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Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 122.

Mr. Hill: Both the amendments are new clauses. One deals with quiet lanes and home zones, and the other with rural road speed limits. Both were introduced by the Government in response to Liberal Democrat amendments that were withdrawn.

Amendment No. 121 will give legal status to the concepts of quiet lanes and home zones, by enabling local traffic authorities to designate them. It will then give the appropriate national authority power to make regulations which, in turn, will enable local traffic authorities to make two new types of order in quiet lanes and home zones: use orders and speed orders. The appropriate national authorities are the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly for Wales.

Use orders will be particularly valuable in home zones, because they will give legal status to uses of the road for purposes other than the traditional one of "passing and repassing"--for example, purposes such as children's play, or simply standing around and talking. Safeguards will ensure that rights of passage, and access to premises, are protected.

Speed orders will enable the local traffic authority to introduce measures in individual quiet lanes and home zones to reduce traffic speeds below levels specified in the orders.

The amendment does not provide for pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders to be given formal precedence over motor vehicles, which was included in the Liberal Democrat amendment. The Government have thought carefully about that and I am glad to say that we are entirely at one with the Liberal Democrats on the objective, but we believe that it can be achieved within the existing law. We would not want to duplicate existing provisions.

Amendment No. 122--the rural road hierarchy clause--is less complex. However, I believe that it embraces the essence of the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats. The clause commits the Secretary of State to undertake a review of all the considerations

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required to implement the rural road hierarchy, to engage the devolved Administrations and to publish a report within 12 months.

Mr. Brake: I am obviously disappointed that the Government have not chosen to allow precedence to be given to walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. However, I seek clarification on one aspect of the amendment. Am I right in thinking that the Secretary of State will be required to authorise each home zone scheme? I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is not the case because it would be extremely impractical.

Mr. Drew: I very much welcome the changes. Believe it or not, the subject of speed is the hottest topic in my neck of the woods. Next week, as I seem to do every week, I shall meet constituents to talk about speeding, which is a nuisance in their lives and threatens, in particular, younger people.

I am concerned about the need for strategic planning to make the most effective use of home zones, speed control and changes in use. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be categorically stated in local transport plans and the partnership agreements that arise from them? Does he also agree that we should be making it clear to local authorities that they have an obligation not just to roll such schemes forward one at a time, but to ensure that there is cohesion and definite strategic thinking as regards their operation?

Mr. Don Foster: I join my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) in welcoming the amendments, and thank the Minister for generously acknowledging that they are based on amendments that were proposed by my noble Friends in another place.

It is fair, therefore, that I should pay tribute to the Government, and I acknowledge that they have already provided the opportunity for a number of home zone schemes to take place on a trial basis. It is interesting that the Government have agreed to the schemes taking place on a wider basis before we have had the results of the trials. Will the Minister say how those trials are proceeding?

Does the Minister agree that one problem is that local authorities have not given adequate attention to preparing the public for the introduction of home zones? They have not done enough to get the signs right to ensure that people can find their way around the areas covered by the schemes. Will he ensure that the Department provides advice on that to local authorities?

Has the Minister had an opportunity to see the recent work in Bradford? The local authority has introduced new speed limits as part of a home zone-type scheme. I was extremely impressed, as I am sure he would be, to see that it has not only used the traditional 20 mile-an-hour sign with a red circle around it, but--for whatever reason and by whatever authority I know not--ensured that the signs include illustrations by local school children of the benefits of cars travelling at slow speeds. If the Minister is not aware of that scheme, will he find out about it and let me and other interested Members know by what authority Bradford did that, so that I can at least get my local authority legally to pick up what is a very good idea?

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Mr. Hill: I shall begin by responding to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake). He asked for confirmation that each home zone would not require authorisation by the Secretary of State. That is the case. The Secretary of State will need to authorise use orders and speed orders, but not home zones as such.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) asked about strategic direction in the planning of home zones. He is absolutely right to identify local transport plans as the appropriate vehicle for the development and proposal of home zones. We certainly expect home zones and quiet lanes to be included in local transport plans where appropriate. By way of anecdote, I had a meeting recently with Wiltshire county council, which has some very exciting proposals for quiet lanes as part of its local transport plans. We shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion that we might include some guidance on the matter. At the moment, however, we do not insist on either the inclusion of home zones and quiet lanes in local transport plans, or a strategic plan on the matter.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for his kind words on this subject. He is perfectly right; I think that there are 11 pilot home zones at the moment. He asked how they were going. The home zone in my constituency, which I hasten to add was designated prior to my elevation to this high office, is not going at all, and I am bearing down on my local authority on the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton), who as we all know has been a great proponent of home zones, was telling me that the one in Peterborough at least is going splendidly. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be following up his reminder that one needs to track progress of home zones.

I shall certainly follow up the hon. Gentleman's suggestions about signs in Bradford. He asked by what authority Bradford had engaged in what sounds like a splendid initiative--especially the involvement of local schoolchildren. I shall write to him on the subject. I suspect that his point that the public are often not prepared for home zones is right, but that is of course the purpose of pilot schemes. We shall be garnering the experiences of the pilot schemes and, I dare say, providing advice in due course.

I am delighted that we have been able to conclude our proceedings on such a note of joy and unanimity.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 122 to 235 agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 27, 28, 29 and 31: Mr. Robert Ainsworth, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr. Phil Hope, and Mr. Robert Syms to be members of the Committee; Mr. Nick Raynsford to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.

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Connex South Central

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

10 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): It is appropriate to follow a transport debate with a debate about Connex South Central and its franchise. The Minister knows that the debate on Connex is one of Parliament's regular features; it happens every couple of months. I am sure that commuters in Carshalton Beeches, Carshalton, Wallington, Waddon and Hackbridge and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) would have it no other way.

The chronology of the franchise is well known. It was awarded in the dying days of the Conservative Government, and taken away from Connex and given to GoVia on 24 October. The period immediately before and after that date is of interest to my constituents. With a great fanfare, the contract was awarded to GoVia, but there were many similarities between the GoVia bid and that of Connex. I hope that the Minister can reveal the decisive factor in opting for GoVia rather than Connex. I am sure that he has had discussions about that with the shadow Strategic Rail Authority. Perhaps he can also explain how awarding the contract to GoVia fitted the Government's railway strategy.

Since the announcement that the franchise has been awarded to GoVia, there has been a deafening silence. In an attempt to get the ball rolling and to ensure that commuters know where they stand, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam and I have asked GoVia to commit itself to a 10-point action plan. Before outlining its content, I shall set out Connex's current position. The way in which Connex deals with the matter is crucial because it officially runs the franchise until 2003. In the past, the Minister has confirmed that there is little that the Government can do in practice if Connex chooses to hang on to the bitter end.

I understand that the chief executives of Connex and GoVia have met, and that GoVia wants the handover to happen early in 2001, although it is anticipated that it may take longer. I am pleased that Connex has said that it will be as co-operative as possible, but that various matters need to be tackled before the handover can take place. Does the Minister have a view about the likely handover date? Has he set a deadline, even if it is only in his mind, by which it must happen?

Connex has confirmed to GoVia that it wants the franchise to be passed on as a going concern so that the staff are transferred in an orderly fashion. Clearly, I want that, as do local commuters. A protracted handover could lead to staff departures, which would cripple GoVia's ability to run the service. What measures are in place to ensure an orderly transition? Will the Minister confirm that he expects Connex staff to be transferred to GoVia under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981?

Clearly, staff morale at Connex cannot be good since the loss of the franchise. Staff will seek reassurances about terms, conditions and pensions--a subject that we discussed earlier in relation to National Air Traffic Services--after the handover. Connex has stated that it is a big company and that it is in its interest to maintain its

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reputation by not allowing standards to go downhill between now and the handover. It has also confirmed that planned investment will go ahead. I am afraid that that is not necessarily the view of its customers.

Before I came to the House for the Adjournment debate, I heard a message that had been left on my office answering machine by someone who travels from Redhill on Connex. He said that he was already seeing deteriorations in the service and that such problems were caused not so much by bad weather as by the lack of train crew. Obviously, his concern is that the problems will worsen as the handover date approaches.

What does the Minister think Connex needs to do if it is to bid successfully for a rail franchise? As I said, there was relatively little difference between the Connex and GoVia proposals for the Connex South Central franchise. During the recent bad weather and disruption, Connex staff acquitted themselves fairly well in difficult circumstances. I have spoken with their representatives and know that some staff have been attacked by stressed passengers in the past few weeks.

I shall not discuss in detail all the points in GoVia's action plan because my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam also wants to speak, but it touched on the need to ensure that a proper plan of all intended works is displayed in stations so that passengers know exactly why they will experience disruption, and on the need to improve punctuality and closed circuit television systems.

The items that we listed in the 10-point action plan had been raised with us by commuters. If GoVia can guarantee to deliver those 10 points, commuters will believe that the end of their troubles is in sight. GoVia responded to our action plan by specifically saying that it would seek to keep customers as fully informed as possible of its plans and of progress, and that it envisaged displaying material in stations and on its website. It is also keen, apparently, to keep local Members of Parliament informed.

A key point is to make such information available, because customers--commuters--need to know that the service will probably get worse before it can improve. Investment is required and disruption may result from that. GoVia intends to introduce a new fleet of trains and to redevelop all stations. The fact that it will provide investment led it to assure us that it will deal with poor maintenance and cleaning. What are the Minister's views on how high levels of cleanliness can be enforced?

GoVia guarantees to replace its slam-door rolling stock by December 2004 at the latest, but says that that programme will be gradual and reliant on the delivery of new stock. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that GoVia does not have an opt-out clause--it must deliver replacements for the slam-door rolling stock by that date, irrespective of any reliance on the delivery of new stock. It will spend heavily on improving communications systems and will improve punctuality and run longer trains. That will be extremely welcome in the London borough of Sutton, where we all too often suffer from overcrowded trains. Has the Minister or the shadow SRA made a specific requirement to reduce overcrowding as part of the franchise deal to which GoVia will sign up?

GoVia will improve its customer services department. What does the Minister expect the turnaround time for complaints to be in that enhanced department? It will run more trains later, especially at weekends if there is

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sufficient demand. Does the Minister agree that, with leisure use booming, train companies should provide services that run much later on Fridays and Saturdays? That would allow people who go up to town for shows to get home at a reasonable hour.

Apparently, station security will be improved. What commitment does the Minister think the company will have to make to ensuring that all its stations are safe, and how soon will that have to happen?

The final point that we raised with the company related to orbital services. The company said that it would commit itself to providing the services outlined in its franchise, and that any other suggestions would be considered. Have the Government any plans to work with the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor to develop orbital rail services? That is surely one of the key ways of reducing traffic congestion. More orbital rail services will enable commuters who currently cannot travel into London and leave London by train, because it takes too long, to cut out a lot of car commuting in our part of London.

I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam a few minutes, so I will make just one final point. It was not included in our 10-point plan, but I want to put it on the record now. Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Paddington rail crash revealed that Thameslink--owned by GoVia--had a poor record in driver training, and a poor record in regard to scrutinising new recruits. What assurances have the Minister and the shadow SRA sought, in relation to training standards and the vetting procedures that will be employed by GoVia once it is running what is currently the Connex South Central service?

I apologise to the Minister. Once again, I have bombarded him with a series of questions. I see that he is on his own--there is no one in the Box to assist--but I hope he will be able to respond to those questions in detail in the near future, in writing if he cannot respond immediately. If he can respond, he will give commuters in Carshalton and Wallington a sense of security and some hope about the future of their train services, at a time when a sense of security and hope for the future of local rail services is distinctly missing.


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