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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 24 November 2022

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

A52 Footbridge

1. If he will meet representatives of the George Spencer Academy and National Highways to discuss the safety of the footbridge crossing the A52. (902376)

National Highways has been in contact with representatives of Spencer Academies Trust, the multi-academy trust responsible for George Spencer Academy, and has met in recent days with representatives on site to discuss their concerns about the A52 footbridge.

On Monday, I met National Highways at George Spencer Academy in my constituency of Broxtowe. As the Minister knows, the academy is separated by the A52 and is therefore connected by a footbridge. The footbridge has tragically been the site of several suicide attempts over the years, and it is essential that we look at new safety measures for the bridge. Although that was discussed with National Highways on site, my view is that the various solutions proposed were inadequate. A cage could be a safer solution. Will the Minister meet me to discuss a way to ensure we can have a future where tragedies do not occur?

National Highways’ suicide prevention strategy sets out a vision that no one should attempt to take their own life on our roads, and everyone who does is a tragedy. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to see whether there are further things we could do to prevent such events occurring in the future.

Although Elliot Colburn is not here, will the Minister answer question 2 to allow us to bring in the shadow Minister?

Ultra Low Emission Zones

Transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London and Transport for London, which includes decisions about the London ultra low emission zone. It is the Mayor of London and TfL’s responsibility to consult and ensure that residents and businesses are fully engaged with the ULEZ and that their feedback is properly considered and responded to.

One way to build local support for promoting electric vehicles is by incentivising the switch to electric vehicles, but at the pace the Government are going, the UK is set to miss the target for 300,000 charge points not by one year or two years but by 17 years. This risks stalling the switch, and this week we learned that, far from charging ahead, this Government are slipping back, with rapid charging fund trials delayed.

The Government are committed to decarbonising transport across the piece, whether it is in rail, road or my own section of buses. We have already seen hundreds of zero-emission buses delivered in London and thousands across the country.

HS2: Compensation

Compensation is available to property owners affected by HS2, in accordance with the compensation code. We aim to be fair, while protecting the public purse.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new responsibilities and offer him my sympathy that one of them is HS2. He will know that for those who find themselves in the path of this project, obtaining compensation is a painful and long drawn-out experience. That is particularly true for those subject to compulsory purchase, where payments are delayed. Where they are delayed, there are very low rates of interest, and valuations are heavily contested. That is not meeting the promise that he referred to, that the Government would be fair and that people would not be worse off as a result of this project. May I ask him to look urgently at this problem? In particular, will he look at those low rates of interest that are paid on delayed payments? The Government legislated to increase those rates but never brought the measure into effect.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his warm welcome of my entire portfolio; I am very proud to be covering HS2 and rail. Some £3.2 billion has already been paid out in land acquisitions, and more is to be paid out. The Government did recognise that there were problems with acquisitions, and a report was commissioned by a predecessor of mine. We will ensure that we can learn lessons. With regard to the payment of interest, HS2 Ltd pays interest at 0.5% below the Bank of England base rate, and there was a period of two years between 2020 and 2022 when no interest was paid because the base rate was below 0.5%, but I am willing to meet my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss these matters further.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his position. I remind him that Mark Thurston told the Transport Committee that the anticipated spend for the current year was within the envelope of £5.7 billion. My question relates to how that £5.7 billion is being used in terms of procurement. What can the Minister and the Department do to encourage or specify the use of British steel for rails and structures within the terms of the contract?

I thank the hon. Member, or should I say my hon. Friend, as he is indeed that. I recognise all the work that he has done and continues to do on the Transport Committee. I thought he might ask that question. Some £122 million of British steel has been purchased by HS2. I am keen that we talk to HS2 more about how it can further invest in British steel. I will supply him with figures on how much steel has been produced from outside the UK, because that is how we will end up holding to account. Some 60% of the HS2 procurement contracts will go to small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as large entities such as British Steel.

Dartford Crossing Closures

4. What recent discussions he has had with National Highways on closures of the Dartford crossing due to protests. (902380)

The protesters’ actions at Dartford in October put drivers, police and highways agency staff in danger and caused misery to thousands of ordinary people. National Highways works closely with the police to respond robustly to these incidents and to prosecute those responsible. In my first few days in this job, I instructed National Highways to seek a further injunction to cover the M25, to deal with those protesters, and I am pleased that the Court has granted it, to defend ordinary people going about their daily business.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer, and I welcome him to his position. He will know that the lack of crossings east of the Thames makes the Dartford crossing particularly vulnerable to not just protesters but all other kinds of incident. Does he agree that this makes it all the more imperative that we have the lower Thames crossing built as soon as possible, to provide some resilience to the existing system?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the lower Thames crossing. He will know that National Highways has submitted a new application for a development consent order for that crossing to the Planning Inspectorate. A decision on whether to accept the application for examination is due next Monday. As it is a live planning application, I hope he will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the substance of it at this time.

Highways Maintenance in England: Local Spending

5. If the Government will take steps to prevent local authorities in England from spending money allocated for local highways maintenance on other purposes. (902382)

The Department for Transport allocates capital funding to local highways authorities so that they can most effectively spend it on maintaining and improving their respective local networks, based on local knowledge, circumstances and priorities. It is up to the highways authorities how they spend that funding to fulfil their duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980.

Is that not a rather complacent response? A lot of the £500 million allocated last year to local authorities in England for highway maintenance was not spent on highway maintenance, so it was effectively a fraud on taxpayers. Will my hon. Friend please ensure that next year, the allocations of money to highway authorities are made contingent upon them showing that last year’s allocation was spent on highways?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Local highways maintenance is a critical service provided by local authorities. In recognition of that, a central highways maintenance fund has an incentive element built in to drive best practice. However, it would be counterproductive for central Government to go beyond that and override local leaders, who have the best understanding of the needs of their local areas. This approach is in line with the wider Government funding framework led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Does the Minister not agree that flexibility in budgets is important? At the moment, many of us in the road safety campaigning area are very worried about the lack of representation in this House on road safety and transport safety issues. Could local authorities with some of this extra cash not be encouraged to take road safety more seriously?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Flexibility is important for local need, which is why local authorities are the decision makers in this area. If local people do not like what local authorities are doing, they can make a change to local priorities at the ballot box.

Local Transport: Levelling Up

6. What recent steps his Department has taken to help level up communities through the transport network. (902383)

Local transport services are crucial to the growth and levelling-up agendas, which is why the Government are investing in our local transport services by providing more than £2 billion to support bus and light rail services throughout England, as well as investing unprecedented sums to enable cycling and walking. We continue to work with local transport authorities and public transport providers to ensure that these vital services reflect the needs of those who rely on them every day.

Can my right hon. Friend update me on the progress towards reopening Golborne and Kenyon Junction stations to reconnect the great constituency of Leigh with the national rail network?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents. My officials continue to work closely with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority on the proposal to open a new rail station at Golborne as part of the £1 billion city region sustainable transport settlement announced earlier this year. Local partners are currently producing an outline business case to support the proposal, which we expect to receive and consider in due course. Bids to open Kenyon Junction station were submitted in the second and third rounds of the ideas fund, but were sadly unsuccessful.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. Unfortunately, I have had countless pieces of correspondence from my constituents about buses in my local area of South West Hertfordshire. Services are typically infrequent and consistently late. Can he update the House as to what he is doing to ensure that those services are more reliable so that we can continue to encourage people to use public transport?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue and I am sorry to hear about the difficulties that his constituents are facing in accessing bus services. I know from my constituency how vital bus services are for individuals to get to work and to access education and healthcare. We are engaging with bus operators and local authorities to help to resolve the challenges that they face. The national bus strategy sets out our vision for bus services across England to deliver better bus services. To that end, we are investing more than £1 billion to support local authorities to deliver their bus service improvement plans, including £30 million for Hertfordshire County Council, which will support improvements to bus services in his constituency.

Bus routes across Burnley and Padiham are vital to local connectivity and give residents a link to jobs, leisure and essential public services. Too often, however, they are late or cancelled, which has a particular impact on those in rural parts of Burnley, such as Worsthorne and Cliviger. Does the Secretary of State agree that buses are not nice-to-haves but an essential service for local residents? Will he ensure that they are given the priority that they need to continue to improve that service?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of local bus services. We know that the bus sector continues to face a number of challenges, including driver shortages, which are resulting in some services being reduced or cancelled. We are working with the industry to resolve that. As I said in my previous answer, we are investing substantially to improve bus services; he will be pleased to know that £30 million of the funding that we have supplied has been allocated to support improvements to bus services in Lancashire, including in his Burnley constituency.

The taxi and private hire sector provides vital services in many parts of the country, but it now faces the prospect of VAT on fares, which could have a damaging effect. I raised the issue at the last Transport questions and sought a meeting with a Minister, but the industry was offered a 10-minute surgery appointment. Can the Secretary of State ask his diary secretary to look at that again? This is an important issue that deserves proper investigation.

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of taxi services for constituents. I will speak to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), to secure the hon. Gentleman a longer meeting so that he can discuss it in more detail.

The Secretary of State talked about £2 billion of investment in buses, and we know that 4,000 new buses have been promised, but will those new buses all have mandatory provision of audiovisual information? I have long supported the Guide Dogs’ “Talking Buses” campaign to help the blind to navigate their way on public transport. The Government have still not introduced secondary regulations for mandatory provision of audiovisual information on new buses. When will that happen and would he be willing to meet?

I am very familiar with the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, having served for a period in this House as the Minister for disabled people. I do not have the specific information to hand, so I will write to him and then, if appropriate, a meeting can be secured with the relevant Minister.

The last Prime Minister but two—I think I have got the number right—promised we would have London-style bus services in constituencies such as mine. He said people would be able to go to the bus stop and they would not need a timetable as the buses would be that frequent. We do not need a timetable on many routes in Sheffield now because the buses have been scrapped altogether and routes cut, so instead of a bus improvement plan, we now have a disintegration of bus services. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the covid grant, which has been extended to early next year, will be extended for the whole of the next financial year, because that is the only thing now keeping some bus services running in my constituency? Will he also arrange the meeting I asked for during the last Transport questions with Ministers for myself, local MPs and the Mayor?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned the covid pandemic, because that has caused a number of issues for a range of transport providers. We are still seeing that bus users have not returned to using buses since the covid pandemic, and that puts those bus services under tremendous financial pressure, which is exactly why we put the support in place to deal with the pandemic. We have extended it through to the end of March, as he knows, and we will keep that under review, depending on what the situation requires. I know how important buses are, but the impact of the pandemic on buses and rail services is a challenge, and the important thing is to encourage people back to using buses to grow revenue and make sure the sector is financially sustainable.

There is no point in making promises to level up communities through transport if Ministers announce yet another punishing rail fare rise next month. A 3.8% rise, like this year, would mean £129 more for an annual season ticket between Chester and Manchester, and 8% would mean Swindon to Bristol commuters paying £312 extra. The retail price index figure—the usual figure used for rail fare rises—of 12.3% would burden Dover to London passengers by an additional £909 every year. Given that the rail recovery is fragile and given the Conservative cost of living crisis, does the Secretary of State agree with me that now would be the worst possible time for yet another brutal rail fare rise?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman raises that question because he flags up a very important issue. There are only two places that revenue can come from in the rail sector—the passenger, through the fare box, or the taxpayer. I am very well aware of the challenges facing people with the cost of living and inflation, but we also have to make sure that the cost does not fall on taxpayers, many of whom never use rail services. One of the things we will do as we are making this decision is to weigh up exactly those two things—the pressure on the passenger through the fare box but also the burden that falls on the taxpayer. We will balance those, and when we have made a decision, we will announce it in the usual way.

I welcome the Secretary of State and, indeed, his whole team to their places, particularly the new Rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) —who has gone from a colleague and a friend to an adversary in just a few weeks.

Last week’s Budget slashed funding for the Department for Transport by 30% in cash terms over the next three years. At a time when investment in net zero transport and boosting regional connectivity is more important than ever, to abandon a key part of national investment is reckless and irresponsible, and it will cause further damage to the economy. What representations will he make to his Cabinet colleagues in the Treasury about reversing these cuts and putting transport funding on a proper footing?

I simply do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I thank him for welcoming me to my position, but I was actually very pleased with the settlement in the autumn statement. The Chancellor confirmed that our capital spending remains as it was in the spending review. Yes, I do have to manage inflation pressures, but the Chancellor did not do what Chancellors sometimes in the past have been tempted to do, which is to cut capital funding in the short term. We have sustained that capital funding, and we are going to be spending £600 billion over the next five years on infrastructure spending to make sure we have long-term economic growth. I am very pleased that the Chancellor demonstrated that transport is part of our growth agenda in driving the economy forward.

There was certainly a massive slash in resource funding for the Department for Transport.

Many fear that HS2 is in the firing line for departmental savings. We have already seen the Golborne link ditched, with no replacement in sight, hitting journey times from Scotland and the north-west of England. Rowing back on HS2 again would be another hammer blow for regional connectivity, so what assurances can the Secretary of State give that HS2 will go ahead in its current form and that those of us outside the M25 may see some benefit?

Again, I do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Our resource funding was confirmed in cash terms as well, so I do not know what autumn statement he was listening to, but it was not the one that the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out at the Dispatch Box. On his general point, as the Chancellor said, we are committed to the HS2 plans set out in the £96 billion integrated rail plan. We will set out our response to the autumn statement to manage inflation pressure in due course.

Northern Powerhouse Rail and Leamside Line

As set out in the autumn statement, the Government are committed to delivering the Northern Powerhouse Rail core network outlined in the integrated rail plan. Reopening of the Leamside line would be best considered by north-east partners as part of a future city region settlement.

Yesterday, at the Great Northern conference, the Transport Secretary promised that Northern Powerhouse Rail will indeed go ahead. Since the Government know that it is going ahead, they should also know what that entails. Does it, or does it not, include the Leamside line?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am aware that the Leamside line closed in 1964, that she and others across the Chamber have been campaigning for its reopening and that Transport North East is currently conducting a series of studies into the costs and potential benefits. I will restate that the integrated rail plan stated that it would be best dealt with as part of a future city region settlement. Of course, we will await further details from Transport North East as they come out.

I welcome the Minister to his place. When it comes to Northern Powerhouse Rail, can we remember that it is not Manchester Powerhouse Rail or Leeds Powerhouse Rail? It is Northern Powerhouse Rail and that includes the north-east. The Leamside line is a critical part of the infrastructure, which gets us resilience locally, resilience in connections to the Union and local transport initiatives. Could I encourage the Minister to meet me, Transport North East and other interested Members to appreciate its importance to the north-east fully and to ensure that it is considered properly?

My hon. Friend is a true champion for rail in the north-east, and I know that he has been campaigning for the reopening of the line. I agree that the northern powerhouse means the entire north and not just parts of the north; that is the culture that I see. I commit to meeting him, Transport North East and other bodies that he wishes to invite for further discussion. However, I remind the House that funding budgets are tight for the Department for Transport and that not every single project that Members will want to see can be brought forward.

I warmly welcome the new Secretary of State and the entire ministerial team—and in particular the former Chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who I am sure will bring his expertise and experience to the team. Of course, the problem for him and the benefit for the Opposition is that we know what he really thinks. [Laughter.] Has he managed to persuade the Secretary of State that the integrated rail plan under-serves the needs of the north and lets down those who require change the most?

I thank the hon. Lady for her very warm welcome and her pledge to hold me to account on things that may have been written before. I am passionate about seeing the entire levelling up of the United Kingdom when it comes to rail. On the integrated rail plan, I gently remind her, using words from a Transport Committee report, that we welcomed

“the scale of the Government’s promised spending on improving rail in the North and the Midlands. £96 billion is a very substantial sum; it has the potential to transform rail travel for future generations”

and level up the country. Wise words; I still believe in them now.

I thank the Minister for that gentle reminder. He knows full well that that was not what was promised to the north and the midlands no fewer than 60 times and in successive Conservative manifestos. Not only are the north and the midlands not getting the infrastructure that they require, but rail services across the country are in freefall, experiencing record cancellations on top of fewer services than at any time since records began. One couple wrote to me this week and said they felt in danger from overcrowding and began to understand how real tragedies could occur. Will the rail Minister apologise for his predecessor’s signing off the decision to slash tens of thousands of services every month and confirm when those services will be restored?

It is of course the case, post the pandemic, that travel habits have changed. Rail is at only 80% of its pre-pandemic patronage but services have been reduced by only 10%, so we continue to subsidise on that basis to the tune of £16 billion. There is a great commitment to rail on behalf of the Government across the country, but we have to look at the entire taxpayer burden that is paying for that and difficult decisions will have to be made. I very much hope I can work with the hon. Lady in a constructive manner to ensure we talk up rail and try to get more people on the rail network, and that it continues to grow as it had before the pandemic.

Practical Driving Tests

There are 95,000 available car test slots at the moment, an increase of over 80,000 in the past six months thanks to the hard work of the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency and our brilliant driving examiners.

I thank the Minister for his response. Data from the DVSA shows that ethnic minorities are far less likely to pass their tests than white candidates. What steps will his Department take to ensure that discrimination has no place in driving test centres?

Discrimination has absolutely no place in driving test centres. I advise the hon. Gentleman to get in touch with me about any such incidents and I will take them up directly with the DVSA.

20 mph Speed Limits

9. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published in November 2022, on the impact of 20 mph speed limits on road traffic incidents. (902386)

We are reading the report with interest and looking into the details as we speak. Local authorities are best placed to decide where 20 mph limits will be most effective on their local roads.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but local community campaigner Nadia Fabri has organised opposition to an expensive 20 mph limit in Thorpe Bay in Southend. Will the Government consider suspending funding to projects that are not wanted, expensive and now proven to be ineffective?

Decisions on setting local speed limits on roads are a matter for local authorities and they are democratically accountable for them. They also have the power to decide and implement traffic-calming measures if they are more appropriate. Most central Government funding for local government is not ringfenced, so local authorities can make the best decisions relating to local priorities. My Department is providing £170 million this financial year to local highways authorities in England outside London and city region areas through the integrated transport block for small-scale transport schemes, but we will continue to look at all evidence provided to the Department on all sorts of road safety and transport schemes.

Ferry Services: Rosyth to Mainland Europe

10. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the re-establishment of direct ferry services between Rosyth and mainland Europe. (902387)

The operation of international ferry routes is primarily a commercial matter and as a result I have not discussed it with either Cabinet colleagues or the Scottish Government to date.

The ancient nation of Scotland, independent for centuries before its coercive incorporation in 1707, was taken out of Europe against its democratic wishes. Yesterday, the UK state apparatus told Scotland it is not a colony and does not lack meaningful political process. So, will the Minister tell me what funding is to be made available to Scotland for direct ferry links from Rosyth to Europe, now that the EU motorways of the sea funding has been cut off? Can the Minister tell his Government colleagues that the British state may say no at every time, but the sovereign people of Scotland say yes, yes, yes?

Spaceflight Sector

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking this question. I have granted consent to the Civil Aviation Authority to issue a licence to Britain’s first ever spaceport, paving the way for the first ever orbital space launch from the UK, or indeed from anywhere in Europe. The launch from Spaceport Cornwall remains on track for later this year. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who is in his place, for his tireless campaigning on this issue.

I welcome all the new Ministers to their place and join the Secretary of State in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on the work being done in Cornwall. That is another example, along with the SaxaVord spaceport in Shetland, of the UK Government covering the whole country in glory. SaxaVord spaceport has just completed the construction of the first launchpad to be built in Europe to support the orbital launch of four small satellites for a major European client. Does my right hon. Friend or any of his Ministers have plans to visit the site where construction is going on of the other two pads?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the work that the UK Government do across the whole United Kingdom. The work at SaxaVord is very exciting and I hope to have the opportunity to visit it in due course. UK spaceports will launch highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom while providing greater resilience for our critical national infrastructure capabilities.

The news that the Secretary of State will visit Shetland, I think for a second time, will be welcomed by all in the county and particularly in Unst. SaxaVord has three European companies testing their facilities for a launch, and it is an exciting development. When he visits, however, he will see the difficulties in developing something such as that on an island that requires the service of two ferries. When he leaves, he might therefore be prepared to support our campaign to have fixed links to replace the ferries in the future.

I would be very pleased to visit Shetland again, which my right hon. Friend—I will call him that, as we worked together in government a number of years ago—represents so ably. On his specific point, those issues are devolved to the Scottish Government. However, as has been said from this Dispatch Box, I look forward to working in partnership with colleagues in the Scottish Government to focus on the priorities of people across the United Kingdom, including his constituents in Shetland.

Rail Funding in Wales

This Government are investing through Network Rail up to £2 billion in the rail network in Wales over the current five-year control period to March 2024. That is twice the level of investment carried out in the previous five years.

The Minister will know that HS2 will reduce travel times from London to Manchester from two hours 10 minutes to one hour 10 minutes and by even more to Scotland, yet the travel time by train to Swansea, which I represent, will remain at about three hours. How is it that Scotland will get an additional £8 billion in Barnett consequentials but Wales will not get the £5 billion that it should get, given that in the past 12 years we have seen only 1.5% of the rail enhancements go to Wales? Will he look at that again and meet me to discuss it, so that we can have our fair share to deliver net zero, improve productivity and deliver levelling up?

The hon. Member is right that there are no direct Barnett consequentials from HS2 to Wales, but there are indirect benefits that I can explain when I meet him—to take up his invitation to meet. I welcome the fact that the Office of Rail and Road reports that Government funding for the operational railway was £1.27 per passenger kilometre in England and £2.39 per passenger kilometre in Wales and Scotland, which I am keen to support.

I welcome the Minister to his place. The Government are committed to levelling up, and that means improving transport and connectivity for my Ynys Môn constituents. How is the Minister using RNEP—the rail network enhancements pipeline—to improve north Wales journey times; will the scope be extended to include rail links to HS2 and the northern powerhouse; and when the Minister visits Ynys Môn, will he come by train?

I will certainly come by train to meet my hon. Friend, who is a true champion for transport in Ynys Môn and the wider north Wales region. She has secured a Backbench Business debate on the west coast main line in the Chamber on 15 December, and that demonstrates what a champion she is. I expect to have the business case for the project that she mentions on my desk in the new year, when I can talk to her further about it.

Spending Priorities: Autumn Statement

14. What assessment he has made of his Department’s spending priorities in the context of the autumn statement 2022. (902393)

The Chancellor announced a plan in last week’s autumn statement to tackle the cost of living crisis and rebuild our economy. As I said earlier, the Government will invest more than £600 billion in infrastructure over the next five years to connect our country and grow the economy. Transport investment will play a huge part in delivering that, and I will work to deliver a stable, long-term plan to run, maintain and expand our transport network across the United Kingdom.

The Republic of Ireland is facing exactly the same global economic impacts as the United Kingdom, but the recent Irish Budget was able to increase support for transport across the southern part of that island. In contrast, the real-terms cuts we will see in the coming years will have a direct impact on transport spending in England and, significantly, in the devolved nations through the Barnett formula. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that the transport needs of other parts of the United Kingdom are not sacrificed for those in London? Does he agree that all public transport infrastructure spending in Scotland should be according to the priorities of the Scottish Government, who were elected for that purpose?

The hon. Gentleman is right that we will have to deal with the pressures of inflation, and the Government’s No. 1 economic priority is to reduce inflation as quickly as possible. Inflation is a global phenomenon, driven by the recovery from the covid pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, but it is important that we deal with it.

The hon. Gentleman will know that I represent a constituency quite some distance from London. I am well aware that we need to spread transport investment across the United Kingdom, and I will make sure that I work closely with the Scottish Government on shared priorities, as set out in Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review.

I welcome my very good friend, the Secretary of State, to his place. Will he make spending in rural areas a priority? If we are to level up transport, we must not forget rural areas. On that point, will he look at the urgent need for Leicestershire County Council to build the Melton bypass, which is crucial to levelling up our transport? In addition, will he recognise that rurality matters when reviewing accident hotspots, because rurality can hide just how dangerous an accident hotspot is?

I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for her kind words. On the priority for spending on transport in rural areas, I represent a rural constituency myself, of course, and am well aware of the extra challenges in rural areas. We will take those matters into account as we develop our plans, following our settlement in the autumn statement.

As we have heard in concerns raised by Members on both sides of the House, a crisis facing millions of people across the country right now is the total absence of reliable and affordable bus services. How much of the promised bus service improvement funding has actually been handed to local authorities? When will the Secretary of State reopen applications to cover the 60% of the country that did not get a single penny in the initial round?

Local authorities put in bids for significantly more than the £1 billion that was allocated. We selected a total of 34 counties, city regions and unitary authorities to benefit from that funding. We wrote to offer further practical support to all areas to which we cannot offer new funding. We will look at a further round of funding in due course.

Strategic Importance of the A5

15. What assessment his Department has made of the strategic importance of the A5 in the midlands to the national economy and transport network. (902395)

The Department and I recognise the significant strategic importance of the A5 to both the regional and national economy, which is why we continue to work with regional partners such as Midlands Connect to consider options to improve the route as part of our third road investment strategy—RIS3—investment plans.

I am grateful to the Minister for his encouragement on the strategic importance of the A5, because its improvement has political support from the parishes all the way to MPs of all colours. Economically, improving the A5 will drive our growth and, strategically, will deliver houses and prosperity in my area. Is he aware of Midlands Connect’s most recent report, which shows that, on average, there are 36 accidents on the road every year, and that one in five is serious? Will he meet me to discuss that as another reason why the A5 must be improved?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the report to me. I have seen it, and I will ensure that my officials consider it as part of the body of evidence to support the case for improvements to the A5. I would also be delighted to meet him and other colleagues to discuss this matter further.

On all A roads, as with the A5, there is a need for rapid charge points, but more widely we need more public charging points, as only 800 are currently being delivered per month. Will the Secretary of State update this House on his meetings with the Business Secretary on delivering this priority?

Meetings are in progress, and we will look further at this strategy and how we can more rapidly roll out electric vehicle charging points across the country, including rapid charge points, which are being rolled out to our motorway service station network as well.

Topical Questions

Last week, the Chancellor delivered his autumn statement, which confirmed that the Department for Transport’s budget for the next two financial years remains unchanged. That means we will invest about £20 billion in transport infrastructure in each of the next two years and spend about £6 billion a year to maintain existing infrastructure and operate vital transport services. In the coming weeks, I will work with my ministerial team and officials to assess our portfolio of projects.

Let me say a word or two on rail strikes, which I know are of interest to many Members. I want a sustainable, thriving rail network, but with 20% of passengers not having returned following the covid pandemic, reform is vital. I urge all trade union leaders to get back around the table with employers to hammer out the detail of that reform. The Government will work to facilitate this, and to that end I will be meeting trade union leaders in the coming days.

I welcome the team to their places.

National Highways is planning to plough a road through the much-loved and used Rimrose valley, the only substantial green space in my very urbanised constituency, at a cost of up to £365 million—and that was before the current inflationary crisis kicked in. Perhaps the money could be better used to level up my constituency more constructively, rather than being allocated to a project that is at least 25 years out of date. So will the Department ask Highways England to scrap these plans, which are unwanted and unnecessary, and which will simply exacerbate—

Order. You all want to get in. This is topical questions and you have to be sharp and punchy. Come on, Secretary of State, you will give an example.

Let me try to give a short, punchy reply. National Highways is well aware that there are a range of opinions and views about its proposals for the A5036, and it is committed to working with all stakeholders to try to achieve the right result for all. I am sure that it will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s clear opinions expressed in this House.

T2. Will the Roads Minister confirm that a new junction 10a on the A14 at Kettering remains in the pipeline for road investment strategy 3 for the period 2025 to 2030 and that the proposals are being actively developed by National Highways? (902403)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can confirm that the Government’s proposed junction 10a of the A14 to the east of Kettering continues to be developed by National Highways as part of the pipeline of schemes being considered for development as part of RIS3.

Earlier this year, the then Transport Secretary said of the P&O scandal:

“we will never support those who treat workers with such callousness”—[Official Report, 30 March 2022; Vol. 711, c. 842.]

I now have evidence that its competitor, Irish Ferries, pays its seafarers just £5.50 an hour, yet in September Ministers awarded it a contract worth tens of thousands of pounds. How can the Government condemn the scandal of seafarers’ pay and then hand over taxpayers’ money without conditions to a company whose business model is based on poverty pay?

We are looking speedily at this important matter at the moment. The Seafarers’ Wages Bill is coming to this House within the next few weeks to address many of these issues that the Opposition spokesman raises.

T5. During my recent visit to West Lodge Primary School in my constituency, I saw the excellent work the children were doing to deal with bad parking and, in particular, engine idling outside the school. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me, my many constituents, my local councils and even Hillingdon Council Labour group that we need effective measures to tackle air quality hotspots in the suburbs, rather than Mayor Khan’s one-size-fits-all ultra low emission zone scheme, which does nothing to address issues such as engine idling outside schools? (902407)

My hon. Friend raises some important issues. The important thing from the Government’s point of view is that we tackle air quality. He will know better than me that how we do that and which schemes are run is devolved to local government, so it is devolved to the Mayor of London. I know that the Mayor has recently consulted on proposals to extend the ULEZ and is expected to announce the outcome, but those are matters for him. I know my hon. Friend will continue to campaign vigorously on them.

T3.   Decisions on Northern Powerhouse Rail will shape the railways in the north of England for generations to come, so we need to be ambitious and we need to get it right. Does the Rail Minister in particular understand the concerns of so many of us in the north about the downgraded rail option for Bradford as part of the core plan? Will he look at that again, please? (902404)

As well as committing to the core integrated rail plan, over the summer the Prime Minister set this Department the challenge of assessing options for Bradford with regard to a new station and better connecting Bradford. That is work that I am doing. It is an incredibly high priority for me, and I will come back to the hon. Gentleman with detail once that is ready.

T8.   The campaign to reopen the Ivanhoe line, joining Burton to Leicester and coming through my constituency, has the support of four MPs. It has been gaining traction, support and funding from the Department for Transport. We are now into the millions and the project is getting closer to coming to fruition. Will the Minister comment on where this programme is and how likely it is to come forward? (902410)

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he does with regard to the campaign to reopen the Ivanhoe line and for the success in securing more funding for the Ivanhoe line project in June this year. Network Rail is undertaking development work to test different service and scope options and progress the business case. Decisions on this scheme and others in the restoring your railway programme are expected in the next year, but I just remind him of the financial envelope within which we are all working.

T4. Unite the union, which represents tens of thousands of lorry drivers, has discovered by a freedom of information request that the UK Government’s scheme of £32 million to improve toilet facilities for lorry drivers is entirely unspent a year after the then Chancellor announced it. Why is that the case? (902405)

The hon. Member may have missed the announcement this morning that the scheme has just been opened. I shall be visiting a road haulage site this afternoon to launch the scheme for match funding across the country to improve lorry facilities for our truckers, who worked hard throughout the entire pandemic.

Highways England is now looking at much-needed safety improvements along the A38 between Carkeel and Trerulefoot in my constituency. I welcome that, but what this road really needs is major improvements to help our economy and the economy of Cornwall to level up. Will the Minister commit to start looking at the options to make this a reality?

My hon. Friend is a real champion for South East Cornwall and has been hammering away on this scheme for years. Highways England is developing a package of targeted safety measures for the A38, which will be considered for possible delivery within the third road investment strategy, RIS3. Although we are not considering further massive enhancements such as a bypass at this time, the work that we are doing at the moment would not prevent such a scheme in the future. I look forward to working with her on future road plans.

T6.   Arriva in North Tyneside is letting down my constituents. Buses do not turn up or are cancelled at short notice. Surely enough is enough when pupils at North Gosforth Academy need counselling because they are so worried about getting to and from school. Can the Minister do something to force Arriva to be a more responsible and reliable service provider? (902408)

I have had similar issues in my North West Durham constituency with Arriva over the past few months. It is looking at some of these plans and, as part of the bus service improvement scheme, £163.5 million will be heading to the north-east. We are just finalising the details on that and looking at how we can improve transport services in the future. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady and other colleagues across the region to deliver that.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement last week that capital transport investment will be a central pillar of the Government’s growth agenda. May I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he will be able to set out a little more detail on which projects he will be prioritising, and make a bid for the next stages of East West Rail to be among the early ones?

First, I am very pleased to welcome my hon. Friend to his place as Chair of the Transport Committee. I look forward to working with him and with all members of the Select Committee, whichever party they come from, to focus on these important transport issues.

Over the coming weeks my colleagues and I will be looking at our priorities across the whole portfolio of capital projects, and we will set those out in the House in due course. I have noted his bid; he will know that the Chancellor committed to East West Rail in the autumn statement, and I hope that gives him some comfort.

T7. Does the Minister think it is a good idea for car manufacturers to build cars with features such as heated seats, performance modes or key fobs that can be activated only by payment of a subscription or a tacked-on fee? Are there any plans to regulate these increasing pay-to-use features? (902409)

Commercial matters around car manufacture and delivery are up to the individual manufacturers. What we have seen in the UK recently is the Government putting in £100 million to help to support Nissan and the next generation of electric vehicles being delivered up in Sunderland.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that strike action on our railways will lead to more congestion on our roads. In Essex, that means more congestion on the A12 and A120. Will he kindly commit to meeting me and the leader of Essex County Council to discuss those two road schemes?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question and for her work when she was Home Secretary to strengthen the law to enable us to deal with those who cause disruption on our transport network. I would be delighted to meet her and the leader of Essex County Council to talk about those important road projects.

Research from the Campaign for Better Transport suggests that the Government are so far behind on their electrification plans that rolling stock leasing companies are being forced to destroy electric units that they cannot use. At the same time, the Government continue to introduce new diesel trains—more not zero than net zero. Will the Government ensure that they order no more diesel trains and get on with electrification?

The Government are committed to phasing out all diesel trains by 2040. That remains our aim and our ambition. There is electrification going on at the moment along the west midlands line, and we are certainly committed to ensuring that we can roll out more electrification, and indeed use hydrogen and battery power where appropriate, in the years to come.

The electrification of the Chase line means that passengers benefit from a more frequent service. However, passengers from Rugeley remain disadvantaged because the last train from Birmingham terminates at Hednesford. Will the Rail Minister meet me to discuss this matter and other issues that Chase line passengers face?

My right hon. Friend does an incredible job for her constituents, and on that basis of course I say yes to meeting her and learning more about those issues.

Last week the RMT voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Last night the Secretary of State said he would be prepared to meet the leader of the RMT. Some 50% of the public and passengers support those rail strikes. They should not just have been shaking hands last night, but they should be shaking hands today on a deal. The Secretary of State knows full well that he sets the flexibility and parameters for both Network Rail and train operating companies on the financial offer they can put forward. It is in his hands to end those strikes, and to do so today.

As I set out at the start of topical questions, I very much want the strikes not to take place. I have set out my ambition for the rail sector and I will be meeting trade union leaders in the coming days, including later today. In order to pay for a better offer for rail staff, we need to deliver reform. That is why I want trade union leaders to get back around the table with the employers and hammer out the detail of those reforms. Then a better offer can be put on the table and we can end the need for these strikes, which cause enormous damage to passengers and businesses across the country.

May I thank the Government for all that they are doing to improve connectivity at Darlington, including the £135 million invested in Bank Top station? However, my constituents in places such as Harrowgate Hill and Whinfield still suffer from congestion and emissions on the roads. Can my hon. Friend guide me on what more I can do to ensure that we ease this gridlock by delivering a northern link road?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; he and I have worked closely together on many local transport issues. National Highways and Tees Valley Combined Authority have worked closely on developing proposals for the Darlington northern link road, connecting the A66 and junction 59 of the A1. The work to date will form part of a body of evidence informing the investment plans for RIS3—the third road investment strategy—for future roads between 2025 and 2030.

People expect the Government to be trying to help resolve these rail strikes, not block a resolution. How can the Transport Secretary claim that it is not his role to get involved when the Government are handing over tens of millions of pounds a day in indemnity payments to rail companies to back them up during this strike?

I do not think the hon. Gentleman listened to my earlier answers. It is not my interest to block a settlement at all. I want to resolve this issue. I want to facilitate the trade unions and the employers getting together to hammer out some reform measures to help pay for a better pay offer for the staff. I will do everything I can to end these damaging and unnecessary strikes, and I hope he will do what he can to persuade the trade unions to get back around the table with the employers.

Tomorrow I will be visiting Whitcombe Pipelines in Rowley Regis, which has just won a substantial contract for HS2 infrastructure. Does the Secretary of State agree that this demonstrates how HS2 is already delivering significant benefits to my constituency, through jobs and growth, and that it is important that that is maintained?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The supply chain for HS2 and the spending benefits constituencies and constituents across the whole of the United Kingdom, including his and, indeed, mine.

Before the pandemic, the rail services through my constituency suffered from chronic overcrowding, yet the Government used the pandemic as an excuse to cut peak-time services from my constituency without consultation of those rail users. What is he going to do to monitor the damage that he has done and to ensure that those services are restored when those trains get chronically overcrowded again?

Southeastern did indeed ask for a derogation to consult, and changes had to be made quite rapidly during the pandemic, although may I just say that, as a fellow user of Southeastern, the hon. Member will find that there are some benefits from that? It is not just about taking down some costs; it is also about simplifying the line structure, so that at Lewisham, for example, there will not be as many trains crossing. If he would just wait and see how matters progress, he and I might find that it has been a good timetable change after all.

Derby’s bid to be the headquarters of Great British Railways has huge support: more than 20 right hon. and hon. Members, 40 local authorities, and the businesses forming the largest rail cluster in the country, and maybe even in Europe. Will the Minister confirm when the announcement will be made to confirm which of the six shortlisted locations has won the bidding process?

We have had six excellent shortlisted bids, one of which of course is Derby. The Government remain committed to reform of the railways. We will be looking at all the options, and that includes looking at bringing forward legislation to make this happen and revealing the winning bid at that time.

The work, business, leisure, family and educational lives of my constituents are being hugely undermined by atrocious bus services. I heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), but the previous Secretary of State promised to meet me to discuss this as a matter of urgency. Will this Secretary of State keep her commitment and meet me?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; I will certainly meet her. I know how important bus services are, and I will also be meeting, hopefully in the near future, local authorities across the north-east so that we can hopefully deliver that £163 million for them as well.

Two thirds of Londoners have said no to the Mayor of London expanding the ultra low emission zone to the whole of Greater London. Will my right hon. Friend join me and Conservative MP colleagues to tell the Mayor of London that it is not for the poorest Londoners to foot the bill for his financial failures?

As I said earlier, how to respond to the consultation and proceed is a matter for the Mayor to consider. I know that my hon. Friend has had a massive campaign on this issue, with over 5,000 people getting in touch with him about ULEZ. If hon. Members really want to see this policy changed, the best thing they can do is replace the Mayor of London at the next election.

Some 73% of guide dog owners have been refused access to taxis, shops and restaurants in the past year. What is the Minister and his Department doing to improve access and ensure that guide dog owners such as my constituent Robert, and his guide dog Winnie, can get out and about with confidence?

I am very familiar with that issue from my time as Minister for Disabled People. The behaviour that the hon. Lady describes is, of course, already unlawful. She has set out a specific case; if she writes to me with the details, we will look into it and see what further work we can do to make sure that the existing law to ensure fairness for guide dog owners is properly enforced across the United Kingdom.

I, many constituents and countless people up and down the land struggle each week with the poor and unreliable service provided by Avanti West Coast. People are missing interviews, appointments, family events and social occasions. Can the Minister give the latest Government assessment of Avanti’s performance and confirm that nothing will be ruled out, including stripping it of its contract if it does not lift its game?

I am sorry for my hon. Friend’s experience and that of his constituents. We are working very hard with the Avanti team to get more services restored. In December, with the good will of the unions and the workforce, we will see an increase in weekday services from the current 180 to 264, which would be a greater number than before the unions decided not to work to the rest day agreement, which is something I very much regret. I am committed to ensuring that Avanti services improve, which I know is important to you, Mr Speaker, and all Members of the House.