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Bus Companies

6. Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): What recent assessment she has made of the regulatory burden on bus companies. [207976]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): The Government are committed to cutting unnecessary regulatory burdens on business wherever possible, including on the bus industry. However, that must be balanced with the passenger’s right to a safe and reliable service.

Andrew George: But can the Minister do nothing about the daily occurrence of what can only be described as a sketch from a “Carry on” movie taking place across rural areas? Passengers are forced to get off buses and get back on buses and repurchase tickets every 30 miles because the Government failed to secure a common-sense derogation from EU regulation 561/2006, which sets maximum targets in respect of bus drivers. Does this not simply play into the hands of certifiable ranters in other political parties, who—rightly, on this occasion—decry the rather bizarre micro-management that such regulations present?

Ms Winterton: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the new EU rules do not limit the length of a bus route, but introduce improved safety requirements to do with the length of a driver’s working week, to ensure proper weekly rest periods. We should support that, because of the huge safety implications. However, I know that concerns have been expressed about some of the ways in which that has been operated, and that is why the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), met representatives of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the trade association for the
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bus and coach industry, to explore the industry’s concerns and consider possible solutions within the constraints of the EU drivers’ hours regulations. This is a safety issue, but we are considering the problems with interpreting the practical application of the regulations.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Is not there at least one respect in which the regulatory framework for bus companies should be tighter? I refer to the lack of an obligation to retrofit older buses to enable disabled access. In rural parts of Leicestershire, where traffic on buses is low, the economic pressure on the company to provide disabled access is much lower. Should we not aim for an earlier implementation date of these important regulations?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the accessibility of buses for disabled people. As he says, there is a programme of improvement. I am heartened when I see the many new buses that are being introduced with proper disabled access. The requirements will change, and another important factor will be the Local Transport Bill, which is making progress through Parliament at the moment. The Bill will enable local authorities to work with bus operators much more closely on such issues, and it is very disappointing that Conservative Front Benchers oppose it and all the improvements that it will bring.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the driving times and rest periods directive, which sets out the so-called 50 km rule, is completely unsuitable for and irrelevant to rural areas? Is she aware that a young dynamic company in my constituency, Norfolk Green, has told me that if the directive is implemented as it stands, the company will have to axe various new rural services? Will she not stand up for rural bus routes and companies?

Ms Winterton: It was this Government who introduced the rural bus subsidy—now some £55 million a year—so we will not take any lectures from the Opposition about supporting rural bus services. As I have said, the EU rules are about safety and drivers’ rest periods, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has met representatives of the industry to discuss their concerns and will look at possible solutions.

Active Traffic Management

7. Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): What progress has been made on the introduction of active traffic management on the motorway network; and if she will make a statement. [207977]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): Last year, I announced the extension of hard shoulder running to parts of the M6 around Birmingham. This scheme is due to be open to traffic in summer 2011. The Department and the Highways Agency are examining in detail where hard shoulder running should be implemented more widely on the motorway network. This work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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Mr. Spellar: May I partially thank the Minister for that reply? Does she agree that the active traffic management on the M42 in the west midlands has brought lower congestion, lower carbon emissions, lower pollution and fewer accidents? Therefore, does she regret that the deadbeats in the Highways Agency and her Department should have ensured that those considerable benefits for motorists were delayed? Is not she appalled that those same useless officials are still delaying the roll-out to 2011 and beyond? When will Ministers get a grip on that lot?

Ruth Kelly: I commend my right hon. Friend for his great advocacy of active traffic management, even though I cannot condone the expressions he used in relation to officials in the Highways Agency and the Department. When he was a Transport Minister, he was a great champion of active traffic management. Indeed, it was under his leadership that the first trial of active traffic management and hard shoulder running was initiated around the M6 in Birmingham. I commend him for that.

It is right that we should press on and try to secure as quickly as possible the huge benefits that can be secured, not necessarily by widening our motorways, although they might have to be widened in some cases—as with the recent announcement about the M25—but by using active traffic management and hard shoulder running wherever they can be used across the entire network. That is why I have asked officials to examine in detail where it might be applicable and where we might have the earliest openings. The Birmingham box will lead through to the next phases by the summer of 2011, and I hope to make further progress quickly thereafter.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that the biggest traffic management problem on our motorways is the delay in clearing up after often quite minor shunts? That causes terrific frustration, and is much worse here than anywhere on the continent. She has promised in the past to do something about it, but frankly no one thinks that anything has been done to date. Can she give me some reassurance this afternoon?

Ruth Kelly: I certainly can. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that it was the Government who introduced traffic officers to our motorway network in recent years. Traffics officers have had measurable success in restoring moving traffic after accidents have occurred—

Mr. Mackay indicated dissent.

Ruth Kelly: I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head—they are extremely popular among those who come across them on their daily motorway journeys.

It is right, too, that we should make faster progress. Collision accident equipment, for instance, which is now being routinely used by the Highways Agency, will also have an impact, as will the information that is now routinely given to drivers on overhead gantries. We give them information about what routes are best to use and where congestion is likely to occur. The point is that the
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motorway system ought to be seen as a system. We ought to think about how to manage it and how to manage traffic flows as best we can. That is why active traffic management, which regulates speed as well as opening up the hard shoulder, is the right way forward.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The role of the DVLA is very important in traffic management. Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the fact that the DVLA is selling the addresses of my constituents to security companies—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he keeps doing this and he will be stopped. He must keep confine his comments to the Question. He does this on a regular basis, and I am sorry to draw him up on it, but he will not do it again.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): We welcome the extension of hard shoulder running following the successful M42 trial. It will be rolled out, we have been told, in conjunction with toll lanes or high occupancy vehicle lanes. In the case of the M1, the M6 and the M62, will that be introduced on new tarmac created by widening the motorways, or will it be done on the cheap, using the road freed up by the hard shoulder running?

Ruth Kelly: I am glad that Opposition Front Benchers have come to see the merits of hard shoulder running and active traffic management. They have been dithering over it for quite a while, but at least, at last, they have seen sense. It is true, in many cases, that it is possible to deliver 95 per cent. of the benefits of widening at a fraction of the cost through hard shoulder running. However, when we are introducing new capacity—and only in those cases, such as when we are bringing the hard shoulder on stream and allowing motorists to use it for the first time—we might want to think about how to lock in that capacity so that it is not just taken up by more traffic. We should think about the most efficient way to use that extra capacity, perhaps by introducing a toll on the lane or car share lanes.

Rail Fares

8. Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): What recent steps her Department has taken to simplify rail fares and make the rail system easier to use. [207978]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): Fulfilling a commitment made in last year’s rail White Paper, a new system of simplified fares was announced in April this year. I have also asked Passenger Focus to carry out a study to see how well the current system meets passenger expectations and to make recommendations to me about further improvements.

Helen Southworth: I am sure that my constituents will welcome that answer, as the complex system of ticket pricing has been a source of some grievance to them and, they tell me, a disincentive to using rail services. Will my right hon. Friend also look again at a national railcard system for frequent users, which has
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been successful in mainland Europe in getting people on to the trains, and such a benefit should be given to our own people?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her remarks about rail fares. The simplified rail structure—the biggest shake-up in fares for a generation—will bring profound benefits to passengers. One of the benefits of the new system is not just that the same type of ticket will be available from each train operating company, but that railcards will be equally valid across the network. That is one of the real prizes that is secured by these reforms.

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that the quickest rail route from Ludlow to London is via Crewe, yet it is not possible legally to purchase a ticket from Ludlow to London via Crewe? Why is that?

Ruth Kelly: The simplified rail fare structure that we have introduced is indeed the biggest shake-up in fares for a generation, but I am clear that it is only part of the solution. One of the things that we must do for the passenger is to ensure that it is possible to buy a through ticket from any point in the United Kingdom to any other at the cheapest price. I have asked Passenger Focus to consider these issues and to work out from the passenger’s point of view what would restore confidence in the railway fare structure, and I am sure that it will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the current fragmented rail system can respond adequately to passengers’ concerns? That includes ensuring that the simpler fares do not price people out of being able to book and travel on the same day.

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her elevation to Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport. I have worked with her over the past year, and her elevation is extremely well deserved. I look forward to hearing more from her not just in Transport questions but in Select Committee hearings. She is right to say that we always ought to keep the structure of the railways under review, but the last thing the rail industry needs now is huge upheaval. In fact, this is the first time for a generation we have a stable structure for the industry, based on a secure financial footing, in which we are investing in increased capacity. From the passengers’ point of view, that is what they want; they want more capacity, more seats on the railways, more reliable railways and, of course, a railway with fares that they can understand, and we are making progress on all fronts.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Was the Secretary of State aware that many rail companies used the introduction of simpler fares to increase fares for the second time this year? If she was aware, what is she doing about it?

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Nothing!

Ruth Kelly: That is, frankly, not true.

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Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): The Oyster card has been an enormous success since its introduction on the London underground network, yet the train operating companies are dragging their feet on the extension of the scheme to parts of outer London. As a result, my constituents have to purchase a ticket and then get on the underground and use the Oyster card. Some companies have reached agreement on when the cards will be introduced, but we need to put more pressure on them to introduce them sooner. Can my right hon. Friend help?

Ruth Kelly: I have raised this issue with the chair and chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, which is in negotiations with Transport for London to find out how quickly Oyster cards can be introduced across the network. That is something that passengers would value. It would not only make a real difference to the network, but might mean that fares needed to be adjusted in response. There are clearly commercial issues to work through, and I will do whatever I can to help to broker an agreement.

Insurance Fraud

9. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What estimate she has made of the number of traffic collisions staged for insurance fraud purposes in the last 12 months. [207979]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Department has made no estimate of the number of traffic collisions staged for insurance fraud purposes in the last 12 months.

Bill Wiggin: “Crash for cash” is a particularly nasty crime in which elderly, vulnerable and, in particular, female drivers are targeted by fraudsters who try to crash into their cars to get money. Apparently, £28 million has gone to the City of London police, but the majority of such crimes take place in the north of England. What will the Minister do at least to make sure that best practice is spread across the country, as 40 per cent. of people would not even know if they were a victim of this crime?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point. It is difficult to detect whether a crash has been staged for insurance and fraud purposes. The Association of British Insurers estimates that the number of road accidents caused by fraud gangs will rise to 2,500 by 2010, up from 1,000 in 2005. That is very much a matter for the insurance industry and its Insurance Fraud Bureau, and it is for the police to try to detect the crime, but obviously it is a matter of concern that has to be monitored closely.

Highway Charges

10. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): If she will bring forward a proposal for a scheme under which foreign registered lorries pay to use the highway network. [207980]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): As announced in Budget 2008, following the freight data feasibility study the
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Government will not progress a vignette scheme at this stage. Our view is that enforcement is a better option to protect road users in the UK.

Ann Winterton: That is a disappointing response. The UK taxpayer will continue to have to pay for wear and tear on our infrastructure caused by foreign hauliers. Is it not a fact that a recent European Union regulation will allow unlimited access to UK markets by 2014? Whereas European hauliers have the benefit of cheaper fuel and unregulated, and therefore cheaper, labour, British hauliers will face yet further unfair competition. Many may go out of business. There is no enforcement to ensure that our good road safety standards can be maintained in future under those conditions.

Jim Fitzpatrick: As I said, the Government are determined to deal with the issue through enforcement. In the past two years, we have more than doubled enforcement targeted at heavy goods vehicles on international journeys. Alongside publication of the feasibility study conclusions, we announced a £24 million package that will fund two new enforcement sites at locations with a high volume of heavy goods vehicles traffic, a 50 per cent. increase in the number of checks carried out, a near doubling of prohibitions, 97 additional staff and a move to 24/7 enforcement checking. We believe that enforcement will protect the road haulage industry. The matter to which the hon. Lady refers will come under discussion in Europe in due course; it has not been decided so far.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I wonder whether the House is aware that 1.7 million heavy goods vehicles have come into Britain over the past 10 years. They were all full of dirty fuel—full of sulphur that they are belching out into our countryside. How does that square with the Government’s policy on CO2 emissions and green fuel, with which all our heavy goods vehicles have to fill up their tanks? It makes a nonsense of the Government’s policy.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. We do not want UK hauliers disadvantaged by those coming from outside, whether the issue is dirty or cheaper fuel, hauliers not observing the regulations on tiredness or overloading their vehicles, or any other regulation being abused. We have reinforced the amount of money available to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, the enforcement agency, to make sure that it can police vehicles far more effectively than they have ever been policed before. I assure him that it is determined to do that, and is doing that.

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