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Northampton Train Service

10. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What improvements are planned to the train service to Northampton. [429]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): From June 2005 it is planned progressively to introduce new Desiro trains on the London fast services from Northampton and on services between Northampton and Birmingham. An additional hourly fast service will be introduced between Northampton and London in the off-peak periods in the winter 2005 timetable.

Ms Keeble: I welcome the improvements that have been made, but does my hon. Friend accept that because of the growth of Northampton, there is a need for big improvements in train services there? In moving forward, will he look in particular at increased frequency and improved punctuality for the fast services between London and Northampton, which are now provided only two or three times a day? Will he also consider improved services between Northampton and
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Birmingham, including restoration of the through services stopping at Northampton and providing an alternative route to Birmingham?

Derek Twigg: I know that my hon. Friend has done tremendous work on the improvements to Northampton's rail services, and as chair of the Northampton rail users group she has worked very hard with people locally. In the winter 2005 timetable there are additional links in non-peak periods to and from Crewe, and there will be additional links to and from Rugby and the west midlands, probably after the completion of the major reconstruction of the Rugby complex in 2006–07, so there will be a number of changes and improvements. We will consider the specific points that my hon. Friend made.

Nottingham City

11. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with Nottingham city council on transport issues in the city. [430]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened line 1 of the Nottingham express transit in March 2004 and my hon. Friend the then Minister of State for Transport launched the Link l and Link 2 bus services in September 2004. My officials also regularly meet officers of Nottingham city council to discuss transport issues in the city.

Mr. Allen: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and ask him to come to Nottingham as soon as possible to see the large increase in the numbers of people using public transport in our city. I should be pleased to meet him at the Nottingham East Midlands airport, where he could use the Skylink bus service, part of our integrated transport system, which has had a threefold increase in usage. When he does that, will he also consider whether the kick-start bus support grant could be used to extend the service to the constituencies of my colleagues in Leicester and Derby, who are also very supportive of the concept of a Nottingham East Midlands airport?

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes, and I look forward to visiting him in Nottingham at my earliest opportunity. I can tell him that in the last few days, as I have been briefed in the Department on my new responsibilities, Nottingham has been constantly cited to me as a source of good practice and is well thought of in the Department. I hope that he will take that message back to the people who have done innovative work in his area.

Nottingham Tram

12. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): When he expects to give financial approval for lines 2 and 3 of the Nottingham tram. [431]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Department has received a bid for the extensions, and is discussing procurement
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and financing aspects with the promoters. Following this, we will make a decision as soon as we can on whether to grant provisional approval.

Alan Simpson: You can rely on two arriving at the same time, can you not, Mr. Speaker?

The Minister will know that line 1 of the Nottingham tram has been phenomenally successful and incredibly popular, with 8.5 million passengers in the first year, as against a target of 7 million, and that it is making money. The difficulty is that the applications for lines 2 and 3 have been sitting with the Department for about nine months, and we need to make progress with the Treasury. If there a date by which the trams currently stuck in the depot of the Department for Transport can make their way to the first stop in the Treasury?

Dr. Ladyman: I am pleased that line 1 has been so successful—it is yet another of the Labour Government's successes. I have to say that the position regarding lines 2 and 3 is not quite as simple as my hon. Friend suggests: a lot more work has to be done before approval can be given. However, if that work is done, line 1's success will encourage us to look closely at the proposals and to give a decision as soon as we can.

Branch Line Rolling Stock

13. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the reliability and quality of rolling stock on smaller branch lines. [432]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): We monitor rolling stock reliability on all routes, including branch lines, to ensure that train reliability improvements play their part in achieving our target of 85 per cent. on-time performance across the network by 2008. Train quality inevitably varies across the network, but the average age of the fleet has been reducing steadily since 2000 and continues to do so.

Chris Bryant: The Valley line service, which goes from Treherbert through Treorchy, Tonypandy, Porth and down into Cardiff is an excellent service—when it runs. Unfortunately, trains are taken off with monotonous regularity, either because they cannot pass on the single track, or—more troubling—because the rolling stock is so old that they break down. When can we expect new rolling stock on the smaller branch lines, so that people who are grateful to have a strong economy in south Wales, with the result that thousands more people are travelling to work in Cardiff, can benefit from strong public rail services?

Derek Twigg: I am aware of the problems with the Valley line service to Cardiff. The operators must work to reduce disruption and improve efficiency. It is worth pointing out that since privatisation in 1997 we have invested more than £4 billion in more than 4,000 new carriages, and heavy investment in new trains means that the average age of the train fleet is now less than 16 years, compared with more than 20 years in 2000. However, new trains might not be the most cost-effective solution; it might be more sensible to refurbish existing trains.
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Heathrow Airport

14. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): what discussions he has had with representatives of the aviation industry about a possible sixth terminal at Heathrow. [434]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): There have been no such discussions recently. The possible need for a sixth terminal at Heathrow was raised by BAA in its response to consultation prior to the air transport White Paper, and I understand that it is continuing to look at the matter in the context of possible future development of Heathrow.

Mr. Randall: May I therefore expect the Minister to confirm that the Government would not be in favour of a sixth terminal?

Dr. Ladyman: I can only repeat my answer. An outline suggestion was put to us, but the matter has not been considered further and a heck of a lot of work would be needed before approval could even be seriously considered.


The Chancellor was asked—

Public Sector Pensions

20. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): what recent discussions he has held with the relevant trade unions about public sector pension reform. [440]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): I am meeting the civil service unions later this week. How we take forward civil service pension reform will be one of the issues for discussion. Following a productive meeting on 31 March, chaired by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, further discussions will take place shortly with the relevant trade unions through the public services forum.

Paddy Tipping: I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post and remind him that public sector pension reform is one of the big issues facing him. Does he accept that the trade unions recognise that change is necessary—indeed, inevitable—but that they are reluctant to discuss the detail and the timetable for work? Given that, will he hold some meetings soon to see whether there is a chance of finding consensus on this real problem?

Mr. Hutton: I agree with my hon. Friend that reform of public sector occupational pensions is an important issue for us all. It is a matter of record that both sides agree that the schemes need to be modernised and made more flexible; in addition, they have to be sustainable in the long term and affordable to taxpayers. We have tabled a set of proposals, and scheme-by-scheme
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negotiations are under way, but I assure my hon. Friend, and all hon. Members, that we shall progress to early discussions with the relevant trade unions, with a view to securing as much agreement as possible on the way forward.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his new position and congratulate him on his promotion. He mentioned affordability. Does he believe that reforms to civil service and public service pensions should follow the recommendation made at the weekend by Adair Turner, that retirement age and pension provision should vary according to social and educational background?

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words; I hope that this will not be the last time that he is nice to me in this place. We shall see. The suggestions to which he refers have no relevance to the public sector reform proposals that we have tabled. They do not form any part of the package of proposals that we have tabled for discussion, and they will not do so.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): The Minister will be only too well aware that the Government were heading into great difficulties with their proposals on pension reform for teachers, firefighters, medical staff, civil servants and others before the election, because people felt rushed into changes that had not been properly negotiated. The Government have now either sensibly decided, or been forced by circumstances during the election campaign, depending on one's point of view, to give more time for reform. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the great concern among all those employees is that traditionally in many of these sectors, there have been relatively low rates of pay compared with the private sector, which have been made up for by relatively strong terms and conditions of service in the context of protected jobs and good pensions? To take away some of their pension protections and privileges without considering the issue of pay has rubbed sorely with many of these people. Will the Minister accept that, and   guarantee that the Government will consider those people's remuneration and terms-and-conditions packages?

Mr. Hutton: I certainly accept that public sector pensions should be seen as an important part of retaining and recruiting key front-line public servants. I think that that is common ground between us all. As I have said, there is an agreement on both sides of the table that there will need to be changes to the schemes. What we are signalling, and what we have said, is that we want to have proper discussions with the trade unions about how we can take the reforms forward.

I say in all candour to the hon. Gentleman—I know that he is against reform of any kind in the public sector—that there is a need for reform. We shall need to engage the trade unions in a debate about how those important pension schemes can be improved. It is silly to pretend that somehow we can wave all the problems away and hope that they will go away. They will not. The problems need to be engaged, and we will do that.
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