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Gershon Review

9. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential for efficiency savings in his Department beyond those proposed in the Gershon review. [206098]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Department for Transport's response to the Gershon review was comprehensive and the targets set are demanding. Other efficiencies are effectively being sought, and further efficiencies will come from the implementation of the reforms set out in the railways White Paper, which I published earlier this year.

Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he reassure me that such efficiency savings will not jeopardise important projects, such as the Weymouth relief road in my constituency, and that he will not listen to those who argue for substantial cuts on top of those efficiency savings?

Mr. Darling: I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that there is no way that efficiency savings will affect the bypass that he mentioned. That road has been provisionally approved. Thanks to his determination and the pressure that he has put on the Department, the road is well advanced and on course. To every single Member who has stood up in the Chamber to ask for more money to be spent on roads, I make the point that we are able to do that because of the strong position of our economy and the money that we have decided to commit to transport. All that would be put at risk if the Conservatives were to cut nearly £2 billion worth of transport spending.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that all the money that will be saved after the Gershon inquiry will be ploughed back into his Department, exactly as will happen after the James inquiry?

Mr. Darling: On the James inquiry and transport, it is interesting that Mr. David James acknowledged that the Department for Transport had saved 90 per cent. of what he had identified, so the Conservatives cannot count that as new money. It is also interesting that one item in the money that he has identified over and above   what we have identified is very strange for the Conservatives. They say that they want to re-regulate the rail rolling stock companies, but who deregulated them in the first place? Who was it who allowed a situation to arise in which more and more was charged for using the railways—another by-product of railway privatisation? I am sorry to tell the Conservatives that we have already got there and, as the White Paper set out, we are determined to get savings not just in the railway industry but elsewhere. All that money will benefit all public services, including transport.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reorganisation of his Department provides an opportunity to see more work done at a regional level? Is it not a possibility that important regional transport schemes will allow for
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greater economic prosperity and greater working with the likes of the regional development agencies and local authorities to encourage the development of parts of communities all round the country, not least in my own of Scarborough?

Mr. Darling: I agree with my hon. Friend. I strongly believe that we should do our best to decentralise as many transport decisions as possible. The best people to decide on the priorities for what needs to be done and to   do that efficiently are those who know the position on the ground. The Highways Agency has done a great deal of work, which it is sharing with local authorities, on improving the procurement of roads, which means that more money is available. There is no doubt that the savings we have identified in the Department for Transport will be of immense help in releasing funds to go into transport as well as other services. Our fundings, unlike those of the Conservative party, are real and are being achieved now.

Accidents (Tiredness)

10. Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to cut down the number of accidents on the motorway in which tiredness is a major factor. [206099]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): We have an extensive programme of publicity and research aimed at reducing sleep-related accidents. We warn drivers of the dangers using motorway variable message signs and through our   "THINK!" publicity campaigns. Advice on how to avoid and combat driver tiredness is in the Highway Code and on the Department's website.

Mr. Clarke: I congratulate the Government and the Northamptonshire casualty reduction partnership on the work that they have done so far. Is he aware of research carried out by the Loughborough sleep research centre? The research shows two things: first, that small amounts of alcohol have a major impact on people falling asleep at the wheel, particularly at this time of the year when they have the odd glass of wine with their Christmas dinner and drive home from their families; and, secondly, that the under-30s are the most vulnerable group—particularly in early mornings—because of restrictions on their sleeping patterns. Will he take those two points on board when designing future campaigns so that the most vulnerable are aware of those dangers?

Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am aware of the research from the university of Loughborough sleep research laboratory. Its latest report came out in October this year. He rightly points out that although small amounts of alcohol at this time of year may not put a person over the limit, they may make them more tired and more vulnerable to having an accident on the road. We estimate that about 20 per cent. of all crashes on the roads are caused by people who drive when they are over-tired.
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I also take the point about advertising to younger people and to 20 to 30-year-old males who, I am afraid, are more likely to be in crashes involving alcohol. Much of our recent publicity has been focused on that age group.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that our motorways are actually the safest parts of the country's highways and account for just 6 per cent. of fatalities, according to the latest figures? What is the Department doing about the   increasing number of serious accidents on B and C   roads?

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman is correct. Our motorways are some of the safest roads in the world, but that does not mean that there are not nasty and spectacular crashes on them in which people are killed, which often involve heavy goods vehicles. The campaign is thus extremely important. He makes a point about B   and C roads and knows that they are the responsibility of local authorities. We have set out clear guidance for local authorities and we provided substantial additional funds in recent years for them to tackle safety schemes on local roads. They now have the ability to reduce speed limits on local roads if they think that appropriate. We are also addressing the problem on   some local roads of recreational motor cyclists travelling too fast. I take the point that those roads are important, as are motorways.

Mr. Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): Many in this country believe that accident prevention requires new laws, so I congratulate the Minister on the publication of the new Road Safety Bill. Many people also believe that the sentencing of dangerous drivers needs updating. Will he accept amendments to toughen sentences for dangerous drivers as the Bill proceeds through the House next year?

Mr. Jamieson: I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the Road Safety Bill, which includes several measures that will substantially improve safety on our roads. It provides for increased penalties for people who drive carelessly. The Home Office has undertaken a review of all the penalties and will announce the outcome of that in the new year. I dare say that we will take forward the necessary legislation as appropriate.


The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Freedom of Information Act

18. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect on his areas of responsibility of the coming into force in January 2005 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [206110]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Alan Milburn): The effect on the duchy of the Freedom of Information Act is expected to be minimal. However, advisory committees on justices of the peace will be
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affected by the Act. All 17 committees have signed a   declaration form confirming their participation in the   model publication scheme with the Information Commissioner. I can also tell the hon. Gentleman and   the House that both the strategy unit and the No.   10 policy directorate have been part of preparations for the Act. The effect of the Act on their work will obviously depend on the number and complexity of requests that they receive.

Mr. Brazier: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, but when the Freedom of Information Act is in force, will we be able to tell how much of his time is spent on the Duchy of Lancaster and how much is spent preparing the Labour party manifesto? He is currently drawing a full Cabinet salary, which did not happen when other political figures held that office.

Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman is aware of my responsibilities, but for the avoidance of doubt, I am happy to repeat them to him and the wider House. I   have   responsibility for policy co-ordination across government and I obviously have responsibilities for the   Duchy of Lancaster. I sit on 17 or 19 Cabinet Committees—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) usefully reminds me that it is 17.   Since he has prompted me, I am happy to read them all out: Domestic Affairs Committee; Crime Reduction Sub-Committee; Economic Affairs, Productivity and Competitiveness Committee; Constitutional Reform Policy Committee; House of Lords Reform Sub-Committee; European Union Strategy Committee; Legislative Programme Committee; Organised Crime Committee; Public Services and Public Expenditure Committee; Public Service Reform Committee; Welfare Reform Committee; Children and Young People's Services Committee; Delivery of Services for Children, Young People and Families Sub-Committee; Social—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the House understands.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirm that the Freedom of Information Act will not grant access to his responsibilities for planning the future privatisation of what remains of the public sector because such premature disclosure would trigger apoplexy and hypertension on these Benches to such a   scale that it might produce several unwinnable by-elections?

Mr. Milburn: That is an ingenious question, as I   would expect from my hon. Friend, and I would hate him or anyone else to suffer from hypertension. He will have to wait and see what the future policy programme is, but I can assure him that the programme of both investment in, and reform of, the public services will continue.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Is the   Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster aware of the enormous disquiet among those who take an interest in the operation of the Act that, four years after its passage, it seems to have come as a complete surprise to the Government that it is to be implemented in this
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coming year? It is not so much of a problem in the central Departments, but all the peripheral departments are unaware of many of the Act's consequences and how they should prepare for it. In his role as co-ordinator of Government policy, will he look closely at the guidance given to those governmental bodies outside Whitehall and at how well prepared they are to implement the Act's provisions?

Mr. Milburn: I genuinely hope that that is not the case as far as my responsibilities are concerned. As I said, the advisory committees for which I am responsible seem to   be taking the Act seriously. If it helps the hon. Gentleman, however, I am happy to check that agencies, as distinct from Government Departments, are well aware of their responsibilities. I hope that they are. I   personally think that the Freedom of Information Act is important. It is precisely what many in this House and outside campaigned for over many years. I welcome it, and it is obviously important that it is properly implemented.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Freedom of Information Act make it possible to discover whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster played a role in recent decisions made across Government Departments that have led to files being shredded and e-mails being deleted before the Act enables them to be seen by the public?

Mr. Milburn: I listened, as the hon. Gentleman might have, to an important interview that the Information Commissioner, Mr. Richard Thomas, gave to the BBC's "Today" programme this morning. It was perfectly reasonable of him to say:

He went on to say:

That, indeed, is the position.

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