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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The new inter-city east coast franchise agreement requires the operator to deliver improvements in both punctuality and reliability. If it fails to do so, the franchise will end sooner than we would otherwise expect.
Mark Lazarowicz: On one of the hottest days of this summer, thousands of passengers along the east coast main line were left stranded for hours as a result once again of problems with the overhead wires. To compound their problem, they were treated abysmally by the train operator, which failed to respond to the problem. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the upgrading of the overhead line system is made a top priority in the new east coast main line franchise? Will he tell GNER in the meantime to make an adequate response when things do go wrong?
Mr. Darling: GNER realises that on the day a number of mistakes were made. It has made it clear that it will learn from those mistakes and measures have already been put in hand to ensure that trains are not left stranded for long periods, as happened in July.
The problem with the overhead power lines will take longer to resolve. The basic problem, as I am sure the House will know, is that the then Conservative Government, in order to cut costs, placed the overhead gantries further apart than they should have been[Laughter.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) may laugh, but that is precisely what happened. The railway line was badly designed because financial constraints were imposed by the then Conservative Government. That is what happens when one tries to cut corners with public expenditurethe public suffer as a result. However, Network Rail and GNER are working together to sort the problem out, which will take some time. Everyone concerned with the railways is aware that the line is extremely busy, that many people use it, and that lessons need to be learned from what happened last July.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
(Con): One improvement that would lead to greater reliability is greater capacity north of Newcastle on the east coast main line for passenger and freight trains. What measures do the Government propose to take, working with Network Rail, to increase capacity? Does the right hon. Gentleman stand by his refusal to countenance a
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second north-south route because of the mountain range? He assured the House that he had no plans to build a second north-south line in the latter days of the last Parliament.
Mr. Darling: I did not set myself against a high-speed railway line between the north and the south, which I think is what the hon. Lady is referring to. I said that a number of difficulties had to be overcome, not least the topography of the borders. It is one of the matters that Sir Rod Eddington is looking into on my behalf, and he will report to me at some point next year.
There are times when there is a capacity problem north of Newcastle, but at other times there is not. The railway review made it clear last year that there was plenty of access for freight trains on the railways. Generally speaking, both the TOCs and the freight companies are happy with capacity on that part of the east coast main line. Although I do not anticipate anything happening on that issue, we clearly need to look at the bigger issue of the north-south railway line.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): The transport plans for the 2012 London Olympic games are based on making the best use of the existing network, together with improvements that are planned and funded regardless of the Olympics. Projects being undertaken specifically for the Olympics will be funded from the Olympic public funding package, not from departmental budgets.
Mr. Donohoe: I thank the Minister for that answer. Is the Minister aware that there is a feeling in areas such as Scotland that, although we welcome the Olympics to London, some elements of departmental expenditure might be filtered to meet the specific needs of the Olympics, which, in the long term, could affect the transport infrastructure north of Watford? What specifically is being done to overcome that problem?
Ms Buck: No, I do not agree with that. The funding package for the Olympics comes both from existing investment for Transport for Londona £10 billion, five-year programme that includes a number of transport improvements designed to deal with London's transport needsand, in addition, from a second Olympic set of initiatives funded from the Olympic budget. The programme is being funded through the London Development Agency and the lottery, and it includes the Olympic Javelin train scheme, the Stratford station upgrade and the north London upgrade. I am absolutely confident that, with those two programmes, the Olympics are being funded without any danger of a reduction in funding to other parts of the country.
Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet)
(Con): In reviewing the Department's budget following London's successful Olympic bid, will the Minister recognise the crucial importance that the north circular A406 will play
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in the Olympics as a vital link between the east London sites and Wembley? Will she finally allocate funding for the improvements to Henley's Corner, Brent street and Bounds Green that were recently dropped by the Mayor of London because he could not get a commitment from the Government to support them?
Ms Buck: As the hon. Lady suggests, the roads programme is very much a matter for the Mayor of London. It is for Transport for London to make those funding decisions within the context of a £10 billion spending programme over five years£3 billion of borrowing and £7 billion of grant supportand it is for the Mayor to make those decisions within both the Olympics framework and the main investment programme for London transport. The Mayor and TFL have made it clear that they have had a very good funding settlement from the Government, and they must make those detailed decisions.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): The Better Regulation Executive was established in May this year. It initiated consultations on proposals for a Bill for better regulation that end tomorrow. It has launched a major exercise to measure and then reduce administrative burdens faced by business. A new web-based portal has been created so that business and other stakeholders can submit proposals for simplification, and we are on track to rationalise the number of regulators in the public and private sectors. Further measures on better regulation will be set out in the future.
Mr. Love: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. According to today's Financial Times the Chancellor will make a robust statement on red tape in Europe. As more than half the burdensome regulations on business come from Europe, what progress is my right hon. Friend making in alleviating those burdens on British businesses?
We are making reasonable progress. Only last week, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Verheugen, announced a series of measures that the Commission has decided not to proceed with. That was a very welcome first instalment of the reform process. Next month, there will be further announcements from the Commission, setting out further ways in which the regulatory load on business can be reduced. It is essential that that takes place. Better regulation is at the heart of the Lisbon strategy for competitiveness and growth in Europe. We want to make progress in that area, and we are determined to see it done.
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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I welcome that because we are all aware that there is too much regulation and too much red tape on business. A lot of the form-filling involves duplication. We need to get different Departments to talk to each another and we need a one-stop form that goes right across Departments instead of that duplication. Can we look forward to more assistance with that?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, we must explore exactly those processes very fully, and a lot of that type of activity is going on in member states. Sadly, that is not always replicated in the Commission or in the Union itself. We must make progress in those areas, and I am sure that, with the efforts of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, we will see progress in both those areas.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ask his Better Regulation Executive to come up urgently with a list of burdensome directives from Brussels that we need to get rid off while we still have the presidency? Is he not aware that there is a danger that, by the end of the presidency, there will be more laws than at the beginning and that nothing serious will have been repealed? Will he also ask the executive to do the same thing in respect of the too many regulations in Britain, so that some real repeal measure can be included in his forthcoming legislation; otherwise, we will have to judge that it is all words and no action?
The easiest way to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point is for me to send him a list of the 70 proposals that the Commission has already announced and will not be proceeding with. I am sure that he will find that quite useful.
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