Skip to main content


Volume 738: debated on Thursday 26 October 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Bus Fares

1. What assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of the cost of bus fares. (906731)

The Government are investing nearly £600 million to introduce a £2 fare cap on single bus fares in England outside London. We had introduced it on 1 January 2023 to help passengers to save on their regular travel costs, but the Prime Minister announced recently that it would be extended until the end of 2024. Just this week, the Government also announced an indicative additional bus service improvement plan worth more than £13 million for West Yorkshire.

I warmly welcome the Government’s support, which is making bus journeys across Keighley and our wider area much more affordable. As a result of the bus service improvement plan, as from last month we have a new £1 zone in Keighley, making travel around the town much more affordable, with the K3 and K7 services becoming more frequent. Moreover, a single ticket for other journeys costs just £2, thanks to the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that this demonstrates that our Conservative Government recognise the importance of local, affordable travel links that help to support our communities?

This Government certainly do. I thank my hon. Friend for raising our commitment to supporting bus services, not just in his constituency but right across the country. This is just a small part of the £3.5 billion we have invested in bus services, with much more to come, including our recent announcement of another £150 million for the bus service improvement plan from the money for Network North, starting next year.

The Department’s data shows that, between June 2022 and June 2023, bus fares dropped by 7.4% in England, outside London. Whereas in London, Wales and Scotland, where buses are devolved, fares have increased by 6%, 6.3% and 10.3% respectively.

Let me put this in context. In South Yorkshire, since 2010, bus passenger miles have dropped by 50%, which is a catastrophic fall in the use of our bus services. The cuts to services mean that many communities are now cut off completely.

When the Government came to allocate the recent funding, which is welcome, did they take account of the fact that South Yorkshire had previously had no BSIP funding whatsoever? Adding the current funding to the previous funding, South Yorkshire has had far less per passenger head than other parts of the country. Why have the Government so discriminated against South Yorkshire and my constituents?

I would welcome an Adjournment debate on South Yorkshire buses, if the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) were to put in for one.

I spoke to the Mayor of South Yorkshire just this week, and he said that the authority will need around £8 million next year to put back all the services that have been removed over the past few years. In our Network North allocation, it is getting £67.8 million next year. On top of that, he is getting another £3 million in BSIP funding next year. With all the extra cash this Government are providing, he should be able to provide exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is in addition to the “Get Around for £2” fare scheme, which will benefit any of his constituents who can use a bus.

Network North and HS2 Phase 2: Comparative Assessment

2. What comparative assessment he has made of the economic impact of Network North and the second phase of High Speed 2. (906732)

Before I answer this question, Mr Speaker, may I put on record, on behalf of the Government side of the House and myself, that I share your congratulations to Jim on his service so far and still to come. It sounds like Quentin Letts was rather kinder to him than he often is to many of us.

As the cost of HS2 has increased, the relative benefits have dwindled. Every penny of the £36 billion that would have been spent on phase 2 of HS2 will be reinvested into local infrastructure and transport schemes across the country, including £20 billion on projects across the north. That investment will support thousands of new jobs, on top of the thousands already supported by the construction of phase 1 from Birmingham to London Euston.

We know how vital rail infrastructure is for economic growth, connectivity and inward investment. Eighty-five per cent of the projects announced in Network North were previously promised, committed to or subject to approval. If those projects have not been delivered in the 13 years that this rabble have had in government, why should my constituents trust that this is not a case of the north, yet again, having to choose and getting neither, while London gets HS1, HS2, Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and a fully integrated and Department for Transport-subsidised public transport system?

I think the hon. Lady is missing the fact that every single penny that we are not spending on phase 2 of HS2 in the north is being—[Interruption.] No, she raises a good point. Every penny of what was going to be spent in the north is being spent in the north, and every single penny that was going to be spent in the midlands is being reinvested in the midlands. It is the money that has been freed up from our more ambitious development project at Euston that will be spent in the rest of the country. The north of England is getting exactly the same amount of money, it is just being spent on transport projects that are better fitted to what people actually need, rather than phase 2 of HS2.

In a recent episode of the “Green Signals” podcast, the former chair of the Strategic Rail Authority, Sir Richard Bowker, claimed that no Government included in the business case for HS2 the economic value of additional passenger and freight services that would run on the classic lines, enabled by HS2. May I ask my right hon. Friend to investigate whether this is the case and, if it is, why it has not been properly evaluated?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The phase 1 benefit-cost ratio process for HS2 captured some of the benefits of released capacity, including new demand for existing services. It did not include all the benefits from new services, but I know that the rail Minister will be happy to meet him to discuss that in more detail.

A new city centre station and a fast rail connection to Manchester are vital to unlocking Bradford’s economic potential, and I welcomed their inclusion in the Government’s Network North strategy. However, the Prime Minister has since stated that many projects in the strategy are not final but illustrative. So will the Minister confirm that this Government will, at long last, firmly commit to a new high-speed, high-capacity line, without interchanges, between Manchester and Bradford?

Yes, I can confirm that. The day after the party conference I went to Bradford and met the leader of the council and the West Yorkshire Mayor to talk about our plans for the station at Bradford, their ambitious plans for the growth of Bradford and the new rail lines. They very much welcomed the plans we have made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does too, and it would be nice if the Opposition Front Benchers shared the same views as their party colleagues.

I welcome the almost £1 billion that Tees Valley will receive from Network North. What advice can the Minister give me to ensure that Darlington secures the £160 million for the northern link road and £10 million for the North Road station?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for transport schemes in his constituency and I welcome his recognition of the funding we have allocated to the Tees Valley Combined Authority under Network North. I encourage him to raise the issue of those schemes with the combined authority, which will be able to use the money allocated to it to focus on the transport projects that matter most across the combined authority, particularly in his constituency.

In June 2019, Ministers were reportedly told by the new chairman that HS2 was billions over budget and years behind schedule, yet as MPs in this House debated the Third Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill on 15 July none of that was made clear to parliamentarians. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the true cost was hidden from Parliament, that would represent an outrageous breach of the ministerial code? Will he say right now whether that was the case?

First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Opposition Front Bench. Obviously, at the time he mentions I was not in the Government. I am sure that all of my ministerial—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) would allow me to answer the question rather than chuntering from a sedentary position, that would be welcome. As I say, I was not in the Government at that time, but I am sure that all of my ministerial colleagues, both past and present, are well aware of their responsibilities under the ministerial code and that they gave truthful answers to Parliament at the time.

Many of us question this Government’s moral compass, but the Network North plans give rise to concerns about their actual compass, with the provisions for Plymouth and Bristol. The first recommendation in the “Union Connectivity Review” backed

“investing in the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe to properly use HS2 and its faster journey times and capacity to serve connectivity between Scotland and England”.

Yet Network North justifies continuing with HS2 phase 1

“as it provides the most effective solution to…constraints on the congested southern end of the West Coast Main Line”.

So when will the Secretary of State deliver the upgrades north of Crewe to unblock the bottleneck to the Scottish economy and that of the north of England, including Chorley?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made it clear that we are going to make sure that high-speed trains can still continue past Birmingham on to the west coast main line. We have already had a debate in this House, and I believe we had this debate at length when I made my statement after the House returned last week, about the capacity on the west coast main line. The southern section is the most congested part, which is why we are continuing with phase 1. There is a debate to be had and people can have different views about where demand will go over the next 20 years. The view we have taken is that the priority is to focus on the transport needs of people now—[Interruption.] Well, in the north of England we are reinvesting £20 billion of the £36 billion we have saved, so we are putting the money where it would have been invested but on transport projects that are more relevant to people’s everyday needs.

Transport Projects: East of England

The Network North announcement included commitments to rail improvements at Ely and Haughley junctions, which is a key priority for the east and also for railfreight. We are also committed to the A10 scheme north of Cambridge. The east will also benefit from the £8.3 billion announced for highways maintenance funding across England.

I warmly welcome the commitment to upgrade Ely Junction, which will boost passenger services to King’s Lynn in my constituency, as well as freight. I am sure my hon. Friend will ensure that the scheme now proceeds as rapidly as possible. May I also urge Ministers to approve the business case submitted by Norfolk County Council for the A10 West Winch housing access road, which is essential to unlock housing, reduce congestion and boost growth?

As ever, my hon. Friend is bang on when it comes to the Ely project. It is a superb project, which really delivers for freight and ensures that freight can travel from Felixstowe across the midlands, rather than having to go south. So I can assure hon. Members that we will be on that project and getting it delivered.

On my hon. Friend’s point on the A10, which I welcome, officials are currently assessing the outline business case submitted by Norfolk County Council, and will be providing advice to Ministers in due course. We will ensure that we are in touch with my hon. Friend as soon as a decision has been made.

Electric Vehicles

The Government are committed to accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Last year, 16% of new cars and around 6% of new vans sold were fully electric. To continue to support the uptake of zero-emission vehicles we are, as the House knows, introducing 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. I am delighted to say that this week we have laid the new public charge point regulations to facilitate charging for electric vehicles.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. As he knows, in South Derbyshire in the Toyota factory we have groundbreaking hydrogen technology, so I would ask, what is the Minister doing to ensure that the charging infrastructure is in place across rural areas, for both electric and hydrogen vehicles?

My hon. Friend knows that the Government have supported the use of hydrogen in road vehicles for over a decade, including the installation of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure where there is sufficient demand. I should also say that notably, Toyota recently announced the tremendous progress that it appears to have made in commercialising solid-state batteries. That is a very encouraging sign across the piece, not just for hydrogen but for electric.

We have already heard that the uptake of electric vehicles is closely linked to charging points. When will the Government close the gap in charging costs between those who have the ability to charge at home and those who rely on a public charging point?

As the hon. Lady knows, there is wide and differing experience across the charging network. Many people are able to charge at home and many people are able to charge through the increasingly large public network. The way in which electricity prices have changed has tended to dominate changes overall, but she will, I am sure, share my pleasure that the new charge point regulations mean that we can now have a much more competitive market for charging across all the different forms of infrastructure.

Bus Services

Using the savings from HS2, we will extend the £2 bus fare right across England until the end of December 2024. This means that the Government have committed over £600 million to cap bus fares. We have also announced that the Government will continue to provide increased financial support to community transport operators, to help them protect key services by uplifting their bus service operator grant by 60%.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and for his recent visit to Southend West. He is very aware that last year, elderly residents were left stranded, literally overnight, when First Bus withdrew the No. 21 service, cutting them off from Southend Hospital, from Leigh Broadway and from many community groups. Despite successfully working with First Bus to reroute the No. 3 bus, this is not good enough; it only runs once every two hours. Will he meet me and First Bus to make sure that Southend City gets the best bus services possible?

I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge). I would be very happy to meet her and representatives from First Bus. Her work to champion her constituents’ local transport needs is second to none. I was delighted to see that that additional piece of bus funding of almost £1 million from central Government to Southend to help protect and enhance local bus services is going through, but I will happily meet her to see how we can best ensure that it is spent in a way that protects her residents.

It is not possible for people in Tamworth to reach Burton hospital by bus if they need to do so. Will the Government commit to supporting Labour’s take back control Bill, which will devolve the running of bus services to local authorities, so that bus routes that communities need can be delivered by the people who know where they are needed most?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. This Government have put in unprecedented amounts of support for bus services, including £150 million for the midlands and the north in the past week alone. The Bus Services Act 2017, which we passed, allowed franchising to be expanded across the country. It is this Government who are delivering on that greater reach for local authorities, whether it is via franchising or enhanced partnerships. I urge her to speak to the county council in her region and try to get it to allocate some of that money to support local services. This Government are putting in the money, but it is up to the local authorities to deliver.

On Monday, the Government pledged to deliver 25 million more bus miles, but what they failed to tell the public was that this was just a drop in the ocean, compared with the 175 million bus miles that they have slashed over the past five years. In fact, never before on record have bus routes fallen by as much as they have over the past year, and this from the same party that promised buses so frequent that we would not need a timetable. Does this not show that, while the Tories and their broken bus system remain in place, communities will continue to see this record-breaking decline in the bus services on which they depend?

The hon. Member does not seem to recognise the facts of the situation. There have been huge amounts of extra cash going in, whether that is through the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement that we are seeing right across the country—in some cases, that funding is being tripled for some local authorities—or the bus service improvement plan. On the statistics that those on the Labour Front Bench trot out, the one they seem to forget is that, in Wales, bus services have declined by more than twice as much in terms of mileage than the rest of the country, and it does not have the “Get Around for £2” fare scheme or any of the other support that the Government in England are putting into services, because it is making the wrong decisions.

Mass Transit System: Leeds

The Government’s Network North announcement included £2.5 billion of investment for the West Yorkshire mass transit system, building on the £200 million already provided to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which is developing the business case. I look forward to reviewing that and bringing the benefits of mass transit to the West Yorkshire region.

Less than 40% of the population of Leeds can now reach the city centre by public transport within 30 minutes. We have been promised and promised a public rail-based transport system by this Government for years, and yet we still remain the largest city in Europe without one. Will the Minister tell the people of Leeds why we should believe him this time?

I will take that as a welcome for the £2.5 billion commitment in Network North. As the hon. Member rightly says, Leeds would no longer be the largest city in Europe without a mass transit system. What we are looking to do with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is create a network of up to seven lines, which will eventually connect Leeds with Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bradford and Halifax. Work is going on, because £200 million has already been committed. I had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to discuss the plans and proposals. The combined authority is working at pace and we are going to fund it.

Nottinghamshire previously submitted a levelling-up bid for a new Toton link road but narrowly missed out. The project—

Order. One of us is going to have sit down, and it is not going to be me. The question was on Leeds, unfortunately. Is the hon. Gentleman’s supplementary linked?

Western Rail Link to Heathrow

7. What assessment has he made of the adequacy of progress on constructing the Western Rail Link to Heathrow. (906738)

The Government remain committed to improving rail access to Heathrow airport, and recognise the importance of the improved rail connectivity that a western rail link could provide. We need to ensure that projects that we take forward reflect the changed shape of rail demand and are affordable. I understand that, as a consequence, the promoters of a western rail link are updating their proposal.

You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that I have long championed a western rail link to Heathrow, which would connect 20% of the UK population to within one interchange of our nation’s main airport. The Government committed to it over a decade ago, yet not a single spade has dug into the ground. Sadly, the Government have more of a reputation for cancelling rail links than for building them. Perhaps the rail Minister, who kindly met me recently about the issue, will have better news for us today. What meetings has he had with Heathrow airport, Thames Valley chamber of commerce and other stakeholders to progress this vital 4 mile rail link between Slough and Heathrow?

May I first thank the former shadow rail Minister for the times that we had together? It is true that he has been a champion of this project, and indeed pretty much every other rail project that I have gone to an all-party parliamentary group for, where he had already agreed to pre-fund it. I assume that now he is a shadow Treasury Minister he might be cancelling some of his previous decisions in a bid for fiscal credibility.

This particular project was due to be funded 50:50, but things have changed post pandemic for Heathrow, so it is right that it goes back to the drawing board. We will always support rail investments that can be paid for by private enterprise. That is what our Network North project is all about.

Rail Services

I regularly meet with Network Rail and train operators to discuss rail performance and services. Twickenham has seen positive results. In the past 12 weeks, an average of 88.1% of trains across the lines serving Twickenham have arrived within three minutes of the stated time.

I thank the Minister for that answer. If we want to encourage more people to use our railways we need to ensure that our stations are properly staffed so that they are accessible and safe for all, and that all complex tickets can be purchased easily, yet the Government are backing South Western Railway’s plans to slash staffing hours at stations across my constituency, in some cases by up to 80% in very heavily used stations. Will the Minister heed the advice of the Transport Committee, which has said this week that ticket office closure plans are moving “too far, too fast”, and his own statement that he does not expect a material reduction in hours, and stop these plans in their tracks?

I always take onboard the advice of the Transport Committee, because it does a great job and always has done. On ticket offices, these are industry proposals, which, pursuant to the process set out in the ticketing and settlement agreement, are currently being consulted on between the train operators and the passenger bodies. We expect that consultation stage to conclude shortly. I have made it clear at this Dispatch Box, and the Secretary of State has also been clear, that this should be a redeployment and multi-skilling of staff exercise to enhance the passenger experience.

Serious overcrowding persists on Chiltern railway services serving my constituents, particularly at rush hours and weekends. The long-term solution is whole-fleet renewal, but there are some short-term fixes that Chiltern is asking for, such as being permitted to bring its extra set of Class 68s back into use. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he is doing everything possible at pace with Chiltern to improve rail services for my constituents?

My hon. Friend is another excellent member of the Transport Committee, and he always champions the need for more capacity on his busy railway lines. He is accurate: overcrowding is becoming an increasing concern for Chiltern, which is assessing options to mitigate the issue, such as further utilisation of the Class 68 units in and out of Marylebone to maximise capacity. There are issues with the diesel fleet, but we want to ensure that we can continue to provide the service for his Chiltern customers. In the longer term, I know that Chiltern is working with the rolling stock company providers to assess hybrid trains, with an aim to moving away from diesel.

Fresh from slashing and burning HS2 while in Manchester and spouting crank conspiracy theories, the Secretary of State announced Network North. However, that dodgy sounding 1970s ITV franchise does not have a single project with an approved business case, and plans are valued at 2019 prices. There was no promise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) a minute ago. Network North is literally not worth the paper it is written on, is it, Minister?

It most certainly is. When the Prime Minister announced Network North, it was clear that we were going to see a plethora of rail projects and, indeed, wider projects. We will better connect the major cities of the north, we will invest £2 billion so that Bradford can finally get the new station that it deserves and, as I have stated, we will add £2.5 billion to the West Yorkshire mass transit system. There is a huge amount of projects that we should all be celebrating, across parties. It is interesting that the Opposition seem to be knocking these opportunities to better connect cities across the north and the country.

When it comes to business cases, the Ely and Haughley project, for example, has an outline business case of 4.6. We know that business cases are stronger when there are local transport opportunities. My question back to the Opposition Front-Bench team is whether they support these proposals, in which case they should ride behind them and be positive about them—or do they not want better transport networks across the north, the midlands and the rest of the country?

Speeding: Rural Areas

9. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Home Office on tackling speeding in rural areas. (906740)

My Department takes road safety for all road users, including those using rural routes, extremely seriously. We are currently considering how best to address the specific safety issues that may arise on parts of the local rural network. As part of our work on road safety, my officials regularly meet Home Office officials to discuss issues of mutual interest. I also recently met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire to discuss these and other matters relating to road safety, including more ways to tackle drink and drug driving.

On the subject of speeding and rural safety, the entry into one of my primary towns in North Norfolk—Sheringham, a tourist town on the Norfolk coast—has a fast-flowing road that is becoming more and more congested year after year. What it really needs is a roundabout, which the Minister knows all about. All in my community support it. Unfortunately, the county council does not have the money—not as much as the Minister now has, certainly. Could he please find me a funding pot to bid into to build the Sheringham roundabout?

My hon. Friend is a real champion for a Sheringham roundabout; in fact, he has dragged me there to visit the A148 junction with Holway Road. I was delighted to do it, and I will be happy to go down and see it again. I understand that Norfolk County Council is continuing preliminary design work and confirming costs and planning requirements, which should put Norfolk in a strong position to make a bid. Although there are no immediate sources for this specific scheme, I encourage the council to continue to work with the safer roads fund, because a new opportunity will arise next year.

Support for Motorists

Through Network North, we announced £8.3 billion for road resurfacing—the largest allocation of money for local road maintenance ever—and an extra £4 billion for local road schemes. In addition, the plan for drivers set out 30 new measures we are taking to make motorists’ lives easier, from restraining the most aggressively anti-driver traffic management interventions to stopping councils profiting from moving traffic enforcement. Our plans show that the Government are on the side of drivers.

Across the country, the Department for Transport and local administrations have had great success in reducing the impact of roadworks on everyday motorists through lane rental schemes. Unfortunately, Greater Manchester is not one of the areas making use of that highly effective tool. Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that Greater Manchester adopts a similar scheme to tackle the massive disruption caused by roadworks?

I entirely agree with the point made by my hon. Friend. I am pleased to report that, following his very effective representations and those of others, the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s Bee Network committee recently endorsed a decision to develop a proposal to introduce lane rental in Greater Manchester, and discussions are now taking place with local authorities.

I welcome the UK Government’s £1 billion investment to electrify the north Wales main line, but for my Ynys Môn constituents, the best connectivity for motorists would be a third Menai crossing to take the pressure off our two lovely but old bridges and to make the most of Anglesey freeport and of Holyhead, the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK. Will my right hon. Friend see what the UK Government can do to make that a reality for north Wales, now that the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff have banned new road building?

The UK Government recognise the importance of Ynys Môn to the UK economy. Decisions about the Menai crossings are the responsibility of the Welsh Government. That emphasises the damage, both to the Welsh economy and the UK economy, being done by Labour’s decision to ban all new road building, which I very much hope it will revisit.

Petrol prices in Barnsley are significantly higher than in neighbouring areas. Indeed, it is often cheaper to buy petrol in central London than it is in Barnsley. I do not think that motorists in Barnsley should have to pay a petrol price premium. Does the Secretary of State intend to include in the King’s Speech legislation on a fuel watchdog to help motorists in Barnsley?

I hope that the hon. Lady will have noted the announcement that we made earlier this year about PumpWatch, as well as the work that the Government have done to ensure that the Competition and Markets Authority looks carefully at the way in which the fuel market operates, to ensure that it does so in the interest of consumers, as we all want.

Some 50-plus years ago, when I first took my driving test, there was one other thing we had to do: be able to afford a car. I can remember pinning all my £165 to buy a wee Mini car, but that was 50-plus years ago. Today, one of the issues for people who want to drive and be on the roads is that they just cannot get a practical driving test. What has been done to address that so that young people who have a car and insurance can take a test and get on the road?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The wait times for theory driving tests are within target. He is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that there is currently a longer waiting time for practical driving tests. That is why both I and the roads Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), have tasked the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, which has a plan to get back within target in the next few months, exactly to help those constituents of the hon. Gentleman who are keen to get their practical test and get on the road, so that they can take advantage of the freedom that being able to drive offers.

Pothole repairs halved since 2016; insurance premiums up; fuel prices up; electric charge point roll-out 10 years behind schedule; £950 million EV charge point fund still not open three years after being announced; 10% trade tariffs threatening consumers and manufacturers—which of those is not an example of where this Government have failed drivers over the last 13 years?

The hon. Gentleman had a number of things that he purported to suggest were facts. Let me just pick one of them: the roll-out of EV charging. That is absolutely on track according to the independent assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission. The number of public charge points is up 43%. As the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) set out, we have published and laid before the House the legislation to implement our zero-emission vehicle mandate, which gives the industry the confidence to invest in and roll out those charge points, to drive the roll-out of electric vehicles. We are absolutely on track to do that, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome it.

Heathrow: Third Runway

As the House will know, Parliament has voted in principle to support a third runway at London Heathrow, but the Government have always been clear that that expansion remains a private sector project. To go ahead, it would be required to meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change, as well as being privately financed. It is for any scheme promoter to decide when it submits a development consent order application as part of the statutory planning process.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Regional airports such as Leeds Bradford have an important role to play in delivering the levelling-up agenda, with more point-to-point destinations. However, does the Minister agree that to deliver true global connectivity, we need more slots from regional airports into our national hub, which will ultimately mean more tarmac on the ground at Heathrow?

I agree with my right hon. Friend, who has enormous experience in this area, that regional airports are vital to the UK and support thousands of jobs across the regions, as well as acting as a gateway for international opportunities. It nevertheless is the case that as Heathrow considers its expansion plans, it will need to decide when to take those forward, and when it does so, I hope it will bear the very important issue of regional connectivity in mind.

Decarbonising Road Transport

The UK has one of the most ambitious decarbonisation programmes of any country in the G7. In March this year, the Government published a globally unprecedented level of detail on their plans to meet emission reduction commitments, including those from road transport. The carbon budget delivery plan sets out the policies and quantified carbon reductions needed to meet carbon budgets 4 and 5 and the vast majority of reductions needed to meet our commitments into the 2030s.

On heavy goods vehicle road transport in particular, the start of the zero-emission road freight trials is welcome, but where is the low-carbon fuel strategy? Such fuels can cut emissions by 80%. The strategy will be crucial for shaping the investment plans of logistics companies, so why is it nearly a year late, and when are we going to see it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of HGVs. As he acknowledges, last week the Government announced the four winning projects of the £200 million zero-emission HGV and infrastructure competition, which will roll out 370 zero-emission HGVs and around 57 refuelling and electric charging sites. This is part of a much broader strategy, which is about developing different fuel alternatives. The technology continues to change very rapidly. We have already heard some fascinating news about the development of solid-state batteries, and the Government are tracking and following all these developments closely.

I am still astonished at the Secretary of State’s claims that the English EV charging network is on track—absolutely no one thinks that in this country.

Pushing back the date for the ban on petrol and diesel cars by five years, combined with removing what was already one of Europe’s worst EV purchase incentive schemes, means that this Government are sending all the wrong signals to consumers. Mike Hawes of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that consumers required

“a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.”

I have no doubt that this decision was thoroughly assessed, so can the Minister tell us how many extra millions of tonnes of carbon will be emitted due to this Government’s back-pedalling on net zero?

Was it P. G. Wodehouse who said that it was not difficult to see the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance? How true that is in this case! The truth of the matter is that there has been enormous progress in this area. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that £6 billion of new private investment is being planned by ChargeUK. That has not been affected. One of the leading global mandates has been laid. We have just done this excellent work on charge points, and I am pleased to say that the independent National Infrastructure Commission of this country has stated that if the roll-out continues to grow at the current rate, we will meet our target of 300,000 public chargers by 2030.

Topical Questions

This Government have made the long-term decision to reinvest every penny of savings from High Speed 2 into the local journeys that matter most across the country, so from next week, passengers on our buses will keep saving money with the £2 fare cap, and from next year, £150 million of redirected HS2 funding will go to bus services across the north and midlands. That is part of £1 billion of new funding to improve Britain’s most popular form of public transport.

It means supporting local authorities to introduce cheaper fares, more regular services and new routes, all backed by investments that would not have been possible without our decision on HS2—a project that would not have been completed until the 2040s. Governing is about making choices, and by prioritising everyday local journeys, we have chosen to be on the side of the majority of the British people.

Thank goodness Santa travels by sleigh, not train! Avanti has just released its new timetable, with London to Holyhead services up to Christmas slashed. It is certainly no Nadolig Llawen for my Ynys Môn constituents, who like me are fed up with this service. Avanti has a new contract; what assurance can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents that he is doing everything he can to restore the number of direct trains from London to Holyhead to pre-pandemic levels?

The Rail Minister and I continue to hold Avanti to account for matters within its control, and I know the Rail Minister recently visited my hon. Friend’s constituency to talk about services to Holyhead. The temporary changes she referred to are necessary to accommodate Network Rail engineering works to improve and maintain the network and minimise unplanned, short-notice cancellations due to train crew shortages as Avanti trains more drivers. In the spirit of my hon. Friend’s question, given that she has mentioned Christmas, I hope she is grateful for the early Christmas present from the Prime Minister of £1 billion to electrify the north Wales main line.

We now know that High Speed 2 was billions of pounds over budget, Parliament may have been misled, and the Government are about to waste hundreds of millions more on the fire sale of the land. Why, then, did the Prime Minister choose to dismantle the ministerial taskforce that was literally designed to oversee the cost and delivery of HS2 when he entered No. 10?

The Prime Minister made the right long-term decision to reinvest every penny saved from HS2 in the north and midlands back into transport projects across the north and midlands, which will benefit more people in more places more quickly. I know this must be a difficult time for the hon. Lady as her party leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), casts her views aside, admitting that the Prime Minister was right and saying that he would follow his lead. I can only thank the right hon. and learned Member—I can only think he was disappointed that the Prime Minister did not go further and follow his suggestion of cancelling the station at Euston, given his long campaign against it.

Neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister were paying attention, were they? They have fatally undermined confidence in HS2 and its delivery, which is why no one has confidence in Network North. The Rail Minister failed to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) about the fact that dozens of projects in Network North are unfunded because they are valued in 2019 prices. Will he publish the delivery plans and up-to-date costs, or can we all conclude that Network North is not worth the paper it is written on?

I am very surprised that the hon. Lady is not welcoming the massive improvement Network North will make across the country, including for her own constituents. I am shocked, Mr Speaker, that she is not taking this opportunity to welcome the electrification of the Hull to Sheffield line, the upgrade of the Sheffield to Leeds line, the electrification of the Hope Valley line or the reopening of the Don Valley line. That is just on rail, the only mode of transport that the hon. Lady ever raises with me; it is not to mention the £500 million—

Order. Secretary of State, I am being generous, but such long questions and answers need to come earlier, not in topicals.

T4.   Some 75% of visitors to Bournemouth travel by car. They are most welcome, particularly when they do not park on double yellow lines, but some are choosing to do so for a great day by the sea. They are willing to pay the £35 charge, which obstructs local traffic and, indeed, the emergency services. If someone parks on a double yellow in London, the charge is £65. That is a real deterrent, so can the London charging rates for parking on yellow lines please be extended to Bournemouth? (906757)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I recently met with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Sir Conor Burns) and some members of the local council, and this issue is something I would be happy to discuss further with him.

T3. By the time we next meet for Transport orals, it will have been more than three years since the Government consultation on pavement parking closed. Are we ever going to see a Government response, or is it time that the Government came clean with disability groups and admitted that they have put this issue in the “too hard to do” pile? (906756)

It is certainly not in the “too hard to do” pile—it is something we are looking at. It is one of the biggest responses we have had on any issue, with tens of thousands of responses, so it is only right that the Government take our time to ensure we get the position right. In the meantime, any local authority across the country can put in place a traffic regulation order and ensure those changes happen on a local level.

T5.   Potholes and road repairs are a key concern for many of my fellow Gedling residents so I warmly welcome the recent announcement of over £8 billion of spend on potholes. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that money will be spent where it is needed most and outline how much of it is coming to the east midlands? (906758)

Details of how that £8.3 billion of funding will be allocated to local authorities will be published in due course, and I hope we will be able to make an announcement about that in the not-too-distant future to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. It will be for each individual local highway authority to decide how to spend that money and to focus on the most important parts of their network. They have the local knowledge to do that and we trust them to spend that money wisely, and I am sure my hon. Friend will make representations to them about which parts of his constituency that money should be targeted at.

T7. Scotland has had a far more progressive approach to encouraging the switch to electric vehicles with incentives including interest-free loans for electric vehicles, enhanced home-charger grants and a far more comprehensive charging network with twice as many rapid chargers per head as England. The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for net zero has described the delay on banning petrol and diesel car sales as an “unforgiveable betrayal of current and future generations”,putting the UK on the “wrong side of history” on climate change. She is right, isn’t she? (906760)

I do not think that, for the reasons we have described, there is anything to complain about in relation to the progress we are making across England. Charge point roll-out remains very rapid—43% in the last 12 months —and there are 49,000 public charge points at the moment and 400,000 private and business ones, and new regulations and a new mandate have just been laid.

T6.   Chalkwell station in beautiful Leigh-on-Sea has 40 steep steps to get up from and down to the platform; it is 100% inaccessible. I was told last year by the Treasury that work on it is part of the £350 million Department for Transport Access for All programme. Work was supposed to start a year ago, but nothing has happened. The timetable has slipped; it is not due to be completed until March 2026. To ensure that there is no further slippage on this timetable, will the Minister meet with me? (906759)

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. Chalkwell, Ockendon and Southend East remain within the Access for All programme. We have delivered 230 stations and we will deliver those three as well. We had an issue with the contractor putting in a cost estimate that was about double what I would expect; that is why we have had to look anew, but I will very happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further, and she has that commitment. We will deliver it.

T9. Can the Minister confirm that although HS2—or maybe HS1- and-a-quarter—is going no further than Birmingham, the HS2 trains will continue to run on the west coast main line? Is he aware of repeated reports that because the new trains are not designed for existing track, the high- speed trains to Glasgow will go slower than the existing trains on that line? Can the Minister categorically assure the House that that is not the case, and tell us how much time will be cut from the train journey from Glasgow to Birmingham? (906762)

It comes down to choices. We could have chosen to continue with HS2, which would not have delivered the value we need, with time overrunning, or we could have done as the Scottish National party did when it built two ferries at a shipyard that had been nationalised, going four times over budget and running seven years late. Alternatively, we could have done as it did on the tram—described by the Edinburgh tram inquiry as a “litany of avoidable failures”. When there are choices to be made, the SNP ploughs on regardless.

T8. Open access passenger and freight train operators have recovered faster since the pandemic, experience higher staff morale with fewer strikes, provide better deals for passengers and cost taxpayers less too. Over the next three to six months how many new open-access services does the Minister expect to see approved? (906761)

I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to push for more open access. It is something the Secretary of State and I are keen to do. I met this week with the Office of Rail and Road chief executive, our regulator, and we discussed what he can do to allow more open-access applications, and what we can do, and we then met with another bidder. There is another service planned with regard to Wales on the western line, and there is also one in the offing that could work on CrossCountry, plus one for the channel tunnel. I hope my hon. Friend will keep on working with me. We want to deliver them.

The Government’s mishandling of HS2 was and is absolutely staggering, but their attempt to pull the wool over northern eyes with Network North is a farce. Does the Minister really believe the people of the north-east are falling for his fag-end fake network to nowhere?

I just do not accept that at all. I gave a run through of a list of the £36 billion that is being put back into local projects, including £1.8 billion extra for the north-east. That could, for example, be an option for the Leamside line to be reopened. I would have thought that, rather than stating that none of this is going to happen, the hon. Member would be holding us to account to make sure it does, and that she might actually support investment. There will be as much investment—indeed, more—in all areas.[Official Report, 20 November 2023, Vol. 741, c. 1MC.]

T10. The fight against potholes is much like our own fight to stay healthy: if we do nothing about it, we deteriorate faster. I therefore thank the Minister for the additional £200 million allocated to local authorities for pothole repairs. Will he join me in praising Dudley Council’s new approach of moving away from traditional, reactive quick wins towards a proactive, high-quality structural maintenance service? (906763)

I certainly am delighted to praise Dudley Council for its new approach, spending that money wisely but also implementing preventative measures for the future. Well planned road maintenance is essential, and on 4 October the Prime Minister announced that Network North would include £8.3 billion for local highway maintenance right across the country. The allocations of that cash will be announced very soon to help Dudley, but also every other council right across the country, to ensure it has the highest quality roads.

The Government have said that every penny that would have been spent on HS2 will now be reinvested in local and regional transport infrastructure. To be clear, and so that South Yorkshire can get organised, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the city region sustainable transport settlements round 2 uplift for South Yorkshire will be £543 million, and that he will work with the Mayor and others to maximise the benefit of that investment?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is indeed £543 million of extra funding for the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority. We have already had conversations with the South Yorkshire Mayor about the funding and his plans. I and my team will continue to do so, and our officials will work with his to make sure we can deliver those plans.

With the global AI summit coming up next week in Milton Keynes, it seems topical to ask: what steps is the Department taking towards the regulation of autonomous pavement delivery robots?

Of course, I have visited the technology that my hon. Friend is describing and seen it in action. We must balance the safety of patients and vulnerable road users with the potential benefits of this new technology, but I am very pleased to confirm that the Department will be funding research to advance our understanding of the impacts of this technology. The results will be published once the research has concluded.

Heavy goods vehicles cause a disproportionate number of cycling deaths. To cut the number of deaths of cyclists by illegal freight operators in other places, will the Department look at the successful London scheme and encourage partnerships between local authorities, the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency and police forces to address this problem?

I am always happy to look at measures to improve road safety, including the measure the hon. Lady has suggested. I regularly meet the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council on this, as well as the police and crime commissioners’ lead. We have already updated the highway code to put that priority of road users there, but I am happy to look at any measures we can implement to further this.

Nottinghamshire submitted a levelling-up fund bid for a new Toton link road, but narrowly missed out. The project is desperately needed to ease congestion and unlock the huge potential in my constituency of Broxtowe and our wider county. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this £40 million, ready-to-go project, especially as the east midlands has the lowest amount per head spent per year on transport?

With the extra £1.5 billion in the CRSTS announcement coming to my hon. Friend’s new mayoral combined authority, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities to look at really important road schemes, but I would also be delighted to meet him as soon as possible.

When a memorandum of understanding on HS2 to Scotland was agreed by the then Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, HS2 planners claimed that reducing journey times between Scotland and London to three hours could boost passenger numbers by 4 million and increase rail’s share of passengers making that journey from 29% to 75%, reducing air travel emissions. What is the Secretary of State’s new prediction for rail passenger numbers making that journey?

I will happily write to the hon. Lady with the details she requires, but I restate that it comes down to choices. The choice that this Government have made is to go forward with transport projects across the entirety of the country that can deliver faster and better benefits and that have a better business case. That is why this decision has been made.

Does my right hon. Friend think that people of the Jewish faith are safe on the London underground? I have to tell him that many Jews in London do not feel safe. Does he agree that London Underground employees who misuse Transport for London equipment to take part in intimidatory acts should not only be disciplined for gross misconduct, but considered for prosecution for causing harassment, alarm and distress under the Public Order Act 1986?

I am familiar with the case that my right hon. and learned Friend raises. I was in contact with British Transport police about it after seeing the disturbing footage at the weekend. They have publicly said that a member of staff has been suspended, but he will understand that because the British Transport police are investigating whether a crime has been committed, it would not be right of me to go into details. I hope he is reassured that the incident is being taken seriously by both British Transport police and London Underground, and that that will reassure both him and the Jewish community.

The huge importance of local bus services to communities such as mine in Blaydon has been emphasised by a dispute between Go North East and its employees. I very much hope that a negotiated settlement can be reached quickly. Is not the reality that we need better, more streamlined franchising models to give communities a greater say on their transport offer?

I am sure the hon. Lady, my neighbour, welcomed the news yesterday evening that Go North East and Unite the union have managed to reach a settlement in the north-east. That is quite good news. I am sure she will also welcome the £163.5 million that we have put into bus service improvement plans, which include the option to do bus franchising. This Government have been happy to make that available to all local authorities.[Official Report, 7 November 2023, Vol. 740, c. 1MC.]

The reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line, which is about 11 miles of missing track, will be fundamental in linking Lancashire and Yorkshire back up. Will the Minister consider progressing this line to the next phase of the rail network enhancements pipeline, which includes drawing up a full business case for reinstatement? Will he meet me and Members including our right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and our hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) to discuss it further?

I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend and all right hon. and hon. Friends. The Department has been working with Transport for the North, Lancashire County Council and the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership campaign group to strengthen the case for reopening that line, but we will meet up and discuss that further.

In answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the bus Minister, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) said that the Mayor of South Yorkshire had asked for £8 million to restore bus services. In fact, the Mayor asked for £8 million to restore bus services to 2022 levels—so just restoring those cut in the past year. Will the Minister take this opportunity to look again at the level of funding that South Yorkshire requires?

That is exactly what they said, and that is exactly what I said, too. As I said, we are seeing not only £1.6 million this year, but £1.6 million next year, and almost £8 million on top of that, but that is to ignore the huge amount—half a billion pounds—of city region sustainable transport settlement funding going to South Yorkshire for this period, which will almost triple for the next period, too. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady can shout at me from a sedentary position, but the truth is that she is just adopting our new position. It is not really opposition anymore; it is just “adopt the Government’s position”, including on HS2.

When do Ministers anticipate being able to give LNER the go-ahead to extend the King’s Cross-Lincoln services through to Cleethorpes?

I am afraid I will have to give my hon. Friend the answer that Ministers often have to give, which is that I hope to make an announcement shortly. I also hope that when an announcement is made, he will be able to welcome it.

According to the Department’s own regulations, it should have reported on medical licences for fisherman this week, but it has not, so when will the Department publish the review? More important, when will it start listening to fishermen, who are out of pocket, worried about their livelihoods and at risk of becoming uninsured?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. In fact, I met representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations just yesterday to talk through the issue in some detail. We will be able to make some announcements on policy very shortly. Obviously, I will keep the federation informed, as I will Members of the House.

My constituents very much value access to the travelcard scheme, which in particular enables visitors, friends and family to make the most of a trip to London. They were concerned to hear the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announce his plans to abolish the travelcard. They were equally puzzled to hear that the Mayor has now apparently intervened to save the scheme from his own plans. Can my right hon. Friend help me explain that conundrum to my constituents?

Like my hon. Friend, I was surprised that, having proposed to cancel the travelcard scheme in the first place, the Mayor of London is now trying to take credit for cancelling his own cancellation. From my point of view, those hon. Members who so stridently raised concerns about the Mayor of London’s latest plans to increase costs for the travelling public and the Department of Transport officials who worked with Transport for London to find an alternative deserve the lion’s share of any credit.

I declare an interest in that I sold my house in North West Leicestershire to HS2 in 2015 for considerably less than I paid for it in 2011. What does the Secretary of State make of the evidence given to the media by Andrew Bruce, the former head of land acquisitions for HS2, that people were short-changed and not given full value for their properties up and down the route?

There are rules that specify how the safeguarded land will be returned. Those who sold their property will be offered it back at the current market value. We expect those matters to take place towards the summer. With regard to the hon. Member’s allegations, I will discuss them further with him so that I am fully furnished of the case.

Last year, my constituent was having a drink with his son, having attended a Manchester City match, when his son was glassed in the face in an unprovoked attack. The assault took place in a pub outside Manchester Piccadilly within the jurisdiction of British Transport police. Since then, despite CCTV capturing a clear image of the suspect, no arrests have been made. My constituent feels disappointed that the transport police have not got justice for his son, who suffered life- changing injuries. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss this distressing case and, more widely, to consider the remit and resourcing of British Transport police?

I am sorry to hear about that incident; it must have been incredibly distressing for my hon. Friend’s constituent. I will raise that case specifically with British Transport police, and I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it further.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. While the Tories get excited about “Get around for £2”, under 22s in Scotland get around for free, because their fares are funded by the Scottish Government in a strategic paradigm shift to get people modal-shifting over to public transport. Will the English Government provide that same support to commuters in England, or are they too proud to follow Scotland’s lead?

The hon. Gentleman could do well to recognise that fares in Scotland are up by over 10 % on an annualised basis, whereas in areas of England they are falling. There is also no fare cap in Scotland for those over the age of 25, whereas my constituents—many of them in low-paid work or looking to go to work and get jobs—can get a £2 bus fare. On a recent visit to Scotland, I saw people paying £8 or £9 to travel between some major towns. Actually, the Scottish Government would do well to follow the English Government’s example.