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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses) 6:45 pm, 5th February 2020

It is an honour to close today’s debate. There can be no doubt that tackling the climate change emergency is the most pressing problem facing our country and, indeed, the wider world. Today’s debate has reflected both the urgency and the overriding importance of that issue, and I want to highlight a series of contributions from colleagues across the House.

Some powerful speeches were made highlighting the rising emissions from transport, particularly from road transport, and important points were made about the pressing need to end our addiction to car use, with calls for more investment in public transport, walking and cycling. I also point out the need to go further and reduce the need to drive in the first place by encouraging new development that puts housing near places where people work and where public transport is easily accessible.

The contribution by Huw Merriman was very thoughtful. My hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson rightly raised the issue of investment in the north of England, and I found the speech by Jeremy Wright interesting in highlighting the importance of high-speed rail, even if he has some issues with HS2.

Other notable contributions were made by a range of speakers, including a number who referenced the need for much greater investment in rail. My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch), the hon. Members for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) and for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), and my hon. Friend Mr Sharma all mentioned the importance of rail investment across the country. There was also an interesting speech by Jack Brereton calling for more investment in buses. Many other contributions were made.

Above all, I remind the House of the key points that were made the shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend Andy McDonald, who called for urgent action by the Government. He said rightly that the challenge is no longer abstract; it is now a very real and devastating reality. Those points were all important, and I believe that the contributions today reflected Members’ deep concerns about the climate emergency. Sincere views are held across the House about the enormous challenge that we now face.

It is interesting that there is also an emerging consensus in the House, among the public and among the business community about the scale of the issue and the need for an urgent response. What is needed now, above all, is a plan for determined action. The Government have a working majority, and it is clearly the duty of Ministers to address this challenge as a matter of urgency. However, the question facing the House is whether the Government have the political will to rise to the challenge, or whether Ministers will continue to fail to acknowledge the scale of the task that we face. As my hon. Friend said, so far the record is clear, and I am afraid that it is one of the Government failing to step up to the challenge.

The coalition Government and the last two Conservative Administrations have presided over rising carbon dioxide emissions from transport, due largely to increased pollution from road vehicles. At the same time, rail fares have increased dramatically, hundreds of bus services have been cut, and walking and cycling growth is flatlining, with the Government missing their targets to increase active travel.

The failure to tackle rising emissions at a time of climate crisis is simply unacceptable. What is needed now is a completely and utterly different approach, and it is clear from the progress being made by other countries, the Labour Mayors of our great cities and the Welsh Government that investment in public transport and in walking and cycling works and delivers real and tangible change and benefits. Investing to cut carbon dioxide emissions is not only desirable, but absolutely essential.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to these points. I urge him to press his colleagues in the Treasury for the necessary resources and investment and for real incentives for behaviour change—both for drivers to scrap polluting vehicles and to encourage far greater use of public transport and far more walking and cycling.