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Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend knows that I sympathise with her remarks. I understand why it is necessary to make sure that two companies do not enter into a cartel, to the detriment of passengers. However, I have come across cases in different parts of the country in which better transport services have been provided through co-operation on timetables, sharing information and so on. I have raised that matter with the OFT in a meeting with its director general and in correspondence, and I know that my hon. Friend has raised it too. If it becomes problematic, we will need to return to it. If one is standing in Manchester or Leeds on a wet night waiting for a bus, it is of little comfort to know that one is
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protected against action by a cartel, when all one wants to see is a bus, and one does not care which bus it happens to be, so long as it turns up.

I expect to discuss the railways at great length on Second Reading, so I shall say a word or two about the road network.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling: This is the last railway question before we move on to the roads.

Mrs. Williams: Naturally, I welcome the proposals for devolution. The return of the direct route between Llandudno and Euston is welcome. It is running for the first time since 1964, when the Conservative party demolished that service. However, the connections between local services and, for instance, the direct Virgin Trains service need urgent attention.

Mr. Darling: We can always see what can be done to improve such situations. As my hon. Friend will know, legislation is being introduced to give the National Assembly for Wales more power in relation to services that run predominantly in Wales. She is right that we must try to ensure that services come together. That is not always possible, for obvious reasons, but I am sure that the SRA will examine any particular difficulties over the next few weeks and months.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling: I should like to make some progress, if only because I have been discussing the railways for a long time, but I give way.

Andrew George: I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive me for raising one last point on rail concerning the SRA's announcement on branch lines. Can he assure me that that was not merely a case of the Government giving branch lines a last-chance-saloon opportunity to save themselves, but a new dawn for branch lines, which are often an unrealised asset to which operators give the fag end of the available rolling stock and services; and that the proposed community rail partnerships will be properly supported?

Mr. Darling: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. The White Paper made it clear that the Government want to support, where possible, branch lines that may have a future, through being run by community rail partnerships, that they would not otherwise have had. That is supported financially, but it is important to get local support as well.

Generally speaking, the railways have had their difficulties, although more people are using them. However, let us be realistic. If some branch lines can be run more effectively and efficiently, we should do so, but that requires people's support. People can be sentimental about them, but if they will not use them, there must come a time when it is suggested that we
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should do something else. As I said on Monday morning, no Government can be in the business of carting fresh air around the country, but if railway lines are able to grow through continued use, they should be given the chance to do so. No one need doubt our commitment to that.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) represents an area where there are several branch lines. People need to realise, though, that saving the railway is one thing, but using it is another. It is important to use it; otherwise, sooner or later, problems arise.

I turn to the roads. Managing the roads system—ensuring that we get the most out of it to tackle congestion—is absolutely essential. I am glad that the Traffic Management Act 2004 was passed in the previous Session and is now on the statute book. It will better control the digging up of roads by utilities and others; and the traffic management officers who were appointed to begin to manage the network better by clearing up after incidents and accidents are now operating in the west midlands, which is already making a big difference by freeing up police to do other things. Generally, over the next few years, as we manage the road network better, we will reduce much of the congestion that causes so much difficulty. It is worth reminding the House that nearly a quarter of all the congestion on major roads is caused by accidents. If we could deal with some of that, it would make a big difference to the capacity that we have.

It is equally important to continue to make good progress in reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Last year, there was a 6 per cent. fall in the number of people killed and seriously injured, and we are on track to meet our targets in that respect. However, as we discussed when I spoke to the House two weeks ago following the derailment of the train at Ufton, it is always worth reminding ourselves that nearly 10 people are killed on our roads every day. Would that we, as a country, gave as much attention to that as we do, for understandable reasons, to railway accidents.

The Bill that we will bring before the House introduces several measures that will help. It will increase police powers to tackle the problem of drink-driving, which is still responsible for more than 500 deaths a year. For example, it will allow for road-side breath testing and for drivers who repeatedly offend to have to retake their driving test. As I promised, we will introduce legislation for a graduated structure of fixed penalty points to ensure that the punishment better fits the crime in relation to speeding. I repeat that I believe that the vast majority of safety cameras save lives and reduce the number of injuries. Where that does not happen, we will of course investigate those particular cameras, as I promised in the summer. I am sure that the graduated fines that I propose will be fairer than the present system.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Do the Government have any plans to review the drink-driving limits to bring them down to levels that are more typical on the continent?

Mr. Darling: No, we do not. We keep that under review all the time, but we have no such plans.
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Interestingly, some countries on the continent have lower limits but, as I understand it, in this country there is a greater probability that a driver will be stopped. Our rules are enforced quite effectively, although I am bound to say that in the last couple of years there have been worrying signs of an increase in the number of people who have been breathalysed positively. Obviously, we and the police need to attend to that.

I want to draw the attention of the House to the problem of the one in 20 drivers who drive without insurance. The new legislation that we are introducing in the road safety Bill will allow us to create a database which will enable us to merge the DVLA data with that held by insurance companies. It is a sorry fact that it takes legislation to make that possible, but without it, someone would no doubt do us under data protection legislation. The police will be able to check the new database. In addition, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, which the Home Secretary introduced yesterday, will not only allow the police to check whether the vehicle is licensed and insured, but to seize the vehicle if it is not. That will make a big difference to road safety and revenue protection.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Do the Government's proposals include requiring an insurance disc to be displayed on a windscreen, along much the same lines as a DVLA tax disc? That might be helpful.

Mr. Darling: No, our proposals do not. Earlier this year, we asked Professor Greenway to look at that in his review. A lot of attention was given to it. His view was that it would not be particularly effective. People can have things on a windscreen that look like a disc that is up to date, but may not be. It was not felt to be reliable. Very shortly, with automatic number plate recognition equipment, it will be possible simply by checking a number plate to tell instantly whether they are licensed and insured. That is a more productive and better way, rather than having someone peer at a windscreen. In some parts of the country we have been trialling systems like this and the police have been able to use cameras and overhead gantries. They have picked up quite a number of people who are not licensed and not insured. Interestingly, people who are not licensed and not insured are also involved in other activities of interest to the police—there is a correlation. All hon. Members will welcome this. I am sure that we will return to that in greater detail when we discuss the road safety Bill.

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