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School Transport

3. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his proposals for school transport. [145866]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Transport and for Education and Skills announced joint proposals for school transport in the document, "Travelling to School: an action plan", which was published on 17 September last year.

Mr. Edwards : I thank my hon. Friend and assure him that I would fully support a school transport Bill that ended the legalised over-crowding that has occurred in many areas, but may I also express the concern that, if there is any threat to free school transport for those who live more than three miles from school, it would have a very serious effect in rural areas such as my own, where the comprehensive schools are 15 or 20 miles apart? May I ask the Government to consider that seriously?

Mr. Jamieson: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on school bus safety and school transport in general. I assure him that the pilots that we have announced, which we are funding with £7.5 million each year for the next two years, will examine new and innovative arrangements for providing school buses. Local people, parents, providers of services and schools would have to be consulted carefully on any proposed scheme. There might be many benefits for children who

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do not receive any bus service provision at the moment, including those who do not get a free service when travelling fewer than three miles, which may be of great benefit to many in rural areas.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Is the Minister aware that Staffordshire has purchased specialised school buses from the United States of America that resist impact when stationary and have flashing lights to stop cars overtaking when children are crossing the road? May I invite him to visit Staffordshire, which once again sets the way while the rest of the nation merely follows?

Mr. Jamieson: I would be pleased to visit Staffordshire and see the hon. Gentleman and I would also be pleased to go to other areas that have introduced American-style yellow school buses—I believe that they have been very successful. A dedicated school bus service is attractive to parents because the buses provide a safe environment and have regular drivers who get to know children. We are happy to examine any scheme under the local transport plan budget that will provide such quality transport for children going to school, as we have done recently in west Yorkshire, where we provided a substantial sum for yellow buses.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): The Government are trying to extend to as many parents as possible the choice of the school that they want their children to attend. It is quite easy to extend parental choice to the better-off because they can use cars to get their children to school, but the situation is more difficult for working-class children. Will the Government adopt a more flexible approach to their policy on free transport to schools so that working-class parents are able to send their children to the school of their choice?

Mr. Jamieson: I am in danger of straying into Education and Skills questions. When examining any proposal made by a local authority, we would consider whether it would reduce car use, create healthier journeys to school for children and give them the ability to cycle or walk when possible. However, we should especially consider how to create a system that would give an advantage to all children and not only those who benefit from the existing travel-to-school system.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will the Minister give an assurance that the introduction of pilot schemes will not lead to pressure on all local authorities to withdraw free school transport for children who, in areas such as Northumberland, might have to travel 10, 20 or 25 miles to school at high cost? Our area has already experienced the withdrawal of free transport for those over 16, which has had a consequential effect on people's willingness to carry on courses, so it is a worrying prospect.

Mr. Jamieson: There is no intention to introduce a widespread withdrawal of the free transport system. As I said, any scheme would have to meet certain criteria and, most importantly, there would have to be careful local consultation. The plan would not come from central Government to local government because it

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would have to be consulted on locally. We shall examine schemes to ensure that they would not disadvantage children who have to travel long distances, especially those in rural areas. It is important to remember that many children, especially those in rural areas, are not covered by the existing system. We want a much fairer system of travel to school that takes account of the needs of all children rather than only a few.

Airport Capacity

4. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): If he will set a date for revisiting the decisions announced in "The Future of Air Transport" White Paper in relation to demand for additional runways to be built at Glasgow International and Edinburgh airports. [145867]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Government's decisions in relation to additional runway capacity in central Scotland are set out in the White Paper that I published in December. These will not change in the foreseeable future, but the White Paper includes a commitment to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the approach that it sets out and we will report progress in 2006.

Mr. Tynan : Obviously, the economic argument in paragraph 5.7 of the White Paper is that express freight and flown mail are the main reasons why Edinburgh may achieve an additional runway. Does my right hon. Friend agree that he should consider whether there should be an additional runway at Glasgow, based on the facts that the M74 bypass will be in place by about 2007 and that a fast rail link could make the handling of air freight and flown mail at Glasgow airport an attractive proposition?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right. We expect air traffic to grow at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Prestwick, all of which serve central Scotland. He will no doubt bear it in mind that we do not think that any of those airports will need an additional runway before 2020, which is a considerable time away. The White Paper safeguarded the situation so that a second runway could be built at Edinburgh and, if necessary, Glasgow. Consequently, if we get the growth at Glasgow that my hon. Friend describes, it will be able to expand. We anticipate substantial expansion at Glasgow, with additional terminal facilities, as the airport continues to grow and expect people living in central Scotland in general to have a choice of not one but three airports—Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Has the Secretary of State considered the problem of blighted properties between now and 2020, the compensation that may be payable, and the position between Scotland and England and between municipally owned airports and privately owned airports, such as those owned by BAA?

Mr. Darling: Yes, I have. The proposals and the Government's conclusions are set out in the White Paper, which the hon. Lady has no doubt read.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab): Given that the success of Prestwick airport, as

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demonstrated over the past few years, is down to the fact that it is in separate ownership, will the Secretary of State consider the option of selling on some airports in the United Kingdom so that Glasgow and Edinburgh can compete with each other on a proper basis?

Mr. Darling: First, my hon. Friend is right that Prestwick airport has experienced dramatic growth compared with the position it was in four or five years ago. That is a tribute not just to the people who own it, but in particular to some of our colleagues who represent Ayrshire constituencies. I know that he has taken a keen interest in that.

BAA, which owns Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well as the main London airports and Southampton, is, of course, a private company. Its position in relation to competition is something on which the competition authorities would have to decide. They now take their decisions independent of Ministers, and rightly so.

Road Congestion

5. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If he will make a statement on his plans for traffic congestion reduction. [145868]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): We are tackling congestion through major investment in road improvements as well as measures to improve the flow of traffic and providing improved information for road users. Last July I announced a study to explore the feasibility of options for road pricing.

Tom Brake : The Secretary of State will recall the Deputy Prime Minister's statement that he should be held to account if he had not reduced road traffic within five years: of course, he failed. The current Secretary of State said that the Traffic Management Bill will allow our roads to be managed more effectively. When does he now expect congestion—not the rate of growth in congestion—to be reduced?

Mr. Darling: One reason why traffic growth has been so high is that the economy has grown strongly over the past six years. There is not an economy in the world in which such growth has not been accompanied by increased car ownership.

I have made it clear many times that the objectives set out in the 10-year plan, while admirable, were perhaps over-optimistic because the consequences of strong economic growth in relation to car ownership were not, I think, fully anticipated at the time. However, the measures that we are putting in place to deal with increased capacity on the roads and to manage better the flow of traffic on roads, as well as the longer term measures that we are considering, such as road pricing, all mean that people will continue to go about their day-to-day business, but, we hope, on less congested roads.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that congestion occurs not only in England but in Scotland as well. Congestion on the M74 into Glasgow has been mentioned. Similarly,

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gaining access to Edinburgh is a great problem for people who come from north of the Forth. Is he in talks with the Scottish Executive on the need to advance another access route in the Kincardine bridge area on to the M876, or is he considering a second Forth road bridge to deal with congestion into Edinburgh?

Mr. Darling: I know that a second Forth road bridge is a subject of great controversy in Edinburgh, with one's views depending to a large extent on which side of the Forth one happens to live. I am not aware of any current active proposals to build a second bridge at Queensferry, but I think that the Scottish Executive are considering plans to improve the crossing at Kincardine: that bridge is now quite elderly and is under heavy pressure. However, it is for the Scottish Executive to make a decision on that.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): My constituency is one of the most congested areas in the whole of London. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what plans his Department has to reduce that congestion, which is environmentally very damaging?

Mr. Darling: In common with other areas of London, my hon. Friend's constituency suffers from heavy congestion. Two matters are important in relation to London, the first of which is to maintain and continue investment in public transport. My hon. Friend will know that, as a result of the tube partnership, we are putting about £1 billion into the tube every year for the next few years; and, through the grant that we give, the Mayor has improved spending on buses in London. Those two public transport measures will help. Secondly, the measures set out in the Traffic Management Bill, which we debated yesterday, will help to ease the flow of traffic in London and elsewhere.

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