Topical Questions

Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 26 October 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn 9:36, 26 October 2023

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

This Government have made the long-term decision to reinvest every penny of savings from High Speed 2 into the local journeys that matter most across the country, so from next week, passengers on our buses will keep saving money with the £2 fare cap, and from next year, £150 million of redirected HS2 funding will go to bus services across the north and midlands. That is part of £1 billion of new funding to improve Britain’s most popular form of public transport.

It means supporting local authorities to introduce cheaper fares, more regular services and new routes, all backed by investments that would not have been possible without our decision on HS2—a project that would not have been completed until the 2040s. Governing is about making choices, and by prioritising everyday local journeys, we have chosen to be on the side of the majority of the British people.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

Thank goodness Santa travels by sleigh, not train! Avanti has just released its new timetable, with London to Holyhead services up to Christmas slashed. It is certainly no Nadolig Llawen for my Ynys Môn constituents, who like me are fed up with this service. Avanti has a new contract; what assurance can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents that he is doing everything he can to restore the number of direct trains from London to Holyhead to pre-pandemic levels?

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

The Rail Minister and I continue to hold Avanti to account for matters within its control, and I know the Rail Minister recently visited my hon. Friend’s constituency to talk about services to Holyhead. The temporary changes she referred to are necessary to accommodate Network Rail engineering works to improve and maintain the network and minimise unplanned, short-notice cancellations due to train crew shortages as Avanti trains more drivers. In the spirit of my hon. Friend’s question, given that she has mentioned Christmas, I hope she is grateful for the early Christmas present from the Prime Minister of £1 billion to electrify the north Wales main line.

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

We now know that High Speed 2 was billions of pounds over budget, Parliament may have been misled, and the Government are about to waste hundreds of millions more on the fire sale of the land. Why, then, did the Prime Minister choose to dismantle the ministerial taskforce that was literally designed to oversee the cost and delivery of HS2 when he entered No. 10?

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

The Prime Minister made the right long-term decision to reinvest every penny saved from HS2 in the north and midlands back into transport projects across the north and midlands, which will benefit more people in more places more quickly. I know this must be a difficult time for the hon. Lady as her party leader, Keir Starmer, casts her views aside, admitting that the Prime Minister was right and saying that he would follow his lead. I can only thank the right hon. and learned Member—I can only think he was disappointed that the Prime Minister did not go further and follow his suggestion of cancelling the station at Euston, given his long campaign against it.

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

Neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister were paying attention, were they? They have fatally undermined confidence in HS2 and its delivery, which is why no one has confidence in Network North. The Rail Minister failed to respond to my hon. Friend Mike Kane about the fact that dozens of projects in Network North are unfunded because they are valued in 2019 prices. Will he publish the delivery plans and up-to-date costs, or can we all conclude that Network North is not worth the paper it is written on?

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

I am very surprised that the hon. Lady is not welcoming the massive improvement Network North will make across the country, including for her own constituents. I am shocked, Mr Speaker, that she is not taking this opportunity to welcome the electrification of the Hull to Sheffield line, the upgrade of the Sheffield to Leeds line, the electrification of the Hope Valley line or the reopening of the Don Valley line. That is just on rail, the only mode of transport that the hon. Lady ever raises with me; it is not to mention the £500 million—

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

Some 75% of visitors to Bournemouth travel by car. They are most welcome, particularly when they do not park on double yellow lines, but some are choosing to do so for a great day by the sea. They are willing to pay the £35 charge, which obstructs local traffic and, indeed, the emergency services. If someone parks on a double yellow in London, the charge is £65. That is a real deterrent, so can the London charging rates for parking on yellow lines please be extended to Bournemouth?

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

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I recently met with my right hon. Friend Sir Conor Burns and some members of the local council, and this issue is something I would be happy to discuss further with him.

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

By the time we next meet for Transport orals, it will have been more than three years since the Government consultation on pavement parking closed. Are we ever going to see a Government response, or is it time that the Government came clean with disability groups and admitted that they have put this issue in the “too hard to do” pile?

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

It is certainly not in the “too hard to do” pile—it is something we are looking at. It is one of the biggest responses we have had on any issue, with tens of thousands of responses, so it is only right that the Government take our time to ensure we get the position right. In the meantime, any local authority across the country can put in place a traffic regulation order and ensure those changes happen on a local level.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

Potholes and road repairs are a key concern for many of my fellow Gedling residents so I warmly welcome the recent announcement of over £8 billion of spend on potholes. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that money will be spent where it is needed most and outline how much of it is coming to the east midlands?

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

Details of how that £8.3 billion of funding will be allocated to local authorities will be published in due course, and I hope we will be able to make an announcement about that in the not-too-distant future to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. It will be for each individual local highway authority to decide how to spend that money and to focus on the most important parts of their network. They have the local knowledge to do that and we trust them to spend that money wisely, and I am sure my hon. Friend will make representations to them about which parts of his constituency that money should be targeted at.

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

Scotland has had a far more progressive approach to encouraging the switch to electric vehicles with incentives including interest-free loans for electric vehicles, enhanced home-charger grants and a far more comprehensive charging network with twice as many rapid chargers per head as England. The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for net zero has described the delay on banning petrol and diesel car sales as an

“unforgiveable betrayal of current and future generations”,

putting the UK on the “wrong side of history” on climate change. She is right, isn’t she?

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

I do not think that, for the reasons we have described, there is anything to complain about in relation to the progress we are making across England. Charge point roll-out remains very rapid—43% in the last 12 months —and there are 49,000 public charge points at the moment and 400,000 private and business ones, and new regulations and a new mandate have just been laid.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

Chalkwell station in beautiful Leigh-on-Sea has 40 steep steps to get up from and down to the platform; it is 100% inaccessible. I was told last year by the Treasury that work on it is part of the £350 million Department for Transport Access for All programme. Work was supposed to start a year ago, but nothing has happened. The timetable has slipped; it is not due to be completed until March 2026. To ensure that there is no further slippage on this timetable, will the Minister meet with me?

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

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. Chalkwell, Ockendon and Southend East remain within the Access for All programme. We have delivered 230 stations and we will deliver those three as well. We had an issue with the contractor putting in a cost estimate that was about double what I would expect; that is why we have had to look anew, but I will very happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further, and she has that commitment. We will deliver it.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Can the Minister confirm that although HS2—or maybe HS1- and-a-quarter—is going no further than Birmingham, the HS2 trains will continue to run on the west coast main line? Is he aware of repeated reports that because the new trains are not designed for existing track, the high- speed trains to Glasgow will go slower than the existing trains on that line? Can the Minister categorically assure the House that that is not the case, and tell us how much time will be cut from the train journey from Glasgow to Birmingham?

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

It comes down to choices. We could have chosen to continue with HS2, which would not have delivered the value we need, with time overrunning, or we could have done as the Scottish National party did when it built two ferries at a shipyard that had been nationalised, going four times over budget and running seven years late. Alternatively, we could have done as it did on the tram—described by the Edinburgh tram inquiry as a “litany of avoidable failures”. When there are choices to be made, the SNP ploughs on regardless.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare

Open access passenger and freight train operators have recovered faster since the pandemic, experience higher staff morale with fewer strikes, provide better deals for passengers and cost taxpayers less too. Over the next three to six months how many new open-access services does the Minister expect to see approved?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to push for more open access. It is something the Secretary of State and I are keen to do. I met this week with the Office of Rail and Road chief executive, our regulator, and we discussed what he can do to allow more open-access applications, and what we can do, and we then met with another bidder. There is another service planned with regard to Wales on the western line, and there is also one in the offing that could work on CrossCountry, plus one for the channel tunnel. I hope my hon. Friend will keep on working with me. We want to deliver them.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

The Government’s mishandling of HS2 was and is absolutely staggering, but their attempt to pull the wool over northern eyes with Network North is a farce. Does the Minister really believe the people of the north-east are falling for his fag-end fake network to nowhere?

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

I just do not accept that at all. I gave a run through of a list of the £36 billion that is being put back into local projects, including £1.8 billion extra for the north-east. That could, for example, be an option for the Leamside line to be reopened. I would have thought that, rather than stating that none of this is going to happen, the hon. Member would be holding us to account to make sure it does, and that she might actually support investment. There will be as much investment—indeed, more—in all areas.[This section has been corrected on 20 November 2023, column 1MC — read correction]

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

The fight against potholes is much like our own fight to stay healthy: if we do nothing about it, we deteriorate faster. I therefore thank the Minister for the additional £200 million allocated to local authorities for pothole repairs. Will he join me in praising Dudley Council’s new approach of moving away from traditional, reactive quick wins towards a proactive, high-quality structural maintenance service?

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

I certainly am delighted to praise Dudley Council for its new approach, spending that money wisely but also implementing preventative measures for the future. Well planned road maintenance is essential, and on 4 October the Prime Minister announced that Network North would include £8.3 billion for local highway maintenance right across the country. The allocations of that cash will be announced very soon to help Dudley, but also every other council right across the country, to ensure it has the highest quality roads.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

The Government have said that every penny that would have been spent on HS2 will now be reinvested in local and regional transport infrastructure. To be clear, and so that South Yorkshire can get organised, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the city region sustainable transport settlements round 2 uplift for South Yorkshire will be £543 million, and that he will work with the Mayor and others to maximise the benefit of that investment?

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

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is indeed £543 million of extra funding for the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority. We have already had conversations with the South Yorkshire Mayor about the funding and his plans. I and my team will continue to do so, and our officials will work with his to make sure we can deliver those plans.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

With the global AI summit coming up next week in Milton Keynes, it seems topical to ask: what steps is the Department taking towards the regulation of autonomous pavement delivery robots?

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

Of course, I have visited the technology that my hon. Friend is describing and seen it in action. We must balance the safety of patients and vulnerable road users with the potential benefits of this new technology, but I am very pleased to confirm that the Department will be funding research to advance our understanding of the impacts of this technology. The results will be published once the research has concluded.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

Heavy goods vehicles cause a disproportionate number of cycling deaths. To cut the number of deaths of cyclists by illegal freight operators in other places, will the Department look at the successful London scheme and encourage partnerships between local authorities, the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency and police forces to address this problem?

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

I am always happy to look at measures to improve road safety, including the measure the hon. Lady has suggested. I regularly meet the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council on this, as well as the police and crime commissioners’ lead. We have already updated the highway code to put that priority of road users there, but I am happy to look at any measures we can implement to further this.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

Nottinghamshire submitted a levelling-up fund bid for a new Toton link road, but narrowly missed out. The project is desperately needed to ease congestion and unlock the huge potential in my constituency of Broxtowe and our wider county. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this £40 million, ready-to-go project, especially as the east midlands has the lowest amount per head spent per year on transport?

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

With the extra £1.5 billion in the CRSTS announcement coming to my hon. Friend’s new mayoral combined authority, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities to look at really important road schemes, but I would also be delighted to meet him as soon as possible.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

When a memorandum of understanding on HS2 to Scotland was agreed by the then Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, HS2 planners claimed that reducing journey times between Scotland and London to three hours could boost passenger numbers by 4 million and increase rail’s share of passengers making that journey from 29% to 75%, reducing air travel emissions. What is the Secretary of State’s new prediction for rail passenger numbers making that journey?

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

I will happily write to the hon. Lady with the details she requires, but I restate that it comes down to choices. The choice that this Government have made is to go forward with transport projects across the entirety of the country that can deliver faster and better benefits and that have a better business case. That is why this decision has been made.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Does my right hon. Friend think that people of the Jewish faith are safe on the London underground? I have to tell him that many Jews in London do not feel safe. Does he agree that London Underground employees who misuse Transport for London equipment to take part in intimidatory acts should not only be disciplined for gross misconduct, but considered for prosecution for causing harassment, alarm and distress under the Public Order Act 1986?

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

I am familiar with the case that my right hon. and learned Friend raises. I was in contact with British Transport police about it after seeing the disturbing footage at the weekend. They have publicly said that a member of staff has been suspended, but he will understand that because the British Transport police are investigating whether a crime has been committed, it would not be right of me to go into details. I hope he is reassured that the incident is being taken seriously by both British Transport police and London Underground, and that that will reassure both him and the Jewish community.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon

The huge importance of local bus services to communities such as mine in Blaydon has been emphasised by a dispute between Go North East and its employees. I very much hope that a negotiated settlement can be reached quickly. Is not the reality that we need better, more streamlined franchising models to give communities a greater say on their transport offer?

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

I am sure the hon. Lady, my neighbour, welcomed the news yesterday evening that Go North East and Unite the union have managed to reach a settlement in the north-east. That is quite good news. I am sure she will also welcome the £163.5 million that we have put into bus service improvement plans, which include the option to do bus franchising. This Government have been happy to make that available to all local authorities.[This section has been corrected on 7 November 2023, column 1MC — read correction]

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

The reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line, which is about 11 miles of missing track, will be fundamental in linking Lancashire and Yorkshire back up. Will the Minister consider progressing this line to the next phase of the rail network enhancements pipeline, which includes drawing up a full business case for reinstatement? Will he meet me and Members including our right hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson and our hon. Friend Antony Higginbotham to discuss it further?

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

I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend and all right hon. and hon. Friends. The Department has been working with Transport for the North, Lancashire County Council and the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership campaign group to strengthen the case for reopening that line, but we will meet up and discuss that further.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

In answer to Mr Betts, the bus Minister, Mr Holden said that the Mayor of South Yorkshire had asked for £8 million to restore bus services. In fact, the Mayor asked for £8 million to restore bus services to 2022 levels—so just restoring those cut in the past year. Will the Minister take this opportunity to look again at the level of funding that South Yorkshire requires?

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

That is exactly what they said, and that is exactly what I said, too. As I said, we are seeing not only £1.6 million this year, but £1.6 million next year, and almost £8 million on top of that, but that is to ignore the huge amount—half a billion pounds—of city region sustainable transport settlement funding going to South Yorkshire for this period, which will almost triple for the next period, too. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady can shout at me from a sedentary position, but the truth is that she is just adopting our new position. It is not really opposition anymore; it is just “adopt the Government’s position”, including on HS2.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

When do Ministers anticipate being able to give LNER the go-ahead to extend the King’s Cross-Lincoln services through to Cleethorpes?

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

I am afraid I will have to give my hon. Friend the answer that Ministers often have to give, which is that I hope to make an announcement shortly. I also hope that when an announcement is made, he will be able to welcome it.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

According to the Department’s own regulations, it should have reported on medical licences for fisherman this week, but it has not, so when will the Department publish the review? More important, when will it start listening to fishermen, who are out of pocket, worried about their livelihoods and at risk of becoming uninsured?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. In fact, I met representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations just yesterday to talk through the issue in some detail. We will be able to make some announcements on policy very shortly. Obviously, I will keep the federation informed, as I will Members of the House.

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

My constituents very much value access to the travelcard scheme, which in particular enables visitors, friends and family to make the most of a trip to London. They were concerned to hear the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announce his plans to abolish the travelcard. They were equally puzzled to hear that the Mayor has now apparently intervened to save the scheme from his own plans. Can my right hon. Friend help me explain that conundrum to my constituents?

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

Like my hon. Friend, I was surprised that, having proposed to cancel the travelcard scheme in the first place, the Mayor of London is now trying to take credit for cancelling his own cancellation. From my point of view, those hon. Members who so stridently raised concerns about the Mayor of London’s latest plans to increase costs for the travelling public and the Department of Transport officials who worked with Transport for London to find an alternative deserve the lion’s share of any credit.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

I declare an interest in that I sold my house in North West Leicestershire to HS2 in 2015 for considerably less than I paid for it in 2011. What does the Secretary of State make of the evidence given to the media by Andrew Bruce, the former head of land acquisitions for HS2, that people were short-changed and not given full value for their properties up and down the route?

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

There are rules that specify how the safeguarded land will be returned. Those who sold their property will be offered it back at the current market value. We expect those matters to take place towards the summer. With regard to the hon. Member’s allegations, I will discuss them further with him so that I am fully furnished of the case.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Last year, my constituent was having a drink with his son, having attended a Manchester City match, when his son was glassed in the face in an unprovoked attack. The assault took place in a pub outside Manchester Piccadilly within the jurisdiction of British Transport police. Since then, despite CCTV capturing a clear image of the suspect, no arrests have been made. My constituent feels disappointed that the transport police have not got justice for his son, who suffered life- changing injuries. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss this distressing case and, more widely, to consider the remit and resourcing of British Transport police?

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

I am sorry to hear about that incident; it must have been incredibly distressing for my hon. Friend’s constituent. I will raise that case specifically with British Transport police, and I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it further.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. While the Tories get excited about “Get around for £2”, under 22s in Scotland get around for free, because their fares are funded by the Scottish Government in a strategic paradigm shift to get people modal-shifting over to public transport. Will the English Government provide that same support to commuters in England, or are they too proud to follow Scotland’s lead?

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

The hon. Gentleman could do well to recognise that fares in Scotland are up by over 10 % on an annualised basis, whereas in areas of England they are falling. There is also no fare cap in Scotland for those over the age of 25, whereas my constituents—many of them in low-paid work or looking to go to work and get jobs—can get a £2 bus fare. On a recent visit to Scotland, I saw people paying £8 or £9 to travel between some major towns. Actually, the Scottish Government would do well to follow the English Government’s example.