Integrated Rail Plan: North and Midlands

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 18th November 2021

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We will be going out shortly to collect the plan and scrutinise it. I am frankly staggered by how this statement started, with the Secretary of State saying he was “proud” to present it to the House—proud of what? Is he proud of the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of promises and the betrayal of the investment that the north of England and the midlands deserve?

We have all seen the reports over the weekend, each one setting out the betrayal being put forward today. There is no amount of gloss or spin that can be put on it. The Secretary of State promised HS2 to Leeds. He promised Northern Powerhouse Rail. He promised that the north would not be forgotten, but he has not just forgotten us; he has completely sold us out.

As someone who lives in Greater Manchester, I am not going to take lectures on what Northern Powerhouse Rail means. We know exactly what it means. We were committing to a new line connecting Manchester and Leeds, and within a month of becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

“I am going to deliver on my commitment with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”

We were promised a new line. He has broken that promise, and he has not even got the decency to admit it.

Let us be clear: the scaling back of Northern Powerhouse Rail, coupled with the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2, is a massive blow for our regions. The schemes would have created 150,000 new jobs, connecting 13 million people in our major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands. The then-Chancellor George Osborne first announced plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail in 2014. Since then, the Conservatives, including the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary, have recommitted and re-promised 60 times.

This is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunity across the whole country, to rebalance the economy and make it work for working people, but that opportunity now looks set to be lost. They are the very same working people who will likely face a record increase when rail fares go up next year. They will be paying 50% more to get to work than they did a decade ago, relying on a crumbling, unreliable and overcrowded system that prioritises profit above passengers. It is the same with buses, with fares up 70%, use down and not a single one of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised by the Prime Minister three years ago having been delivered.

What is on offer? Some £96 billion that we should be grateful for, but let us unpack that £96 billion, £40 billion of which has already been committed from London to Crewe, but is being labelled as investment across the north of England. Of the £56 billion that remains, if we compare that with what the north of England would have got over the past decade had it had the same investment as London and the south-east, we are still £10 billion short. We are not going to accept crumbs off the table.

Labour would reform our transport networks so that they work for working people, with investment spread more evenly across the country so that parents are not forced to see their children leave the places where they were raised to find opportunity that is denied on their doorstep. Most importantly, Labour would put working people first, using the power of Government and the skill of business to ensure good-quality jobs are created here and in every single region of Britain.

The Prime Minister was elected on a promise to level the playing field and make things better for households across the country. We were promised a northern powerhouse. We were promised a midlands engine. We were promised that we would be levelled up, but what we have been given today is the great train robbery—robbing the north of its chance to realise its full potential, robbing the next generation of the hope and opportunity they are due and robbing 15 million people across the north of the investment they have been denied for 11 years under this rotten Government.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I just want to make sure I understand the hon. Gentleman’s approach—his lines, as it were. This is £96 billion of expenditure, the single biggest investment ever. We have made no secret of the fact that some of that money is already the Birmingham to Crewe line, the Crewe to Manchester line; last time I checked, that benefits the midlands and north, does it not? That does help.

I realise the hon. Gentleman either wrote his response before hearing what was in the statement, or decided to ignore it, because this is a brand-new high-speed line—I just want to check the geography—from Warrington to Manchester to Marsden in the west of Yorkshire. To judge by his response, he does not think that exists.

What confuses me the most overall is that the Leader of the Opposition seems to be in a completely separate place. He said:

“I oppose HS2 on cost and on merit: it will not achieve its stated objectives.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 1006.]

So he opposes HS2. For transparency, he said that in 2015. What has he said more recently?

“The government should take this opportunity to cancel HS2”.

That is the Leader of the Opposition speaking. Before the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) gets carried away, why does he not have a word with the leader of his party and work out whether they agree on his position?

This is an enormous investment. It will create three new high-speed lines. It electrifies track; just today, nearly 400 miles of track electrification was announced within these programmes. What a contrast with the 63 miles of track the Labour Government managed to electrify in 13 years in office.

I will finish by talking about the importance of the overall transport approach. This is not just about rail, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, but about other means of getting around. We cannot get around without a roads programme, and we have a £20 billion-plus road building programme. Labour opposes it. They do not want to build any roads, so I am not sure where he wants to run those buses he keeps talking about.

I have already written to the hon. Gentleman, and I think I am right in saying I sent the letter to the Library of the House, because he will continue to go around saying that of these 4,000 buses, none are on the road. That is factually untrue. I have written to him with the detail: 900 of those buses are ordered, many of them already on the road. I know it is the Opposition’s job to oppose, but if he is already opposing his own leader, no wonder they do not have a cohesive transport policy.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 4th November 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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You will not be surprised, Mr Speaker, to hear me say that my hon. Friend is absolutely on the nail. She has listed a litany of problems that the Mayor has created; I shall add to it. She did not mention the 31% increase in council tax for her constituents through the mayoral precept. Also, the Mayor is now considering bringing in checkpoints for anybody driving into London: it would cost £1,000 a year for non-Londoners at checkpoint Chigwell and elsewhere around the capital. It is completely unacceptable and we will fight it all the way.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I begin by sending my thoughts and prayers to those injured in Sunday’s train crash, particularly the badly injured train driver, and, of course, I pay tribute to the emergency responders.

The British people are looking for leadership on climate change. The Budget was the clearest indication yet that the Government lack ambition, urgency and commitment after a wearying 11 years in power. The Government saw cuts to domestic aviation taxes, yet baked in inflation-busting rail fare increases and did nothing to reverse the rapid decline in bus use. Of the 4,000 new zero-carbon buses promised by the Prime Minister two years ago, not a single one is yet on the road. The roll-out of electric charging points is sluggish, and, today, there are 1 million more diesel vans on the road than when the Government came to power. So, next week, when Transport Day meets at COP26, what will change?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I note that the hon. Gentleman is not listening to the Committee on Climate Change. I will not repeat its quote, but it did say that the transport sector and our plans are particularly world leading. We have actually reduced greenhouse gas by a quarter since we came to power. We are the first country in the world, as he well knows, to legislate for net zero by 2050. In the Budget, we announced another £620 million for that transition to zero-emission vehicles and £180 million for sustainable aviation fuel. The plan that Labour is proposing—and I notice that the GMB union that supports it is proposing—is to stop people from flying, or to allow them to go on holiday only once every five years, and to prevent them from using their cars.[Official Report, 16 November 2021, Vol. 703, c. 4MC.]

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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With respect, our position on aviation and decarbonisation is absolutely clear. I want to stop the Transport Secretary not from flying, but perhaps from flying his own private plane.

Turning to smart motorways, it has been 10 months since I asked the Secretary of State to reinstate the hard shoulder immediately. No action followed. Instead, he ploughed ahead on smart motorway roll-out. Since then, whistleblowers have come forward confirming our worst fears: broken equipment; a lack of monitoring; and, ultimately, lives being placed at risk. This failure has had a devastating impact on people’s lives. Now that the Transport Committee has published its damning report and the families of those who lost loved ones on smart motorways were forced into Parliament Square this week to protest, will he do the right thing and immediately insist that the hard shoulder is reinstated today?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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We all share the passion and desire to make sure that our roads are as safe as they can possibly be. Sadly, 1,700 people die a year on our roads. It is important that we do everything possible. The Transport Committee that the hon. Gentleman quotes did not say quite what he said. It actually said:

“The evidence suggests that doing so”—

in other words simply putting the hard shoulder back in—

“could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury.”

It was the noble Lord Prescott who started to introduce smart motorways. As far as I am aware, I am the first Secretary of State—there have been 12 since—who has been working consistently with an 18-point plan and £500 million to get them sorted out.

International Travel

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Monday 20th September 2021

(11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on putting the historic county of Lancashire, and particularly Chorley, on the international map over the past week.

I thank the Transport Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Following the Government reshuffle, I look forward to continuing to work with him as he stays in post.

Labour called for this simplified international travel system back in May, but even after this announcement, no one should believe that the travel industry is back to normal, or that our borders are any safer from new variants coming into the country. Although we support scrapping the confused traffic-light system, we still have not seen the country-by-country assessment that would give us confidence that the decision to allow travel is based on sound science and not politics. It is disappointing, after making repeated representations at this Dispatch Box, that the Government have still only published assessments relating to 15 countries. Will the Secretary of State now finally publish the full list of every country, including a clear direction of travel, rather than just those that are changing from one category to another?

The requirement to carry out pre-testing and testing on arrival to the UK for Brits returning has put a heavy financial burden on families, with the UK overseeing the most expensive testing regime in the whole of Europe. Over the summer it was estimated that tests had cost British travellers £1.1 billion. Yet about 300,000 people did not adhere to the quarantine rules, and only a fraction of those coming from green and amber list countries were actually checked on arrival, as border staff were clearly overwhelmed. We have a serious concern that of the 11,000 positive cases tested over the summer of international travellers returning, just 3,000 were sent for genomic sequencing, leaving us potentially open to new variants. Can the Transport Secretary confirm, as his statement seems to indicate, that now all positive PCR tests will be sent for that testing for new variants?

In addition, it appears that from the end of October travellers will have to pay for a lateral flow test when returning to the UK. How will that work in practice? How much will travellers be expected to pay for those tests, and, importantly, will they be in place for the October half term?

We have long called on the Government to work with international partners to introduce an international vaccine passport. Although we hear reports that progress is being made, as we have heard today too, the truth is that it has been very slow in coming and many plans still have not come to fruition. Can I ask why it has taken so long to make the progress set out so far?

Importantly, when Eurostar and the aviation and tourism sector needed financial support from Government, the promised sectoral deal never came. There was a stand-out omission from the statement: it beggars belief that there was no mention whatever for the 81,000 workers on furlough. They face a cliff edge in just 10 days’ time, but there was not a single mention of them in the statement. In the absence of a clear plan, clear communication and sustained industry support, jobs have been lost that could well have been saved. We now hear that the next review will not take place until the new year. Some of those people will be lucky if they have a job at the end of October. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that those jobs are safeguarded and that we give those workers the respect and dignity they deserve?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I was somewhat surprised not to hear him refer to the stand-out announcement in my statement, which is that the world’s busiest, most profitable and most important airline route—the transatlantic route—is about to be reopened. I would have thought he would welcome that from the Front Bench.

It is hard to know exactly what the Opposition think on this subject. Last year, they backed our self-isolation measures. By last summer, the hon. Gentleman was calling for quarantine to be lessened. Come February, they changed their mind again and wanted every single traveller to go into hotel quarantine. By March, they were back saying that it should be done on a case-by-case basis. Fast-forward to May, and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), called for a complete pause on international travel—I am curious how that would help the aviation sector restart—only to be contradicted a month later by the hon. Gentleman, saying that more countries should go on to the green list. In June, he called for the amber list to be scrapped, and by August he was back to saying that there should be no loosening of international travel whatever. What he seems to be saying is basically what a stopped clock says. It is right at least twice a day—in his case, at least twice a year—but I am not clear how his approach would help in any way, shape or form.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Joint Biosecurity Centre assessments. They will be published in the normal way for the additional countries. He asked about the cost of testing. I thought he was calling for PCR tests for everyone—at least, he was at one of those points in the past year and a half. The cost of a lateral flow test will obviously be much less and provided by the private sector, with the PCR provided by the NHS.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the vaccine passport. Again, I reiterate that there are 50 countries where we will recognise their vaccination progress. I described in my statement how we are introducing a system so that we can onboard and add other countries who meet our level of requirements. As I say, the most important country of all in terms of international aviation, the USA, has confirmed today that we will be added to the vaccine passport approach as well. We are making progress. If we had listened to the Labour party—I do not know, perhaps we would have closed down the whole of aviation by now.

HGV Driver Shortages

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Monday 13th September 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans to address heavy goods vehicle driver shortages.

Grant Shapps Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Grant Shapps)
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I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the actions that my Department and others have been taking to address the shortage in HGV drivers. This is, of course, a global issue, with our supply chains adjusting to the impact of the pandemic and working incredibly hard to make sure that consumers get whatever they need. We have been working with the industry for many months, unlocking testing capacity so that UK workers can join the driving sector.

My Department has already increased the number of vocational driving tests from 2,000 a week pre-pandemic to 3,000 a week—that is a 50% increase—and last Friday I announced to Parliament additional measures that will significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests, by up to 50,000 per year. First, we will eliminate the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test. Some 16 million drivers who took their test before 1997 already have that right, and we are going to allow everybody to enjoy the same privilege of the licence, allowing around 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.

Secondly, tests will be made more efficient by the removal of the reversing exercise element and, for vehicles with trailers, the uncoupling and recoupling exercise. That test will be carried out separately by a third party, so it will still be done.

Thirdly, we are making it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first having to get a licence for a smaller vehicle. That will make around 20,000 more HGV tests available every year and mean that drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly, without the removal of any testing. I have instructed the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to prioritise the processing of licence applications, and we are supporting the industry to get UK workers into training.

This is not the only action that we have taken. Over recent months, we have made apprenticeships in the sector much more generous; offered incentive payments to employers to take on apprenticeships in the sector; worked with Jobcentre Plus with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to direct more people towards this brilliant career; and provided funding of £1 million for the Roads to Logistics scheme, encouraging ex-military leavers, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed to move into jobs in this sector. This is not just a transport problem or effort, but ultimately many of the solutions will come from standing challenges, which the industry itself will want to take on.

This Government welcome the prospect of better remunerated drivers, with better conditions and a more diverse HGV workforce.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

We have heard the words, but they offer far too little far too late. We have all seen constant examples of businesses impacted by supply change disruption from McDonald’s to Nando’s and Wetherspoons. We have all seen supermarket shelves empty, and now the delivery of vital medical supplies is being affected. We have already seen the number of people wanting to do their HGV driving test literally fall off a cliff, with only 9,000 being completed in 2019. That was before Brexit and it was well before covid. Industry has been warning of this crisis for years, but the Secretary of State has been asleep at the wheel. Just months ago, one of his own Ministers accused the road haulage industry of crying wolf over shortages despite the evidence that the crisis was getting bigger and bigger and that it was grinding our economy to a halt.

Last week, I challenged the Transport Secretary to lay out his plan. Not only did it fall short, but it contained some worrying news. One of the measures would see the reversing element of the assessment removed completely, despite the Health and Safety Executive reporting that 25% of all deaths involving a vehicle are the result of a reversing strike. Was he aware of that? If he was, what assessment has been made of the increased risk made by lowering standards even further?

We urgently need to see Ministers bring forward a road freight recovery plan, bringing together all interested parties, with training providers, examiners, businesses, industry bodies and trade unions all working behind a single plan. Will the Secretary of State do so and finally get a grip before it is too late?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Once again, I must stress to the hon. Gentleman that this is a global problem. The chief executive of eastern Europe’s largest hauliers, Waberer’s, said:

“It is a global driver shortage across Europe, not an isolated problem of one country”.

He points out that the shortages are in Romania, Poland, Germany and many other countries. It is not just a European problem, but a global one. In the words not of a UK haulier, but of the chief executive of US Xpress, telling of the problems in the American trucking market:

“The driver situation is about as bad as I’ve seen in my career.”

This is a global problem that we will try to resolve.

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood one of the three key measures that we introduced on Friday, so I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to set it out. The reversing manoeuvre that he refers to is not being removed from testing; it is the testing that is being handed to the training organisation rather than having the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency carry it out. That was widely supported. In the 9,000 consultation responses, it was one of the most strongly supported moves and measures, and it makes a lot of sense.

I have not heard the hon. Gentleman tell us what he thinks the solution is. All I hear from him is that we need to undercut British workers by expanding visa system and letting more people in. He may be right that we have to look at all different options, but I have to say to him, given that he is chair of the Labour and Co-operative parliamentary party, that it is a shame that his solution seems to be to undercut British workers by keeping their wages low.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 9th September 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I absolutely join my hon. Friend in that. This sector literally works day and night to provide goods, medicines and vital services around the country, for which we are hugely grateful. It has done that throughout the pandemic in very difficult circumstances. We on the Government side are pleased to see salaries for haulage drivers going up. If they are paid 20% more, or something like that, that would be good for British workers, and I thoroughly support it.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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This has been a summer where Ministers have shown an abject failure of duty, whether on the exam fiasco, Afghanistan or the HGV driver shortage. We have seen high-profile examples of businesses impacted by supply-chain disruption and suppliers with stock that they could not get out the door, yet Ministers seem to do nothing. Will the Government finally accept that when it comes to a crisis such as this, it is their job to solve it, not just to sit on the sidelines and hope that it all works out? If they do accept that, what action is the Secretary of State taking to bring forward a road freight recovery plan to tackle head on the long-standing warnings of truck driver shortages that have been compounded by Brexit and covid?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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First, we have introduced a temporary relaxation on drivers’ hours. Secondly, we have introduced £7,000 funding for the large goods vehicle driver apprenticeship programme. Thirdly, there is an additional incentive payment of £3,000 and, as I mentioned, we have been working hard to free up space at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Authority—the testing authority—so we are now testing 50% more drivers than we did before the pandemic. Yes, we have been acting, but we are going to go further. I mentioned removing the need for car drivers to take additional tests for a trailer—a move we can make only because we are outside the EU—removing the requirement for staged licence acquisition to obtain a lorry licence and authorising third parties to assess off-road manoeuvring for the lorry practical test.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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If that is the best the Government have got, I am afraid that the crisis will not be sorted. They talk about solutions and interventions, but the long-term problems in the haulage industry will not be resolved by those measures outlined, such as making drivers work longer hours. It is only by training more that we can help to fill the long-reported 90,000 vacancies.

This problem has been a long time coming. The Secretary of State will know that well before covid, and a year before Brexit, 24,000 would-be truck drivers passed their theory test, but only 9,000 went on to complete their practical test, and yet even with that knowledge and the industry pleading for intervention, nothing has been done. This is a live crisis that is only getting worse. Without real action, he will be left standing alone as the Transport Secretary who stole Christmas, leaving shelves empty, gifts absent from under the tree and restaurants and bars without the stock they need to trade. Will he immediately take action and set up a taskforce to resolve this crisis once and for all?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I say to Front Benchers that these are meant to be questions—statements come at a different time—and, please, we have to shorten them. Those on each side complain to me afterwards that they have not got in, so let us help the rest of the Members of this Parliament.

Transport Decarbonisation

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. We have not yet had the joy of reading the plan, although I look forward to seeing it later in the Library when I get pointed towards the fiction section, as with most of the strategies produced by the Government recently.

We are, I hope, coming through the covid-19 pandemic, but we cannot forget that we are still in this climate emergency, and nor can we miss the opportunity to kick-start a new green economy built on decent, well-paid, highly skilled jobs. With transport now the largest contributor to UK emissions, this should have been the chance for Ministers to set out an ambitious plan that would really lead the way, ahead of COP26—not warm words or reannouncements but a real plan to support aviation, maritime, rail, freight and local public transport alongside active travel.

This climate emergency required urgent action many years ago, but after a decade in office, I am afraid this Government have been found wanting. In the time they have been in office, the number of petrol and diesel vans has rocketed by 1 million. That means more polluting vans on our roads, and much of that increase can be attributed to last-mile courier delivery vehicles. The Government have been silent on an approach to dealing with that. Under these plans, the Government will treat the likes of Amazon, which has boomed during the pandemic, no differently from the self-employed builder who will take their van at the start of the job and often leave it parked outside the house until the job is finished. There will be no differentiation at all between those different uses.

Today the average age of a van on the road is the oldest since records began. Nearly 1 million vehicles on the road are more than 13 years old, yet there is no van scrappage scheme, let alone one for cars. All we have on offer is that the Government have committed to do what they should be doing already, which is to electrify the entire fleet of Government cars and vans by 2027, but how can we trust them to deliver on that promise when their Department for Transport has managed to fully electrify just 2% of its fleet? There is nothing to support backing Britain in the future and the economy by making and buying more vehicles here, as championed by the shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves).

The Secretary of State knows that smart electric vehicle charging points are important, but he also knows that there is a woeful lack of them across the country. The Government must be ambitious, but they must also genuinely make sure that the investment reaches all parts of the country. Westminster has 390 charging points per 100,000 population, compared with just 5.1 per 100,000 for people in Wigan. There are more charging points in London than in the whole of the north of England and the whole of the midlands combined, so the investment is not being levelled out in an equal way. Where is the plan to accelerate that and to make sure that every part of the country gets its fair share? Although the Secretary of State mentions the zero-emission vehicle mandate, it is only nodded to. There is no strong commitment and no firm plan in place to achieve that.

Aside from the environmental emergency, there is also a clear health emergency. Forty thousand people a year die from air pollution-related illnesses, so we must be leaders in modal shift away from private cars and ambitious on investment in active travel, yet the Government have overseen a reduction of thousands of bus routes. At the same time, ticket prices have rocketed on buses and trains. The Government have not delivered even a single one of the 4,000 green buses that they have repeatedly promised, and even if they were to deliver on that promise, it is a drop in the ocean and would not address the remaining 20,000 buses that will not be replaced under that scheme.

Beyond the bus, the Secretary of State talks about long-promised money for cycling, but when will that money be spent? Will we be here next year hearing the same re-announcement? Unless would-be cyclists feel safe, they will not make that shift. The Government’s own survey reported that 66% of those who responded said that the roads were too dangerous for them to consider cycling on.

Moving on to aviation, the Secretary of State wants to get to net zero international aviation emissions by 2050 and 2040 for domestic flights. Why, then, is his Department planning to cut air passenger duty on those same flights rather than having a targeted sectoral deal to have very firm commitments to decarbonisation built in? As usual, we will get more Jet Zero Council consultations and more meetings will come through the pipeline, but where is the action?

The list goes on and on and on, including the failure to deliver on a genuinely flexible season ticket to get commuters back on our trains. Instead, we see a £1 billion cut from Network Rail’s infrastructure budget and, at the same time, fares for passengers are increasing all the time.

We were promised an ambitious plan to lead the world ahead of COP26. If that was the test, I am afraid the Government have failed.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I am afraid that we have been here before a couple of times of late, and I understand the difficulty for the hon. Gentleman. He freely acknowledges that he has not actually seen or read this document, yet he has a stream of criticism for what is inside it, which I find extraordinary. Rather than taking in what I thought was a quite detailed statement, so that he could hear all the various different points, instead he read from the pre-ordained script, which claimed that none of the things that we were doing was really happening.

Let me remind the House, therefore, what has actually happened. The hon. Gentleman says he does not think we have been moving fast enough. Let us just check the record. While Labour was in power, it delivered 63 miles of electrified track. In just the last three years, under this Government, we have done 700 miles. He points to a lack of charging, although I announced at the Dispatch Box a couple of weeks ago—and I commented on this in my speech—that there are 25,000 public chargers.

I should also say that there are a couple of hundred thousand private chargers on top of that. I am sorry to hear that Wigan’s Labour council does not have enough charging points; I will ensure that I contact the council this afternoon, on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, to make sure that it applies for the grants that are available so that we can sort that out for residents in Labour Wigan forthwith.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned zero emission vehicle mandates; I am pleased that it sounds as though there is some agreement on them. The decarbonisation plan discusses mandates and we have launched a consultation today. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot simply spring something as important as a zero emission mandate on the entire sector; we have to consult the sector first, so that consultation is being launched today.

Another nine consultations, technical documents or outcomes from consultations are being launched today alongside the plan, which I again invite the hon. Gentleman to read. I accept that he will not have done so at this time, but I think he will find that a lot of his concerns and criticisms are covered. For example, he asked where the 4,000 buses are; I have some good news for him, and it is not just that when one comes along there are three: there are 900 buses in production right now, and 50 are already on the road.[Official Report, 20 July 2021, Vol. 699, c. 5MC.] That puts us easily on track to meet our target to have 4,000 in production by the end of this Parliament. That is good news for the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Jet Zero Council, and he is absolutely right. I make no apology for the Government meeting with academia and the sector. We have had our third main Jet Zero Council meeting and there have been dozens of sub-meetings of the technical working groups. What I hear is that the Opposition do not understand. Thanks to our Jet Zero Council work, we have already flown the world’s first hydrogen aircraft in this country. But it is not good enough for them; they still think we are not doing anything. I have some good news for the hon. Gentleman: that aircraft is being upsized to a 19 or 20-seater aircraft that will be flown shortly, so he will not have to wait long for more news on that front, along with the electrification of aircraft with the likes of Rolls-Royce and others.

I heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say about increasing rail usage, particularly coming out of the pandemic—it is a carbon-friendly way to travel—and I heard his party’s previous criticisms of the flexible season ticket. His stats, I am sure inadvertently, are completely dodgy. They failed to take into account the fact that anybody travelling two or three days a week would be at least 20% better off by comparison than if they bought a regular ticket or indeed a season ticket. I saw the hon. Gentleman’s YouTube video on the subject— I invite Members to watch it—and will write to him to explain chapter and verse why he was misquoting stats and information. I am pleased he reminded me of that because it gives me the opportunity to write back to him. For the purposes of clarity, I will ensure that I publish that letter for the whole House so that Members are able to judge the stats for themselves.

Lastly—I know that a lot of Members wish to speak—we are very proud of the transport decarbonisation plan, and I have mentioned the nine or 10 documents that back it up. An incredible level of detail has gone into that work. I ask: where is Labour’s plan? Where are its detailed plans? Where is the technical analysis? Labour has not read our plan and does not have one of its own, but all I ever hear is that Labour is still up for criticising ours.

International Travel

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 8th July 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement.

When I questioned the Secretary of State on publishing the data, he said:

“The JCVI and Public Health England do indeed publish their methodology and the data behind it for each of these countries. It is already published.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2021; Vol. 698, c. 141.]

However, the assessment of 15 June has only published limited data on 22 countries and even that very limited data shows absolutely no data on incoming passenger testing and no data for new variant testing for some of the countries that were moved to the green list, including the Balearics.

The debate last time focused on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, yet none of those countries has had the data published; nor have the countries that are critical to our economy, including the US, Canada and the vast majority of the EU. When the full data is published, will the Secretary of State ensure that it shows a very clear direction of travel for each and every country to instil travel confidence once more? Will he finally allow a full review of the delay in adding India to the red list, alongside Pakistan and Bangladesh, which led to the rapid spread of the Johnson variant, which he knows has delayed the easing of restrictions in the UK?

I also note that, in just a week, the Government have effectively taken our suggestion to scrap the confused amber list, but it is not clear whether some of the countries that are currently on the amber list should be moved to the red list. Can the Secretary of State confirm that a country-by-country assessment was carried out ahead of today’s statement?



As the Secretary of State will know, Labour has been calling for the introduction of an international vaccine passport. He states that an agreement has been reached with 30 countries to accept UK vaccination status. So far, that list has not been published and it is not clear what pre-testing and arrival testing will be needed.

I welcome a common-sense approach that will allow children to travel with their vaccinated parents and carers. Will he confirm that every single one of the 30 countries that he says will now accept NHS vaccination status will allow children to travel without additional restrictions?

The Secretary of State will know that, in addition to the uncertainty around the travel list, the cost of testing is turning away would-be travellers. PCR tests often cost more than £100 a person. The Government could stop the rip-off we are seeing from private testing companies by instead using spare capacity in the NHS testing sites, supported by an updated NHS app, which would confirm testing status alongside vaccination status. We know that testing is a critical element of limiting the spread of covid. Will the Secretary of State take forward these suggestions and finally make meaningful progress?

When I asked the Secretary of State what action was being taken to open up transatlantic routes, he said that a US-UK working group had met the week before “for the first time”, yet no update has been provided on that today. How many more times has the group met since then? What progress has been made?

The international travel community and the tourism sector needed the Government to really step up, but I am afraid that Ministers have found themselves wanting. Labour is clear that the Government must follow the example of other countries by intervening and bringing forward a sectoral deal to protect jobs. Why have the Government still not brought forward such a deal, when the Chancellor promised it nearly a year ago?

When I visited Heathrow last month, it pointed out that more than a quarter of its cost base goes in fees and levies to Government. If Ministers do not want a holistic support package, can they at least look at the fees that are paid directly to the Government? On Eurostar, why has it not had the same business rates support as aviation, as an international travel operator? There should be a level playing field.

The announcement did not cover mask wearing. It is pretty clear that the Government have been all over the place on mask wearing, despite masks reducing the risk of passing on the virus to other people, especially and critically on public transport. Why does the Secretary of State believe that they should now be the subject of personal choice? Like me, will he commit to continuing to wear his mask on public transport?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Gentleman mentions the JBC data. The methodology is on the website, as I have mentioned before. I am sure it will continue to publish a full range of analysis as more countries are moved about and we have the next review of the green, red and amber lists on 15 July.

The hon. Gentleman brings up India every time we speak. It does not matter how many times that we explain the fact that we put India on the red list two weeks before it became a variant of concern, and a week ahead of it being a variant of interest, he continues to come to the House and make that point time and again.

He mentions the list of 30 locations that are accepting either the NHS app or an NHS letter. That is already published and available on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website, which gives me the opportunity to stress that when somebody travels to any location, they will want to use the FCDO website as the bible on the requirements on entry and departure from that country.

I want to update the hon. Gentleman and the House on one late change. Not just children travelling with adults, but all children will be exempt in the same way as somebody who is double-vaccinated.

He mentions the cost of tests. I have come to the Dispatch Box before and agreed that the cost of tests was too high. I am very pleased that, since May, costs have continued to be driven down as more than 400 providers have stepped up to the plate to produce tests. I was looking at the detail this morning. There are tests as inexpensive as a tenner, albeit that those tests are in person, but there are quite a number of tests now for much lower prices than previously.

He asks for an update on the US-UK working group that Biden and the Prime Minister announced. That work is ongoing. Those meetings are taking place each and every week. As I have explained to the House before, there are quite a lot of technicalities to overcome, not least an executive order from the previous US Administration—212(f)—which actually bans travel for anyone who has been in the UK or Europe for the 14 days previous. We are working through those issues with them. They are currently being held at official level.

On support for the industry, it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not reflect what the industry itself is saying. I noticed that the Airport Operators Association is saying that this is a significant step forward that it widely welcomes, and that people will be able to get away on a “well-deserved break”. Airlines UK, which represents the airlines, says:

“This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening”

of the sector. Once again, it warmly welcomes this move.

The hon. Gentleman says, “Labour have been clear”, but I have to say that it is anything but clear. What is clear is that there is a division between him and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). First, the Opposition wanted quarantine lessened; then they wanted everyone in a hotel; then they wanted it to be done on a case-by-case basis; then they wanted to shut down travel, open up travel, put everyone on the red list and put more countries on the green list. This is not a policy. It is just plain politics.

International Travel

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans for international travel.

Grant Shapps Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Grant Shapps)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

After 15 months of restrictions and lockdowns, I know that everybody in the House is determined to get this pandemic behind us, so that we might finally begin to think about returning to some sort of normality. Decisions over how to control our borders during these unprecedented times are of course never easy. In everything we do, the overwhelming priority is to protect the public and the hard-won gains that have been made.

Last week, in recognition of the hugely successfully vaccination programme, we were able to confirm that in the future, when I will certainly return to the House, fully vaccinated people will be able to avoid quarantine when they return from countries on the amber list.

I want to be realistic with the House: this is a complicated policy that requires time to work through. First, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has yet to opine on whether children should be part of a vaccination programme. They are not at present, and we must resolve how children would therefore be treated under a programme that enabled people to travel without vaccinations.

Next is the question of what to do for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or are perhaps on one of the non-standard vaccine trials. That accounts for around half a million people and we need to work out what to do in that respect.

There is also the question of how to recognise vaccine status at ports and airports. That is easier for people who have been vaccinated in the UK, because the main NHS app—I should stress that I am not talking about the test and trace app—can already display a person’s vaccine status, but it is less easy to prove for someone coming from overseas, particularly if their country has a paper-based system.

As a result of all this work, we will announce to the House when we are ready to make these decisions in order to bring this system into place. It will most likely be phased in for UK residents first.

As has been said, we have confirmed changes to the traffic light system, which take place tonight, at 4 am. That will change the countries that are on the red and the green lists. There are some complications with establishing the list on a UK-wide basis, including with the devolved Administrations. Once the decisions have been made, it is also very difficult not to have them escape from the various different Administrations, so I apologise to the House for not always being able to get here first before I start to read of them in the newspapers. In this particular case, I heard them instantaneously—or within an hour or so, I should say—from the devolved Administrations elsewhere in the UK, meaning that the story was already out there. Malta, Madeira, the Balearic islands and several UK overseas territories and Caribbean islands will be added to the green list, while a further six countries will move to the red category, as we continue to adapt our system.

Our border regime is one of the toughest in the world and I know, from chairing meetings of the G7 Transport Ministers, that it is closely tracked and in some cases followed by other countries. We are now focused on the long-term issue of how to keep our country safe while getting international travel back up and running. These decisions are not easy and will not be enhanced by simplistic calls to stick countries on either a red list or a green list without providing the level of detail that the amber list helps to provide. In comparison, this Government are taking a cautious, evidence-based approach. I will return to the House with more information once we are aware of the details.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. As you pointed out, it was unacceptable that the Government were not willing to come to the House to make the announcement when the traffic light system was reviewed last week. Thank you so much for your robust defence of Parliament on this matter.

Passengers and the industry want to see a clear plan of action, supported by transparent data and with measured interventions to balance the urgent need to keep our borders safe with the desire to support aviation and tourism.

First, on data and country-by-country assessment, I urge the Secretary of State to publish not only the decision-making criteria for the traffic light system but, importantly, the analysis that underpins it.

We have been pushing for the Government to show international leadership, but so far they have failed to step up. Why will they not bring forward concrete plans for an international vaccine passport that will be accepted by key destination countries?

International co-operation is key to getting travel back up and running again, yet the Prime Minister missed a golden opportunity at the G7, including with the US. What progress has been made on reaching an agreement to see the safe return of transatlantic travel?

As much as we want to see more countries added to the green list, we also want to see a robust red list. Given that the easing of restrictions has been delayed throughout the country, will the Secretary of State now commit to reviewing the decision not to place India on the red list, so that lessons can be learned?

Labour’s position is clear: we have set out a sectoral deal and a simplified red and green list, supported by clear country-by-country assessment that shows the clear direction of travel. The Government also promised a sectoral deal, so when can the industry expect to see that promised sectoral deal? In the early days of this pandemic the public were willing to support the Government as they learnt on the job but, frankly, patience has run out. It is important that action is taken, and taken now.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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First, it is worth saying that I keep hearing the hon. Gentleman calling for the data to be published. For his ease, I have been to the gov.uk website and checked it for him. The JCVI and Public Health England do indeed publish their methodology and the data behind it for each of these countries. It is already published. For the sake of the time of the House, I will not run through it, but it is there for him to see.

The hon. Gentleman calls for a passport that could be used for people who are double-vaccinated, yet at the same time his policy is to put every single country in the red list. That would mean that somebody who was able to visit a dying relative in an amber list country would now have the cost and expense of returning to Government quarantine in order to just go on that mercy mission. I think that what he is suggesting is quite cruel.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the progress on the US-UK working group. I can confirm that it took place for the first time last Thursday and progress is being made. That is an officials-level meeting and they will say more when they are ready to. There is a whole series of complexities to resolve. For example, the US does not currently recognise AstraZeneca because AstraZeneca has not applied for the licence. On the other side, we do not have any particular system to recognise vaccine status from the United States, because it does not have a digitised system, as we do with our NHS—it has 50 separate systems—so there are complexities.

India has been discussed many times, but I remind the hon. Gentleman again that it went on our red list a week before it became a variant of interest and two weeks before it became a variant of concern, so it is simply not the case that it was not already on the red list. Even when it was on the amber list, people had to take a test before they came here. They had to take a test when they got here, on day two and on day eight. They had to quarantine. It is worth looking at those facts.

The hon. Gentleman again calls for the red and green list. He wants to scrap the amber list. He wants to simplify it, no doubt before claiming that we should publish yet more detail, but it simply does not make sense. He cannot stand up and call for further support for airlines and the aviation sector while deliberately trying to ensure that pretty much every person who comes to this country has to go to Government quarantine hotels. It simply does not stack up.

The hon. Gentleman asks about support for the aviation and travel sectors. They have indeed been at the forefront of this pandemic and £7 billion of support is being provided. We are continuing to do our bit. But the best support of all that we can provide is to get international travel running again. That means not taking all the countries in the amber list and sticking them in the red list.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last few weeks have seen a remarkable digital transformation in the background, which means that people coming in from green-list countries have been going to e-gates that have been updated, both physically and with software, or going to see a Border Force officer and having their passports scanned in one way or the other. That has been automatically linked back to the passenger locator form that they filled out before they left their country of departure, which tells Border Force whether they have had a pre-departure test and whether they have future tests booked. This links the whole machinery together, so yes, the automation is really starting to get into place now.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yesterday, hundreds of workers in the aviation and tourism industry held a demonstration outside Parliament urging the Government to protect their jobs and those of 1.5 million people employed in aviation and the wider supply chain. On behalf of the countless staff and trade unions I spoke to, will the Secretary of State finally deliver on the sectoral deal that his Government promised but have so far failed to deliver? When he makes an announcement later on the traffic light system, which, it should be noted, is not being made to this House, will he publish the criteria, the country-by-country assessment and the direction of travel for each country, to give travellers confidence to plan for this summer?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I find the hon. Gentleman’s policy confusing, only because, as I understand it, he has previously called for all countries to be put into the red category, meaning that there would be no travel at all. In addition, the former shadow Chancellor has said that Labour would never provide financial support to these companies, yet Labour is now saying that it wants more support to be provided and the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not want to follow his own policy. Having a red, amber and green list enables people to see which countries are in which category, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is publishing the data on the website to show why particular countries are in each category.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can give you an assurance, Mr Speaker, that I have tried my hardest to get the Transport Secretary to fully understand our sectoral deal and the way we have laid it out, but I cannot help the confusion that continues to reign with this Transport Secretary.

Let us now move closer to home. We have had two questions today on the DVLA in Swansea, and the Transport Secretary did not give a convincing answer to either. It was reported last week that a deal had been reached with staff, trade unions and the Government to finally resolve the industrial dispute over health and safety failings at the DVLA in Swansea, but that it was pulled at the last minute by a Minister. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he or senior members of the Department pulled the deal, and, if so, why? He and his Department are now squarely against the loyal workforce at DVLA Swansea. What will he now do to restore trust and confidence in those fantastic workers?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Public and Commercial Services Union continues to take industrial action, which is targeting the services and having a negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society. The fact of the matter is that the safety concerns have been signed off by Public Health Wales, the Health and Safety Executive, the Welsh Government and the UK Government, yet this strike continues and now is apparently not about healthcare, but about demands over money instead. Will the hon. Gentleman actually ask people to go back to their work in order to help vulnerable people in this country? That is the question and this House needs to know.

Britain’s Railways

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 20th May 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I start by thanking the Secretary of State for Transport for an advance copy of the statement, together with the report that was issued earlier this morning? It is two and a half years since the Williams review was first commissioned, and the very fact that Williams was commissioned at all shows that the state, the travelling public and those excluded from the railways because of accessibility have been given a poor deal.

While much has changed through the network due to covid, what the Secretary of State has announced today was pretty much what was recorded in The Daily Telegraph last November. If that is the case, will he confirm why did he not make the announcement back in November, when it was reported in the national press?

Taking the announcements in turn today, the Secretary of State said that control of the infrastructure and the contracting of train operations will be given to this new arm’s length Government-owned body, with private firms bidding for concessions with an agreed profit margin built in. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether a publicly owned provider will be able to bid for these concessions on a level playing field? Will he also confirm whether the operator of last resort will continue to exist? If so, will it be brought fully back in-house?

It has been reported that the Treasury is demanding cost cuts of between 10% and 20%. There is concern that rather than seeing increased investment, the real driver behind bringing all this together is more about disguising painful cuts. Any talk of cuts in funding, such as the £1 billion funding cut to Network Rail that we have already seen, will have a direct impact on jobs, our regions and vital maintenance and upgrade works. Does the Secretary of State know how many jobs could be lost with a reduction of 10% or 20%, and what it might mean to each of our regions? The head of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, and its chairman, Sir Peter Hendy, are to be tasked with drawing up the processes and structures of the new Great British Railways. What date have they been given to report back?

On freight, can the Secretary of State say a little more about how the reforms will impact on the track access regime and about the governance arrangements that will exist for freight when Network Rail takes control of the passenger railways and freight together, albeit under a different name? Decarbonising transport will require a much greater shift if we are to move more from road to rail. How will the reforms help rail freight grow as part of decarbonising freight transport? Importantly, what targets will the Secretary of State set in that regard?

The Government have also made an announcement on flexible ticketing, although to date few details have been provided. The lack of any detail on these tickets and whether they will actually be cheaper for the travelling public frankly renders the announcement almost useless to millions of passengers. There is a danger that flexible ticketing will fail to meet the test of encouraging people back on to rail as we come through this pandemic. What research have the Government done to ensure that the type of product being suggested will address the needs of the travelling public and get more people back on to rail?

This report fundamentally fails to tackle one of the biggest challenges with our transport system, which is that the different modes of transport just do not talk to each other. They do not turn up together when required and they are not joined up. We need a bus and train system that genuinely connects people, rather than leaving them cold, standing, waiting for connecting services. Will the Secretary of State work towards joining up different modes of transport? Critically, if so, what devolved powers does he envisage for our metro Mayors and our transport authorities as part of this plan?

On devolution, will the Government finally follow through on transferring train station responsibilities to our metro Mayors, as was expected in Greater Manchester some years ago? We have not seen any detail on what profit margin operators can expect in practice and whether the cost of that will hit fares or investment. How quickly will the Government publish that?

While I welcome the steps to increase public ownership and control over the railways, as hon. Members might expect, they do not go far enough in this plan. There is ample proof to demonstrate that fuller public ownership, rather than a concession model, would better serve the state, the public and long-term investment. I fear that the Government have really not understood the scale of the challenge in front of them. While we may well see a change of name on the side of the trains, fundamentally passengers will still be left short-changed. Although the Minister says that this is not about nationalisation, the fact is that, as we have seen through covid, we have nationalised risk but continue to allow the privatisation of profit.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have to say that I sympathise, because I appreciate that it must have been difficult to take in a report of 114 pages in the time available. Skimming through it and coming up with questions will have been difficult, and I therefore understand why he asked some questions that are answered fully in the White Paper itself. Less understandable and harder to fathom is how it was possible to put out press comments about the content of the White Paper last night before it was even seen, including a lot of points already covered in the White Paper, and therefore rather misfiring in direction. Let me try to pick through some of the questions asked.

Why two and a half years? As I mentioned, the breakdown in the timetable took place three years ago this week. Keith Williams was appointed to carry out the review, which he has done at no cost to the taxpayer, I should mention, and brilliantly. There was this thing called covid, and we went into the second and third lockdowns in November, so it was perfectly proper to wait until we had a clear indication and for the vaccine to be deployed before coming to the House with the full report. That also enabled us to bring that report up to date with what is actually happening in the running of those rail services.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the operator of last resort and whether it will still exist. The answer is in the report: yes, very much so. As he knows, I already effectively run Northern and the east coast mainline through the operator of last resort. It is not about disguising cuts of any type. He keeps coming back to £1 billion of control period 6 rail funding. Because of covid, operators were unable to spend the money, but they will have that money to spend in the next period. None the less, we have ongoing one of the biggest ever rail transformation programmes, if not the biggest.

The timescales for change are all in the White Paper, and the good news is that we will get going on this immediately. The hon. Gentleman will notice that the bottom left-hand corner on the front of the White Paper says “CP 423”, which means that it is command paper 423, which means that we can get on with it, and we are doing that from this moment. A very good example of that is flexi-tickets. He says that there is not enough detail. I am pleased to let the House know that that detail will all be available on 21 June, and that they will go on sale on 28 June. If he takes the time to look in the notes to editors at the back, he will see a large number of examples of what fares will be. These will save people money in each circumstance if they are travelling two or three days a week.

The hon. Gentleman asked about freight. I refer him to page 78 of the White Paper, which talks about freight and our desire to make sure that those freight paths are available within our railway. The advantage of Great British Railways looking after all this is that we will be able to accommodate freight paths. He asked about the decarbonisation that freight will help to bring, and he is absolutely right to focus on that. I am pleased to tell him that a transport decarbonisation plan will be published before the summer that will focus very much on how we already use the best form of transport when it comes to decarbonisation in order to shift more freight around.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the joined-up nature of transport, with people, as he says, waiting in the cold sometimes for transport that may or may not turn up. I know he has not had long to look at the White Paper, but he only has to get as far as the foreword to find my talking about that exact issue. He asks about the way this will work with devolution. He will be pleased to hear that I spoke to his friend the Mayor of Manchester only yesterday, and I was pleased that he warmly welcomed the White Paper today. Page 41 has all that detail.

I know that Oppositions, almost for Opposition’s sake, have to nit-pick and find problems, but the reality is that the nationalisation that they would impose on this country would lead to fewer passengers, as it did last time; fewer stations, with stations closed in our constituencies, as it did last time under British Rail; track being cut, as it was before; and appalling sandwiches. We are not going back to the days of nationalisation. We can do better than that.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 29th April 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

After much delay, the Transport Secretary has finally published Highways England’s review into smart motorways. The stocktake has revealed that over the last five years 63 people lost their lives, which is a significant increase on the figure given just over a year ago—38. Victims’ families and campaigners are crying out for common sense—and for action from the Secretary of State—recognising that the radar technology does not even capture broken down vehicles 35% of the time. As the legal challenges mount, will he publish the specific data comparing deaths on the hard shoulder of existing motorways with deaths on the lane that was previously a hard shoulder and is now used as a live running lane?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman and I, and the whole House, share similar concerns about the safety of our motorways. One of the first things I did as Secretary of State was to introduce the smart motorways stocktake. One factor we have to look at is the level of fatalities on both smart motorways and regular motorways. As I mentioned to the hon. Gentleman previously, from 2015 to 2019 there were 39 fatalities on smart motorways, but there were also 368 fatalities on regular motorways. It is very important that we look at all the questions he asked with regard to the data, which is why I have asked the Office of Rail and Road to analyse the data and provide reassurance that it can be trusted. When those figures are provided we can compare them to make sure we are producing the safest possible roads in the world.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The victims’ families will want to know that action will be taken on lives that are avoidably lost and I am afraid that answer will not satisfy those families at all.

Moving on to our regional economies, the Secretary of State knows how important our regional airports are in providing tens of thousands of important, well-paid, decent jobs in our regions. Will he make sure the Government do far more than the standard schemes on business rates and furlough support to make sure that our regional airports not only survive but can thrive in the future—or does he believe the market will decide their fate?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

First, on smart motorways I understand that it is the hon. Gentleman’s and Labour’s policy to close all-running lanes, which would create more traffic. The current estimate is that it would create 25% more traffic on other roads; that in itself would, we think, produce about 25 more fatalities per year. So I urge the hon. Gentleman to follow the work of the Office of Rail and Road to make sure that we do not create more fatalities, rather than fewer.

With regard to regional airports, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to support them. We have put £7 billion into protecting and supporting our aviation sector. I am slightly mystified, however, because if I understand it correctly, the hon. Gentleman’s current policy is to quarantine all traffic so that nobody could quarantine at home, which would do further damage to our regional airports.

National Bus Strategy: England

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Monday 15th March 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I also thank those in the bus and local public transport industries for the work they have done, over the course of a very difficult year, to make sure that our country can keep on moving.

This strategy should have been used to revolutionise the bus industry, but I am afraid it lacks ambition and does not even touch the sides of the cuts and rocketing prices that passengers have witnessed over the past decade. It should have been used to ensure that funds were properly directed to deliver a radical transition to a zero-emission fleet—something that the Prime Minister promised more than a year ago—and to create new green jobs in the bus and coach sector, to give operators and manufacturers the boost that they so badly need.

Let us look beyond the headlines. The Secretary of State says that he wants buses to become more frequent, cheaper and greener. First, on buses being more frequent, the reality is that this Government have overseen the loss of 134 million miles of bus routes over the past decade, and some 3,000 local authority-supported bus services have been cut over the same period. In every year since 2010—year on year—passenger journeys outside of London have fallen. It is the Secretary of State’s Government who have made bus journeys less frequent in the first place. How will he ensure, specifically, that there are not just a few more services on routes that are already well served, but a reversal of the 3,000 bus cuts that we have seen over the past decade? How many of the 134 million bus miles lost will be returned by this investment?

On the second test, in respect of buses being cheaper, the Office for National Statistics has reported that in January bus inflation was up by 21% on the previous year. Although a price cap is welcome, the cost of transport is already forcing people off buses. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure not just that fares will not rise disproportionately in future, but that they will be brought down to a reasonable level that people can afford, so that they will choose to travel by bus?

The final test is for transport to be greener. It is more than a year since the Government promised 4,000 zero-emission buses, but they have not even started yet. That is nowhere near ambitious enough when we consider that there are 32,000 buses in England alone. Even with a one-to-one replacement, that could leave more than 28,000 buses that are not zero-emission. Incidentally, many of them will be serving areas that are being considered for clean air zones because of deadly levels of pollution.

It is a year since we were promised a transport revolution, and it has been a year of reannouncements. Although the pandemic can be blamed for some of the fall in passenger numbers we have seen, the Secretary of State knows full well that the past decade has really weakened the foundations of bus services in this country.

Let me turn to another announcement: council and operator partnerships. Councils throughout the country face a budget black hole of £15 billion, and this announcement, which throws in even more responsibility without funding in place, could weaken their position even further. Like many, I back the extension of London-style franchise powers throughout the country, and I sincerely hope that once the announcement is put into practice, that will be the reality for passengers throughout the country. I also support councils that want to do it themselves, which is why we back the establishment of municipal bus companies—incidentally, something outlawed by this Government in 2017. The Government have indicated that that may well be revisited, but my question to the Secretary of State is, why wait?

It is clear that we drastically need a bus service that is fit for the future, yet until we see those measures on the ground we cannot even begin to claim to be ambitious and to have a green bus strategy that meets the demands of local people and the immediate post-pandemic needs of the industry, or that addresses the huge challenge of stopping climate change and meeting our objectives. The real legacy of this Government is laid bare for all to see: the loss of key routes; rocketing ticket prices; and just 2% of the bus fleet zero-emission vehicles. It is on that record that the Government will be judged.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Predictably, the hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied. He said that the investment should have been bigger and that we should have been investing more in zero carbon, and he criticised many other aspects of the strategy. In fact, we did not even need to wait for the bus strategy, because he issued his press release to tell us all this ahead of time—before the strategy was even out and before he could possibly have known what was in it. I hope that he has now had the opportunity to read it. If he has, he will have seen that it is an extremely ambitious plan. It is the most ambitious plan to change our buses from any Government right the way back to the 1980s.

It is not as if the 1980s were the start of the decline; I think I am right in saying that we saw a decline in bus ridership from the ’60s onwards, from about 15.5 billion down to 5.5 billion. We know that people have switched to cars in that period of time, which is why this bus strategy is so ambitious and is trying to hold no punches in saying, “We need to realign the way we operate. We need to ensure that buses are more convenient and therefore more reliable. When they are, people are much more likely to take them.” As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that is a formula that has operated very well in London under successive Mayors—although, I must say, it was expanded under the previous one—and has ensured that buses are clean and reliable, and that people do not even need a timetable. He asked about the reliability and regularity of services; that is what we want to get to. We also would not be putting £3 billion in if we did not expect, as the bus strategy says, to make buses more affordable. It is central to our vision that they are not just practical, but the affordable means of transport.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman said about greening up the bus network. I am as enthusiastic as him; he knows that I am—I drive an electric car and I want to see our transport system decarbonised. He mentioned that we announced a year ago our ambition to have 4,000 electric buses. He is absolutely right that that is what we wrote in our manifesto. As he would expect, we are delivering on that. The £120 million mentioned in the bus strategy today will go towards the first 800 of those buses. That comes on top of money that has already been invested by the industry in creating more electric buses. We are starting to see those buses on the road, including—I think I am right in saying—a couple of thousand in London, as well as elsewhere in the country. It is starting to happen and we are going to ensure that we meet our manifesto commitment of delivering 4,000 by the end of this Parliament.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned municipal bus services. I am not living in some world where I think there is only one way to do this. That is why we are talking about bus franchising and enhanced partnerships. He will be interested to know that the service in my area, though not a municipal bus operation, is actually run by the local university, the University of Hertfordshire, which owns a bus company called Uno. That is the kind of creative idea that we want to see developed by the national bus strategy. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority, every other local authority and all Members in this House will have the opportunity to ensure that their local area is able to deliver against the bus strategy to improve services for everybody in a way of which he would approve.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 11th March 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: sub-national bodies are extremely important in helping to bring together what can be quite different, disparate systems within a sub-regional area, to ensure that the transport is effective but also, as she rightly says, decarbonised. I see their role as being pivotal to delivering not only good transport but our transport decarbonisation plan.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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Last week, I met some of the families of those who have died on smart motorways. I heard the pain and the devastation of those who have been affected by all-lane-running schemes. We last had an update on the number of deaths on smart motorways a year ago. Will the Secretary of State set out what the most recent number of fatalities on smart motorways is?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about public concern about smart motorways, which, as I mentioned before, I very much share. I was the first Transport Secretary to order a review and a stocktake, which published a year ago yesterday with an 18-point plan. Tomorrow, I will have an update on my desk that I have ordered from Highways England, which will give me all the latest data. The last information I have is the 39 deaths between 2015 and 2019.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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I appreciate the answer, but I do not think it is acceptable at all that the data appears to be at the very least a year out of date about a scheme that has significant public interest and when there are grieving families who want to know the true impact. I ask the Secretary of State to improve and to press Highways England to improve its data collection on that issue.

Yesterday, Highways England launched a campaign that encourages drivers to sing a Pet Shop Boys song as a reminder to pull into a refuge. That reduces it down to an insult, insinuating that drivers who became stranded were somehow careless. They were not. They were the victims of an ill-conceived scheme that still leaves people at risk today. What the families really want to know is, what is being done to ensure that there are no further fatalities? At the last Transport orals, I asked the Transport Secretary to pick up the phone and to reinstate the hard shoulder. Did he do that, and if not, why not?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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First, the figures to which I refer are national statistics. My understanding is that they have to be quality assured, and it is beyond the control of the Secretary of State to quote figures that have not yet been checked. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last point about why we do not simply reinstate the hard shoulder— and I know that is his policy—I know from the work that has been carried out that the statisticians, who have worked very hard on this, tell us that per 1 billion miles travelled, which is the way roads are measured, there are about a third more deaths where there are hard shoulders, because one in 12 fatalities actually takes place on a hard shoulder.

As I mentioned before, I am the first Secretary of State to undertake a full stocktake and review. Tomorrow, I will have a report, and I will come back to this House and report on it very quickly afterwards. These are not new things; they were introduced in 2001 by John Prescott. However, I do absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see the problem resolved. It is important to know that, while I mentioned the 39 deaths on so-called smart motorways, at the same time there were 368 deaths on regular motorways, so it is very important that we take all of these steps.

On an education campaign so that people understand how to use all motorways, not just smart motorways, the £5 million campaign was one of the calls of the stocktake. Many of the victims’ families, including Meera Naran, who lost her eight-year-old son, have welcomed the fact that the Government are spending a record £5 million to ensure that people know what to do when they do break down.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 28th January 2021

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I think my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Transport Committee, is absolutely right. This has required a proportionate and science-based approach to where people for quarantine in hotels should come from, and that includes a red list of countries. I can tell my hon. Friend and the House that that list is available on gov.UK—it contains 30 countries. South America, South Africa and Portugal are primarily the areas and countries involved. I think it is very important that we do make this science-based, and this adds to the pre-departure testing and, of course, all the other measures we have put in place. We will hear from the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) shortly, and I know he is going to explain why he called for quarantine to be lessened.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am very disappointed that the Secretary of State would go so low as to repeat an untruth that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday, and a point of order has been submitted on that matter.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. As we all know, 500 covid cases have been recorded at the DVLA offices in Swansea. There have also been worrying allegations that employees were coerced into turning off their track and trace apps or given warnings for taking time off sick, and those must be fully investigated. The evidence offered by the chief executive of the DVLA to the Transport Committee has, I am afraid, turned a crisis into a political test. Will the Transport Secretary explain why he ignored warnings about that issue, and why he essentially allowed a Government office to become a covid-19 superspreader? Will he confirm whether the chief executive of the DVLA still enjoys his full support?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I would like to clear up this confusion, because I do not think that a mis-statement should stand. I will quote from the hon. Gentleman on 3 July:

“Labour, like families and businesses up and down the country, are keen for the Government’s quarantine measures to be lessened,”.

That was the precise quote.

On the DVLA, I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the stories we saw in the newspapers this weekend, and I have investigated fully. Only one-third of the staff are currently working at DVLA. He might ask why any staff are working there, and the simple answer is that there are paper-based forms and submissions that are not being made online, and without them key workers and others would not be getting their licences. There are databases that, for privacy reasons, cannot be connected to from home, and that requires some people to go to the offices. A number of important steps have been taken, including work with Public Health Wales and setting up a new office for people to work in. No requests to turn off test and trace have been made by either DVLA or the Department for Transport. DVLA works under strict civil service guidance on sick pay and leave, and it must not diverge from that. I take the matter extremely seriously, and I will provide further written reassurances to the hon. Gentleman.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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That opportunity for the Transport Secretary to confirm his support for the chief executive was not taken, which is interesting in itself.

Let me turn to smart motorways. This month, a coroner concluded that the lack of a hard shoulder on the M1 in South Yorkshire contributed to the deaths of two men, making a total of nearly 40 lives lost as a result of smart motorways and the absence of a hard shoulder. Even the former roads Minister, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who introduced the programme in 2010, admitted that it was a gross public policy failure. Enough is enough. Will the Secretary of State commit, the minute this session finishes, to pick up the phone and issue an instruction to reinstate the hard shoulder on smart motorways? God forbid we will be here again reviewing more deaths if action is not taken.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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It is tragic that anybody ever dies on our roads, and it is worth recalling that motorways in general are safer than most roads overall. Smart motorways were, and are, an issue that sparked a great deal of interest from me, and as the hon. Gentleman may recall, before he was in post last year I set up a review, a stocktake, which recommended 18 different measures, including spending more than £500 million to put in a whole series of measures to ensure that smart motorways are not just as safe, but safer than conventional motorways. That stocktake is now one year through, and I will soon return to the House to report on its progress. I know there is a lot of interest in that.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The Government are committed to hydrogen as a technology. I recently announced the Tees valley as a hydrogen hub. We have invested £121 million into hydrogen innovation, including the hydrogen buses that are currently running in Glasgow.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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The pandemic has understandably dominated the headlines, but we cannot forget that we are still in a climate emergency and that green, efficient transport must be the future. Transport is now the largest contributing sector to UK emissions, and air pollution contributes to upwards of 36,000 deaths a year. How we move goods in and around the country—from international incoming freight moving around our national network, to local deliveries—is important, particularly as last mile deliveries have boomed during the pandemic. But even before the pandemic hit, the number of diesel vans had doubled over two decades. What is the Government’s plan, above what has already been announced, to get air pollution down and to address the growing impact of last mile deliveries?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which is that 28% of all CO2 now comes from transport, and it is critical that we get it down. I thought he was going to go on to mention that since we last stood at these Dispatch Boxes, we have said that we are going to have a 2030 target for the end of sale of petrol and diesel cars, which will obviously help tremendously. That also includes diesel vans, which will be a very big contributor to assist in this, alongside the £2.8 billion we are putting in to help that switch take place.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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With respect, that is just not ambitious enough. There are organisations that have really boomed in the pandemic. Online retailers—the big giants—are part of that, and they should be required to do far more to make sure that they bring down air pollution.

In a written parliamentary question to me, the Government admitted that the comprehensive spending review cut Network Rail’s enhancement budget by £1 billion—10%. At the same time, the order books for new greener aircraft have stalled. This all adds up to a very dismal approach as we get towards COP26 in Glasgow next year. Before that embarrassment comes, will the Secretary of State come forward with a comprehensive plan to decarbonise freight, which starts with reversing the cuts to Network Rail?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Right at the beginning of the pandemic—I can understand if the hon. Gentleman missed it—we published the document “Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge”, which will lead into a transport decarbonisation plan that we will publish by the spring. In that, we will describe the many measures that we are taking to make the UK a global leader in cutting carbonisation and decarbonising the economy, not just through the 2030 pledge but through, for example, introducing 4,000 zero-emission buses, and much else besides.

--- Later in debate ---
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right; while we are very keen to see the roll-out of e-scooters, and about 20 communities are already enjoying the benefits, it is also the case that we want to ensure that the regulation is right and that every single e-scooter is properly insured and built to the proper standards. That is why we are carrying out a very careful and cautious programme to roll them out, thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and we will be reporting back to the House what we learn from those trials and ensuring that the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) raises are not experienced elsewhere.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had—not for the first time—a statement being offered during topical questions on a matter that should have been brought forward as a statement to allow proper scrutiny, in particular on the plan for Christmas. Although it nods to many proposals that Labour has put forward, we have not seen the detail and we have not been given the opportunity to scrutinise. May I have your advice, Mr Speaker? Is it not more appropriate for the Government to bring forward a statement that we can have a proper debate around?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I do not know whether anyone on the Government Front Bench would like to answer that.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 17th September 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is right that the Orwell bridge is another key artery for Ipswich. I know that it is subject to ongoing work by Highways England that requires wind tunnel validation. I have been promised that that work will be completed by the end of September. From the Dispatch Box, I send a clear message to Highways England that I expect to see it on my desk.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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Our transport industries have been devastated by coronavirus, but its frontline workers have kept the country going in difficult times. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

At the outset of topical questions, with 72 hours to go before the current rail franchise emergency measures agreements are due to expire, I expected the Transport Secretary to update the House. I am afraid my sheet is blank because no such statement, comment or indication followed. That is absolutely staggering. Are we to expect that, rather than something being reported to the House, it will come out over the next couple of days or the weekend, denying the House the opportunity to look into it? Will the Transport Secretary commit to making a statement to the House on Monday?

Let us be absolutely clear that in the last six months, with the current management agreements in place, while many parts of our transport sector have been denied the support they need, £100 million has been paid out to shareholders, many of which, by the way, are foreign Governments. That cannot continue in its current form.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Gentleman will know that the first emergency measures were worth some £3.5 billion to ensure that our rail sector was able to continue. I have already described how passengers are now returning to them and the work that is going on to make sure that they are safe to return.

As the hon. Gentleman points out, it is the case that the EMAs, as they are called, come to an end quite shortly. I do not think the House would realistically expect me to stand here and carry out those negotiations in public, but I reassure him that I will certainly return to make a statement in the House as soon as there is something to say.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are just 72 hours left to go—it is literally last-minute. It is a timetable that would make Northern shy. I do not know what is going on with the Transport Secretary.

We know that passenger numbers have fallen to 7% of what they would be in normal times, yet rail fares are set for another increase in January. The average commuter will pay £3,000 for their season ticket, which is over £900 more than they would have paid in 2010. To encourage commuters back safely, will the Government commit to freezing fares and introducing part-time season tickets, as Labour has proposed?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I hate to play politics at the Dispatch Box, but it is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman that, under Labour, there were inflation-busting fare rises that added 4.9% during its time in office. Again, I want to make sure that we are speaking on the basis of facts. I will return to the House on the emergency measures.

It is not true to say, as I think the hon. Gentleman did, that the number of passengers is down to a single-digit percentage. As I said before, the number of passengers returning was at 42% last week. It is incumbent on all of us to demonstrate that the railways are safe; to take the railways from time to time, which I am sure Members on both sides of the House do; and to reassure people of the safety and efficacy of using the railways and all other public transport systems.

International Travel

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Monday 7th September 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Transport Secretary for prior sight of the statement, although I should say for the record that it arrived only five minutes before it was due to be made. I am not sure that is quite in the spirit of things, and it might be worth taking that back to officials to make sure it does not happen again. However, I should say that he made the effort to give me a call today, which is appreciated.

The Government’s response to the covid-19 crisis has been nothing short of chaotic. At almost every turn they have lacked a clear strategy, and that failure has been acutely felt in aviation. For months, even when the virus was at its peak, millions of passengers were coming from all over the world without any restrictions placed on them at all. By the time restrictions were introduced, we were one of only a handful of countries in the world that up to that point had failed to take action to put them in place. It is this pattern of the Government being too slow to act, coupled with blunt interventions to overcompensate, that has dogged the handling of the pandemic right from the outset.

First, there was a blunt quarantine for all, bar France, but then France was back on. Then air corridors were on the table; then they were not. What we then saw was not really air corridors, air bridges or whatever name is given to them, but essentially a list produced by the Foreign Office, half of the countries on which had placed restrictions on British travellers going there—no travel corridor or air bridge at all. Now we are seeing countries coming and going off the list, with very little notice for those who have decided to go on holiday and incurred the cost of doing so.

It is all very well for the Government now to change position and tell people that they should travel with their eyes open. It was not that long ago that the Government were defending a very senior member of No. 10 for driving for an eye test, let alone going with eyes fully open. The British public are not stupid. They understand fully the pandemic and what it means to everyday life, but people work hard, and they are desperate to return to a sense of normality. For many, that one holiday a year is something they save up for and look forward to, but they cannot afford a 14-day quarantine to be imposed with very little notice.

We need to see when the data was really made available. We all know that localised and regional data is made available across Europe, so why was it not reviewed when the decision was made in Spain, for instance, to have the restrictions on the islands? The point was made at the time and the Government did not move, but it strikes me that the evidence base was in place, so it makes sense to publish that evidence in the House of Commons Library, so that it can be reviewed.

We need to make sure that we do not take this intervention all the time. It appears chaotic because it is chaotic. There will not be a single intervention in itself that will keep this country safe; it will be a number of interventions taken together that make us safe, and a key part of that is testing. Frankly, it is beyond belief that people arrive in this country from all over the world without any tests being carried out, either at the airport or five days later. It is important that we now carry out a full review, not just of quarantine in the very blunt sense that the Government approach it, but also to ensure that a proper test and tracking system is in place. In my town, the national contact tracing system has failed to get through to half of those it should have made contact with. When we have that infrastructure and such weak performance, it is little surprise that the Government are constantly going from one crisis to another.

Aviation is on its knees. The limited support offered by the Government has meant job losses all over the place, in a sector that was always going to take longer to recover than other parts of the economy. The Government knew that, but even with the money given over to the airlines, where are the conditions to protect workers’ rights? It is a scandal that hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being given out with no conditions to protect the workers at British Airways or easyJet, and the rights that they have built up.

Labour’s position is clear. We have set out a plan for a sectoral deal, with six key conditions, supporting jobs, tackling climate change and providing fair play on tax. It is important that the Government now come forward with a proper sectoral deal. We will absolutely work in partnership, in the national interest, but the Government cannot continue to go from one crisis to another, because key to beating the virus is maintaining public support. I have to tell the Transport Secretary that we are in real danger of losing that support.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Hansard - -

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not getting the statement to him. I do not know why that happened, and I will make inquiries. As he mentions, I did call in advance, unrelated to the statement itself.

This is not a virus that any of us control, beyond the way in which we all behave individually and the extent to which we all have contact that we perhaps should not be having. It is easy to come to the Dispatch Box and be a professor of hindsight, saying, “You should have done this. You shouldn’t have done that.” If the hon. Gentleman could explain to me how he can find out that one week Jamaica will have three or five cases per 100,000 and the next week be breaching 20 cases per 100,000, even though the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and all the other experts were unable to predict it, I would be the first to welcome that kind of detailed information and knowledge. It does not exist. I believe that no country in the world has combined as much information as has been pulled together here in order to work on a detailed island policy. In fact, it is difficult to think of another country in Europe that is doing more testing than the UK now, with testing capacity of a third of a million tests per day, going up to half a million today. I was speaking to my opposite number from France, who told me that there they would reach 400,000 tests a week—in this country, we can do that in a day and a half.

Our NHS test and trace system, combined with the passenger locator form, has enabled us to extract very specific data to know where infections are coming back from, and that has been extraordinarily useful. I reiterate—I cannot say it any more clearly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to say it again—that in these times when we travel we must accept that we have to go with our eyes open. I gave the example of Jamaica, but, unfortunately, the same thing exists everywhere else. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Is he saying that we should not have travel corridors at all and we should prevent everybody from travelling? That cannot be the case, because he tells us that he wants to support the aviation sector. In which case, some kind of corridors must be open, otherwise we would not be supporting it.

That is why we have pumped an enormous amount of money, via the British taxpayer, into supporting the aviation sector. Off the top of my head, 56,400 members of staff are using the furlough scheme, which will add up to well over £1 billion. There is a £1.8 billion fund, the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility, which has supported aviation-specific companies and there have been all manner of other funds, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, from which £283 million has gone to the aviation sector.

Of course we want the aviation sector to get going again. As I mentioned towards the end of my statement—I will come back to the House on this— testing is a part of that, but I also explained the complexity of testing on day zero. I did not hear whether that is what the Opposition Front-Bench team are calling for, but there are significant issues with testing on day zero in a manner that will not necessarily find those who are carrying the virus but that will convince lots of people that they are not. That approach is not the answer. We are working on all those things, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with us, rather than score points from us, when everybody is trying to the right thing, nationwide, to beat this virus.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I pay tribute to our transport workers and reflect on those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Our economy is experiencing major shock. There is no doubt that the foundations were weakened after a lost decade of austerity and the failure to invest properly in our regions that make up the northern powerhouse. Had the north seen the same per-person investment as London over the past decade, it would have received £66 billion more. Even before the pandemic hit, estimates by the UK2070 Commission recommended investment of £15 billion each year for 20 years. Will the Secretary of State outline how much capital investment has been awarded to the north?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the northern powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, so I take this very seriously indeed. I do not want to disappoint him, but there are so many different elements of funding going into the northern powerhouse right now that it is difficult to provide an immediate figure for the total. I would be happy to undertake to write to him with those precise details, but I can tell them that it is billions.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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I am not sure that my pre-prepared response quite expected the Secretary of State not to know the answer to the question about how much money has been allocated, but we can guess: it is a drop in the ocean. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the historic funding gap of £66 billion. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the £15 billion annual allocation, as recommended by the Commission.

We were promised a plan to level up Britain. We were told that we were at war with the virus, yet when it came to a Marshall fund, the nation was failed. The Government failed on ambition; they failed on scale; and in doing so they failed the hard-working people of the north. Let us be generous and accept that what has gone has gone. Today, will the Secretary of State commit, in future allocations, to the north receiving no less than the capital?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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That is a lot of rhetoric, but, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will go into some of the money that is being spent. For example, there is the trans-Pennine route, a multi-billion pound upgrade of the route from Manchester to Leeds. Then we have an extra £10 million initially to sort out the Manchester corridor, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. There is the High Speed North project, which runs into multi-billions. I will write to him, and I hope that he will come back to the Dispatch Box surprised and perhaps withdraw his words when he sees the multi-billion pounds that are being spent in the north right now.

Covid-19: Transport

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. I also thank him for the way in which he has maintained communication and shown a willingness to work together in the national interest.

I know that everyone in this House and at home will join me in sending our thanks to all transport workers across the country. As with all our frontline workers, they are the very best of us. It is so important that we give a voice to those workers. Even today, the official advice is found wanting and it will lead to confusion. The scenes we saw yesterday on public transport were unsurprising when the Government ordered a return to work with 12 hours’ notice but without the guidance being in place on how people can be kept safe. May I therefore ask the Secretary of State why his announcement was not made before the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday?

Secondly, the Government have produced guidance for bus passengers and operators, but it leaves too much to chance and fails to protect frontline workers. It risks a postcode lottery on standards and protection, and there is far too much “should”, “could”, “not always possible” and “as much as you can”, rather than clear, directive guidance. For bus drivers, for instance, the guidance is that PPE should not be used, but instead reserved for health and care staff. That is despite shocking figures released by the Office for National Statistics that show professional drivers, including those operating taxis, private hire vehicles, buses and goods vehicles, have some of the highest covid-19 fatality rates in the country. May I therefore ask the Secretary of State for the evidence base to support the position that the provision of PPE should not be provided for frontline staff on transport? What discussions have taken place to ensure co-operation across our devolved nations to offer clear and consistent standards for transport, such as buses and rail that, of course, crosses from nation to nation?

When the Secretary of State says he announced last week a £2 billion fund for cycling, it sounded awfully familiar. Will he confirm that that actually is not new money, but was instead announced pre-lockdown back in February? In that context, can he confirm whether it has now been paid to local councils?

The Secretary of State touched on the aviation sector in the guidance that has been produced. A number of airlines have already announced a significant number of redundancies, affecting tens of thousands of jobs directly and throughout the supply chain.

Even as we transition to a green economy, protecting jobs now so that people can be reskilled for the future is critical. It will be far easier to transition from a point of strength rather than of weakness. The Government have failed to offer a sectoral deal for aviation. There is a real chance to set conditions on staff wages, payments to UK-based suppliers, a shift to green technology, demand that those who seek our help pay fairly into the tax system, as well as halt the payment of shareholder dividends. Why have the Government failed to act?

Aviation is not alone. We have seen this with ferry operators and the announcement of more than 1,100 jobs at risk with P&O. The Prime Minister’s 14-day quarantine proposal is a total mess. It states that everyone must be quarantined, unless they come from anywhere in the world via France, which is one of the worst affected countries in Europe after the UK. Will the Government produce the scientific advice that justifies why France should be exempt from that policy? Why have the Government decided that now is the time to implement this measure, two months after other countries introduced it? More than 18 million passengers have entered the UK since January. Will the Government publish the scientific advice that led to that change now and not earlier?

Finally, we urgently need a comprehensive plan for transport. The public rightly demand an end to the chaos surrounding the exit plan. The risk is not just that more lives will be lost needlessly, but that the economic damage will be far deeper, hurting our communities for a generation to come. The Opposition will continue to work together in the national interest, but the Secretary of State must take a message back to the Cabinet table: no more confusion, no more reckless briefings, and no more delay. This is a national crisis that needs a Government who are fit to respond to it, and we hope for the country that that comes sooner, rather than later.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I welcome the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on his new post. He is right to raise a number of those issues, in particular the extraordinary work being done by our transport workers. I thought it might be worth updating the House on the latest information I have about the number of those who have sadly died with covid-19, although that was not necessarily through their jobs—we do not know. The latest number I have from Transport for London is 42 people, and on Network Rail, including train operating companies, the latest number I have is 10. Our thoughts are with all their friends and families at this difficult time.

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention concerns about overcrowding, and I contacted the office of the Mayor of London regarding Transport for London. We are working closely with him to try to ensure that the number of services is ramped up quickly. As I said in my opening comments, however, we can have 100% of services, but that will not prevent overcrowding because social distancing now requires much more space. I am working proactively with the Mayor to try to bring in as much marshalling as possible by TfL, and elsewhere, including on Network Rail. We have been working with the British Transport Police who even yesterday deployed several hundred people. Most of all, I appeal to the public to listen to our message, and to please avoid public transport unless they absolutely need to take it as a key worker. People should look for alternative means of travel, either active, or by using their car if they have one available.

The hon. Gentleman said that the advice is not specific enough, and I hope he has had a chance to read it. Other commentators have said that it is surprisingly specific and detailed across all the different sectors, including the two pieces of advice that have been provided today. I do try to provide the balance. His wider point seems to be that the advice is not specific enough, for example on what bus operators should do. Buses look and feel different throughout different parts of the country, depending on the make and model, and on the systems run by local bus operators. It is not possible to provide that level of advice company by company, operator by operator, because TfL will be very different to a Metro tram operator. We have provided very good overall advice. Our officials are working closely with the operators, unions, and others, and much of the advice is very similar. We all know about social distancing, washing hands, and the basics.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the evidence base, and I would be happy to organise a briefing for him on that. Public Health England, and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, have been very clear that there is no case for the use of medical level PPE in transportation. It depends, of course, on what someone is doing. Sitting in a cab driving a train is a fairly solitary activity, so there is no requirement in such a situation, but if someone has more contact with the public, things will vary. I extend to him, as I have done to others, the offer of a briefing on these matters. In fact, either tomorrow or Thursday we are giving a joint briefing to which I have invited unions and operators of buses and other forms of transport.

The hon. Gentleman also queried the £2 billion for cycling. I made this point clear when I announced the money. He will recall from before his time in this role that we announced £5 billion for bikes and buses. Some of this money—£1.7 billion—is part of that funding, as I said when I made the announcement. We have brought it forward so that we can get on with it, particularly given the emergency situation and the need to widen pavements and provide thoroughfares for cycling.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the airlines. I welcome the shift in tone from that of his predecessor, who never once encouraged me to support aviation. I agree about jobs, but he is wrong to say there has not been the support there. Almost uniquely, the aviation sector has enjoyed something that has not been widely advertised, but I will let him into it: not only can the industry access the very generous support provided by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer, which he extended further an hour or so ago from this Dispatch Box, but, in addition to all the other Government support, aviation can enter into a process of discussion if the existing types of support are not sufficient. Without breaching commercial confidentiality, I can tell him that a number of such discussions between the Department and aviation organisations, be they airlines, airports or ground support companies, are taking place.

Similarly, on P&O, perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not spot it, but we have supported a range of maritime freight—in some cases, that has included P&O—to provide connectivity, not just from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but between Great Britain and 26 other ports in Europe.

The policy of quarantining for 14 days is a Home Office lead. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but I can tell him quite straightforwardly that, going into this crisis, the advice was not to instigate quarantining, mainly because we had millions of Brits to bring home, but also because, according to the scientists—I had this very conversation with the chief medical officer before the lockdown began and he explained it to me—it would at best have delayed things by three, four or five days; sadly, it would not have prevented us from experiencing the epidemic. Again, he is very welcome to see that advice.

As we come out of this, as we control the virus in this country, with the facilities now in place to track and trace and the number of tests that can be carried out, of course we very much need to stop it continuing. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that as well.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Grant Shapps and Jim McMahon
Thursday 30th January 2020

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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It has taken seven minutes for the subject to be raised. I do not wish to disappoint my hon. Friend, but he will not have to wait very long. We will make an announcement next month.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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I welcome the pre-announcement of the HS2 commitment, but our local services are important. Funds are being developed for a tram link from Bury to Middleton, and hopefully through to Oldham, but we need to connect the whole north-east of Greater Manchester. Will the Secretary of State commit to a meeting, at least, to discuss a link from Oldham to Ashton?