Topical Questions

Transport – in the House of Commons at on 13 July 2023.

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Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

Tomorrow marks two years since the Government published their decarbonisation plan, our road map to clean travel. In that time, we have come a long way. We have agreed international targets for aviation decarbonisation, allowing aviation to grow without harming the climate. As the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend Jesse Norman, said, just last week at the International Maritime Organisation, we worked with our partners to secure the agreement of 174 other member states for net zero shipping by 2050. Our zero emission vehicle mandate will see this country continue to lead the world’s major economies in decarbonising road transport, opening the door to not only significant reductions in carbon emissions, but investment and manufacturing opportunities to turbocharge British business. On every mode of transport, we are working to cut our carbon emissions, grow the economy and business, and give people across the country the freedom to travel when they need to, in the way that suits them best, without having to worry about the environmental impact of doing so.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

I praise the roads Minister, my hon. Friend Mr Holden, for taking an active interest in the A5. I have met with him multiple times, including last week, when we were dealing with the A5 yet again. I understand why the RIS3 programme has been pushed back. However, the A5 acts as a construction for prosperity, growth and housing in our area. Four points on the A5 were pinpointed as being narrow. Can he let me know where they were, as National Highways said it would do that? Can he give an indication of how I can move National Highways forward to try to release the strangulation on our area?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question and for his kind comments about my hon. Friend the roads Minister. Between the M42 and M6, the A5 is a key artery for business and motorists and, as he says, it is integral to local growth plans. National Highways continues to develop options to upgrade the route, as part of the pipeline of its potential future schemes, including considering measures that address stretches of the route where safety issues are of greatest concern, such as the pinch points that he talks about. Outputs from that work will feed into priorities for future investment strategies.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable that the villages of Little Ouseburn and Beal, in the Selby and Ainsty constituency, have no bus service either in the evenings or on Sundays? Who does he hold responsible for that? Is it the Tory Government, which completely snubbed Selby and Ainsty in their bus strategy, the Tory council, which cut 1 million km of subsidised bus routes, or the previous Tory MP, who mentioned buses just three times in over 13 years? Does he not agree that it is time for Selby and Ainsty to have a fresh start, with Keir Mather?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

It will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, that I do not think that at all. North Yorkshire Council, the local transport authority for Selby, was allocated £1.4 million as part of the bus service improvement plan plus funding. That means it has the resources to deliver the ambitions plans that it needs to carry out. On her second point, I think Claire Holmes, who is deeply rooted in Yorkshire and has lived there for her entire life, is the best candidate. I was there last week, delivering leaflets for her, and I will be there later today. She will make a fantastic Member of Parliament and I look forward to welcoming her to the House.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

When the Secretary of State made his remarks earlier about the sudden resignation of the chief executive of HS2 from his £660,000 a year job, did he take into account the fact that the project is delayed by at least five years and that the costs have quadrupled? Will he also take into account the fact that the cost plus basis of contracts is now one of the main reasons for the increased costs?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

It is not a sudden leaving of his job—the chief executive has announced that he is going to go in September. We have a clear plan in place: the experienced chair of HS2 will step up to be executive chairman for the period while we are searching for a successor, so the leadership of the organisation will be in hand. As I said, Mark Thurston has done a very good job in getting the organisation into delivery of phase 1, and he himself has said he wants to hand over at this point to enable continuity as the project moves into the next phase of delivery.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Scots are used to getting a poor and unreliable cross-border rail service, but recently the cross-border air service provided by British Airways, particularly from Glasgow, has been awful. That said, we need to get on with decarbonising aviation, so when will we see the airspace modernisation process simplified and accelerated, not decelerated? When will the Government bring forward price stability plans for sustainable aviation fuels, which everyone bar the Treasury knows has to happen?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

On the hon. Member’s first point, the work on airspace modernisation is under way, as he knows. On his second point, this Government are leading the progress on sustainable aviation fuels worldwide. We published the new report, which set out some clear plans, and we published our response to it. We are taking that forward and we are at the leading edge of this work globally, setting the agenda, as I hope he would welcome.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

As we approach the end of the school year, many families will be looking forward to setting off on their summer holidays, but there are concerns that industrial action in Europe will lead to flight cancellations and delays. People will also be mindful of the disruption at our ports and airports in recent times. What assurance can the Secretary of State give me and those families that the system will be resilient to ensure that they can get away?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I am sure that my hon. Friend’s question was prompted by one airline making some modest changes to its flight schedule during the summer. No other airline has indicated to the Department that it will be cancelling flights ahead of the summer. We will continue to engage with airlines on that matter. The Aviation Minister is meeting with the chief executive officer of EasyJet later today to discuss its announcement. My team is meeting with the CEO of National Air Traffic Services to get an update on its operational readiness. We have already worked with the aviation industry to make sure that, this year, it is prepared for the busy summer period so that we avoid the problems that we had last year. We have received appropriate assurances, but I hope that we can reassure those whom my hon. Friend referred to in his question.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I promise that I will only ask for one answer this time.

Without a price stability mechanism for sustainable aviation fuel, which will be crucial in bringing down our carbon footprint, the UK risks falling behind the SAF mandate by 2030. A homegrown sustainable aviation fuel industry could contribute £2 billion a year to this economy. In order for that to happen—

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

All right. I think I know what the hon. Lady was driving at on that question. We said in response to the new report that we would continue to talk to the industry and, if required, consult on a mechanism—an industry-funded mechanism. That work is under way, but we continue to have the ambition to get those SAF plants developed in this country and I am glad that she supports that work.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

What can the Government do about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police chasing drivers who have correctly sent in their forms after they have disposed of a vehicle and who then get notices of intended prosecution for a vehicle that they no longer own when they have done the right thing? It seems to turn on its head the principle of innocence.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. When a person disposing of their vehicle notifies the DVLA that they no longer have the vehicle, they are removed from the record and the DVLA writes to them. If the customer continues to receive correspondence relating to motor vehicle offences, they should contact the DVLA as soon as possible confirming that they are no longer the keeper of the vehicle in question. If he has any constituents with any particular issues, I would be delighted to take them up and look at them as soon as possible.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Can I go back to the astonishingly feeble answer from the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), about Heathrow, which is a major international hub, a major export centre, the biggest single site employer, with, I am pleased to say, a well-organised union workforce, and vital for west London? How can the Government not have a view or a policy on this vital national infrastructure, or is it just another case of they haven’t got a clue?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I know that the right hon. Gentleman likes to hear from me, so I will answer this question. He can then think of a way of insulting whatever I say in response. The point that my right hon. Friend was making is that any proposal for a third runway at Heathrow will be a private sector proposal from that airport and, as last time, we would expect it to be funded by the airport. He knows that, if it brings forward such a proposal, the Government would have to take a quasi-judicial planning decision, which is why it is important that I do not take a pre-judged position so I can take that quasi-judicial decision appropriately. At the moment, however, we have not seen such a proposal from Heathrow. If it has one in due course, we will respond accordingly.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Despite billions being invested in buses across the country and £31.7 million going specifically into Stoke-on-Trent, First Bus continues to cut routes, harming 21-year-old carers such as Charlie Preston in Chell who may now have to quit her job. This Government have done their bit—is it not time that First Bus does its bit?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I was delighted to visit Stoke with him and my hon. Friend Jack Brereton to see what is going on. I urge the council to use that flexibility to work with First Bus to deliver a solution for all his constituents. We have put that flexibility in there and I hope that it uses it to protect his constituents.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

The Government’s response to the Transport Committee’s report on the integrated rail plan was published at midnight, and the terms of reference for the study on the high-speed rail link to Leeds are expected imminently. Will the rail Minister tell us what this will mean for the railways in Yorkshire?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Member for all his work in this regard, and he is absolutely right. With regard to Bradford, the Transport Committee’s report made a recommendation that better station options should be considered under the integrated rail plan. That work with Bradford will now commence to try to find a better station option and to improve transport links for the city. With regard to Leeds, the station capacity can be looked at and potentially unlocked, and the HS2 route options all the way up from Sheffield to Leeds will also be part of that study.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

After much lobbying, I too am very pleased to hear that the Government have announced that the integrated rail plan will be reviewed and a new station could be considered in Bradford. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this important issue, and will he prioritise the project so that we can move at speed, because it will bring better connectivity and economic prosperity to not only Bradford but Keighley?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I certainly will meet my hon. Friend. I thank him for his involvement in the project for the last couple of years and for making the case for Bradford. Bradford is our youngest city in terms of population age and our fifth largest in terms of regional authority area. We firmly believe that levelling up means delivering for Bradford, so I am happy to meet him and I am delighted that this Government are willing to look at and give that partnership working to Bradford.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Now that social distancing is over, will the Secretary of State look into restarting the pilot of demand responsive buses that Ealing and one other London borough—a Conservative-run borough—were undertaking before covid pulled the plug on them, as his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), said he would do before being shuffled off?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I would be delighted to discuss these matters with TfL at our regular meetings. All the decisions in this space are devolved to Transport for London as part of a £6 billion package, and I would be delighted to discuss the matter with the Mayor or the commissioner for transport at my next meeting with them.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Independent, Blackpool South

A passing loop on the South Fylde rail line would double the number of trains coming into my constituency every hour, facilitating the millions of people who come to Blackpool every year. Following the award of feasibility moneys to look at the project, will the Minister meet me to appraise the options?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member. He is right that the Government have committed half a billion pounds to deliver more railways under the restoring your railway projects. The strategic outline business case on the project that he has worked so hard for is with the Department, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

There has been remarkably little progress in rolling out streetside chargers for electric vehicles outside buildings with multiple residents. What action are the Government taking to promote this scheme and to ensure we have the correct regulatory framework in place?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of our ORCS—on-street residential chargepoint scheme—fund to support on-street charging. We also have the new LEVI—local electric vehicle infrastructure—fund, and have given money to local authorities to support capability building in the area. If there is a specific concern that animates him in relation to his constituency, he is welcome to write to me.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Yesterday, I chaired a roundtable with the freight sector, looking at the growing problem of theft from lorries in overnight lorry parks and service stations, which is costing the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year. What is my hon. Friend doing with the sector to ensure that for the extortionate fees freight companies are charged, they get secure parking overnight?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area and across a number of areas in transport. We are looking in depth at driver welfare, including providing extra lorry parks and more secure facilities, and grants are due to be announced in the summer.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

Can I ask the roads Minister about the lower Thames crossing project? In particular, what steps is the DFT taking to ensure that companies such as Murphy Group respect basic workers’ rights to join a trade union when bidding for major transport contracts?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend Jesse Norman, who is the Minister for the future of transport, met Murphy Group this week.[This section has been corrected on 17 July 2023, column 9MC — read correction] The Government remain committed to the lower Thames crossing as part of the responsible decisions taken to help meet inflationary pressures and balance the nation’s books. We will be rephasing construction on the LTC by two years, as this will allow more time to take into account stakeholder views and to ensure that there remains an effective and deliverable plan that is in the best interests of taxpayers.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The roads Minister will know that the proposed £40-million junction 10A on the A14 at Kettering is crucial for the future prosperity of the town. Can he assure me that National Highways is working expeditiously with the Hanwood Park developer and North Northamptonshire Council to ensure that the project is delivered as soon as possible after 2025?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. Having visited his constituency and met him near the project, I know how important it is to him. National Highways is working to do everything possible to see the project come to delivery.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

The buses Minister assured me a couple of months ago that he was prepared to work with the West of England Combined Authority to ensure “maximum flexibility” in how bus funding could be spent, but I am still struggling to find out how we can get the funding to reinstate commercially non-profitable but essential buses. Will he meet me so that we can try to get to the bottom of it?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I met recently with the West of England metro Mayor, who has had £21 million in BSIP funding, which we have made more flexible. To date, he has looked at schemes including the birthday month travel scheme. I can see that she might not be as interested in that as some of her hon. Friends, but I would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more flexibility we could introduce to preserve buses in her constituency.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

Following his recent meeting with Transport for London about its finances, can my hon. Friend update me on what financial modelling it has done on the impact of extending the ultra low emission zone and what account it has taken of the impact should that not go ahead?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I met the acting chief financial officer and Seb Dance, the deputy Mayor for transport, yesterday. They informed me that the Mayor of London, in anticipation of falling revenues from ULEZ in the next few years, had asked them to investigate the technicalities of introducing road charging across London in the future.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government)

Last year, Shropshire missed out on bus back better funding, despite having some of the worst services in the country. That funding was hugely scaled back on a national level. Will the Minister commit to reinstating some kind of funding to give rural places the bus services they need?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I have been looking into all bus funding across the country. The hon. Lady will know that Shropshire Council has had around £1.5 million of BSIP plus funding. On cross-border services, I have been working closely with my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, who is doing a huge amount of work in this area, particularly between Shropshire and Wales.