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9 Sept 2004 : Column 1334W—continued

Watervoice (Exeter Office)

Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what criteria were used in making the decision to close the Exeter office of Watervoice; and what process was followed. [185771]

Mr. Morley: The original decision to close the Exeter office was based on a recommendation made by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in its report on the organisation and regional structure of the Consumer Council for Water. PwC recommended that the offices in Exeter and Bristol currently serving the south west and Wessex regions should be merged into one office and located either in one of the existing offices or at a new site in Taunton.

However, we have since given very careful consideration to a number of representations received and reviewed the decision to close or relocate regional offices. We concluded that against the background of the representations and the current periodic review of water prices, the benefits for water customers in maintaining the existing regional system of consumer representation outweighs the benefits of rationalisation at this time.

We now intend to leave it to the new CCW to consider PwC's recommendations and to decide, in the light of future circumstances what changes, if any, it wishes to make to its regional structure.


Mobile Telephones

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what discussions he has had with (a) mobile telephone manufacturers and (b) car manufacturers on the safety of mobile phones in cars; [186393]

(2) what research his Department has carried out into technical solutions for blocking the use of hand-held mobile phones in cars. [186394]

Mr. Jamieson: Representatives of mobile phone and bar manufacturers have been involved in discussions with the Department for Transport on a new European Directive that will replace the current Directive 95/54/EC on electromagnetic compatibility. This requires cars to have a minimum level of immunity to interference such that electronic devices, including mobile phones, do not cause malfunctions of the vehicle's electronics.
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The Department has not carried out any research into technical solutions for blocking the use of hand-held mobile phones in cars. A driver can use a hand-held phone when he is not driving and a passenger can use a mobile phone at any time and for emergencies.

Aircraft (Medical Equipment)

Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on measures to improve the provision of emergency medical equipment on all UK aircraft. [187177]

Mr. McNulty: UK Airlines carry first aid and emergency medical kits in accordance with common requirements established by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). The content of these kits is being reviewed following a proposal from the European Civil Aviation Conference for considering several improvements to the kits but granting some flexibility to meet an operator's route specifications. The UK supports these changes and will implement them once they have been adopted by the JAA following public consultation.

Cross-Channel Rail Subsidies

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what subsidies are paid to (a) Eurostar and (b) the Channel Tunnel Rail Link for the provision of their services; and where such subsidies are spent. [186765]

Mr. Darling: Information requested is as follows:

(a) No subsidies are paid to Eurostar.

(b) Government are providing grant support for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project which is estimated to total £2.0 billion in present value terms (discounted at 6 per cent. real to January 1997) to support the costs of construction of the link and the provision of capacity for domestic services. This figure does not include possible amounts which may be provided by way of loan support or recovered in respect of land rentals and proceeds from property developments.

Disabled Parking

Mr. Colman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Blue Badge parking scheme entitlement for those diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. [187754]

Mr. McNulty: The Blue Badge Scheme is designed primarily to assist people with severe difficulty in walking, whatever the cause of their disability. People who are registered blind also qualify under the Scheme. Drivers with a severe disability affecting both arms may also be eligible. Local authorities, which are responsible for administering the Scheme, will decide on an individual's eligibility on the basis of these criteria. People with myasthenia gravis will be eligible for a badge if they meet the criteria.

Office Furniture

Mr. Damian Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much his Department spent in the last year for which figures are available on office furniture. [186404]

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Mr. McNulty: The Department spent £1,506,715 on furniture during 2003–04 financial year.

This expenditure included:

and providing furniture for:

Post Office

Mr. Boris Johnson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the likely effects of the closure of sub post offices at Newtown and Northfield End on the (a) flow and (b) volume of traffic passing through Henley. [187504]

Mr. McNulty: None. The closure of sub post offices is in operational matter for Post Office Ltd. In terms of traffic flow and volume the local highway authority, in this case Oxfordshire County Council, will be required to take account of the impact on accessibility to public services, including post offices, during the preparation of their Local Transport Plan.

Public Transport (Pensioner Access)

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he has taken to improve access to public transport for pensioners. [186461]

Mr. McNulty: We have significantly improved the concessionary fares scheme for older and disabled people who are now entitled to at least half-fare travel on local buses. We have also introduced a half-fare for people aged 60 and over on many long-distance scheduled coach services.

Given the close correlation between disability and age, the regulations we have introduced to require new trains, buses and coaches to provide a range of features to improve access are also benefiting many older people. During the last three years over 1,400 new fully accessible rail vehicles have entered service and there will be over 1,000 more within the next year. Around 29 per cent. of buses seating over 22 passengers are already accessible, and in major cities the proportion is much higher.

Rail Services

John Thurso: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what timetables are in place following publication of The Future of Transport for (a) the start of construction and (b) completion dates of (i) Thameslink 2000, (ii) East London Line Extension and (iii) Crossrail. [187539]

Mr. McNulty: The timing of Thameslink 2000 depends on whether and when the necessary Transport and Works Act and associated powers are secured. Network Rail submitted revised applications in June 2004 which are likely to be considered by a public inquiry next year.
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Responsibility for the East London line extension project is transferring to Transport for London and its timing will be a matter for the Mayor.

The Secretary of State announced to Parliament on 20 July 2004 that he intended that appropriate powers for the construction of Crossrail should be sought by means of a hybrid Bill to be introduced in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. Previous experience, with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, suggests that the Bill might take around two years to complete its passage. Construction could only start after this date.

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