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The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): I am pleased to report that the National Rail Academy was formally established on 1 April. Its aim is to provide a cost-effective means of ensuring that the rail industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time.
Mr. Martlew : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the announcement, having pushed for the National Rail Academy for more than five years. My worry is that it will be a virtual academy and that virtually no training will take place. We need a chief executive, and we need a headquarters. What progress has been made?
Mr. Spellar: As my hon. Friend probably expects, the Strategic Rail Authority has, since the announcement, been approached by a large number of organisations about where the academy should be located and what it should do. The SRA will consider those views to establish what the industry needs and is prepared to support before it chooses the route forward. The idea is that the academy will be not a single, bricks-and-mortar establishment, but a strategic co-ordinating facility that is able to develop new and existing training facilities around the country as it works with the industry. I take the point, which my hon. Friend has made to me personally, that when it is decided where to locate the
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that it is now 14 months since the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), talked about the allocation of funds to the academy, can the Minister at least tell the House what he expects the public expenditure cost of the academy to be in this financial year?
Mr. Spellar: That is a matter for the Strategic Rail Authority, which will be working with the industrythe train operating companies, Network Railand the contracting companies that work with the industry. As I said, the key role of the rail academy is to act as a co-ordinating organisation. That role may develop, especially in identifying skills shortages in the industry. The concept of the academy is to work with the industry, co-ordinating training that is already being undertaken, and also to look at the skills shortages. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as a result of his party's privatisation programme and the way in which it was implemented by the train operators, we had substantial redundancies among a number of skills, not least in signalling and train driving, which led to the shortage that has created considerable problems for the industry. The rail academy will be addressing that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Since the Environmental Protection Act 1990 code of practice came into force, responsibility for clearing litter on all-purpose trunk roads, with the exception of design, build, finance and operate managed roads, has rested with local authorities. Responsibility for clearing litter on motorways lies with the Highways Agency.
Mr. Mullin : Has my hon. Friend noticed the shocking state of the verges along many of our motorways and trunk roads, and that the same plastic bags often appear to be hanging from the same shrubs week in and week out? Is it not obvious that the existing arrangements are not satisfactory? What can he do to help the Highways Agency and those to whom it subcontracts to take the issue more seriously?
Mr. Jamieson: I share my hon. Friend's concern about litter on some of our major roads. At best it is unsightly, and at worst it is dangerous to people and to wildlife, and of course it puts off visitors to areas where there might be a considerable number of tourists. The picture across the country is variable: some local authorities take their responsibilities seriously, but others do not. The Highways Agency inspects trunk roads on a basis of between seven and 28 days, and where appropriate will bring things to the attention of
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): The Minister will be aware that land adjoining roads and railways can be an important refuge for wildlife. He will also be aware of the slash and burn clearances undertaken by transport authorities in many parts of the country. Does he share my concern about that approach, and what representations will he be making about it, especially to Network Rail?
Mr. Jamieson: The Highways Agency and Network Rail have to take appropriate action because, as the hon. Gentleman will know, trees blow on to railway lines or roads. However, I accept his general concern about the state of the verges although, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), it is variable. In extreme cases, if people have a complaint, they can go to the magistrates court and obtain a litter abatement order to oblige the authority to act.
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The Highways Agency does not currently collect sufficient information on traffic speeds to answer that question. However, the installation of new technology and the opening of the traffic control centre next year should enable such data to be provided in the future.
Mr. Jack : If ever an answer illustrated complacency about the real need to get something moving on the M6 to convert it from its current car park status, that was it. The Minister knows that thousands of hours are wasted by businesses and individuals stuck in congestion on the M6. We welcome the publication of the multi-modal study and we look forward to the opening of the Birmingham relief road, but will he tell us when there will be some concerted action to speed up the labyrinthine processes that must be gone through to determine what is self-evidentthat the M6 capacity needs expanding now? When will that happen?
Mr. Spellar: In no way did I suggest that we were not aware of the considerable problems of congestion on the M6 and on a number of Britain's highways. That is precisely why we, like the right hon. Gentleman, welcome the opening shortly of the M6 toll road and why, fairly shortly, improvement work will be undertaken on the A500 south of Stoke. That is also why, as he drives up the M6, he will see the considerable number of message boards going up that will enable real-time running and management of the network.
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): My right hon. Friend just mentioned the south of Stoke, which, of course, is consistent with the name of my constituency. Will he agree, however, that any consideration of measures to relieve congestion on the M6, particularly in relation to the MidMan study, would be conditional, in an important way, on the Strategic Rail Authority having the funds to ensure that any rail developments as a result of that study are undertaken? In relation to extending the M6 to four lanes, it is essential that road pricing is also considered because of its effect on traffic movements, as part of those important projects.
Mr. Spellar: Probably the biggest expenditure in the railway sector is taking place in precisely that corridor in relation to the west coast main line. A huge amount of work is being undertaken, and a lot of work is being done by the Strategic Rail Authority to compress the time scales for improving the service on that line and to bring about the refurbishment of the line and substantial improvements in times and reliability.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): If the Government are really so concerned about congestion, why did they sign up to the extension of the working time directive to heavy goods vehicle drivers and to the ludicrous restrictions in that directive, which will result in lorry drivers having to work during the day rather than at night, with lorries being transferred from travelling overnight to using the motorways during the day? Why have the Government not produced a regulatory impact assessment on this ludicrous measure? When that assessment is conducted, will it include the impact on congestion on the M6?
Mr. Spellar: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is speaking in favour of lorry drivers working excessive hours, given the impact that that can have on their safety and the safety of others. Beyond the rhetoric, if he looks at the details of both the working time directive, and of course the amending directive, what he must consider is the real impact on the road haulage industry, particularly with regard to times of availability or non-driving hours. He will find that that impact is much less than he claims, as a number of people in the industry are now saying. He must say whether he wants people working excessive hours driving heavy goods vehicles on our roads.