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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rail Privatisation

The private sector has played an integral role in improving our railways over the past quarter of a century, delivering a doubling in passenger journeys and an expansion of services on offer. The current railways industry structure is in clear need of simplification and reform. Under a revitalised public-private partnership, we will deliver a joined-up, customer-focused railway, with an enhanced role for the private sector, working in partnership with Great British Railways, to deliver for customers.

The UK Government have now nationalised twice as many rail lines as the Scottish Government, but continue to cling to the ideological view that privatisation has not failed rail services. Why will the UK Government not finally admit what everyone else has known for over 30 years, which is that the disastrous experiment with privatisation has been a disaster—a disaster for passengers, taxpayers and the rail network?

Because the facts simply do not support the hon. Lady’s contention. On the eve of the pandemic, passenger numbers had more than doubled since privatisation, services had increased by a third and investment had doubled, including more than £1 billion of private sector investment, while the UK had one of the best safety records for rail in Europe. There have clearly been challenges because of the pandemic, and that is one reason why we need to have reform. This Government do not have an ideological view. We have already said, and I have said, that we want a public-private partnership. There is a role for the state, working with the private sector, to deliver the best services for passengers. That is the right approach, and it is the one we will continue to deliver.

Railway Ticketing

We are delivering on the plan for rail commitments to improve railway ticketing. We recently announced that contactless pay-as-you-go will be extended to another 53 stations in the south-east, and we are working with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands on pay-as-you-go trailblazer devolution deal commitments. Some 99% of all tickets can be purchased online or through ticket machines.

May I wish the Minister of State a happy big birthday? Sarah from my office thinks he looks no older than 25; I may not always agree with her on that one.

One of my constituents, who works at a local station, reached out to me last week with concerns about the Department’s plans. In the email, my constituent said:

“By closing the ticket office, you take away a focal point of contact. How is someone in need going to find me on a station that is as big and spread-out as ours?”

Can the Minister reassure us both that those who need assistance will be able to locate staff easily?

There is no better place to celebrate my half century than this place, with friends and even greater colleagues.

I thank my hon. Friend—and I thank his constituent—for the work he performs at Berkhamsted and Tring stations. These stations, along with another 51 stations, will be getting pay-as-you-go by the end of the year. We know that 90% of transactions are completed outside ticket offices, and this shift tends to increase for stations that operate pay-as-you-go. He asked about ensuring that staff at ticket barriers are easily identifiable. I believe that is the case, and we will certainly make sure, as these reforms are rolled out by train operators, that it continues to be the case. The proposals from train operators are aimed at redeploying ticket office staff to parts of the station where all passengers will access them and see them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm when my constituents will be able to access the tap-in and tap-out service from the stations in my constituency at Laindon, Basildon, East Tilbury, Pitsea and Stanford-le-Hope?

Yes, I can. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done in ensuring that part of the roll-out of the 53 includes four of his stations. I can confirm that we are on track to get those delivered by the end of the year. Across the rail network, that will take us to more than 400 stations with pay-as-you-go.

I thank the Government for expanding the pay-as-you-go scheme to stations in the Windsor constituency, which means that people can quickly tap in and tap out when they commute. It strikes me that people are under increasing financial pressure during these difficult times, so will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to roll the scheme out further afield, and that people travelling in that way will get the best available fare?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work he put into ensuring that his constituency station at Windsor is part of that. I can give him that assurance. As well as providing seamless tap-in, tap-out payments, fares will be simplified so that most adult passengers can be confident that pay-as-you-go will be the best price for them on the day of travel.

Many of my constituents in Battersea are concerned about the Government’s plans to close ticket offices at Wandsworth Town and Clapham Junction. Those closures will have a severe negative impact on disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, and their ability to book assistance, buy tickets, or use the rail network. Only 3% of those with sight loss said that they can use a ticket machine, and nearly two-thirds said that it would be impossible. Will the Minister set out what assessment has been made on the impact of those closures, and will he publish it?

The hon. Lady is a London MP, and she will be aware that when London Underground did exactly the same thing for the underground it was deemed a success. That is why the current Labour Mayor has no plans to reverse it. The first group I met was that representing disability and access issues, because I wanted to ensure that the reforms best help those individuals. The aim is to redeploy staff away from the ticket office, where not so many people are seen, to the front of the station where all passengers can access them. That will particularly benefit those who have accessibility and disability challenges.

I wish the Minister a happy birthday, but may I respectfully bring to his attention the experience shared by Stephen Anderson, who provided evidence to the Transport Committee recently? He highlighted this issue, and said that if he requires assistance he needs a designated point to approach, rather than having to call out for help on the platform. In essence, Stephen believes that ticket office closures are merely a means to cut staff. As a disabled passenger impacted by previous Government policy, Stephen expressed a view echoed by other witnesses, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Does the Minister share their concerns?

I thank my hon. Friend—I enjoy all the work that I do with him. I take the point that he makes with regard to Stephen, but I passionately believe that the best help that anyone can give in a rail station is through personal interaction. That is difficult when somebody is behind a glass screen, because they are not able to exit that point and go and help. It was striking that the recent report on accessibility by the Office of Rail and Road showed that demand for passenger assist at stations had increased by 68%. On that basis, and because fewer people are now purchasing tickets from the ticket office—only one in 10—it surely makes sense to put the staff out on the platforms where they can be accessed, and where they can help and reassure people and give them more assistance.

Halifax ticket office is facing closure. We know that one in six journeys on Northern are purchased at a ticket office, which is higher than the national average. There might be more of a case for closing ticket offices if there was not near constant chaos on rail networks in the north. Pretty relentless cancelled and delayed services are not uncommon, with the fragmentation of the tickets on offer resulting in everybody having questions about what service they can get on and when. Why on earth are the Government allowing the closure of the ticket offices?

This is ultimately a matter for the train operators, but they have taken the view that their staff can be better redeployed across the station concourse platform and barrier, accessing 100% of passengers, rather than the 10% nationally who purchase their tickets from a ticket office. Effectively, this is the railway catching up with the change in passenger behaviour and demand. I very much hope that in Halifax there will be a better service as a result. Some train operators are looking to turn currently unstaffed stations into staffed stations by redeploying, and I again give the commitment from the train operators that no currently staffed station will become unstaffed as a result of these changes.

I gently say to the Minister that Chorley matters to me; its ticket office is open all day, but the proposal is to have somebody available from nine to four, which is half the time. Please do take this up for people with disabilities, rightly, but don’t forget that what you are being told is not the case.

Roadworks: Disruption

Roadworks are essential to ensure the safety and integrity of England’s highway network, and it is also essential that utility companies can install and repair the equipment on which we all rely. Some disruption is inevitable, but the Government have introduced several initiatives, such as Street Manager, to reduce that. Another tool, lane rental schemes, allows local highway authorities to charge works promoters for the time that street works and roadworks occupy the highway. Charges are focused on the very busiest streets at the busiest times, with the aim of reducing congestion.

The west midlands has great transport connectivity, but we are particularly vulnerable to congestion caused by roadworks. The works to replace the central barrier on a 7.5-mile stretch of the M42 are causing delays to my constituents and many others across the region. That work is clearly important, but it is vital that we minimise disruption. Please can the Minister outline what steps have been taken to ensure that these works are completed as soon as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I was in the west midlands just a couple of weeks ago visiting the RAC just off the M42. The scheme between junctions 3 and 4 to replace the barrier will provide increased safety to drivers, which remains our top priority. Once completed, the new barrier will require significantly less maintenance and repair after incidents, which will further reduce disruption for her constituents. To minimise disruption, National Highways has endeavoured to keep all lanes open to traffic and is utilising the longer daytime hours and good weather to complete the works as quickly as possible for her constituents.

I thank the Minister for personally endorsing my “Can the cones” campaign and my associated Roadworks (Regulation) Bill, which has its Second Reading in November. One great frustration of modern life is spending ages crawling through a set of traffic lights at a contraflow to finally drive past a large hole in the road, immaculately coned off with no one doing any work on it. The Bill is designed to make it much more difficult for that to happen. Does the Minister have any good news at all that might help all of us in our constituencies to can the cones?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent and continued work in this area, alongside his colleagues in Chelmsford, Southend and elsewhere in Essex. I am particularly pleased to see that he has already managed to persuade Essex County Council to move ahead with a lane rental scheme, and his regulatory reform suggestions are being considered by the Department. I hope to be able to update the House later in the year, because the progress that he has suggested is directly feeding into the Government’s general policy.

Cycling and Walking: Infrastructure

The Government, as the House will be aware, are investing more than any other in active travel, with more than £3 billion in investment over this Parliament, which enables the delivery of high-quality schemes across the country. Active Travel England is helping local authorities to deliver the greatest possible value for money in that investment by ensuring that relevant schemes comply with the guidance. It is also ensuring that any active travel schemes funded by the Department are of the highest quality.

In 2022, the Minister’s Department said:

“Increasing walking and cycling can make life easier and more convenient for people, whilst helping to tackle some of the most challenging issues we face as a society—improving health and wellbeing, improving air quality, combatting climate change and tackling congestion on our roads.”

His Department’s data confirms all that, including the role that low-traffic neighbourhoods play in all this. Now the Secretary of State has boasted that he has stopped funding for future LTNs as part of the two-thirds cut in active travel, which the local authorities do not have the money to build back up, due to the cuts they have had. Why are the Government pandering to the Twitter warriors and not the data and those in their own party who support investment in active travel?

I find that surprising, if I may say so, because this Government are not only investing, but seeking to reduce any possibility of conflict between drivers of cars and cyclists. I do not think the hon. Lady should disagree with policies that are designed to reduce that conflict. What we want to see is more choice for people in how they travel. Inevitably, many and increasing numbers of people want to use active travel, because of all its health and environmental advantages.

While we all want to encourage and give people the freedom to travel how they wish, including by walking or cycling, will the Minister confirm that the Government are 100% not anti-car, that they will allow people the freedom to travel when they want, where they want, in their own vehicles, and indeed that blanket 20 mph zones, where congestion builds up, are not good for anyone in local communities?

We are respectful of decisions made locally by local authorities, but he is absolutely right that, as I said, we are seeking to promote choice. That approach does mean that where people want to use cars, they will be perfectly able to do so, and where they want to use active travel, with all its personal and environmental benefits, they can do that as well.

One of the most effective ways to increase active travel uptake is to improve road safety, but progress in this area has stagnated: the last Labour Government cut road fatalities by almost 50%, compared with a mere 8% reduction under this Conservative Government. Back in 2021, Ministers promised a new road safety strategic framework, but two years and two Secretaries of State later all we have been told is that it will be published in due course. Meanwhile, countless people remain hesitant to embrace active travel due to safety concerns. Will the Minister move beyond the soundbites and provide some much needed clarity on when the strategy will finally see the light of day?

We take safety extremely seriously and have done a lot of work on this issue over the years. The whole point of having dedicated active travel infrastructure on the scale that it is being rolled out at the moment is to segregate and improve safety for those using active travel. I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the excellent work done on connected and autonomous vehicles, because they offer a potentially revolutionary improvement in safety over time.

In answer to my written question, it was confirmed that active travel was down to just 1% of departmental spending last year—but that is positively lavish compared with 0.4% this year and 0.5% next year. The Scottish Government will spend £320 million—10% of their transport budget—which is greater than the active travel budget for the whole of England. Will the Minister urgently review active travel spend to ensure that the poorest, who rely more on walking and wheeling to get around, are not disproportionately impacted during this Tory cost of living crisis?

The fact of the matter is, through both covid and the Barnett formula, the Scottish Government have been funded at levels that vastly exceed those available in England. If one is a Herefordian, as I am, one looks with astonishment at the increased levels of spending north of the border and wishes that, in many ways, a similar rural landscape such as our own were supported as well as that.

Heathrow Airport Expansion: Funding

5. Whether he has had recent discussions with relevant stakeholders on proposals for funding the expansion of Heathrow airport. (905929)

Well, that answer was succinct, if nothing else. The Minister will know that a new chief executive has been appointed at Heathrow Airport Ltd, and he will inevitably meet that chief executive. When he does, will he take him through the costings of any road and rail infrastructure associated with the proposed development of a third runway? Heathrow has offered £2 billion to cover the cost. The Government’s airports commission calculated the cost at £5 billion, but we now believe that, because of the tunnelling under the M25 and the road links and rail links—in particular, the rail links for western and southern access—the cost of the scheme could be between £10 billion and £20 billion. Will he make it clear to the chief executive of Heathrow that not a penny of taxpayers’ money will go into subsidising the profits of the overseas owners of Heathrow?

It appears that the right hon. Gentleman knows a lot more about this than I do. Any expansion of Heathrow is a matter for it, as he will know. If that is financed, it will be by private finance for what is a private sector project. The Department has no position on this matter, because at some point the Secretary of State may need to be invited to decide on any development consent order, so we do not take a view.

While Heathrow and Gatwick set out plans to expand, the Government’s regional airport strategy has been seriously undermined by the—hopefully—temporary closure of Doncaster Sheffield airport. The Secretary of State has the power to protect the air space around the airport while Doncaster council undertakes negotiations with Peel on the lease. Will the Secretary of State do that?

We recognise this important issue. The Secretary of State has had the question put to him by local stakeholders. He is considering the matter and will respond in due course.

Low-emission Buses: Local Authorities

6. What steps his Department is taking to support local authorities to transition to low-emission buses. (905930)

Our policy has been to support the introduction of zero-emission buses, which will reduce emissions, support manufacturing and improve the passenger experience. The Government are committed to supporting the introduction of 4,000 zero-emission buses and achieving an all zero-emission bus fleet across the UK. I am pleased to inform the House that since February 2020, an estimated 4,200 zero-emission buses have been funded across the UK, including Scotland, of which 1,600 are on the road.

Lothian Buses, which covers my constituency, has removed 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from its footprint, including by introducing several electric buses. Together with the tram and the low-emission zone, that is helping to reduce pollution, particularly in Corstorphine, which has one of the worst air pollution records in the country. Would the Government consider giving all local authorities greater powers and resources to franchise bus services and simplify the application system, to reverse the ban on local services setting up their own companies? How will the Government improve the measures already mentioned and introduced, as we fight to tackle what is still 25% of the pollution that we face every day?

I thank the hon. Lady for her multiple questions. The Government have committed to look into municipal buses by the end of the Parliament. On devolution, we are happy to work with local authorities right across England and Wales on devolution settlements and what more can be done. I was delighted to visit Lothian Buses to see its fantastic red, white and gold livery right across the streets of Edinburgh and the wider region. I saw the excellent work it is doing on the ground, not just on local bus service provision but being a responsive service to the local community she represents.

Low-emission bus rollout in Cambridgeshire is going good guns but, sadly, all in Cambridge. At the same time, the 36 bus, which connects the village of Thorney with Eye and Peterborough, will be axed by Stagecoach at the end of the month. So many people rely on that service in Thorney to go to doctor’s appointments, see family and friends and go shopping. Shockingly, the combined authority Mayor has known about the axing since May and has done nothing—squat. Can the Minister think of a better way to spend the millions given to the Mayor for bus rollout and to save the 36 bus for all those people who rely on it?

My hon. Friend is a massive champion for his constituents across Peterborough. The 36 bus is clearly a vital local link. I encourage him to have those conversations with the combined authority Mayor. We have made the bus service improvement plan flexible to protect services. I will make representations to that end on his behalf. Hopefully, he and the Mayor can come to an arrangement to ensure that all the funding we have put into that combined authority area really benefits the people of Peterborough.

The Government’s commitment to deliver 4,000 zero-emission buses by the end of the Parliament lies in tatters and is in the realms of fantasy. No creative counting can hide the fact that there are still only six buses funded through the zero emission bus regional areas scheme on the roads. Will the Minister come clean with Parliament and passengers, and admit that the Government will fail in spectacular style in their promise to deliver those 4,000 zero-emission buses on the road? Will the Minister also take the opportunity to exercise a little humility and tell us how many buses have been ordered—not funding allocated, as that does not mean anything to anyone? How many will be manufactured in the UK? How many will realistically be on the road by the end of the Parliament?

If the hon. Gentleman had waited for a response to his written parliamentary question, which is coming later day, he would have noticed that 68 buses from the ZEBRA—zero emission bus regional areas—scheme are now on the road. He seems to have failed to realise that that is out of a total of 1,604 that are on the road, from out of the 4,233 that have been funded across the UK. He might want to ignore previous schemes, but it is very important that we look at schemes right across the country. On top of that, he asked how many had been ordered across the country: 2,464 have been ordered. We are making great progress towards the over 4,000 by the end of the Parliament. If he would like to provide some extra cash or outline a Labour policy that will do anything for bus users in this area, I would really love to hear it.

Railway Ticket Office Closures

7. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of ticket office closures on rail users. (905931)

9. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of ticket office closures on rail users. (905934)

As I set out to the House last week, these industry-led reforms are about modernising the passenger experience. When proposing major changes to ticket office opening hours, including closures, operators are required to take into account the adequacy of the proposed alternatives in relation to the needs of all passengers, and to include that in the notice of the proposal sent to other operators and passenger groups.

Mr Speaker, you yourself said that this news has been most unwelcome for the elderly, disabled and blind. Was an impact equality assessment carried out? I am lucky that Sadiq Khan is keeping all my Transport for London stations open, but rail workers risked their lives for us all. They were not watching box sets of Bridgerton during covid. Can the Minister commit to saying there will be no redundancies?

Mr Speaker, I will come back to you with regards to Chorley station. I repeat: the aim of the train operators is to redeploy staff to where they can interact with all passengers, rather than just the one in 10 who purchase tickets from ticket offices. Some 99% of all transactions can now be completed online or at ticket machines. I will just repeat the point that the Labour Mayor of London seems to think that getting more staff out and helping more passengers is a good way to operate, because that is exactly how London Underground continues to operate, as well as other operators across the country, including the Tyne and Wear Metro.

I have a lot of respect for the Minister, who I believe wants to do the right thing, but the rosy picture he portrays is not borne out by the reality. In my constituency, at Burnage station, the ticket office opening from 6.30 am to 1 pm is being replaced by a person from midday to 2 pm, at East Didsbury, where the ticket office has the same six-and-a-half hour opening, it is being replaced by a person for two hours from 9.30 am, and at Mauldeth Road, the ticket office that opens from 7 am to 1.50 pm is replaced by a person from 9.30 am to 11 am. All three stations have massively reduced hours—by over two thirds—and, importantly, will no longer be covered by a member of staff at rush hour. How can the proposals result in anything other than a much worse service for my constituents and other passengers? Will he ask Northern to rethink?

The train operators’ proposals, as I have stated, are to ensure that ticket office staff can be with members of the public and passengers where they best need them. It is also undoubtedly the case that some ticket offices are selling just one ticket per hour, so it may well be that train operators are looking at exactly which hours are best attainable. As I mentioned, there is one particular train operator that is currently looking to staff 18 currently unstaffed stations by spreading and redeploying staff across its network. I will be having conversations with the train operators as the proposals move along. I will certainly take forward the hon. Member’s point and I thank him for his engagement earlier this week on High Speed 2.

The Minister has managed to unite Labour MPs, his own Back Benchers, you Mr Speaker, disability groups, trade unions and consumer groups in their concern about these closures. Even former “Pointless” presenter Richard Osman has voiced his concerns. And it is little wonder, because this consultation is completely pointless. There are just 21 days for people to voice their concerns, no equality impact assessments, and no answers on job security, accessibility or digital ticketing. Will the Minister think again, acknowledge the consultation is a sham, pause it and go back to the drawing board?

The consultation is under the ticketing and settlement agreement, which I believe was put in place under the last Labour Government, so I very much believe it is a good and robust process. It allows for a period of time for members of the public and hon. Members in this place to give their views on individual stations. There is then a 35-day period for passenger groups to take them into account, work with the train operators to try to reach an agreement, and ensure that all current accessibility and opportunity requirements are taken into account and maintained. I fundamentally believe that rather than the railway being stuck in the past, it needs to adapt and change in the manner that its passengers are. If one in 10 passengers are operating the booking office purchase system, that means that 90% of passengers are not seeing a member of staff. That member of staff can look after them, give them information, make them feel more reassured and assist them on to the train. That is a modern railway in action.

Transport Infrastructure: Decarbonisation

All transport infrastructure projects delivered by the Department’s arm’s length bodies are required to undertake whole-life carbon assessments and set carbon reduction targets as part of their business cases. National Highways, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail have already set out ambitious plans for achieving net zero and we are supporting them in their delivery. Through the Live Labs 2 competition, we awarded £30 million of funding to seven new regional projects to boost innovation in decarbonising highways infrastructure.

I recently visited Polypipe in my constituency, which designs, develops and manufactures thermoplastic piping systems from recycled material for civil and infrastructure projects. I understand that the Government and National Highways tend to favour the use of concrete to make ducting for cables over plastic for the road network, despite it being weaker, less resilient and worse for the environment. Could more consideration be given to using recycled materials, such as the plastic manufactured by Polypipe, in the construction of road infrastructure projects to help to achieve our net zero goals?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and it is very interesting to hear about the work of Polypipe. She will be aware that those decisions are for National Highways as an arm’s length body, but she has put that point on the record in Hansard, and I would be very happy to put the question to National Highways so that it is specifically considered in detail.

Does the Minister have an estimate for the cost of decarbonising our transport system, especially when we factor in the improvements to the national grid for the extra electricity supply? Will he also look again at reversing the deeply unpopular policy of banning internal combustion engine vehicles from being sold after 2030?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a very wide range of information about potential costs and budgets is already in the public domain from the Department across a very wide range of modes. On electric vehicles, we have just consulted on regulations on the zero-emission vehicle mandate, and £6 billion of new private investment is being scheduled on the basis of those projections. That will transform our charging infrastructure, and we should all welcome it.

The climate breakdown data coming in from around the planet at the moment is truly terrifying, so decarbonising transport is vital if we are to meet our climate change commitments. Will the Minister pledge to continue the work laid out just four years ago in the Maritime 2050 strategy, as recommended by the Transport Committee?

The hon. Gentleman may know that we have just had a very interesting and successful potential negotiation at the International Maritime Organisation. We take this issue extremely seriously, both as regards the decarbonisation of ports and the creation of green routes and other forms of maritime decarbonisation. We absolutely are working on this agenda, recognising that it is one of the most difficult areas of all to decarbonise over time.

Black Cat Roundabout on A1

11. What progress his Department has made on delivering improvements to the Black Cat roundabout on the A1 in Bedfordshire. (905936)

Following the dismissal of the recent judicial review, the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet scheme is due to begin construction later this year, with the open-for-traffic date planned for 2027.

I thank the Minister for that update. As he will know, with the closure today of the consultation on suggestions for the next phase of road infrastructure—RIS3, or the third road investment strategy—it makes a lot of sense for the Department to continue the momentum by now looking at alternatives to the three remaining roundabouts on the A1 in my constituency: Sandy, Biggleswade North and Biggleswade South.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and it was a delight to visit some of his constituents not that long ago in Sandy to discuss this and Biggleswade roundabout on a route I use regularly. We will continue to keep all these schemes for the long-term improvement of our strategic road network under review. They are very important, particularly when it comes to road safety, and I look forward to having further discussions with him in future.

HS2 Planning Assumptions: Rail Travel Patterns

12. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of changed patterns of rail travel on the planning assumptions for HS2. (905937)

Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I hope you will give me permission, Mr Speaker, to inform the House, if it has not already noticed, that HS2 Ltd announced yesterday that Mark Thurston, its chief executive officer, will stand down in September. I want to thank him on the record, in the House, for his work over the last six years on progressing Britain’s most transformative rail project. He successfully oversaw the start of construction, and he ensured that HS2 has created tens of thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships across the country. The Government and I are grateful for his exemplary service.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, HS2 is a railway for the country’s long-term prosperity, and it is already bringing significant economic benefits to his constituents in the west midlands, where businesses have already won £1.7 billion-worth of work delivering HS2.

I thank the Secretary of State for that waffle. I actually asked him about the basic planning assumptions for this project, because the ongoing case for HS2 would have had to be based on estimates of future passenger numbers, particularly for business travel and inter-city commuting. Following the pandemic, we all know there has been a major change because of video conferencing and working from home. What are his Department’s latest projections of inter-city passenger numbers, and how do they affect the viability of the HS2 project, quite apart from the escalating construction costs? Will he publish those figures?

I think the right hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands. First, HS2 is a railway for the coming decades, not for the next few years. What happened during the pandemic should not affect the case for HS2. Also, he assumes that business travellers are the only people who will use HS2. It is true that business and commuter traffic is down following the pandemic, but we have seen leisure services rebound very strongly, with passenger numbers higher than they were pre-pandemic.

When I was in Japan recently, I saw that high-speed trains are not only used by business users; they are used by everyone who uses the railway. HS2 will free up enormous capacity for the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents on the west coast main line, and it will get more freight off the roads and on to our rail network. He should welcome all those things.

Rail Services

Earlier this year, I set out my vision to modernise the railway industry as part of my Bradshaw address. This includes ambitions for a customer-focused, commercially led rail industry and the creation of Great British Railways as its new guiding mind. We continue to invest record sums in improving infrastructure and, just last week, I was pleased to officially open the latest phase of the south-west rail resilience programme at Dawlish, part of a £165 million investment to date, which I know the hon. Gentleman is about to welcome.

The Secretary of State is right that I welcome the programme.

This week, the charity Devon in Sight sent an email to its supporters, including me, titled, “Proposed closures to Railway Ticket Offices.” The email about the consultation was short:

“Please find attached a letter from us detailing how you can make an objection.”

Why does the Secretary of State suppose that a Devon charity that looks out for blind people should presume that its supporters would want to object?

I am not entirely certain exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking. The rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), set out the purpose of the rail companies’ proposals very well. The rail companies are consulting on the proposals, the purpose of which is to recognise the changed reality that most passengers purchase their tickets either online or from a ticket machine, and most of them do not go near a ticket office. It is about getting the staff out of offices and into the station, so they can support all passengers, including those who are older or disabled and who need assistance, rather than having them stuck in a ticket office. That is the point of the proposals, and there will be a detailed consultation. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will respond to the consultation, which the rail companies can take into account as they pursue their proposals.

Under-10 Metre Fleet: Exemptions

15. Whether he plans to exempt fishermen on vessels below 10 metres from medical certificate requirements. (905940)

The requirement for people working at sea to have a medical fitness certificate applies to vessels of every size, in every other commercial sector. However, Ministers are listening carefully to the views of colleagues across the House on the best way to progress this issue and I look forward to the hon. Lady’s follow-up question.

There is real anxiety up and down the country among fishermen as a result of the Government’s policy, which is seen to be expensive and onerous. My constituent Bob is one of those fishermen who has worked on fishing vessels his whole life. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is listening carefully. I hope he will meet fishing representatives to hear their concerns.

Either I or the maritime Minister will be pleased to do that. I hope I can reassure the hon. Member’s constituent that, of the 99 cases that have been through the MCA’s medical assessors, no fisherman has been failed, except one who did not provide the evidence required. She will also know that there are grandfather provisions for those fisherman already in the industry if they obtain their medical certificate before 30 November, and I urge them to do so. If she writes to either me or the maritime Minister, I will make sure that one of us meets her and her constituents.

Railway Infrastructure

We continue to invest in upgrading the railways across England and Wales, with a budget of about £2 billion a year, including opening five new stations and two new lines in the past three years. In the north-east, the Government are investing in Darlington station, the Northumberland line and the east coast main line upgrade.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the most critical rail infrastructure needed in the north-east by far is the Leamside line project, starting with Ferryhill station. Its importance cannot be overstated; it is about resilience, capacity and levelling up. Can he tell us when we will get spades in the ground to show our commitment to constituents in Ferryhill and let them see the economic benefit that these stations will bring?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a champion of rail in the north-east. I thank him for his long-standing support for this scheme and for sponsoring the bid for restoring your railway ideas funding to reopen a station at Ferryhill. The updated strategic outline business case for the Ferryhill-Middlesbrough proposal is with the Department and we will be looking at it shortly.

Railway ticket offices are essential railway infrastructure. The Minister has said that his hope is that staff will be redeployed on to the concourse, so can he comment on the fact that the planning assumption for Great Western Railway, once it closes the ticket office in Plymouth, is that it will cut the number of roles at Plymouth station by 42%, as part of a 40% cut in the workforce across the network in the south-west? Is that his actual plan? Can he also publish the letter of instruction sent by his Department to train operating companies requiring them to start the consultation on ticket office closures?

I certainly intend to be as transparent as you would expect in this regard, Mr Speaker, so I will look into the hon. Member’s request. I re-emphasise that this is a consultation by the train operators. His own train operator will no doubt take his comments about the station in his constituency on board. That will then be assessed by the passenger body and, if matters need to be worked upon, I would expect those two bodies to do that. If that cannot occur, it moves to an ultimate determination in the Department for Transport.

Topical Questions

Tomorrow marks two years since the Government published their decarbonisation plan, our road map to clean travel. In that time, we have come a long way. We have agreed international targets for aviation decarbonisation, allowing aviation to grow without harming the climate. As the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), said, just last week at the International Maritime Organisation, we worked with our partners to secure the agreement of 174 other member states for net zero shipping by 2050. Our zero emission vehicle mandate will see this country continue to lead the world’s major economies in decarbonising road transport, opening the door to not only significant reductions in carbon emissions, but investment and manufacturing opportunities to turbocharge British business. On every mode of transport, we are working to cut our carbon emissions, grow the economy and business, and give people across the country the freedom to travel when they need to, in the way that suits them best, without having to worry about the environmental impact of doing so.

I praise the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for taking an active interest in the A5. I have met with him multiple times, including last week, when we were dealing with the A5 yet again. I understand why the RIS3 programme has been pushed back. However, the A5 acts as a construction for prosperity, growth and housing in our area. Four points on the A5 were pinpointed as being narrow. Can he let me know where they were, as National Highways said it would do that? Can he give an indication of how I can move National Highways forward to try to release the strangulation on our area?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question and for his kind comments about my hon. Friend the roads Minister. Between the M42 and M6, the A5 is a key artery for business and motorists and, as he says, it is integral to local growth plans. National Highways continues to develop options to upgrade the route, as part of the pipeline of its potential future schemes, including considering measures that address stretches of the route where safety issues are of greatest concern, such as the pinch points that he talks about. Outputs from that work will feed into priorities for future investment strategies.

Does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable that the villages of Little Ouseburn and Beal, in the Selby and Ainsty constituency, have no bus service either in the evenings or on Sundays? Who does he hold responsible for that? Is it the Tory Government, which completely snubbed Selby and Ainsty in their bus strategy, the Tory council, which cut 1 million km of subsidised bus routes, or the previous Tory MP, who mentioned buses just three times in over 13 years? Does he not agree that it is time for Selby and Ainsty to have a fresh start, with Keir Mather?

It will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, that I do not think that at all. North Yorkshire Council, the local transport authority for Selby, was allocated £1.4 million as part of the bus service improvement plan plus funding. That means it has the resources to deliver the ambitions plans that it needs to carry out. On her second point, I think Claire Holmes, who is deeply rooted in Yorkshire and has lived there for her entire life, is the best candidate. I was there last week, delivering leaflets for her, and I will be there later today. She will make a fantastic Member of Parliament and I look forward to welcoming her to the House.

Order. I gently say to the Secretary of State, which Back Bencher does he not want me to take? He can point them out and it will make my job much easier, if we are going to take so long.

When the Secretary of State made his remarks earlier about the sudden resignation of the chief executive of HS2 from his £660,000 a year job, did he take into account the fact that the project is delayed by at least five years and that the costs have quadrupled? Will he also take into account the fact that the cost plus basis of contracts is now one of the main reasons for the increased costs?

Order. It is topicals. You know better than anyone, Sir Christopher, as an experienced gentleman.

It is not a sudden leaving of his job—the chief executive has announced that he is going to go in September. We have a clear plan in place: the experienced chair of HS2 will step up to be executive chairman for the period while we are searching for a successor, so the leadership of the organisation will be in hand. As I said, Mark Thurston has done a very good job in getting the organisation into delivery of phase 1, and he himself has said he wants to hand over at this point to enable continuity as the project moves into the next phase of delivery.

Scots are used to getting a poor and unreliable cross-border rail service, but recently the cross-border air service provided by British Airways, particularly from Glasgow, has been awful. That said, we need to get on with decarbonising aviation, so when will we see the airspace modernisation process simplified and accelerated, not decelerated? When will the Government bring forward price stability plans for sustainable aviation fuels, which everyone bar the Treasury knows has to happen?

On the hon. Member’s first point, the work on airspace modernisation is under way, as he knows. On his second point, this Government are leading the progress on sustainable aviation fuels worldwide. We published the new report, which set out some clear plans, and we published our response to it. We are taking that forward and we are at the leading edge of this work globally, setting the agenda, as I hope he would welcome.

As we approach the end of the school year, many families will be looking forward to setting off on their summer holidays, but there are concerns that industrial action in Europe will lead to flight cancellations and delays. People will also be mindful of the disruption at our ports and airports in recent times. What assurance can the Secretary of State give me and those families that the system will be resilient to ensure that they can get away?

I am sure that my hon. Friend’s question was prompted by one airline making some modest changes to its flight schedule during the summer. No other airline has indicated to the Department that it will be cancelling flights ahead of the summer. We will continue to engage with airlines on that matter. The Aviation Minister is meeting with the chief executive officer of EasyJet later today to discuss its announcement. My team is meeting with the CEO of National Air Traffic Services to get an update on its operational readiness. We have already worked with the aviation industry to make sure that, this year, it is prepared for the busy summer period so that we avoid the problems that we had last year. We have received appropriate assurances, but I hope that we can reassure those whom my hon. Friend referred to in his question.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I promise that I will only ask for one answer this time.

Without a price stability mechanism for sustainable aviation fuel, which will be crucial in bringing down our carbon footprint, the UK risks falling behind the SAF mandate by 2030. A homegrown sustainable aviation fuel industry could contribute £2 billion a year to this economy. In order for that to happen—

All right. I think I know what the hon. Lady was driving at on that question. We said in response to the new report that we would continue to talk to the industry and, if required, consult on a mechanism—an industry-funded mechanism. That work is under way, but we continue to have the ambition to get those SAF plants developed in this country and I am glad that she supports that work.

What can the Government do about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police chasing drivers who have correctly sent in their forms after they have disposed of a vehicle and who then get notices of intended prosecution for a vehicle that they no longer own when they have done the right thing? It seems to turn on its head the principle of innocence.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. When a person disposing of their vehicle notifies the DVLA that they no longer have the vehicle, they are removed from the record and the DVLA writes to them. If the customer continues to receive correspondence relating to motor vehicle offences, they should contact the DVLA as soon as possible confirming that they are no longer the keeper of the vehicle in question. If he has any constituents with any particular issues, I would be delighted to take them up and look at them as soon as possible.

T3. Can I go back to the astonishingly feeble answer from the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), about Heathrow, which is a major international hub, a major export centre, the biggest single site employer, with, I am pleased to say, a well-organised union workforce, and vital for west London? How can the Government not have a view or a policy on this vital national infrastructure, or is it just another case of they haven’t got a clue? (905966)

I know that the right hon. Gentleman likes to hear from me, so I will answer this question. He can then think of a way of insulting whatever I say in response. The point that my right hon. Friend was making is that any proposal for a third runway at Heathrow will be a private sector proposal from that airport and, as last time, we would expect it to be funded by the airport. He knows that, if it brings forward such a proposal, the Government would have to take a quasi-judicial planning decision, which is why it is important that I do not take a pre-judged position so I can take that quasi-judicial decision appropriately. At the moment, however, we have not seen such a proposal from Heathrow. If it has one in due course, we will respond accordingly.

Despite billions being invested in buses across the country and £31.7 million going specifically into Stoke-on-Trent, First Bus continues to cut routes, harming 21-year-old carers such as Charlie Preston in Chell who may now have to quit her job. This Government have done their bit—is it not time that First Bus does its bit?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I was delighted to visit Stoke with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) to see what is going on. I urge the council to use that flexibility to work with First Bus to deliver a solution for all his constituents. We have put that flexibility in there and I hope that it uses it to protect his constituents.

T4. The Government’s response to the Transport Committee’s report on the integrated rail plan was published at midnight, and the terms of reference for the study on the high-speed rail link to Leeds are expected imminently. Will the rail Minister tell us what this will mean for the railways in Yorkshire? (905967)

I thank the hon. Member for all his work in this regard, and he is absolutely right. With regard to Bradford, the Transport Committee’s report made a recommendation that better station options should be considered under the integrated rail plan. That work with Bradford will now commence to try to find a better station option and to improve transport links for the city. With regard to Leeds, the station capacity can be looked at and potentially unlocked, and the HS2 route options all the way up from Sheffield to Leeds will also be part of that study.

After much lobbying, I too am very pleased to hear that the Government have announced that the integrated rail plan will be reviewed and a new station could be considered in Bradford. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this important issue, and will he prioritise the project so that we can move at speed, because it will bring better connectivity and economic prosperity to not only Bradford but Keighley?

I certainly will meet my hon. Friend. I thank him for his involvement in the project for the last couple of years and for making the case for Bradford. Bradford is our youngest city in terms of population age and our fifth largest in terms of regional authority area. We firmly believe that levelling up means delivering for Bradford, so I am happy to meet him and I am delighted that this Government are willing to look at and give that partnership working to Bradford.

T5. Now that social distancing is over, will the Secretary of State look into restarting the pilot of demand responsive buses that Ealing and one other London borough—a Conservative-run borough—were undertaking before covid pulled the plug on them, as his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), said he would do before being shuffled off? (905968)

I would be delighted to discuss these matters with TfL at our regular meetings. All the decisions in this space are devolved to Transport for London as part of a £6 billion package, and I would be delighted to discuss the matter with the Mayor or the commissioner for transport at my next meeting with them.

A passing loop on the South Fylde rail line would double the number of trains coming into my constituency every hour, facilitating the millions of people who come to Blackpool every year. Following the award of feasibility moneys to look at the project, will the Minister meet me to appraise the options?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member. He is right that the Government have committed half a billion pounds to deliver more railways under the restoring your railway projects. The strategic outline business case on the project that he has worked so hard for is with the Department, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it.

T6. There has been remarkably little progress in rolling out streetside chargers for electric vehicles outside buildings with multiple residents. What action are the Government taking to promote this scheme and to ensure we have the correct regulatory framework in place? (905969)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of our ORCS—on-street residential chargepoint scheme—fund to support on-street charging. We also have the new LEVI—local electric vehicle infrastructure—fund, and have given money to local authorities to support capability building in the area. If there is a specific concern that animates him in relation to his constituency, he is welcome to write to me.

Yesterday, I chaired a roundtable with the freight sector, looking at the growing problem of theft from lorries in overnight lorry parks and service stations, which is costing the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year. What is my hon. Friend doing with the sector to ensure that for the extortionate fees freight companies are charged, they get secure parking overnight?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area and across a number of areas in transport. We are looking in depth at driver welfare, including providing extra lorry parks and more secure facilities, and grants are due to be announced in the summer.

T7. Can I ask the roads Minister about the lower Thames crossing project? In particular, what steps is the DFT taking to ensure that companies such as Murphy Group respect basic workers’ rights to join a trade union when bidding for major transport contracts? (905970)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who is the Minister for the future of transport, met Murphy Group this week.[Official Report, 17 July 2023, Vol. 736, c. 9MC.] The Government remain committed to the lower Thames crossing as part of the responsible decisions taken to help meet inflationary pressures and balance the nation’s books. We will be rephasing construction on the LTC by two years, as this will allow more time to take into account stakeholder views and to ensure that there remains an effective and deliverable plan that is in the best interests of taxpayers.

The roads Minister will know that the proposed £40-million junction 10A on the A14 at Kettering is crucial for the future prosperity of the town. Can he assure me that National Highways is working expeditiously with the Hanwood Park developer and North Northamptonshire Council to ensure that the project is delivered as soon as possible after 2025?

I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. Having visited his constituency and met him near the project, I know how important it is to him. National Highways is working to do everything possible to see the project come to delivery.

T8. The buses Minister assured me a couple of months ago that he was prepared to work with the West of England Combined Authority to ensure “maximum flexibility” in how bus funding could be spent, but I am still struggling to find out how we can get the funding to reinstate commercially non-profitable but essential buses. Will he meet me so that we can try to get to the bottom of it? (905971)

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I met recently with the West of England metro Mayor, who has had £21 million in BSIP funding, which we have made more flexible. To date, he has looked at schemes including the birthday month travel scheme. I can see that she might not be as interested in that as some of her hon. Friends, but I would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more flexibility we could introduce to preserve buses in her constituency.

Following his recent meeting with Transport for London about its finances, can my hon. Friend update me on what financial modelling it has done on the impact of extending the ultra low emission zone and what account it has taken of the impact should that not go ahead?

I met the acting chief financial officer and Seb Dance, the deputy Mayor for transport, yesterday. They informed me that the Mayor of London, in anticipation of falling revenues from ULEZ in the next few years, had asked them to investigate the technicalities of introducing road charging across London in the future.

Last year, Shropshire missed out on bus back better funding, despite having some of the worst services in the country. That funding was hugely scaled back on a national level. Will the Minister commit to reinstating some kind of funding to give rural places the bus services they need?

I have been looking into all bus funding across the country. The hon. Lady will know that Shropshire Council has had around £1.5 million of BSIP plus funding. On cross-border services, I have been working closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), who is doing a huge amount of work in this area, particularly between Shropshire and Wales.