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Night Flights

14. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on the frequency of night flights to Heathrow airport. [59790]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The Government set night flying restrictions at Heathrow airport on a seasonal basis. Those restrictions include a limit on the number of flights to and from the airport between 23.30 and 06.00. For winter 2005–06, that limit was 2,550; for summer 2006, it will be 3,250. That works out on average as about 16 flights per night; however, the limit is not set on a nightly or weekly basis.
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Mr. Mackay: Does the Minister accept that many of my constituents believe that there are more night flights in and out of Heathrow, which are causing unreasonable disruption? Can he give some assurances that the limit will not be raised in the future?

Derek Twigg: The right hon. Gentleman knows that last year we had the second stage of a consultation on night flying restrictions that will apply from October 2006 to October 2012. It a question of striking a balance between the economic benefits and the noise nuisance caused. We need to consider that carefully.

Secure Station Scheme

17. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will make a statement on the outcomes from the secure station scheme. [59794]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): Network Rail and most train operating companies are participating in the scheme. Their accredited stations have a comprehensive package of measures to reduce crime and reassure passengers. The relaunch of the scheme last March has seen a 52 per cent. increase in accredited stations.

Simon Hughes: Is the Minister willing to meet a delegation of London Members of Parliament to consider the fact that several underground stations have lost their safe accreditation and many commuter stations on the overground rail system are also not regarded as safe? At such a meeting, we could consider what is a major issue for London and what we could do to make all stations, not only those in the capital city, safe at all times for all passengers.

Derek Twigg: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a difference between the Mayor's responsibilities and the Department's responsibilities. We want improvements in security at all stations, including CCTV. We have the secure station scheme, and the new South Western franchise includes a particular section on the need to consider and improve security. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue, but he will understand the division of responsibilities between the Mayor and Ministers.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend have discussions with the Minister for Economic Development and Transport of the Welsh Assembly Government and bring to the attention of the appropriate Minister the fact that stations such as Bangor in my constituency are unmanned after 9.30 pm? It is not only a question of security, but of people with disabilities not receiving the help and attention they need when using lifts and so on.

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend takes a great interest in rail matters and I have met her and colleagues to talk about train services in Wales. As she knows, responsibility for trains in Wales has been transferred to the Welsh Assembly, so it would be best for her to direct her representations to the relevant Minister in the Assembly. I am sure that she understands that we are very much aware of the situation and want improvements in security at stations.
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Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I am grateful for the interest that the Minister has shown in the Cotswold line recently, but sadly it is too late to deal in the franchise process with the large number of unmanned stations on the line because the franchise has been let. In future franchise extensions and renewals, will the Department take a careful look at suggestions from train operating companies that more stations should have people actually manning them? As the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) has just said, it is intimidating for elderly and disabled people in particular who are trying to get access to rail stations.

Derek Twigg: As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we have exchanged correspondence on those issues and discussed them at previous Question Times. I understand his point, but we have to look on a station-by-station basis at the business case and at affordability, in terms of achieving the best value for money through improvements in the whole franchise. The early part of the Greater Western franchise will put in £200 million of investment, which will obviously improve trains and stations. We want improvements in those areas, but we have to look at things station by station.


The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Information Technology

19. Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the use of information technology to help reform public services. [59768]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Information technology is an essential component of the Government's programme to reform public services and enable citizen choice. IT can help deliver the responsive and increasingly personalised services that the public increasingly have a right to expect.

Anne Snelgrove: My hon. Friend knows, because I wrote to him last week, that we have a particular problem in Swindon, which I am trying to help the local education authority to solve. The LEA and schools feel that not enough children are taking up free school meals, which affects both funding and the relative position of schools in examination groups. Is there anything that my hon. Friend can do to help Swindon LEA to improve the take-up of free school meals so that the LEA receives fair funding and the young people have the number of teachers they need in front of them in their classes?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right. She has raised the matter on a number of occasions, not least in an Adjournment debate. I remain disappointed that there is continued misunderstanding about information-sharing under the Data Protection Act 1998, which is why the Cabinet Office is working with the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Information Commissioner to try to ensure best practice across public services and public organisations so that some of
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the unfounded concerns about information-sharing are not repeated. A Cabinet Sub-Committee is also looking into the matter. Finally, we are trying to find ways to ensure that businesses and individuals do not have repeatedly to provide the same information, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be relieved to hear that work is ongoing to overcome some of the misconceptions about the 1998 Act.

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

20. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What recent representations he has received on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. [59769]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the    Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Since the introduction of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to Parliament on 11 January, I have received about 50 representations from the private and public sectors as well as from individuals.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Does the Minister accept that this is not just about the Procedure Committee, nor people such as my former law lecturer John Spencer and his colleagues at Cambridge, nor even my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but people such as my 83-year-old constituent who says that we fought world war two to oppose dictatorship, so it is vital that provisions such as those in the Bill do not pass? Can the Minister tell us whether he is listening to the growing number of people, including the whole of my party, who believe that the measure is terrible, bad and wrong, and that it is anti-democratic legislation?

Mr. Murphy: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. I cannot congratulate him on the entire contents of his question. I know that the job that he has is not the one that he envisaged, but good luck to him nevertheless.

There is cross-party acknowledgement of the fact that the attempts at better regulation in 1994 and 2001 have not been effective in delivering the type of better regulation and simplification that we hoped for. As we said, a wider power is contained in the Bill, so it is important that we get the protections right as well. Strong protections are needed, so we are continuing to listen about how that can be achieved. As I say, there are meetings with the Chairmen of Select Committees and others to try to get those protections right. We do not want to repeat the problems of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, with a narrow definition of the nature of the burdens that prevented us from delivering the type of simplification to which businesses and public services are entitled.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Is there not potential in the Bill to cut red tape and administrative burdens not only on business, but on charities and voluntary organisations, which, when run on a small scale, are often administratively stressed? Is that not a very important step forward? Exactly how will that advantage be measured to ensure that we have done all that we need to do and that there are real benefits on the ground?
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Mr. Murphy: My hon. and learned Friend is characteristically correct in saying that the enabling powers in the Bill can provide the simplification that charities, voluntary organisations and public servants can expect. I understand that the Charity Commission is working on its simplification plan to find out how we can lift the burden of bureaucracy, administrative burdens and unnecessary regulations from the shoulders of charities and public servants. As that goes on, perhaps we can have conversations with my hon. and learned Friend and others about the most effective way of doing that, but the Bill is about simplifying rules and regulations that relate not only to business, but to the type of organisations that she mentions.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Would that it were, but the fact is that any good that the Bill may do in deregulating will be far outweighed by the extraordinary powers that the Minister is taking to himself and his colleagues in part 1. Part 1 simply will not do, and we will ensure that it proceeds no further. Given that the Bill reorders the relationship between the Executive and the legislature, will he consider the Power commission report as a representation on the Bill? Will he consider the very sensible suggestion that we now need a concordat that limits the powers of the Executive and enshrines the powers of Parliament?

Mr. Murphy: The principle of an additional legislative route through the House was established in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the 2001 Act. Some of the phrases that the hon. Gentleman has used in the past about the power being unprecedented in a time of peace were made about the 1994 Act as well, and that has turned out not to be the case at all. We are happy to continue to listen, and he is aware that we are actively considering how best to include an absolute veto in the Bill, so that the Commons, the Lords and their relevant Committees will ultimately decide whether the Government can progress with any simplification order that they propose. Ultimately, as we extend the power, it is important that we have additional, effective safeguards and protections in place.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am pleased that my hon. Friend is listening. I do not for a moment doubt that he is well meaning in proposing the measure, but does he accept that many Labour Members have concerns about the possible dangers to Parliament and that it would be wrong for the measure to pass as it stands at the moment? Let us just imagine what another Government could do if the Bill came on to the statute book.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right and I am happy to continue the dialogue not only with those who serve on the Select Committees, but with him as well of course. I accept that we need to get the protections and safeguards exactly right, but I hope that he acknowledges that the 2001 Act, which is currently in place, just does not suit the purposes of delivering the better regulation agenda that emerges from the Hampton report and the simplifications plans that are coming from the Departments. I am happy to have that dialogue, but we do not wish to repeat the mistakes and the tight controls in the 2001 Act, which everyone acknowledges was too tightly framed in its legal sense.
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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): It is not just the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the TUC who say that the powers are too wide. Is it not right that the business community has got on to the Minister to say that it wants an effective tool for deregulation, not the abolition of parliamentary scrutiny? Is it not right, as reported on Sunday, that Lord Grocott—the Government's Chief Whip in the other place—has expressed concern that if further changes are not made to the Bill,

The Minister keeps saying that he will make major changes to the Bill, but when will the amendments be tabled? I have tabled my amendments for debate on Report—10 of them, all of which offer the sort of safeguards that the Select Committees have asked for. When will he table his?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman knows that we are actively considering the specifics of vetoes and other matters. He knows that because we had a meeting this very morning to discuss those matters, and I had a similar meeting also this morning with those on the Liberal party's Front Bench. As we develop a consensus on how we enable the veto to be placed on the face of the Bill, we will table our amendments at that point.

Business rightly wants simplification and to maintain an additional route for the delivery of the simplification plans so that we maintain UK competitiveness in a global economy. The current legislative process is not fit for purpose and we need an additional way of bringing about the simplification that UK business, public servants and voluntary organisations so badly need.

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