My Department stands ready and willing to work with it, including on any flexibilities, as it sees the situation change. His constituents will also benefit from the £2 bus fare cap this year and the £2.50 bus cap next year, and his operators will benefit from the extra financial support over the next two years, providing long-term sustainability for those local bus services.
The Minister will know that the real lived experience in constituencies such as mine is of buses being cancelled, buses not turning up and providers such as Arriva giving very short notice—not only to me as an MP, but to neighbouring MPs—about closing bus depots, and then going cap in hand to other providers such as D&G. There is now a legal dispute over TUPE between Unite and that provider. Other than illustrating the reality on the ground, the question I want to ask is: as Cheshire West and Chester have had no bus service improvement plan investment before, will it be a beneficiary this time around?
As I said in my statement, every area that did not get bus service improvement plan money will be getting it this time, including both Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council. That will amount to more than £2.4 million—almost £2.5 million—for those local authorities to help them with bus services. On top of that, the local bus service operators will be getting BSOG plus, which will help them with route maintenance and expansion, if they feel they can do that. This is really good news for the hon. Member’s area, with the Conservatives delivering for the people of Cheshire.
Staying with the theme of Cheshire, may I welcome the £2.4 million announced today to support improvement plans for bus services across Cheshire? There have been issues locally, and that will go a long way to help plug those gaps. Does the Minister agree that this is an opportunity to consider how we start to evolve those bus services so that they meet the needs and demands of our whole population, including in rural areas? In particular, demand-responsive services are a way of trying to ensure that we have a bus network that delivers for people living in places such as Cheshire.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We need to look at the needs of buses, and the needs of the communities he serves, particularly rural communities. When bus service improvement plans were brought forward they went to specific areas, but they also ensured that somebody within the Department for Transport was working with local authorities in those areas to ensure a viable plan. I am obviously happy to continue to work with my hon. and learned Friend, especially with the extra money allocated, potentially to consider further interesting and innovative schemes, such as the demand-responsive buses he mentioned.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the extension of the bus fare cap, but it will not resolve the fundamental issues. Between 2021 and 2022, 1,100 bus services were cut, including 51 in the south-west, which will badly affect residents in my Bath constituency. Will the Minister remove the ban on local authorities running their own bus services, and give councils more powers over local bus services for local people?
We are always prepared to consider different proposals, and I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments about extending the £2 bus fare across England. It is great to get Opposition support for that. I would also point to some of the positives that are happening across the West of England Combined Authority area, such as the £570 million of long-term funding to help improve services. There have been huge upgrades there, and coming over the next few years. A recent £7 million package of improvements in Bath means that buses run every 15 minutes, but we are always happy to look at further developments in the future.
May I put on record my thanks for the £47 million that Derbyshire has already been given for bus services? Will my hon. Friend explain a little more about the benefits of how that £47 million will be used, particularly in South Derbyshire?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is right to say that Derbyshire was one council area that got a significant amount of funding in the initial bus service improvement plan allocations. That will be used to help improve bus services, and I reassure her that that funding is flexible and able to meet needs as they change following the pandemic, and changing patterns of travel. I also reassure her that in addition to that money, all her constituents will benefit from the extension to the £2 fare cap, and the £2.50 fare cap. Bus operators across her constituency will also benefit from the BSOG.
I welcome any increase in funding, however inadequate. The Minister mentioned Ukraine and covid—of course he has—but the reality in South Yorkshire is that bus journeys have fallen by 50% since this Government came to power in 2010. Given the great promises made by the previous Prime Minister but one about the expansion in bus services that we would see, and given that the Minister will have done an impact assessment on the proposals, will he tell us by what percentage bus journeys are expected to rise by April 2025; or will the measures simply slow the decline that has been taking place for the past 13 years?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomed the more than £3 million extra, on top of the £570 million we have already awarded to the city region, the major £44 million regeneration for South Yorkshire’s transport system that we announced, the £16 million for a planned fleet of electric buses for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, and the £8.4 million of ZEBRA funding. With a Labour Mayor running his city region, he will know that it is up to local authority leaders, including an elected leader in his area, to decide exactly how they allocate the money and what they want to do. In South Yorkshire car ownership has risen over recent years, and how that is managed is up to local leaders to determine. We are providing the funding, and it is up to local leaders to decide what they do with it.
Investing in bus services and protecting routes is obviously a priority for the UK Government, who have that responsibility here in England. That contrasts significantly with the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, who are cutting grants to bus operating companies. The consequence is that in my constituency pupils cannot get to school, pensioners cannot get to town centres, and people in rural communities are isolated in their own homes. Will the Minister join me in campaigning to challenge the Welsh Government to follow what the UK Government are doing in England, so that my constituents are not exposed in the way they are?
My right hon. Friend will know that there is currently a total cliff edge in Wales on 24 July—no plans for the future; no long-term plan, such as that in England with two years of extra funding; no £2 bus fare; and it is all under the devolved authority for 23 years of the Labour-controlled Welsh Government. I obviously want them to do something similar to what we have done in England, because bus services are vital, particularly for elderly or lower paid people, and for young people and students going to college and university. I ask them to think again about the way they treat not just buses but roads in general. We need proper long-term investment. But again, it is up to them how they spend their money.
A cap on fares is not much use if a bus does not turn up. The Minister even stated on his social media this week that people in County Durham need access to a car or a van to get around. Does he believe that he is improving bus service reliability if providers are slashing routes and services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for her interest in my local social media posts. This Government, unlike the previous Labour Government, have already provided £117.8 million in bus service improvement plan allocations. I do not know whether she noticed the response I gave to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), but earlier today I spoke to Councillor Gannon, who runs the North East Combined Authority’s transport scheme, and he welcomed what we are doing. On top of that there is more money to come, and the £2 bus scheme announced today. But it is not all about that; this is about protecting local services. I am sure that when she—[Interruption.] When the hon. Lady looks at the amount of money—[Interruption.] She has called me far worse in the past on the House of Commons terrace, as we all know, and I thank her for her unreserved apology for that at the time. We are putting in investment that the Labour party never did, and when she looks at the moneys going into Go North East and Arriva North East over the next few weeks, she will see how much they are getting and how that should benefit local users across the great county of Durham.
I welcome today’s announcement. As has been said, bus access is fundamental for many of my constituents across a large rural area, and the BSIP that is coming through, and getting around for £1 for the under-21s, is fabulous. As the Minister knows, we have an issue with service levels—he has been working with me to see what we can do. A survey has just gone out in Trimdon that suggests that accessibility is a much bigger issue than cost. Will the Minister continue to work with me to try to find better solutions and different ways of doing this, to get people the access to leisure or work that they deserve?
My hon. Friend is right about accessibility, and I am fully aware of the issues he has raises with Trimdon. On accessibility more broadly, he should be reassured that with audio-visual alerts on buses we really are rolling out those upgrades right across the country to make buses more accessible to as many people as practically possible. He is fully aware of the £163 million pledged to the north-east for the bus service improvement plan, and I am looking forward to working with him, particularly on the cash allocated to County Durham, to see how we can ensure that, in particular, those delisted rural former pit villages really get the services that they need so that opportunity is spread across our beautiful constituencies.