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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 9 September 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

It is very appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) has asked this question because today is World EV Day. We are investing £1.3 billion in accelerating the roll-out of charging infrastructure over the next four years. On average, over 500 new chargers are added each month.

When I speak to the people of South Ribble, they are keen to do their bit to cut carbon emissions and also to get the benefits of cheaper travel from electric vehicles, but the thing that is constraining us and the problem we face is a lack of accessible charging points, not only commercially in the centre of town but in order to charge at home, across pavements and so on. Given that today is World EV Day, will my hon. Friend assure me that the Department will do everything it can to put the infrastructure in place to encourage more electric vehicle use?

I heartily commend my hon. Friend’s constituents for the transition to electric mobility. We are already supporting the roll-out of over 25,000 publicly available charging devices, including more than 4,700 rapid devices—one of the largest networks in Europe. I am delighted that South Ribble Borough Council is one of the 137 local authorities that has applied for the on-street charge point scheme, which has awarded funding for 16 chargers. I am happy to work with her to get further infrastructure rolled out.

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it was brilliant to see earlier this week figures showing that ever more electric vehicles than petrol or diesel ones are being sold. She has talked about the on-street charging points. It is vitally important that we get those in place and that these vehicles are accessible not just to those who have driveways and private parking. Will also she talk to her friends in the Treasury about the distortion that vehicle excise duty can create, because electric vehicles tend to be more expensive than their petrol and diesel versions, sometimes pushing them into a higher excise duty bracket?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the popularity of electric cars. In fact, one in seven cars sold so far this year has a plug. He will know that vehicle excise duties are obviously a matter for my friends in the Treasury, but he will be also be aware that we are continually supporting the up-front purchase of electric vehicles via a very generous programme of grants, and that is set to continue.

I warmly welcome the transport decarbonisation plan, particularly the requirement that all new homes and offices have electric vehicle charging points, which is a theme that I expounded in a ten-minute rule Bill. Will my hon. Friend give me an update on the timing of legislation?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the hard work she has done on her ten-minute rule Bill, which addresses a vital issue. We in Government are going to act. We have heard her calls and those of her residents. We will publish our consultation response on requiring all new residential and non-residential buildings to have a charge point, and we intend to lay legislation later this year. We have also confirmed our intention to mandate that home and workplace electric vehicle chargers must be capable of smart charging.

The continued roll-out of electric vehicles and the 25,000 charging point milestone is to be welcomed, but how confident is the Minister that the investment in charging points, particularly in remote and rural areas, will meet the scale of the challenge when committed investment is still a twenty-fifth of the £1 billion earmarked from the far from carbon-neutral HS2?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his constituents in Scotland, like those across the whole country, are benefiting from the UK Government’s funding support: £1.3 billion is being spent on grants, charge point infrastructure, installation, and tax breaks on electric vehicle motoring. That is a significant sum and it is benefiting his constituents in Scotland.

When the Minister talks about electric vehicles, she just talks about cars. In York, we talk about e-scooters, e-bikes and e-Motability vehicles. What is she doing to ensure infrastructure for such vehicles so that people can go further on the cleanest form of transport and have the dual function of charging for active travel too?

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for active travel. It is one of the Government’s key priorities, which is why we have committed £2 billion to roll out cycling and walking infrastructure across the country. Some of those schemes are already being rolled out very safely, and many local authorities up and down the country, including York, are benefiting from them.

Residents of Regatta Point, a block of flats in Brentford, want to install electric charging points in their 60-space basement car park. They are coming up against huge logistical difficulties over transmission and getting the electricity down there for overnight charging, and a huge cost of roughly £1,500 a space. What is the Minister doing on the roll-out of EV charging for overnight charging in apartment blocks to address the financial and logistical hurdles they face?

The hon. Lady has raised an important point. The Government’s intention is to ensure that wherever people live—whether that is their own home, a terraced home without parking, or, as she says, an apartment building—they have access to overnight charging, because that is the most convenient way for people to charge. We will be setting out more details in our infrastructure strategy, which we are publishing soon, but we are looking closely at the challenges of installing charge points in car parks and blocks of flats.

I declare an interest, as I have an electric car. Local charging is obviously important, but on Saturday I will be using my car to go from Sheffield to Plymouth to watch Sheffield Wednesday play and hopefully win. It is quite a challenge to find rapid charging points on the journey to get there and back in reasonable time. One of the concerns is that people get to a rapid charging point and it does not charge rapidly. Apparently there is a problem with the grid in many places not consistently providing the level of charge needed for these rapid chargers. Could the Minister have a look at that problem, because I think it is quite a serious one?

I wish the hon. Gentleman a good journey. I hope his football team is successful. He has raised some vital issues, and I assure him that they are all ones we are addressing in our infrastructure strategy. We are also addressing reliability in our consumer experience consultation. We intend to lay legislation later this year to deal with many of the issues he has raised.

Maritime Industry: Decarbonisation

We have set out our plans in the transport decarbonisation plan, and have committed £20 million through the clean maritime demonstration competition.

The port of Falmouth has a wonderful maritime heritage and huge potential in the industry. It has already done some fantastic environmental work, including the preservation of more than 100 acres of sea grass. Will my hon. Friend commit to working closely with ports such as Falmouth to ensure that we can sustainably decarbonise the maritime industry, while continuing to enable the industry to grow and prosper?

I can absolutely commit to that. It is vital that we work with all elements of the maritime industry to accelerate the transition to net zero and to take advantage of the very real opportunities for green growth. Both the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group are represented on our clean maritime council, and I and my officials regularly engage with the trade associations and individual ports on environmental issues.

I agree with the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) that fantastic projects are under way across the UK, including in her constituency, to get the maritime sector down to net zero. There is, however, a significant funding gap when it comes to making these developments a reality, and the Government, despite their record, have not done anywhere near enough to address the significant investment shortfall compared with other maritime nations that we compete with. Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that our vital maritime sector gets the support it needs? Will he commit to addressing that and providing the necessary funding to support the research and innovation that is required?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of decarbonising the maritime sector, but I cannot agree with him about the Government investment. We have invested £20 million in the clean maritime demonstration competition. That seedcorn funding will help to develop the technology that we will be using. It is the largest technology competition ever run by the Department for Transport. I am very glad that next week we have London International Shipping Week, which is the flagship event of the maritime year. We will be able to see the glories of the UK’s maritime industry next week, and I look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman there.

Goods Supply Chain

3. What discussions he has had with representatives of (a) haulage and (b) other companies involved in the goods supply chain on recent disruptions to the UK’s supply networks. (903262)

I have regular discussions with the road haulage industry. Over the summer, we conducted a public consultation that resulted in over 9,000 responses.

Despite all the Government’s protestations to the contrary, Brexit and the end of freedom of moment are the lead causes of the current driver shortage in the UK. Will the Secretary of State listen to the Road Haulage Association when it says that it does not have a cat’s chance of solving the problem unless it has access to temporary labour in the short term?

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but actually it is a fact that there is a global shortage. In the US, for example, drivers are being hired from South Africa. In Poland, the shortage is 123,000 and, in Germany, 45,000 to 60,000. To say that this is just a Brexit issue is completely untrue; it is about coronavirus. That is why, as I said, we consulted on a series of measures, for which the consultation closed on Monday, to ensure that we can go back to pre-1997 driving licences—a Brexit bonus—to allow for more tests to be taken for HGVs so that tests for both articulated and rigid HGVs can be taken together. There are also one or two other measures that I will return to the House quickly to say more about.

Rugby is an excellent location for logistics, being at the centre of England and at the crossroads of the motorway network. However, despite the challenges that the sector faces, including that of drivers, our haulage and courier businesses make sure that we get the goods that we have ordered—usually online—incredibly quickly. Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the extraordinary efficiency of our logistics sector?

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in that. This sector literally works day and night to provide goods, medicines and vital services around the country, for which we are hugely grateful. It has done that throughout the pandemic in very difficult circumstances. We on the Government side are pleased to see salaries for haulage drivers going up. If they are paid 20% more, or something like that, that would be good for British workers, and I thoroughly support it.

This has been a summer where Ministers have shown an abject failure of duty, whether on the exam fiasco, Afghanistan or the HGV driver shortage. We have seen high-profile examples of businesses impacted by supply-chain disruption and suppliers with stock that they could not get out the door, yet Ministers seem to do nothing. Will the Government finally accept that when it comes to a crisis such as this, it is their job to solve it, not just to sit on the sidelines and hope that it all works out? If they do accept that, what action is the Secretary of State taking to bring forward a road freight recovery plan to tackle head on the long-standing warnings of truck driver shortages that have been compounded by Brexit and covid?

First, we have introduced a temporary relaxation on drivers’ hours. Secondly, we have introduced £7,000 funding for the large goods vehicle driver apprenticeship programme. Thirdly, there is an additional incentive payment of £3,000 and, as I mentioned, we have been working hard to free up space at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Authority—the testing authority—so we are now testing 50% more drivers than we did before the pandemic. Yes, we have been acting, but we are going to go further. I mentioned removing the need for car drivers to take additional tests for a trailer—a move we can make only because we are outside the EU—removing the requirement for staged licence acquisition to obtain a lorry licence and authorising third parties to assess off-road manoeuvring for the lorry practical test.

If that is the best the Government have got, I am afraid that the crisis will not be sorted. They talk about solutions and interventions, but the long-term problems in the haulage industry will not be resolved by those measures outlined, such as making drivers work longer hours. It is only by training more that we can help to fill the long-reported 90,000 vacancies.

This problem has been a long time coming. The Secretary of State will know that well before covid, and a year before Brexit, 24,000 would-be truck drivers passed their theory test, but only 9,000 went on to complete their practical test, and yet even with that knowledge and the industry pleading for intervention, nothing has been done. This is a live crisis that is only getting worse. Without real action, he will be left standing alone as the Transport Secretary who stole Christmas, leaving shelves empty, gifts absent from under the tree and restaurants and bars without the stock they need to trade. Will he immediately take action and set up a taskforce to resolve this crisis once and for all?

Order. I say to Front Benchers that these are meant to be questions—statements come at a different time—and, please, we have to shorten them. Those on each side complain to me afterwards that they have not got in, so let us help the rest of the Members of this Parliament.

Mr Speaker, I will be brief. This is the problem of having a pre-written statement. The hon. Member heard the previous answer—a 50% increase in the number of tests. He is right that it is not enough, but that is why we have closed the consultation, which I have just said we will act on fast, on what will introduce even more testing capacity. The fact of the matter is that we are acting on this. This is a global crisis—in Europe alone there is a shortage of 400,000 drivers—and this is the Government who are doing something about it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for those answers. It is clear that there are huge backlogs at the DVLA and the DVSA, and he is working to get through those, but will he also consider other measures to address this crisis, such as skills provision and signposting for jobseekers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as things such as the provision of skills—I have talked about the £7,000 apprenticeship programme—we are looking at what else we can do working with both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education. He mentions the shortages with the problems at the DVSA and, on the licensing side of this, at the DVLA. He may want to join me in trying to persuade Opposition Members to end the pointless DVLA strike, which is hurting the most vulnerable people in our society who cannot get their licences back, including those who drive HGVs.

The penny has finally dropped. For the first time the Government finally seem to understand the scale of the problem, and they seem rattled. This was the reaction of the industry to expediting the testing process, which we welcome. However, it is nowhere near enough, and it will take at least two years to fill the gap, if they attract enough drivers. Why then, as I asked the Secretary of State when I wrote to him back in June, can he not convince the Home Office to put HGV drivers on the shortage occupation list for a temporary period? This is not just about cancelling Christmas; shelves lie empty right now.

I do agree that this is an urgent measure. That is why, before anybody else was talking about it, we were already acting—carrying out these consultations, putting in place these measures—and we have 50% more people being tested. I hear his call for more immigration to resolve the problem, but we do have to stand on our own two feet as the United Kingdom. There are a lot of people coming off furlough, and I look forward to those people getting jobs.

Transport Services to Isle of Wight

5. What assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of imposing a public service obligation on vehicle and passenger services between the Isle of Wight and UK mainland. (903264)

We recognise the importance of this route. We will always keep route assessments under review, including if there is any evidence of market failure that requires intervention.

The Secretary of State knows that I hold him and his ministerial team in high regard. However, is it right that we have in the Isle of Wight ferry services a public service without any sense of public service obligation, and can the Minister tell me of a single example elsewhere in the United Kingdom where we have a true lifeline public service with no lifeline obligation attached to those services?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is a long-standing advocate of improving the service for his constituents, and he and I have spoken about it on many occasions. He will of course know that service provision to the Island is a matter for the local council, working with service operators. None the less, the Government will continue to monitor the service on this route, and if there is anything he would like to discuss with me at any time he need only ask.

Travel Companies: International Restrictions

7. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support travel companies that are affected by ongoing international travel restrictions as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. (903266)

Where eligible, travel companies have been able to draw on the unprecedented package of measures brought forward by the Chancellor last year, such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, as well as our work to safely restart international travel under the global travel taskforce.

In addition to being hampered by the international travel restrictions, many transport companies, such as long-distance coach companies, are struggling because of the lack of test provision for drivers. The Secretary of State spoke at length about what is happening for HGV drivers, but will the Minister confirm whether those changes will include PCV—passenger-carrying vehicle—drivers with more capacity for testing, and will the Government consider allowing tests to be taken in the delegated in-house facilities of larger companies such as Stagecoach?

I thank the hon. Member for that question, which I know is something that matters a great deal to her constituents. We are looking to address the problem she raises, and I will be able to give her some further detail on that shortly.

Eighty-one thousand people working in air transport are currently on furlough, including approximately 2,200 in my constituency, which covers Manchester airport. Even in non-airport seats such as that of the Secretary of State, just short of 300 souls face the axe in less than a month’s time. Furlough is due to end three weeks today, and if the Government continue to restrict the market in some sort of latter-day corn law way, they have to make a choice: either open up the market, or put in a sectoral deal. Which is it going to be?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of the air transport industry and the travel industry more generally, not just to his constituents but to all our constituents. That is certainly the case for my constituents, and I am acutely aware of it. The best way to support them all is to do what we in the Department for Transport are hard at work doing, which is to safely reopen international travel. Since we last spoke, on 2 August we expanded quarantine-free travel to passengers from the European Union and the United States. We are working to expand that further, and will continue to do so.

Earlier I mentioned the penny dropping with regard to HGV drivers, but the aviation and travel industries can only dream of the Government understanding the magnitude of the crisis they face. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of jobs have gone in the sector, including 3,000 in my constituency, and that is with a job retention scheme in place. If the scheme ends this month there will be further damage to the sector. Did the Minister make representation to the Treasury to extend the scheme for aviation and travel, and if not, why not?

As I said to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), the importance of this industry is well understood by me and the entirety of Government. We are working hard to ensure that we get international travel up and running again safely and securely, because that is the best way to protect all our constituents. We will continue to do that.

High-speed Rail: Hull to Liverpool

8. By what date he plans to implement fully electrified high speed rail on all routes (a) into Hull and (b) between Liverpool and Hull. (903267)

November will mark five years since Conservative Ministers blocked a £94 million privately financed scheme to electrify 70 miles of rail track between Selby and Hull. There are still no guarantees of a date for Hull rail electrification, and there are reports that the section of High-Speed 2 that would most directly affect and benefit east Yorkshire is being scaled back or even totally shelved. Last week Ministers announced £78 million for electrifying 13 miles of line between Wigan and Bolton, with the reason given being the economic case for that upgrade. The economic case for an upgrade in Hull is even stronger, with our energy estuary and freeport status. What exactly do Conservative Ministers have against Hull and the east Yorkshire area?

We have delivered almost 700 single-track miles of electrification over the past three years, and we continue to expand the electrified rail network. That compares with just 63 miles in 13 years of the last Labour Government. Therefore we will take no lessons from the Labour party on electrification.

If Hull, Immingham and the Humber ports are to benefit from their freeport status, it is vital that we have a rail freight corridor between the Humber ports and the west coast. What progress is being made in that respect?

We recognise the importance of rail freight, and of supporting all the newly announced freeports. I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), will be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

HS2 and East West Rail: Construction Traffic

9. What assessment he has made of the impact on roads along the routes of (a) HS2 and (b) East West Rail of traffic connected to the construction of those railway lines. (903268)

Assessments of the impact of HS2 construction traffic on roads were included within the environmental assessments submitted during the passage of the High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Act 2017 and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Act 2021. For East West Rail the impact of construction on roads is monitored in compliance with the Transport and Works Act orders.

I thank my hon. Friend, and the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), for visiting my constituency during the summer recess to see for themselves the many issues that the construction of HS2 and East West Rail are causing for my constituents, one of which is the perilous state of the roads following a number of HGV movements. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that there will be urgent and rapid action to make safe those roads affected by the construction of those two projects?

Both the HS2 and East West Rail projects undertook full surveys of road conditions for the designated lorry routes prior to the construction works commencing. HS2 Ltd and East West Rail Company must ensure that all road damage as a result of construction works is repaired to the standard reported in those surveys. My hon. Friend continues to be a vocal champion for his constituents, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on this and other issues.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister told this House that the Government were

“going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2.”—[Official Report, 10 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 325.]

Last year, he told the House that plans for HS2’s eastern leg remained “absolutely unchanged”. So when reports surfaced over the summer that Ministers planned to mothball the eastern leg, I was absolutely shocked. A U-turn, Mr Speaker? Another broken promise from this Government? Surely not.

Being the helpful person that I am, I want to help the Government put this scandalous rumour to bed once and for all. Can the Minister, rather than giving the evasive answer that he gave me last year about waiting for some sort of integrated rail plan, confirm that the eastern leg of HS2 will be built in full, on time and on budget?

I think the shadow Minister knows my answer. As the Prime Minister announced, we are working on the integrated rail plan, which is progressing well. It is only right that Ministers take time to fully consider all the evidence from all the stakeholders, regional leaders, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Government’s own analysis before making a decision. This is a cross-Government decision, but we intend to publish the integrated rail plan soon.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the HS2 phase 2b eastern leg is that local authorities seem constantly to be adding to the cost? Leeds City Council told HS2 that it could not shut any bridges or roads in the construction, meaning that the line has to be on a viaduct, which has increased the cost massively.

We are very keen to ensure that the benefits of HS2 are delivered as affordably as possible, recognising the importance of valuing every single penny of taxpayers’ money. Leeds and the regional stakeholders have brought forward ambitious plans for regeneration around a new Leeds station. That is one of the many aspects that is being considered across Government by Ministers not just in this Department but in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury ahead of making decisions on the integrated rail plan.

Local residents neighbouring the brand-new Old Oak Common station, which has so far cost £6.98 billion and rising, showed me last week how their east-west journeys by bus, buggy—you name it—have become impossible because they are living in a barbed wire-festooned dust bowl of a building site. Can we have an urgent visit from the HS2 Minister? It should not just be Conservative Members who get visits. I have been waiting for a long time; the last time I was promised one was when the Secretary of State’s name rhymed with “failing”.

I would be delighted to visit Old Oak Common again. It is the largest ever railway station built in a single stage. It is a 32-acre site, and it will offer the hon. Lady’s constituents unrivalled connectivity when it is open. I have visited in the past, and I will be keen to visit again and meet the hon. Lady.

Kettering Railway Station: Capital Investment

10. What total capital investment (a) Network Rail and (b) East Midlands Railway have provided for improvements and expansion of facilities at Kettering railway station in the last three years. (903269)

Over the last three years, £24 million of capital investment has been provided from Network Rail at Kettering station, with £1.13 million provided by East Midlands Railway.

I thank the rail Minister for visiting Kettering station in May to see all the improvements that have been made. How many permanent jobs have been created by that investment, and when does he expect the historic canopy renovation works to be completed?

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for that question and for allowing me to visit this wonderful station in his constituency. Network Rail’s canopy works—the canopy is truly beautiful, Mr Speaker—are planned for completion by the end of November this year. Network Rail’s works at Kettering, including the mainline route enhancements, have created 16 jobs, while East Midlands Railway has created 70 jobs there.

South Western Railway Services

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact on commuters of proposals to reduce permanently South Western Railway services from December 2022. (903270)

There is a consultation, which the hon. Lady well knows about, at this point in time. I am told that South Western Railway intends to provide 93% of its pre-covid capacity should that consultation be agreed to. I continue to monitor the situation.

It is clear that SWR’s proposals to slash services by about half from busy stations in my constituency, such as St Margarets and Whitton, is being driven by the demands in its contract with the Department for Transport. So will the Minister intervene and review his contract with SWR to avoid these drastic cuts to services on which local residents rely and for which they pay a very high price? It is far too soon to be making decisions about post-pandemic services.

I am watching the situation and looking forward to hearing back from SWR about the consultation. I have been talking about this very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has a similar campaign to that of the hon. Lady on behalf of his constituents. SWR has sent the consultation out to more than 3,500 stakeholders—MPs and other elected representatives, passengers and so on. Everybody knows that the number of passengers is still very much below the pre-pandemic level. We are relying on the results of that consultation to try to determine what future services need to look like.

Rail Services: Toton

12. If he will take steps to ensure that services at Toton are included in proposals set out in the Government’s integrated rail plan. (903271)

It will not surprise Members to learn that the Department will soon publish an integrated rail plan, which will confirm how we intend to take forward the HS2 eastern leg.

I thank the Minister for that enlightening answer. He knows that as well as for HS2 itself, the IRP has huge implications for our regional economic growth, job creation and connectivity within the region. Ahead of any decision in the IRP, will he and the Secretary of State meet me, as the chair of the regional delivery board, to make sure that that decision ticks the boxes that we need in the east midlands?

I have been impressed by the scale of regeneration plans for the proposed station at Toton and the way in which local leaders have come together to maximise the benefits of HS2 for their communities. It is important that we consider regeneration and economic impacts upon local areas, as well as how to create the right kind of transport network—the IRP will seek to balance this. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend again to discuss this issue.

HGV Drivers: Road Safety

13. What assessment he has made of the impact on road safety of the recent temporary increase to the maximum daily working hours of HGV drivers. (903272)

The Department’s published guidance makes it clear that driver safety and that of other road users must not be compromised, and that the relaxation must only be used where necessary.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Longer hours behind the wheel is not a solution to the shortage of HGV drivers; it is unsustainable, exploitative and dangerous. So does he agree with Unite the union, which represents many lorry drivers and supply chain workers, that such a crucial piece of our national infrastructure needs its own national council to set decent standards across the industry and, most importantly, to restore collective bargaining to improve and protect pay and conditions?

It is worth understanding, as there is often misunderstanding about this, that drivers are still bound by the working time directive and still have to work an average of a 48-hour working week over a 17 to 26-week period, and that the relaxations do not increase the working time; they are in place to allow extra flexibility. However, I do agree with the hon. Lady about the need on drivers’ conditions—they have been poor over the years, which is one reason why 99% of HGV drivers are men. We need to improve those facilities, to bring many more people into the sector, and I am very keen, as I mentioned before, to see better pay and conditions as well.

Decarbonisation Commitments

14. What recent steps his Department has taken to facilitate transport decarbonisation to help meet commitments to the (a) Paris agreement and (b) forthcoming COP26 summit. (903274)

We recently published the transport decarbonisation plan and set out our pathway to achieving net zero, and we are delivering an ambitious, international COP26 campaign.

The Scottish Government have just announced that they will meet the target long campaigned for by active travel groups of 10% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. That is exactly the kind of ambition that needs to be highlighted at the COP. So, first, I hope the Secretary of State will invite the Scottish Transport Minister along to explain that ambition. Secondly, will the Secretary of State outline what steps the Government are taking to meet that ambition south of the border?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman missed it earlier in the summer, but we announced an active travel programme—this was all part of our £2 billion of funding, with, I believe, an additional £330 million of that being spent this year alone. Of course COP26 will provide a fantastic opportunity for the United Kingdom to showcase all the work we are doing collectively in order to improve our climate.

With an eye on COP26, I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the reopening of dormant railway stations as part of the Government’s drive to net zero. In doing so, what assessment has he made of local authorities that have both declared a climate emergency and contributed to the preparation of business cases for these exciting possibilities for communities such as Eddisbury, which are still ill served by rail?

I thank my hon. Friend. I do think that local authorities that declare a climate emergency should be prepared to pay more than lip service to the issue. I was having a look and I understand, unfortunately, that the Labour-led Cheshire West and Chester Council is still refusing to contribute a mere £5,000 to his valiant efforts to reopen Beeston Castle and Tarporley station, the only potential station between Crewe and Chester.

In the past month, my constituents in Bath have been subjected to the pollution of helicopter joyrides flying low over Bath. Clearly, this type of leisure pursuit is hugely damaging to the environment and does nothing to get us to net zero. Currently, neither the Civil Aviation Authority nor Bath and North East Somerset Council has the power to intervene. Will the Minister meet me to find a way forward for my constituents?

I congratulate the hon. Lady for shoehorning that into this particular question. I am more than happy to arrange for her to meet my aviation Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—to discuss it.

Air Travel: Covid-19 Test Costs

The Government recognise that the cost of testing can be high and continue to work with industry to reduce costs further. The costs of NHS Test and Trace tests for international arrivals were reduced recently, and the Competition and Markets Authority is conducting an urgent review into the testing market.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said and for what he is doing, but he knows that this problem affects not just those who want to go on holiday, but those who want to see family and may not have seen them now for years. To help those families—particularly larger families—with these costs and to resuscitate the aviation industry, as I know he is keen to do, will he please do more to make sure that the costs of those tests come down to be as low as they reasonably can be?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that question and particularly for his emphasis on the wide breadth of reasons why people have to travel. Bringing families back together, as well as business and leisure travel, is a major part of that and I thank him for drawing the House’s attention to it. He can be absolutely assured that the DFT will continue to work with travel and testing providers to reduce costs further, for travel that is cheap and easy, as well as safe, is our aim.

Road Conditions: England

In addition to investing £1.7 billion in local roads this financial year, I am pleased to say that the Department has now published its position paper on road condition monitoring on and is working with the highways sector towards a common data standard to help local authorities to target defects in their networks more effectively.

I thank the Minister for the additional £3.2 million that her Department has provided to Blackpool Council for routine maintenance work in the current financial year. Despite this additional funding, many of my constituents are concerned that Blackpool Council has the wrong local transport priorities and is far too slow in completing routine maintenance work. What priorities does her Department have in place to ensure that money given to local authorities is spent in a timely and efficient manner?

I agree with my hon. Friend and his residents that it is incredibly disappointing that Labour-run Blackpool Council is failing in its responsibilities to ensure that there are decent and reliable roads for residents, which is clearly a priority. We know from freedom of information requests that Conservative councils fix potholes faster than their Labour equivalents. I hope that Blackpool will work harder on this issue.

Motorists: Journey times

The Government are investing in major enhancements across the strategic and local road networks to increase capacity and reduce delays.

The car remains a great agent of enterprise and personal freedom and we should never apologise for advancing its cause, so in that spirit, what support will the Department provide to advance construction of the much needed north-west and northern parts of the Northampton ring road?

I commend my hon. Friend for his sterling efforts over a long period to support investment in a key part of the local road network in his area, which, as he says, is vital for jobs and the local economy. I understand that West Northamptonshire Council is exploring options to secure funding, and discussions will take place in the spending review.

Public Transport Use

The Department is working closely with operators to support measures to increase passenger confidence and encourage a return to the network. On the two trains that I took this morning, I could see that it is working.

Buses are a clear manifestation of community across the country. Even for small-state Conservatives like me, there is a role for subsidy. Will the Secretary of State commit to a cautious approach to subsidy that balances the opportunity for communities to make services viable with encouraging them over the long term to become self-sufficient?

I agree that buses are essential to communities: they connect people, enable people to get to jobs and education, and drive growth. That is why we are investing £3 billion of new money during this Parliament outside London for English buses, with consequentials, and why over the pandemic we provided £1.4 billion to support the sector.

Great British Railways: Headquarters

20. If he will outline the process for selecting the location of the headquarters of Great British Railways. (903283)

The formation of Great British Railways is still in its early stages. The location of its headquarters will be considered in due course.

The Minister will be aware of the central role that Derby has played in the history of British rail transport. Derby has also invested in the future of the industry, with local businesses helping to develop the UK’s first hydrogen trains. Does he agree that that combination of pedigree and potential would make Derby an excellent location for the new headquarters of Great British Railways?

My hon. Friend knows my affection for Derby, which I represented for 10 years in the European Parliament. She is right that Derby has played an important role in the history of rail in this country. I have heard her sales pitch this time and previous times loud and clear, but I have to say that the location of GBR’s headquarters will be considered in due course.

Topical Questions

Today is World EV Day, celebrating electric vehicle ownership worldwide and right here in the UK—one of the best places to drive an electric vehicle. Our extensive network of 25,000 publicly available charge points means that we have more rapid chargers for every 100 miles of key strategic road than any other country in Europe. We have made real progress, with more than half a million electric vehicles on our road. I am pleased to say that just last month, through grants and tax incentives, one in six cars sold in this country had a plug on the end of it.

I have been working closely with local councillor Sheila Lennox-Boyd to get improvements to the A38, including the roundabout at Carkeel, which is a National Highways responsibility, and the bridge, which is run by local councils. Will the Secretary of State meet us to discuss this key route into Cornwall?

I commend my hon. Friend for her very determined efforts in campaigning for road improvements, not just there but elsewhere in her constituency. I know that the roads Minister will be very happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Back in July, speaking about the Prime Minister’s pledge to buy 4,000 UK zero-emissions buses by 2025, the Secretary of State said that

“there are 900 buses in production right now”—[Official Report, 14 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 408.]

Allegedly, this is the Government’s flagship policy, yet the roll-out of these buses seems to be little more than rhetoric, given that every British manufacturer of buses I have spoken to says that they have no knowledge whatever of any orders. Will the Secretary of State now tell the House exactly where those buses are being made right now, as opposed to being potential on a DFT internal spreadsheet or more greenwashed PR spin from this Government?

I will tell you what I will do, Mr Speaker: not only will I write to the hon. Gentleman, but I will publish a copy of the letter in the House, for the House’s greater benefit. He will be interested to see that those buses are not just ordered or in production; some are actually on the road.

T2. The restoration of the through rail service from Lowestoft to Liverpool Street is vital to levelling up and improving accessibility to the Waveney area. While it is a requirement of Greater Anglia’s current franchise, it has not yet been delivered. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that it is a priority for Great British Railways. (903296)

The current timetable structure and track capacity on the Great Eastern line south of Ipswich have not allowed any new direct services to be implemented to Liverpool Street at this time. I am aware of the problem; my officials have asked Greater Anglia to continue to see whether there might be opportunities to introduce direct services between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft, as I very much recognise the importance of the direct service.

T3. Coventry City Council is leading the development of a groundbreaking very light rail system that will offer small and medium-sized cities like Coventry an affordable tram system. Will the Minister pledge support for the securing of funds for the prototype route in Coventry and ongoing development of the concept to enable full autonomous operation, and will he commit himself to a review of the legislation governing the installation and operation of very light rail to enable a rapid roll-out of systems across the country? (903297)

As the hon. Lady knows, I am very fond of her city, which is very near my own. I do not know much about this particular project, so I am very willing to meet her to go through it and see how we can take things forward.

My hon. Friend will know that there is a bid in at the moment for the shovel-ready scheme to convert the freight-only railway line from Lichfield to Burton into a regular passenger service. It is backed, in a personal capacity, by his fellow Minister, the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths), and—most important of all!—by the West Midlands Mayor, because of the connectivity. It will be driven, incidentally, by a hydrogen-powered locomotive if it is given the go-ahead. Will my hon. Friend come up to Lichfield to see for himself how vital this rail service will be?

In his normal shy and retiring way, my hon. Friend has given me an invitation that I simply cannot refuse. As he knows, we have received a bid for the restoration of passenger services between Lichfield and other places in round 3 of the restoring your railway ideas fund, and I look forward very much to my forthcoming visit.

T4. The Williams review proposed the consolidation of funding streams for accessibility improvements at railway stations under Great British Railways, an issue that has been raised with me by local groups including East Renfrewshire Disability Action and Clarkston Community Council, but to date there has been no detail on this or on how the current arrangements, whereby Transport Scotland bids for improvement cash from the Department for Transport, will be improved under GBR. Will the Minister commit himself to providing details of this funding, and help to make our stations accessible to everyone? (903298)

I thank the hon. Lady for her very good question. As I mentioned earlier, Great British Railways is in its formative stages, but I will happily work with her and the accessibility groups that she mentioned so that we can help to guide people through any new systems that come forward.

T8. My hon. Friend the estimable rail Minister—the antidote to Dr Beeching—is doing sterling work with the restoring your railway schemes. Perhaps he can provide an update on the bid to reconnect Rose Hill Marple, Romiley and Bredbury with Stockport. This is a cross-party effort with diverse support from me, from the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), and, indeed, from the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). (903303)

Antidotes and doctors! Following his question to one of my colleagues yesterday, I was not sure that my hon. Friend was all that keen on vaccines—or vaccine passports, at least.

I am obviously well aware of my hon. Friend’s bid for the Ashton-to-Stockport line, including the Rose Hill connection, which is in round 3 of the restoring your railway ideas fund. He has kindly given me a great deal of information about the bid, and I have met him and the other proponents of it. I promise him that we are assessing the bids, and expect to announce outcomes very shortly.

T5. I want to bring the Secretary of State to the Rhondda, if I may, and shove him down a tunnel. It is a tunnel that belongs to him, in fact: it is the tunnel between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi. It is a disused railway tunnel, and there is a great project to try to get it opened up again. It would be a massive tourism opportunity—it would bring lots of people to a very poor but very beautiful part of south Wales—and it would also be a real opportunity to enable more people to get to work on the other side of the mountain. Can I please have a meeting with the Secretary of State fairly soon to explain the whole project, and can I then persuade him to come and be dangled down into the hole in the Rhondda? (903299)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), says he has received an offer he cannot refuse. Also, I would be very happy to come and visit when the diary allows.

T6. I am still not happy with the answers given to my colleagues about the lack of HGV drivers. The problems facing Carntyne Transport in my constituency are absolutely due to Brexit and the shortage of EU nationals to work for the company. Telling it that we will have sorted all this out in x months or a couple of years’ time just won’t wash. Given that the Government were repeatedly warned what would happen if they pressed ahead with Brexit, and given that that has all come to pass, what guarantee can the Minister give that his Department will at least listen and put solutions in place before pressing ahead with damaging legislation? (903300)

I am all in favour of having a science-led emphasis on everything to do with policy, and the fact that they are 123,842 lorry drivers short in Poland suggests to me that this is not a Brexit-only issue. I have explained the measures that are not only going to happen next year or the year after but are happening now with 50% more tests, and this will happen very quickly with the consultation result that I have already discussed.

T9. There has been a major increase in reports of speeding hotspots in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale, leading to an escalation in reported accidents and near misses. However, the ability to address this issue with road safety measures such as speed cameras is hampered by the Department for Transport’s 2007 circular. Does the Minister agree that prevention is better than cure, and that a review of the current guidelines is urgently needed? (903304)

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I share his concern, and I know that he is a passionate advocate for safer roads in Dewsbury. I can tell him that the Department is currently working to redraft that circular, with a new version to be published by the end of the year.

Two of my constituents, a Danish national and a British citizen with Danish residence, were denied boarding a BA flight by the airline’s staff because they did not accept my constituent’s proof of Danish residence even though it was consistent with Danish travel advice. Despite a letter that I received from a Foreign Office Minister confirming that my constituents were right, BA has refused to issue a refund and is standing by its misinterpretation of the advice. Does the Minister agree that airlines need clearer guidance on international travel documentation post-Brexit, and will he raise the issue with the airlines, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary to ensure that this does not happen again?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this matter. It is difficult for me to comment on an individual case, but perhaps we could meet and if he could give me further details I would be very happy to take this up.

This week the Transport Committee has launched yet another inquiry on international travel, and we will shortly be hearing from the chief executives of leading airlines and airports as to why they are doing less than 20% of the business they were doing in usual times while mainland Europe is now up to about 70%. They will be concerned that furlough is coming to an end, and they will want to know whether the barriers to travel will be reduced to make up the shortfall. I know the Secretary of State has done a lot already, but can he offer some optimism and encouragement on how the rules will change to allow the business to do more transactions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who does a terrific job chairing the Transport Committee. We do want to see the recovery, and I can inform him that I will shortly chair the second meeting of the G7 Transport Secretaries to discuss exactly his point. We will discuss how we can roll this out internationally using the principle of fully vaccinated travel and how we can try to reduce the costs and the imposition of the tests along the way. However, those decisions have yet to be made, both domestically and internationally, so I do not want to overly raise my hon. Friend’s hopes but I can reassure him that we are focusing on this.

The SMMT estimates that, in order to have the correct charge point coverage by 2030, 700 new charge points will need to be installed every single day. Can the Minister advise me on how many are currently being installed, and whether we are ever going to reach the target of 700 a day?

In our infrastructure strategy that is to be published shortly, we will set out clearly how we are going to meet the charge point targets that are required. I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that we are installing 500 charge points every month across the country, and that by 2023 we will have six rapid chargers in every motorway service station across the country.

Our very popular rail Minister is aware of the excellent work being done by the North Cotswold Line Task Force. Could he update colleagues and councils along the North Cotswold line on his conversations with the Treasury about doing more business casework on redoubling a stretch of the North Cotswold line?

I had a recent meeting with the taskforce, and I am due to have meetings with Treasury colleagues at which I have said I will raise this issue. I believe I am waiting for a tiny piece of work from the taskforce, so I look forward to receiving that and trying to move the project forward with my hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State agree that as London returns to work and commuters begin to get back on the trains and into their cars, it is important that we encourage people, as much as possible, back on to public transport? In my constituency we expect the construction of some 1,500 flats over the next few years. Does he agree this is no time to be cutting South Western Railway services to North Sheen, Mortlake and Barnes?

As I said to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), South Western Railway is undertaking a consultation that will shape the future of services. It is important that that consultation is viewed as one that we will listen to, and we will listen to it. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) will have seen that recently, following consultation, we decided not to proceed with the east coast main line proposals because of stakeholder reaction, among other things, so it is vital that the consultation is replied to in great detail, and I hope she will do that.