The following Statement was made on Tuesday 12 May in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the new transport guidance for passengers and operators that has been published by my department today.
Coronavirus has cast a shadow over the lives of everyone in this country. As we all know too well, for some it has caused unimaginable heartache. For millions more of our fellow citizens, this crisis has meant an enormous sacrifice in the national effort to beat this disease. The Government are immensely grateful to the British people for the profound changes that they have made to their lives over the last few weeks.
I also extend my thanks to transport workers and the wider freight sector for their immense efforts to keep Britain on the move during this crisis. We will always remember the way in which the industry has served the country during the most challenging of times. Public transport operators have ensured that all those front-line staff have been able to get to work and fight the virus, while freight firms have delivered vital goods and kept supermarket shelves stacked.
However, it is now time to consider how together we emerge from this crisis. On Sunday, the Prime Minister set out the first careful steps for reopening society and a road map for the weeks and months ahead. Undoubtedly, transport is going to play a central role in that recovery. It will be the key to restarting our economy and in time will enable us to renew and strengthen those precious ties that are so deeply valued by us all.
As I said last week, our nation’s emergence from this crisis will not be a single leap to freedom; it will be a gradual process. We cannot jeopardise the progress achieved over the past few weeks by our shared sacrifices. We therefore remain clear that those who can work from home should continue to do so. However, as those who cannot start to return to their jobs, the safety of the public and of transport workers must be paramount. That is why the Department for Transport has today published two new pieces of guidance for passengers and for operators.
These documents aim to give passengers the confidence to travel, and they seek to give operators the information they need to provide safer services and workplaces for passengers and for staff. We encourage operators to consider the particular needs of their customers and workers as they translate these documents into action.
The first document is aimed at passengers. I will summarise some of the main points contained in the advice. First, as I mentioned, we continue to ask people to go to work only if they cannot do their jobs from home. That is because, even as transport begins to revert to a full service, the two-metre distancing rule will leave effective capacity for only one in 10 passengers overall. It is therefore crucial that we protect our network by minimising the pressures placed on it and ensure that it is ready to serve those who most need it.
As a result, we are actively asking those who need to make journeys to their place of work or other essential trips to walk or to cycle wherever possible. In order to help us do more of that, last week I announced an unprecedented £2 billion investment to put walking and cycling right at the heart of our transport policy. The first stage is worth £250 million and will include a series of swift emergency measures, including pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycling and bus-only corridors. That money should help protect our public transport network in the weeks and months ahead. It is my hope that they will eventually allow us to harness the vast health, social and environmental benefits that active forms of travel can provide. If people cannot walk but have access to a car—I appreciate that I will be the only Transport Secretary to have said this for very many years—we urge them to use the car before they consider public transport, avoiding where possible any busy times of day.
I do, however, recognise that for some people using transport is a necessity. In this case, passengers should follow the guidance we have set out today in order to keep themselves safe. It recommends that travellers must maintain social distancing by staying two metres apart wherever possible to prevent the virus. We also advise that as a precautionary measure, particularly where that is not possible, people wear face coverings when using public transport. That could help protect other travellers from coronavirus where someone has perhaps unwittingly or unknowingly developed the illness but they are not showing any symptoms. We urge passengers to avoid the rush hour and replan their visits, to use contactless payments where possible and to wash their hands before and after their journeys.
In addition, the guidance also reminds us that, at this most challenging of times, it is more vital than ever that we think about the needs of others. Our transport operators and their staff are doing an incredible job to keep everyone safe. Please follow their advice. In stations and bus interchanges, be patient and considerate with fellow passengers and staff. In particular, we should remember the needs of disabled passengers, those with hearing and sight impairments and older travellers, too.
As I mentioned, we are also publishing a second document, guidance for transport operators, today. Those organisations really are at the forefront of the national recovery effort. They know inside and out the needs of their customers and their workers, and they understand like no one else their industry’s specific needs. That is why I have no doubt that the operators are best placed to implement the safety processes that work best for their businesses, their employees and their customers. The guidance we are publishing today advises operators across all forms of private and public transport on the measures they can take to improve safety. The steps include ensuring stations, services and equipment are regularly cleaned, and that passenger flows are clearly communicated to try to avoid crowding and to keep everyone on the network—passengers and staff—two metres apart wherever possible.
The guidance will develop over time, in line with our increasing understanding of how coronavirus is spread and how it is contained. In addition, it is likely that there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to implementation. It will need to be tailored and localised, based on plans of local specific transport needs. In preparation for that process, yesterday I wrote to local authorities to set out how we can work together to prepare transport networks at a local level for restart and ensure public safety.
The documents I publish today will help ready our transport system to support our country as we seek to control the virus and restart the economy. We will inevitably encounter obstacles along the way as we embark on the next stage of our national fightback against the virus. There is no doubt that we need to continue to work together to overcome those challenges. On that note, I would like to express my gratitude to our partners in the devolved Administrations, the local authorities, the mayors, trade unions and transport operators for their work over the past few weeks. I look forward to continued collaboration in future, because co-operation will be key to setting the country on the road to recovery.
If everyone plays their part, and if we continue to stay alert, we can control the virus and save lives. If we all follow the guidance on making essential journeys, I believe that together we can harness the power of transport to build a new and revitalised nation. I commend this Statement to the House.”
The Statement was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
I begin by expressing our thanks to all involved in the transport industry, and in particular all those key workers on the front line who have kept this vital sector up and running during the pandemic for the use of other key workers and for the movement of essential supplies. I do not know the exact number, but certainly over 50 transport staff have died with Covid-19, the majority in London. We express our sincere condolences to their families and friends.
The devastating consequences of Covid-19 make this Statement on government guidance all the more important, as people are now being actively encouraged to go back to work if they cannot work at home. Indeed, some people who have been able to work from home are now being told by their employer to return to the workplace. Those going back to work are being told to avoid using public transport where possible and, instead, to travel by car, by bike or on foot.
However, this guidance is not a directive and contains a lot of “shoulds” and “coulds”. I am concerned about how practical implementing the guidance will be, in particular in respect of social distancing and maintaining a two-metre distance on public transport. Transport for London has said that, given the national requirement to maintain social distancing wherever possible, capacity on the Tube and buses will be reduced to around 13% to 15%, even once services are back to full strength.
Some 80% of those coming into central London to work come in by public transport. Even if that figure is halved by people still working from home and by more people coming in by car, there will not be the required capacity on public transport if social distancing is to be maintained, as indeed we have already seen. At times, the position will be the same in our other major cities, even though the percentage travelling to work by public transport is nowhere near the level in London.
How will social distancing be maintained? For example, a suburban train, bus or tram coming into the centre of London or another major city will start its journey from the outer terminus with a limited number of passengers. As more passengers join at each station or stop on the inward journey, the train, bus or tram will become more crowded. Under these guidelines, will the operator be expected to have staff at each station or bus stop deciding how many passengers can still be allowed to get on each arriving train, bus or tram, consistent with maintaining social distancing, and preventing passengers joining if maximum capacity still enabling social distancing to be maintained has already been reached? Will the operator, under these guidelines, be expected to stop passengers entering at each station if the platforms already have the maximum number of people on them waiting for a train, consistent with maintaining social distancing?
Are these examples of what is meant by maintaining social distancing wherever possible under these guidelines? If not, how will social distancing be maintained in reality if it is entirely a matter for each passenger whether or not they choose to get on a train, bus or tram that already has more people on board than is consistent with maintaining social distancing? What can the Government tell us today about the extent to which it has been possible to maintain social distancing this week on our trains, buses and trams as they have got nearer on their inward journeys to the centre of London and our other major cities?
For public transport staff, the train or station, bus, coach, ship, plane or taxi is their place of work rather than a means of getting to work. I am not clear how much guaranteed protection these guidelines provide them with. There is no provision for PPE to be provided for front-line staff. The Statement also says that wearing face coverings when using public transport could help protect other travellers, and presumably also staff, from coronavirus—but having said that, the guidance then only advises people to wear face coverings.
If a bus driver, for example, feels that more people have been regularly getting on their vehicle than is consistent with maintaining social distancing, and that their employer has not done as much as could have been done to prevent that situation arising, which they feel puts their health at risk, is it clear in the Government’s view whether the driver has the right to decline to continue working, without penalty, until the situation is resolved, whether by the employer or the intervention of an outside body?
I turn to the Government’s 14-day quarantine proposals, which cover apparently everyone coming from anywhere in the world unless via France or from Ireland. Will the Government publish the advice that says we need 14-day quarantine now but there has been no case for it previously? Why is France excluded and why, just as one example, does Gibraltar find itself included when it has had no deaths from coronavirus? How will the 14-day quarantine period be enforced? More than 18 million passengers have entered the UK since January. Will it be against the law for an individual not to be present at the address they have given? Who will ensure that they are, and which organisation or body has the resources to do this in the current situation?
I have real doubts about the practicality of applying some of these guidelines, in particular in relation to social distancing on public transport, and I suspect that many in the Government do too, unless the vast majority of people returning to work simply choose not to travel to work in this way, and particularly in London. Time will tell, but we can only hope that the guidelines do their job and we do not end up with a second spike in coronavirus cases which could affect anyone, including those of us taking part in this debate today.
I echo the thanks to all those key workers in transport industries who have kept vital supplies and vital workers moving during the last two months. As always, our economy sits on the shoulders of the transport sector. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I want especially to mention bus drivers and others who died, who were particularly exposed to the virus in their work.
I start by reminding everyone that last Sunday’s broadcast by the Prime Minister was essentially for England only. New rules and advice were announced, but they were for England. The situation is different in Wales and Scotland, so it is now a complex picture. That matters, of course, because transport crosses borders.
I very much welcome the investment announced in cycling and walking, specifically the emergency and temporary measures. While I am delighted to see the speed of response, I seek assurances from the Minister that this first tranche of money will be followed by long-term investment in improving the infrastructure for active travel. Indeed, the Department for Transport itself has estimated that it needs £5 billion to nearly double the number of trips using cycling from 2% to 4%. This announcement was of course for £2 billion. Can the Minister give us some detail on how the Government will work with local authorities to ensure that the money is indeed spent well and quickly?
I was also pleased to see the announcement about trials of electric scooters on public roads. Can the Minister tell me a little more about this? Will it involve only scooters for hire or include privately owned scooters?
For me, the peace and quiet in recent weeks, due to the lack of transport noise, has been wonderful. So too has been the improvement in air quality. The reduction in harmful emissions has allowed us to glimpse a view of how to tackle climate change. However, on Sunday, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on the return to old habits when he advised people to get back in their cars and avoid public transport. I accept that there is an impossible conundrum with public transport. It is not possible to socially distance on most buses and trains; it is therefore essential that every other possible safety measure is taken seriously.
I was disappointed that the guidance issued by the Department for Transport to public transport operators was essentially a series of suggestions. There are many bus operators across the country, many of them small operators with limited capacity. Early in this crisis, the Government recognised the need to take centralised control of train services. I am not suggesting for a moment that they should nationalise bus services, but I am surprised that they have apparently not established a national forum for sharing good practice and providing guidance to bus operators. Will the Minister consider that?
On issues such as screens, frequent cleaning, going cash free and the availability of hand sanitiser, the guidance was very laissez-faire. It was merely a series of suggestions, which I fear can—and in some cases, will—be ignored. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, the advice to passengers on face masks states:
“There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial”.
It goes on to emphasise that it is “optional” and “not required by law”. The lesson of the past few weeks is that although we, the public, like to know why we are being told to do something, we also like clear instructions. That instruction on face covering would have been much clearer if it had simply said, “You are advised to cover your face in crowded places.”
I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in paying tribute to everybody in the transport sector who has worked so tirelessly over the recent weeks and months to make sure that those who must travel are able to do so. They have done a superb job in keeping things going. It is a great tribute to their hard work that we are in the position we are in today. I also offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of all those, particularly in the transport sector, who have lost their lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made a number of points. He started by not being wholly supportive of the transport operator guidance, in that it was not directive and is not practical. This is not the feedback that I have had from the transport operators—and I speak to them a lot. They are perfectly capable of taking this guidance and translating and transposing it into the appropriate measures that they need to take according to the needs of their workers and passengers. It is not the case that a bus operator is the same as a tram operator or a PHV operator. There is a huge variety of transport operators, which is why the guidance is set out as it is. I have not had feedback that transport operators feel that they are missing direction. Certainly, I have had feedback that they are working incredibly well together in developing guidance, then adjusting it for their own needs and for their own staff.
I will accept that, in certain circumstances, social distancing on public transport will be a challenge, and that is recognised in the guidance. For example, the passenger guidance refers to 2-metre social distancing “where possible”, and states that this is probably sometimes not possible—at busier times, on busier routes and at certain points in the journey. That guidance goes on to talk about other mitigations that can be put in place to help the passenger—for example, avoiding physical contact with other passengers and not standing or sitting face to face. Spending minimal time with other passengers, such as passing in the corridor, is not thought to be too much of a risk. The guidance says that face coverings are advised in enclosed spaces, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, wanted it to say. We have set out exactly what should happen and what passengers’ expectations of social distancing should be.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about operationalising social distancing and explained many of the things that operators are considering. Each operator is preparing its own plan for its particular transport type and circumstances, operationalising social distancing, and other elements within the guidance, and putting it in the plan. The Department for Transport is reviewing many of those plans, to make sure that we too are content that the right measures are put in place.
Crowd management will be one of the important things. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what would happen if a certain number of people got on a platform. This has, of course, been thought through. Every Transport for London station has an operational plan to make sure that certain things will happen and that passengers are managed and advised in the right way so that we do not get too much bunching. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether we had been able to maintain social distance this week. I am delighted to report that there have been very few problems, and I think that all those that did occur were reported on the news. When I spoke to Transport for London last night, the picture it was able to give me of its operations was pretty positive. It had not seen persistent levels of lack of social distancing. For the time being—fingers crossed —everything is going to plan.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the devolved nature of the country. The consequence of devolution is that it is up to other countries to have their own guidance, should they wish to do so. However, the transport operators are doing a very good job at communicating that to passengers. Our guidance for people travelling between the devolved nations is: just check with the transport operator. There will be posters everywhere; it will be impossible to miss them.
Cycling and walking also featured in the noble Baroness’s remarks. I am delighted about the £250 million that is coming out of the traps in order that we can get local authorities to make changes quickly. She asked whether we were involved with the local authorities in that. Yes, we are. We have published road space allocation guidance which helps them to understand the sort of things they need to consider when introducing, for example, wider pavements for pedestrians or temporary cycle lanes to encourage more people to get on their bikes.
I cannot offer further details on e-scooters at the moment, as I believe they are still being finalised. If the noble Baroness could be a tiny bit patient, I think an announcement will come very shortly. This is a good opportunity for us to trial this new form of transport, to see if it works for cities and other places in our country.
Finally, the noble Baroness mentioned the bus operators and whether there should be a national forum. I speak to the bus operators very regularly. They fall into two associations: the CPT and ALBUM, which covers the smaller players. Those two associations are doing great work in encouraging the bus operators to share best practice and to help them develop risk assessments for their particular circumstances. I do not think there is a need for a national forum because that is all happening.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I would ask that both questions and answers are kept brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers. In each case, the Minister will answer.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest in that my son owns a small chain of bicycle shops. I want to talk about Cambridge, where I live, and the problems that this directive will have there. If you work in London you cannot cycle or walk from Cambridge, but nevertheless it is a commuter town. It takes 50 minutes to travel to London by train, two hours by car, and if you do go by car, where on earth can you park? The problem will revolve around trains.
What thought has been given to the fact that if trains can take only 10% to 15% of their current load, and bearing in mind that during the rush hour trains from Cambridge are standing room only, how will the number of people on trains be controlled? Will there be rationing? How can it be done, because there will not be enough trains to take even a quarter of the people to work? Following the example of France and Belgium, I would particularly like to press the Minister to ask for the wearing of masks to be obligatory on public transport. Those countries have done it. Also, can the social distance be reduced from two metres to one metre?
I thank my noble friend for his thoughts on this issue. He has clearly described the challenge that we face in matching demand with the supply of public transport, in this case the trains. Obviously, the Government are encouraging everyone who can work from home to do so, and certainly from the conversations I have had so far regarding London a large number of companies are still encouraging their people to work from home. The second thing we are asking companies in London, and indeed beyond, to do is to spread the load a bit and flatten the peak as much as they can. We are asking companies to put in place staggered start times to ensure that not everyone arrives on the nine o’clock train. Rail services are gradually being increased, but we want to ensure that the safety of their front-line staff remains absolutely critical. The operational plans for services and for the infrastructure around rail travel are being put in place, and the chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, has been tasked by the Secretary of State for Transport to review all those operational plans to make sure that rail services are as good as we can get them, given the capacity constraints.
My Lords, my question is about masks, a subject I raised some 10 weeks ago in the Moses Room. Could not officials learn a lesson from the much-reported bus incident in Shenzhen in Hunan province in China, where nine passengers were infected by a single carrier? The virus was transmitted a distance far in excess of the two metres that we are following. It travelled up to four metres from the single original infected source. More significantly, those passengers who were wearing masks were not infected, so why not make the wearing of them mandatory on public transport, as has just been suggested? That is the case in Thailand, which has one of the lowest death rates from the virus in the world, as well as in nearly 50 other countries worldwide? Are they all wrong?
The noble Lord has indeed raised this point before. I looked at that study. It is interesting, but obviously I am not a scientific expert. Therefore, I cannot comment on it in detail. We have asked our group of experts to look at what we should do about face coverings. They have said that we should advise people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces and where they are likely to bump up against the two metres. There will have to be a change in culture among people travelling on our public transport. The Government will certainly support that change in culture through a very extensive communications campaign. As the amount of people on public transport builds up, we expect more people to wear face coverings because it is the right thing to do to protect others.
Anybody with any experience of public transport knows that one of the best things that can be done is to stagger working hours. The early spring is the best time of the year to do it since it is light for so long. What is being done about public bodies and public employers, which should be being directed by the Government to spread working hours? Will the Minister consider doing the same thing for private employers?
The noble Lord is right that staggering working hours is one of the ways that we can reduce demand on public transport. I have a call tomorrow with the main employer groups in London to discuss exactly how they are liaising with their membership on staggering working hours. We are also in touch with all the large urban centres, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, to get their large employers to do so. Talking about public sector employees, I believe the number of people going into the office at the Department for Transport at the moment is about five.
The Rail Delivery Group has stated that disabled passengers who need assistance during their journey can still book ahead, but they may be asked extra questions to help staff plan how to help them safely. What will those additional questions be? How will those with invisible impairments be supported? By their very nature, it will not be possible to identify that such people have additional needs.
This is an incredibly important topic. The Rail Delivery Group—the organisation made up of the train operating companies—is finalising staff guidance, which includes suggested example questions around where a customer may have a preference in the nature of the assistance provided. It has not been finalised. There will be public communications on this in due course, so the RDG will be able to provide further information. The rail industry is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the passenger journey to understand better the needs of those passengers who have invisible impairments because, as the noble Baroness quite rightly says, sometimes those passengers have other needs.
My Lords, what strikes me about this is that the virus is the subject of a huge amount of numerical modelling and forecasting. I am amazed at the lack of numerical modelling in passenger transport of intermodal splits on different scenarios. In the medium term—in the autumn or something like that—we will need to sustain public confidence with more information, options and explanations of the dilemmas in the trade-offs of social distancing, in this case, with the rate of growth or decline of GDP et cetera. It is very important to have a higher level of public engagement and understanding.
Initially, will the Government institute more transparency on where the pinch points will be later in the year—information on which I am sure exists in the files of the Department for Transport—so that we can have an adult conversation, as called for by one of the Minister’s colleagues the other day? The modal split in town, country, big cities and so on will be different for rail, bus, car et cetera, but we need to make sure that we do not run into gridlock in some centres by digging up the road to put in a wider pavement, such as Piccadilly Circus et cetera being dug up at the same time as Oxford Circus. Is that not a danger? I do not know which forum might be useful, but I know that there are a lot of very well-informed and interested parties. Would this be something to look into so that we can have some numerical forecasts to scrutinise, with no skin off the Government’s nose? Public engagement will heighten public understanding.
The noble Lord raises interesting issues to do with data and modelling. I reassure him that the Department for Transport has a vast amount of data and does a huge amount of modelling. However, the sort of thing that he is talking about—a very centralised, top-down approach to solving our local transport needs—is not what we are proposing at the moment. In fact, we think the right way to go is to talk to the metropolitan mayors and local authority groups and get them to refresh their local transport plans, because they are the ones who know what is going to happen in their local communities. They can really put into practice what will need to be done to support the future forecasts for the different splits on the different modes of transport.
I agree with the noble Lord that there is much to be done—much data and much modelling—and that there are things we can crack on with, but this is best done locally. The Department for Transport is very happy to help. We review these plans and have asked these groups to refresh their local plans in light of the changed circumstances.
My Lords, while we are encouraging the public to avoid using public transport where possible, there is likely to be an increase in the take-up of bicycle hire in cities. Is consideration being given to providing hand-sanitising facilities at all bicycle docking stations?
I thank my noble friend for raising this, as it is something I think we have forgotten. It goes back to the oldest of chestnuts on this issue. When talking about coronavirus, we were told from the beginning to wash our hands and not touch our faces. That advice is still completely true and should be followed. The Government’s new guidance reiterates this and tries to remind people about hand hygiene. We recommend that people wash and sanitise their hands regularly, both before and after journeys, whether on an e-bike or any other form of transport. Operators, including those which look after bicycle docking stations, should ensure that measures are in place to protect their users. We encourage the operators to implement the guidance in the way that best fits their working practices.
My Lords, first, I understand that the Transport Secretary was quoted as having said that it is a civic duty to avoid public transport. Could the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s policy?
Secondly, going back to the question of face masks, even if they are only 50% effective, most of us would be much happier to have a 50% chance of not catching something than to be more liable to catching it. The Government’s argument on face masks is weak and unconvincing. Those of us who might be forced to take taxis would be much relieved if the taxis themselves were sanitised between passenger journeys. I do not want to get into a taxi that has been occupied by somebody going to hospital because they think they have been infected.
Lastly, what do we do at St Pancras when a passenger from Belgium arrives on a Eurostar train? How do we separate that passenger from somebody who has come from Paris?
On the first issue the noble Lord raised, on public transport, let us be absolutely clear what we are talking about here. Those who cannot work from home and have to travel to work, or those who are making an essential journey, who cannot travel on a bike, by foot or in a car should use public transport. If you can possibly avoid using public transport—as a transport Minister, I cannot believe I am having to say this—you should. Therefore, if you are tempted to use public transport but could actually get on your bike, I suppose it is your civic duty to get on your bike. What we are saying about those who should use public transport and those who should not is absolutely clear.
The noble Lord also talked about getting into a taxi or private hire vehicle, which the transport operators’ guidance also covers. It includes a section on cleaning and hygiene and making sure that your place of work, namely your taxi, is clean and protects subsequent passengers. Therefore, that is what taxi and PHV drivers should be doing.
Finally, on borders—I am aware that I did not answer the noble Lord, Lord Rosser on this issue—we will be doing three main things. International arrivals will have to supply contact and accommodation information, and there will be lots of advice on arrival to support that. They will be advised to download the contact-tracing app and told to self-isolate for 14 days. Noble Lords probably have several other questions on the borders issue but the details have yet to be fully finalised. We do not know exactly how the scheme will work or what the exemptions will be, so I will have to beg noble Lords patience on this one. No doubt we will come back to it in due course.
Long before Covid hit this country, literally millions of families had booked holidays abroad for this summer, which is now fast-approaching. The Secretary of State and other Ministers have made it clear that they do not believe people should be travelling abroad; the new border requirements will effectively make such a holiday impossible for most people anyway. However, there is no clear statement from the FCO or the Government requiring people not to go abroad, so in many cases they are not able to get their money back. They cannot claim on insurance as it is not a required cancellation; the airlines are flying the flights, so they cannot get their flight money back; and tour companies are in many cases, at best, offering a change of date and refusing refunds.
All that could be sorted out by a clear statement from the Government. In many cases, with earnings down and some unable to earn at all, these families now desperately need that money. The Government cannot expect people to be happy about this; they are being told that they cannot have their holidays, but the Government are not taking the action that would allow them their money back.
The reality at this time is that the Foreign Office is advising against travel overseas, but it does not have a crystal ball. Therefore, it would be impossible to say that up to a certain date in the future—quite far into the future, given that we are only in May—there will be no travel at all. We simply cannot say that.
I too am in this boat. I have a holiday booked. Will I go on it or not? I do not know. This is just one of the things about coronavirus that we have to deal with. I am really hoping that I can still go but, if the Foreign Office advice by then is still, “You must not travel”, there will be ways that people can get their money back. We must not get over-excited about this at this moment. As time progresses, guidance about overseas travel may change. We just have to be alert and try to be patient. I know that it is incredibly difficult. For some people, their holidays may happen; for others they may not, and we can then look at how they get their money back.
My Lords, disabled people are fortunate to enjoy a great deal of assistance from the staff of transport undertakings, which is very much appreciated. Will the Government give guidance on how this can be maintained compatibly with advice on social distancing?
The noble Lord raises a very important point. The published guidance specifically refers to making sure that public transport remains accessible. It refers to those with protected characteristics, including, of course, disabled passengers. On specific translation of the guidance on social distancing requirements for disabled passengers, I too am interested to see how that has developed, but I have not looked into it in great detail. So, I will write to the noble Lord to give him examples of how transport operators are putting this guidance into practice.
Something that makes our roads much less safe and will deter people from walking and cycling is extreme speeding, which has been happening increasingly during lockdown. The police in London have enforced more than 5,000 instances of speeding, and some of those speeds—in areas with 20 or 30 mph limits—are incredible. This will deter people. Will the Minister undertake to speak to the traffic police and find out if there is anything the Government can do to ensure stronger enforcement of this offence?
The noble Baroness is right, in that there have been some really unpleasant examples of people speeding—sometimes vastly over the speed limit—and it is entirely and utterly unacceptable. However, I am pleased that the police have been continuing to do their speeding enforcement; a number of those people have been caught and have received some pretty severe fines and other penalties. Making cyclists feel safe is extremely important, and this money—the £250 million—is a very good start in ensuring that there are dedicated lanes for cyclists, such that they can be protected from cars. Even cars travelling at normal speeds can sometimes feel very fast to a cyclist. Having that enforcement is really important, as is towns and cities thinking more about the needs of the cyclist alongside those of the car driver.
Will my noble friend the Minister acknowledge that London is not the UK? Will she ensure that plans to open up rail travel are based on the needs of the whole country, and look not just at London’s Tube and the cities? If we opt for a 14-day quarantine for everyone coming into this country then it must apply to every country, including France and Ireland. And will our Lords authorities please use the mute button for any Peer who rabbits on with a two-minute supplementary?
It is not within my remit to answer that last question. However, my noble friend is right that London is not the UK. That is why Sir Peter Hendy has been working with the TOCs to open up rail services across the country. We are of course opening up all transport services across the country; that is incredibly important. On the point that he raises about 14-day quarantine and who that will apply to, as I have said previously, the scheme is still being finalised. The final details have not yet been announced, including whether there will be any exemptions.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, raised a crucial point about staggering the start and end of working times so that the peak is reduced, which makes it possible for more people to travel safely on the Tube. The Minister’s reply greatly concerned me, however, because she said that she was going to phone the London employer organisations tomorrow. Why is she doing it, rather than Transport for London and the mayor’s staff? This clearly needs military-style organisation, big employer by big employer, with spreadsheets and all the rest of it. With the best will in the world, I do not imagine that the Minister and her officials are undertaking that military-style campaign, but it is obviously appropriate for Transport for London and the mayor to do so. Will she clarify who is responsible for undertaking this work with the major employers in London?
I speak to TfL every few days and our call tomorrow will be done together, because we felt that that would be the most appropriate way to get the message across. As I think my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, London sometimes likes to think of itself differently. Adding in national government indicates that this effort has to happen across the entire country, which is why I am talking with the metro mayors as well. I am doing it with TfL, not to TfL, and there are certainly some very capable individuals within TfL who have excellent relationships with the employers. All I am doing is adding my help, but it is with the agreement of TfL.
In her answers, the Minister has gone through a range of guidance and advice. It has been made clear today that the police have no legal powers to enforce social distancing. Can she tell your Lordships what legal powers transport operators have to enforce social distancing and crowd management in their stations, rolling stock and vehicles?
The noble Lord is quite right. This is guidance; it is not a legally binding set of requirements and it is not designed to be. If we are to make our fight against Covid a success, to my mind it has to be a partnership between four groups: national government; local authorities, which know their communities; the transport operators that run the transport; and the passengers. If one of those four groups does not step up and fulfil their role, we will fail. That is why communication will be so important as we go forward with the fight against Covid.
I welcome the recommendation that passengers wear face masks on public transport. If face masks are not to be mandatory, at least not yet, what will be done—an example might be adverts on the Tube—to strongly encourage this practice as a public duty in protecting fellow travellers and bus and railway staff, not just on the transport itself but on station concourses?
Communication will be key when it comes to face coverings. It will be about getting across the message of “I will protect you and you will protect me”, through both people will wear face coverings. I take the noble Earl back 20 or 30 years, to the days of drink-driving. People do not drink and drive nowadays; they used to. Why? Because it is unacceptable. The damage that you might do to other people is the key issue. With the consent of passengers, we need to make sure that they do it because it is the right thing to do.
I think that I covered this in my remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. A transport operator in Scotland should look at the Scottish Government’s guidance, and a transport operator in England should look at the guidance from the Department for Transport. That is the nature of devolution. I have not had any complaints about confused passengers or confused transport operators yet. We work closely with the devolved nations to make sure that each is aware of where things are going with regard to transport.
The Minister has mentioned that further guidance on e-scooters will be coming out, but she is aware of how silent they are and of their ability to move at some speed. Will they have some kind of registration or licensing which is clearly visible? They are extremely dangerous. Anyone walking around central London today will know that there are a lot of them out there, even though they are illegal. Will there be some recognisable licence on the basis of which people can be reported to the police when they break the rules?
There are a large number of issues around e-scooters. A call for evidence is out at the moment which does not close until July. We will run the trials, the details of which will be announced soon, at the same time as responses to the call for evidence come in. From the perspective of the Department for Transport, it is important that we engage with all the right people on this. The noble Baroness makes some important points. We have to get it right: we have to make sure that e-scooters are limited to the right speed; we have to make sure that people feel safe in using them but also safe in being around them, and that they do not turn into a menace for pedestrians or wheelchair users using the pavement. There are all sorts of issues to be sorted out, but having the trial is a useful first step. Let us dip a toe in the water and see how we like e-scooters.
ONS data figures on excess deaths released on Monday show an elevated death rate for bus and coach drivers, almost twice that for administration occupations. Is it not time to introduce systematic workplace testing for people in higher-risk groups?
Workplace testing already exists. Anybody within the transport system who needs a test because they have symptoms of coronavirus can get one. Either they can sign up themselves or their employer can do it for them. That means that the individual concerned can find out whether they have coronavirus and, if not, and if they feel well, they can get back to work.
Virtual Proceeding suspended.