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Intercity Trains

3. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): If he will take steps to encourage Intercity trains to provide services late into the evening. [198102]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): Train operating companies must provide a minimum level of service, usually including late trains, as prescribed by their franchise agreements. Services beyond those minimum levels are provided at operators' discretion on a commercial basis.

Julie Morgan: What can my hon. Friend do to encourage First Great Western to put on more late night trains from Cardiff to London Paddington? Is he aware that the last direct train is at 9.28 pm in the week and 7.25 pm on a Saturday? Next week, the Wales millennium arts centre opens in Cardiff, which will mean that people from London will flock to Cardiff. They will need to be able to return late at night.

Mr. McNulty: I am aware that the last train to Cardiff is at ten past 10 and the last one from Cardiff is at about half past 9. My hon. Friend will know that the First Great Western franchise will be let in 2006. Part of the process of letting that franchise is extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders, taking into account factors such as the dynamic development that she refers to in Cardiff city centre. I am sure that all such elements will be fed into the consultation process.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that after a successful campaign by parliamentarians on both sides, GNER has responded with a very good late night service on the east coast line? Will he be wary of anything with "First" in the title, such as FirstBus, which would be a great threat to that line? That company cannot run buses in west Yorkshire and many of us are very worried that GNER will lose the franchise to that bunch of cowboys.

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend will know that we are in the middle of letting the new tender for the east coast main line; therefore, it would not be useful if I commented on potential tenderers or on his comments on any bus company.
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Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): Whoever receives the franchise for the east coast main line, will there be a guarantee that the services for my constituents and others in the Yorkshire and Humber region will not decline and that we will retain the efficient service that we have at present, as provided by GNER? When the franchise is let, will my hon. Friend ensure that the service to which we are entitled will continue or improve?

Mr. McNulty: I know that the service that has been provided thus far is cherished and loved by any number of Members of Parliament. We are not seeking, through the new franchise, any diminution of that service.

Rail Freight

4. Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the future of rail freight. [198103]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): Rail freight in the UK is a growing business. Tonne miles of freight moved have increased by 42 per cent. since privatisation, and rail freight has also increased its market share. In October, a fifth freight operating company entered the market. The Government will provide more than £20 million per year in grants to the rail freight industry over the next two years, and we published in the recent railways White Paper our clear proposals to provide greater certainty and stability for the industry.

Mr. Watts: Does my hon. Friend agree that more freight could be transferred to rail if there were a better rail infrastructure? Will he assure me that he will do all he can to help to develop such facilities in places such as the north-west, especially in St. Helens?

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend will know that any number of applications are pending for freight termini—I think that is the term—in the north-west, on which I certainly cannot comment. In the railways White Paper, the Government laid out clear support for rail freight in three ways: through infrastructure, as my hon. Friend suggests, and capacity; through freight grants, to which I have alluded; and, crucially, through securing certainty of affordable access for freight paths.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The Minister will know that a central objective of the Government's transport plan, published in 2000, was to increase rail freight by 80 per cent. by 2010. The figures I have before me suggest that since 2000 progress has been erratic, with an increase one year, a decrease in the next and so on. Will he give an assurance that there will be an 80 per cent. increase by 2010 and, if so, would not it be wise to have stepping stones so that we can understand what progress is actually being made?

Mr. McNulty: As I said, we made it absolutely clear in the rail White Paper that we are committed to rail freight and that we will, in the ways I outlined, secure a greater future for rail. If progress on rail freight since 1997 could be described as erratic, which I dispute, prior to that it was positively sclerotic.
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Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend have any evidence to suggest that delays on the west coast main line are having an adverse effect on Anglo-Scottish rail freight movements and, if so, when does he expect such delays to come to an end?

Mr. McNulty: During some previous works on the west coast main line, there certainly was some delay and disruption to freight movements to and from Scotland. As with passenger services, the more we get away from the works needed to improve the west coast main line—again, something positively untouched by the previous Government—the more such disruption will be a thing of the past, and we shall ensure that that remains the case.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Why did not the Minister tell us that, in 1997, a total of 105 million tonnes of freight was lifted, but that last year the amount was only 89 million tonnes? In other words, there has been a decline of 15 per cent. over the lifetime of the Government. Why are the Government now intent on pursuing a policy of forcing up the price of rail freight to suppress demand? That is the Government's policy; why does not the Minister come clean about it?

Mr. McNulty: As ever, both the hon. Gentleman's data and his analysis are so wide of the mark as to be, again, positively sclerotic.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that large-gauge dedicated rail freight routes that are capable of taking lorries and lorry trailers on trains are being developed across the continent of Europe, and that substantially greater volumes of rail freight are carried there than in Britain. Is not it time for the Government to take the lead in building a dedicated rail freight route in Britain, linking all the UK's major industrial areas from Scotland to the channel tunnel and the continental economies beyond?

Mr. McNulty: If such proposals are forthcoming, we shall of course look at them. I am grateful that my hon. Friend managed to catch your eye on this question, Mr. Speaker, because his recent characterisation of the rail freight industry as somehow in crisis is 100 per cent., absolutely, stone wrong.

Road Transport Emissions

5. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): If he will make a statement on carbon dioxide emissions from road transport. [198104]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Road transport is responsible for about 20 per cent. of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions. We have already introduced a comprehensive range of measures to reduce the impact of transport on the environment. We will consider the scope for further measures as part of the review of the climate change programme.

Norman Lamb: The Government have clearly stated their commitment to tackling climate change, yet total greenhouse gas emissions from all forms of road
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transport increased by about 13 per cent. between 1990 and 2002. The development of biofuels could make a significant impact on the Department's problem, so will the Minister and the Secretary of State press the Chancellor to take decisive action in the pre-Budget report this autumn to kick-start the industry? There is great frustration that nothing effective is happening to get things going.

Mr. Jamieson: It is true that, since 1990, emissions of carbon dioxide from transport have risen by 10 per cent., but traffic has increased by 24 per cent., which is a measure of our successful economy under this Government. The hon. Gentleman mentions biofuels, which do have the potential to reduce CO 2 from transport. But we must ensure that we get a benefit for UK agriculture and do not take action that sucks in imports, and we must ensure security of supply by getting biofuels provided from this country. The hon. Gentleman knows that we consulted on the way forward on this issue earlier this year and we are looking very closely at the results. Already, as he knows, we have reduced the tax on biodiesel to 20p per litre, and on 1 January the tax on bioethanol will also be reduced to 20p per litre. That is some of the progress that we are making and further announcements will be made shortly.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue of emissions and the number of freight journeys, particularly by road, is closely related to ports policy? Will he recognise that more than two thirds of the freight that enters through south of England ports ends up north of Birmingham? Does he accept that ports policy is far too important to be left to the market or to a series of random public planning inquiries, and that there is an essential need for a major port in the north, preferably at Hunterston, which would act as a container hub and would reduce substantially the number of road freight journeys within the crowded south of England?

Mr. Jamieson: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting the subject of ports in Scotland into a question on carbon dioxide emissions from road transport. He is quite right to say that, where possible, we should be moving particularly heavy loads by water rather than road; that is certainly an issue that we take into consideration in our ports policy. We await an application from the port in Scotland that he mentioned, and the issues that he has raised will be considered when we consider further developments.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Does the Minister agree that congestion is a major contributor to carbon emissions? The feasibility study that his Department published in July on national road price charging indicates that a 4 per cent. reduction in traffic could reduce congestion by as much as 45 per cent., and could address the blatant injustice of remote rural motorists paying considerably more for their motoring, where there is no congestion, than urban motorists do where there is congestion. What are the Government doing to promote national road price charging, which would give us fair tax instead of fuel tax?
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Mr. Jamieson: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his latest cliché. As he knows, the Secretary of State launched a feasibility study earlier this year and we are looking very closely at the issue. We are looking for a debate and I hope that we can find some cross-party accord on an important issue. As the hon. Gentleman says, reducing congestion, whether on local or main trunk roads, could reduce substantially carbon dioxide and other noxious emissions from transport. But, as he knows, the technology to introduce road pricing is a long way from being in place. Over the next 10 to 15 years we need to develop that technology and develop the policies that could bring us those benefits. I had a glance at the document, "A Better Environment, A Better Life—Liberal Democrat Policies for the Environment". I did not see any mention of road pricing, but I am sure that he will put that right shortly.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's acknowledgment of the role of things like biofuels. Does he also accept that fuel cell technology and biofuels will play a great role? Unfortunately, at the moment these are not available on a wide enough scale to enable us to reach the tipping point at which that role becomes a reality for many British motorists right across the UK. Rather than spending the next few months just looking at further reports on what can be done, will my hon. Friend apply pressure on the Chancellor before it is too late to ensure that we get to the point where we make biofuels, fuel cell technology and all the technological advances that would make an enormous difference to the entirety of this problem, particularly carbon dioxide emissions?

Mr. Jamieson: I know of the enormous amount of work that my hon. Friend has done on this issue and how important the growth of biofuels would be to his constituents and, possibly, to UK agriculture, but he must accept that we must make progress carefully; if we set very high targets for the use of biofuels, it could suck in imported biofuels, which, of course, may not be produced from sustainable sources. We have to balance it very carefully. However, the fuel duty rebates that we have already applied to biofuels have considerably increased the amount of biofuel available at the pumps, and it is now available at 100 filling stations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard what my hon. Friend says and will take the issue forwards in his next statement on this matter.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that to cut carbon dioxide emissions from road transport, it is not necessary to force motorists off the road, as the Deputy Prime Minister tried to do and as the Liberal Democrats apparently now wish to do? The same aim can be achieved by a switch to environmentally friendly cars. Does the Minister accept that far more use could be made of the tax system—his last answer on the matter was very disappointing—to encourage the purchase and use of greener vehicles so that motorists can continue to enjoy the freedom to drive, which has enhanced the lives of millions of people?
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Mr. Jamieson: I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been in recent years, but we are doing a great deal with fiscal measures to encourage cleaner, greener vehicles. Under this Government, vehicle excise duty now relates to the carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and the company tax car regime introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has encouraged the take-up of cleaner, greener vehicles. We have seen a growth in the use of diesel vehicles that produce less CO 2 . The European voluntary agreement has brought about much cleaner engines in vehicles. We have our "Powering Future Vehicles" strategy, and we have brought the industry together to discuss these matters. We are doing a great deal, and we will continue to do so, and we look to the hon. Gentleman for his support.

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