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Mobile Phone Use

9. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary regarding the use of mobile phones by people in charge of motor vehicles; and if he will make a statement. [211847]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Ministers in the Department regularly meet their colleagues, including Ministers in the Home Office. They are closely involved in Government policy on the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers, which includes the offence that we have established, the stronger penalty proposed in the Road Safety Bill currently before the House, and the enforcement of the law by the police.

Mr. Amess: I am delighted that the two Departments are chatting about this problem, but when the Minister next talks to Home Office colleagues will he ask them when the law will be enforced? I was told yesterday that police officers welcomed the introduction of this offence and that they did not need extra officers to enforce it, so why does the whole of the British population—although not me, because I do not own a mobile phone—seem to ignore the law completely?

Mr. Jamieson: If what the hon. Gentleman says were true, I would have some concern. At any one moment, between 1.5 and 2 per cent. of people might be using a mobile phone. We brought in the new law 12 months ago, since when there has been a 25 per cent. reduction in the use of hand-held mobile phones by people driving cars.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): How does the Minister know?

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman asks how we know, and I can tell him that we have carried out surveys of these matters and looked into them. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) may also be interested to know that in Essex—the county in which his present and his former constituencies are both located—the police have given out 1,537 tickets to people using hand-held mobile phones while driving. Therefore, to say that nothing is happening is quite contrary to the truth.
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10. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with Nottingham city council in the past 14 days on transport issues in the city. [211848]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Charlotte Atkins): Neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor I have had any meetings with Nottingham city council in the past 14 days. However, my officials have had several meetings with council officers in that time.

Mr. Allen: Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the growth in reliability and passenger use recently achieved in Nottingham as a result of the city's innovative integration of bus and tram services provides an excellent model that can be built on? Will she consider again, and keep under review, Government support for the light rapid transit system that has been so successful in the city? It typifies the creative and innovative way that the city sets about tackling its transport problems.

Charlotte Atkins: The successes of the Nottingham express transit line one are encouraging, and we will take them into account when considering the case for extensions. The performance of Nottingham's buses and trams has been very impressive, with a high reliability level. It is no wonder that bus and tram use in Nottingham has risen by more than 10 per cent. in the past five years. It is an excellent example of an integrated transport strategy.

Rail Timetables

11. Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): What representations he has received on the new railway timetables in the south-east of England; and if he will make a statement. [211849]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The most significant timetable changes in December 2004 affected South West Trains, First Great Western, First Great Western Link and One, which covers the former Greater Anglia service. Since that time, it would appear that we have received fewer than 150 representations in relation to the changes.

Mr. Cameron: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply but is he aware that, on the Cotswold line, the new timetable has been a disaster? A daily commuter who lives in Charlbury wrote to me to say that her trains arrived on time only twice in the first four weeks of the new timetable's operation. Some trains did not stop at the advertised stations, and overcrowding, lateness and delays have become endemic. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at that line specifically and help ensure that timetables in rural areas are both deliverable and delivered? Is he aware that there is a suspicion in those areas that the new timetables favour urban areas and let down rural commuters such as my constituent?
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Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman's latter point is not correct, but performance on the Cotswold line since the changes has been lamentable and is totally unacceptable. I have been given a long explanation as to why that is, but, unless the hon. Gentleman is a trainspotter, I shall save him from listening to me reading it out. The long and short of the matter is that the problems are capable of being fixed and First Great Western is in the process of doing so.

The timetable changes in general have improved reliability. For example, on South West Trains, which has had many problems over the past few years and has had the biggest change to its timetable for some 30 to 40 years, reliability is now approaching 90 per cent., which is up by 11 per cent.

On the hon. Gentleman's specific point, he is right. We are on the case and we need to fix it.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that service on the line from Norwich to Liverpool Street is at least as bad as that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and that it is now difficult for my hard-working constituents to get to their City desks by 7 o'clock in the morning? Is he further aware that the services run by One are inadequate in their capacity and, frankly, appalling in their reliability? In view of the Secretary of State's reference to the rather light load of representations that he has made, will he agree to meet me and a delegation from my constituency in the near future so that it can express its concern about those services?

Mr. Darling: In relation to One's service generally, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's general proposition, because there have been improvements. There are particular problems—there is no doubt about that—but, inevitably, when there are large timetable changes there will be difficulties from time to time. We are trying to achieve a timetable that works, which may seem to be a matter of common sense to most Members of the House, but that has not necessarily been the case in the industry over the past few years, especially since privatisation and the free-for-all that was allowed at that time.

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could write to me about his specific points in the first instance. Let me see what the problem is, and I shall then see what I can do to take the matter on thereafter.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Secretary of State referred to South West Trains, but the reason why there may have been an improvement is that journey times have been extended so much that it now takes longer to get to London on a peak-time train than it did in Victorian times. Can he explain why the extension of platforms on South West Trains' routes, including at stations in my constituency, which could make a difference and which, according to the Government's previous plans, was due to be completed at the end of last year, has still not started? When will it start?
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Mr. Darling: In regard to South West Trains—this is a general point—Network Rail and the SRA have been trying to draw up a timetable that is realistic. The problem on South West Trains is that the trains were given running times that they could never achieve because they did not take account of stopping times at stations and so on. We now have a timetable that is accurate. What passengers want is to know with reasonable certainty when a train will arrive and when it will get to Waterloo or wherever. That is why the timetable has been changed.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that changes in platform length to allow for longer trains will help, and Network Rail is attending to that, but the most important factor is to have a timetable that works. The problem with the fragmentation nearly 10 years ago is that it resulted in services that people could not rely on. We are changing that and, as a result, services are becoming more reliable.

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