Previous Section Index Home Page

Airedale and Wharfedale Lines

4. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Whether she plans to provide extra carriages on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. [159766]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): Earlier this year, the Department supported capacity improvements which have maintained longer trains on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. In addition, the rail White Paper published in July set out the Government’s intention of buying a capacity increase of 53 per cent. for peak hour commuter trains serving Leeds between now and 2014.

Philip Davies: Although I welcome the extra carriages promised by the Minister, lines are overcrowded now. Providing carriages many years in the future is not good enough; we need them now. Will he tell me how many of those extra carriages will be on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines, and what work will be done to ensure that infrastructure is in place to cope with extra carriages, such as longer platforms?

23 Oct 2007 : Column 152

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman should be careful when listening to the propaganda put out by his Front Benchers. The spending commitments in the White Paper that was published in July included a commitment to 1,300 new carriages. Those carriages will be rolled out throughout the network from next year, not 2014 as suggested by his Front-Bench spokesmen. Network Rail’s strategic business plan, due at the end of October, will tell us where capacity will best be provided, and a final decision on the allocation of all the carriages will be made at the beginning of the new year.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that the Airedale and Wharfedale lines are victims of their own success? We have refurbished stations such as that at Guiseley, new rolling stock that replaces 40-year-old, slam-door cast-offs inherited from the last Government, and ever increasing numbers of passengers. Does he recognise that in order to overcome major problems with overcrowding we desperately need extra capacity, and extra car parking provision at stations such as Guiseley to reduce the pressure on surrounding neighbourhoods?

Mr. Harris: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Being a Minister with responsibility for rail at this point in the history of railway services is a privilege because the problem that I have to deal with is one of inexorably rising rail patronage. Under the last Conservative Government, however, particularly in 1982, a record low number of passengers were using the network. In the past 10 years there has been a 45 per cent. increase in patronage, which is in no small part down to the role the Government have played in investing in the rail industry, and in ensuring that our economy encourages record numbers of passengers to use the rail industry to get to jobs that did not exist under the Tories.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): As the Minister will know, the Airedale and Wharfedale lines, and the other local Leeds lines, need something like 100 additional carriages, and that need is evident throughout the country. Would he please clarify where the 1,300 promised carriages will go? If they are to be delivered early next year, have they already been ordered? What impact will there be on disputes over the future of rolling stock leasing companies? What will the timing be, and when will local lines know about it, so that they are in a position to plan? When can passengers look forward to having a small chance of finding a seat?

Mr. Harris: If I have inadvertently misled the hon. Lady about the delivery time scale for the 1,300 new carriages, I apologise. I said that a rolling stock plan would be finalised early in the new year. The 1,300 new carriages will be delivered between next year and 2014. She will be disappointed if she expects major changes to the structure of the industry as far as the rolling stock companies are concerned. I believe that the current structure of the industry is fit for purpose and that the rolling stock companies are doing what they intended to do, so I do not envisage any change to that structure. Through the current industry structure, we can guarantee those 1,300 carriages—an increase of
23 Oct 2007 : Column 153
more than 10 per cent. on the current level of rolling stock on the railways. That is the biggest single step change increase in capacity for the rail industry since the end of the second world war.

Train Overcrowding

5. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What her policy is for reducing train overcrowding. [159768]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): The rail White Paper was published in July. It sets out the resources we intend to make available to the rail industry and the increases in capacity, as well as safety and performance, that we expect the industry to deliver in return. In addition to this, we have given the green light to Crossrail to relieve congestion on both rail and underground networks.

Bob Spink: I am grateful for that answer, and the decision on Crossrail is particularly welcome. The c2c train operator on the Fenchurch Street line has done an excellent job. It is one of the best performing in the country and has improved reliability while keeping down ticket costs. However, overcrowding on that line is unacceptable and unsafe. My constituents who try to get on those trains at Benfleet station have difficulty finding seats. What will the right hon. Lady do to encourage further investment so that we can get more rolling stock, and will she support my campaign for an additional terminus station at Canvey Island?

Ruth Kelly: First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks about Crossrail, which is a historic achievement under this Government. I understand his concerns about overcrowding—it is precisely for that reason that we are making the investment in capacity that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), has just outlined.

I also understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire for his constituents to benefit from Benfleet and Canvey Island. I know that c2c, a good operator, is already examining options for ways in which it might increase capacity on those routes.

The hon. Gentleman campaigns for a new station on Canvey Island; I understand that that is an expensive route to take. However, as he knows, if he comes up with a robust business case, with improved and significant private sector investment and a high level of benefits to cost, the Government will consider it.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows about overcrowding on the west coast main line. The train on which I travelled yesterday from Carlisle was horrendously overcrowded because of the cancellation of an earlier train. However, overcrowding is a day-to-day problem on the west coast main line. I do not understand why Virgin Trains proposes to run a train from London to Glasgow with only one stop at Preston, missing out Carlisle. That will put extra pressure on the other trains in the area in order to reduce the time by only three minutes. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister responsible for rail to meet me to discuss the matter before the timetable is agreed?

23 Oct 2007 : Column 154

Ruth Kelly: I shall certainly ask my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for rail to meet my hon. Friend—I should be delighted to do so. I am sure that he welcomes the £7 billion investment in the west coast main line upgrade. It has transformed the prospects for the route and means that far fewer people now choose to fly between London and Manchester but instead, like me, take the train. Of course, problems with overcrowding remain. They will be taken into account in any forthcoming spending plans. However, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for rail assures me that, given that the timetable is not yet finalised, he is happy to have discussions with my hon. Friend.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The right hon. Lady will know that congestion on the west coast main line is partly due to the fact that the trains have nine carriages. That is an increase of one on the original plan, which was for eight carriages. Negotiations are going on about providing a further two carriages to make 11 in all. However, Virgin Trains asks what profit is in that for the company if its franchise is to last only a short time. Will the Secretary of State look at the matter afresh and realise that if Virgin Trains is to provide two extra carriages per train at its expense, it needs a longer franchise period?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman will understand that such negotiations are never easy and that train-operating companies often come to the Department with requests for extensions to their franchises. He should consider the specific request that he mentioned in that spirit. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for rail assures me that he is optimistic that a deal about the extra carriages will be done. The west coast main line will benefit from greater train frequencies and more rolling stock as we deliver the single biggest increase in investment since the war.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend realise that, on the overcrowded Hove to London line, Network Rail is about to remove the trees from the cuttings? Is she or a member of her ministerial team willing to come and speak to representatives of my constituency, of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and experts from the university of Sussex, who are worried that the risk of landslip on that crowded line is greater than any danger posed by leaves on lines?

Ruth Kelly: I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend champions the concerns of her constituents. I understand that a meeting is already in the diary for tomorrow, when she will meet my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for rail. I am sure that she will use that opportunity to discuss those issues and ensure that the best solution is reached.

Buses (Antisocial Behaviour)

6. Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): If she will make a statement on levels of antisocial behaviour on buses. [159769]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): The 2004-05 British crime survey showed that around 1 per cent. of regular bus
23 Oct 2007 : Column 155
users had been a victim of a crime or antisocial behaviour on a bus. However, any level is too high and we continue to work with operators, local government, trade unions and other agencies to tackle the issue.

Anne Milton: Does the Minister agree that the issue is not just about crime? For many people, buses are becoming no-go zones. I was at the launch of the Surrey coalition for disabled people, a group that, among others, has raised with me the fact that buses can feel hostile and unpleasant. There is no point in extending free access to public transport, particularly buses, if people do not feel safe to travel on it. Does the Minister agree that it is a matter of discipline, respect and civil behaviour?

Ms Winterton: The hon. Lady is right that we must do all that we can to ensure that travelling by bus becomes the first choice, rather than the last resort. As I have said, the percentage of people who have been a victim of crime or antisocial behaviour is quite small. However, it is important that we continue, for example, to install CCTV. In London, every bus has around six cameras, to ensure that the police can take up issues where they are reported, while there are 360 extra police officers in London dealing with antisocial behaviour on buses. In the hon. Lady’s constituency, the safer Guildford partnership is looking at a number of issues, including how to make travelling on public transport safer. There is also the STOP—safer travel on buses and coaches panel—campaign, which is looking at what else we can do to overcome any problems that arise.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the number of attacks on buses is quite small, but that does not stop the public having a genuine apprehension, particularly on late-night services. Is not one solution to bring back the bus conductor, even though that would be at a cost to the bus operators?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. However, we should remember that the role of bus conductors was to allow passengers to buy their tickets, not to act as security guards. We should also remember that when conductors were employed in London they were the most assaulted members of staff, so reintroducing them is not the answer. However, it is important that we should continue to look at what further measures we can take, such as installing CCTV cameras, and ensuring that people report incidents to the police and that the police can follow them up. In that way, we can ensure greater safety.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of a survey conducted by the Birmingham Mail into bus use by passengers in Birmingham, which found a considerable increase in antisocial behaviour where the Tory-Lib Dem council had cut down on routes? Will she point out to the council that its duty is to increase passenger usage, not decrease it?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of local authorities in encouraging bus use. One of the things that we are doing through
23 Oct 2007 : Column 156
the draft local transport Bill is giving local authorities greater powers, which will make it easier to introduce quality partnerships, for instance, and if necessary, to introduce quality contracts, to ensure that local authorities provide the local transport that local people want, particularly bus services.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people mention antisocial behaviour on buses they are generally referring to young people, particularly in London, where they enjoy concessionary fares? Although there is no excusing antisocial behaviour wherever it occurs, does she agree that we should avoid demonising young people, because that might result in our restricting access to certain services to which they are entitled like everybody else?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend makes the extremely important point that we should not demonise young people. He might have heard some comments recently about the “scourge” of

and using buses as

I am afraid that those remarks were made by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). I hope that that does not mean that the Opposition are now backing, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing, the withdrawing of—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Transport Expenditure (Yorkshire)

7. Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): If she will make a statement on levels of transport spending in Yorkshire. [159770]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): The Department for Transport’s spending on transport services—road and rail—has increased by 77 per cent. over the six years to 2007-08 in the Yorkshire and the Humber region, up from £330 million in 2001-02 to £590 million in 2007-08.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for her answer, but will she tell the people of Yorkshire just how long they can expect to be rooted at the foot of the league table for her Department’s transport spending? Will she also tell the people of Leeds why £350 million to transform transport in Leeds has been deemed too expensive, even though it fulfils the criteria set out by the Department, but £16 billion on the Crossrail system in the south-east is deemed good value for money?

Ms Winterton: Something like £1 million a day is being spent to support Northern Rail. As I said, local transport funding for road and rail in Yorkshire and the Humber has increased by 77 per cent., and local transport funding itself has doubled in the past seven years. It has increased from £75 million in 2001 to £156 million in 2007-08, while £250 million of investment has come through the TransPennine Express franchise. The hon. Gentleman needs to remember that it can be difficult to
23 Oct 2007 : Column 157
make comparisons between the spending per head in the different regions, because of the amount that might already have been spent on big strategic road networks or on rail. Overall local transport funding in Yorkshire and the Humber has doubled, and the spending on roads and rail has increased by 77 per cent. I would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman feels that Lib Dem policies would produce that kind of—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Those are not matters for the Minister.

Duchy of Lancaster

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Social Exclusion

17. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Whether the public service agreement for social exclusion is intended to improve access to employment for the most socially excluded adults. [159745]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron): Helping more of the most excluded adults to obtain a job as well as a home is a key priority across government through the socially excluded adults public service agreement.

Mr. Devine: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. There is a particular difficulty with people who have chronic psychiatric problems. Will she tell the House what action she is taking to get those individuals back into the workplace and to educate employers about the benefits of employing those people?

Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend has a long track record of speaking up for that group of people, and I share his view that a home and a job are an important part of getting them back on track. I can offer him some good news. Through pathways to work, we are giving people assistance to manage their condition. We are also helping them through the increasingly successful local employment partnerships, involving more than 100 companies such as M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, which want to see such individuals skilled and ready to work and are prepared to offer them work. In addition, there is the recently announced jobs pledge, through which we will work closely with employers to get about 250,000 of the most disadvantaged people into work.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): The Minister will be aware that, since 1997, the number of people living in severe poverty has increased by 600,000, that working-age poverty has increased and that the number of young people not in work or full-time education has risen by 20 per cent. Perhaps we should therefore not be surprised that, last week, the Government decided not to publish their usual annual Opportunity for All report. Instead, they simply slipped out the bare indicators on the Department for Work and Pensions website with as little fanfare as possible. Was last Thursday thought to be a particularly good day to bury bad news?

Next Section Index Home Page