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Track Bed Maintenance

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent changes have been made to the (a) practice and (b) regularity of track bed maintenance on the railways; and if he will make a statement. [66309]

Mr. Jamieson: This is an operational matter for Railtrack. However, I understand from Railtrack that there have been no recent changes.

Variable Speed Limits

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what (a) guidance has been given by his Department to (i) the Highways Agency and (ii) local authorities and (b) legislation is in place covering variable speed limits; and if he will make a statement. [66007]

Mr. Jamieson: Section 84 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as amended by section 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1991 provides for local authorities to create variable speed limits.

Similarly, sections 17(2) and (3) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 provides for the Highways Agency to create variable speed limits on special roads.

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Guidance on variable speed limits is contained in Circular Roads 2–92.

EU Public Service Requirements Regulation

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the European Commission on the EU Public Service Requirements Regulation; and if he will make a statement. [66315]

Mr. Jamieson: In July 2000 the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation concerning public service requirements and the award of public service contracts in passenger transport by rail, road and inland waterway. An amended proposal was published in February 2002. This proposal is intended to stimulate more efficient and attractive public transport through the use of regulated competition and other measures and to promote legal certainty for authorities and operators.

There have been discussions at, and progress reports to, the Transport Council on several occasions, but neither I nor other departmental Ministers have had specific discussions with the European Commission regarding this proposal.

Road Deterioration

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proposals he will put in place to ensure that local authorities (a) halt the deterioration of the local road network by 2004 and (b) eliminate the backlog by 2010. [66011]

Mr. Jamieson: The Government are providing over £30 billion for local road maintenance over the period of the 10-year Transport Plan, an extra £9 billion (23 per cent. in real terms) above the funding levels in the previous 10 years.

Local authority road condition is monitored annually by Best Value Performance Indicators. DfT is also working with local authorities to develop more efficient management systems for carriageways, bridges and street lighting.

Road Pricing

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he intends to implement road pricing in south-east England following the recent publication of the London Orbital multi-modal study. [66057]

Mr. Jamieson: There are no plans to do so.

Rural Transport

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what support for (a) rural transport partnerships and (b) community based projects in rural areas he has given in the last two years; and if he will make a statement; [66569]

Mr. Jamieson: Specific funding for flexible transport services in rural areas, such as demand responsive buses, dial-a-ride schemes and shared taxis, is available through my Department's Rural Bus Challenge and the Countryside Agency's Rural Transport Partnership and Parish Transport

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Fund programmes. The Rural White Paper published in November 2000 announced that £60 million, £32 million, and £15 million would be made available for these three programmes respectively over the period 2001–02 to 2003–04. Local authorities can also use their revenue support grant to fund flexible transport services.

Total spending on rural transport partnerships and other community-based transport projects in rural areas through the Rural Bus Challenge and Rural Transport Partnership programme in the last two financial years are as follows.

£ million

Rural bus challengeRural transport partnership

The 2000–01 rural transport partnership figure includes funding for the Countryside Agency's rural transport development fund, which merged with its rural transport partnership programme in April 2001.

London Underground

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) for what reason a 95 per cent. public sector guarantee was given to the London Underground PPP; who will finance this guarantee, if invoked; and whether the guarantee constitutes a form of state aid to the PPP; [65487]

Mr. Jamieson: Negotiation of the contracts is a matter for London Underground. However, in general, it is common for the terms of a contract to change as a result of negotiation. Office of Government Commerce guidance states that the principle governing risk transfer is not to transfer all possible risks, but rather to allocate risk to whomever from the public or private sector is able to manage it at least cost. London Transport has sought to act in line with this guidance in the course of its negotiations with bidders for the London Underground PPPs.

I understand the contracts provide that, in certain circumstances where a private sector infrastructure company persistently breaches the contract and no alternative contractor can be found, London Underground can take control of the infrastructure company at a price that allows for 95 per cent. of approved third-party bank and bond debt to be repaid. None of the finance provided by the shareholders would be repaid. London Transport considers these contract provisions to be in line with its aim of optimising value for money overall, balancing the cost of raising finance against the need to provide the private sector

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with a strong incentive to meet contractual obligations to improve performance. London Underground's obligations under the PPP contracts will initially be backed by a guarantee from London Regional Transport. It is the Government's intention to transfer London Underground to Transport for London in line with the provisions of the GLA Act 1999, and London Regional Transport's guarantee will be transferred to Transport for London at the same time.

The Secretary of State also intends to issue a letter of comfort in relation to the London Underground PPPs. This is intended to clarify his role in relation to the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, including his intentions towards providing funding in respect of London Underground. This letter of comfort was reported to Parliament using the Minute procedure on 20 March 2002.

Whether these arrangements constitute state aid is a matter for the European Commission in the context of the Government's notification to the Commission on 12 April.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what estimate he has made of the public subsidy which will be necessary each year to fund the improvements made to the London Underground under the PPP; [65495]

Mr. Jamieson: The Government will ensure that London Underground has sustained and secured funding to meet its contractual obligations to the infrastructure companies for delivering the massive increase in investment expected under the tube modernisation plans. I refer the hon. Member to the proposed letter of comfort that was reported to Parliament using the Minute procedure on 20 March 2002.

National Air Traffic Control Services

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimates he has made of the losses to British airlines and businesses caused by failures of the computer system at the new National Air Traffic Control Services. [64560]

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Mr. Jamieson: No such estimate has been made of the losses caused to airlines and other businesses.

There have been three failures of computer systems at NATS' Air Traffic Control Centres this year. Two have occurred to the Flight Data Processing System at West Drayton and one was attributable to a faulty work station at the new centre at Swanwick.

A number of immediate actions have been taken, including a successful upgrade to the software in the system at West Drayton. NATS are confident that the problems that have caused these three system failures have been addressed.

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