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I cannot speak for what used to happen in some long-distant, mythical past, although I suspect that it always took a great deal of time to clear up serious incidents. The whole purpose of the traffic officer scheme is that accidents that do not involve injury or criminal activity are cleared away very quickly. The traffic officers have very tight targets, and the early evidence suggests that they are succeeding in clearing away accidents very quickly. We have learned from the initial implementation of the scheme, and day by day traffic officers are getting better and better. They are increasingly able to co-ordinate their work with the police, and results are improving as a consequence. I promise the right hon. Gentleman that
traffic officers will continue to learn from experience and that incidents will be cleared away as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend publish the evidence to the effect that those gentleman and ladies are performing well? And does he agree that it is essential that the powers to control and police highways remain within the control of properly trained police forces, and are never ceded to private or other interests?
Dr. Ladyman: I believe that the data from the first scheme in the west midlands have already been put in the public domain; if that is not the case, I will make it so as soon as the information is available. As soon as the schemes in other areas have operated for long enough to obtain some objective data, that data will be put in the public domain, too. I assure my hon. Friend that the early evidence suggests that the schemes are extremely effective. I entirely agree with her point about making sure that ultimate responsibility lies with the police. The work of the highways officers is totally co-ordinated with that of local police forces, and that is how it will stay.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In reflecting on the problem of delays caused by serious accidents, what assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the attention of drivers being diverted from the proper focus on what limited scope there is to move ahead, and on to the scene of the accident? And has he furrowed his brow and considered ways of disincentivising such unwelcome behaviour?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman, in his usual loquacious way, makes a constructive point. One of the mechanisms being considered is the possibility of constructing screens to hide incidents away, so that motorists will not be distractedthe so-called rubbernecking that is often the cause of another accident on the other side of the carriageway. For the reasons stated by the hon. Gentlemans right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), we do not want to delay the clearing of debris following accidents by putting up screens when it may be better to get on with the clearance, but they are being considered where cost-effective and appropriate.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman):
Most roads are managed by local authorities. The Traffic Management Act 2004 placed a duty on local authorities to manage their road network to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on their network and those of surrounding authorities. The Act gives authorities additional tools better to manage parking policies, bus lane enforcement and the co-ordination of street works. The Act has also created traffic officers to help to keep traffic moving and to ensure safety on English motorways. They are deployed by the network of regional control centres which
monitor the motorway network and deploy a range of other active traffic management techniques, such as access control and hard shoulder running, to ease congestion.
Dr. Ladyman: I can assure my hon. Friend that before we opened up the M42 to the active traffic management scheme and hard shoulder running, we took base data so that we were aware of the existing situation. As soon as the system has been running for long enough for us to make an objective assessment of its success as regards issues such as safety, we will publish that. It may take some years to get sufficient data, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the early signs are extremely encouraging. As far as I am aware there have been no safety concerns, and the easing in congestion resulting from hard shoulder running looks to be exactly in line with international experience where that has been tried before.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Surely one way of improving the network would be to ensure that highways departments have access to the resources that they need to carry out road safety improvements. When I asked the county council to carry out an improvement in my patch, on a roundabout on the A59 between Sabden and Clitheroe, I was told that it did not have the money, yet we have had fatalities and many injuries there. Would not it be better to get county councils, the police and the Treasury to talk together about preventing the Treasury from siphoning off the money from road speed cameras, and using it on road safety schemes that will save lives?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman needs to keep up. We announced last year that after this year the netting-off arrangements would end so that there is no linkage between cameras and revenue to safety partnerships. Next year, the money will go back to the local road safety partnership and can be spent not only on cameras but on other road safety measures. If the hon. Gentlemans local authority does not have sufficient money to do a piece of work that is its responsibility, I can only assume that that is down to the mismanagement of a Tory local authority.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The £1.2 million west midlands study mentioned by the Secretary of State concluded that the only way to reduce congestion was to introduce some form of road pricing. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the leadership of Birmingham city council, like other local authorities in the west midlands, has knocked back the principle of road pricing and is still consulting on that matter rather than on the practicalities of introducing such a scheme? Does he agree that one way of improving
Dr. Ladyman: I share my hon. Friends enthusiasm for the potential benefits of road pricing. I can tell her that we have a good constructive relationship with west midlands local authorities, looking into how road pricing might work. One of the challenges in a complex conurbation such as the west midlands is that there are many local authorities with different political leaderships and different views on the right way forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have to overcome the challenge of getting them all working together, but we are fully determined to do it.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): How can we have confidence in the management of the trunk road system when the Minister told me from the Dispatch Box more than six months ago that he would write to me about the A303which carries more traffic than most motorways, yet is not designed as suchand I have not heard a word from him since? We heard over the summer that the Sparkford to Ilchester improvements have been delayed until some future date, and that the sound reduction improvements that we were promised in 2004 are not in the programme. Why has the A303 been forgotten?
Dr. Ladyman: The A303 has not been forgotten. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who would normally claim to be actively involved in his local community and region, has not followed the process of regional funding allocation and prioritisation. It is one thing for Liberal Democrats to talk about devolution, but they clearly do not get involved in it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): Population changes are among a range of factors that the Department routinely takes into account when assessing the demand for train services. Other factors include line and station capacity, the number of train services already using the line and the availability of alternative transport modes.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, and I hope that he has a long and illustrious career. As he knows, Dronfield, the largest town in my constituency, has a population of some 25,000. Ten trains stop at Dronfield railway station every day. Let us compare that with Alfreton, a nearby town, which has a population a third the size of that of Dronfield but three times as many trains. Ninety-three trains a day stop in Long Eaton, which is far smaller than Dronfield. What is my hon. Friend doing to influence the current round of bids for the east
midlands rail franchise to ensure that demographic changes in places such as Derbyshire are taken into account?
Mr. Harris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind comments, and I pay tribute to her for her energetic campaign of work on behalf of her constituents on the subject of her questionespecially the Dronfield station action group, whose members I was privileged to meet earlier this afternoon. My hon. Friend rightly points out that the east midlands franchise provides an opportunity to improve services at Dronfield. I can confirm that a new service between Nottingham and Leeds was included in the east midlands franchise document that the Department issued in June, and I am confident that it offers the genuine prospect of an improved service to Dronfield.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): The Ministers predecessor will be welcome any time in Newbury, and will be stood many free drinks for his work in reversing the proposed cuts in the new timetable. The current Minister will have as warm a welcome if he does all he can to assist in retaining the late-night service from Paddington to Newbury, which is under threat. It operates from open platforms at Paddington and Reading, and there is no understanding at First Great Western of the value of the service. Will the Under-Secretary do all he can to help protect that vital service for late-night travellers?
Mr. Harris: I shall be honoured to accept any free drinks that the hon. Gentleman wants to offer at the Strangers Bar, but he has probably been misinformed about cuts to services. The British railway is expanding at a greater rate than that in almost any other European country. If he wants to write to me about specific aspects of the service about which he is worried, I shall be more than happy to discuss them with him. However, there is a massive increase in the number of passenger journeys in the British rail network, with more than 1 billion passengers carried on it every year. Such a service has not been experienced since 1961.
Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): Sunderland, a city of 300,000 people, was given a direct rail service to London. Great North Eastern Railway then had a hissy fit and has sought chapter 11 protection in the United States. Will my hon. Friend assure us that none of the other towns and cities that GNER serves will suffer any resultant harm, and that the Government will continue to get their full franchise agreement money from GNER?
Mr. Harris: The House would not expect me to comment on what is a matter for the private company, Sea Containers, which owns the GNER service. The Sunderland to London service, which is planned to commence on 10 December this year, is with the Office of Rail Regulation, and we expect an announcement soon.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con):
I add my congratulations to the Minister on his appointment. I am not sure that I hope he has a long and fruitful
career, but I hope that he enjoys his time at the Department, and that there is a change of management before too long.
Todays contract means that capacity will further increase and there will be more seats for many passengers on busy routes.
When he said that, was he aware that South West Trains plans require it to rip out about a quarter of the seats on its suburban trains? Was he also aware that more passengers will have to stand, and that its whole business plan is built around cramming more and more passengers into the same space on its trains?
The new south-western franchise will be of major benefit to everyone travelling in the south-western area, including his constituents. Capacity on peak-time services in the south-western franchise will increase by 20 per cent., and I would have thought that he would welcome that. I would also expect him to welcome the fact that, unlike many previous franchises, Stagecoach Ltd has committed to giving the Government £2.1 billion over the length of it. He has a problem with private companies giving money to the Government instead of the other way round, which I find to be an odd state of affairs.
Chris Grayling: The Minister does not seem to understand the problem. It is not much of a deal for passengers who must stand on the way to work for 45 minutes on trains that will have fewer seats in future than today. Nor does he seem to understand the problems of the franchise system. This morning, the chief executive of GNER said that it might have to hand back its keys to its franchise. In other areas, fares are going up, car park charges are being increased and more and more passengers are being crammed on to the same trains. Does not he accept that the franchising system, as changed by this Government, is not working?
Mr. Harris: I do not accept that. The south-western franchise represents an excellent deal for the passenger and the taxpayer. I do not accept the hon. Gentlemans analysis of the current system, and every time he opens his mouth on the matter, I have a sense of trepidation. First, he said that he regretted his Governments cack-handed privatisation of the rail service in 1994. Now he is saying that the franchising system is not sustainable. He also wants to decimate the rail service further by breaking up Network Rail and redrawing its responsibilities to be coterminous with the franchise areas. Under this Government, the British railway system is growing and taking more people on journeys. His proposals will not benefit, and certainly not expand, that railway system.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend will be aware of the announcement that the station in the village of Croy in my constituency is to become a
major hub in central Scotland, connecting to the rest of the UK with a park-and-ride facility. Does he agree that that example could be replicated across the rest of the UK, improving rail transport while also reducing road transport?
Mr. Harris: As a former employee of Strathclyde Passenger Transport, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to its work in Croy and to the efforts of the Labour-led Scottish Executive, who have been a partner in the project.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Minister will be pleased to know that Shrewsbury will finally receive its direct rail link to Londonnext year I hopethanks to a private company, Renaissance Trains, providing the service from Wrexham to Marylebone. Will he agree to meet that company to help it to cross the ts and dot the is?
Mr. Harris: I am always available for crossing ts and dotting is. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the proposed start date for the new service is 2007. The plan is that five trains will be used in each direction on that route.
Dr. Whitehead: My hon. Friend will be aware of the success of PTAs in co-ordinating bus services and integrating transport. When she undertakes the review of bus services and the extension of local authority powers in respect of their regulation, will she look at whether the use of PTAs could be extended to non-metropolitan areas, such as the Solent area in south Hampshire?
Gillian Merron: I am always happy to consider proposals from hon. Members, but I remind the House that local authorities have very mixed views about setting up new PTAs in their areas. Although having a single body can produce great benefits in terms of co-ordination, local authorities have to surrender some existing powers. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work being done in the area represented by my hon. Friend by the Solent Transport Partnership. It has greatly improved local transport for local people, for example through the introduction of the integrated travel card. Such improvements offer a good example to the rest of the country.
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