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5. Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): What plans his Department has to review the cross-subsidy of airports in the south-east. [159434]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Government have no such plans.

Mr. Prisk : Many airlines at Heathrow and Gatwick strongly oppose the idea of cross-subsidising a runway at Stansted. They would not benefit from that, and it would serve their competitors. Given that opposition, what assurances has the Minister received from BAA that it will be able to fund the whole scheme, including road and rail access?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do exactly what is in the White Paper, where we clearly say that the Government will not promote or pay for the development of Stansted. We expect BAA to bring forward plans for the development of new capacity at Stansted in a way that is responsive to market needs, and to provide the necessary funding. We fully recognise the independence of the Civil Aviation Authority and its role in regulating the sector, and the Government expect the CAA and BAA to secure an appropriate framework to bring the development to fruition.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Is not the best way to deal with the cross-subsidy issue to follow the advice of the Select Committee on Transport, and break up BAA? That would not only deal with cross-subsidies but remove something that has been a great barrier to providing runway infrastructure in the south-east for the past 60 years.

Mr. McNulty: The CAA has made it clear that its policy of regulating each airport on an individual, stand-alone basis was introduced earlier last year, after consultation, to underpin commercial disciplines for airport development. The CAA has no plans to consult on that again. That would remain the reality, regardless of who owned the airports in the south-east.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The expansion of Stansted airport is of great local interest, as is the expansion of East Midlands airport. When will the Minister respond to my e-mails and rearrange the cancelled meeting on that?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. and learned Gentleman should be very clear today, although he was not at the business statement, that that meeting, which was called not by his good self but by another east midlands

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Member, was duly cancelled by that Member. The hon. and learned Gentleman's notion that my office cancelled it is erroneous. I am more than happy to have that meeting, which was to discuss the change of name at East Midlands airport, and any subsequent meetings, and I shall answer his e-mail in due course.


6. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): If he will make a statement on his Department's policy on tramway refurbishment. [159435]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Kim Howells): Tramway refurbishment is a matter for the local authorities or the private concessionaire.

Mr. Jack : I am grateful to the Minister for his useful and illuminating answer. He knows Blackpool well, and he knows the support that the hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and I have given to Blackpool borough council's application for assistance in the refurbishment of its tramway. The Minister also knows the importance of that project to the whole Fylde coast transport infrastructure, and he will appreciate that it is the key to further evaluation of possible light rail developments to Preston and beyond. In the light of those points, when is his Department likely to make up its mind on giving support to Blackpool? Does he recognise the importance of keeping the existing tramway infrastructure in good condition?

Dr. Howells: It is important to keep the existing tramway system in good condition, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Department's decision on the bid will be made in the context of the wider transport programme. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will endeavour to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): In considering future investment in trams, the Minister might like to reflect on the success of the Sheffield supertram, which carries 12 million passengers a year. I hope that he will consider favourably plans for its extension to Rotherham. Will he also reflect on the complete nonsense of bus deregulation, which means that we do not have integrated transport at local level because trams and buses do not run together, and that we do not have proper joined-up timetabling or through-ticketing? Does he agree that to receive the best return on investment in trams, we need to ensure that buses and trams are co-ordinated at local level and do not run in competition?

Dr. Howells: I agree with my hon. Friend that, wherever possible, properly integrated transport systems for passengers should be constructed. That is not rocket science, but there is not a blueprint for one system that works better than all others. Transport systems need co-ordination and joint input, and local authorities, private companies and passengers' representatives should be able to get together to deliver just that.

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Merchant Shipping

7. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will make a statement on the level of piracy and armed attacks against UK flagged merchant ships. [159436]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): The number of piracy and armed attacks on United Kingdom flagged merchant vessels has risen from one or two a year in the mid-1990s to six in 2003. That is clearly unacceptable. Over the years, my Department, in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has launched a range of initiatives to raise the profile of the issue around the world. We continue to work with the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union, the International Maritime Organisation and the maritime industry on this issue.

Mr. Carmichael : I thank the Minister for that very helpful and comprehensive answer. He will be aware that the problem is particularly acute in Indonesian waters around the Malacca straits and Bintan island, where, last year alone, there were 121 reported incidents. Will he add his weight to the call by the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers for the Royal Navy to provide protection for our merchant fleet in areas where there is a known danger?

Mr. Jamieson: The incidents are fairly narrowly focused. Of the six incidents involving UK ships last year, two took place off Guyana, and the others took place off India, Vietnam, Cuba and Nigeria. I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that they were therefore widely spaced around the world. I am pleased to say that no one was injured in any of them; the ships were all at anchor and the incidents mainly involved robbery. We are working closely with those countries, in particular, and with the IMO to try to rid the seas of this problem. Given its geographical spread, however, I am sure that he will appreciate that it would be almost impossible for the Royal Navy to make even a minor impact on such a situation. We are mindful of the problem, however, and I am aware of NUMAST's concerns. We take this issue very seriously.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Minister will be aware of how narrow the dividing line is between piracy, armed attacks and terrorism against shipping. What processes are in place to brief the merchant marine on the intelligence regarding the threat that faces it when travelling in such dangerous waters?

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman will of course know that we cannot discuss in the House matters of security or of how we pass on such information in this context. He will probably be aware, however, that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has made available to all UK flagged ships clear guidelines on how they should react in these circumstances. The United Kingdom also played a major part in drawing up the IMO's code of practice for ships. Furthermore, much of the work that we are doing internationally on port security also relates to maritime security. There is therefore a lot going on in this area, and there are a great

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many concerns. We are addressing these problems and taking a lead in the world on ensuring that we solve them.

School Transport

8. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): What steps he is taking to improve the safety of school transport. [159437]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Buses, coaches and minibuses used for the transport of children to and from school are subject to safety standards, as are all passenger-carrying vehicles. Before such vehicles go into service, they are inspected and certified. After that, they are tested annually and can be subjected to random roadside checks. I am not aware of there being any particular problems with the safety of school buses.

Mr. Thomas : I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that in a rural area such as my own, the safety of children being transported on school buses is of the utmost importance to their parents. What opportunities will the new Bill being published on school transport provide to ensure that schoolchildren are taken on buses that are fully fitted with seat belts and that we get rid of the invidious three children to a seat rule?

Mr. Jamieson: The safety of children on transport to school is absolutely paramount to us. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have policies to encourage cycling, walking and, of course, the use of buses rather than cars. He will also be aware that seat belts have to be fitted for journeys that children take within the school day, but that does not always apply to buses. The issue of seat belts has not presented a major problem to us, but over a period of time seat belts will gradually come in, because buses are gradually being fitted with bucket seats rather than bench seats, which will overcome the problem of three children sitting in a seat for two. Even that has not presented itself as a problem, however. One of the biggest problems that we have found often involves not the state of the bus but the behaviour of the children.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the tragic death of my constituent, Stuart Cunningham-Jones, on the way home from school. Does he have plans, however, to review the minimum standards, and the ludicrous three-for-two arrangement, in the light of the coroner's report and the recommendations by both the jury and the coroner in relation to that tragic death?

Mr. Jamieson: I am aware of the tragic death of Stuart Cunningham-Jones. Now that we have seen the coroner's letter on the matter, we are considering his recommendations carefully. In his letter, he said that on this occasion seatbelts did not play a part in the tragedy, but he emphasises that the behaviour of the children on the bus was a major factor. Bus drivers who work the school run are receiving special training, and the Department for Education and Skills is also examining

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the issue. The draft Bill that was published yesterday will address not just issues relating to the use of buses but safety issues.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that most deaths and injuries on public service vehicles are caused by passengers being flung around in a crash, why does the Minister not simply say that all new buses and trains should have seatbelts fitted so that they match the standards of private cars? Our children would then be a lot safer.

Mr. Jamieson: The rules, of course, are that all new coaches and minibuses must have seatbelts fitted. There is not an intention to fit seatbelts in buses on scheduled journeys, mainly travelling at slow speeds in urban areas, partly because it is totally impractical to do so. Generally, the problem is not in relation to buses that travel around city streets relatively slowly but in relation to higher speeds in other areas and on other roads. We are not complacent about the issue, however, and clearly, we will have to address it even more seriously in future.

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