Huw Merriman – 2022 Speech on Transport

The speech made by Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2022.

It is with great excitement that I rise to speak in this transport debate. I could go on all day, but I am well aware of your time limit requirements, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving us time to hold this debate; he has a great passion for transport, as we saw in his time as Mayor of London. I place on record my thanks to the members of the Transport Committee, some of whom are here today, and to the Department and its Ministers, who always engage proactively with us. They have accepted many of our recommendations, and we look forward to continuing to scrutinise them and to coming up with policy ideas that we think can make transport better. Transport matters because it is the one policy area that has an impact on pretty much every single person in this country, every single day. That is why I am so excited to speak about some of these measures.

I want to take hon. Members on a quick canter through some of the modes, and then talk a little about decarbonisation in each sector. This week, we heard from local government representatives. As has been said, 31 of the 79 bids under the bus service improvement plan were successful. I know that there has been some criticism on the grounds that all local transport authorities should have funds, but I believe that there needs to be a competitive process in which only the best ideas are funded. The best can then be taken on board by other local transport authorities, which may not be given the money, but can learn how it can be well spent. The lesson is that local transport authorities and indeed county halls across the country need to be aware that these bidding processes will continue, and not just for transport. Authorities need to have not just specialists, but bidding departments that can successfully bid.

On rail, I really welcome the forthcoming legislation on Great British Railways. The Transport Committee has been concerned that those with the train set in the Department for Transport do not particularly want to give it away to the mix of the public and private sector that will be taking these things on board on an arm’s length basis. I would like the private side of the rail sector to be given the opportunity to remain involved: it is the private side of the rail sector that has doubled rail passenger numbers over the past 20 years. We need that attitude now more than ever, given the issues from the pandemic.

I recognise and welcome the £96 billion of integrated rail plan funding. It must always be frustrating for the Minister to hear someone say that and then demand more, but I would like us to look in particular at the station opportunities at Manchester, Bradford and certainly Leeds, which seems to be at full capacity. Also, as the Mayor of the West Midlands has made clear, the midlands rail hub will allow the new grade of track to be shared across the wider region. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to continue to listen and be involved in that project.

On aviation, we must learn lessons from the pandemic. We must have future-proofing so that if there is another variant of concern, we know how to react without another disproportionate impact on the aviation sector. We also need help for the sector to recover. That means more flexibility on staffing, especially security staff, so that they can be vetted and perhaps do some of their training as they go. We also need airspace modernisation to deliver both decarbonisation and more planes. I hear the Minister when he says that Heathrow landing charges are a matter for the independent regulator, but can Ministers test the numbers? The aviation industry says that the numbers will be much greater than Heathrow is saying. The lower the numbers for Heathrow, the higher the cost and the more justification for increasing the landing charges, which would hold us all back.

As we have left the European Union, we can surely do more on slot allocation reform. And can we please have the airline insolvency review? I have stood here so many times calling for it. We keep talking about it, but we do not deliver it. The Civil Aviation Authority should not be the body that repatriates customers who are stranded.

Daniel Kawczynski

My hon. Friend does an excellent job of chairing the Transport Committee. What is he doing to ensure that the road building projects that we secure for our constituencies—we have secured more than £50 million for the completion of the north-west relief road in Shrewsbury—do not get stuck in the planning process? Some of us are finding the planning process very laborious and complex. Is the Select Committee interacting with the Government to ensure that planning processes for the construction of roads are speeded up?

Huw Merriman

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are halfway through the £24.5 billion road investment strategy 2 programme. My call—I think it probably aligns with his—is that that is closely monitored and that in place of those projects that are going to be held up, shovel-ready projects that might have been in RIS3 can be put in RIS2. I think that there are issues on that front in relation to the A303. The Committee pledges to look at that.

My hon. Friend takes me on to roads. I am keen that we continue with the audit of smart motorways to ensure that roads are safer, with some of the retrospective fittings that should perhaps have been made in the first place. I recognise the Department’s commitment on that front.

In the Bill, can we prohibit pavement parking outside London? That approach has worked in London since the early 1970s, and it is time to take it elsewhere.

In urban centres, 50% of all journeys will need to be active by 2030 if we are to hit our target. Can we embrace change, technology and innovation? I know that some will speak about e-scooters and say that more needs to be done to tackle them. At the moment they are illegal, but they are out there and nothing seems to stop them. It is better to regulate and control them and make them better than to pretend that they do not exist. How is it that I can buy a bike or a car, but only hire an e-scooter? Surely it is time to catch up with science.

On decarbonisation, I welcome the commitment to 4,000 zero-emission buses. I know that 2,000 have been funded, but not enough are on the road right now. We need to do more to get them delivered, not least because it helps our manufacturing sector, as they are unique to this country.

Although 37% of our rail track is electrified, there are another 6,100 miles to go. We need to look at hydrogen and bio mode, but electrification is the only game in town at the moment. If we had a rolling programme in place, perhaps we would be able to deliver it more cheaply than the £2.5 million per mile that it currently costs. Germany has a rolling programme that costs £500,000 per mile. The more we do, the cheaper it becomes.

On aviation, we need to back a winner, and sustainable aviation fuel is that winner. It needs a mandate and a contracts for difference market, which is delivered for electricity. The Government can really do more on that front.

On maritime, as well as protecting seafarers—we need to look at insolvency legislation all over again with regard to employment rights—we know that moves are afoot in the European Union on biometric testing, which will hammer our ports and our short supply chain routes if we do not do more.

Finally, on road, I welcome the 2030 target, but it will be incredibly difficult to meet if we do not get more people buying electric vehicles. The zero-emission vehicle mandate is a great idea, but it comes into force only in 2025. Only 6.6% of new cars sold are electric. In the second-hand car market it is only 0.3%, although those may be a previous year’s figures. We are doing a lot more. Range anxiety will reduce as the Government invest more in smart charging and develop interoperability, but I am worried about delivering for people, especially the third of all households that do not have charging at home.

Once we all have electric vehicles, there will be a hole in the Exchequer because 4% of all tax receipts come from fuel duty or vehicle excise duty. That is £35 billion of funds. Only about 20% of that goes on to the road, so if we want to continue to invest in roads as well as schools and hospitals, we will have to find a way of replacing those taxes. It is time for road pricing. It will work; we have the technology to allow it to work. The beauty of it is that it is similar to the current system: the more you drive and the bigger your vehicle, the more you pay. It is time for bold decisions on such matters. We must not wait until it is too late. I know that the Government are all about bold decisions, and we will work very closely in that regard.