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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 8 June 2023


The Secretary of State was asked—

Great British Railways

1. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Leader of the House on legislation to establish Great British Railways. (905158)

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will begin by sending my heartfelt condolences to the people of India, who, in the eastern state of Odisha on Friday, suffered the country’s deadliest rail crash in over two decades. The death toll stands at 288, with over 1,000 people injured. It was caused by the collision of two passenger trains and a stationary goods train. I have written to the Indian Rail Minister expressing our deepest sympathies, and I believe I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as with the emergency services as they continue to respond to the tragedy.

Turning to the question, the Government’s ambition is for a customer-focused, commercially-led industry, with the creation of Great British Railways as a new guiding mind for the sector. We are working closely with the GBR Transition Team, the wider rail sector and other Departments to move forward with reform, and I was pleased to recently announce Derby as the location of GBR’s headquarters.

On behalf of Opposition Members, may I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments in respect of the people of India?

In the north-west, we were hoping that the formation of GBR might have been on track by now to help us deal with the chronically underperforming Avanti West Coast, but we see no sign of the legislation. Parliament certainly has the time to deal with it—we finished after a couple of hours on Tuesday—and it is certainly not a question of money, as we know £50 million has already been spent on the project. What exactly is the problem with bringing the matter before the House? Is it a lack of political will, or is it a lack of competence?

The Government remain committed to GBR. As I have said, we have already announced that the HQ will be in Derby. Many of the benefits can be achieved without legislation, and we are getting on with them. It is worth noting, based on statistics published this morning by the Office of Rail and Road, that we still face a massive challenge with the rail industry: leisure is now much more important than commuting and business; and passenger revenue is still 28% down on the pre-pandemic level. A successful railway needs to change to reflect passenger demand, and that is exactly what this Government are going to deliver.

In the absence of legislation, will my right hon. Friend consider setting up GBR as a shadow authority. That could, for example, end the unsustainable practice of costs sitting with one part of the industry and revenue with another. The rail industry has a great appetite to move forward, so will he consider something like a shadow GBR?

My hon. Friend, who ably chairs the Select Committee, makes a good point. Joining up the profit and loss account, revenues, and costs can be done without legislation, and we are actively working to do that. I have tasked my officials to move at pace on this, and we are identifying where in Derby the GBR HQ will be. We will continue to deliver rail reform every day to ensure that we can respond to market conditions and have a successful, thriving railway, and I want everyone in the sector to join us in that endeavour.

It is hugely frustrating that we still do not have an integrated system. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and others about the importance of projects such as the Ely area capacity improvement? When are we going to get some progress on such projects?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have set out a significant amount of rail investment. We will be investing £40 billion overall across the transport portfolio over the next two years, and we do have to make choices about how to spend that money sensibly. The Labour party is making unfunded spending pledges, with £44 billion on rail and, interestingly, nothing on buses or on roads.

We now come to a person who will have done 40 years tomorrow, I understand. I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Under the old British Rail, we used to have a direct train to London from Grimsby and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) through Market Rasen. I have been campaigning for that train to be reinstated for 40 years—ever since I was elected as a Member of Parliament. Sometimes I wander down from my home in the wolds and wait forlornly on the platform at Market Rasen, but the train never comes. Will the Secretary of State oblige an old campaigner and give us our train back, please?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his service in the House. This campaign may be coming to a successful conclusion. He has been working closely with the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and we hope to be able to implement the change in the next timetable update. My hon. Friend is working carefully to ensure that none of the things that have hitherto stopped it will prevent it from happening this time. I hope that there will be a successful conclusion.

I associate the Opposition with the Secretary of State’s comments. We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims of the terrible tragedy in India.

Over the past year, passengers have faced total chaos on our railways. Cancellations rose to their highest ever levels. Strikes have disrupted countless journeys, while the Transport Secretary still refuses to sit down with the unions. The fourth franchise in five years has just been brought into public ownership. And now we hear that the lucky few who actually manage to get a train will not have the luxury of using wi-fi. The Prime Minister might not be aware of this, given his preference for private jets, but will the Secretary of State at least admit that our railways are fundamentally broken?

They really are not broken. If the hon. Lady looks at the numbers from the Office of Rail and Road this morning, she will see that leisure travel has rebounded very strongly, but there has been a real change in passenger demand for the railways post pandemic, which is why we need to deliver change.

As far as industrial action is concerned, there is an offer on the table that the trade union leaders need to put to their members in the democratic way in which they should operate. That is what the hon. Lady should be pushing for. She has been part of Labour Front Benchers’ efforts to make unfunded commitments, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will drive up taxes and inflation. Interestingly, I note that Labour has massive unfunded pledges on rail but nothing on buses and roads, the modes of transport used by the vast majority of people living in this country.

The Secretary of State has some nerve accusing Labour of tax rises and interest rate rises after his party crashed the economy last year, presided over funding cuts to buses and pushed most of the road-building projects promised in his manifesto to later down the line.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), admitted that our rail system is broken when he first announced Great British Railways more than two years ago. The bare minimum the Secretary of State could do is bring forward the legislation his Government promised, and that industry and investors have made clear is required. It is a simple question: will he bring forward legislation to establish Great British Railways before the end of this Parliament—yes or no?

It is interesting to note that the hon. Lady is interested in what investors think. I thought her policy was to nationalise the rail industry and take it away from investors. People will have noted that with great interest.

We remain committed, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), to moving forward on delivering Great British Railways. Much of it can be delivered without legislation. Legislation plans will be set out in the King’s Speech in the autumn, in the usual way. We are getting on with making sure that we have a rail system that reflects the needs of passengers, post pandemic, as we deliver the transport system across the country, delivering economic growth.

Access for All

2. When he plans to make a decision on which projects will receive funding from the Access for All programme. (905159)

We are currently working with Network Rail to assess over 300 stations nominated for Access for All, and we aim to make a determination later in 2023 for funding beyond 2024. I hope to be in a position to announce the list of successful projects later this year, in anticipation of securing further funding in the following year.

I, too, associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about the rail crash in India.

The response from the Department for Transport has always been “later”, “soon” or “in due course”, so I ask the same simple question I have asked every rail Minister since 2017: will the hon. Gentleman come to Manchester to meet Levenshulme station users to talk about access and accessibility?

I have recently come back from a very positive trip to Manchester, where I met stakeholders. I have no doubt that I will be there again soon, and I would be very happy to call in on the hon. Gentleman and his campaign. We have delivered step-free access to more than 200 stations through Access for All, and we have made improvements at 1,500 other stations. I look forward to working with him and his project, which I will visit next time I am up.

Rail Usage

3. What contractual incentives his Department has agreed with train operating companies to encourage more people to use rail services. (905160)

Under the current national rail contracts, train operators earn a fee linked to their performance on addressing key passenger priorities, including punctuality, reliability, service quality and customer satisfaction, as well as revenue growth. While the new passenger service contract is developed, my Department is looking to introduce a stronger incentive for operators to grow rail patronage and revenue.

My hon. Friend knows my enthusiasm for open access services and the way they bring competition and innovation. That benefits customers by raising standards and therefore encourages more people to use our railways. Does he share my enthusiasm? If so, how will he be promoting open access services? May I gently remind him that I have written to him on this subject with some ideas to promote this way of driving more usage of our rail system?

I thank my hon. Friend for his letter, for the number of times we have met to discuss this issue and for his enthusiasm, which is shared not only by me, but by the Secretary of State. We saw the authorisation at the end of last year of Grand Union Trains to run services between London and Carmarthen, and we are committed to getting more open access operators, in order to encourage more operators to come to the market. My hon. Friend will know that during the recent rail strikes, open access operators such as Lumo were able to continue to operate. I am meeting the Office of Rail and Road, which is ultimately responsible for the rules in this area, to encourage it to grow open access.

I thank the Minister very much for his response. Encouraging more people to use rail services is about accessibility, the availability of trains, and park and ride schemes, so that people can park their cars and use the trains. Like him, I am a great believer in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we should always share our thoughts, discussions and ideas. Has he had any opportunity to share how he can do those things here in the UK with Translink and the Northern Ireland Assembly back home?

I am conscious that these matters are devolved in Northern Ireland but, as I have said before to all Members of the House, I am keen to learn from best practice and to ensure that all parts of the UK can learn from each other. It would be ideal if I could meet the hon. Gentleman so we can discuss these things and I can get his ideas, and if I could come over to visit the operators in Northern Ireland that he references and join him in that endeavour.

Active Travel

22. What assessment he has made of the impact of changes to funding for active travel on levels of uptake of that travel. (905181)

As the House will know, active travel is at the heart of the Government’s agenda and we are investing about £3 billion to support it—that is more than any previous Government. The Government report regularly to Parliament on progress towards meeting their active travel goals, and the next report will be published alongside the third statutory cycling and walking investment strategy in due course.

I am delighted that active travel funding has reached North Devon and that part of the missing link of the Tarka trail will be completed. However, the time constraints on when the funding needs to be spent mean that Devon County Council is not yet able to complete the whole stretch. Will my right hon. Friend confirm when further funding rounds will be available to enable this much-needed and long overdue missing link to be completed?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic campaigner for active travel. She rightly says that it is great that North Devon has been able to benefit, along with the rest of Devon, from £1.8 million through active travel fund 4. Active Travel England plans to run a further capital funding round later this year and will work with local authorities, including those in rural areas, to encourage bids for schemes that have high potential to increase walking, wheeling and cycling trips.

People walking, wheeling and cycling saved 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and avoided more than 29,000 early deaths in 2021. However, only a fifth of total active travel spending comes from dedicated funding, with the rest coming from various funding pots that are not guaranteed. With such a low proportion of ringfenced funding, how can the Government guarantee that this money is really spent on active travel, which is good for our health, economy and environment?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that active travel—cycling, walking and wheeling—is probably the single biggest health intervention a human being can make in their lives as a choice of habit. She is right to highlight the importance of supporting it, as the Government have—more so than any previous Government. There are a range of pots, including city region sustainable transport settlements, the road investment strategy 2 and levelling-up fund moneys, into which authorities can bid. Many have done so and will continue to do so highly successfully. That provides a continuing opportunity for them to benefit from these levels of increased funding.

May I associate myself with the condolences that have been sent to those in India?

In 2021, Ministers set themselves four targets to measure progress in active travel uptake. Three years on, how many of these targets are they confident of meeting? I can tell Members that it is not a single one, according to the Government’s own assessment revealed by the National Audit Office yesterday. The NAO report also uncovered a staggering cut to active travel funding of £166 million, which, by the Government’s own workings, would cost the taxpayer more than £700 million in the long run. Will the Minister finally come clean and confirm whether he will be slashing this vital funding by 60% next year, too—yes or no?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have had to make efficiency savings across the board as a result of the illegal war being waged by Putin in Ukraine. The report she mentions reflects the fact that the Government set highly ambitious targets, which have always been known and understood to be testing. One great advantage of the installation of Active Travel England—a sensational organisation—is precisely that we can drive better value for money as well as better quality of schemes across the whole of our infra- structure.

HS2: Monitoring and Oversight

Comprehensive monitoring arrangements are in place for HS2, which all provide an up-to-date view of the status, challenges and opportunities facing the programme. We produce a range of public-facing updates, including the six-monthly update report to Parliament, the next iteration of which is due for publication shortly.

A few weeks ago, my constituents woke to find a large sinkhole in a field directly above where the HS2 tunnel boring machines had been. This was predicted years ago by my constituents in evidence to this House. The Environment Agency’s response to the sinkhole appears to be little more than allowing HS2 contractors to mark their own homework, and it is the latest example of the Environment Agency’s inadequate response to questions that have been raised about HS2. It is vital that we can have faith in the organisation to undertake its statutory responsibilities. Will the Minister meet me and my constituents to hear directly about their concerns about the oversight of HS2?

It is certainly the case that the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act 2017 and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Act 2021 specify the circumstances in which HS2 must seek the consent of the Environment Agency for construction. I know that, on this particular matter, the Environment Agency has been working with HS2 Ltd since that ground movement was discovered. I have also asked for it to be looked into. I will ensure that I get a separate report from the Environment Agency so that we have that independence, and when I have that, I will happily sit down with the hon. Lady and her constituents to take them through what has been found. She is absolutely right: we need to have independent scrutiny. I am absolutely fixed on that myself.

Two weeks ago, my constituents, the Hodges of Elm Tree farm in Steeple Claydon, discovered by accident while walking their dogs that HS2 Ltd was about to chainsaw an area of woodland on the farm that it had not paid for. There was no consultation. HS2 fenced off land that it does not own and then there were suspicious works in the middle of the night. When will my hon. Friend clamp down on this appalling, bullying behaviour from HS2 Ltd and its contractors?

I was very pleased to sit down very recently with my hon. Friend, people from HS2 Ltd and Buckinghamshire Council to go through some of the matters that were on his agenda. I know that this is the latest case that he has written to me about. I will look into the detail to ensure that we both have the correct facts, and the next time I am up near Steeple Claydon, which, as he knows, happens on a regular basis, we can perhaps take a look ourselves.

I, too, convey my condolences to the families of the victims of the harrowing rail disaster in India.

The Government’s management of HS2 could hardly be worse: the budget has ballooned out of all proportion; we are already years behind on the launch of services; the merry-go-round of Ministers has created chaos; and the project at Euston station may never see the light of day. The six-monthly update to Parliament is already months late. We are none the wiser about the promised excellent alternative to the cancelled Golborne link, and we have been waiting years for the review into the best way to run HS2 to Leeds after this Government betrayed the north by scrapping the eastern leg. It appears that trickle-down economics has been replaced by trickle-down incompetence. Rather than the usual woolly ministerial responses of “coming soon to a station near you” and rather than responding to all of these failures, can the Minister answer just one simple question: when will the Leeds area study finally be published?

The ministerial merry-go-round goes round to a Merriman to listen to yet another long-winded effort from the hon. Gentleman, which eventually turns into a question. The reality is that we remain committed to HS2 and to line of route from London all the way up to Manchester. He talks about ballooning costs, but we have tried to look at the cost estimate and rephase HS2 as a result. He cannot have it both ways. I am committed to ensuring that the study comes out very soon; I met with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to work on the matter and we work closely together. Our aim is to ensure that when that study comes out, it has the imagination in it to deliver properly all the ideas that we had always intended, and we will do so. We are committed to HS2 and to the investment and decarbonisation it will bring. I am sorry there has been a change of Ministers, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there will not be any changes any time soon.

Bus Services

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905164)

12. What assessment he has made of the impact of the £2 fare cap on the number of bus journeys since that cap was introduced. (905170)

20. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905179)

The Government have invested more than £3.5 billion in buses since March 2020, including our recently announced package of up to £300 million to protect and improve services long term, and up to £200 million to continue capping bus fares on thousands of routes in England outside London until November next year. That funding is helping to ensure that those who use the bus every day to live, work and travel can continue to do so for less.

The Government recently announced huge investment to improve and protect bus services, but in my part of the world Arriva has chosen to cherry-pick the most profitable routes, ditching others such as the 17 and leaving youngsters unable to get to school, adults unable get to work and pensioners cut off from health services. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to prevent bus operators from putting profit before people and to see what can be done to protect services in Stockton South?

I am confident that my hon. Friend will campaign in his area to protect those bus services. The additional £300 million includes £1.5 million for the Tees Valley, which will help local transport authorities and bus operators to protect and improve their services. We expect them to work together to deliver sustainable networks. I know he will campaign strongly to ensure that a share of that extra money from Government goes to protect services to his constituents.

In January, I was glad to hear that Transport North East’s decarbonisation bid for our bus services had been successful. I now understand that subsidy control procedures mean that none of the electric buses have yet been ordered, let alone delivered, and I fear we may run out of time under the terms of the grant or get fewer buses for our money because of inflation. We need those electric buses in the north-east, so will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure we get them on the road as soon as possible?

I am glad that the hon. Lady gives me an opportunity to remind the House that Transport North East has been awarded £19.5 million as part of round 2 of the levelling up fund, which delivers those buses. There are some appropriate checks that must take place, and I hope she will also welcome the fact that the North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities got £117.8 million for their bus service improvement plans to deliver better bus services for her constituents.

Rural bus services such as the 84, 85 and 622 services in south Gloucestershire are vital for residents to commute to work, get to school and attend health appointments, but they are under real pressure. South Gloucestershire Council has stepped in to provide a temporary fix for the 84 and 85 services, but will the Secretary of State urge the council and the West of England Mayor to work together to find a permanent solution for those services, using the improvement plan subsidies provided to them, so that residents in villages such as Charfield, Wickwar, Hawkesbury Upton, Rangeworthy and Tytherington are not cut off from having any bus services at all?

As the Environment Secretary set out earlier this week, the Government are committed to unlocking opportunities in rural areas in particular, and local transport connectivity is crucial to that. The extra money we set out will help to protect services, and I can confirm that I would expect local councils and the West of England Mayor to work together to deliver those. I forgot to say in my previous answer to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) that I will of course make sure that the roads Minister meets her to talk about her specific question about her buses.

Recently, Arriva gave up its subsidised 57A route, which goes through my constituency. The council has struggled to find an alternative operator because the Government have banned it from creating its own bus company—one that could serve the local community, which is left struggling to access key local services and even to get to work. Does the Minister agree that it is long overdue and common sense to end the ideological ban on municipal bus companies?

The hon. Lady should recognise that, as I said in answer to the previous question, the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Combined Authority were awarded £117.8 million to deliver their ambitious bus service improvement plan. That is the mechanism that we have set up for local authorities to have ambitious plans to work with bus operators to deliver better services for constituents, properly funded from central Government. I hope that they use that revenue and those powers to deliver the improved bus services that she wants.

I am pleased that the Government’s latest bus deal lasts longer than the usual three months, but as ever, there are winners and losers. Last year, both Southampton and Swindon applied for zero-emission bus funding. They got nothing. They applied for BSIP funding, and how much did they get, Secretary of State? Nothing. Last month, every council finally received something, but Southampton and Swindon got barely £1 million between them, amounting to a pathetic £2 per person. Can he explain why areas such as Southampton and Swindon have got so little to fix their broken bus systems?

I am pleased that, in his question, the hon. Gentleman sort of welcomed the £500 million that we made available for buses in our announcement last month, which was welcome and provides money to every local authority and to bus companies. There is a formula by which that money is awarded—it is not awarded on a whim; it is based on mileage and usage, and is done in a sensible way—and the money was awarded fairly under that process. As I said in answer to the previous question, it is all very well criticising us, but we set out clear plans to support bus services in our announcement last month. Labour Members have made no pledges on buses; it is all on rail. Is that because ASLEF pays their wages and they are not interested in buses, which twice as many people use compared with rail services?

Electric Vehicles

8. What steps he is taking to help improve the (a) market share and (b) availability of electric vehicles. (905165)

The Government are committed to accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles. To support this transition, we will introduce a world-leading zero-emission vehicle mandate. That will support the future supply of zero emission vehicles by setting a minimum percentage of manufacturers’ new car and van sales to be zero emission each year from 2024.

It is great news that Jaguar Land Rover will manufacture its first UK-made electric car in the west midlands, continuing our long history of attracting manufacturing investment from across the world. Will the Minister join me in welcoming JLR’s £15 billion investment, and does he agree that it shows that we are emerging, thanks to this Government, as a world leader in clean technology, which is good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment?

Of course, I was delighted to see JLR’s commitment to investing in UK manufacturing and confirming its plans to bring electric vehicle production to the west midlands. Through our policies and investments, the Government are accelerating electrification and unlocking industry investment to meet our net zero ambitions. The automotive industry is a vital part of that process. This is a vote of confidence from the UK’s largest carmaker.

May I say how pleased I am that, thanks to the wonderful people at Guy’s and St Thomas’s, I am back in operation?

May I ask the Minister not to get totally fixated on electric vehicles? There are a few companies establishing hydrogen-powered service stations for trucks up and down the country. With less impact on the environment, hydrogen has real possibility in this country.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his seat. He will be aware that the Government are very interested in the potential of hydrogen, not just in heavier vehicles but also in maritime and, through hydrogen fuel cells, in aerospace. We take a technology-neutral approach, so I have been looking at all those things. I had the great pleasure of visiting JCB, which has pioneered a hydrogen-based off-road digger, and what a splendid machine that is.

Although electric cars are important, the EU, under pressure from the German car industry, has put back the date when petrol combustion engines will be banned. What discussions have we had with our industry about whether it might be appropriate to do that here, given that that may give some of our industry difficulty in continuing to manufacture in the future?

The third round of consultations on the zero-emission vehicle mandate has just closed. We work closely with all the relevant parties, in particular the car manufacturers. My hon. Friend should be aware that not deflecting from our path, as has been done elsewhere, will not just put the UK further ahead in this area but will trigger a substantial amount of private sector investment in charging infrastructure. ChargeUK has announced that some £6 billion will be invested by private means in the charging network over the next few years, which is to be welcomed.

The different application of VAT between domestic and public charging points is clearly a disincentive to those who are considering adopting electric vehicles. Some 38% of households do not have access to private parking and would rely on public charge points. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that the Chancellor takes account of that in the next Budget and ensures that this unfair VAT charge is scrapped?

It is worth saying that the tax system does support the take-up of electric vehicles already. As a former Financial Secretary, I can tell the hon. Lady that I would be skinned if I made Treasury policy from the Dispatch Box. I am not going to do that, but I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Treasury will have noted her concern.

Rail Services

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on delivering rail service improvements. (905167)

The Secretary of State and the Chancellor regularly meet to discuss rail services, and between them they are delivering unprecedented investment in rail infrastructure and reform of the industry. That includes delivering High Speed 2, core Northern Powerhouse Rail and East West Rail, as confirmed by the Chancellor at the autumn statement, while investing in the existing network across the country.

According to reports, Great British Railways is dead in the water thanks to a Treasury that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. We have seen the Yorkshire leg of HS2 dumped, Northern Powerhouse Rail stripped to the bone and HS2 terminating at Old Oak Common. Does the Minister agree that his colleagues in the Treasury are the biggest threat to the rail network and public transport across these islands?

I do not agree at all. The Secretary of State was quite clear in his Bradshaw talk that Great British Railways would be put forward. It is being put forward, and that Bradshaw address was endorsed by the Treasury and all parts of Government. We are absolutely committed. Later today I will have a discussion with all the team involved in rail reform, as I do on a weekly basis, as we look to transition this project from the Department to Great British Railways. Legislation delivers certain parts of it, but it does not deliver the project. We are delivering the project, and we will look to deliver the legislation when time allows it.

I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be delighted if rail companies, some of which take a rather lax approach to ticket inspection, ensured that passengers had a valid ticket. I can give an example. I, along with seven other members of the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill Select Committee, went to Manchester on Tuesday. We paid an extortionate amount for our tickets. On the outward journey, no one inspected the tickets, nor did we pass through any barriers. If the Chancellor had more money, he could use it to improve rail services.

I thought my hon. Friend was about to tell us about an even more unfortunate incident, but I am glad that did not occur. We have increased the fine for those who are not using valid tickets to £100, which is reduced to £50 if it is paid on time. That increase demonstrates that we take this matter very seriously. Like him, I find it frustrating when I encounter journeys where the ticket is not checked either on the train or at barriers. I am determined to do more on that front; he is aware of that, and I encourage him to work with me as we do that.

Speeding on Roads

As I am sure the House will widely agree, speeding is a very serious road safety issue that has a direct link with the risk of collisions, serious injury and fatality. Traffic law enforcement is an operational matter for the police, and operational decisions are for police and crime commissioners and chief constables. That includes policy and procedures for using police powers and resources.

Speeding continues to be one of the biggest issues in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. Will the Minister agree to visit my constituency to meet with community groups and road safety campaigners and discuss how best we can tackle this problem?

The Government are committed to ensuring that roads are safe for drivers. I have no doubt that the roads Minister would be absolutely delighted to visit my hon. Friend in his constituency, and to talk to those community groups and other interested parties about this important issue.

Since 2010, the rate of road deaths has plateaued. Is the Minister proud of that record, and when will he finally publish the long-awaited road safety strategic framework?

As the hon. Lady knows, when I was roads Minister, we did a lot of work on safety reviews for walking and cycling. I do not think anyone who looks at the statistics, which of course are not controlled by Government or any single force, will be proud of where they are. One reason why I am excited about the potential for new automated, driver-assistive and other technologies is that in principle, they have the capacity to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries very significantly. That is something we should all welcome.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Outside London

11. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure outside of London. [R] (905169)

18. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure outside of London. (905177)

There are currently over 42,000 public electric vehicle charge points in the UK, alongside hundreds of thousands more in homes and workplaces. The Government have allocated a share of £381 million to every local area in England under the local EV infrastructure fund, and are also supporting rapid chargers along the strategic road network. The Government also provide grants to support the provision of charge points in flats, rental properties, residential car parks and workplaces.

According to The Times, the gulf between the number of electric vehicles on our roads and the number of public charge points has doubled in the past year. Logistics UK reports that many of its operators with commercial vehicles cannot access those points, so it seems that the Government need to do more on planning and encouraging investment. Could the Minister update us?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—I thought he was going to mention the £3.29 million of capital funding that Warwickshire County Council has received in this area, but I take the general point he raises. When EV purchases are growing rapidly, as they are in this country, there will be moments of disconnect between the amount of infrastructure and the number of vehicles. We have certainly seen a bit of that recently, and we will perhaps continue to see it for a number of months or more, but what is interesting is that the new zero-emission vehicle mandate allows us to trigger billions of pounds of potential private investment, as I have mentioned. That is a world-leading intervention by Government, and I think it will pay long-term dividends in supporting the expansion of the electric car fleet.

EV charging in the north-east is falling behind the rest of the country. Most of the stock are older, much slower charging points that often do not work, and the ones that do are often at capacity. Will the Minister commit to working with Transport North East and our councils to ensure that owning and charging an electric vehicle continues to be a possibility in our region?

The point of the LEVI fund is precisely to create an equitable spread of public charge points around the country. The north-east is not badly served in the overall numbers per head of population, but we can always do better. I would be happy to meet any local organisations that are committed to that agenda, as the hon. Lady has suggested. She will know—if she has not done so, she can check in the transparency records—that we have been very active in dealing with local authorities, motorway service operators, charge point operators and others with an interest in this area.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if local authorities were to look at their byelaws, that would enable EV charging gullies to be facilitated for those who do not have off- street parking? That would have a huge impact on the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure.

I associate those on the SNP Benches with the Secretary of State’s comments on the horrendous rail incident in India.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and I visited the Cromarty Firth, Aberdeen and Orkney to see the real progress in Scotland’s renewables and transport decarbonisation sectors, including the public charger roll-out, where Orkney has the highest number per capita in the UK—four times the English rate outside of London—and Scotland has twice as many rapid chargers per head. Surely that shows the fundamental role of Government in driving transport decarbonisation. The low numbers in England outside of London highlight the danger of leaving it to the market.

I do not accept the premise of that argument. We have discussed it in the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) was right, because he highlighted the different technologies that can be used rapidly to extend charge points, including gullies and pop-up charge points. We are in the process of rapid expansion and change, and the House would expect that to continue. The amount of private sector investment that we have already triggered or will be triggering through the mandate once it is on the statute book will drive that process still faster.

What the Minister says ignores the reality that the gap between Scotland and England on chargers is widening, rather than narrowing. What we have seen in Scotland is a party that believes in the power of Government to benefit transport. We have EV infrastructure outstripping England, a publicly owned rail service scrapping peak-time fares, many times more zero-emission buses ordered and on the road, and active travel spending increasing to more than £300 million while budgets here are butchered. Is it not time that the Government admitted that the Thatcherite deregulation model has failed completely and instead got to work helping the state to build a transport network fit for the 21st century?

I do not accept that at all. It is inevitable with a change of this magnitude that it will be essential for state interventions to trigger private investment. That will go in the first instance where it can trigger additional growth in the market. We use the LEVI fund and other mechanisms to ensure equity across the country.


13. What comparative assessment he has made of the service delivered by Avanti’s rail timetable (a) now and (b) at the launch of that franchise. (905171)

Avanti began operating in December 2019 and within 16 weeks had transitioned on to an emergency measures agreement due to the covid-19 pandemic. Since then, the service provision has adjusted to align with demand and to balance taxpayer and passenger needs. I welcome recent performance improvements, with Avanti-caused cancellations down from 13.2% in January 2023 to 1.4% for the month of April.

Order. I was shouting to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) not to come past the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) when he was in the middle of a question. Try again, Mr Fabricant.

Take 2. Mr Speaker, you might disagree with the Minister’s answer and say that the reliability of Avanti is still not that good. Nevertheless, my question is about services from Lichfield Trent Valley station. I wonder when services can be restored whereby we have a decent service on Sundays, particularly early Sunday evenings, both down to Euston and to the north. That used to exist before covid, but those services are no longer on the timetable.

Normal service resumed after a passenger crossed the line of sight in front of my hon. Friend. Anything that deprives my hon. Friend, and indeed his constituents, of the ability to get down from Lichfield is something that I will have to look at and help. I am meeting the managing director of Avanti today, as it turns out. I will raise my hon. Friend’s point and happily write back to him and do my best.

ScotRail, the Caledonian Sleeper, LNER and now TransPennine Express have all been nationalised. Increasingly, that is clearly the model that will deliver the reliable train services that customers need. What steps is the Minister taking to monitor the impact of nationalisation and whether it ought to be rolled out to the other franchises?

The steps I am taking on monitoring are looking at being able to put those operations back to the private sector. That is our preferred model. On TransPennine trains, I had a very good meeting with the interim chief executive, and I thank him for the work he is doing to stabilise. A plan is being looked at that will be delivered by next month, I believe. We currently have a situation where 50% of drivers are not trained up. What that tells us is that we need a lot more co-operation with the unions to get our drivers trained so that they can drive trains across all routes.

Topical Questions

We know that buses are a social and economic lifeline for millions across the country. That is why we are keeping fares down and keeping vital bus routes open. We have extended our popular £2 bus fare cap until the end of October, followed by a £2.50 cap until November next year. On top of the £2 billion in support we have provided to the sector since the pandemic, we are investing £300 million to support essential services and routes for the next two years. This is giving the sector certainty, helping people with the cost of living and delivering against our priority to halve inflation, as well as protecting the vital role that buses play in growing our economy.

Overcrowding on Chiltern services from stations such as Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough has become beyond unacceptable. That will only get worse if Chiltern is forced to discontinue the Class 68 loco-hauled trains, as expected. Will my right hon. Friend agree to enable the continued use of these trains until Chiltern can complete its full planned fleet renewal?

I am able to tell my hon. Friend that officials in the Department are already working with Chiltern on looking at how we deal with those issues. I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), will be delighted to meet him to give him more detail of the work already under way so that we can deliver a better service for his constituents.

Due to the UK’s out-of-date and inefficient airspace, designed in the 1960s, the average flight from Luton to Jersey emits 24% more carbon than necessary. Modernising UK airspace is the quickest and most effective way to save carbon in the UK aviation sector. The process is so slow and bureaucratic that it is going to be the 2060s before this is sorted. Is it not time the Secretary of State stepped up to the plate?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of airspace modernisation, which is exactly why we are getting on with it. I have had recent discussions with National Air Traffic Services on the work it is doing and discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority. That work is under way, and we are looking at it in the UK, but also working with our international partners to make sure this plays a part in decarbonisation. It was something I discussed in the US when I co-chaired a summit with the US Transportation Secretary, and we talked about these issues with important players in the aviation sector globally.

T2. As railway ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels, we need an efficient approach to railway finance. Can my hon. Friend say when he intends to reunite cost and revenue, so that that continues to drive up demand and provides an efficient method? (905183)

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we currently view costs as sitting with the DFT and revenue as sitting with the Treasury. This can make it harder to increase services, even when extra revenue can be assured, because costs at the DFT cannot increase. He can be assured that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I spoke yesterday about how we can grow services and revenues with one profit and loss statement. I am also working with the train operators to amend their contracts, so they can be the parties that take the risk and get a greater share of the reward.

T5. Current regulations on hydrogen transport and storage are preventing world-leading renewables innovators such as the European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland from using surplus energy from tidal turbines to produce green hydrogen and export it off-island? Will the Department work with the Competition and Markets Authority to review these regulations and ensure that Scotland’s green industrial revolution is not hampered by Westminster’s regulatory dead hand? (905187)

As the hon. Lady will know, I have already outlined the support that we have been giving and the warm interest we take in hydrogen, so I am very interested to hear what she says. If she could bear to send me the details, I will make sure that I or the relevant Minister responds to her.

T3. The cut to air passenger duty was a welcome boost for domestic aviation and for facilitating the growth of regional airports, such as Blackpool. Following this success, will the Government consider introducing public service obligation routes from destinations such as Blackpool to support tourism and economic growth? (905184)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We had a Westminster Hall debate on this a few months ago. As he will know, the UK policy on public service obligations is to protect existing routes in danger of being lost, and the DFT jointly funds routes into London from Newquay, Dundee and Derry/Londonderry. Lord Hendy’s independent Union connectivity review has now been lodged. We have welcomed it, and we will continue to consider the ways in which PSOs can help the Government to achieve regional connectivity needs.

British Transport Police highlighted that instances of sexual harassment and sexual offences on public transport have soared by a shocking 175% between 2019 and 2020. We need our women and girls to feel safe to use public transport, and to use it so that we can tackle the climate emergency. Labour is committed to halving violence against women and girls. When will the Government match that commitment and make sure that our women and girls feel safe to use public transport?

The hon. Lady is right to focus on this. That is why the Government published our cross-Government “Tackling violence against women and girls strategy”, which the Department for Transport is fundamentally involved with. Since 2019 the BTP, which the hon. Lady mentioned specifically, has enhanced its approach to combating violence against women and girls, complemented by the BTP chief constable’s personal commitment and drive on this subject.

T4. North Devon’s pothole group recently made national news and, while much work is being done, our roads are still more pothole or patch than road in far too many places. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that local councils are spending their pothole funding effectively and, in particular, that rural road surfaces are improving? (905185)

My hon. Friend might know that I visited Devon in a previous incarnation as roads Minister precisely to look at its innovative work on potholes. She will also be aware that the Government are investing £5 billion in local highways maintenance outside London, with the mayoral combined authorities already receiving CRSTS—city regional sustainable transport settlement—money. It is up to each local highway authority to decide how best to spend that money, but of course we do expect them to be able to account locally and we also think about how roads are surveyed and assessed and how well they are being treated as assets by those authorities.

With Luton Town being promoted to the premier league last week, many fans will be travelling by train, including from London clubs such as Arsenal. However, as the Minister knows, Luton station is sadly not accessible for many people with mobility issues, and while he has confirmed Access for All money is forthcoming to put lifts in the station by next year, what recent conversations has he had with the Sport Minister, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), regarding accessibility of the rail network for travelling sports fans?

I congratulate Luton Town. As the hon. Lady knows, my family are big supporters; they have been there through the bad times and they will be there in the good ones as well. I also thank her for showing me around Luton station. I am committed to ensuring that Access for All is delivered at that station on time; any attempts to push back will not get signed off by me. On her campaign on the leaky roof on platforms 1 and 2, which she showed me, the work will start in August and complete in early 2024—I thank her for that.

T6. I have heard concerns from many constituents who are business users of Heathrow airport that it is now by some margin the most expensive airport in the world. Will my right hon. Friend consider looking at the regulatory model, bringing it more into line with other airports in the United Kingdom to ensure that its charges become much more competitive in future? (905188)

Recognising Heathrow’s significant market power, it is economically regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, including capping Heathrow’s charges. The CAA published its 2022 to 2026 settlement decision in March. The Competition and Markets Authority is considering appeals against that decision and I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that I cannot comment on that ongoing process. Separately, the Department aims to publish the independent review of the CAA by the summer and will consider any economic regulation-related recommendations at that time.

My constituent Vance applied for a medical driving licence in April 2022; 14 months later, after delays, he has been told he needs to reapply. This is having a direct impact on his job. Why is any constituent experiencing such delays, and can the Minister explain what is being done to address them?

Obviously that specific case should not have happened. If the hon. Lady sends through the details, I will make sure that the roads Minister looks at it in detail. Generally, medical cases are taking longer to get sorted out than general cases following both the pandemic and industrial action, but we are well on our way to getting that on track. I will, however, make sure the roads Minister looks at that specific case.

T7. Junction 11 of the M65 currently only allows traffic to join going eastwards towards Colne, where the motorway ends, and not westwards towards the M6, opening up the whole country. The result is a majorly congested Burnley town centre and a limit to economic opportunity. Could my right hon. Friend set out what funding opportunities are available for a viability study into a westwards slip road? (905189)

In 2021, we asked National Highways to undertake a study looking at possible interventions on or around the M65 at Colne. That study focused on localised congestion pinch points on that road, which is owned and managed by Lancashire County Council. It concluded in 2022, and the findings were handed over to the council and Transport for the North. It is for them to decide what further action they may wish to take as a result, but I know they will, and they certainly should, attend closely to what my hon. Friend said.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There is real frustration because the Secretary of State and the rail Minister will not talk and settle the dispute between the trade unions and the operators. No talks have been held since the beginning of the year. When I speak to the rail companies, they say they want to do a deal and they believe that there is a pathway to end the dispute. When I speak to the trade unions—ASLEF and RMT—they say the same. So why will he not get round the table and end the dispute?

As I said, the table, which the hon. Lady refers to, has an offer on it. All it requires is for the RMT—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) on the Front Bench says that they have not accepted it. The members of those unions—the members—have not been given the opportunity to vote on it. The deal is on the table. The union leaders should put it to their members and ask them what they think.

T8. I thank the Minister for coming to Sheringham and seeing the A148-Holway road junction for himself, the congestion at that important junction into Sheringham, which is a key tourist destination in my constituency, and the rat-running in the neighbouring towns and villages. May I ask the Secretary of State to squeeze the Transport Department’s coffers just one last time to find some important money to try to improve that junction? (905190)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I am sure that the roads Minister will be happy to meet him to discuss that further. I understand that Norfolk County Council has completed the feasibility study into the improvements at that junction and has committed funds to continue the development of the scheme. That puts Norfolk in a strong position to submit a bid, should funding opportunities arise. I know that he will press that case strongly.

A simple question for the Transport Secretary: are the Government committed to building a third runway at Heathrow—yes or no?

As the hon. Lady knows, the decision about whether to build a third runway is one for Heathrow. The funding has to come from Heathrow. She knows that if, at some point in the future, it wants to proceed with that, a significant process has to get under way. She would not expect me to express an opinion on it because there is obviously a clear judicial process to follow, but it is up to Heathrow to make the first move and we wait with interest to see whether it does so.

T9. National Highways has already done a lot of research into a safety package on the A38 from Carkeel to Trerulefoot in my constituency. I thank it for that. I saw the aftermath of one of the frequent accidents just one month ago. We need this urgently. Please can the Secretary of State look again at this? (905191)

I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. She knows, and I have already said, how important the safety of all road users is to the Government. This part of the A38 has a high collision rate and we want to address that with local authorities. A package of safety measures between Carkeel and Trerulefoot was announced as a pipeline scheme in the second road investment strategy for delivery in the future RIS. National Highways consulted on proposed safety improvements and continues to develop its plans in the light of feedback received. We will encourage it to accelerate that work.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the anecdotally large number of learner drivers who deliver pizzas and that sort of stuff? They have learner plates. They have had no training. Is he worried? We have all heard anecdotally that there are lots of casualties and deaths. Has he any hard facts on that?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and it is very good to see him back in his place. It is difficult to make policy based on anecdote. If he has specific examples and evidence, I would be delighted if he wrote to me or the roads Minister, and we will of course look into the serious matters he raises in the House.

Roadworks that continually reappear on the same stretch of road at multiple locations are a major cause of congestion across the towns and villages in Erewash, particularly in Long Eaton and Sawley. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking, in conjunction with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to ensure that utility companies better co-ordinate their work schedules to minimise disruption to road users?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that can be a complete pest. Over the last few years, the Government have taken some action to address that. Utility companies have a right of access to highways to install and repair apparatus, and we rely on them to do so in many ways. The Government introduced a number of initiatives, including the development of Street Manager and regulatory changes, which are all designed to improve the efficiency of how such works are carried out and co-ordinated.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, I often hear from stakeholders, both business and civil society, about their frustration over the lack of direct flights between the UK and Malawi. I appreciate that that is largely a commercial decision for operators, but what role can the Department for Transport play in bringing together interested parties to discuss what options might be available?

The hon. Gentleman put his finger on it: it is largely a commercial decision. If regulatory issues or other issues are preventing that from happening, I would be delighted to look into those. If he raises them on behalf of the APPG, I would be delighted to hear from him, but those are largely commercial decisions for airlines and airports to take.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that road congestion is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for the mental health of motorists? To that extent, why are the Government pursuing policies that are making road congestion worse rather than better?

There are a range of independent estimates of the impact of road congestion financially. They range between hundreds of millions of pounds and billions of pounds; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are not taking any action to increase congestion. Many schemes, for example active travel schemes, which are regarded by some—by some—as schemes that increase congestion, actually reduce it. He will notice, however, that some schemes put in place under the emergency active travel fund two or three years ago during the pandemic have been revised. I think local authorities are coming to realise that those were somewhat inexpeditiously put in place and we hope they will continue to do so.