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Piggyback Trains

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether the piggyback trains that won the SRA's freight innovation competition have passed the tests necessary for certification to ensure that they comply with the W6A loading gauge to (a) UIC and (b) Railtrack Group Standards; and when certification was granted. [61277]

Mr. Jamieson: The SRA have been assured by Babcock, the manufacturers of the wagon, that it will meet the criteria for W6A gauge. Certification takes place when manufacture is complete. This is expected by the end of September 2002.

Large Goods Vehicles

Phil Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the average age is of drivers of large goods vehicles. [61484]

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Mr. Jamieson: The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's latest statistics, for March 2000, indicate that the average age of drivers of large goods vehicles is 42.6 years.

Phil Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with representatives of the road haulage industry about projected shortages of large goods vehicles drivers. [61483]

Mr. Jamieson: The road haulage industry is responsible for recruiting, retaining and training the workforce it needs, including LGV drivers.

The Government has discussed on many occasions the challenges the industry is facing through the Road Haulage Forum, and set up over a year ago a separate training sub-group which includes representatives of the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, and the Transport and General Workers Union. The sub-group, which is chaired by Edward Roderick, Chief Executive of Christian Salvesen, met most recently on 24 May.

Through the main Forum the training sub-group has access to funds from the Road Haulage Modernisation Fund. We have already committed an initial £5 million to a package of measures including an expansion of the Young Drivers Scheme, a demonstration project under Modern Apprenticeships and a feasibility study on transferable training loans. The measures are aimed at helping the industry recruit more young people and protecting employer investment in training.

Rail Capacity

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what his policy is for increasing capacity on the London, Tilbury Southend rail line to enable it to meet the Strategic Rail Authority target for passenger numbers; and if he will make a statement. [61097]

Mr. Jamieson: C2C, the current franchise operator, has introduced new rolling stock and is considering measures to increase the numbers of passengers travelling. The Strategic Rail Authority has commissioned work on a Capacity Utilisation Policy, which is intended ultimately to cover all rail routes. The objective of this work is to ensure that track capacity is used most effectively so that the optimum number of train paths is made available on each route, enabling the greatest number of trains to run.

Canvey Island

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will have discussions on the provision of an additional access road for Canvey Island passing over land to the west of Canvey Island controlled by Thurrock Unitary Authority. [61141]

Mr. Jamieson: Working out a satisfactory solution to the problems of Canvey Island is a matter for the local authorities in partnerships with the community, business, transport operators and others, as part of the Thames Gateway proposals. The Department is not in a position to promote schemes in areas where local authorities must take the lead. Therefore, at this stage, the Secretary of State has no plans to hold any discussions on the provision of a third access to Canvey Island.

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Blue Badge Scheme

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) how many representations were received in response to the consultation discussion paper on the blue badge scheme by the Disabled Person's Advisory Committee; [61915]

Mr. Jamieson: A total of 307 responses were received to the discussion paper on the blue badge scheme which was issued in December 2001. The Disabled Persons Transport Committee (DPTAC) were asked to look at those responses and they submitted their recommendations to Ministers at the beginning of May. We are currently considering their report and would plan to publish it when we announce a decision on the future shape of the Scheme during this summer. We will then be looking at the mechanics of implementation and consulting again on firm proposals.

General practitioners have never had the power to issue blue badges. They may be consulted as part of the assessment process but the final decision on eligibility is made by the issuing authority against the criteria listed in The Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (England) Regulations 2000 [SI 2000/682]. The role of GPs in this procedure is being considered as part of the current review of the Scheme and I would not want to pre-empt our full consideration of DPTAC's report at this stage.

No records are kept centrally by my Department on the number of charges and convictions for misuse of disabled persons' parking cards. there is no legal requirement for local authorities to collate such data.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action he is taking to reduce (a) abuse of the Blue Badge Scheme and (b) the use of disabled parking bays by unqualified users. [61343]

Mr. Jamieson: The Blue Badge Scheme only applies to on-street parking. Local authorities, who are responsible for administering the scheme, have a wide variety of powers available to tackle abuse.

In terms of the badge:


In respect of disabled persons parking bays:


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The issues of abuse and misuse of badges are a major part of a review of the scheme that we are currently undertaking. We have already held a wide ranging consultation and the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC, our statutory advisers on the transport needs of disabled people) have considered the responses and have put forward recommendations to Ministers. We are currently considering their report and we hope to be able to make a decision on the way forward during the summer.

In the meantime, it is open to anybody to bring instances of abuse to the attention of the police, traffic wardens or the appropriate local authority and we will continue to work with these bodies and with organisations representing disabled people to minimise the potential for abuse and misuse.

Rail Franchises

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the answer of 15 October 2001 from the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Official Report, column 875W, on rail franchises, what progress has been made; and if he will make a statement. [61840]

Mr. Jamieson: The Strategic Rail Authority is continuing its negotiations with Stagecoach Group plc.

Braer

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the answers of 28 November 2001, Official Report, column 935W, on the Braer, what assessment his Department made of the Marine Accidents Investigation Board conclusion that the tanker Braer was seaworthy when it entered British territorial waters. [62250]

Mr. Jamieson: The Department has no reason to question the assessment made by the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch that the tanker Braer was seaworthy at the start of her final voyage.

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the answer of 28 November 2001, Official Report, column 935W, on the Braer, on what grounds the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents decided that the logbooks did not constitute new and important evidence. [62251]

Mr. Jamieson: The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents carefully examined the copies of the logbooks kept by the shore loading terminal and noted that reference was made to 'steam line problems'. The grounds on which he made his assessment was that while the entries would have been made based on information provided by the ship, the overwhelming evidence from every other source indicates that the problems on board were confined to feedwater pipework and not the steam system. This was freely admitted but did not constitute the vessel being declared unseaworthy.

The Chief Inspector has, therefore, concluded that the logbooks do not constitute "new and important" evidence to justify the re-opening of the Braer investigation.

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