Topical Questions

Transport – in the House of Commons at on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

Since the last Transport questions, my Department has been getting on with our plans: £143 million for new zero-emission buses; a world-leading sustainable aviation fuel mandate; cutting red tape for small-scale fishing businesses; taking steps to future-proof the £18 billion classic car industry, which supports tens of thousands of skilled jobs; and ensuring that taxpayers can hold local councils to account for how they spend their record funding boost for road resurfacing, made possible by reallocating High Speed 2 funding. All Labour has been able to offer is an unfunded, incoherent rail nationalisation plan, putting the unions in charge, cutting services for passengers and containing anti-car targets, taking us back to square one.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Given that Tewkesbury is one of the fastest growing areas of the country, does the Secretary of State agree that we need to expand the A46 and junction 9 of the M5, and not reduce its capacity or downgrade it in any way? If any agency puts plans to him to downgrade the A46 or junction 9, will he reject those plans?

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend—and Gloucestershire neighbour—for raising that issue. He rightly sets out that his constituency is one of the fastest growing. He is a doughty champion for his constituents and I am sure that any agency thinking of downgrading any of his road network would not dare to do so, for fear of the consequences of having to deal with him on the warpath.

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

Car insurance costs have increased by 80% since the Secretary of State came into office. If he is intent on ending the war on motorists, what has he done about it?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for advance notice of the question—she wrote to me this morning. I will say a few things. First, she will know that the insurance industry is the responsibility of the Treasury, but it is an important issue for drivers, so I am happy to deal with it. I read her letter with great care, and I notice that it contains no plan and not a single proposal to deal with the cost of insurance. Whereas this week the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, chaired a roundtable with Treasury Ministers and the industry to look at these important issues, which are also in evidence across Europe.

Secondly, having read the letter carefully, I notice that the hon. Lady takes a pop at postcode pricing, which is about pricing according to risk. It seems to me that she is proposing—I am sure she cannot really mean this—to put up insurance costs across the country to reflect the Mayor of London’s failure to grip crime in inner London.

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

Given that the Secretary of State had advance notice of my question, I am afraid that his answer shows how out of touch with reality he has become. Car insurance is not a luxury but a legal requirement, and it is completely unaffordable for millions of drivers. There has been a £219 increase in the average premium in two years. Instead of parroting conspiracy theories about 15-minute cities, why does he not do his job, take action, demand action from regulators, call in the Competition and Markets Authority, and act on soaring insurance premiums?

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

I will say a couple of things. First, the hon. Lady called for action. My hon. Friend the roads Minister has already been meeting the industry and Treasury Ministers, who are responsible for the industry regulator, so we are already doing that. As I said, this is an issue not just in the UK but elsewhere.

Secondly, as I said, the hon. Lady said in her letter that she was looking at outlawing the ability for insurers to price according to risk in local areas. I am sure that hon. Members noticed that she has not denied that, so they will know that she is proposing for people across the country to face higher costs to reflect the higher crime that we see in inner London, where her Labour Mayor has failed to get a grip.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Independent, West Suffolk

Will the Rail Minister join me in campaigning to save Brandon station, which is a beautiful listed building that has been out of use for years? Greater Anglia, to its credit, is trying to find a solution to ensure that that beautiful building can be put back into use. Will he join me in that campaign and, if his diary allows, join me on 14 June, when we have a public meeting to drive that forward?

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

I will do everything I can. It is a beautiful example of railway architecture and it must be saved, so I applaud my right hon. Friend’s work. I recently had a conference for leaders in rail, at which I talked to all the train operators and Network Rail about bringing these beautiful buildings back to life for the community. I have met that team as well and will do everything I can to help him.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

It is now exactly four months since the Avanti management were caught laughing at the Government —they are not on their own. They were laughing because they see the performance payments that the Government hand out to them as free money and a joke. When will the Secretary of State take the smile off the faces of the appalling Avanti management by finishing their contract?

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

When that incident occurred, the Secretary of State and I made it clear to the teams at Avanti and FirstGroup that that was not acceptable, and their senior management agreed. It was crass and it was wrong. We often talk about Avanti’s performance. The overtime agreement had been withdrawn by ASLEF, which caused the start of the difficulties, but it has since been put back in place. When I looked at the data for the first week of May, there were pretty much 0% cancellations from Avanti induced incidents. Matters are getting better and, where they are better, we should applaud the staff.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

The condition of local roads is the No. 1 concern raised with me by Aylesbury residents, whether that is potholes, congestion caused by countless utility works, or simply not enough roads to cope with all the new houses that have been built. Will my hon. Friend reassure local residents that it is under this Conservative Government and our excellent local Conservative council that Aylesbury’s roads will improve for my long-suffering constituents?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I recently met the council leader, Martin Tett, who is doing a fantastic job, aided by record investment by this Government of £8.3 billion for road resurfacing and our street works consultation, which will crack down on utility organisations and ensure that they work much faster and much better. We are also giving extra funding on an ongoing basis.

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

Every day that Hammersmith bridge remains closed is a reminder that this Government cannot be trusted to fix even the most basic problems. Do the Conservative Government have any intention of keeping the promise they made in 2019 and fixing Hammersmith bridge?

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

The bridge is owned by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is not a Conservative borough, so I will correct the record there. There are two phases of work: stabilisation to ensure permanent access for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic—despite not being the owner, the Government have put money into that—and strengthening. We will do everything we can to work with the owners of the bridge to make that happen.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Junction 10A on the A14 is a crucial piece of future roads infrastructure to support Kettering’s housing expansion. Should North Northamptonshire Council approve the relevant planning application this coming Monday, will my hon. Friend the roads Minister reconfirm his commitment to give the proper direction this project needs to proceed at pace, to visit the site with me and to arrange for me to meet with National Highways to ensure progress?

Photo of Chris Webb Chris Webb Labour, Blackpool South

Blackpool is experiencing the scourge of unlicensed taxis in our treasured seaside resort. Uber and similar companies, which have no operating licence in Blackpool, are allowing passengers to use their unlicensed taxis uninsured, creating a real public safety risk. These unlicensed taxis are parking in local ranks illegally, taking fares from our hard-working, rule-abiding Blackpool taxi drivers. What is the Minister doing to tackle these unlicensed drivers, and will he meet me to discuss this issue in my constituency?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place? He is a worthy winner and I am delighted to see him in the House. I wish him good fortune. The Government have published updated taxi and private hire vehicle best practice guidance for licensing authorities in England. I will write to the hon. Gentleman in detail and set out the particular points, and then we will see whether a meeting is required thereafter.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee

In Horsham we have a significant problem with car racing on specific stretches of road. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a role for speed cameras in deterring those activities and the real risks they represent?

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

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising the important matter of road safety. He is right that there is a role for speed cameras. Decisions for enforcing speed limits are for the police and local agencies. I know he has raised the issue with them. I hope our exchange today will continue to put pressure on them, that the campaign he is running to ensure safer roads for his constituents is successful, and that the police take note.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I was pleased to have been told late last year that Haughley and Ely north junctions would be funded, but I have since become frustrated by the slow progress. I hear all the right noises from the Department, but when I talk to Greater Anglia and Network Rail, all I hear is frustration at the slow progress. Will the Secretary of State promise me that we will get on with these projects, which are crucial to Ipswich, Suffolk and East Anglia in general?

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

I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I think his Labour opponent stated that the Conservatives had not promised to deliver this project. In October, the Prime Minister set out that we would deliver the rail junction at Ely and Haughley. It is a project that the Department is keen on, as it is good for freight, and for our freight growth target. I will meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues who support the project to show them the steps that we are taking to get this vital project under way.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

The Secretary of State will be aware that the courts yesterday awarded £25 million of compensation to 1.4 million passengers who were overcharged for rail fares between 2015 and 2017 by Stagecoach South Western Trains, the predecessor franchise to South Western Railway. Will he ensure that affected passengers are not left out of pocket, and get automatic redress, rather than having to make an historical claim?

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

I have been meeting the operators to discuss the matter. I am happy to write to her, setting out the exact conclusion of those conversations. I am always keen to ensure that passenger and consumer interests are protected and preserved, so I will write to her.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

I thank the Secretary of State and the Rail Minister for their support for upgrades to Pokesdown station in my constituency, not least the improvements to the lifts, but the project has run into a few technical and financial problems; will the Secretary of State or the Minister update the House on it?

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

I promised my right hon. Friend from this Dispatch Box that the project would be delivered, and I continue to give him that assurance. I am sorry that there have been those delays. This week, I spoke to the team at some length about the station. My right hon. Friend knows that I will visit him at the station, and I will have some more concrete news for him then.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

How reliable are the key performance indicators that the train operators are quoting, which the Rail Minister mentioned earlier? The Disability News Service reports that train companies are sending unreliable statistics from freelance mystery shoppers who pretend to be disabled and give overly positive feedback about the experience of disabled passengers. Does he share my concern about that, and what can he do about it?

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

Data from mystery shoppers, as the hon. Gentleman calls them, cannot be used unless those individuals have the disabilities that they claim to, but there are wider mystery shopping experiences that are undertaken. I will happily write to him—in fact, I will meet him, seeing as he is such a great man—and take him through the steps that are taken into account. I also thank him very much for doing what he always does, which is raising that matter with me last night, so that we could discuss it in advance.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

The reopening of Aldridge train station will finally give my constituents the railway service that they badly need and deserve. I wish to place on record my thanks to the Minister’s Department, the Government, former Mayor Andy Street and the West Midlands Combined Authority for their support in securing funding for the project through the city region sustainable transport settlement. Will my hon. Friend help me to continue to nudge Network Rail and others to progress this to completion in 2027?

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

Yes. It is a brilliant £30 million project, with 40 car parking spaces, which my right hon. Friend has been instrumental in making happen. I will, I hope, meet the new Mayor, whom I congratulate, to ensure that he delivers the project for 2027, as the fantastic Andy Street promised.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Justice)

More people are killed by cows and lightning than by dangerous cyclists, whereas around five people a day are killed on our roads by motor vehicles—a level that has flatlined under this Government. When will the Transport Secretary publish the long-overdue strategic framework for road safety?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Secretary of State took a decision on road safety yesterday, so clearly we are addressing all these matters on an ongoing basis. I addressed the issue in a Westminster Hall debate recently, but I will write to the hon. Member with more detail.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

The Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire has been given colossal sums of money by this Government. Sadly, it appears that he chooses to spend it on Sheffield supertrams and Sheffield’s transport infrastructure, not Doncaster’s. Will the Minister send a clear message to him that he should spend this money not only wisely, but across the combined authority, not just in Sheffield?

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

It is obviously up to mayors to decide how to spend the money, but I would expect them to spend it fairly across the entire region that they represent. Given that fantastic Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend will hold them to account, voters in his constituency and across the combined authority area will hopefully make the right decision, when they get the chance.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

New evidence shows that Ofgem’s targeted charging review has led to significant increases in public electric vehicle charger standing charge rates, which are passed on to the consumer. In one site in northern Scotland, costs have increased from £315 to £809 per day. What will the Minister do to regulate the cost of electric vehicle charging nationally?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am the Minister responsible for electrical vehicles. The cost of charging is a concern to many EV drivers. On standing charges for charge point operators, I met with the chief executive of Ofgem, the regulator, earlier this week to discuss that exact issue. It is one of the things that Ofgem is looking at.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

How is the Minister working to improve the supply of rolling stock orders, to give customers a better experience, and importantly, to give companies such as Hitachi orders to bid for?

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

As an example, just yesterday an invitation to negotiate was sent out by Southeastern to five train manufacturers, one of which is Hitachi, which is so well supported and championed by my hon. Friend. We have plans over the coming years for 2,000 rolling stock orders, worth a total of £3.6 billion. I hope that, with our support, the benefits for train manufacturing supply chains will continue.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Road safety organisations and driving instructors are concerned to ensure that young drivers have some experience of night driving. Does the Minister intend to ensure that night driving becomes part of the test?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman knows that the test has got more difficult and onerous for individuals; we have made it much harder to pass in the first place. We look at all aspects of post-test passing on an ongoing basis, but I will take the matter up with him personally.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I was grateful to the roads Minister for his commitment in an earlier answer to working with us in Buckinghamshire to find a solution to the crisis created by Arriva withdrawing bus services, but does he agree that companies that have been all too happy to take a taxpayer subsidy have a moral duty to maintain those services or give the money back?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We certainly expect those companies to engage with the local authority to ensure the provision of alternative service. That is what we intend to ensure happens.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The Government recently announced yet another consultation support mechanism for the production of sustainable aviation fuel. Meanwhile, other countries across the world are getting on with producing SAF at scale. When will the Government get the mechanism in place, and will they meet their unambitious target of five SAF plants by 2025?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

On 25 April, we published the SAF mandate, requiring 10% SAF across the aviation industry by 2030, and announced the revenue certainty mechanism consultation. It is an eight-week consultation. We have been inviting the whole industry to respond to it. We have to ensure that we get it right, and we will produce the final result very shortly after that.

Photo of Ian Levy Ian Levy Conservative, Blyth Valley

Moor Farm roundabout in Cramlington is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, many of my residents have told me that they actively avoid it. That is exactly why I had the roundabout cleaned and re-marked recently; however, more work needs to be done. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss a more permanent solution, and the progress that I have made with Northumberland County Council and National Highways?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As someone who knows that roundabout very well, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and to ensure that the good work that Northumberland County Council is doing to upgrade and improve the area continue.