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19 Nov 2002 : Column 492—continued

Congestion Charging and Parking

5. Clive Efford (Eltham): If he will make a statement on the ability of the DVLA to provide adequate information to support congestion charging and parking enforcement. [81312]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I am confident that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency fulfils its obligation to supply vehicle and keeper information to support congestion charging and parking enforcement. The DVLA and Transport for London have conducted extensive tests to support congestion charging and I understand that TfL are satisfied with the accuracy of the information supplied.

Clive Efford : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the success or failure of charging schemes should be judged on the schemes themselves, not on the failure of any other organisation? I congratulate him on the work that he has done in the past year to improve the efficiency of the DVLA, but does he agree that we need it to be efficient to ensure the smooth exchange of information between the enforcement agencies and to target those people who provide false information and try to avoid paying vehicle excise duty?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend has raised his legitimate concerns about that issue in the Chamber and in the Transport Committee. In the practical trials that TfL has undertaken with the DVLA, TfL has been very satisfied with the quality of the data that it has received from the DVLA. TfL will follow up by other means those people who try to avoid the congestion charge. My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Vehicle Crimes Act 2001 introduced a system of continuous registration, which will give great encouragement and incentive to people who sell or dispose of a vehicle to ensure that the address of a new keeper is passed on. That will further improve the quality of the records.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Does the Minister accept that the London congestion charging

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scheme, which includes the areas of Vauxhall and Bermondsey, is a regressive tax that will hit the lowest paid hardest?

Mr. Jamieson: No.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Minister will know that the mayor is given draconian powers to impound and, if necessary, sell vehicles that regularly avoid the congestion charge. Does he agree with those powers and, if so, should not those powers be extended to other London boroughs and local authorities to deal with those drivers who regularly avoid paying charges by using false number plates or giving false names?

Mr. Jamieson: Any powers that have been given to the mayor have been given to him by this Parliament. The DVLA follows up people who persistently do not pay the licence fee. As he will know, in a scheme in his area we have been identifying some of those vehicles and, if necessary, confiscating and crushing them. Those powers are available to the DVLA and the quality of the information that is now provided to local authorities will help them to take swifter action against abandoned cars, which are a problem in almost every constituency.

Transport Projects (Financing)

6. Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): What recent discussions he has had with the Treasury regarding the financing of transport projects in the United Kingdom. [81313]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The Secretary of State regularly discusses the financing of UK transport projects with the Treasury.

Mrs. Calton : I thank the Minister for that brief answer. What steps is he taking to ensure the effective monitoring of work and expenditure in projects such as the west coast main line, in order to avoid a future fiasco such as the failure to deliver passenger upgrade 1 and passenger upgrade 2?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Lady rightly identifies the chronic failure of Railtrack to deliver on the west coast main line. That is why we had to put the company into administration, why Network Rail had to be created and why the work has now been transferred to Network Rail under a much more professional management. I thank her for her tribute to the work that we have undertaken in that regard.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend aware that an 11-strong team in the Treasury is now apparently taking transport decisions? It is suggested that an arrangement is being reached between his Department and the Treasury on several major financing projects. In future, who will be responsible for such transport projects?

Mr. Spellar: It will, of course, be the Department of Transport, as part of collective responsibility. Given the considerable investment that is required by and being put into transport, it would be extraordinary if discussions did not take place between the finance

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Department and the relevant Department about how to operate the programme. Not least, we will be looking at a number of special-purpose vehicles in the rail industry, as my hon. Friend will be aware. In addition, the ongoing public-private partnerships are significant in financial terms. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that such discussions were right and proper, and that the Transport Committee, which she chairs, would be asking questions if we were not involved in them.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Has the Minister asked the Treasury whether it plans to finance the new runway that he assumes will be built at Luton airport? Is he aware that my constituents will be severely affected by plans to expand Luton airport to the size of Gatwick airport? They are extremely angry that his report on the matter is unique in assuming that there will be a new runway at Luton, whereas all other new runway projects are treated as optional. Will he promise to give my constituents' concerns treatment equal to that given to the concerns of all other people living near airports?

Mr. Spellar: Two issues are involved in that question. One has to do with the options in connection with airports, including Luton airport. The other has to do with the financing of the consequences of any decision. The local community has given the proposed expansion of Luton airport very considerable support. [Interruption.] Perhaps the people of Luton are looking forward to the jobs that will be created, in contrast to the not-in-my-back-yard position adopted by some Opposition Members. Luton residents have shown considerable support for the project.

However, the proposal regarding Luton airport is being put up for consultation in the same way that all the other options are. We wait to hear the views of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and other hon. Members on that option, and the views of the wider community, industry and trade unions. We look forward to receiving the right hon. Gentleman's representations on the matter.

As the right hon. Gentleman also knows—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister's answer is too long.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): When my right hon. Friend meets Treasury colleagues, will he urge them to speed up their consideration of the Merseytravel proposal for the first phase of a tram scheme that would provide a service to my constituency? Will he impress on them that the objective 1 element of the funding could be lost if they do not hurry up?

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend and his Merseyside colleagues have made that point forcibly before, to me and to other transport Ministers, and to Treasury Ministers. We have had some constructive discussions

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with the Mersey passenger transport executive and authority, and we hope to make an announcement in the near future.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): May I remind the Minister that he was due to meet me and a number of other hon. Members this morning in Tunbridge Wells to discuss improvements to the A21 route to Hastings? Is the #32 million financing for improvements to the Castle Hill stretch in place? Will that scheme be delivered, subject to local consultation, and when will it finally be built?

Mr. Spellar: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I had to go directly to Hastings today, where I was pleased to announce that work on the Lamberhurst bypass will commence in spring 2003. I also announced the opening of the exhibition showing the options for the route to Lamberhurst that connects the two stretches of dual carriageway, and for the route from Lamberhurst south to Hastings. The options are now out for consultation, and we await feedback from the public. We will then have discussions with the various statutory bodies involved to determine whether any planning inquires will be required. We look forward to the work being undertaken, because as the hon. Gentleman and I both know, the road is dangerous. It is also very important for regeneration in Hastings.

London Underground (Crime)

7. Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): How many crimes have been committed on the London Underground in each of the last three years. [81329]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): British Transport police recorded a total of 23,410 offences in the London Underground area during 1999–2000, 19,322 during 2000–01 and 18,230 during 2001–02. That reduction of more than a fifth in recorded offences reflects the success of the police's efforts, in partnership with London Underground, to tackle crime on the tube.

Mr. Cox : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he and the whole House will accept that there is still a serious problem of crime on the London underground. The activities of pickpockets are a particular problem, as a number of my constituents who travel by underground have sadly discovered recently. As it is the period leading up to Christmas and the new year, when people often travel with a large amount of money and a great many possessions, could not the police and the authorities that run London Underground embark on a campaign to bring to the attention of the travelling public the real dangers from crime on the London underground?

Mr. Spellar: London Underground and the British Transport police have co-ordinated a campaign called Operation Jackdaw, which is a crime reduction programme aimed at catching pickpockets and educating customers about the dangers of pickpocketing and mobile phone theft. They are also

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working on antisocial behaviour orders to remove some of the worst offenders from the network, so that they do not have the opportunity to reoffend.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Is the Minister aware that my constituents from Bexley who have to use the London underground not out of choice but out of economic necessity are concerned about the level of crime? Will he use his powers to encourage the British Transport police to have a greater presence, so that single women, in particular, who travel on the tube at difficult times of the day see a uniformed presence to put off the 20,000-odd people who feel that they are—and seem to be—getting away with it?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman should note that the figure is down to 18,000. That is too many, but we are bearing down heavily on those people. There has also been a considerable increase in closed circuit television coverage, which has aided and abetted the work of the police. The British Transport police have increased the number of regular officers employed in the London underground from 402 in 1999–2000 to 452. They are also working effectively with the Metropolitan police on the trains and in station surrounds, where ticket touting is a menace. That is a good example of joined-up policing and co-operation between London Underground and those two police forces, and it is having an effect.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Does the Minister agree that the problem of crime on London transport is even greater on single-crew buses? Drivers have to cope on their own with assault, robbery and vandalism. What plans does he have to enhance security?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is changing the subject.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The Minister will not get away with his complacent responses on this issue. Every day more than 50 crimes are committed on the London underground. Is it any wonder that Miss Moneypenny and other actresses and key opinion formers in London are convinced that the imposition of the congestion charge in London is unfair, because it will force the vulnerable to go on the tube when they would prefer to travel by car?

Mr. Spellar: I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to my earlier replies. I said that there has been a greater police presence, a substantial reduction in crime and co-operation with the Metropolitan police. One of the areas that women in particular are concerned about at night is station surrounds and the journey between the station and the car park. All those problems are being addressed, and we are having some success. I am only sorry that he cannot welcome that, because it is good news for the travelling public, especially the vulnerable.

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