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House of Commons

Tuesday 23 October 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Deaths

1. Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): What recent progress her Department has made in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads. [159761]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker. The number of people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads has fallen by 33 per cent. in the last decade and the number of children killed or seriously injured has fallen by 52 per cent. in the same period. However, there are still around 3,000 people dying, and nearly 30,000 being seriously injured, every year. Clearly, we need to continue to work hard as there is always more to be done on road safety.

Mr. Turner: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I suggest that he looks at the regulations that prevent local authorities from putting traffic-calming measures in place on classified roads, such as City road and Frog lane in Wigan? If we can put such measures in place, we can help the Government to drive down the number of terrible accidents and serious injuries throughout the country.

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend has a strong point to make on additional speed restrictions on urban roads. A Transport Research Laboratory study showed that in 20 mph zones accidents fell by 60 per cent., child accidents by 67 per cent., and cycling accidents by 29 per cent. We have devolved the responsibility and authority to introduce the zones to local authorities, and I know that many authorities across the country are taking advantage of those regulations.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): But is the Minister aware that the number of deaths on our roads could be cut by several hundred a year, and the number of serious accidents by over double that number, at a stroke if we were to abolish the ridiculous ritual whereby we put our clocks back every autumn, thus plunging the country into mid-afternoon darkness?
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Will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State to see whether she can persuade the Cabinet to allow Britain to remain on British summertime throughout the year in the interests of road safety, albeit initially on a trial basis?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I seem to remember answering that question last year, when I was a junior Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry and responsible for time. [Interruption.] Somebody has to be the Minister for time, and I’m your man. The evidence that was presented showed clearly that there was a strong split in the country between those in favour of the change and those against. The statistics on road accidents, compelling as they were, were not entirely convincing. I seem to remember that we tried the arrangements that the right hon. Gentleman suggests, as did other European states, and we all reverted to the time zones that we currently use.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Motorcyclists are particularly badly represented in the figures. I understand that some 20 per cent. of casualties and serious injuries involve people on motorcycles. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps he is taking to address that problem?

Jim Fitzpatrick: As my hon. Friend suggests, motorcyclists continue to be disproportionately represented in the casualty figures. We have been working closely with representatives from the motorcycling industry and with user groups. Indeed, I have met three such groups in the past three weeks. In 2005, we published the Government’s motorcycling strategy, which sets out a range of actions to make motorcycling safer, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: 600 of the 3,000 people who were killed in the last year for which figures are available were motorcyclists, and that is just entirely wrong.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I have one of the most dangerous roads in Britain, the A59, in my area. On one part of it, where sadly there have been deaths and serious injuries, there have been calls for a roundabout, but I am told by the county council that there are insufficient funds to build it. The council has put up a lot of cones, but accidents still occur. Will the Minister please look seriously at using all the fines from speed cameras to improve road safety on some of our most dangerous roads?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman obviously knows his area well, and raises the case of a particular road. The money that is raised from speed cameras is recycled. Local authorities can spend it as they wish. There is a priority system for dealing with accident blackspots, which is used by the Highways Agency and other authorities. If he wishes to drop me a line on the issue, I will certainly get information to him on the latest position in respect of the road that he is concerned about. Obviously, where we can take action to reduce accidents on particular roads, we ought to make sure that it is taken.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): May I offer a Welsh solution to an English problem? Will my hon. Friend visit my constituency and see the first-class
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20 mph zone that has been created outside Rhyl high school by North Wales police and Denbighshire county council, using money from safety cameras? It is one of the most comprehensive 20 mph systems in the country, with initial warnings, secondary warnings and a camera.

Jim Fitzpatrick: As a Londoner I hate to disillusion my hon. Friend, but he is describing not a Welsh solution but a local authority solution. As I mentioned to our hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) only a few moments ago, we have passed regulations to empower local authorities to do exactly what my hon. Friend’s local authority has done, because it brings benefits to the whole community and in many instances improves traffic flow routes as well. We want 20 mph zones to be introduced where they are appropriate. They clearly are effective. They cut accident rates, which means that we can protect our communities and particularly our children. I would encourage every local authority to engage with its community and see whether they are relevant for them.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): The encouraging headlines belie a grim statistical trend. One in six deaths on the roads are associated with drink driving. That has increased from 460 in 1998 to 540 last year. Does the Minister think that by presiding over a reduction in traffic police numbers and not making drink driving a key performance indicator for police forces, the Government are sending out all the wrong messages and contributing to the problem, not to the solution?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman raised that very point in Westminster Hall last week and we had an interesting discussion. I was able to reassure him that after our recent efforts to campaign against drink driving, there were more breathalyser tests in recent times. We liaise closely with our colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that enforcement is as high up their agenda as it is on ours. The hon. Gentleman says that one in six fatalities are caused by drink driving. In one in three fatalities, speed is a contributory factor. I am not in any way minimising that. We must take into account all the reasons why fatalities occur. There are far too many, and we both agree that as a Parliament we want to be seen to be doing all we can to encourage better driving on our roads.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The latest figures show that there has been a 37 per cent. decline in the number of fatal and serious child casualties in Stockport. There is still more work to be done, but will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the local road safety officers and the many initiatives that they are pursuing, including their valuable preventive work in schools?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the activities of the officers of her local authority. As I have mentioned in the past few answers, 20 mph zones and action at local level by local authorities can save lives. All of us in the House would encourage that.

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Peterborough Station

2. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): If she will make a statement on the proposed upgrading of Peterborough railway station. [159764]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): National Express East Coast Ltd has been awarded the franchise to run the east coast main line rail service from 9 December 2007. Its plans for Peterborough include additional car parking spaces, cycle storage, passenger information equipment and a refurbishment of facilities.

Mr. Jackson: The Minister will know that the redevelopment of Peterborough railway station is vital to the regeneration of the city centre in Peterborough. Will he give an undertaking that he will prevail upon Network Rail to work speedily and closely with key stakeholders in Peterborough, including Peterborough city council, Opportunity Peterborough and other private developers, to ensure that we have a 21st century railway station not too long into the 21st century?

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. His concerns for his railway station and the economic driver that it can be for his community is echoed by many Members of the House. Network Rail’s proposals for Peterborough station are entirely a matter for him and Network Rail’s private sector partners. However, I would be more than happy to convey to Network Rail the hon. Gentleman’s concerns that that work should be progressed early.

Heathrow (Security Delays)

3. Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): If she will make a statement on delays caused by security procedures at Heathrow airport. [159765]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): It is paramount that the UK’s aviation security regime is properly enforced. It is also clearly important that passengers are not unnecessarily inconvenienced by security measures. At Heathrow, as at all other airports, the Government are working closely with the industry to ensure that both objectives are fully considered.

Miss Widdecombe: Given that we have seen another summer of long queues, and that the Airport Operators Association says that the queues are too long, too intrusive and that good will has been lost on the part of passengers, does the Minister accept that it is now time for some sense and proportionality? By my nail scissors, there are none at the moment.

Ruth Kelly: I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is in her place asking questions; I am only disappointed that she has already declared her intention not to stand at the next general election. The whole House would agree that we will be the poorer for that.

The right hon. Lady referred to delays in security queues at Heathrow, but I make no apology for the fact that we need robust security measures to counter a real and serious security threat. I accept, of course, that at
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times there are delays and inconvenience for passengers, but we should bear in mind the facts: despite some of the news coverage, queues in central search areas are routinely running at less than 10 minutes for 95 per cent. of the time. However, if we can make sure that a robust security regime remains in place, I am determined that we should make progress on the issue. That is why earlier this year, in the summer, I convened an airline and airport operators security summit and why we have set up a working group to see what improvements can be made.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I have been going through Heathrow and Gatwick a few times in recent months on my journeys to Europe. On the way out, I have never had to wait more than 10 minutes between check-in and buying a book in Borders. On the other hand, on the way back there have been intolerable third-world queues at immigration. That is not my right hon. Friend’s responsibility, but will she have a word with the Home Office? Seeing the businessmen of the world queuing up to enter Britain, as if they were in some third-world country, is shaming and not a good advertisement for a modern UK.

Ruth Kelly: My right hon. Friend is a seasoned traveller and well used to dealing with some of the inconvenience that there clearly is for passengers at Heathrow. As he says, such matters are rightly for the Home Secretary, who takes a close interest in border control. I understand that there are more front-line border officers than ever before; their being there doing that important job is preventing thousands of illegal immigrants from entering the UK every year. The Home Secretary keeps such issues under review and will take action if that is required.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that robust security is one thing—we all support that—but unintelligent security brings security into disrepute? Will she look again at some of the knee-jerk regulations brought in last year in the wake of the scare? I do not want my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) to lose any more nail scissors.

Ruth Kelly: Despite my respect for the hon. Gentleman, I do not recognise his characterisation of the situation at all. The one-bag rule was introduced for extremely good reasons—there was a serious, real and ongoing threat to our national security. The UK restriction was intended to limit the number of X-rays per passenger. There was a clear choice: introduce the one-bag rule or stop planes flying altogether.

We keep such issues constantly under review, of course. I am absolutely clear that if we can make progress, we should; I am determined to work with the industry to see what alternatives are possible. However, let me be clear to the House: before sanctioning any change, I will have to be satisfied that it would not have an adverse impact on security.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Like me, Mr. Speaker, you are a regular traveller on planes, as you come from Scotland on a weekly basis. The experiences of my right hon. Friend the Member for
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Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) are nothing like ours; we have to wait for up to three quarters of an hour to go through security at Heathrow. It is a joke. It is down to the inconsistencies; we have to deal daily with bad management at that airport. However, I have an answer for you, Mr. Speaker. You should use London City airport, where security is far better, airline services are of a far higher standard and people do not lose their bags as they do at Heathrow every time they travel.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The aeroplane into London City airport leaves from Edinburgh; I prefer Glasgow.

Ruth Kelly: I certainly sympathise with my hon. Friend, but we need to be clear about the fundamentals of what is happening at Heathrow, which is the world’s busiest and most congested international airport and is operating way beyond its capacity. For example, I understand that its runways are operating at about 98.5 per cent. capacity, which reduces resilience and leads to delay.

As a Government, we have a clear response to that—we need to build more capacity. In the short term, terminal 5 is coming on stream, and in the medium term there will be the new terminal to replace terminals 1 and 2. In the longer term, the Government’s policy is that we need new runway capacity at Heathrow—consistent, of course, with local and environmental constraints, as set out in the 2003 White Paper. I look forward to hearing what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) says about that.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I think the Secretary of State’s answers show that she has spent too much time in the VIP lounge and not enough time with real passengers. The CBI has warned that Heathrow hassle is an increasing threat to inward investment in the UK. Chicago Tribune readers voted the airport the worst in the world, and anyone who has travelled knows what a deeply unpleasant experience it can be. When is the Secretary of State going to start knocking heads together to get something done to improve the quality of service at an airport that is rapidly becoming a national embarrassment? We think that passengers deserve better.

Ruth Kelly: Actually, I think that passengers deserve better. That is why the Government have the very clear policy position that if the local environmental conditions are met we should have a third runway, which would preserve Heathrow’s place as a premier international airport. The hon. Lady, however, seems to be torn from pillar to post. On the one hand, she is being advised by her one of her right hon. Friends that yes, we need more capacity at Heathrow; on the other, she is being advised by another right hon. Friend that we do not need any increase in capacity at all. Which will she do?

Mrs. Villiers: The Secretary of State cannot wash her hands of responsibility for the state of Heathrow today. The Government are part of the problem, when they should be part of the solution. Why do they think that 45-minute waiting times at immigration are acceptable? Do they not recognise that long queues are in themselves targets and security risks? Will they admit that their one-bag rule, which the Secretary of State
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defended again today, is not in place to preserve safety but because of inefficiency? Why do we have to put up with the one-bag rule in this country when no other country in the world does?

Ruth Kelly: There is a very clear answer to this: we have a more serious threat than other European countries do. The EU sets minimum standards which we have decided to exceed in order to limit the number of X-rays per passenger. That is for very serious reasons: we want to protect the public. If the hon. Lady is saying that I should lift the one-bag rule without regard to the security consequences, that is a totally irresponsible position. Of course we need to do better, and we keep these issues under review. Earlier in the summer, I convened a summit with the airport and airline operators. We have set up a working group to examine what progress can be made. I am optimistic that we will shortly be in a position to make progress, but first and foremost must be the security requirements of people in this country.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that part of the reason for long queues at Heathrow and throughout UK airports is the personal searches that take place of passengers by security staff, which are, I have to say, particularly intimate and intrusive. Will she work with the airport authorities to find some form of technology that could also be used in other countries to make these searches less intrusive?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the potential of better and more sophisticated technology. Indeed, at Heathrow, as in Glasgow, we are trialling sophisticated security screening technology and more sophisticated X-ray technology that may reduce the need for some of the intimate hand searches and may also lead us to a situation in which we can consider changing the restrictions that are currently in place. However, as I have already said, the first priority must be preserving and maintaining the security of the travelling public. Provided that we do that, I clearly want to make progress to improve the passenger experience.

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