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Railway Stations (Disabled Access)

3. Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): When he expects all railway stations to be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. [25396]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr.   Stephen Ladyman): Under part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, station operators are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled people do not find it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access their services. We will publish a strategy for rail accessibility, including the initial allocation of Access for All funding, shortly. Access for All will deliver £370 million-worth of access improvements over the next 10 years.

Greg Clark: Is the Minister aware that Access for All funding will fund an improvement of only 5 per cent. in step-free access to stations, taking the level of such access from 50 per cent. to 55 per cent.? That means that by 2015, nearly half of all stations will still be inaccessible to disabled people. Does he stand by the pledge in the Department for Transport's public service agreement to make all stations accessible for disabled people by 2020, or is it a piece of spin to mislead them?

Dr. Ladyman: We intend to do everything possible to make all railway stations accessible for disabled people, but it is not an easy task. Many of our railway stations are very old—many are originally Victorian—and it is a very expensive process. There are also heritage issues to be considered in how we deliver that process, but £370 million is a considerable sum and it will take us a long way towards that objective.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend consider asking the train operating companies to ensure that there are enough
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staff to help such people on stations? We are going to have to wait a long time for the physical changes, but the presence and usefulness of lots of staff can transform the situation for those travelling.

Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we have sufficient staff available to help disabled people and they must be properly trained in how to do so. I will certainly ensure that the train operating companies receive that message.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Given the importance of providing disabled people with greater access to public transport and given the announcement in the 2005 Budget of a free travel pass for buses in 2006, how many buses does the Minister think will be compliant with the disability regulations to allow disabled people access to get on them by that year?

Dr. Ladyman: I do not have the figure to hand, but I   will happily write to the hon. Lady to provide her with the current estimate. I entirely agree that as many buses as possible should be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act and huge investment is going into the bus as well as the train network.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that when the 1995 Act was being piloted through the House by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), acting for the Government of the day, the railway industry was   comprehensively consulted on this matter? To be honest, most of us expected somewhat more progress after 10 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) recently gave the House an example of disabled people having to travel in the guard's van. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands the urgency of this matter and will do his utmost to ensure the transformation that disabled people are entitled to expect.

Dr. Ladyman: I certainly agree with my right hon.   Friend's sentiments. He has had a long and distinguished career in fighting for the rights of disabled people and, indeed, in ensuring that the Disability Discrimination Act was passed. I would ask him to be a   little patient for the publication of our strategy. It should not be delayed too long now and I believe that it will provide him with a clear indication of how seriously we take this issue and how quickly we want to see progress on it.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Railway stations such as the one at Abergavenny, which my constituents use, are unmanned late at night, so there is no one on the station to help disabled people across the line. It has been the practice that attendants on the trains carry out that service, but when a train is running late and the train operators are liable to a penalty on that account, it is sometimes not provided. In those circumstances, will the Minister ensure that train operators always provide that service?

Dr. Ladyman: I will certainly ensure that that problem at the hon. Gentleman's local station is looked into.
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I   share the hon. Gentleman's concerns—it is unacceptable if disabled people are left in such circumstances.

Night Flight Restrictions

4. Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): If he will extend the 1999 air traffic night restrictions imposed at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted to other airports with increasing night time air traffic. [25397]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): We indicated in "The Future of Air Transport" White Paper that we would consider exercising powers similar to those used to regulate noise at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted at other airports, if there were evidence that a major noise problem was not being dealt with adequately through local controls. However, the Government's preference remains that local solutions should be devised for local problems, wherever possible.

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Luton airport is now handling more night flights than Heathrow, however, and the noise levels are becoming excessive. Stevenage residents would like the Minister to implement one of the World Health Organisation's guidelines on noise by setting up a mapping and monitoring exercise to establish whether noise levels in the Luton airport area are, as they fear, excessive.

Ms Buck: There are a number of points to consider.

On the matter of designation, we have made it clear that it remains an option, but it is not a power that is   triggered by numbers. Indeed, we have said that designation is available as a power if we agree that   airport operators are consistently failing to deal   with problems in the local area. We accept the World Health Organisation's guidelines as a long-term target to which to aspire. That is why we have adopted a multi-pronged approach with airport operators to bear down on noise by encouraging quieter aircraft, using noise contours and by encouraging improvements in operational management such as noise preferential routes and continuous descent approach. In the Civil Aviation Bill, we have clarified the powers for fining airlines if they deviate from such strategies.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Minister could probably write my question herself, thanks to my interest—no doubt tedious to the Department—in the activities of Nottingham East Midlands airport. That airport is located entirely in Leicestershire, yet is wholly owned by 10 local authorities in Manchester.

The Minister kindly held a meeting recently with me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), at which we discussed noise caused by night flights. Nottingham East Midlands airport has more night flights than Luton airport. The Minister talked about local decision making, but what does she mean by "local"? What does she want the airport to do to make the lives of my constituents in
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south-east Leicestershire, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), almost tolerable?

Ms Buck: We want airline operators to bear down on noise, using the powers available to them at present and the ones that we are clarifying and strengthening in the   Civil Aviation Bill. Also, complaints made by constituents must be dealt with properly, as I explained when I met the hon. and learned Gentleman and the   right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr.   Clarke). I have also discussed those matters with the Manchester Airport Group, and I have made it clear that we will monitor the problem closely and ensure that service delivery is improved.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Minister is right to ensure that local decisions affect the final determination in respect of designation. The White Paper and the Civil Aviation Bill say that stringent noise controls will be imposed, but how does the Department define the word "stringent"? Is there a chance that my hon. Friend can answer that today?

Ms Buck: Noise controls vary because every airport is different, and that is why we have said that most airports must encourage local responses. Airports must profile their local noise contours and encourage reduced noise levels. The various methods by which they can do that include using quieter aircraft and implementing better operational management procedures. Also, charges and penalties can be imposed on airlines that deviate from that strategy.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Can the Minister justify allowing the Luton local authority to regulate night flights at Luton airport, given that it owns the airport's freehold and gets a bonus for every flight in and out? The noise difficulties, however, are suffered by my constituents in Hitchin and Harpenden and by the constituents of the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett). Surely Luton cannot claim to be a London airport when it is regulated in a different way from all London's other airports.

Ms Buck: We have made the matter absolutely clear. It is not simply a question of the number of flights, but whether airports are failing to implement the measures available to them. We have no reason to believe that that is happening. Luton airport has published its master plan and, when a planning application is submitted, it will be for the planning authority to determine whether it wishes to impose controls on the numbers of flights. The measures available to local authorities, and the powers that are clarified and strengthened in the Civil Aviation Bill—

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Strengthened?

Ms Buck: The powers are clarified and strengthened by the Bill, and will be sufficient to ensure that airports continue to bear down on noise. It is worth remembering
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that the area affected by noise as set out in Luton airport's policy in respect of jets flying at night has remained consistent since 1994.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The noise problems at East Midlands airport are not at their most acute in Harborough in south-east Leicestershire or in Melton in north-east Leicestershire, but there are serious problems in south Derbyshire and   Rushcliffe—that is, around the airport itself. What weight will the Minister give to the master plan regime emerging at East Midlands airport and elsewhere? Some of the plan's targets have been set by the airports themselves, as happened with Luton, so will she discount them? After all, we do not ask tobacconists to   suggest ways to reduce cigarette consumption, or brewers to do the same with alcohol, do we?

Ms Buck: No, we do not, but we are bound, both nationally and internationally, to have a balanced policy. We must ensure that the economic benefits of   aviation are balanced against the undoubted environmental impact. We have not received the master plan yet but, when we do, we shall appraise it carefully. The powers available to us include those that I have discussed with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). If we come to be satisfied—and we are not at that point yet with Luton—that an airport has consistently failed to deal with the problem of noise caused by night flights, we can resort to the power of designation.

Mr. Duncan: The problem is that the supposed night   flight restrictions at designated airports such as Heathrow are about to be rendered meaningless. If the Government get their way on the Civil Aviation Bill, now in the other place, the limit on the number of flights will be replaced by noise quotas, which are a vague and inaccurate measure of disturbance. There will no longer be an effective night flight regime that could be extended to other airports—even if the Minister were to choose to do so. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State now reconsider their policy of removing the requirement to set a numerical limit on flights at night?

Ms Buck: I do not agree. The whole point of the proposal in the Civil Aviation Bill is to provide an incentive for the airport operators and airlines to continue to bear down on the level of noise. Those powers are available, but it is not necessarily the case—as clearly stated in the Bill—that they will be used. The Bill allows the Secretary of State—after 2012 at the end   of the current night noise consultation period—to choose to make that change if he so wishes. If he does not wish to and feels that it would in any way lead to a diminution in the powers available to him, he does not have to do so.

Mr. Duncan: Essentially, in non-designated airports, there is no restriction on the growth of flights at night. The legislation being considered at the moment permits an airport to charge for noise and emissions, but there is no limit on the number of or growth in night flights. Does the Minister have any appreciation whatever of   the anger and frustration people feel about the disturbance caused by that policy?
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The Government are re-routeing flights over rural areas, where noise at night is much more disturbing. They refuse to establish a reasonable regime for limiting flights at night. They decline to establish a process that could simply give us the facts about who is flying where, and they pretend that noise quotas will solve the problem. The Government's aviation policy is a complete and utter shambles. When will they listen to the concerns of people—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too long—

Mr. Duncan:— who only want to get a good night's sleep?

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Ms Buck: I completely understand, and have said so on several occasions, that people who live near airports often suffer from a detrimental impact as a consequence of noise. However, as I said earlier, it is a question of a   balanced approach. The whole country benefits from   the £10 billion contributed by aviation and the 200,000-plus jobs that are dependent on it. We have a duty to balance that economic benefit with what we can do to ensure that the undisputed environmental impact, including noise, is ameliorated.

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