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Vulnerable Passengers

9. Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): If she will undertake a review of the extent to which public and community transport services meet the needs of vulnerable passengers. [190980]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): Good public transport is key to reducing social exclusion. That is why £2.5 billion a year is invested by central Government and local government to support buses and community transport services.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Will she encourage local councils such as those in County Durham to use the measures in the Local Transport Bill to make greater use of community transport in their plans to improve bus services locally? Does she agree not only that that would improve access to public transport for isolated and vulnerable communities in my constituency, but that it could meet their needs more fully than standard commercial services?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is a great advocate of public transport in her constituency and she is right to say that the Bill contains measures to help to improve community transport services. For example, it will allow community bus permits, which will enable payment for people who run community bus services. At the moment, there are certain restrictions on that, but the Bill will allow payment of community drivers in such circumstances. That is exactly the kind of service that could be a solution in rural areas and could be particularly applicable to vulnerable people who are perhaps isolated in such areas. It could be a good solution to some of the transport problems that they face.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Minister give a commitment to the House today and perhaps even agree to meet with me and some representatives
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from Shropshire councils over the concessionary bus scheme? She will be aware that there is real concern among those on disability living allowance on the lower rate, carers who are travelling without those they are caring for and also those with mental health disorders who are socially excluded from the new scheme. Will she meet me to discuss those important issues?

Ms Winterton: I shall certainly agree to meet the hon. Gentleman. The criteria for qualification for the concessionary bus pass were laid down in the Transport Act 2000, and I am happy to send him the details of those. They cover a number of people with disabilities, and there is discretion for local authorities to extend the scheme if they wish to do so. I am more than happy to explain the details of that scheme to him.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

10. Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the effect of extending rail services on levels of greenhouse gas emissions from transport; and if she will make a statement. [190981]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Department has estimated that the additional rail capacity required by the high-level output specification would result in a net increase in annual transport carbon dioxide emissions of around 102,000 tonnes by 2014. However, the crowding relief benefits of the investment are more than 70 times greater than the associated cost of additional carbon emissions.

Mrs. Dean: Does my hon. Friend agree that later evening services allowing people to leave their cars at home can play a part in reducing carbon emissions? Does he understand my concern, and that of Staffordshire county council and the North Staffordshire community rail partnership, about the current and proposed times of last trains serving both Burton-on-Trent and Uttoxeter compared to the times of last trains serving towns of similar size? Currently the last train leaving Uttoxeter from Derby is the—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Supplementaries must be brief, and I think that the Minister has heard enough.

Mr. Harris: My hon. Friend’s point is valid, but as has been said from the Dispatch Box a number of times in the past, the Government are not in the business of carrying fresh air around the country. If only two or three people travel in a railway carriage late at night, that will result in a much bigger carbon footprint for each of them. There is a case for providing later services where there is a demand, but I hope my hon. Friend will accept that franchises are designed following extensive research and consultation with the prospective markets. If there is no market for late-night services, running extra services carrying very few people would do nothing to reduce the carbon imprint of the railway industry.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Electrified rail and light rail services produce lower carbon dioxide emissions than diesel services. What plans has the Minister to increase investment in electrification?

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Mr. Harris: It is heartwarming to see the enthusiasm with which Liberal Democrats embrace new spending commitments, when they dismiss so easily the commitments that the Government have already made to investment in the railway infrastructure. We have made a deliberate and political decision that increasing capacity on the network must be our priority over the next six years. We will spend that £10 billion on, among other things, buying 1,300 new railway carriages. Although electrification will be considered on a case-by-case basis, we do not think it should be given the same priority as the purchasing of extra capacity.

Topical Questions

T1. [190962] Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): Today I set out my strategy for tackling congestion in our urban areas and on our motorways. I published a report exploring where hard-shoulder running and traffic management systems could bring most benefits, and set out proposals for preserving the benefits of new capacity.

The Heathrow consultation closed on 27 February, and the many thousands of responses are now being analysed. I expect to make a decision later this year. On 26 February, I laid a statement about the measures that we have secured from First Great Western to improve its service and deliver a package of direct benefits for passengers.

Mrs. Moon: Given my right hon. Friend’s announcement today about motorway congestion, does she believe that the M4 in Wales would benefit from hard-shoulder running, and when does she expect to expand the programme?

Ruth Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for her interest. Today I published a map of the main motorway network across England, showing the most congested parts of the network and also the roads where it might be possible to open up the hard shoulder for extra capacity. I am sure that the M4 is one of those roads. Of course, the Welsh Assembly may wish to examine the proposals. Where trials have been held we have seen not only an improvement in journey times but, perhaps more important, much more predictable journey times and lower carbon emissions, and motorists using the M42 have welcomed having a managed motorway.

T2. [190963] Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): In light of Bolton council’s unanimous decision to hold a referendum on the introduction of congestion charging in Manchester, will the Secretary of State now insist that the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities introduces a Greater Manchester-wide referendum before any decision is made on the introduction of congestion charging?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman refers to a bid that is currently before my Department for extra investment in public transport in Greater Manchester. As a consequence, an offer to introduce an element of congestion charging around Manchester city centre has been made. No bid has yet been agreed and it will be
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for the local authorities in Greater Manchester to decide how to consult on that package if and when it is agreed. One of the tests that the authorities have set themselves is a public acceptability test, so as well as delivering on combating congestion in urban areas, which is very important, they will also have to decide how they want to take the consultation forward.

T3. [190964] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Last week I raised the problem of protesters climbing on top of a flight from Manchester at Heathrow airport as I was walking by the gantry. What have the Government done after my demand for an investigation? What will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that security at our airports is up to the highest quality and standards?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): TranSec is responsible within the Department for security for all our transport modes. An investigation into the incident is going on and we will learn the lessons from it. We take the highest level of precautions to make sure that the travelling public are protected as best as possible. There are spot-checks at airports, ports and other transport areas. Every endeavour is made to make sure that stunts like those we saw last week both at Heathrow and here do not happen. However, we have to be extra vigilant against determined extremists; we can never be absolutely sure that we can defeat them.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Do the Government still support the statement of December 2006 by the then Transport Minister, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), that a national road pricing scheme would be introduced by the middle of the next decade?

Ruth Kelly: My priority is to focus on the congestion experienced by today’s motorists. It is right that there will be a debate, and I am sure that the hon. Lady, who has already expressed her views on the issue, does not want to see any form of road pricing now or in future. We are committed to examining the technology to see whether we can address people’s real concerns about privacy, enforcement and how fair a national road pricing scheme would be. But I am clear that we need to focus on congestion now, opening up the hard shoulder for extra car traffic where we can, managing motorway speeds to encourage a smoother flow and locking in the benefits through car-sharing lanes or toll lanes where that makes sense.

Mrs. Villiers: Why will the right hon. Lady not just admit that Labour’s flagship national road pricing scheme is now dead in the water? Does her announcement today mean that the planned widening schemes for the M1, M6 and M62 are now being permanently shelved? Does the announcement also mean that the Government are highly unlikely to press ahead with any motorway widening in the future? Will the revenue from the new tolls that she wants to be introduced be spent on transport, or will it go back into the Treasury pot?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Lady asks me whether the policy is dead in the water; I would offer her a motoring analogy instead. I would describe it as a nifty overtaking
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manoeuvre to get past stationary traffic ahead. The debate about national road pricing has become increasingly sterile, with enthusiasts thinking that road pricing is the answer to all their problems and with people on the other side saying, “Over my dead body.” I am focusing on today’s problems faced by ordinary motorists. Virtually all the capacity that could be delivered by motorway widening could in theory be delivered by hard-shoulder running. That will not be possible in every part of the motorway network, partly for technical reasons and partly for engineering reasons. Today we published a map showing where it might make sense. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Lady asks about the M25 and the M6. The M25 is a quite long way down the procurement process on sections 1 and 3. We will go ahead with conventional widening, which will take place where it makes sense on the motorway. I am determined robustly to test the other sections of the M25 against the alternative proposition of hard-shoulder running. [Official Report, 18 March 2008, Vol. 473, c. 5MC.]

T5. [190966] Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I welcome the planned investment in our railways, which is essential if we are to encourage more people to use rail, rather than road, and thus cut our carbon emissions, but what guarantees can Ministers give that works planned for the next six years will actually be completed, particularly in light of the comments we have heard from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman about robbing Peter to pay Paul?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of that investment, and under this Government there has been record investment in the railways. As a consequence, there has been a 40 per cent. increase in the number of people using our railways and more than 1 billion passenger journeys made every year. That level of investment will continue under this Government. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to say what on earth would happen to it under any other Government.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What action will the Secretary of State take in light of the Civil Aviation Authority recommendation to the Competition Commission that there is insufficient airspace around London and the south-east to accommodate any further growth in traffic that would result from a third runway at Heathrow? Can she confirm that there will be no further runway at Heathrow without the expressed support of the CAA and National Air Traffic Services, or is she prepared to override those concerns and put passengers at risk?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The CAA has examined our White Paper proposals and believes that the necessary airspace capacity can be provided safely. Airspace change proposals will be subject to the rigorous requirements of the CAA’s change process in terms of development, consultation, approval and implementation. We do not recognise the description the hon. Gentleman has just given.

T4. [190965] Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Why have Wellingborough rail commuters seen the price of their tickets increase at more than twice the rate of inflation, when at the same time the frequency of trains has been cut, overcrowding has increased and seat reservations have been withdrawn?

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Mr. Tom Harris: The hon. Gentleman knows that this Government’s fares regulation policy is that, overall, regulated fares should not rise by more than the rate of inflation plus 1 per cent. For the most recent increases, that was equivalent to £4.8 per cent. per year over a basket of fares. If he is suggesting that the Government should extend regulation to cover all fares, perhaps he should speak to his Front-Bench colleagues and decide whether that incredibly large spending commitment would be supported by them. In the meantime, however, we will continue to regulate the most widely used fares, and we will continue to invest at historically high levels in the railway industry. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not support that; that is a matter for him and his constituents.

T8. [190969] Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the 1,300 additional rail carriages to which the Minister referred earlier, but is he aware that only three of them are currently earmarked for East Midlands Trains? Will he revisit the data and the predictions that that decision was based on, and will he ensure that this very successful main line gets what is necessary to meet the demands of the franchise and the needs of the customers?

Mr. Harris: I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but as I said earlier, I do not believe that Ministers are best placed to make operational decisions about what railways need; those decisions should be made by railway professionals. In putting together the indicative rolling stock plan that was published a short time ago, we listened to the requests and the expert opinions of the railway industry itself. The 1,300 new carriages—they are all new carriages, which will be delivered and running on the rail network by March 2015—are not the end of the story. I fully expect—I am optimistic about this—that the train operating companies will procure a significantly higher amount than 1,300 in that period, and it might well be the case that the east Midlands receives extra carriages. However, that will be a matter for the train operating and rolling stock companies.

T6. [190967] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Will the Secretary of State explain why we should ever again believe anything that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency says, following its having told the Public Accounts Committee that 38 per cent. of motorcyclists were evading paying their excise tax only to then revise that figure dramatically downwards to 6 per cent.?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Department accepts the difficulties that the 2000 survey results caused, and an apology has been sent to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee along with an explanation as to how the anomaly occurred. The straightforward explanation is that the DVLA moved, with the Department, from collecting data manually to using automatic number plate recognition cameras. The different methodology led to significantly lower revised figures, but they were more accurate. Because of the disparity, manual checks were made—this involved 1.6 million cases—and the offending number plates were checked again to ensure accuracy. In fact, the loss to the Exchequer was much smaller than reported, which ought to have been a good news story for law-abiding taxpayers, but because we
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had to spend time explaining an anomaly and making the apology, it was not the good story that it ought to have been for the Department.

T7. [190968] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that London’s congestion charge is not working, because the number of vehicles has increased, speeds have decreased and Londoners are paying more taxes? Will she review the Greater London Authority Act 1999 in order to impose a duty on the Mayor to speed up traffic? Such an approach would contrast with the anti-car posturing of the present incumbent, who will be leaving soon.

Ruth Kelly: No, I do not agree. The congestion charge is groundbreaking and we are visited by delegations from across Europe. Indeed, only this past week a delegation from the United States paid me a visit to explore how the scheme has been implemented in London. Traffic levels have decreased, bus patronage has increased and fares have been frozen by the Mayor, who is doing a great job for this city.

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T9. [190970] Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend received any representations to take London’s bendy buses off the road, replace them with Routemaster buses and put 1,700 bus conductors on the buses? Has she had an opportunity to cost those proposals? Does she agree that before people make statements on the radio, they should cost their proposals carefully, otherwise they will not be making policy statements, but staging political stunts? When does she suspect the old Etonians opposite—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend has made his point with passion and extremely well. I have received a representation, as I believe have Londoners, that that policy would cost them only £8 million—I understand that the correct figure is closer to £108 million. The proposal would force up London bus fares by about 15 per cent.

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