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11 Mar 2008 : Column 20WH—continued

The other issue is, of course, long-term incapacity benefit. There were fewer people on the benefit in 1997 than there are now because it was introduced in 1992, and even the most basic mathematics indicates that it would be nigh on impossible only four and a bit years after a benefit is introduced to have a significant number
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of people on it long term. We should start to be a little more mature when we bandy figures about.

I am delighted that this debate is being held today, because yesterday the Secretary of State and I met with John Knight, the head of policy for Leonard Cheshire Disability, to consider some of the issues in the organisation’s report. I know that my hon. Friends and, I would hope, hon. Members across the House, accept that we have made considerable progress in tackling poverty. Indeed, hon. Members alluded to that this morning.

However, we also recognise that there is difficulty in reaching a consensus on how some of the issues are assessed, and on how we calculate the level of disability poverty. We cannot reach consensus, although we continue to do work to try to get to the bottom of how we assess the real level of poverty.

Regardless of the methodology used, we accept that there is significant poverty among disabled people. According to our material deprivation measures, before housing costs, some 22 per cent. of individuals living in households affected by disability are at risk of income poverty, compared with 16 per cent. if no one in the household is disabled. We should not worry about the figures, but we should recognise that major issues must be addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and one or two other colleagues raised some specific issues. In the short time that is available to me, I shall try to pick up on those issues rather than give a set response to their contributions. My hon. Friend asked about disability living allowance take-up, particularly among disabled children. Again, I hope that colleagues recognise that it is difficult to assess the level of take-up, because DLA is an individually assessed benefit. Both DLA and attendance allowance are always difficult to calculate. However, we are working with the Policy Studies Institute on a feasibility study to explore the suitability of options for estimating take-up so that we can get to a position where we can understand what the take-up issues are.

Our disability and carers service is working with “Every Disabled Child Matters” to promote take-up of DLA among children and, more generally, to determine how the service can be more responsive to their needs. It is tackling some of the issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill raised in the Select Committee. We are looking at how to pick up on some of those issues.

I am not sure that I ever did say that the access to work programme was a secret. If I did say that, I would suggest that it was because I am sometimes disappointed that, as my right hon. Friend highlighted, we do not get publicity on access to work and how it promotes employment for disabled people. My right hon. Friend is dead right, as we say north of the border, on this one: the programme is successful and popular, and it generates net flow-backs to the Exchequer. There is no dispute about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North, who is the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, was right in saying that there were some issues with access to work. I hope that he agrees that there have been some significant changes in how we operate—the
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turnaround times are certainly better now than they have ever been. I listened to his radical approaches, not just on access to work but on other aspects of the benefit system, and I shall consider them over the next period or so.

On the extra costs of disability, again, it is difficult to get to a concept or methodology that is generally accepted. However, I put it on the record this morning that we welcome the Leonard Cheshire Disability report as a major contribution to the debate.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North highlighted the importance of child care in encouraging disabled adults and parents in a family to move into employment. He may be aware that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is seeking to improve the lives of disabled children with its “Aiming High for Disabled Children” implementation strategy. A key part of the additional investment will be improved access to child care for disabled children. His comments were spot on: we cannot tell parents of disabled children that we want them to move into work if they have major difficulties in accessing child care, and that is why we have welcomed the report.

I am not sure which hon. Member raised the matter of disabled children getting fair access to education. I believe we all agree that poverty comes in many guises. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said that there was sometimes a poverty of ambition. We all recognise that sometimes the seeds of poverty of ambition are sown when children are young, and that we need to ensure that our education system lifts their ambitions and aspirations. Indeed, since September 2002, schools and local authorities have been under a duty not to treat disabled pupils or students less favourably than those who are not disabled.

In the brief time that is left to me, I want to ensure that the message of this debate is not lost. One of the important ways out of poverty for disabled people is through work, and I welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on ensuring that the operation of our benefit system and our support for people who want to move into employment is adjusted—as a matter of fact, one could say “revolutionised”. We now have Jobcentre Plus and Pathways To Work, and partnerships are in place that are far more sensitive to the needs of the individual and of disabled people.

I am sorry that the past eight minutes or so have involved such a quick tour of some of the things that have been raised in the debate, but I shall write to hon. Members if I have missed anything important. I want to put it on the record that, yes, we have a lot more to do, and there are all sorts of things that we could do differently and better, but this Government certainly do not suffer from a poverty of ambition to improve the lives of disabled people over the next years. That is why “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” and the independent living strategy have been published. That is why we will, in fact, achieve what we set out to achieve. It is only by working with organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability and my colleagues in this Chamber that we will achieve that.


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Transport Infrastructure (Yorkshire and Humberside)

11 am

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr. Chope, with you in the Chair. However, there is a common error in the title of the debate, because it should be about Yorkshire and Humber. Humberside ceased to exist some 12 years ago and it is little lamented, not least in east Yorkshire.

I am delighted to have secured this debate and to have the opportunity to speak about an issue of great importance to my constituents and to the wider community of people across the Yorkshire and Humber region. It is a pleasure to stand opposite the Minister, with whom I debated in Westminster Hall when there was a rather unpalatable situation with community hospitals. However—thanks, doubtless, to the Minister and her colleagues—there were subtle changes in the Government position. I hope that today’s debate can similarly engender subtle changes in their position to the betterment of transport in Yorkshire.

In June 2006, I introduced a debate on the A1079 corridor between Hull and York. I argued that that road is dangerous, congested and cannot support a powerful, dynamic growth area. I could have expanded my arguments to include other roads, bus routes and train journeys affecting the whole region that are no longer fit for purpose and risk holding the county of Yorkshire back from the future growth, prosperity and success.

I shall discuss first the contribution that Yorkshire and Humber have made to the country’s economic development, especially over the past 10 to 15 years, then focus on the economic and social transformation that will be at risk unless improvements are made to the region’s transport infrastructure. I will then focus on what the region’s Members of Parliament, together with groups such as Yorkshire Forward and the Yorkshire and Humber regional assembly want to see from the Government in funding and support. I will also consider two specific issues: the A1079 road and the proposed reopening of the Beverley to York railway line. I am happy to give way to hon. Members from other parts of the region.

The basic position is that Yorkshire and Humber has, over the past five years or more, been at the bottom of the table of funding on transport. The Minister will tell us about the increases in transport spending overall and I do not deny that there have been increases. However, I am here to ask the Minister what the rationale is for Yorkshire receiving less per head than any other region in the country. I shall lay out the various areas where our transport infrastructure has been found wanting. Almost every part of the community recognises that that is so, and they have data to back it up. That brings into question any argument that says that giving the least spending to Yorkshire makes any sense.

Yorkshire and Humber is performing strongly. With a population of 5 million, the county ranks alongside Ireland, Greece, Norway and Singapore in population. Some 279,000 businesses contribute to an economy worth in excess of £80 billion. Growth in Yorkshire’s gross domestic product has been above the United Kingdom average for the past six years, and above the
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European Union average for the past four. Manufacturing is predicted to grow by more than 12 per cent. over the next 10 years, and five of the world’s top 10 companies have a base in the region.

In the East Riding of Yorkshire, where my constituency is located, business investment has grown significantly, and more people are moving to the area than ever before. The city of Hull has a successful port that caters for more than 1 million passengers a year and can handle up to 80 million tonnes of freight annually. Some £72 million has been spent on Hull’s infrastructure since 1990, and it supports a work force of many thousands.

The region as a whole is ideally located in the centre of the country. It supports two of the country’s three busiest motorways—the M1 and the M62—and the east coast main line, now under the National Express franchise, runs up to 800 trains a day, including 200,000 tonnes of freight. Hull Trains, which runs up to seven services a day between Hull and London, is a regional success story. It was established in 2000 with just three services a day.

Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): In Halifax we are campaigning for a direct line from Halifax to London. Perhaps in highlighting the benefits of the direct line from Hull to London, the hon. Gentleman might say how important such lines are for the social and economic benefit of towns such as Hull and Halifax.

Mr. Stuart: I agree with the hon. Lady. The direct line has had a positive impact on Hull, and I am sure that similar services could do so for Halifax. The Hull Trains service has received many accolades, including the prestigious Guardian/Observer/Guardian Unlimited travel award for the best train company. I hope that one day a Halifax train company will vie with Hull Trains for that award.

Yorkshire’s strong economic performance has been achieved in spite of, rather than because of, regional transport infrastructure. Let me read the concluding remarks from a recent report by new Labour’s pet think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, which looked into the state of transport links in the north of England in general:

I do not always agree with IPPR reports, but this time it hit the nail on the head. Hon. Members will be aware of the problems facing their local areas. Overall, road traffic usage in the region has increased by 20 per cent. in the past 10 years and, according to the regional assembly, journey times are expected to increase by 30 per cent. by 2012. According to the RAC Foundation, the A1/M1 between south Yorkshire and Leeds, and the M62 in west Yorkshire are both likely to be gridlocked by 2041.

On the railways, the region has seen a 50 per cent. increase in rail passenger numbers since 1996. Again, according to the IPPR, the main rail links in the north
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of England, particularly those between Manchester and Hull, and Leeds and Sheffield, are no longer “fit for purpose”. The east coast main line, although it is performing strongly, is now at capacity, and there are no specific funding commitments for that line for the period between 2009 and 2014. The situation is so bad that, when surveyed by Yorkshire and Humber chambers of commerce in November 2007, 60 per cent. of businesses said that they were losing income because of the region’s transport infrastructure—up 21 per cent. in just one year—and only 14 per cent. felt that the transport system in the region met their needs, compared with 17 per cent. nationally. The Hull and Humber chamber of commerce said in a recent briefing that

In east Yorkshire, the cities of Hull and York—two of the big five urban areas in the region—are let down by appallingly bad transport links. There is no direct rail link for passengers, who must go instead via Brough and Selby—an absurd route, which probably adds 45 minutes to each individual journey.

The A1079 is used by an estimated 15,000 vehicles a day. However, just 4.5 km of that road is dual carriageway, with the remaining 39.5 km being single carriageway. It is one of the most congested roads in the region: the journey times even from Beverley to Hull are creeping towards 45 minutes during peak times. It is one of the most dangerous roads, not just in Yorkshire but in the country as a whole. Since 2002, 25 people have been killed in traffic accidents, and 1,037 have been injured, which averages out at more than 200 year. This problem affects the whole region. According to figures released by the Department of Transport, 21,009 road accidents were recorded in Yorkshire and Humber between March 2006 and March 2007. A vast number of people have been hurt. Overall, only the Metropolitan police recorded a higher number of road casualties during a 12-month period, at 21,781.

These grim accident statistics are hardly surprising when we consider that almost one third of Britain’s most dangerous roads are in Yorkshire and Humber. According to a recent assessment report by the European Road Assessment Programme—EuroRAP—of the 17 sections of road that present a persistent medium to high risk to users, six are situated in the Yorkshire region. The most dangerous road in Britain is the 15-mile stretch of the A682 between junction 13 of the M65 and Long Preston. Also on the list is the A62 between Diggle and Huddersfield, the A644 between Dewsbury and junction 25 of the M62, and the A1079—specifically the stretch between Hull and Market Weighton.

I hope that the Minister will not suggest that there is some special situation in Yorkshire, or that there is a benign state that means it does not need the investment required in other areas; there is no case to be made along those lines. The East Riding of Yorkshire council deserves to be congratulated on taking steps to reduce the number of accidents on the A1079. Two years ago, it installed up to half a dozen speed cameras, which appear to have had an impact. Some 154 people sustained injuries on the road in 2006, which is down from 255 in 2003, but accidents continue to happen. Earlier this month, two men were treated in hospital for serious multiple injuries following a car crash at Wilberfoss near Pocklington. The men had to be freed by firefighters
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using hydraulic rescue equipment before being taken by RAF helicopter to York hospital. A few weeks before, a man died following a collision with another car near the village of Shiptonthorpe.

Put simply, the A1079 is in urgent need of improvement. The East Riding of Yorkshire council has clearly stated that fact. In 2006, it claimed that the road was operating

The main problem for the road is the number of heavy goods vehicles that use it every day—up to 10 per cent. of the total number of vehicles on the road. That is not ideal, particularly because most of the road is single carriageway.

After much local campaigning, the council agreed to undertake a feasibility study for a bid to improve the A1079, which was considered by the council at a cabinet meeting in December. However, the decision on whether to conduct a study was pushed back until the summer, because there is limited money available, and the A1079 is behind two other major development projects in priority. Such projects are worth while. For example, improvements to the A164, which runs between Beverley and the Humber bridge, will make access to that strategic hub much easier, and the Beverley and Bridlington integrated transport plans will make traffic and congestion more bearable for local residents.

If Yorkshire did not receive such a poor share of the transport budget compared with other Government regions, many more improvements could be undertaken, including to the A1079. The same could also be said for the Beverley to York rail link, which was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts and has never been reopened. Public pressure for the line to be restored led to the appointment of a consultancy group to conduct a feasibility study by the East Riding of Yorkshire council. The group concluded that up to 622,000 journeys a year could be made on the line, provided that two trains an hour were operated, with journeys extended to and from Leeds. As ever, the sticking point was the estimated cost, which was projected to be up to £239 million, with a cost-benefit ratio of between 1.26 and 2.04 over 60 years. Although there is a positive cost-benefit ratio, the chances of the line seeing the light of day in the next 10 to 15 years are slim.

As I have said, the crux of the issue and the main reason for initiating this debate, is to ask why Yorkshire receives less money than any other region. As hon. Members will know, when Department for Transport funding is distributed, our region sits at the bottom of the pile, although this year, it has crawled up slightly from the very bottom. In 2001-02, Yorkshire and Humber received just £140 per head in transport funding, which compares with £323 for London and £171 on average in England. As a percentage of the English total, our figure was 81.9 per cent. of the average. In 2006-07, funding for Yorkshire and Humber increased to £215 per head. However, in London the figure was £614, and in England overall it was £305. For some reason, over the past six or seven years, our figure has dropped to 70.5 per cent. of the English total. Again, the people of Yorkshire and Humber want to know the rationale behind that cut in relative spending.


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