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Train Services (Overcrowding)

2. Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): What steps are being taken to reduce overcrowding on train services. [421]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The Government are working with the industry to deliver improvements to capacity and performance, which, along with a better deployment of rolling stock and improvements to operating practices and timetables, will improve performance and help alleviate overcrowding.

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but does he share the concern of my constituents who use the Thameslink services about the daily overcrowding that continues to occur on that line? Since 1997, people commuting into London have experienced unacceptable levels of overcrowding. Is it not time that the Government reflected on what they did in 1997 when they introduced regulations governing standards of overcrowding for livestock, and started to do something about the cattle-truck standards of overcrowding that people undergo every day in coming into London?

Derek Twigg: Rail passenger journeys have increased by 29 per cent. since 1997. In 2003, for the first time since 1961, more than 1 billion rail journeys were made, and more than a billion such journeys were also made in 2004. There are more than 2,000 additional weekday train services in operation in comparison with 1996–97. More than 1,300 new railway vehicles, with better access for disabled people, came into service during 2004 as part of the biggest rolling stock replacement programme ever seen in this country. That takes the total number of new vehicles to have entered service since 1999 to more than 2,000.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): What will my hon. Friend do about overcrowding in car parks? Because of the success brought about by the additional services, there is now a real need for additional car parking. Does my hon. Friend intend to invest in car parking provision around railway stations?

Derek Twigg: I understand that there is a problem, but Network Rail and the train operating companies are looking into it and working together to produce some solutions.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Given the overcrowding that is experienced by St. Albans travellers on the Thameslink service, will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, try to progress the Thameslink 2000 project before 2012, especially as it could be crucial to our Olympic bid?

Derek Twigg: Planning should be starting this autumn.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend deserves credit for the amount of money that Her Majesty's Government have spent on new rolling stock, but will he look carefully into the contracts that are being issued? Overcrowding can
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frequently be dealt with by new rolling stock, not reconstituted rolling stock. In Crewe, Derby and many other engineering centres, we certainly want to see the new trains being built by British companies.

Derek Twigg: As my hon. Friend knows, we now have more rolling stock, but better performance management is also important. We need to look at timetables, man management, reliability and ticketing, and we must also ensure that there is effective planning in respect of utilisation strategies.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, and may I say what a great pleasure it is to be asking questions with you in the Chair once again?

Five years ago, the Government's 10-year plan for transport pledged

for people travelling by train in London, but the Transport Committee has concluded that overcrowding on London's transport is bad and likely to get worse. It has said that the Government are not taking the problem seriously but, in its complacency, the Department has said that there

To show that the Government are taking the problem seriously, will the Minister shut his Red Book and give us a real answer? Will he tell us today what specific steps the Government intend to take to deal with overcrowding?

Derek Twigg: That question is a bit rich coming from the hon. Gentleman, given that his party wants to cut public expenditure. In fact, performance has improved: there is more rolling stock; working practices are better; the different companies involved are displaying greater co-operation; and the management of the system is better than it used to be. Performance is improving, which would not happen if the Opposition were in government.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that passenger use of light rail systems, such as the Tyne and Wear Metro and its counterparts in other conurbations, may suffer an unintentional reduction? That will happen if the free travel service to be introduced next year is not extended to such systems. That free service is welcome, but private bus operators will profit at the expense of publicly run services. What consideration is being given to representations made on this point?

Derek Twigg: Local passenger transport executives will have to consider what more they can do to tackle that problem.

Speed Cameras

3. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What representations he has received about the criteria for installing speed cameras. [422]
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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Department receives many representations about safety cameras, including some about the criteria for camera sites, and of course we review all aspects of the safety camera programme every year.

Mr. Amess: Essex collects more money than anywhere else in the country in fines resulting from speed cameras, and my constituents feel a growing sense of injustice. Some of them have been criminalised for doing 33 mph or 44 mph, while a public servant can get away with driving on a public road at 159 mph. What work has the Secretary of State commissioned to determine the number of accidents caused by people slamming on their brakes when they see a yellow camera? How much of the money collected from those fines—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Darling: In respect of the hon. Gentleman's final point, the law states that where there is a 30 mph speed limit, people must drive at 30 mph or less. It is important to remember that all the evidence shows that speed cameras have led to a substantial reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured. I repeat what I said in the previous Parliament: if the hon. Gentleman believes that there is any doubt about the appropriateness of a speed camera site, in Essex or anywhere else, I shall look into it. However, the House will recall that we commissioned an independent study just over a year ago. It looked at the siting of every single camera and found that there had been a reduction of something like 40 per cent. in the number of people killed or seriously injured. That proves that the cameras save lives. The hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House should bear it in mind that drivers are supposed to stick to the speed limits that have been imposed. Therefore, they should not be forced by the fact that they are driving too fast to put on their brakes in the sudden way that he described.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend spent good money on last year's independent report, which proved that there have been substantial reductions in the number of casualties suffered on those stretches of road covered by speed cameras. Is he not    dismayed, therefore, that there remains an unreconstructed minority who will not accept that fact? Speed cameras are a road safety measure with proven benefits in terms of reducing the number of casualties, and no driver who keeps within the speed limit ever has to pay a fine.

Mr. Darling: I do understand that people caught by speed cameras feel frustrated and sometimes irritated. However, people like the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who believe that speed cameras should not be used or are not effective, must bear it in mind that there are families up and down the country with members still alive who might otherwise have been killed because of speeding drivers. Speed is one element of road safety.

I strongly believe that cameras should be placed only where justified. In fact, several cameras have been removed from places where they are no longer justified. However, the blanket, and sometimes unthinking,
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opposition to speed cameras is unjustified. Opposition Members might want to reflect on the fact that we get as many representations from Conservative councils to have speed cameras as we do to have them removed.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State not realise that the public would have more respect for him and what he has to say if he came clean on this issue and admitted that the prime duty of many speed cameras is to raise revenue from the long-suffering British motorist? If he will not admit that, will he tell us why speed cameras are now appearing on our motorways, which are the safest roads in Britain? Why are speed cameras being installed on the M4, for example? Is not the only answer to the growing public disquiet on this issue for him to announce a full audit of all speed cameras, coupled with a review of speed limits, to restore a sense of justice and fairness to the enforcement of our road traffic laws?

Mr. Darling: There is about one month until the next Transport questions, which is ample time for the right hon. Gentleman to provide one example of a camera that has been set up to raise money rather than to save lives. As I have said before, the best road safety camera is one that does not raise a single penny. They are there to save lives and for no other reason. The decision to place the cameras on the M4 in Wiltshire was taken by the local partnership—the police and the local council. Before the speed cameras were imposed, 53 per cent. of cars were seen to be exceeding the speed limit. A month later, that figure is down to 25 per cent., which suggests that cameras have an effect in persuading drivers to keep to the speed limit.

On the general point about raising speed limits, I am not persuaded of that, contrary to press reports at the weekend. The evidence from the police is that although the speed limit on motorways is 70 mph, many people drive 10 mph faster. If the limit were raised to 80 mph, people might drive faster still.

When we debate such issues, we should remember that 10 people are killed on our roads every day. If that happened in a single railway accident, there would be demands for a statement in the House and for lines to be closed. Ten families today will lose someone, so we should do everything reasonable to try to improve road safety. We have a good record in this country, but sometimes unthinking comments—such as those just      made uncharacteristically by the right hon. Gentleman—are unjustified. I look forward to hearing from him in a month's time about which camera he had in mind.

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