Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 13th June 2019.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

Given the Government’s announcement yesterday about our commitment to pursuing a net zero strategy for carbon emissions, it might be helpful to set out three ways in which my Department is playing its part in taking this forward.

We are now awarding funding for innovative new ideas to transform the railways. I have already mentioned the first operating hydrogen train, but we are putting together a package of additional measures, which are being announced today, to upgrade the technology on the rail system. The Government car service is already taking steps to decarbonise its fleet. I will be encouraging other Government Departments to get their agencies that have fleets to do the same. This summer, we will be publishing our clean maritime plan setting out our role as a global leader in tackling the whole issue of carbon emissions in the maritime sector.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

After the May 2018 timetable changes, I raised with Ministers the way that direct London to Sheffield train services have been sacrificed in order to improve local services for London and the south-east. The latest timetable makes minor changes but no improvements. We still have too few early evening services and longer average journey times than 14 months ago. In the week that northern newspapers launched their Power Up The North campaign, what message does the Secretary of State think that sends, and what is he going to do about it?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

The message it sends is that we have been very clear that while we are going through the process of upgrading the midland main line, there will be some effects on services. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the improvements that have just been completed at Market Harborough—one of the big parts of the programme of upgrading the route. Derby station was another part completed fairly recently. This is designed to improve journey times to Sheffield as part of a commitment to transport both to his area and the whole of the north.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The Mayor and Transport for London have been consulting on major changes to the bus network in London. Will the Secretary of State urge the Mayor to drop his plans to remove the 384 bus route from many roads in New Barnet and the Bevan estate?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

As my right hon. Friend will know, decisions on bus routes are down to the Mayor of London. I think he needs to focus on delivering for Londoners and not just faffing around trying to take selfies. He should be spending more time with Londoners to understand exactly the sort of bus services they need and which journeys they need to take.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

With transport emissions accounting for 29% of all toxic emissions released in the UK, and at a time when Labour has declared that climate change is an existential threat to our nation and planet, will the Secretary of State for Transport tell the House why he has failed to undertake a full environmental audit of road investment strategy 2—the most ecologically and environmentally damaging road building programme for a generation?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

We have another example of the Labour party’s war on the motorist. The hon. Lady should understand that the more congested our roads are, the higher the emissions. We cannot destroy our economy and get rid of our roads. We have to decarbonise road transport, but we also have to ensure that our roads flow smoothly. Those on the Labour Benches do not get that. They want to scrap road improvements, and they want more traffic jams. Those traffic jams increase emissions. The Labour party just does not get it.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Secretary of State may think that that answer gets him off the hook, but when road transport accounts for 69% of transport emissions, and air pollution claims 50,000 lives prematurely, he should be less complacent.

UK roads killed or seriously injured 27,000 people, including 2,000 children, last year. It is the most dangerous mode of travel. Why does the Secretary of State not invest in developing a sustainable, integrated public transport strategy, including active travel, as Labour would, instead of this catastrophe of a road building project?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

We now know the truth: the Labour party is going to be anti-motorist. It is going to be anti-road improvements. It is going to set itself against the things we are doing to try to boost our economy in all parts of the country, through connections to our ports and better motorway links, unlocking the economic potential of places like west Cumbria. Labour does not care. We will continue our work to decarbonise our car fleet and support the development of new technology in buses, for example. We also have the biggest investment programme in the railways since the steam age. Labour has no ideas, and just wants to go to war with the motorist.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

I welcome the consultation on a bored tunnel under junction 10 of the M42, which was announced in last week’s HS2 route refinement document, but it includes a new permanent maintenance facility in the village of Austrey. What steps can the Minister take to reduce the impact of that facility on the community, who are already much impacted by HS2?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I know that my hon. Friend has been a great champion of his constituency and has been liaising closely with HS2 Ltd. The infrastructure maintenance base that is proposed near Austrey is expected to have a minimal impact on the village when operational, because of its proposed location between the HS2 main line and the village. The site was also chosen because it will involve only limited movements of earth during construction. We expect HS2 Ltd to work to refine the route, to reduce environmental impacts. Where impacts are inevitable, HS2 Ltd will design plans for mitigation. Those plans are still in development and will be reported in the formal environmental statement, which will be deposited alongside the phase 2b hybrid Bill. If my hon. Friend requires a meeting so that I can flesh this out, I am more than happy to do that.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Step-free access at railway stations is still the responsibility of Network Rail, which, sadly, is not responsible to the Scottish Government. Currently, only 40 of over 350 railway stations in Scotland have step-free access. Is that not another reason why it is so important to see the devolution of Network Rail, so that this unacceptable situation can finally be resolved?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

There is a £300 million step-free access programme. I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s complaint, because 73 further stations were identified in Scotland to get step-free access between 2019 and 2024.[This section has been corrected on 17 June 2019, column 1MC — read correction]

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

Stanford Coachworks in my constituency is a small, successful engineering business, building minibuses and luxury coaches. However, before its vehicles can be deemed roadworthy, they need to be inspected by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. At present, the availability and frequency of tests falls well below the demand, threatening the viability of the business. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me, so that I can explain this in detail and we can see what can be done to improve the situation?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

We will certainly arrange a meeting for my hon. Friend with a Minister—either me or the roads Minister—to address the issue. I should say that this does appear to be a problem in his area, rather than one that is universal around the country, but we do not want to see any business suffering as a result, and we will certainly work with him to address the problem.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

May I ask how many doctors the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency employs, because they seem to think that they know better than my HGV drivers’ doctors when it comes to removing their licences? Too often, this is impacting on the drivers’ livelihoods, and it needs my intervention for the DVLA to take any notice. It should not be like that, should it?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

I understand the point the hon. Lady is making because I have had similar issues in my own constituency. A principle that has been adopted both by her party when it was in government and by us is that, when assessing a person’s medical condition, it is not right or fair to go to their own GP because of the specific relationship that exists between an individual and their GP—whether that be an assessment for welfare entitlements or an assessment for a driving licence. We will always, as a ministerial team, work with Members across the House, if there are examples of individuals who have been hard done by as a result of a decision that is wrong, to see if we can get the situation at least reviewed.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

May I have an update on City of York Council’s bid through the major road network fund for dualling the York northern ring road? Will the new roads Minister meet me to discuss this matter and the levels of congestion that are causing huge concern to my constituents?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I look forward to doing so to discuss that matter.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Leader of Change UK - The Independent Group

I campaigned against a 60 foot viaduct that HS2 Ltd was planning to build through the village of Trowell to deliver HS2. I am pleased that it has abandoned that plan, but its alternative, which is a cutting that means 20 more homes will be demolished, does not solve the problem of the real economic and environmental damage that will be caused. The alternative and best way to deliver HS2, including the east midlands hub at Toton sidings, is a tunnel. Will the Secretary of State or a Minister—I do not mind who—meet me to discuss the merits of a tunnel as the best way to deliver all the benefits of HS2 to Broxtowe?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I know the right hon. Lady will use every opportunity to campaign, even through petitioning, to ensure that the voices of her constituents are heard. HS2 is committed to ensuring that it mitigates any impact and to working with local communities, but I am of course more than happy to sit down with the right hon. Lady and those from her communities to discuss this.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

I am delighted to see the excellent new Minister in his place. As a Northamptonshire MP, he will know the stretch of the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston that the Government are committed to dualling. The environmental study to unlock that project was supposed to be carried out during the current roads period, but it has not yet been completed. Will he put his foot on the accelerator to make sure that that work is done to unlock this dualling?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I will very much look into this matter. It is interesting to note that Labour Front Benchers would not be supporting this environmental plan. They are the ones who are engaging in a war on the motorist. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to have a look at the A45, because I know that that road has issues. It is about time Labour accepted that this Government’s investment in roads is something they should be duplicating, not resiling from.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

The Minister has previously indicated that the Government will bring forward legislation to improve the safety and regulation of the taxi trade when time allows. Can the Minister tell us when exactly that legislation will be brought before the House, or are we faced with another legislative crash—for want of a better term?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I am just as eager as the hon. Gentleman to legislate in this area, considering the amount of work done by the task and finish group. Our commitment is to make sure that standards are raised, security is dealt with and that national enforcement officers ensure, regardless of where people are in the country, that they are getting into a cab with a driver who has had a standardised background check and has met the threshold for safety and security. I cannot give any more detail right now, but I am pleased that so many Members are as eager as I am to legislate on this issue.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Earlier this week, the all-party group on bioethanol issued its interim report on the availability of E10. This issue has been dragging on for very many years. May I urge the Minister to come to an early decision, after studying this report?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

In principle, we intend to go ahead with the introduction of E10. It has to be subject to appropriate consultations. We have been particularly mindful of the impact on older vehicles, which are often owned by those on low incomes. However, it is the right thing to do, particularly given the environmental challenges we face, and we are now going through the process of moving towards its introduction.

Photo of Emma Dent Coad Emma Dent Coad Labour, Kensington

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) about his views on the expansion of Heathrow? What steps will the Department take to prepare for a Government U-turn in that area, given that the right hon. Gentleman has committed to lying down in front of bulldozers to stop his own Government’s policy?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

This House voted overwhelmingly to give Heathrow airport the go-ahead for the next stage of its plans for expansion, and I expect the will of Parliament to be followed in the future.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. If we have brief questions and brief answers, I will attempt to give everybody who is still standing the opportunity to speak.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

In congratulating my Northamptonshire neighbour on his elevation to greatness as the Minister for roads, may I point out that the most important item on his desk is the introduction of civil parking enforcement in Kettering? When will a statutory instrument be introduced to implement that scheme?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am pleased to see Northamptonshire so well represented in the Chamber, as it always is. The Department for Transport has been working with my hon. Friend on that plan regarding legal powers for civil parking enforcement in Kettering. A lot of work has been done, and more still needs to be done by Kettering Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council, but with my hon. Friend on the case, I feel sure that progress will soon be made. We are hoping that those powers will be available early in 2020.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

Chris Boardman in Greater Manchester and Sarah Storey in South Yorkshire are demonstrating the value that active travel commissioners add to the promotion of cycling and walking. Although a series of initiatives have helped people to get on their bikes and get out walking, we now need a long-term programme of investment. Does the Minister agree, and if so, what plans can we expect to be brought forward?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, almost £2 billion will have been invested in cycling and walking over the course of the Parliament. Spending on cycling and walking in England has doubled from £3.50 per head to around £7 per head over this spending review period, which is as it should be. Cycling is a highly positive thing for physical fitness, mental health and wellbeing and, of course, the environment. We continue to invest in a way that the previous Government never did.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

The weekend papers contained a striking photograph of £1 billion-worth of Crossrail trains sitting idly in the sidings. Some 479 drivers are not being used, which I understand costs £25 million a year, and £17 billion has been spent on Crossrail stations that currently have no trains going through them. Meanwhile, why does it take months and months to get any action from TransPennine Express in Hull to replace signs that are covered with gaffer tape? Why do we still have pacer trains, and why was the electrification cancelled?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Lady will know that in the north large numbers of brand new trains are being tested and prepared for launch. She talks about new trains in London, but there are new trains in London, the north, the midlands, the south-west, the east coast main line, and the Great Western main line, as part of a massive investment by this Government in the railways and in better trains across the whole country, including her constituency.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley

Is it time that Transport for the North got the same powers as Transport for London—namely the ability to determine spending priorities in the region without all final decisions being made in Whitehall?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is arguing for the abolition of Transport for Greater Manchester, Nexus, and all the rest. Transport for London oversees the buses, and runs metro rail systems and its local Overground rail system. Those powers already exist in the cities of the north, and the hon. Gentleman appears to argue that those cities should lose those powers, which should be moved to Transport for the North. I do not think that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

I do not know whether anyone on the Government Front Bench managed to get to the electric scooter demonstration yesterday that was provided by Bird, but such initiatives can encourage a modal shift and get people out of their cars. Will the Minister consider legislation to open up the use of electric scooters on our roads, and help us to achieve our climate change targets?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

We will always look carefully at new technologies, but any new technologies introduced on and around our roads need to be safe. We need to be confident that they will continue to be safe for not only those who use them, but those around them.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I refer to the Secretary of State’s response to the question from my hon. Friend Emma Dent Coad on runway three. I will effectively try again. Given that the Government have now followed the Opposition in committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, surely the Secretary of State must see that Parliament might now vote a different way on a project that emits 6 million tonnes of carbon emissions per annum and provides zero net benefit to the UK economy?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

I am afraid I simply do not accept that the latter point is true. This Parliament voted, by a majority of nearly 300, to give the go-ahead to a project that I personally believe is of key strategic importance to the United Kingdom over the coming decades. I think that says it all.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Whether it is electric scooters or dockless bike schemes, technology moves so much more quickly that the Department for Transport. After years and years, will the Secretary of State finally do something about dockless bike schemes, and help our local authorities respond to the changes?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport)

This Department leads the way internationally on transport issues and is a world leader in considering our carbon emissions, cycling, walking and active travel. The Department is a world leader in these fields.