Transport

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Thursday 23rd May 2024

(2 months ago)

Written Corrections
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The following extract is from the Westminster Hall debate on E-scooters: Deaths and Serious Injuries on 22 May 2024.
Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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…First, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) mentioned the statistics on deaths. In 2022, there were 12 deaths from e-scooters; 11 were the riders themselves, and two of those were within the trial. So far, four people in total have been killed on the trial scooters. Clearly, with the non-trial scooters there is a far higher incidence of deaths.

The latest figures that I have seen on accidents are from 2022. There were a total of 1,492 accidents, of which 12 resulted in death and 440 were serious accidents.

[Official Report, 22 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 404WH.]

Written correction submitted by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne):

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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… The latest figures that I have seen on accidents are from 2022. There were a total of 1,402 collisions, resulting in 1,492 injuries, of which 12 resulted in death and 440 were serious accidents.

E-scooters: Deaths and Serious Injuries

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I do not think it will be my last debate, because I have a speech to make tomorrow, but we are all awaiting an announcement. I am glad that it is delayed, because I know we have the nation’s undivided attention here.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on bringing this important debate to Parliament, on his incredibly impassioned speech— whether or not it was his last—and on his campaigning on road safety over many years. I know that as president of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety he has done a lot of work advocating for reform. I have met representatives of the council and gone through their proposals.

I want to say from the outset that e-scooters are revolutionary—there is no doubt about it. Many people like them, as we heard from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke), and I myself have ridden them. On the one hand, it is important to get the regulation right, and safety must be at the heart of that; there is absolutely no doubt about that, and I think there is full agreement here. On the other hand, we do not want to legislate in a way that means we get it completely wrong and end up making things worse.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) that these are not harmless toys. They are serious pieces of equipment and it is important we have the right standards around them.

I have a prepared speech, but let me go through the various points raised and the comments on them. First, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) mentioned the statistics on deaths. In 2022, there were 12 deaths from e-scooters; 11 were the riders themselves, and two of those were within the trial. So far, four people in total have been killed on the trial scooters. Clearly, with the non-trial scooters there is a far higher incidence of deaths.

The latest figures that I have seen on accidents are from 2022. There were a total of 1,492 accidents, of which 12 resulted in death and 440 were serious accidents. Each of those deaths is absolutely tragic, and serious accidents can be life-changing, so it is important to make sure we get the legislation right. Pretty much every speaker has said that we need to legislate, and I agree. Unfortunately we do not have parliamentary time, particularly if the speculation is right, but the Government have said that we need to legislate. We have been trying to make sure we have the right legislation, because it really is not clear exactly what the right legislation is.

One Member said that we should learn lessons from other countries. We have been looking at what other countries have done. Many have legislated, but they have all done very different things with different rules. Do they require helmets or not? Do they require insurance or not? Should an ID licence plate be required or not? Should people require a licence to be able to ride e-scooters? Should they be allowed on pavements? I think the answer to that one is an absolutely clear no. What should the minimum age be? Should there be a minimum age? Six countries in Europe that we looked at have no minimum age. In various countries, the minimum age is set at 10, 12, 14 or 16. We wanted to use the trials to collect evidence and make sure that we understand how e-scooters are being used, how people are riding them, what the patterns of behaviour are, what works and what does not work. That is why we have been collecting data from the various trials: so that we can learn how they are used in the UK, but also learn lessons from other countries.

It is important that we take the public with us on this journey. This is a new technology, and people need to know that they are being kept safe despite the pace and scale of these changes. We need only look across the channel to see the impacts if we get this wrong and the potential benefits are outweighed by the very real and understandable concerns. I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield knows what happened in Paris: rental e-scooters were banned following the so-called blitzscaling, where streets were overwhelmed by these new-fangled forms of transport and the public became very strongly opposed to them. Other countries such as Lithuania and Belgium have gradually introduced tighter restrictions, having started out with a more deregulated regime.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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I am listening with great interest. The Minister is obviously very knowledgeable about this area, but I beg him to rapidly assess the best course of action. Beside me I have my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood), who is a great friend—I recently campaigned in his by-election—and I will be on him as well.

The worst thing that can happen to you as a human being is to get a knock on the door with the news that your mum, your dad, your daughter or your son has been killed in a road accident. It is all avoidable—I am sure the Minister agrees. This should give us the passion to make sure that, even if we have to feed it all into AI, we come up with something quick. Let’s do it!

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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Clearly I agree. All road deaths are absolutely tragic, but that is why it is so important that we get it right. I will come to some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but these scooters are completely illegal at the moment. Anything we do to regulate them or legislate on them would be legalising something that is currently illegal; presumably that would make them more widely used. That is why it is important that we learn about their safety features, the way they are used, what the age limit should be and whether we should legally require helmets, licences or whatever else. Other countries, as I say, started out with more liberal regimes. Lithuania and Belgium tightened them. I think it would damage public confidence if we started out with a regime that was unregulated, and then ended up having to ratchet it up because safety had not been protected. That is why we really need to get it absolutely right.

In our first evaluation, the trial data showed that the accident rate is higher than bicycles, but we do not know whether that is just because this is a new technology that people are getting used to. Some 72% of e-scooter accidents happen during someone’s first five rides. That suggests a learning curve: once people have used them for a while, they are less likely to have an accident. One point of reassurance is that 82% of accidents did not involve other vehicles or other pedestrians: it was simply the riders hitting something themselves, although obviously that could also be serious.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned the research that he has done. I commend him on his research into Toys “R” Us; I am rather alarmed by what he said, and will follow it up with officials. All retailers have to meet the product safety standards, and everything that is sold has to meet the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. All retailers are required to tell people buying e-scooters that they cannot use them on public land, roads or pavements. We do monitor that: last year the market surveillance unit took up 24 different online retailers that it found not to be complying with that law. Some of them had to go through the Advertising Standards Authority, but all those that we found not to be complying with the law are now doing so. The year before, there was one that did not comply with the law, even when we told it that it needed to; that case is now in the courts. We have taken legal action against those retailers that are not abiding by the law, but I will ask my officials to look at the case of Toys “R” Us, which the hon. Member mentioned. That absolutely should not be happening.

The hon. Member mentioned that the police should be enforcing the law. E-scooters are illegal at the moment —the private ones, not the trial ones, obviously. It is up to the police to decide what to enforce and what not to enforce. In my constituency, I have tried to encourage the police to enforce parking regulations; I am in one of the few areas of the country where there is not civil enforcement. The police quite rightly make the point that it is up to them to decide what their operational priorities are, but I urge them to enforce this. I get frustrated when I see people on private e-scooters riding around. It is clearly illegal and I point that out to them, but I think there probably does need to be more enforcement. That is the case whether or not e-scooters are legalised through some form of regulation.

The point about fires that the shadow Minister mentioned has been a cause for concern; the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire and I have met the fire safety people about it. As the shadow Minister mentioned, most fires are caused by people using wrong batteries or wrong connectors. It is a product standards issue, and we are ensuring that there is enforcement. We have issued guidance to retailers and to the wider public on how to reduce the risk of fires.

The shadow Minister also mentioned pavement parking for people with sight loss, which is a real issue. One thing that we have been learning through the trials is how to get people to park in safe places, for example by having parking bays. The benefit of the 22 trials is that different areas have tried out different things, and we have seen what works and what does not. There has been dramatic progress on that, and we now know far better how to stop people leaving their e-scooters on the pavements and causing hazards. I should say that that is only really relevant for rental scooters, because no one is going to leave a private scooter out on the payment; it is a valuable thing, so people will take it home. But that is an example of how we have been learning through the trials.

The hon. Member for Bradford South mentioned the regulation of e-scooters to prevent dangerous riding. I should point out that e-scooters are classified as motor vehicles and are, at present, covered by exactly the same offences as cars. Things like death by dangerous driving are already covered for e-scooters.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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The Minister is being very kind on this auspicious occasion. Could he say something about the insurance of e-scooters? People are going to get killed and their lives are going to be destroyed. What about the insurance aspect?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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The hon. Member makes a very valid point. If we do legislate, one thing we would want to look at is whether we should require insurance or not. Of the 22 countries that we have looked at that have legislated on this issue, 18 do not require insurance and four do. We do not require insurance for pedal bikes; if we did so for e-scooters, there would be a question about why we do not require them for pedal bikes. There is a range of issues there, as well as the safety side.

Finally—I am conscious of time—the shadow Minister asked about the recommendations that PACTS made on data gathering. Basically, we are abiding by all the regulations, and officials met PACTS just last month. We are improving police data collection. We are improving the trial data collection and are about to launch a second evaluation of the data from the e-scooter trials. It is incredibly important that we get the best information from those trials.

I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield again for securing this important debate. I agree that we need legislation, but it has to be based on evidence. I understand that during my speech a general election has been called on 4 July. If that is true, I can guarantee that we will not get any legislation in before the general election. Whoever wins the general election will have to do the legislating, but they will have the support of the officials at the Department for Transport and will get all the information that I have about the need for legislation. Again, thank you for bringing forward this debate. It has been very instructive; a lot of valid points have been made, and we will take them away.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Thursday 16th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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9. If he will have discussions with (a) Airbus and (b) Boeing on air safety.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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Both I and departmental officials engage proactively with industry, including Boeing, Airbus and other manufacturers, on aviation safety. The Civil Aviation Authority, the independent safety regulator for the aviation sector, also engages regularly across the industry. I should point out that we have some of the safest skies in the world. The fatal accident rate of UK airlines is among the lowest in Europe and the world. We have not had a single fatal accident involving commercial passenger airplanes for more than 29 years. I am determined that that safety record will continue.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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The Minister might know that I am the chair of a manufacturing group for Members of Parliament. Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Boeing are amazing manufacturers at the heart of our manufacturing economy, but does he agree that we must sort out the problems that seem to have occurred in the manufacture of Boeing’s 737 MAX? Does he agree that the faster our regulators work with American regulators to sort this out, the better for British jobs and British innovation?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member that they are amazing companies with huge operations in the UK and enviable safety records. Not one of the 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9s operating globally operates in the UK or from the UK, so there was no need to ground them. The Department for Transport liaises closely with American authorities. The CAA follows very closely the work of the US Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that safety standards remain as high as possible.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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10. What recent discussions he has had with helicopter search and rescue operators on the adequacy of response times.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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The right hon. Member will be aware that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is conducting an analysis of recent incident data to examine whether the demand for the search and rescue helicopter service has changed since the launch of the UK’s second generation search and rescue aviation procurement. It is expected to be published by the end of 2024. I have had no recent discussions on this point, as the review is ongoing.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I thank the Minister for his answer—he seems to be aware of the situation—but a new threat to search and rescue response times is emerging, namely the poor and deteriorating industrial relations between Bristow’s management and its staff. As we speak, members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association who work in SAR cohort 2 are on strike, having been driven to it by a management who are playing negotiating hardball on salary and on terms and conditions. Will the Minister call in the management and make it clear to them that, as the customer, the Government expect them to treat their search and rescue staff with the respect and consideration that their skill and bravery deserve?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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I know how important search and rescue services are in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and he has been a great champion for them. Good industrial relations are clearly vital to ensuring that they operate effectively, and I am sure that the MCA will keep that in mind during its review. I should add that just this morning, I agreed to meet the management of Bristow.

--- Later in debate ---
Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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14. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to prevent the use of fire and rehire practices in the transport industry.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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The Government recently published a statutory code of practice on dismissal and re-engagement. The code will address the practice of fire and rehire, aiming to ensure that it is only ever used as a last resort, and that employees are properly consulted and treated fairly.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry
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The TUC has found that since 2020 about 10% of all workers have had to reapply for their job. And let us remember that in 2020 British Airways tried to sack 36,000 staff through fire and rehire, which was stopped only through strike action—the Government took no action. In 2021, Go North West in Manchester threatened the same and, again, industrial action stopped it happening—the Government took no action. In 2022, infamously, P&O Ferries unlawfully sacked 786 staff before replacing them with agency staff—the Government took no action. I implore the Government to outlaw this practice. Rather than just bringing in a code of best practice, they should be taking action to protect British workers.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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After the P&O incident, in which workers were indeed treated totally unacceptably, we introduced a whole range of measures set out in our nine-point charter, including the Seafarers Wages Act 2023, which will come into force this summer. We launched the seafarers charter, to which P&O has now committed, which I very much welcome. The code of practice on dismissal and re-engagement, which will come in before the summer recess, will give workers up to 25% extra compensation if their employers do not abide by it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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The UK minimum wage is £11.44 an hour, but last week, here in Parliament, Peter Hebblethwaite, the chief executive officer of P&O, admitted that it paid seafarers £4.87 an hour. This has been an awful breach of trust. What more will the Minister do to stop companies acting like modern-day pirates of the high seas when it comes to fire and rehire?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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As I mentioned in my previous answer, many of P&O’s practices have indeed been totally unacceptable, including on minimum wage issues. That is why we introduced the Seafarers Wages Act, which will ensure that seafarers operating on regular services in UK waters get the minimum wage. We have also co-ordinated with legislation in France to ensure a minimum wage corridor for all services operating between the UK and France, which will give workers the wages they deserve.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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It is two years since the reprehensible actions of P&O, and Peter Hebblethwaite’s calamitous appearance in Parliament comes four years after Willie Walsh and Álex Cruz, the then CEOs of the International Airlines Group and BA, shamefully threatened thousands of British Airways workers with fire and rehire, having refused Government covid assistance. On Tuesday I asked the Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), in this Chamber to confirm whether the new fire and rehire code of practice would have prevented this threat from being made. He could not do so, so I ask this Minister the same question. And if not, why not and what is the point?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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In addition to my earlier answer, I should point out that the P&O case is being investigated by the Insolvency Service, and I await the outcome of that investigation. The point of the code of practice is to ensure that fire and rehire is very much a last resort. If employers breach the code, their employees can get up to 25% greater compensation. The Government have made sure that is the case.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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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?

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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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.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
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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?

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Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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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?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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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.

Ian Levy Portrait Ian Levy (Blyth Valley) (Con)
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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?

Space Industry (Indemnities) Bill

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con)
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I cannot tell you how excited I am about the Bill, Sir Philip, although it seems to make only a very minor change to the Space Industry Act 2018—to one word in one section and then a specification in another. Does it win the record for being the shortest Bill? Is it close? Possibly.

The reason why I am so excited is that way back in 2007, when I was shadow Science Minister, I had a dream—and such small changes, which would enable horizontal take-off spacecraft, were part of it. We have now got there, and this Bill is the last little bit of the jigsaw. It ensures that when a company makes a commercial decision about whether to launch satellites, spacecraft or intercontinental travel in the upper atmosphere, it will be able to do a calculation on a spreadsheet to work out whether that makes financial sense. Having written the first draft in 2007, I am so relieved that, in what is possibly my parting year in Parliament, the provision has come to pass.

I very much welcome the measures. I have a couple of questions that I hope will not be too taxing. The Bill states that the licences issued must specify a maximum liability to the Government—to the people, if you like. Has there been any indication from my hon. Friend’s research about what the levels may be? Secondly, who actually decides what the figure should be? Those are my only questions. I have my own ideas about how this should be done. I suspect that the idea is to enable the regulating authorities, hand in hand with other bodies, to determine what the level should be to make things commercially viable. Does my hon. Friend have any thoughts on that?

Above all, I want to say that I very much welcome the Bill. I imagine the Government will, too. For me, it builds on the work done around transport. Liabilities for autonomous vehicles are now clearly laid out in legislation: the manufacturer of the vehicle is liable, so the insurance industry can come in. I hope that the Government will also welcome this legislation, which will also specify where and to what extent liability lies so that the market, the entrepreneurs, the innovators, the technical people and the scientists can produce the economic growth that we want.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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It is an honour to serve under you, Sir Philip. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking for promoting this short but incredibly important Bill. I also commend the eloquence of his speech. He made all the points that I would have made. I have a speech here, but I will not go through it all; not only has he made all the points but on Second Reading we had a prolonged debate in which the issues were covered extensively. I covered all the points that the Government want to make and can declare that we fully support the Bill.

Before I conclude, I want to answer a couple of points. It was lovely to hear the excitement of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor; I loved his description of the Bill being the last piece of the jigsaw being put in place. It very much is that. We now have a comprehensive set of legislation and regulation for the space industry, which I am sure will grow fast. I was looking for the information about how much it is going to grow; we do have a forecast somewhere. I will get back to my hon. Friend. At the moment, we know that 48,000 people are employed in the UK space industry, but that number will grow rapidly. There is a huge opportunity.

On my hon. Friend’s question about liability, I should say that that is set by the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, under something called the modelled insurance requirement process; if he wants more detail on that, he can write to me and I will give him it. Basically, this is done on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of spaceflight being undertaken. In the case of insurance for satellite orbital operators, for standard orbital missions there is a flat-rate liability limit of £51 million. I think that answers all the questions, but as I set out on Second Reading, there are no amendments and the Government fully support the Bill.

Jonathan Lord Portrait Mr Lord
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The Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor was absolutely correct, and I have further details in front of me that I am very happy to share with my hon. Friend. I am extremely grateful to all colleagues for attending and for the cross-party support that I have received. As the Minister said, we had a full Second Reading debate; it was wonderful to have you participating in that as well, Sir Philip. Without further ado, I commend the Bill to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Road Safety: Headlight Glare

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
- Hansard - -

It is wonderful to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on securing this timely and important debate about headlight glare. To cut to the chase: he asked me a question, and the answer is yes—but I had better expand on that a bit. I notice glare as a driver myself, I get a huge amount of correspondence about it from Members and constituents, and I spend a lot of my time as a Minister answering letters about it, so I know that it is a real issue and one on which the Department has done quite a lot of work. I will come to that work in a moment.

A lot of interesting points have been raised in the debate. I will start by saying a couple of words about road safety in general. The UK already has some of the world’s safest roads, as international statistics show, and we take road safety very seriously.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
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According to the latest figures in my area of Leeds, there were 1,585 personal injury collisions in the last year. I am sure that people right across the House agree that far too often we contact our local councils’ highways departments, but they will not even look at putting in speed cameras to prevent accidents due to speeding because they want an accident to happen first. Does the Minister agree that we need to look at new ways to prevent accidents and save lives?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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I agree that we absolutely need to be proactive. I will take away my hon. Friend’s comments and write to her on that point.

The Government have allocated £185.8 million local authorities via the safer roads fund to improve the safety of 99 of the most high-risk A roads. More widely, the Department is supportive of driving generally. We launched the plan for drivers in October last year, setting out 30 measures to help driving and with drivers’ concerns.

Glare from headlamps is a perennial issue—it has been around for a long time—but there is a compromise between providing illumination with sufficient intensity and distance to enable drivers to see and anticipate potential hazards, and the propensity to cause glare for other road users. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes recognised, there is a clear balance to be struck. In order to strike the right balance, all vehicle headlights are designed and tested to follow international standards—developed, as my hon. Friend said, under United Nations rules to ensure that they are bright enough to illuminate the road ahead but do not affect the vision of other road users.

The standards define the beam pattern, and include maximum and minimum light intensities: down on the ground, at a higher level and what would be seen at the driver’s level. The colour of the light is also regulated. The rules are neutral on the form of light, so they apply to LED lights as much as to halogen lights or any other form of light. As I mentioned, lots of people are raising concerns about headlight glare, and we are told—I know this too from friends and relatives—that drivers choose not to drive at night because of the effects.

One challenge that the Department has, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes referred to, is that police collision statistics do not indicate an increase in accidents caused by headlight glare, although the concern is very real. My hon. Friend mentioned Baroness Hayter; she has written to me with many questions on the subject, which we have been answering. The actual figures are that in 2021, there were 208 accidents where dazzling headlights were cited as a partial cause. That was down from 373 in 2005. We have the statistics for Cleethorpes, which I thought my hon. Friend might be interested in: from 2013 to 2022—so in the last 10 years —there were five accidents where dazzling headlights were cited as one of the causes, which is obviously five too many. That does not mean that the statistics are perfectly accurate. My hon. Friend cited some statistics from the United States; I am not sure about that methodology.

Glare is, however, clearly problematic for drivers for all the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned. The Department has not been inactive on the issue. Over recent years, it has raised the issue at the United Nations international expert group on vehicle lighting. Following lengthy and significant negotiations, proposals to mend headlamp aiming rules were agreed in April last year, together with requirements for mandatory automatic headlamp levelling, which is a system that automatically corrects the aim of headlamps based on the loading of a vehicle—for example, when passengers are sat on the backseat or there is luggage in the boot.

Some cars have manual headlamp levelling, but very few drivers know to set it, so when somebody sits on the backseat and the car lifts up slightly, they will not dip their headlights further. The point of automatic levelling is to correct that. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the new requirements are expected to take effect only on new vehicle types from September 2027, which is necessary to give vehicle manufacturers time to redesign their products and incorporate those designs into the manufacturing process. Vehicle manufacturing is a long lead-time industry, and it is basically impossible to make instant changes, but once the tougher measures are implemented, they will hopefully help to alleviate the number of cases where road users feel dazzled by vehicle headlamps.

There is still much that we do not know about the underlying causes, which my hon. Friend mentioned. In the Department, we accept that there is an awful lot going on that we do not know about, which is why we have commissioned the research. I accept from the volume of correspondence I receive that concern about headlamp glare is rising, but we do not know why that is. My hon. Friend mentioned that older drivers are more susceptible to dazzle, which is probably true, and the number of older drivers is growing rapidly. The number of people over 70 who are still driving has risen by 50% over the last 10 years. Driving has become easier because of power steering, automatic cars and a whole load of other safety features, and people feel confident to drive later in life even though they might be more prone to dazzling.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, things such as road humps are a cause of dazzling as the car lifts up, and I am guessing that there are a lot more road humps now than there were 10 years ago. Various hon. Members mentioned retrofitting. There are rules on retrofitting: it is illegal to retrofit a lightbulb that is more powerful or a different colour. The question is whether those rules are fully enforced, which is something I want to find out through the research.

We will be commissioning the research shortly, so this debate is very timely because it is exactly now that we are thinking about the scope. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes made a lot of interesting suggestions about the sort of people who should be consulted and involved, and my officials will be taking on board everything he said. The research will include real-world trials to test the impact of different light technologies under different scenarios, and driver and vehicle characteristics, to fully understand the root causes of driver glare and how significant it is. We welcome input from relevant experts in the area and those taking part in this debate.

Once the research has been completed, the Government will consider the outputs fully and share them within the UK and with international lighting experts, as my hon. Friend requested. Once we have that research, we will look at whether there need to be any other changes to rules and regulations, and we will discuss that at international level. We will do everything we can to reduce the problems of driver glare, and ensure that our roads are safer and that people can continue to drive for as long as it is safe for them to do so. I am personally determined that the only way the people in the constituency of Cleethorpes should be dazzled is by the wit and wisdom of their Member of Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords]

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Our four new clauses and amendments are designed to clarify matters and build on the framework of the Bill, which we support. I look forward to the Minister’s responses to my questions.
Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I thank the Opposition parties for their broadly positive approach throughout Second Reading and Committee. There is clear consensus across the House that we should embrace this new technology, given all the opportunities set out by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). I also thank my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). As has been mentioned, he helped steer the legislation through this place, and clearly still has great interest in the Bill, which I welcome.

I will be brief. All the new clauses and amendments apart from one were raised in identical form in Committee, and my comments will not change much from what I said then. By and large, we agree with their various objectives, but we do not think they are necessary, and in a couple of cases we think they are inappropriate. On new clauses 1, 2, 5 and 8, data protection is clearly very important, and the Government support it, but the new clauses largely duplicate measures that are already in the Bill, or in other legislation.

This Government take protection of personal data very seriously. It is an important issue and requires careful consideration. The Bill does not seek to replace or change personal data protection legislation, nor does it enable that legislation to be contravened. It is not a Bill about data protection. Any changes to data protection legislation are beyond the scope of the Bill. It is the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office to regulate data protection issues. The ICO has an obligation to report annually to Parliament on the commissioner’s activities. Any report by the Department for Transport, such as that required by new clause 1, would risk duplicating that work. Also, the Department for Transport is not the data controller of information collected by regulated bodies, which means that reporting would be inappropriate.

The purpose of the Bill is to create a comprehensive and effective safety framework for self-driving vehicles. Information may need to be shared to achieve that; public safety and security must come first. Any regulations made under the powers in the Bill that permit further sharing or use of information would be developed in discussion with stakeholders and subject to consultation, and would be laid before the House before coming into force. That provides multiple opportunities for input into and scrutiny of proposals. Regulations will also be subject to a data protection impact assessment. The Secretary of State already has a duty under article 36(4) of the General Data Protection Regulation to consult the ICO on proposals for legislative measures. New clause 2 therefore duplicates a requirement already in law.

New clause 5 is unnecessary because all information-related regulations made under the powers in the Bill will already be subject to consultation under the requirements of clause 97. Clause 14 specifically requires that regulations that require information to be shared by an authorised self-driving entity or licensed operator must specify the purpose for which that data is to be shared. It would be unnecessary and onerous to duplicate those publication and consultation requirements.

Turning to amendment 8, the protection of personal data will be considered alongside the detailed development of authorisation requirements. These requirements will be set out in secondary legislation and will be subject to consultation and impact assessment. The amendment would place an additional burden on industry over and above what is required under existing data protection legislation, such as the legislation that covers the data in our mobile phones. At present, a certificate of compliance is not mandatory under GDPR. In addition, the schemes referred to in the amendment are industry-led and therefore not within the control of Government, so there is a risk that they would not achieve the intended result.

On new clause 3, the hon. Member for Sefton Central talked at length about the inadequacies of Government consultation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire said, there has been incredibly extensive consultation throughout this process. I have counted five different ways in which we will ensure consultation and engagement. The Law Commissions of England, Wales and Scotland have been looking at the issue for four years, and have been consulting throughout. The Secretary of State for Transport, who has joined us in the Chamber, and I held a roundtable with a whole range of road user groups, including groups representing disabled people, about the impact of the legislation. I will also meet disabled groups once the legislation moves through this House to consider some of the issues. We recognise that engagement with all groups, including the devolved Administrations, is incredibly important. The Bill will provide new powers relating to technical safety requirements, which will be set out in statutory guidance and secondary regulation. There will be consultation on those requirements with stakeholders, including but not limited to the stakeholders identified clause 2(4).

Following the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords, we have included a statutory requirement to consult the three groups with the most direct interest when developing the statement of safety principles: road safety groups, road user groups and the self-driving vehicle industry. That is not a comprehensive list of those likely to be consulted, but it shows the breadth of the consultation. Once in place, the safety requirements for authorisation, licensing and in-use regulation will be monitored and enforced by the Department for Transport and its motoring agencies, on behalf of the Secretary of State. In line with all public bodies, the Department and its agencies will be subject to scrutiny.

In addition, there is an expert advisory panel on the Department’s self-driving vehicle safety assurance work, which has been consulted. It provides advice and challenge. The panel includes representatives from industry, academia and road safety groups. We have given a non-statutory commitment to setting up an accessibility advisory panel. The Bill establishes a new independent no-blame incident investigation capability, which will ensure that we learn effectively from incidents that involve self-driving vehicles. Finally, the hon. Member for Sefton Central will be reassured to learn that clause 38 already creates a general monitoring duty that requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the performance of self-driving vehicles. I hope that all those engagements that I have made demonstrate that the Government share the hon. Member’s view that scrutiny of implementation and learning from experience are vital. All those future engagements are there, which is why new clause 3 is not necessary.

On new clause 4, accessibility is an incredibly important issue. I have made it clear, as has the Secretary of State, that accessibility is one of the strong arguments for legislating for self-driving cars. For many disabled people, particularly partially sighted or blind people, self-driving cars could have an incredible impact on their quality of life. I thank the hon. Member for Sefton Central for the new clause, but it replicates powers held by the Secretary of State on the provision of accessible travel information about buses to automated passenger services. Automated passenger services provide a great opportunity to make travel more accessible and inclusive. Under the Bill, we already have the power to mandate that information be provided to users in accessible formats, through the permit conditions. That is more flexible tool than the regulations. Conditions attached to individual permits can be adapted to fit a wide variety of services. Some services may have alternatives to the provision of accessible-format information; for example, there may be a member of staff in a vehicle who can focus entirely on helping passengers and providing that information. In addition, the Bill expressly requires the appropriate national authority to consider accessibility in decisions to grant permits. That ensures that accessibility considerations are built into services from the start. It enables innovation to come forward in this nascent sector, and operators to consider the best way for their services to be accessible and inclusive. Finally, licensing and franchising authorities will also be able to steer requirements about accessible information formats. They can champion local needs through their role in providing consent for granting permits. As a result, we do not think that new clause 4 is necessary.

New clause 6 extends insurer first-instance liability for incidents involving automated vehicles to all circumstances, even when an individual is driving. The compulsory insurance regime in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 was created to ensure that victims of incidents caused by automated vehicles receive prompt compensation. The Bill amends the 2018 Act to ensure it applies to authorised automated vehicles. However, there is no change to the principle that insurer first-instance liability applies only when the self-driving feature is switched on. New clause 6 would create an unnecessary discrepancy in insurer liabilities for manual driving, depending on whether the vehicle has a self-driving feature or not. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw new clause 6.

On the SNP amendments relating to clause 50, we consider that the user-in-charge immunity is a reserved matter. Indeed, the immunity will predominantly affect the application of reserved traffic offences, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) recognised. There is a limited range of devolved legislation in this area and immunity will have only a minor incidental impact on the Bill. We did meet to talk about it and we discussed it in Committee, but just to make it absolutely clear, this is not about what the traffic regulations are in Scotland—what the speed limit is, whether it is an offence to break the speed limit or drive in a bus lane. It is about whether liability rests on the driver or on the software company ASDE in a self-driving car. It therefore has no impact on direct legislation in Scotland.

More generally, public understanding and confidence will be key to realising the benefits of self-driving vehicles. It is vital that we have clarity and consistency across Great Britain about how these vehicles can be used, and what individuals’ responsibilities are. This was the first recommendation by the Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission of England and Wales in their joint report. They stated that they did not think the public would be able to understand different or partial immunities based on distinctions between devolved and reserved laws. The power in clause 50 is necessary to ensure clarity and consistency in the immunity’s application.

As the hon. Member acknowledged, I met him and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in the Scottish Government to talk about that. I sent a letter of assurance afterwards and I repeat what I mentioned in that letter. I assure him that where we propose to use the regulation-making power in clause 50, we will always consult with the Scottish Government and with other devolved Administrations.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) wishes to withdraw new clause 1. Is that correct?

Draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2024

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

General Committees
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Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2024.

The legislation amends the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007 so that recycled carbon fuels—RCFs—are eligible for support under the renewable transport fuel obligation scheme. The RTFO scheme places an obligation on fuel suppliers to drive the supply of renewable fuels. In practical terms, it helps deliver the E10 in petrol and biodiesels.

The amount of renewable fuel that should be supplied is a percentage of the volume of relevant fossil fuel supplied in a calendar year. That obligation is met by acquiring certificates that are issued for the supply of sustainable renewable fuels. Those certificates can be redeemed at the end of an obligation period, as well as traded between parties. The value of the certificates provides a revenue stream for producers of renewable fuels and provides demand for their products in the fuel market. The RTFO scheme has operated successfully since 2008, but it is important that it continues to adapt as new technologies and opportunities for emission-reducing fuels are developed.

We committed to supporting RCFs in the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan and this statutory instrument delivers on that goal. It is the product of two consultations with industry and in-depth working with industry experts and across Government Departments. By broadening the available feedstocks for eligible fuels, the instrument will help to maximise the greenhouse gas savings that can be achieved under the RTFO scheme and encourage the development of a new industry.

What are these new fuels? RCFs are fuels produced from fossil wastes that cannot be avoided, reused or recycled, and that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to petrol, diesel or kerosene. To date, the RTFO scheme has only supported purely renewable fuels, but emerging technologies and production methods mean that it is possible for fuels produced from fossil wastes to contribute to emissions reductions to a similar degree as renewable fuels.

For example, municipal solid waste—such as the greasy pizza boxes that we all know, or dirty yoghurt pots—can be processed using advanced techniques to form alternatives to fossil diesel and jet fuel. Producing those fuels can be a more sustainable and green way of utilising the wastes compared with their alternative end-of-life fate, which would usually be incineration in an energy-from-waste plant or being sent to landfill. The UK is leading the way in developing many of the technologies required to create those fuels, supported by grant funding from the Department for Transport via the future fuels for flight and freight competition, and more recently the advanced fuels fund.

Renewable fuels already contribute one third of transport’s emission reductions from the current carbon budget. Widening eligibility to include RCFs will ensure that such fuels continue to make that important contribution as part of the transition to the electrification of road vehicles.

The Government have also committed to introducing a mandate for sustainable aviation fuel. That will come into effect from 1 January 2025 and will operate in a similar way to the RTFO scheme but for the aviation sector. Introducing RCFs into the RTFO scheme now sets a helpful precedent for the forthcoming mandate, and including RCFs in both schemes is important as production processes mean that many facilities will produce road fuel and SAF at the same time.

Supporting RCFs under the RTFO scheme will also increase the range of feedstocks eligible for support and encourage the innovation needed to increase deployment of low carbon fuels in harder-to-decarbonise vehicles, such as heavy goods vehicles. RCF production utilises many of the same processes and technologies that need to be developed to increase the efficiency and capability of chemical recycling. Providing extra investment into those processes will lead to wider waste management benefits in future.

Recent amendments to the Energy Act 2004, made via the Energy Act 2023, permit RCFs to be included in the RTFO scheme—as well as in other renewable transport support schemes, such as the forthcoming mandate for sustainable aviation fuels—provided that they cause or contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions. The change to the 2004 Act recognised that RCFs can play an important role in decarbonising different transport modes, including harder-to-electrify vehicles such as heavy goods vehicles and airliners.

On the statutory instrument’s specific content, it amends the RTFO order to add wastes of fossil origin as an eligible feedstock for fuel production. Importantly, it also designates RCFs as development fuels, which can be used to fill a sub-target within the RTFO scheme designed to encourage the supply of novel and strategically important emerging technologies for fuel production. As a development fuel, qualifying RCFs must also meet additional eligibility criteria that ensure that only fuels that comply with existing fuel standards can qualify. That mitigates any air-quality or compatibility concerns, as the fuels will essentially be chemically comparable with transport fuels that are already in use today—indeed, they will often be indistinguishable from them.

The measure will allow RCFs to claim one development fuel certificate per litre of fuel supplied, which is half the amount for similar eligible renewable fuels. That recognises the fact that truly renewable fuels remain more valuable, while still rewarding emission savings from RCFs. To ensure that we mitigate any unintended consequences, the measures also introduce detailed sustainability criteria that ensure that support is provided only to fuels that are produced from genuine, non-recyclable wastes, and that they provide carbon emissions savings of at least 50% compared with traditional fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel. The criteria ensure that the policy complements the waste hierarchy and avoids incentivising the creation of wastes, while still delivering emissions savings compared with the alternative likely end-of-life fate for different waste streams.

In conclusion, as I have said, fuels supplied under the RTFO scheme currently deliver about one third of all domestic transport carbon savings under the current carbon budgets. However, it is vital that we expand the range of feedstocks that we use if we are to continue to grow their contribution and meet our net zero goal. RCFs have the potential to deliver emissions savings across the transport sector while also supporting the efficient handling of waste, and provide an opportunity for a valuable, emerging UK industry, which we should all support. I commend the statutory instrument to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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I will try to avoid saying something so terrible that the Opposition parties change their mind on this legislation. I am glad that there is cross-party support for the measure, and I thank the hon. Member for Wakefield and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North for that. I can answer some of the questions that have been raised, but some of the answers they will have to wait for.

Both hon. Members asked why the SI has taken so long. It is a very complicated policy. We had to ensure that there were no unintended consequences and work with the industry on the details of it, because there are interplays between different types of fuel that have impacts in other areas. We had to analyse all that, but we finally got there and we are introducing the measure today.

The hon. Member for Wakefield asked whether RCFs can be used for SAF or road fuel. They can be used for both sectors; indeed, as I said in my introductory remarks, if we speak to the oil producers, the production technology is very similar, so it is much easier for them to co-produce those fuels.

The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North asked a lot of questions about sustainable aviation fuel. I am the Minister for sustainable aviation fuel as well, and the legal requirement is to publish the revenue certainty mechanism by 26 April, which is next Friday. I do not think Governments should break the law— I will just put it like that.

The answers to many of the other questions that were asked will come out of forthcoming strategies. We have one on the low-carbon fuel strategy that will come out later this year, which looks at the whole range of low-carbon fuels, the interactions between them and how we maximise their benefits across all modes of transport and indeed other uses. There will also be a strategy published later this year—it is no secret; it is public knowledge—on how we decarbonise the maritime sector, which is a complex sector with many different uses. Many of the more detailed questions that the hon. Gentleman asked on maritime will be covered in that strategy, rather than in this Committee.

I think I have answered all the questions; if there are others, I encourage hon. Members to ask them. I should have said at the beginning, Mr Rosindell, that it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—it is great to see you here. I thank the Committee members for their time and consideration, and I thank the Clerks and the staff for the work they have done.

Question put and agreed to.

RNLI Bicentenary

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris, and I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this very moving and important debate. He spoke very eloquently of the work that the RNLI has done over the centuries. I know he has been a long-term champion of the RNLI and has dedicated a lot of his time in Parliament to supporting and helping it. I enjoyed many elements of his speech, including the gold teeth and the vintage Ferraris that have been donated, but most importantly the tales of tragedy and heroism that he mentioned, particularly the tale of the Salcombe lifeboats in which 13 out of 15 died. That is absolutely devastating.

I am very pleased to see so many contributions from across the entire United Kingdom. I notice that we have contributions from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from the south coast to the north coast of England. We even had a contribution from inland, which just shows how important the RNLI is to everyone across the UK—I say that as somebody who also represents a landlocked constituency.

I am delighted to be able to offer the Government’s congratulations to the RNLI on the momentous occasion of its 200th anniversary. I am sure that Members from across the House will want to join me in thanking the RNLI, its volunteers, fundraisers and supporters for their amazing contribution to the saving of lives over the past two centuries. Through the courageous and dedicated actions of RNLI volunteers, more than 144,000 lives have been saved over the past 200 years. That works out as 700 lives per year—almost exactly two lives for every single day of the past 200 years. That really is quite a phenomenal achievement.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that we should also be thankful for the on-land volunteers who support the RNLI, including Judith Richardson in my constituency, who has given more than 50 years’ service? She was one of the last of the “lady launchers” who, until 1977, used to help to drag the boat physically out to the sea.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that the RNLI does not just coastally, but inland, as he says. I know that the remit of the RNLI has expanded over time.

The RNLI has launched more than 380,000 times in the past two centuries, showing amazing dedication and commitment. Last year alone, RNLI lifeboats launched more than 9,000 times in one year, aiding more than 10,500 people and saving 269 lives. In addition, RNLI lifeguards carried out almost 3 million preventive actions and attended more than 14,000 incidents, aiding 20,000 people and saving another 86 lives. It is testament to the commitment and skills of the RNLI and our lifeboat volunteers that the UK has one of the finest lifeboat services in the world, which continues to uphold the finest traditions and values of the RNLI as proudly today as it did 200 years ago.

I will briefly remind the House of the history of the RNLI and its contributions to our society, which my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes touched on. The founder of the RNLI, Sir William Hillary, was so appalled by the loss of life at sea that he set about creating an institution dedicated to the preservation of human life from shipwreck. He initially went to the Government to appeal for support, but the Government of the day, in their wisdom—or lack of it—said no. He was forced to go to other supporters and philanthropists and managed rapidly to get support, which helped to launch the institution we see today. It is notable that all the fundraising over the past 200 years, which reached a record last year, is really a consequence of that initial Government decision to say no. The RNLI might have ended up a very different organisation if the initial Government decision had been different.

It was the drive and dedication of Sir William that led to the institution that we know today. He laid out 12 resolutions that formed the foundation of the RNLI and that still stand firm today, remaining part of the RNLI charter 200 years on. The RNLI has grown extraordinarily over the past 200 years. It now has an income of more than £200 million, more than 2,000 staff and more than 30,000 volunteers. I pay tribute to the visionary founders of the RNLI for their leadership and support over the years. The continuing dedication of the RNLI to saving lives at sea and its volunteer ethos remains a cherished cornerstone of British society.

I put on record our tribute to the brave volunteers of the RNLI who risk their own lives to save others at sea and around our coastline. It is in large part due to their personal commitment and skill that the UK has one of the best records for water safety in the world. I also pay tribute to the families of our search and rescue volunteers. They are often forgotten, but without their never-ending support, our volunteer services would not be able to continue their vital life-saving operations.

I pay particular tribute, as other hon. Members present have, to the brave RNLI volunteers who have lost their lives while trying to save others over the past 200 years: more than 600 volunteers have lost their lives, and 2,500 medals have been awarded for bravery. I know many Members will be aware of the tragic loss of lifeboat volunteers from their constituencies over the past two centuries—we have heard various examples of that this morning. The loss of every RNLI volunteer is keenly felt across a local community, impacting friends and family. Local memorials remain a reminder of the sacrifices of the RNLI crews who have been lost. As part of this bicentenary anniversary, local services and events are planned to commemorate RNLI volunteers throughout its illustrious history.

I will turn to some of the comments that have been made in what has been a very moving debate this morning. We have heard many extraordinary stories of tragedy and heroism, among various other issues that have been raised. I was touched by the story of the Traveller, raised by the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), where eight out of 10 people died. The hon. Lady spoke movingly of the impact on the local community of Hoylake. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) paid tribute to the wider work that the RNLI does, particularly with safety and support in the community. He mentioned that when he goes on his Boxing day walks, it is good to see the boats out there.

The landlocked hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) asked whether the RNLI could help out with inland rescue. While search and rescue is the responsibility of the police, he makes a valid point, and I completely understand the importance of trying to learn lessons from the RNLI to help to improve search and rescue inland. He made a point about local people in boats and boatyards, and whether they can be called on to help, and I will absolutely take that away to see if anything can be done to improve that.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) paid tribute to the work of the RNLI in Northern Ireland, where it has 10 lifeboat stations. He raised a question about Government support, which makes up only 1% of its total funding, and questioned that. The RNLI is obviously independent of Government—very proudly so; if Government funding increased, there might be a risk that it would end up being more Government-controlled.

His Majesty’s Coastguard, some representatives of which are here now, works closely with the RNLI; calls come through to the coastguard and it works out whether it needs a helicopter, which is run by the coastguard, or whether the case should be handed over to the RNLI. I understand that that relationship works very well. The RNLI is very proudly independent of Government: it does not take instructions from Government and it decides its own operations, and I would not want to compromise that.

I pay tribute to the stepmother of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and her work for the RNLI. My hon. Friend also mentioned the extraordinary case of Henry Blogg, who was involved in saving 873 lives over 53 years—a quite extraordinary achievement. I was sad to learn what is happening to his ship, the Bailey. That is fundamentally an issue for the local authorities in my hon. Friend’s area, but if he wants my support in any way I will be happy to do what I can to help save the Bailey.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) talked about the fundraising achievements of the RNLI in her constituency and in particular the Anglesey aluminium chimney demolition, which raised over £10,000 in one go. It must have been fun pressing that button and seeing it go down!

The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), paid tribute to the RNLI, but also raised the issue of migrants in the channel. I put on the record that my position and that of the Government is exactly the same: the RNLI cannot ask people whether they have a visa before deciding to rescue them, and it is absolutely right that it rescues everyone who needs rescuing. That is very much the Government’s position.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), whose contribution added a slightly different tone to the conversation, has been in dispute with the RNLI over the allocation of resources and a bequest. I am told by the RNLI that the chief executive and the regional lifeboat manager have responded to my right hon. Friend’s questions directly on a number of occasions, and that the Charity Commission has responded to her complaints about the use of bequests but has advised that it is satisfied with how the RNLI has handled the legacy funding.

My right hon. Friend did recognise that the RNLI is, as I said earlier, independent from Government. This is not a dispute that the Government can get involved in. The RNLI is independent: it decides the distribution of its assets. I am advised that the RNLI generally does a really good job at working out the best allocations of assets to make sure that it is most effective at lifesaving, and it would be inappropriate for me as a Minister or for the Government to intervene to influence the independent decisions of the charity.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have not asked the Government to intervene. I appreciate the extraordinary work that the RNLI does, as I highlighted in my contribution. There was a particular recent incident that I thought needed to be raised. Frankly, before anybody seeks to insult me about representing my constituents, they should remind themselves they are insulting those constituents. I am not asking in any way for the Government to intervene— I never have. It is right that the RNLI continues to be a thriving institution after 200 years; I wish it at least 200 years more.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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My right hon. Friend has made her point well; we agree about the issue of independence.

In conclusion, as we have heard, the RNLI’s achievements over the past 200 years have been absolutely exceptional. Since its foundation in 1824, not a single year has passed without outstanding rescues and courageous and selfless acts. Advancements in life-saving assets and innovation to support its lifesavers through busy summers, wild winters, wars and pandemics have been at the core of everything that the RNLI has achieved. I invite Members to join me in thanking the RNLI for its support and dedication over the past 200 years. I wish it well as it seeks to inspire and engage a new generation of supporters, volunteers and fundraisers, and as it works towards securing life-saving services for the next 200 years.

National Networks National Policy Statement

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I will try to address some of the points that have been raised.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), mentioned freight. He will be aware that we published the future freight strategy, which is a long-term plan, in June 2022. It was developed with industry and sets out a cross-modal approach to achieve the long-term vision of a freight and logistics sector that is economically efficient, reliant, resilient, environmentally sustainable and valued by society. I am the co-chair of the Freight Council, alongside Isabel Dedring, who is an independent industry representative. The “Generation Logistics” campaign, which we hosted in the House of Commons, and the work that the Road Haulage Association and others are doing to drive forward true change in freight should genuinely be admired.

Turning to the points raised by the Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I take his two out of three cheers as being damned by faint praise. However, at the same time, no one is pretending that the statement is perfect. It is a work in progress—we all understand that. The document runs to over 100 pages and has been available for public consultation and oral hearings, and the Transport Committee has done an assessment of it, to which the Government have responded, so with respect, it is a substantial approach to this particular issue. I endorse the comments that he made about the future plans.

The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), whom I will insult by calling a friend of mine, raised a number of points, and I will ensure that the Rail Minister responds to him. On the electrification of vehicles, I push back gently. One has to be aware that the network of publicly available charge points is rapidly increasing, with almost 57,000 installed—a 47% increase since March 2023. Clearly, more can be done—no one would dispute that—and I echo and share his desire. He makes the fair point that we need more charging points, and I take that on board. As for the Great Western delays, the Rail Minister will respond on that.

The hon. Member for Reading East and others raised the state of the roads. The allegation was made that there is no vision either to support local authorities or to address that, and that there is no long-term levelling-up plan for the north. With respect, the Prime Minister’s decision on HS2 has done a number of key things. The first, obviously, is that £8.3 billion has gone out to local authorities up and down the country, responding to the HS2 profile over 11 years. On average, that is a 30% increase in funding over the past year for every local authority—genuinely game-changing amounts of money—and the long-term funding pattern allows local authorities to invest in the future. That is something that every local authority says it wants more of.

Turning to the aspiration to support the north, one of the key decisions was to ensure that almost all of the HS2 money was spent in the north and/or the midlands as the areas affected by HS2. That is why the money is going into Network North and into the local transport fund that was announced, which has seen hundreds of millions of pounds going out to lots of different local authorities. Some local authorities have seen their transport budget increased by nine times.

The types of announcements that the Government have made also outline their direction of travel in relation to this issue. With respect, I will outline five things that the Government have done in the past 10 days alone. I was proud to announce the safer roads fund, which is spending a further £35 million in multiple locations across the country to try to enhance their road safety. Last Friday, the Secretary of State announced the ZEBRA scheme—for those who do not know, that is the zero-emission bus regional areas. There are dozens of locations up and down the country with hundreds of zero-emission buses funded and supported by this Government.

On Saturday, I announced active travel fund 4, which is worth £101 million, and saw some of the schemes that are being put in place in Darlington with the excellent Mayor, Ben Houchen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). I have also been with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to see the £1.2 million that is going into the Medway active travel scheme. Clearly, the Automated Vehicles Bill is something that this Government have also championed.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend and co-Minister, and partner in optimism—I think that is the best way of putting it—is addressing some of those points.

There was further criticism in relation to the issue of climate change. I would gently push back: clearly, there has been a lot of change in Government policy since the national networks national policy statement was designated in 2015, particularly the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. The transport decarbonisation plan, published in 2021, set out how transport’s contribution to net zero will be delivered, and the Environment Act 2021 introduced a more stringent approach to environmental protection and opportunities for enhancement of the natural environment. We have also seen the publication of road investment strategy 2 and the integrated rail plan, as well as support for rail freight, including the announcement of the rail freight growth target in December 2023. The NNNPS has been reviewed to reflect those changes in Government policy and to remain a robust framework for decision making on nationally significant infrastructure project schemes. Clearly, there are ongoing challenges in certain courts to the development of roads, and we await the decisions of those courts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) tempted me to become the Home Secretary. As we all know, the chances of that are our old friends slim and none, but I will take up with the Home Secretary the question of whether there should be a population growth assessment.

I thank all colleagues for their contributions today.

Oral Answers to Questions

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of seafarer welfare standards on P&O Ferries’ fleet.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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I wish to make it clear that the dismissal two years ago by P&O Ferries of nearly 800 seafarers without notice and without consultation was completely unacceptable, which is why this Government introduced a comprehensive package of measures to improve the welfare of seafarers and to stop the abuse.

On the specifics of the question, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency periodically inspects vessels that enter UK ports to assess their compliance with international standards, including those in the Maritime Labour Convention. We expect all operators to meet if not exceed those standards, and the UK continues to play a leading role internationally in driving up working conditions across the maritime sector. We are pleased that, just this weekend, P&O Ferries has committed to signing the Seafarers’ Charter along with four other operators. We will work with P&O Ferries to support it in its application for chartered status and assess its welfare standards against the charter’s requirements.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols
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Two years on from P&O Ferries’ shocking attack on seafarer jobs, trade union rights and employment law, the legal loophole that it used to escape criminal sanctions has still not been closed. The P&O seafarers were UK-based workers, but because P&O Ferries had flagged its ships out to Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas, P&O and, crucially, the Government knew that criminal sanctions, including fines for the offences that it committed, would not apply. Why have the Government not closed that loophole?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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As I said, the Government have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to stop the abuse of seafarers. In particular, we have introduced the Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023, which will come into force this summer and ensure the minimum wage for seafarers in the UK. We have the minimum wage corridor that is opening up this summer with France, ensuring the minimum wage across the channel, and we have the seafarers’ charter, which raises standards far higher. As I said, P&O and four other operators have applied to join it.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
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Last Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of P&O Ferries illegally sacking 786 workers, but two years on nothing has changed. This week an investigation by ITV and The Guardian revealed that P&O Ferries is not only paying many of its workers less than half the minimum wage but forcing staff to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week for up to 17 weeks at a time. France’s maritime Minister has called that “dangerous” and “not moral”, and has changed the law to stop it happening. The Seafarers’ Wages Act will not curb that treatment, nor will the Government’s voluntary charter, so when will the Government act to prevent those exploitative practices from happening in our waters?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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The Government agree that seafarers should obviously not be working so hard that they are fatigued, that it is dangerous, and that operators have a duty to ensure that that is not the case. The Seafarers’ Wages Act is obviously primarily focused on wages, and will ensure that seafarers get paid the minimum wage within UK waters. One provision of the seafarers’ charter will ensure that the operators have rosters so that seafarers are not fatigued and overworked. The Department will monitor compliance and work with the operators to ensure that seafarers are not fatigued.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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Further to the points made by the Labour Front Bencher, it is just over two years since nearly 800 P&O workers were summarily sacked and thrown off ferries. We will finally debate the Government’s utterly supine and ineffective fire-and-rehire code of practice next week, but it is just over two months since the Government claimed that they were making substantial progress on implementing the nine-point plan for seafarer protections. The Seafarers’ Wages Act still has not come into force, alongside a toothless and voluntary seafarers’ charter, which will not change how P&O operates, even if it signs up to it. We all know that in this House, so is it not time that the Government took meaningful action and got behind our seafarers?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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The Seafarers’ Wages Act will come into force this summer. Unfortunately, it takes time to pass legislation, and we had to consult on it. No one wants it to come into force quicker than I. The claim that the seafarers’ charter will have no impact is completely untrue. The operators will have to abide by the terms of the charter, which will ensure that seafarers earn the minimum wage throughout their engagements, that they get overtime payments of at least 1.25 times the hourly rate, and that they have rosters that ensure that they are not fatigued and safety is not compromised. The Government will monitor the compliance of the operators with that charter.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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3. What steps he is taking to help local authorities improve local transport in the west midlands.

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Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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4. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of creating new direct ferry links to mainland Europe.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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The UK ferry sector is a highly competitive commercial market. There are currently a significant number of links to Europe offering a variety of freight and passenger routes from many locations, including five new routes since 2021. Ferry routes are developed on a commercial basis by private sector operators to provide services that meet wider passenger or freight demands. As such, the Department does not currently intend to undertake any such assessment.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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The reinstatement of a direct ferry link from the Forth estuary into Europe addresses three key objectives: an environmental objective of reducing road congestion and carbon emissions from heavy goods vehicles; improving import-export resilience; and delivering economic opportunity to Scotland. Industry agrees and ferry operators stand ready to deliver a route, but the Scottish Government lack the courage to support Project Brave. What can be done to encourage the Scottish Government to invest a modest amount of pump-prime funding to realise the economic and environmental benefits that would be felt by all across the UK?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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As I said in my initial answer, the UK Government see the ferry sector as a commercial market and do not subsidise it. As the hon. Gentleman points out, however, this is a devolved matter—in Scotland, ferries are the responsibility of the Scottish Government—so he should make his protestations about that route to the SNP Government, because it is up to them to decide what to do. I totally understand that they are slightly worried; they have an undistinguished track record on ferries, with various fiascos—maybe it is because they try to get ferries that can hold motorhomes.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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5. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of delays to planned rail reforms.

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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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I thank Ministers for facilitating discussions with the operators of the search and rescue helicopter service based in my constituency about the proposed response times. They have been fairly productive so far, and we will see what the outcome is. It is apparent already that the decisions are made solely on the basis of the number of calls and not the nature of the work undertaken. If the contract conforms to that, can we ensure that future contracts do not leave us exposed in that way?

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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I know how important the helicopter search and rescue services are in Orkney and Shetland. The right hon. Gentleman has been a big campaigner for them, and has asked various questions and secured various debates on the matter. A review is going on about the recent incident data which will report in the summer, and we expect to publish it by the end of the year. That should include the answers to his questions. We are investing more than £1 billion in the new search and rescue service. The number of bases will go from 10 to 12 overall, and there will be no closure of bases and no change to services in Orkney and Shetland before October 2026.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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T8. As my hon. Friend will know, I have serious reservations about the proposed lower Thames crossing and its ability to tackle congestion at the existing Dartford crossing. Many of the arguments were rehearsed as part of the development consent order process, which completed on 20 December. As I understand it, the Planning Inspectorate has three months from then to come up with a recommendation, which by my calculation was yesterday. Can my hon. Friend update the House on whether he has received a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate and what the process will be, so that I can ensure that the Department understands why many of my constituents and I do not believe that the proposed crossing is the answer to the problem?