Topical Questions

Transport – in the House of Commons on 9th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Shadow Minister (Transport)

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

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.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Colleen Fletcher Colleen Fletcher Opposition Whip (Commons)

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

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 Andrew Stephenson, by my hon. Friend 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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

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).

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend 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.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury

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?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

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?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

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?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As I said to 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. 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.