I beg to move,
That this House
has considered transport.
It gives me great pleasure to open this debate on what the Government are doing to build a world-class transport network. I do not need to remind the House of the vital economic and social role transport plays in our day-to-day lives. The pandemic revealed as much, with rail staff, bus drivers, seafarers and road engineers—to name but a few—continuing to work throughout so that the country could keep moving. It is why this Government have spent billions supporting our transport industry over the past two years, ensuring key workers and essential goods could get to where they needed to be.
While our transport network helped to keep this country going throughout the pandemic, it now, with covid firmly in the rear-view mirror, must help the UK thrive, helping us rise to new challenges such as rebuilding our economy in a way that is fairer and greener, and helping us to level up our cities, towns and villages by giving people the means to get on and improve their lives and livelihoods.
I am sure my hon. Friend is only too aware of the story of Teesside airport, how it was saved by Ben Houchen and how it has gone from strength to strength. Executives at Heathrow have recently whacked up landing fees by 37%, showing complete disregard for regional connectivity and killing the viability of the Teesside flight. Will he look again at what can be done about that issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, I join him in paying tribute to the phenomenal work of Ben Houchen and others in supporting that local airport. I am aware of local concerns on this and I hear what my hon. Friend says. Sadly, as he will know, this is very much a matter for the independent regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, but I am sure it is something that it will want to take a close look at.
Before I speak to the legislation the Government introduced in last week’s Queen’s Speech, I want to outline just some of the measures that we are already taking to improve transport links across the country. Our levelling-up fund gives local authorities the means to invest in infrastructure that improves the everyday lives of people across the UK, including upgrading local transport. The first round of funding will see 105 projects across the four UK nations benefit from £1.7 billion in funding.
Newcastle Tyne bridge is a critical part of our transport infrastructure as well as being an icon of the north-east. It is now peeling and rusting, and my constituents are also facing closures as the council assesses just how much money is needed to repair it. Can the Minister give assurances that all that disruption will not be in vain and that the Government will support the restoration of this icon of our engineering?
The hon. Lady is a dedicated champion of that bridge, having raised it with me before during Transport oral questions. It is something on which the Government continue to be keen to work with local stakeholders to enable local aspiration to be supported. I know she will continue to champion this at every opportunity, but I am keen to continue to work with her and others on the issue.
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that, as we build transport links, they have to be sustainable and green. I have certainly promised the young electorate in Shrewsbury to campaign to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We are working very hard to try to secure the electrification of the line between our regional capital of Birmingham and Shrewsbury. Will he please take an interest in the project? It is very important that Shrewsbury is served by trains that are not diesel and that we reduce CO2 emissions.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case on behalf of his local rail line. I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, is looking at that. Of course, we have a programme to increase the amount of lines that are electrified across the UK. We have a good record on electrification over the past 11 years, but we want to go further and faster as we decarbonise the railways across the UK.
We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge that families currently face as part of the cost of living challenges. That is why we recently launched the Great British rail sale, which saw over 1 million tickets sold and saved the public about £7 million. We are taking action on fares, too. Not only did we delay this year’s fare rise, but we kept it far below the current rate of inflation. We are taking action on rail fares, ensuring a fair deal for taxpayers, and ensuring that we can continue to invest in our railways. It is worth reminding the House that rail fares rose on average faster under the last Labour Government than they have under the Conservatives since 2010.
Similarly, we are improving local bus services, spending £2.5 billion on bus priority lanes and cutting fares across 34 local transport authorities in England. Work has started on transforming rail journeys as part of our record £96 billion integrated rail plan. That will deliver 110 miles of new high-speed line, 180 miles of new electrified lines and increased capacity. It means more passengers across the midlands and the north will benefit from faster trains more quickly, and to more places.
Members will soon have the opportunity to scrutinise the first piece of legislation that we intend to deliver—the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill—which will create the transport spine that will serve towns and cities across the north-west as well as helping trains travel further to Scotland.
Prior to introducing that Bill, will the Minister assure the House that the Department has examined the change in working patterns with more people working from home, the impact that that has had and is likely to have on demand for inter-city travel, whether that has impacted the core case for High Speed 2 and whether, even with several billion already spent, there is a case for spending another £100 billion in the light of those changes?
The right hon. Gentleman and I will have to continue to disagree on HS2. I, and people across the House, see it as a long-term investment in the future of our country. Undoubtedly, passenger demand has been impacted by the covid pandemic, but we are confident that it will rebound. Part of the strategic outline business case, which we published when we deposited the Bill in the House, sets out our view that there is still a value-for-money business case behind getting on with investing in HS2, and not just phase 1, which is currently under construction—22,000 people are employed and 340 active construction sites are under way at the moment—but phase 2a to Crewe, taking those trains further and, with the new Bill, from Crewe all the way into Manchester.
I thank the Minister for giving away again. Can I bring him back to the point about whether there has been a long-term sectoral shift in demand for peak hour inter-city travel as a result of working from home and Zoom conferences. Has the Department analysed whether and why it thinks that demand will return to previous levels?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his further point. We have done and continue to do the analysis and look at all the evidence. If we look at parts of the world that have been through pandemics before, we have still seen growth in the cities in those countries. We have still seen a desire for people increasingly to live in cities and to commute between those cities. HS2 is an investment in the long term, bringing the cities of this country closer together and, with phase 1 due to open at the earliest between 2029 to 2033, there is sufficient time for passenger demand to recover.
As a country, we have come very late to high-speed rail. Many other countries around the world—France and Italy in particular, along with Japan—have helped to pioneer high-speed rail services. It is long overdue that a Government in this country get on and invest for the long term. That is why I am proud that HS2 continues to have cross-party support in the House. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman and I will continue to disagree, but many other Members do see the benefits of us getting on and investing for the long term.
We published a strategic outline business case updating the business case for HS2 when we deposited the Bill. We will continue to publish further analysis whenever investment decisions are made.
I need to make some progress. While there will be differences of opinions across the House on many issues—hopefully not too much on HS2—I hope that the transport Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last week will receive broad support. After all, I hope that we can all agree that we want a rail service that delivers day in, day out for passengers: one that provides comfortable, affordable services that run on time. I am sure we all agree that the current model is not working. I therefore hope that hon. Members will support our plans to fundamentally reform the rail sector. We will create a new body, Great British Railways, which will act as a single guiding mind for the entire network, get a grip on spiralling costs, replace franchising with passenger service contracts, improve the passenger experience and simplify the ticketing offer.
The Bill also paves the way for the transport of the future, putting the UK at the forefront of new low-carbon technology. It will help the transition to electric vehicles by installing 300,000 public and private charge points across the country by 2030. It will set new safety standards and assign legal responsibilities to introduce self-driving vehicles on to our roads. That market, which is worth tens of billions of pounds and set to create 38,000 jobs, is a matter of when, not if, and UK consumers need to be reassured that the legal protections are in place. Similarly, rules are needed to improve the safe, legal use of smaller, lighter zero-emission vehicles such as e-scooters, which are only growing in popularity.
I hope that hon. Members will recognise that the Government are finally correcting the historic wrong that has long denied seafarers the same rights and protections as workers on land. That was ruthlessly and shamefully exploited by P&O Ferries earlier this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Transport pledged swift action at the Dispatch Box, and I recall that his plans received support from both sides of the House. The harbours seafarers’ renumeration bill will make it a condition of entry for ferry services to pay the equivalent of the national minimum wage to seafarers while in UK waters. It is not right that workers plying their trade in and out of British ports, carrying passengers or vital freight, are denied the rights that the rest of us enjoy.
I may be pre-empting the Minister in raising the subject of Hammersmith bridge, which has been closed for three years, but Putney residents will really want to know that urgent action is being taken. Will he give a date by which Hammersmith bridge will be reopened for vehicles, freeing up the roads in Putney from the congestion and pollution that they suffer?
The Government continue to work on that issue with the local authority. Obviously, we have committed funding towards supporting the repairs of the bridge, and I am pleased that the work is under way. I would suggest that the timescale for those works is a matter for the local authority, and I cannot answer that today, but the Government continue to support swiftly bringing that bridge back into use. We have been critical of some of the delays in getting the work under way, but I am pleased to say that it is now happening.
York’s rail supercluster is taking rail into the future. I would like to know whether the transport Bill will see investment in research and development to ensure that we can really build on the success of what has been created in York and go further, faster.
I am pleased to say that it will. We are keen to support innovation in our railways across the UK—not just in York I should say, before I get criticised. We have great clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises working in the rail sector to drive forward innovation. I thank the hon. Lady for not making a pitch for York to be the headquarters of GBR; I thought that her question was inevitably going there. I am sure that will follow later in the debate.
I want to leave plenty of time for the debate, so I will close by urging hon. Members to recognise that, far from holding back, the Government are fully backing our transport industry to help us build back better, decarbonise our economy, level up this country and give everyone, wherever they live, the tools to realise their talent.
On air connectivity, yesterday at a Hospitality Ulster event it became very clear that there is a problem with connectivity between Belfast City Airport and Heathrow, not because the flights are not there but because the staffing is not there. It is trying to recruit, but is unable to do so. Will the Minister have discussions with Heathrow on solving that problem, and therefore increasing and improving air connectivity?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. That issue is close to my heart, as someone who frequently flies to Northern Ireland and passes through City airport. Reducing delays at all airports across the UK is something that the aviation Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Robert Courts, is working on. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks are brought to his attention and we will see what more we can do to ensure that passengers are not unduly inconvenienced when passing through that airport.
We are getting on with investing more money in our railway infrastructure than any Government have invested since they were built and that is why we are making funds available to local decision makers to restore railway lines, introduce cycle lanes and fix potholes. It is why we are carrying out reforms to make our trains and buses deliver consistent value for passengers. And it is why, from self-driving vehicles to micro-mobility to zero-emissions aviation and shipping, we are laying the groundwork and preparing today for the jobs and travel habits of tomorrow.
Sorry to surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We swapped the buses issue.
Words matter. Days after the Prime Minister came to power, he said something crystal clear to communities across the north and the midlands:
“I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did for Crossrail in London, and today I am going to deliver on my commitment…with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”
Some 60 times—60 times—the Conservative Government committed to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. Conservative Members stood on a manifesto pledge to deliver it and the eastern leg of HS2 on three—three—separate occasions. Just last year at the Conservative party conference the Prime Minister said it all again. This was a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunities across the whole country, rebalancing the economy and making it work for working people. These schemes would have created more than 150,000 new jobs and connected 13 million people in major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands. But last year, those promises were torn up and the Government do not even have the decency to admit it. They promised HS2 to Leeds. They promised Northern Powerhouse Rail in full and a new line from Leeds to Manchester. They promised the north that it would not be forgotten. But the one thing we know is that we cannot believe a single word the Prime Minister says.
This week, across the north, that is being repeated once again. On Monday, thousands and thousands of passengers saw their services cut back, and towns and cities across the north are paying the price. Let us take Wakefield: three services to the nearby cities of Leeds and Wakefield have been removed altogether; the hourly Huddersfield to Wakefield train has been replaced with a bus service that takes twice as long; and services from Keighley, Dewsbury, Halifax and Hull have all been cut back. Just six months ago, the Prime Minister’s Government said that they would
“protect and improve services on existing lines” and
“not neglect shorter distance journeys”, saying
“levelling-up cannot wait.”
They are brazenly breaking the promises that they made to communities time and time again. These towns and cities deserve so much better.
What has the Transport Secretary said about those cuts? Absolutely nothing, to date—he is missing in action. Perhaps he is still waiting for the missing Wakefield to Huddersfield train that is never going to come. He is probably flying on his private little plane. In the middle of a climate and a cost of living crisis, it is senseless to force people off public transport and cut them off from jobs and opportunities. It is time for him to step in and stand up for local communities with a commitment to get services to above and beyond pre-pandemic levels.
The story on buses is no different.
Any investment is clearly welcome, but the problem is that the amount of money that transport authorities across the country were asked to bid for came to a total of £9 billion. The hon. Lady’s authority was one of the lucky ones to have received funding, because the actual total amount of money dished out was only £1.3 billion. The reality is that dozens and dozens of transport authorities have been completely let down on the funding of buses.
Since the Government took power, 134 million miles of bus routes have been lost, and bus coverage in Britain is currently at its lowest level in more than 30 years. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England—hardly a left-wing think-tank—that has led to the creation of transport deserts in communities up and down the nation. In response to the challenge laid down before us, the Prime Minister announced a national bus strategy, which he painted as the biggest sector shake-up in a generation. More than a year on from its release, the Government’s ambition, which was limited from the outset, has declined even further. The cash—this speaks to the hon. Lady’s point—went to fewer than half the 79 English areas that were eligible and told to apply. Many areas, from Hull to rural North Yorkshire, from Plymouth to Swindon, will not see the lower fares and much-needed improvements to bus services that the Government promised. This is not me saying this; these are facts. The strategy offered nothing for those looking for a bold vision to reverse the loss of millions of miles of bus routes across the country since the Government have been in power. It was a missed opportunity to revolutionise the bus industry and ensure that funds were properly directed to deliver the transition to clean, green vehicles they promised.
Bearing in mind we are now spending over £63 billion a year on debt interest payments, where would the hon. Gentleman get the additional money to pay for all of this?
The Government said we should be ambitious and local transport authorities therefore said the investment should be £9 billion. My view is that investment grows the economy and creates jobs. HS2 could have guaranteed jobs for hundreds of thousands of rail workers for decades to come. Not investing now is clearly short-sighted.
We stood at the past two elections on a very clear manifesto, which the current leader of the Labour party backed. Our current strategy, which the leader of the Labour party backs, states very clearly that we back it. It is not us who have proposed that HS2 should be cut; it is the Government who have implemented that cut to the eastern leg.
The hon. Gentleman does not have to take my word for it. Tory councils have joined the backlash against what the Prime Minister has done over his pathetic bus funding plan. Conservative Don Mackenzie of North Yorkshire County Council said:
“We knew the Bus Back Better budget had been severely curtailed, but I expected to get some money, not nothing at all, so I’m very disappointed.”
In Shropshire, the Conservative cabinet member for transport said she was “devastated”, adding:
“We are at a complete loss as to why we have been completely overlooked.”
It is a sad and sorry tale that so many Conservative councils across the country are being let down by their own Government.
The sad truth is that, for too long the Tory party has overlooked buses. Some 5,000 services have been lost since they came to power—a staggering quarter of all bus routes in the entire United Kingdom. Far from a bus transformation, many will continue to see a managed decline. The underfunding by the Government has become so severe that a recent report by the former UN special rapporteur Professor Philip Alston highlighted a broken and fragmented system, with skyrocketing fares, plummeting service standards and disappearing routes depriving bus users of an essential public service. The report even went as far as to say that we are failing in our fundamental human rights obligations by allowing this essential service to deteriorate so severely.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for giving way—I do appreciate it. Does he agree that some of the issues he highlights, which are affecting councils across the country, are the result of continual multibillion-pound settlements having to be directed to Transport for London to bail it out because of the Labour Mayor’s previous poor decision making?
My former colleague on the Transport Committee knows that that is a very scurrilous question. The money spent in London supports tens of thousands—and as many as 50,000—jobs outside the capital. For every pound spent in London, over 50p is then spent outside London, so every time money is spent in London, it benefits the wider economy.
Even during the pandemic, over 18 months —this was even on the TfL website—there was an “extraordinary” funding settlement of £4 billion to bail out TfL because of some of the poor decisions made by the Mayor of London, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that things are not necessarily as clear as he suggests.
The reality is that the problematic, poor decisions were made by the chap who is now in Downing Street: the former Mayor of London. He is the chap who cut £1 billion off the budget that was given to TfL every year. TfL was the only major, and probably the biggest, transit system in the western world without any direct Government subsidy until the pandemic. If we ask a transport system to wash its own face—to pay for things only through fares—and 90% of that fare revenue disappears, how on earth can we expect that system to survive? Let us have some serious economics here, not the economics of jokesters.
As I said, the underfunding by this Government has become so severe that the UN special rapporteur has highlighted that it is hitting our poorest communities—communities such as those in Dorset. The report even went as far as to say that the Government were failing the fundamental human rights of people in rural communities. I know that Chris Loder is passionate about badgers, but he needs to be more passionate about buses and speak to the Prime Minister. The worst part of all this is that the same working people who have such shockingly bad services are bearing the brunt of the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis.
Many people are paying 50% more on rail and bus fares to get to work than a decade ago. In March, the Government announced that they would go further still, with a brutal 3.8% rail fare hike for millions of passengers, and with bus fares rising nationwide. As the Minister said, it is great that there is a sale, but as he well knows, £7 million of tickets is a drop in the ocean of fare revenues.
Actually, the last Labour manifesto probably had the most comprehensive plan ever put forward at an election for running our rail and other transport networks. It is interesting that a lot of the ideas now being implemented by the Government are watered-down versions of what we put forward then. Instead of having weak lemonade, is it not about time that we had the full pint and something serious?
Incredibly, the Rail Minister had the cheek to say that the eye-watering rail fare hike would make rail more attractive. Many will wonder what planet Ministers are living on if they think people can afford that. Up and down the country, families are really paying the price for decisions made in Downing Street.
While the Conservative party punishes local communities with sky-high fares and substandard services, Labour is fighting across the country for better, cheaper and more affordable transport. In towns and cities nationwide, our leaders in power have a plan to turn the page on a decade of decline, putting communities back at the heart of public transport and transforming it for good. The vision of these Labour leaders is simple: to build buses quicker, cheaper, greener and more reliably. Last year, Andy Burnham decided to move to franchising, with a clear vision that talked of
“a world-class, integrated transport network which can unlock opportunity for all;
providing access to jobs and education, reducing pollution, attracting investment and reducing isolation.”
Similarly, Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire has promised to put “people before profit” by introducing
“simpler fares, contactless ticketing, and greener buses.”
In addition to investing millions of pounds in new routes and services, both Mayors are set to cap bus fares at £2, saving passengers up to £1.50 in West Yorkshire and, in some cases, more than £2 in Greater Manchester. That is the difference that Labour in power is making.
It is important that the House notes that the Labour Mayor of London required continual multibillion-pound bail-outs from this Conservative Government—funds that would otherwise be invested in other parts of the nation. The Labour party is advocating making the same mistake again in Manchester, the west midlands and other places. The hon. Gentleman is advocating a fixed fare, with costs being completely unmanaged and the Government therefore being required to bail out the cost deficit again.
I had the misfortune of catching a bus in Manchester about a decade ago, when we had a variety of competing transport companies charging more than £5 a fare. That is clearly not right. All around the world, progressive administrations are making transport affordable. If we are serious about climate change, we need to get people on public transport, whether that is buses, trains or trams. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, finances in London are all to do with the crash in ridership on the tube and the wider TfL system. I am happy to see passenger levels start to rise again, and to do so very quickly, because of the work of our Labour Mayor.
What communities up and down this country need is a Government who match their ambition, not a Government who tell them to be ambitious and then give them hardly any money. We need a transport system that is fit to tackle the climate catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, and that works for the passengers and communities who rely on it. Labour would wrest our rail networks back in full from inefficient private operators. We would put into public hands the parts of the railways that the Government have not. We would give communities across the country London-style powers to reform bus networks, keep fares down and improve services. We would invest in our vital transport infrastructure to boost economic growth and rebalance the economy, which will create thousands of good, green, long-term, unionised jobs. Unfortunately, unless the Government match their communities’ ambition on local transport, they will have failed millions across the country, and their hotchpotch agenda on levelling up will not be delivered. Instead, it will lie in tatters.
Order. I hope that we can manage without a formal time limit. We will be able to do so if everyone keeps to around seven minutes. If we cannot, I will put on a time limit.
It is with great excitement that I rise to speak in this transport debate. I could go on all day, but I am well aware of your time limit requirements, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving us time to hold this debate; he has a great passion for transport, as we saw in his time as Mayor of London. I place on record my thanks to the members of the Transport Committee, some of whom are here today, and to the Department and its Ministers, who always engage proactively with us. They have accepted many of our recommendations, and we look forward to continuing to scrutinise them and to coming up with policy ideas that we think can make transport better. Transport matters because it is the one policy area that has an impact on pretty much every single person in this country, every single day. That is why I am so excited to speak about some of these measures.
I want to take hon. Members on a quick canter through some of the modes, and then talk a little about decarbonisation in each sector. This week, we heard from local government representatives. As has been said, 31 of the 79 bids under the bus service improvement plan were successful. I know that there has been some criticism on the grounds that all local transport authorities should have funds, but I believe that there needs to be a competitive process in which only the best ideas are funded. The best can then be taken on board by other local transport authorities, which may not be given the money, but can learn how it can be well spent. The lesson is that local transport authorities and indeed county halls across the country need to be aware that these bidding processes will continue, and not just for transport. Authorities need to have not just specialists, but bidding departments that can successfully bid.
On rail, I really welcome the forthcoming legislation on Great British Railways. The Transport Committee has been concerned that those with the train set in the Department for Transport do not particularly want to give it away to the mix of the public and private sector that will be taking these things on board on an arm’s length basis. I would like the private side of the rail sector to be given the opportunity to remain involved: it is the private side of the rail sector that has doubled rail passenger numbers over the past 20 years. We need that attitude now more than ever, given the issues from the pandemic.
I recognise and welcome the £96 billion of integrated rail plan funding. It must always be frustrating for the Minister to hear someone say that and then demand more, but I would like us to look in particular at the station opportunities at Manchester, Bradford and certainly Leeds, which seems to be at full capacity. Also, as the Mayor of the West Midlands has made clear, the midlands rail hub will allow the new grade of track to be shared across the wider region. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to continue to listen and be involved in that project.
On aviation, we must learn lessons from the pandemic. We must have future-proofing so that if there is another variant of concern, we know how to react without another disproportionate impact on the aviation sector. We also need help for the sector to recover. That means more flexibility on staffing, especially security staff, so that they can be vetted and perhaps do some of their training as they go. We also need airspace modernisation to deliver both decarbonisation and more planes. I hear the Minister when he says that Heathrow landing charges are a matter for the independent regulator, but can Ministers test the numbers? The aviation industry says that the numbers will be much greater than Heathrow is saying. The lower the numbers for Heathrow, the higher the cost and the more justification for increasing the landing charges, which would hold us all back.
As we have left the European Union, we can surely do more on slot allocation reform. And can we please have the airline insolvency review? I have stood here so many times calling for it. We keep talking about it, but we do not deliver it. The Civil Aviation Authority should not be the body that repatriates customers who are stranded.
My hon. Friend does an excellent job of chairing the Transport Committee. What is he doing to ensure that the road building projects that we secure for our constituencies—we have secured more than £50 million for the completion of the north-west relief road in Shrewsbury—do not get stuck in the planning process? Some of us are finding the planning process very laborious and complex. Is the Select Committee interacting with the Government to ensure that planning processes for the construction of roads are speeded up?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are halfway through the £24.5 billion road investment strategy 2 programme. My call—I think it probably aligns with his—is that that is closely monitored and that in place of those projects that are going to be held up, shovel-ready projects that might have been in RIS3 can be put in RIS2. I think that there are issues on that front in relation to the A303. The Committee pledges to look at that.
My hon. Friend takes me on to roads. I am keen that we continue with the audit of smart motorways to ensure that roads are safer, with some of the retrospective fittings that should perhaps have been made in the first place. I recognise the Department’s commitment on that front.
In the Bill, can we prohibit pavement parking outside London? That approach has worked in London since the early 1970s, and it is time to take it elsewhere.
In urban centres, 50% of all journeys will need to be active by 2030 if we are to hit our target. Can we embrace change, technology and innovation? I know that some will speak about e-scooters and say that more needs to be done to tackle them. At the moment they are illegal, but they are out there and nothing seems to stop them. It is better to regulate and control them and make them better than to pretend that they do not exist. How is it that I can buy a bike or a car, but only hire an e-scooter? Surely it is time to catch up with science.
On decarbonisation, I welcome the commitment to 4,000 zero-emission buses. I know that 2,000 have been funded, but not enough are on the road right now. We need to do more to get them delivered, not least because it helps our manufacturing sector, as they are unique to this country.
Although 37% of our rail track is electrified, there are another 6,100 miles to go. We need to look at hydrogen and bio mode, but electrification is the only game in town at the moment. If we had a rolling programme in place, perhaps we would be able to deliver it more cheaply than the £2.5 million per mile that it currently costs. Germany has a rolling programme that costs £500,000 per mile. The more we do, the cheaper it becomes.
On aviation, we need to back a winner, and sustainable aviation fuel is that winner. It needs a mandate and a contracts for difference market, which is delivered for electricity. The Government can really do more on that front.
On maritime, as well as protecting seafarers—we need to look at insolvency legislation all over again with regard to employment rights—we know that moves are afoot in the European Union on biometric testing, which will hammer our ports and our short supply chain routes if we do not do more.
Finally, on road, I welcome the 2030 target, but it will be incredibly difficult to meet if we do not get more people buying electric vehicles. The zero-emission vehicle mandate is a great idea, but it comes into force only in 2025. Only 6.6% of new cars sold are electric. In the second-hand car market it is only 0.3%, although those may be a previous year’s figures. We are doing a lot more. Range anxiety will reduce as the Government invest more in smart charging and develop interoperability, but I am worried about delivering for people, especially the third of all households that do not have charging at home.
Once we all have electric vehicles, there will be a hole in the Exchequer because 4% of all tax receipts come from fuel duty or vehicle excise duty. That is £35 billion of funds. Only about 20% of that goes on to the road, so if we want to continue to invest in roads as well as schools and hospitals, we will have to find a way of replacing those taxes. It is time for road pricing. It will work; we have the technology to allow it to work. The beauty of it is that it is similar to the current system: the more you drive and the bigger your vehicle, the more you pay. It is time for bold decisions on such matters. We must not wait until it is too late. I know that the Government are all about bold decisions, and we will work very closely in that regard.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee on which I serve. I agreed with almost everything he said up until the last line of his speech.
Today’s debate is timely. As it is currently outlined, the Government’s transport Bill is a missed opportunity to drive forward a transformational change and set an agenda for the years and decades ahead. At a time when transport initiatives are at the heart of the green industrial revolution, whether that be zero-emission buses on our streets, electrifying our railways, new hydrogen and battery-driven trains, e-bikes and e-scooters fundamentally changing horizons for urban travel or the moves towards 20-minute neighbourhoods to rebalance our economy and promote active travel, the paucity of ambition shown in the Government’s programme is frankly embarrassing. They make no mention of properly ramping up the transition from diesel buses to zero-emission vehicles in our towns and cities, no mention of real high-level investment in active travel that matches the leadership shown by the Scottish Government, and no mention of fully decarbonising the rail network south of the border. A net zero future is also a future less reliant on energy supplies tied up in geopolitics or hostage to the whims of dictators and rogue states.
Europe and the United States are beginning the move away from Russian oil and gas; the UK could be taking the lead and accelerating the move away from oil and gas completely. They could be working with colleagues in Scotland and across these isles and across the continent to decarbonise our transport networks. But that simply is not going to happen any time soon with the limited horizons shown in the planned transport measures. We are in a climate emergency, but the Government’s plans simply do not meet the needs of our times.
On a positive note, I welcome the Government’s move to reform and improve the regulations relating to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and to enforce things like interoperability and minimum service standards. I hope that we will see those regulations promised by the Government in March on the statute book sooner rather than later.
We are just eight years away, as I think the Chair of the Select Committee said, from the Government’s deadline of 2030 for ending sales of new petrol and diesel cars. Electric vehicle infrastructure needs a huge jump-start across these isles, but instead the Department seems intent on continuing its abysmal record in England outside London.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to encourage bus operators to move away from diesel transport when their diesel receives direct subsidy? Reducing or removing that subsidy would encourage the purchase of hydrogen or other vehicles.
That may well be the case, but the bus operators to whom I speak would not welcome any decline in the subsidy—far from it. I am lucky in that Renfrewshire has more electric buses or zero-emission buses than anywhere in the UK outside London, but it still has diesel buses as well. I am not convinced that bus operators would welcome the removal of that subsidy at a time when fuel prices are high. When fuel prices come down, the hon. Gentleman’s idea will not be without merit.
As has become the norm in the Department for Transport, we have a glossy booklet for the Secretary of State to plonk on the shelf behind him while he is on camera—at least when he is not flying to New York for location filming in yet another cinematic masterpiece. I hope the folk at BAFTA are taking note of his current videos on Twitter. Behind the gloss, however, the electric vehicle strategy is thin gruel. While the Scottish Government plan to maintain our record as the UK nation with the highest per capita number of public charging points by doubling their numbers by the end of this Parliament, the UK Government are letting England fall even further behind. Already England, outside London, has been left in the slow lane as charging infrastructure is rolled out. That gap will only grow over the coming years, and as always it will be the poorer and more rural areas that will lose out as private investment focuses on high-density, high-capacity locations while intervention from the state is minimal. That ideological direction has to change, and change soon.
The fact that home charging attracts the standard VAT rate for domestic electricity supplies of 5% while public charging points are still subject to the full 20% is not just a disincentive to people thinking of making the switch; it also penalises electric vehicle users who do not have the benefit of a driveway or a space to park a car. I own an electric car, which I can charge at home, making use of the cheaper rates, but people not in that position are having to pay the 20% rate. Anyone living in a flat or shared space is paying a great deal more to charge their car than those with front-door properties. That is essentially a tax on the less well-off. There is no word in the programme for government of any action to tackle this inconsistency. I hope that the Minister will be lobbying her colleagues in the Treasury to address the anomaly and ensure that all those making the switch to electric vehicles are on a level playing field.
The DFT is also miles behind on zero-emission buses. Scotland has ordered nearly three times as many per capita, and since the start of the year those aged 21 and under, as well as those over 60, travel on them free of charge.
Active travel seems not to merit a single mention in the outline of the transport Bill. After two years of low traffic neighbourhoods, Spaces for People, a continued increase in cycling, the move towards 20-minute neighbourhoods and the exponential growth of e-bikes and e-scooters, I find that staggering. Within three years Scotland will be spending 10% of our entire transport budget on active travel, an unprecedented amount across these isles and a genuinely transformational level of spending. The potential waiting to be unlocked in our towns and cities through this spending is huge. Down south, however, the DFT is still stuck in same mindset: a funding scheme here and a bidding process there, dripping out relative crumbs of funding to local government.
By 2024-25, Scotland’s active travel spend will amount to £60 per person per year, adding up to £320 million every year. That is transformational spending, not just because it will reduce emissions and offer alternatives to cars, but because it will give a huge boost to our town and city centres and local neighbourhoods. In England, the DFT plans to spend barely that annual amount over the next five years, which works out at just over £7 per person. That is not simply a lack of ambition; it shows the lack of any kind of lessons learned from the pandemic. I give the UK Government credit for at least having the good sense to put Chris Boardman in charge of Active Travel England. He is backed by a cross-section of stakeholders. However, in the absence of real resources behind his plans and real political commitment from the Government, this is like expecting him to win the Tour de France on a bike with no pedals.
I hope that Ministers are noting the Scottish Government’s spending plans, because our interests in Scotland are England’s interests too. There is little point in putting out the fire in your house if your neighbours are dousing petrol on theirs. We need the policy makers here, and the Treasury, to understand the importance of active travel in the context of transitioning to zero carbon and boosting local economies to the benefit of both people and small businesses.
On rail, we are promised the establishment of Great British Railways. It has been clear for decades that the fragmented and illogical mess left behind by the Secretary of State’s predecessors back in the Major Government and continued by their successors, both Labour and Tory, must be radically transformed. Reintegration is to be welcomed, and having heard in the Select Committee from the transition team’s lead, Andrew Haines, I know that the will and the experience are there at the operational level, but the hard fact is that building a better railway system across these isles needs political will and ambition. Notwithstanding what the Minister of State said in his opening remarks, one look at the Government’s track record since 2010 would lead anyone to conclude that ambition barely exists. Umpteen electrification schemes have been dumped or hugely scaled down, key parts of HS2 serving the north of England have been scrapped, and Crossrail is £4 billion over budget.
Everyone concerned with transport in the UK isles wants to see Great British Railways succeed, and begin to put an end to the wasted years that have seen the UK left in the sidings while other European countries have quietly got on with bringing their networks into the 21st century. However, if the DFT and the Treasury cannot match that good will with cold hard cash and a change in attitudes, I fear that we will be having these same debates in five, 10 or 20 years’ time. If GBR is established without changes to the way in which rail infrastructure is governed, that will constitute yet another missed opportunity to put full control of our railways where it belongs, with the Scottish Parliament.
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Rail operations in Scotland are, of course, delegated to the Scottish Government. The hon. Gentleman will know full well that there are great difficulties with the Scottish operations at present, not least because of copious strikes. It is clear that the Scottish Government have allowed the unions to run the railways in Scotland, hence the difficulties, particularly at weekends. Given this Government’s commitment to the Union connectivity review and to ensuring that we have excellent connectivity throughout the UK that benefits the economy of the whole UK, does the hon. Gentleman not think that before calling for too much more of what he would like—independence and delegating things away from Westminster—the Scottish Government ought to get their own house in order?
I do not recognise the picture that my colleague paints. The fact is that with its integrated approach to track and train in Scotland, ScotRail provides the rest of the UK with an exemplar of how to run a rail system. As for the union connectivity review, we had backed HS2 to come all the way to the Scottish border and provide high-speed rail in the central belt of Scotland and beyond. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State winds up the debate, she will be able to tell us when HS2 will actually reach the Scottish border and we can marry up that high-speech connection with Scotland. I should be very interested to hear about that, because the Scottish and UK Governments agreed to it a number of years ago.
As my colleague has pointed out, ScotRail is now in full public ownership, so now is the time to transfer full responsibility, permanently, for the infrastructure currently in the hands of Network Rail to the Scottish Government so that we have a truly integrated rail network. That will also allow for reform of the current track access charge regime, which is sucking resources from Scotland’s railways to be mixed into the Network Rail pot, rather than their being invested directly in Scotland’s track and infrastructure. ScotRail is forking out twice the access charges of Northern, despite a broadly comparable passenger network. West Midlands Trains, with almost exactly the same number of passenger kilometres as ScotRail, pays only one third of the charges paid by our publicly owned train operator. If the transport Bill is going to be mainly about implementing the Williams rail review, it must fundamentally alter the structure and framework of track access charges and provide a level playing field for publicly owned companies such as ScotRail, as opposed to the private concessions that will continue to operate in England under the auspices of GBR.
I welcome any action by any Government who try to put a stop to the shameful behaviour of P&O Ferries. It is still shocking to recollect that the chief executive not only admitted that his company flagrantly broke the law in treating 800 loyal and hard-working staff with the contempt that was shown by him and his colleagues, but said that he would do the same again. However, it is the Government who should be acting, rather than subcontracting their role to others. Palming off responsibility for employment law to port authorities—most of which are now privately owned—is not what workers in our maritime sector need. They need real protections from the likes of P&O, enforced by Government rather than subject to the decision making of port owners.
Privatising employment law must be the ultimate in Tory ideology. Who needs Governments to enforce the laws that they make when private enterprise is there to do their job for them? It also beggars belief that they are happy to transfer responsibility for employment law to the private sector, but still resist transferring it to a democratically elected Parliament in Edinburgh. The Scottish Government have made it clear that they want pernicious employment practices such as fire and rehire to be banned, but Scotland’s workers are still trapped under the current antiquated system. If it is good enough for companies such as Associated British Ports or Peel Ports, it is good enough for our democratically elected Government in Edinburgh.
We know the important role our transport sectors play in our society and our economy. Since the last Queen’s Speech, we have seen chaos at our ports caused by Brexit, huge cutbacks in funding for public transport in England and the continuing evidence from here and elsewhere in the world of the existential threat that climate change poses to us and the rest of humanity. Those threats need radical action to tackle not only the global challenges but those closer to home. Sadly, the Government’s programme on transport falls well short.
No country can provide all the answers or claim perfection, but at least the Scottish Government are putting up a fight and trying to make the necessary changes, some of which are tough and, dare I say it, unpopular. If the UK Government do not want to make those changes, that is regrettable for all of us, but that should not allow them to continue putting up barriers around Scotland’s response. We cannot be hindered by inertia and a lack of ambition any longer. On transport policy, like so much else, it is for the UK to try to show why Scotland should continue to be part of the Union. On the evidence so far, it has an impossible task.
I will make a few points, but I will be particularly aware of the time and make sure that I do not overrun, so that other colleagues can get in. First, I agree strongly with the point made by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, that Government support for the transport sector during the pandemic was very strong. It was necessary in the emergency that we faced. However, the message to people to avoid public transport, while I understood its point, undid some of the progress that had been made in getting people back on to public transport in the first place. Our task now is to encourage people to resume using public transport and to ensure that the Government investment programme surges ahead, although I recognise fully that these are tough times in transport planning, given all the uncertainties. We are still facing problems from the pandemic, when things like train driver training were cut back, but it is a bad mistake to think that the current level of passenger demand has stabilised and is somehow fixed and that service levels can be cut back accordingly.
We have seen some of the implications of this locally on the Leeds-Harrogate-Knaresborough-York line. The services that have been cut back are the early morning services to Leeds, although many people from Harrogate commute to Leeds for work. Some will now find it impossible to be in work on time. For other service users, it is now impossible to connect with the Leeds to London services that get into our capital before 10 am. That is not good enough for business people, and Harrogate has significant conference business at its convention centre, with many people travelling to it from across the country. Other rail cuts have created long gaps in the evening services and an earlier finish on the Knaresborough service. These cuts are obviously bad for our night-time economy.
It is not great to see these things because we had been making such great progress after all of the years of Labour’s no-growth northern franchise. We have got rid of the Pacers, we have much better rolling stock and we have more services, especially the six direct London services per day using the new Azuma trains. I have taken this matter up locally, specifically with the chair of Northern Rail, Robin Gisby, with whom I had a very positive meeting. It was clear that he recognised the significance of the services that have been cut, and he is working on reinstatement for later this year. Getting more drivers through training is a necessary ingredient for progress.
I recognise the challenges in resuming full pre-pandemic levels of operation. We have lower demand at the moment, as well as operational issues. We can see comparable issues in other sectors of the economy and in our public services, but lots of people have worked hard to secure the rail improvements we have enjoyed over the last 10 years and lots of people need the services that have been lost. Those services have a disproportionate economic impact, which is why we need them back at the earliest opportunity. May I ask the Minister to focus on ensuring that the operational side of the catch-up is delivered as fast as possible? I recognise that this is the industry’s responsibility, but pressure from the Minister can help.
I would like to switch modes and talk about buses. We have many electric buses in Harrogate already. There was a step change in 2018 when a fleet of eight electric buses went into service. That funding came from a green bus fund initiative, which ran for many years. Before anybody intervenes, I acknowledge that I am indeed marking my own homework here, as a former bus Minister, but the point is that we are now seeing comparable initiatives all across the country. Indeed, only in the last few weeks the Harrogate Bus Company and North Yorkshire County Council, under the excellent leadership of Councillor Don Mackenzie, have won approval for their bid to the Government’s zero emission bus regional areas—ZEBRA—scheme. The county council has secured £8 million and the Harrogate Bus Company is investing £12 million to create a scheme that will bring 39 electric buses to Harrogate and, especially, to Knaresborough.
I would like to share the experience we have had in Harrogate. The bottom line is that the new electric buses are very popular, and the customer response has been excellent. I have checked this with the bus company and with passengers. People like the ride quality and the quietness, alongside the fact that the vehicles are bright, airy and pleasant to be in. They are obviously also emission free, which is highly popular. When the new buses arrive, I know that they will be popular too. The point of mentioning this is to encourage the Government to put as much pace as possible into the Bus Back Better campaign. The 4,000 zero-emission buses that will come from it will be popular. They will drive passenger usage, they will help to deliver our net zero objectives and as the buses will be built across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, they will help to deliver on the levelling up agenda. There are not many policy areas that can tick that many boxes, so please can we look at how the zero emission schemes have been implemented? There are lessons to be learned there, and those lessons will speed deployment. More wins, more quickly.
I have a moment left, and I have one further ask of Ministers. Will they keep the House informed of progress in the single leg pricing rail fare reform trial? Again, I must be up front about the fact that my fingerprints are on this issue. This trial is about simplifying fares on the London to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh routes so that passengers can mix and match to get more flexibility and therefore better deals. Initial feedback from LNER has been positive. I am not surprised by that, because we have seen passenger benefits. If Ministers could keep the House informed, that would be great. If the trail remains successful, perhaps it could be rolled out into other areas of the country so that more passengers can get better deals.
Lastly, there has been an enormous amount of hot air today from the Opposition Benches. The Labour Government did nothing to invest in rail during their time in office. We have listened to Labour Members suggesting that they would spend billions of pounds without identifying where the money would come from. Their track record is woeful. I ask them to consider how many miles of electrified railway the Labour Government delivered during the course of their term in office. It was woeful. They should not try to hide from their record. They should recognise that things have changed under this Government.
The hon. Gentleman did very well in sticking to the seven minutes that I asked for. I am afraid that more people have indicated that they wish to speak than I had originally been aware of, so I hope that we can now keep to a limit of around five minutes. I still hope that we can manage without a formal limit, which gives a little bit more relaxation—well, not relaxation; it should make for a better debate if we do not have time limits, so let us keep to five minutes and have some interesting interventions.
Five minutes is usually about clearing my throat, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will do my best in this debate, and I hope there will be no hot air from me today. I welcome the comments made by the previous Minister, Andrew Jones. Both Ministers on the Front Bench know of my commitment to Wrightbus in my constituency. It is a company that was about to go into the doldrums, starting with about 55 people, less than two and a half years ago, and it now employs almost 1,000 people. I remember the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Trudy Harrison visiting the plant with me and sitting in a new hydrogen development bus and wanting to steer it around the streets of Ballymena. I know that those visits are incredibly important. In the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State for Transport, and I have encouraged him to make his next big visit to Northern Ireland to visit the bus plant at Wrightbus and see for himself the great, pioneering work that is being done by the workforce there. They are immensely proud of the fact that they have produced the only workable hydrogen buses to scale across the UK. Indeed, they have produced over 1 million miles of bus activity on the UK’s roads. This is the future of public transport, and I hope the Government grasp it with both arms, give it a bearhug and take it forward, as is required for our industry to be successful.
I am also delighted that, in recent days, we have had a new export deal between Wrightbus and Volgren in Australia. Indeed, a deal with a European country for more hydrogen bus sales into Europe will be announced later this week, which is a very positive development. A small, 75-year-old company in Northern Ireland is now a world leader in hydrogen and other low-emission bus technologies. The job creation is significant and adds to our Union connectivity. Remember that 1,000 people employed in Northern Ireland is the equivalent of about 30,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. It is very significant for a small place like Northern Ireland to have such an impact. I encourage the Secretary of State and other Ministers to visit, because Wrightbus shows the importance of bus development.
Another aspect of Union connectivity as it relates to transport is the Heathrow hub link to Northern Ireland. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the interim price cap, which is disastrous for connectivity to Northern Ireland. If I wanted to fly to Northern Ireland right now and made an emergency booking with British Airways, a single flight would cost £375. I could probably fly to anywhere else in Europe for that. The price cap will cripple connectivity, and I encourage the Government to step in.
I heard what the Minister said, but it is not good enough to say that this is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority. Government intervention is required because of the strategic and security interests at stake with Union connectivity. I know it is difficult for him to step in, and that he would be treading on all sorts of toes, but he should do the Northern Ireland thing and get his retaliation in first. He should put on his hobnail boots, tread on those toes and make the point that this is damaging trade and investment in Northern Ireland, damaging connectivity and damaging the Union. It is important that we address that issue.
I congratulate Translink on its significant work on our railways across Northern Ireland. It is improving the links between the villages of Cullybackey and Dunloy in my constituency and Ballymoney. These are significant transport links for connectivity and businesses across Northern Ireland.
I also thank the road surfacers who are trying to improve, with a very limited budget, what I can only describe as the Swiss cheese-like roads on which some of our people drive in Northern Ireland. Again, the Government here should be encouraging our Government in Northern Ireland to get on with developing those roads.
The Minister mentioned the levelling-up agenda, which is a significant opportunity to change the UK for good, if it is applied correctly. If we can get levelling-up funding into new air routes and new airlines operating across Northern Ireland and into the rest of the world, it will make a significant difference for trade and for my constituents.
Finally, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on motorcycling, and I encourage the Minister to meet us soon to discuss the point raised by Huw Merriman, the Chair of the Transport Committee, on the regulation of e-scooters and other e-vehicles. This is an important development, and we need to get ahead of the curve.
Last week I had the pleasure of joining the all-party parliamentary group on Crossrail for my first Crossrail trip across London’s city centre, and it is a triumph of engineering and creativity. From the cloud atlas ceiling as I descended into Paddington station to the pinstripes that inspired the entire construction of Liverpool Street station, the design tells the story of our city.
Crossrail’s construction also revealed more of the city’s history. Some of the construction workers told me of discovering more than 3,000 victims of the black death, buried at haste and without dignity, beneath the old Bethlem Hospital when they excavated the tunnel at Liverpool Street. Of course, Crossrail also plants a flagpole in our national story, having been unveiled in the year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee and been christened in her name.
Crossrail has not all been plain sailing. It is overbudget and overdue, and it would not have made it without significant Government intervention. I have repeatedly cursed it over the years for the chaos it caused at Reading station and, as I crawled through on the bus, for the way it carved up Tottenham Court Road. Despite that, I have had a Damascene conversion. Crossrail is an extraordinary new piece of infrastructure.
It is incredible that we can travel from Paddington to Liverpool Street in 10 minutes, and even more incredible that we can get from Newbury station in my constituency to Canary Wharf, in the heart of the London docklands, in exactly one hour. Everyone who worked on Crossrail should feel proud. It will change our city and transform rail transport across much of the south-east.
Crossrail comes at a bittersweet moment for west Berkshire, because it is only two months since we learned that Great Western Railway is withdrawing three intercity express trains between Bedwyn and Paddington, about which my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, who is not in his place, and I have been talking to Ministers ever since it was decided.
I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, who is also not in her place, for her help in reinstating the 19.07 route from Paddington to Bedwyn, which is popular with commuters. She will understand that my predecessor, who now sits in the other place, worked very hard on the route’s introduction, and it meant people moved to villages such as Kintbury and Hungerford because they believed those places were commutable from London. GWR is doing a great job of trying to improve connection times, and it has said its ambition is to reinstate the intercity express trains. I hope Ministers will understand if I keep up that conversation and keep knocking on their door in the months ahead.
Finally, and I will be brief, I strongly differ from Sam Tarry on Bus Back Better, as we have had generous indicative funding. It has perhaps not enabled us to realise all our plans—we have lots of creative ideas in west Berkshire—but it has enabled us to realise some of them. Bus funding is often siloed in individual counties, and it is rare for counties to correspond on securing bus routes that travel between them, so Ministers will understand why I raise it.
For close to 18 months, I have been campaigning for a bus that links Newbury to Oxford, with stops along the way, not just because these two great metropolises ought to be joined, although they should, but because I think it meets the Department’s BSIP criteria to maximise passenger growth. The A34 route between west Berkshire and south Oxfordshire is home to some of the most exciting technology and science enterprises in the country, if not the world.
The Harwell science park, just north of my constituency border, is creating 10,000 jobs over the next five years and is already heavily recruiting talented apprentices from Newbury College. The same can be said of the science parks at Culham and Oxford, and of the business park at Milton. They are all on the same route, but the only way one of my constituents can access these places, if they get a job, is by taking two trains and a bus, with a journey time of about an hour and a half for a distance of less than 20 miles. Of course, most of them get in their car, which is something we want to limit.
I am grateful for the energy and enthusiasm that Oxfordshire County Council, West Berkshire Council, the Thames Valley local enterprise partnership and many others have shown for my proposed direct bus route, recognising that we need to give people a cheaper, greener and faster way of getting to work in these important growth destinations. West Berks and Oxfordshire both made this request of the DFT in their BSIP proposals, but the decision ultimately rests with Ministers, and I strongly encourage them to approve it.
It is a pleasure to follow Laura Farris. I welcome the opportunity to speak about transport issues today, as I am regularly contacted by constituents who are raising issues ranging from poor public transport links to the lack of availability of electric vehicle charging points. I will be covering a couple of those issues today, but I want to start with some good news for many of my constituents. As the hon. Lady mentioned, after years of waiting and a number of false starts, Crossrail, renamed the Elizabeth line, finally opens next week. One of its two eastern branches terminates at Abbey Wood, in my constituency. Having also had the opportunity to visit the station and ride the new trains, I am certain that will be a transformative new railway for many of my constituents and indeed the whole of London. So I, too, pay tribute to all those who have made it happen, including the many thousands of people who have worked on that colossal project. I also wish to point out that Crossrail got the green light under a Labour Government and a Labour Mayor.
There are of course lessons to be learned about the significant delays and cost overruns, but I am confident that the Elizabeth line will increase opportunities for many of my constituents and encourage more people to visit my part of south-east London. I can recommend the beautiful Lesnes Abbey Woods, near to Abbey Wood station—I recall inviting Madam Deputy Speaker there in my maiden speech—followed by a pint in the Abbey Arms, although I like to have a glass of wine.
I want to raise a point about ensuring as many of my constituents as possible benefit from Crossrail. To achieve that, we need well-thought-out and regular bus route links to communities across Erith and Thamesmead and to the Elizabeth line at Abbey Wood. Constituents have raised a number of issues, such as Transport for London extending services, but without increasing the number of buses on those routes, so people are left with lower frequency. Too many buses are being channelled down small roads, causing congestion problems. Parts of the constituency are still badly served, particularly at night, making it even harder for shift workers to get to and from work. Ultimately, we need good, reliable and regular bus routes across Erith and Thamesmead that reflect the needs of local people.
That brings me on to the wider issue of transport connectivity and my docklands light railway campaign. Thamesmead, in my constituency, is currently very poorly served by public transport. This cuts people off from work or educational opportunities, or means they have little choice but to drive. My “Next Stop Thamesmead” campaign is about finally putting Thamesmead on the transport map. I am backing plans, supported by the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Newham Council, TfL and Peabody, to extend the DLR from Gallions Reach, in Newham, over the river to Thamesmead. That proposal would unlock significant new housing on both sides of the river. Crucially, it would also increase connectivity for existing residents of Thamesmead and nearby areas.
When I raised this issue with the Minister in February, she said that work was ongoing with Homes England to assess the potential options. I would therefore be grateful if she could update me on that work. My constituents deserve the benefits of transport connectivity that many others across London already enjoy. Now is the time for the Government to commit to that project, back it with proper funding and get building the DLR extension to Thamesmead.
I want to end by talking about electric vehicle charging points. Many constituents have contacted me about the lack of availability of electric vehicle charging points near their homes and places of work. Increasingly, my constituents are keen to switch to electric vehicles; they want to do their bit for the environment, while also avoiding rising fuel prices. But too often, they are prevented from doing so by the lack of charging points, and the difficult processes they have to go through to request one from my local council. The availability of on-street charging points is a particular issue. Too few of my constituents, across both Greenwich and Bexley, have charging points on their streets. Although the provision and exact location of charging points is a matter for local councils, I firmly believe the Government must take a more proactive approach to ensure that everyone has access to charging points. I fully agree with the Transport Committee’s report from last year, which said:
“Charging an electric vehicle should be convenient, straightforward, and inexpensive;
owners should not face a postcode lottery”.
Local authorities need the powers and funding to deliver charging points across our local communities. For instance, we should look at whether councils can be given more powers over charging points in supermarket car parks and other similar locations. The roll-out of on-street chargers in front of people’s homes needs to be accelerated. We cannot afford dither and delay on the issue. The public are ready and willing to switch to electric cars and they must not be let down by this Government’s inaction.
To truly level up, we need to make sure that we provide suitable connections for our constituents to get to the opportunities that exist, whether that be by road or rail. That is one of my key focuses for the residents of Hyndburn and Haslingden, but we have some serious issues with transport and connectivity, one example being that a journey to Manchester by road, which is about 26 miles away, can easily take more than an hour. By train it takes just under that. I have worked with colleagues in Westminster, just after being elected, to save the vital X41 bus service, which goes from my patch to Manchester. We did that because bus routes are key, especially when we are encouraging people to use more public transport, but they routes have to exist, be reliable and affordable. That is why I welcome more than £34 million of funding from the Government for Lancashire’s bus service improvement plan, and I will push for much of the investment to go into Hyndburn and Haslingden.
Reliable services by train are vital, but our stations also have to be accessible. That is why I am pleased to see investment in Accrington train station, through Government funding. We are already seeing £300,000-worth of work being done on a compliant ramp on the Burnley-bound platform side, which came from the Department for Transport mid-tier funding. I have also lobbied for other stations to become accessible for all, such as Church & Oswaldtwistle and Rishton, and for further measures for Accrington. I am pleased that option selection reports and diversity impact assessments have been submitted to the Department for all those stations by Northern, which I have worked closely with. I really press that those be looked at favourably by the Department, as this investment would make a transformational difference.
Let me turn to some more of the schemes I have been lobbying the Government on, along with colleagues, the first of which is the Skipton to Colne railway line. I need to thank the campaign group SELRAP—Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership—for its hard work and dedication to the campaign. The reinstatement of just 13 miles of track removed during the Beeching cuts would be a huge benefit to our area and finally link up Yorkshire and Lancashire by rail. I would sincerely welcome a meeting with the Minister and other colleagues involved to discuss that further. As the Haslingden MP, my full backing is also behind the Rawtenstall to Manchester line bid under the restoring your railway fund. I was pleased that the Government granted £50,000 to Rossendale Borough Council for the feasibility study. Along with the local authorities, the local enterprise partnership, business leaders and East Lancashire chamber of commerce, we have been working together to get a freight terminal in Huncoat, which will be hugely beneficial for Lancashire and beyond, bringing jobs, investment and economic growth. I want the Government to be aware of that.
I want to talk about some key issues with our roads across Hyndburn and Haslingden, the first of which is speeding. Roads such as Hud Hey Road, Blackburn Road, Burnley Road, Manchester Road and Fielding Lane are just a few where we have severe problems with nuisance and ignorant drivers, who use our roads as racetracks, putting innocent lives at risk and creating excessive noise. I have been working with our local police and the county on the issue, and with them I am putting together our application to be one of the areas to trial the noise cameras that the Government have put forward. I hope our application will also be looked upon favourably.
We have a big issue in Lancashire and beyond. One thing we have been talking about a lot is the use of speed cameras. I have been told by authorities that the cost of just a single speed camera is quite significant, so I wonder whether there is a pot of funding that could go to local authorities from the Government so that these cameras could be put into the communities that need them, such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden.
I come to the issue of congestion in areas such as Clayton, and specifically around the Whalley Road at peak times. That is one of the main routes linking the Ribble Valley to Hyndburn. The congestion is causing huge problems during rush hour and significant air pollution. Something like a relief road might be needed to solve the congestion. I would welcome further discussions on what we could do in Hyndburn to create something suitable for the area.
Finally, I hope the Government will carefully consider Lancashire’s bid to make Preston the home of the Great British Railways HQ, because it is just the kind of investment we need in lovely Lancashire.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on which I serve, is currently considering the evidence for its report on rural mental health. Time and again, the expert witnesses mentioned isolation, loneliness and the problems of basic connectivity as factors leading to poor mental health in rural communities. Combined with the many current financial pressures, plus Brexit uncertainty and added bureaucracy, this is sadly all part of a deeply worrying pattern.
Rural communities are especially dependent on reliable, regular and affordable transport links. When local bus services are cut, the effect is immediate and has catastrophic consequences. For example, if a single parent’s routine involves setting off for work knowing that their teenage child will leave for the bus 20 minutes later and arrive safely in time for registration, what exactly are they supposed to do if they are told one day that the bus route will no longer exist? What exactly is anyone who regularly uses a route for medical appointments or social reasons, or to go to college or work, supposed to do if the route is gone overnight? School and work are essential activities, so the buses are essential, too.
Far too many cars already clog up the few main routes into and out of my constituency, contributing to increasingly dangerous levels of air pollution and growing rates of childhood asthma, but what choice do people have when their buses simply disappear? We are building more and more houses, thereby inviting in more and more cars, and we are even building more roads to accommodate those cars and threatening much-loved and historical green spaces, such as the Old Park area in Canterbury. Does this sound like a recognition of the climate emergency? It is hardly progressive.
People in Canterbury, Whitstable and our villages simply want to be able to move from A to B and to get to school without damaging the planet and everyone’s lungs, but we will not achieve that if local bus services constantly disappear. What about cuts to school bus services, such as the one serving Spires Academy in Herne Bay, which is attended by many pupils who live around Canterbury? How is it more efficient for Kent County Council to have to source other modes of transport, particularly for otherwise stranded children with special educational needs and additional needs?
The cost of a school travel pass is now almost £400. There is no way that a single parent, possibly with two or more children, can magic up money like that. Several years ago, I had to borrow the money to pay for my two children’s bus passes when they cost half that amount.
It is easy to forget how dependent people are on public transport while we in this place go around Westminster. Everywhere we look we see affordable buses on every corner. When my constituents visit London, they can jump on a bus and go anywhere for £1.65, but they have to pay more than £7 to travel for around 20 minutes from Canterbury to Whitstable and back.
The fact that the 27 bus route through Rough Common, one of my local villages, is about to be cut is causing so many problems. My constituents depend on it. There are also cuts to routes 922, 925 and 7.
Despite being one of the largest local authorities, Kent County Council does not have an endless supply of money. Our county has to deal with the horrors of Operation Brock—one of the many so-called benefits of Brexit—and the recent collapse of P&O Ferries, which was a disaster for our area and about which I am sure we will hear more later from Mrs Elphicke. The pause of Eurostar services from Ashford and Ebbsfleet has also had a catastrophic effect. Our local authorities urgently need direct financial assistance and help to tackle such huge issues.
Canterbury City Council has committed to building far too many new homes without the basic infrastructure that is needed. Will the Government help the county to update our outlook and aims so that we do not simply choke our children as a result of outdated car dependency? We need help with a cleaner, greener, more people-focused overview of transport. We need to keep our rural communities moving and maintain east Kent as an inviting and buzzing tourist destination.
Let us perhaps model ourselves a bit more on our European neighbours and have more pedestrian-friendly town centres and cheaper and more environmentally friendly and reliable transport. Let us help our local authorities and big bus companies to work together, in consultation with national Government, and adequately fund the active travel scheme, so that we can achieve a more ambitious, greener vision for local transport throughout the country.
It is an honour to follow Rosie Duffield and I thoroughly endorse her comments on the importance of rural bus services in our area of east Kent.
I welcome the Conservative Government’s robust action in holding P&O Ferries to account, and the work that is under way to better protect seafarers, as announced in the Queen’s Speech. I thank my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, the combined membership of the Transport Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, and Members from all parties for their support on the issue, which is so important to my constituents.
I represent an incredibly well-connected and successful area, Dover and Deal, and transport is central to both our economic and community life. We have the one and only, the original, the first of the high-speed lines: High Speed 1. It means we can benefit from trains that whiz from Dover to London in just over an hour, and there are high-speed connections right through to Deal.
Although the train line is excellent, services have not been fully restored to their pre-pandemic timetable, and the cost of tickets is nothing short of exorbitant. An anytime day return ticket to London is more than £85, which is simply not affordable for many people in my area. An off-peak return is almost £50. An annual season ticket is nearly £7,400, which means that to travel from Dover costs over £2,000 more than it costs to travel from affluent Tunbridge Wells or leafy Sevenoaks. That represents more than 23% of average earnings in Dover, compared with around 17% of average earnings for Tunbridge Wells and around 13% of average earnings for Sevenoaks —it is a pleasure to see my hardworking hon. Friend Laura Trott in her place. The Dover tickets are more expensive than travelling from Cambridge, Southampton or even Birmingham to London. That cannot be fair and it does not make economic sense. Our country has invested millions of pounds in great rail services for our area. If people cannot afford to use them, we all lose out, nationally and locally.
As the House will know, Dover has a national strategic role as well as a local one. We are home to our country’s most successful and busy port of its type: the port of Dover. It is vital to ensure a balance between the national interest and the community interest—between a trade corridor and a great place to live. Kent is served by not one but two motorways—the M20 and the M2—but Dover is not. As lorries and cars thunder along the motorways, the last few miles of the approach into Dover on either side of the town are not motorways, they are A roads: the A20 and the A2.
The A2 is mostly single carriageway, peppered with residential roundabouts that criss-cross the homes, shops and workplaces of local people. The A2 is so now overloaded that planning permissions for local homes are objected to by National Highways on the basis of capacity constraints. The road has been identified as in need of an upgrade for nearly all my adult life. It is now in the road investment programme, and the upgrade really must now go ahead, because Dover is becoming as famous for its traffic queues as for its white cliffs. It is time that the road blocks were cleared. It matters for national growth as well as local growth. Geographically, we are the closest point to continental Europe, and 60% of our trade with Europe transits the short straits route. Dover alone manages up to 10,000 freight vehicles, 25,000 cars and 90,000 passenger movements a day at peak times.
Contrary to what the doomsters and gloomsters said, when Brexit transition finally came, the sky did not fall in, the seas did not rise and there were not hundreds of miles of tailbacks to the midlands and beyond. But there are days when the traffic grinds to a halt—there were before we left the European Union and there are now—because of weather, strikes and many other reasons. This is part and parcel of having a major transport hub in a constituency—be that a port or an airport. However, the fragility of the road network has increased in recent decades as the activity and growth—international, national and local—has soared, and the roads are long overdue for investment.
The Kent road system currently operates with a sort of sticking plaster—or should I say a series of sticking plasters? They are called Operation TAP: the traffic assessment project; Operation Stack; Operation Brock; and the euphemistically named active management protocol, which involves police standing on the corners of the main arterial roads, directing traffic. Yes, I am talking about a few traffic lights and police in high-vis jackets to manage local community traffic, those 10,000 lorry movements and up to 90,000 passenger movements at peak times. This sticking-plaster and piecemeal approach is letting down Dover and it is letting down UK plc. We need proper investment and I renew my request for urgent planned strategic investment to keep Dover clear and to make the most of Britain’s opportunity to trade with the world.
Finally, Dover and Deal is a wonderful place in which to live and work. I want to see our area thrive, develop, grow and prosper even more. Getting the right infrastructure in place will deliver for our community and for our nation alike. In these financially constrained times, it is more important than ever to put national investment where it can deliver most bang for the buck. That means investing in Dover and Deal.
Please let us keep our speeches to five minutes or else I will have to put on a time limit.
It is a real pleasure to contribute to this transport debate, because transport is so central to so many of the challenges facing us as a country, from net zero to levelling up. It is even central to the cost of living crisis, because the Prime Minister seems to want us to use our bus services as a refuge from unaffordable fuel bills.
For me, the most important issue that transport needs to tackle is decarbonisation. Local communities right across the country need better transport options that are not only greener, but more accessible, reliable and affordable. We need more and cleaner buses. I am delighted that two of our main bus routes in Richmond Park, the 65 and the 371, are now electric, which will have a positive impact on the air quality in both Kingston and Richmond—not only that, passengers can plug in their phone, which is a real win.
The Government need to go a lot further with their transport decarbonisation strategy. They have pledged £27 billion on new or upgraded roads, and a raft of ambitious goals and targets for phasing our carbon-emitting vehicles, but there is a distinct lack of detail in how those targets will be delivered.
I echo the comments of the hon. Members for Newbury (Laura Farris) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) about the Elizabeth line and how marvellous it is that it has been opened, but there have been delays and extra costs. We need to leverage not just the opportunity that that extra connectivity offers to London and the south-east, but the opportunity to learn lessons from what went wrong on the Crossrail project and apply them to some of the other big transport infrastructure projects across the country. HS2, for example, has huge potential as an engine for economic growth across the north and the midlands, but it is so disappointing to see the scrapping of the Leeds leg, because that diminishes the opportunity to deliver on the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
As we are investing in new rail across the country, the Government should focus on accessibility and step-free access for passengers of reduced mobility. It is such an important issue. While we are building those railways and investing in new track and carriages, we should build in that accessibility at the very start. I also want to renew my call for more tactile paving across the network for the partially sighted. We have seen some horrific cases in London of blind people falling off the platform, leading to a number of deaths, because there was no tactile paving.
I am really pleased to see that the planning application has gone in for lifts at Barnes station under the Access for All programme. That will make a huge difference to the ability of people with limited mobility to use the station, but it must be said that more than 40% of stations across the UK do not offer that step-free access, and that needs to be addressed.
Following on from what Fleur Anderson said, may I just mention Hammersmith bridge for my constituents living in Barnes? I want to see the Department engaging with Hammersmith and Fulham on the funding for the strengthening of the bridge. I know the business case is in preparation, but I urge the Department to do everything it possibly can to support that work, because my constituents really, really need it. The Government also need to think about a strategic plan for bridges right across the country. When there is the sort of catastrophic failure that we have seen in Hammersmith, it is too much for a single local authority to fund.
Quickly on rickshaws, I would welcome an opportunity to meet the Minister to talk about legislation for the regulation of rickshaws. Nickie Aiken brought forward legislation in the last Session on this matter. It could be a real game changer for those in my constituency and elsewhere in London and other cities who cannot access active travel in the same way. It could be an interesting opportunity and I would welcome the chance to take that forward. Transport for London needs a sustainable funding package, so that it can invest for the long term in projects such as those on Hammersmith bridge and on rickshaws.
I do not want to forget rural areas. We talk a lot about urban areas and solutions for urban areas, but too many rural areas are still very dependent on cars. In the south-west, for example, the cost of diesel is 0.5% higher than the national average, which really disadvantages people in places such as Devon when using their cars.
Finally, may I mention electric vehicles? We need to expand opportunities for charging and to think about a temporary reduction of VAT on electric vehicles to encourage take-up. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead made a great case for investing in electric vehicle charging points, but if we want to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles, we urgently need to consider making the price more attractive.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate; it is a pleasure to contribute and to follow Sarah Olney. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I worked for the railways for a long time before being elected to this House.
I am proud of the Government’s ambition and determination to level up across the UK. I am also proud of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech, particularly the transport Bill, but if I may, I will focus today on railways, buses and roads.
The Great British Railways proposal is good for the United Kingdom—the whole of the United Kingdom. I am particularly pleased about it because the current model has probably reached the end of its life. The results from that model have been good—we have seen passenger numbers increase 100% since privatisation began—but the Government fully understand that things need to change.
I draw the Government’s attention to some initiatives that could provide further opportunities within the GBR proposal. In Japan, for example, the relationship between real estate and funding for railway operations is very close, to the extent that Government investment is often not required. That is because of the model that is adopted. I urge the Minister and her officials to look into that.
Enormous amounts of money are invested in transport, but it is important that we do not get carried away with the number of billions that will be spent. We need to be more concerned about the specific outputs than the amount of money that will be spent. We see billions going to Highways England—I think the Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, said that it was £27.4 billion—yet there is consultation after consultation for years and years before any spades actually go into the ground.
It is the same in the railways, particularly in relation to the rail network enhancement plan, which has been a long time coming. We have seen some really good announcements for the midlands and the north—the integrated rail plan is bringing in £96 billion there—but regrettably we have seen nothing yet in the south-west. Even worse, when Network Rail announced that it was going to invest in re-signalling to enable more capacity and flexibility, the schemes were deferred at the end of the last control period with no hope in sight of the most basic re-signalling programmes.
We talk a lot in this House about tens of billions of pounds. The Opposition want more than £96 billion, forgetting that we pay £82 billion a year in interest. However, we must remember other parts of the country, particularly the rural parts and specifically the south-west—the local challenges in Dorset and Somerset have been immense. I am grateful for the Minister’s support for returning the frequency of trains and the direct services on the Waterloo-Exeter line and the Waterloo-Dorchester-Weymouth line, which came into effect with the last timetable.
GB Railfreight, of which Parliament should be incredibly proud, is taking important steps to decarbonise the railway’s freight sector. It recently introduced a first Class 99 hybrid locomotive that will eventually succeed the diesel-power Class 66. It will go a long way to decarbonising the freight network and we have much to learn from it.
The help that we give transport and railways in Ukraine is not often spoken about in the House. We take great pride in what our nation has done in past decades to help those escaping tyranny by train. Although we are not a neighbouring country to Ukraine, I urge the Government to participate in and actively support initiatives such as ALLRAIL, a group of European train operators that run up to the Polish-Ukrainian border and have brought people out of Ukraine and taken them across Europe. It would be a wonderful statement by the Government, on top of all the wonderful work that they have done so far, to participate in such an initiative. I encourage the Minister to consider that.
The bus service improvement plan has been quite painful for Dorset. I fully recognise that it has been good for the country in many ways, but Dorset and many other rural areas have not been successful. It is important that the Government consider what can be done to support rural areas, not necessarily with financial bungs but with tangible initiatives. That would be very much appreciated.
It is a pleasure to follow Chris Loder in what is a hugely important debate to my constituents in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields.
I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking. I would like to invite you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to my fun bike ride at 11 o’clock on Sunday, leaving from Putney embankment, as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Wimbledon and Putney commons. It is my contribution to active travel as part of those celebrations.
It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I will start with the closure of Hammersmith bridge. Huge congestion, pollution and danger to cyclists—indeed, potential cyclists are being prevented from cycling in Putney—are caused by the additional 500 to 4,000 vehicles a day that go through Putney as a result of the closure. I urge the Minister to stop playing party politics. Every answer I get in the House suggests that Labour Hammersmith and Fulham Council should deal with the matter. No, there should be working together. People in Putney are sick and tired of the lack of urgency on the issue. I ask Ministers to stop expecting the council and Transport for London to pay two thirds of the more than £100 million cost of the heritage restoration. I urge the Minister to fix a date when the bridge will be open to vehicles and to take action, together with Hammersmith and Fulham Council and TfL, to pay for the bridge. A toll is not the answer, because it will still result in lots of vehicles going through Putney.
I echo other Members’ comments about disability access to our tube and train stations. I make the case again for step-free access at East Putney station, which has high passenger use and high potential use for those with mobility issues and for parents of small children, but has unusually steep stairs, so many people in the area cannot use it. Covid has paused disability access schemes for trains and tubes, but it can no longer be an excuse. I urge Ministers to work with TfL to move forward on access schemes and to put East Putney tube station at the top of the list.
I was disappointed by the lack of comment on active travel in the proposed transport Bill. In 2020, the Prime Minister announced £2 billion of ringfenced funding for the next five years for active travel, which is only about a quarter to a third of what is needed to meet the Government’s active travel targets. After three years of allocations, the Government are not on course to deliver the £2 billion, and in the meantime, local authorities do not have the funding that they need for active travel. In Putney, many constituents write to me that they do not have safe cycle routes and safe places to store cycles. The council does not have the funding to deliver all that is needed. A huge number of people would cycle if our local authority had the funding. I urge Ministers to step up and release the promised funding, but also to beef up the provision in the transport Bill.
I look to the transport Bill to provide for far better connection between cycling and trains, and cycling and buses. On the continent, there are many buses where people can put their bikes at the front. They can cycle up, then take the bus, enabling them to make longer journeys and meaning that those who would otherwise need to use a car do not have to. That should also apply to trains: it should be far easier to take a bike on the train. There should be many more spaces for bikes and a much easier booking system. That would transform urban transport in areas such as Roehampton, which has poor transport links.
I would like much more emphasis on cleaner and greener buses. We have many greener buses on Putney High Street, which are essential for increasing our clean air—a real problem in Putney. However, the 39, 93 and 424—I am following other Members in naming bus numbers; it is important to get them out there—need to go green. We must have no more diesel buses.
I welcome the inclusion of e-scooters in the transport Bill. I have met constituents who are blind or have visual impairments and who will not leave their homes for fear of e-scooters because of their silence and speed. Regulation is key. E-scooters are here to stay, for sure, but we need to ensure that we do not inadvertently trap people in their homes because of them. It was heartbreaking to hear those stories, so I welcome that aspect of the Bill.
The Government have consulted on proposals to set up a road collision investigation branch. Last year, 55 pedestrians and nine cyclists were killed in London. We must have more investigation into the reasons for such deaths, not only in London but across the UK. A road collision investigation branch could do that far more effectively. I would like to hear from the Minister whether the transport Bill will include powers to establish such a body.
I look forward to seeing inclusive and ambitious transport policies that increase active travel and cut air pollution.
It is a pleasure to follow Fleur Anderson and to have heard all the contributions from around the Chamber.
A famous politician whose name I forget once said that his priority was “Education, education, education”. When it comes to economic growth, what is required is better connected location, location, location. The new city of Southend has location in spades, but its connections are not all that they should be. Southend city is situated on the world’s most famous working waterway. It is served by two fast train lines and has a world-class, multi-use business park next to Europe’s fastest-growing airport.
The city of Southend is ideally located to be the best seaside city in the country. More than 7 million tourists visit Southend every year, contributing more than £470 million to the local economy and supporting 16% of our local jobs. Our advanced medical technology industries, among others, contribute £3 billion to the Exchequer every single year. Yet despite this extraordinary contribution, there is one area where Britain’s newest city lags behind other UK cities—our transport infrastructure. Long-term underinvestment and lack of planning from Southend city’s Labour-led council has left Britain’s newest city with a disjointed and deeply unsatisfactory transport network. As the Chancellor himself has said,
“Great cities need great transport”, and Britain’s newest city now needs and deserves serious investment in our public transport network. Of course I welcome the fact that the Government have committed almost £7 billion to levelling up transport across the country, but sadly nothing of substance has yet made its way down the line to Southend, and levelling up must include our coastal communities.
As the UK’s newest city, we deserve to bus back better. Our buses are old-fashioned, irregular, too expensive, and liable to be cut without proper notice. In 2020, Arriva withdrew our eco-friendly bus fleet and replaced it with second-hand polluting diesel buses from another city. Another city’s cast-offs are not good enough for Britain’s newest city. Only last month, Essex First Bus axed the very popular No. 26 route, with only a few days’ notice, when the Labour-led council withdrew support funding. The loss of this vital bus route has cut elderly residents off from the hospital, shops, essential services, and, very, importantly, their constituency surgeries. There is currently no bus service for elderly people in my constituency to go to the seafront or to the town of Leigh- on-Sea. I regularly get letters saying that old people are left standing in the cold and wet because the buses and trains are not connecting. The A127, one of two trunk roads into Southend, is in desperate need of an upgrade, and our roads and pavements are literally crumbling.
All this must change. First, we need a new overarching integrated transport plan for the new city of Southend to turbocharge our local economy and attract even more investment into our city. We have already seen what can be done when proper investment happens. I welcome this week’s announcement to make Chalkwell station in my constituency fully accessible to all. Indeed, I would be delighted to invite the Minister to come and take the first ride in the lift at Chalkwell station, along with the brilliant local campaigner who has helped to make this possible—Jill Allen-King.
Secondly, our trains need overhauling. We need greater capacity and a real improvement in the ticketing system. There is nothing more dispiriting than standing on the station, as I do myself, queuing for the one working ticket machine and seeing your train pull away without you on it. All the stations in Britain’s newest city need to have contactless ticketing.
Thirdly, buses are a lifeline for our elderly community. I echo everything said by Rosie Duffield in this regard. They are essential not only for economic prosperity but for wellbeing. Our buses must be overhauled, and I do hope that we will receive some of the Government’s planned 4,000 hydrogen buses. Most importantly, no bus service should be allowed to be withdrawn without proper notice and consultation. This must never happen again. The A127 needs to be upgraded, as I mentioned, and we must stop prevaricating over this. We also need safer provision for cyclists in the city, and all residents want the council to get on with fixing the potholes in our roads and mending our pavements.
For us as a new city, it is time to implement major projects that would have a long-term impact on Southend for generations to come. If the Elizabeth line was extended from Shenfield to Southend, there would be major local and national economic benefits similar to those that Reading is now enjoying. It would be the only direct route linking London Heathrow airport with London Southend airport. Better connecting the city of Southend to London would better connect London itself and unlock the biggest opportunity for growth in the south-east.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this transport debate and to follow my hon. Friend Anna Firth.
I will focus on two local projects that are of great importance to my local community in Hertford and Stortford. Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak in the final debate on the Queen’s Speech, on economic growth, where I made the point that delivering infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure, is such a key part of the Government’s agenda, along with delivering skills and innovation. I really do welcome the Government’s commitment to infrastructure and transport projects up and down the country that will deliver economic growth and improved productivity, and spread opportunity across our nation. We need sustainable, creative, innovative, green solutions.
That leads me neatly on to HERT—the Hertfordshire to Essex rapid transit proposal, which is being consulted on and developed right now, with public engagement across the relevant counties of Hertfordshire and Essex. HERT will deliver accessible, reliable, affordable, sustainable east-to-west transit in my constituency. I have two towns in the west, two towns in the east, and the rural piece in the middle, and east-to-west transport is difficult, partly because buses are less than reliable. This is a really creative, innovative solution to that issue, and it will go much further than my constituency and benefit both counties as well. It really is a forward-looking vision that will create and support jobs, growth and accessibility for our community. I look forward to the continuing development of this long-term project and engaging with the Department to realise it.
I also want to highlight the brilliant bid in which we have been shortlisted for Bishop’s Stortford to become the headquarters of the new Great British Railways. I pay tribute to all those involved in putting this brilliant bid together as part of the Shaping Stortford group: East Hertfordshire District Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, Hertfordshire’s LEP, Solum, Bishop’s Stortford BID—business improvement district—and all the local residents who have engaged so constructively and proactively. The proposed Goods Yard site dates from 1842, and it is very fitting to have the possibility of returning rail to this historic site, which is itself a key town centre regeneration project. Our area has its own pockets of deprivation, and the jobs this would deliver would be a huge boost for our community, and, overall, a great addition to our expanding but beautiful market town, which is so brilliantly located as the gateway to the eastern region, at the heart of the Cambridge-London-Stansted innovation corridor, and to Stansted airport itself, and linked by road and rail to London.
Both HERT and the Great British Railways HQ bid are projects that are a credit to Hertford and Stortford and to the people who are involved in them. I heartily recommend them to the Minister, who has an invitation to come and visit at any time.
I want to talk about a few different issues. The first, which a lot of other Members have touched on, is reduced rail timetables as a result of covid. That is still significantly affecting communities across much of High Peak, particularly in places such as Glossop, New Mills, Buxton and Whaley Bridge, where we are seeing significant reductions in timetables that Northern has said are still due to covid staff shortages. The latest timetable reduction it has announced will continue all the way until at least December, which is very disappointing. The situation is especially difficult in the Glossop, Hadfield and Dinting area, where there are also major roadworks going on for 20 weeks on the main road out of town. The fact that those things are both happening at once is causing a lot of problems locally. There is a real need to get the full timetable back. Over 2,000 local commuters have so far signed my petition calling for Northern to restore it, so I hope we can get it back as soon as possible.
The second issue is the transport Bill that is coming forward and the Great British Railways reforms to try to sort out the fragmented franchising problems and get a better passenger experience across the country. I whole- heartedly welcome that.
In a similar vein, I also welcome the fact that Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, is finally starting to pursue bus franchising, five years after being given the powers by the Government. That is a very positive move and I support him in that. Given that Derbyshire County Council has just been given a significant sum of money by the Government to do bus improvement on our side of the border, it is important for those cross bus routes between Greater Manchester and Derbyshire that we get that right and work together properly so that we can see improvements, in particular restoring the 236 bus and the X57 buses, which have been lost, and trying to get a much-needed direct bus service through to Tameside Hospital from Glossop.
Next, I will talk about what is at the heart of transport, which is the desperate need to get transport right to fix the productivity gap in our economy. The Government rightly spend an awful lot of money and have put a lot of time, focus and effort into skills, and that is spot on, but in much the same way that record sums of funding into the NHS will never be enough until we fix the social care system, huge sums of money into skills will never be enough until we get connectivity and transport right. Much of the work I have been trying to do is about trying to bring employers together, whether that is the High Peak jobs and apprenticeships fair or the High Peak apprenticeship exchange, which I have been setting up. A huge issue that comes back from so many employers is that they cannot recruit, simply because people cannot get to those locations—they cannot get to college or where they want to work on time for 9 am.
All the money and effort going into apprenticeships and skills will not be enough unless we make the connectivity work, too. That is particularly important for addressing regional inequalities. Quite a few Members have mentioned Crossrail and the Elizabeth line opening, which is fantastic—it is a brilliant scheme—but we really need to see that in other parts of the country. The shadow Minister, Sam Tarry, who represents a London-based constituency and is not in his place, referred with slight distaste on his lips to having once ridden a bus in Manchester. For those Members who do not have the pleasure of representing somewhere in the north and midlands, the disparity between transport is absolutely enormous, and that is key to fixing the productivity gap. So many people are arriving late to work, or stressed and exhausted or are having to leave early as getting to work is so difficult, because the transport links are so poor. Fixing that is essential. How do we do that? It is about that focus on infrastructure and improving our transport.
The Government have done a lot of good things. Our bit of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project—the upgrade of the Manchester to Sheffield route with the Hope Valley line, where construction is already under way—will make a huge difference to passengers in such places as New Mills, Chinley, Edale, Hope and Bamford, but we also need to connect that up with bus services and active travel, which is why I am so pleased that just this month we have approved £120,000 of funding for the “Travelling Light” project for Hope Valley Climate Action, which I have been supporting. That will really help join things up, too.
At the same time, we need to get it right when it comes to road. Buses go on the road network, and if we are moving towards electric vehicles and low-emission vehicles, we have to get our road network right. We have the money committed and the contract signed for the Mottram bypass, which has been promised for more than 50 years. We need to get on and build it, and then build the second phase of that bypass around Tintwistle, too. Hopefully we can get that; I am very optimistic.
It is all well and good talking about improving rail, but whole swathes of rural areas have no access to rail. I have two examples I want to flag quickly. One is Chinley, where there is no step-free access. We have an “Access for All” bid that has just gone in, and I would love to see Transport Ministers come to the village and see just how important that is, because there is currently no step-free access in either direction. The second—I regularly get accused of being like Cato the Elder for mentioning this in almost every speech I make—is the desperate need to build Gamesley station. It is one of the most deprived areas anywhere in the country. It has very low car ownership. It was promised a station back in 1968 when it was built, and it was never put in. That station is badly needed to regenerate one of the most deprived areas. It would completely transform life chances for the residents there.
There are lots of positive things that the Government are doing, but there needs to be a much greater focus on delivering transport infrastructure, improving rail services and integrating it all together so that the smaller villages and areas that do not have their own stations can also access it.
It is an absolute honour to respond on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition in this extremely important debate on transport. We have heard insightful contributions from so many Members. The shadow Transport Minister, my hon. Friend Sam Tarry, who opened the debate along with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Andrew Stephenson, referred to transport deserts, the decimation of bus routes, especially for rural areas—indeed, many Conservative-controlled councils are complaining—and, despite the inadequate funding from Government, the incredible work being done by the Labour metro Mayors.
I fully agree with the Chairman of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, on the future-proofing of the aviation sector, especially after industry pleas for support during the pandemic were largely ignored by this Government. I also agree with him on the need for investment in sustainable fuels to decarbonise transport. I also agree—there is a lot of harmony breaking out—with the SNP spokesman, Gavin Newlands, on the need for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, because the Government are missing out on their targets. Indeed, there is the anomaly of VAT at 20% for public charging points, compared with 5% for home-charging points like mine. In essence, that is a tax on the less well-off, because those who cannot install a point in their apartment or home miss out.
The former Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, spoke of the difficulty his constituents face in getting to work on time because of the cuts to rail services and the need to simplify fares. Ian Paisley spoke about the importance of the Government supporting pioneering and innovative technology, such as that for hydrogen buses and, indeed, the need for regulation of e-scooters. Laura Farris spoke of her damascene conversion after having experienced the Elizabeth line preview. Indeed, she does a great deal of excellent work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the western rail link to Heathrow, along with my good self, and the need for that infrastructure project to finally be realised.
My hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare spoke about the need for ambition, such as Crossrail being conceived and pushed through by the last Labour Government. She also spoke about the need for more proactiveness on providing on-street vehicle charging points. Sara Britcliffe spoke about restoring local railway lines, especially after the Beeching cuts. My hon. Friend Rosie Duffield spoke very eloquently about rural connectivity, or the lack of it, which then has a devastating impact on the mental health of those individuals who are cut off from other communities, about the cuts that have been inflicted on school buses and about the rising cost of school bus passes.
Mrs Elphicke spoke about HS1 and the issue that there are still no services from Kent to continental Europe. We all agree with her on the diabolical behaviour of P&O Ferries. Sarah Olney spoke about the need for regulation of rickshaws and the failure of this Government on step-free access and levelling up, after having reneged on manifesto promises on the HS2 eastern leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Chris Loder spoke about the need to stop endless consultations on highway projects. My hon. Friend Fleur Anderson, who is a champion on the need to clear the logjam to end the Hammersmith bridge closure, spoke about the work of the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking and the need to integrate cycling with rail. Anna Firth spoke about the need for more investment in electric buses and mending potholes. Julie Marson spoke about the need for green solutions such as the local HERT scheme. Robert Largan —we perhaps saved the best till last—lamented the reduced timetables.
Many Members have spoken about the upcoming transport Bill and the need for infrastructure investment in places such as Stockport and Bradford, as championed by my hon. Friends.
In my closing remarks, I will focus on rail, for which the backdrop to today’s debate is sadly bleak. The 2010s can only be described as a disastrous decade for rail, with fares rising twice as fast as wages, cuts to rail services up and down our country, and a Government set to miss their commitment to decarbonising the railways not by a few months or a few years, but by more than 40 years. Despite the Tory rhetoric of investment and expansion, the Government’s actions on rail speak far louder than their words.
Put simply, compared with 12 years ago, passengers travelling by rail pay twice as much for a lot less. Wages across the UK have stalled, with weekly median earnings increasing by just 23% since 2010, and households budgets have been squeezed by the pressing cost of living crisis, so how does the Minister expect people to be able to keep up with such brutal hikes? The Government’s solution appears to be the Great British rail sale, which was touted as offering huge savings on many off-peak inter-city routes. Unfortunately, however, even that is a sham, as Labour has found suggestions that those discounts would apply to a mere 1% of all journeys taken. It is nothing more than a gimmick, as rail unions, rail staff and passengers have pointed out, so no wonder it has been relabelled as the “Great British rail fail”. The future of our railways should not be short-term sales and political stunts but a permanent, affordable, efficient and green network.
Given the steep cost of travelling on our railways, passengers might have expected to experience an equally steep improvement in services. Sadly, that has not been the case. The Government are looking to make things worse with their plan to impose a 10% cut on operators, which is already being felt by communities across our country, with more than 19,000 pre-pandemic services yet to return. Last week, the shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, was at a school in Bradford where the consequences are stark. Cuts to rail services will mean that hundreds of pupils will be forced to wait for hours after school or take an unreliable and lengthy rail replacement service on West Yorkshire’s already clogged-up roads. In Wakefield, too, there will be a staggering four-hour gap between 6 am and 10 am in some services, which will make it impossible for students and workers to travel.
In the midst of all that, the Transport Secretary is, frankly, missing in action. He jetted off to an overseas conference without notifying Mr Speaker rather than answer questions on the real disruption that families face. He and the Government should stop washing their hands of any responsibility in the middle of a climate crisis and a cost of living crisis. It is senseless to force people off public transport while simultaneously cutting them off from jobs and opportunities.
It is time for the Government to step up and stand up for local communities with a commitment to restoring services to pre-pandemic levels and a genuine plan of how to get there. Right now, they are brazenly breaking the promises that they made to communities. Just three months ago, they claimed that they would protect and improve services on existing lines, that they would not neglect shorter-distance journeys and that levelling up could not wait, yet passengers are suffering the consequences of those broken promises. Ministers may claim that cuts have been made because there has been no increase in passenger numbers, but that is simply not true. In Yorkshire alone, we are told that passenger numbers have surged back to more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels, so cuts on that scale will force passengers on to crowded and congested services.
The truth is that under the Conservatives, passengers are paying more for less. When the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, will she tell us what plans the Government have to bring back those lost services and provide passengers with a future in which rail travel is better value for money? I hope she will ensure that their manifesto commitments are upheld.
Before I call the Minister, I would like to make it clear that I have observed, in case no one else has, that neither the Minister who opened the debate nor the shadow Minister who opened the debate are present for the wind-up speeches. That is unacceptable and it is discourteous to the House. I would not like to think that any new Members would take that as acceptable behaviour, so I make the point clearly and positively that if someone has opened a debate or taken part in a debate, they must be here for the winding-up speeches. That is a simple matter of courtesy. It is not some archaic old-fashioned rule, or me being difficult on a Thursday afternoon, but a matter of courtesy, and it is quite appalling that neither of those hon. Gentlemen are here.
It is my absolute pleasure to close this debate and I welcome the spirited contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is clear that transport elicits strong feelings across the House, and indeed across the country—and rightly so. The frequency of people’s local bus or train services, the road congestion that poisons our air and slows our economy, and the ability to walk or get on a bike safely all affect not just our quality of life, but the quality of our life chances.
Transport links connect us to economic opportunities, education and training. We know that talent is distributed right across this great country, so we must ensure that opportunity, which is often enabled by transport, is also realised. The Government want to deliver world-class low-carbon transport infrastructure across the country, because that is how we will level up and reduce the inequalities that have persisted for too long. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, outlined the significant transport investment that the Government are already making, as well as our ambitious plans for reform. He described the measures that are essential for building back better and fairer.
I will set out how we are reducing transport emissions, which are our largest contributor of greenhouse gases and make up 27% of our total UK emissions. The Government have made world-leading pledges: we want all new road vehicles to be zero emission in the next two decades, from the largest HGVs to the smallest motorcycles. Electric vehicles are key to that ambition, along with general electrification, sustainable fuel and hydrogen production.
The transport Bill, which was announced last week, will help to drive an electric vehicle revolution and deliver 10 times the number of public charging points by 2030. It will give us powers not only to ensure that local authorities plan and deliver EV charging, but to address private charging, including for those living in multi-occupancy buildings.
If all the charging points that are being demanded are delivered, will there be sufficient capacity in electricity production to charge and drive those vehicles? My fear is that there will not, so we will need other solutions as well as electricity.
The generation of electricity is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with which I work closely on exactly that point. The Prime Minister has set out that all electricity generated in this country will be low carbon in future, which is also incredibly important.
We already have one of the largest charging networks in Europe with 30,200 publicly available charge points, of which 5,400 are rapid.
I am sorry; I cannot.
With EVs being cheaper to own, run and maintain than their petrol and diesel equivalents, which means that drivers can save hundreds of pounds by going electric, it is no wonder that their market share has doubled compared with last year.
The future is not just electric; it is also active. The Government are committed to ensuring that half of all journeys by 2030 are cycled or walked. That commitment will be delivered by the first dedicated Government cycling and walking body, Active Travel England. Its role will be to ensure that walking and cycling is the easiest choice for local journeys, to help design the right infrastructure and, ultimately, to usher in a golden age of active travel. I thank the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and others for their enthusiasm for active travel.
We are certainly not wasting any time. Only last week, we announced a £200 million investment to boost the take-up of cycling and walking. One hundred and thirty-four schemes will create new footways, cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings across 46 local authorities outside London. Nineteen authorities, including in Nottinghamshire, Hull and Manchester, will receive funding to develop the “mini Holland” feasibility studies. We will also accelerate the take-up of electric cycles by offering short and long-term loans.
Active travel is one of the best returns on investment decisions that the Government can make. It makes us healthier, saves the NHS up to £1 billion a year, reduces congestion on our roads and makes our economy more efficient. It is a zero-carbon way to travel, cleaning up our air and reducing emissions. We saw that happening in the pandemic and that is why we are investing £2 billion in our active travel fund. We are determined to ensure that the recent rise in cycling and walking is not a passing fad.
Hon. Members have raised important themes throughout the debate. The subject of electric vehicle charge points was raised by the hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). As I have said, we plan to have 10 times the amount of EV charge points, as was set out in our EV infrastructure strategy.
Several Members raised the levels of rail service across the UK, including my hon. Friend Laura Farris, who also celebrated Crossrail’s opening. That was great to hear. My hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe championed SELRAP to join Yorkshire and Lancashire together over 13 miles of newly instated railway, which was a problem from the Beeching cuts. My hon. Friend Julie Marson also raised the rail service.
To ensure that people could get to where they needed to be during the pandemic, the Government committed £16 billion of support throughout the pandemic to keep rail services running. Demand continues to recover. We are working with operators to ensure that services are fit for the future, carefully balancing cost, capacity and the performance that passengers rightly expect to see on their railways.
In the Wakefield and Yorkshire area, Members will, I am sure, be aware of the £830 million awarded to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority under our city region sustainable transport settlement. That will help to strengthen public transport across the area.
A number of Members asked about bus services. I commend the consistent and fantastic championing of Wrightbus by Ian Paisley. I have had the joy of visiting it in Ballymena, including only last week at a heavy goods vehicle launch, where we committed to a £200 million zero-emission road freight programme. Other Members, including one from Southend city, my hon. Friend Anna Firth, and my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, also mentioned the importance of buses. We have provided more than £2.5 billion in new funding to support improvement of bus services, and are on track to meet our commitment of £3 billion for bus service transformation.
Members have noted the level of fares on rail and bus networks. Regulated rail fares increased in line with inflation—by 3.8%—on
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Loder. He is a real champion of the rail industry but he also mentioned freight and the work that we are doing with freight operators up and down the country. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke for how she champions her area and the way she manages the balance between local, national and international interests.
Many Members are concerned about the cost of living. As the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle outlined, we recently launched the Great British rail sale, available throughout the network and across a wide number of routes, including cross-border journeys with Scotland and Wales. Those tickets support business and commuter markets and help to drive leisure demand. That promotes local economies at destinations in scope, which receive a boost from the increased activity. More than 1.3 million tickets were sold in the sale, offering about £7 million-worth of savings for passengers.
My hon. Friend Huw Merriman is the most fantastic advocate and champion. He scrutinises our work but also supports the changes that we need to make. We are providing more than £525 million for zero-emission buses in this Parliament, and we have supported the funding of nearly 2,000 zero-emission buses in England so far.
In conclusion, we cannot begin to tackle some of the most pressing challenges, be they the cost living, levelling up or climate change, without a world-class transport system. We were elected to be a reforming Government, unafraid to make the big decisions to shake up our transport industry so that it drives economic growth. That is exactly what we are doing, across road and rail, sky and sea, delivering world-class infrastructure, ambitious reform and record investment.
We are running six minutes over schedule—not the Minister, but everyone altogether. Those taking part in the next debate can curse those in this debate if they do not get long enough.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered transport.