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Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The Minister says that he does not want the UK haulage industry disadvantaged, but it is being disadvantaged. Faced with intense competition from foreign hauliers who pay no British taxes, the UK haulage industry is on its knees. Some 87 per cent. of lorries travelling through British ports to the continent are now foreign-owned. Family-run haulage businesses are going out of business every day because of rocketing fuel prices, and now they face more fuel tax hikes
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because the Prime Minister needs to fill a gap in his public finances. The Government’s complacency on the issue is astounding.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must not make a speech; she is asking a supplementary question. She should put the question, and she may also ask a second question, but she should not make a speech.

Mrs. Villiers: I am grateful. I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Does the Secretary of State really want her political legacy to comprise presiding over the death of the British haulage industry?

Jim Fitzpatrick: No, we certainly do not want to see the British road haulage industry damaged, which is why we have put in place measures that we believe will protect it. In respect of the accusation that rising fuel costs in Britain are harming our industry, rising fuel costs are affecting the whole of Europe. Every industry is being affected, as we have seen on our television screens over the past few weeks.

Mrs. Villiers: But more than seven years ago the Government promised to introduce measures to ensure that foreign hauliers pay towards the cost of the damage that they cause to Britain’s roads. When will they keep the promise that they made, or will they just continue to dither while hard-working UK haulage firms go to the wall?

Jim Fitzpatrick: As I explained to the hon. Lady only a moment ago, the Government carried out the freight data feasibility study to try to identify the best way of protecting the British road haulage industry. It was determined through that study, in which, as I understand it, the Road Haulage Association co-operated and participated, that a vignette scheme of the order that would be allowed would not be appropriate, and that the best way to protect the RHA and British industry was to beef up enforcement on our roads to make sure that foreign hauliers would not be able to take any further advantage. That is what we said we would do. That is what we have done with the extra £24 million that we have allocated to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, and that extra enforcement will have an impact.

Topical Questions

T1. [208008] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): On 7 May I announced new proposals to strengthen the way people learn to drive and are tested, to make newly qualified drivers safer and create a culture of extended learning. On 16 May I announced full approval and funding of £244 million for an extension to the Manchester Metrolink. These new routes are expected to attract an additional 10 million passengers a year. The new simpler structure for rail fares announced in the rail White Paper was introduced for advance fares in May, and on 22 May the Department began a public consultation on the terms of a new South Central franchise. A report commissioned by my Department
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on longer and heavier goods vehicles has been published today. I have decided not to allow super-lorries on UK roads for the foreseeable future.

John Robertson: Yesterday, the head of the International Air Transport Association commented that the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is the “world’s worst regulator” and criticised the UK as BAA’s “Monopoly-land”. For years I have called for an end to the ludicrous situation whereby Scotland’s two major airports in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are only 40 miles apart, are owned by the same people. It is time to solve the problem, much the same as in London—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to stop the hon. Gentleman. It seems that I am stopping many hon. Members. A supplementary question in a fast-paced session should be short and sharp.

Ruth Kelly: The point that my hon. Friend was rightly making is that it is important to have good service from all British airports, including those in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He is right, too, to point to the Competition Commission report, which is examining ownership of British airports and argued that the issue was not only ownership but aviation capacity in the United Kingdom. Clearly, I cannot pre-empt the report’s final conclusions, but when the major hub airport in England is operating at virtually 99 per cent. capacity, it is perhaps not surprising that there are knock-on implications, first and foremost for other British airports. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents who use Glasgow and Edinburgh airports will feel the result of that.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Secretary of State talks about her commitment to climate change, but the Office for National Statistics report published today shows that emissions from air transport are up 9 per cent. in the past year alone and emissions from road transport are up as well. Does she think that building more and more roads and more and more airport capacity is the right way to reduce emissions? Is she committed to the 60 per cent. cut that the Government say they want to achieve in carbon dioxide emissions? What if they delivered 60 per cent. from the transport sector?

Ruth Kelly: I am certainly committed to the overall position of the UK Government that we should aim for at least 60 per cent. domestic reductions in CO2 emissions, if not go further. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked the Committee on Climate Change to see whether 60 per cent. is the right number or whether it should perhaps be 80 per cent. However, I do not accept for a moment that every single sector of the UK or the European economy should contribute precisely the same amount. What matters is that overall we not only reach our climate change objectives but deal with the issues of international aviation and road transport, and all the other sectors of the economy. Within that, it is perfectly possible to have an aviation sector that meets passengers’ expectations for increased mobility and cheap holidays. However, we have to ensure that it is within a framework—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I call David Drew.

T2. [208007] Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): On Thursday, the Office of Rail Regulation will announce its draft conclusions on which bits of track best meet the criteria set by Government on improved performance and capacity. Will the Minister look forward and see whether the piece of track between Kemble and Swindon deserves redoubling, as many people who use that line feel that it does?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I know that my hon. Friend would not expect me to pre-empt any announcement that the Office of Rail Regulation will make later this week, tempting though it is. I pay tribute to him for the resilient and dedicated campaign that he has run for the redoubling of that line, but I, like him, will have to wait for a further announcement from the ORR.

T3. [208009] Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Fourteen-year-old Alex Williams was in a collision with a car while riding his bike. He suffered bleeding to the brain and was in intensive care. Alex says:

Does the Minister agree with Alex that it should be compulsory for children to wear cycle helmets?

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I express my deepest sympathy for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent—the young man he spoke about. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there have been occasional calls for making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory. It is an option that we look at from time to time. There are no plans at the moment to make it compulsory, but I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that we are going to conduct research into the effectiveness of wearing cycle helmets. We hope to have an interim report in the summer, and I hope that that will be able to inform us particularly on the points that he raises.

T4. [208010] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Present medium and long-term Government transport plans have been partly rooted in assumptions that 2020 oil prices would be around $70 per barrel. Given that they are currently double that, will the Department rework its road, rail and air strategies to make them fit for purpose in an era of no more cheap oil—especially in aviation, where unquestioned obeisance to “predict and provide” in a largely untaxed industry is a major environmental hazard?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Government take into account a range of scenarios when considering future demand for different forms of transport, drawing up their long-term transport plans and appraising individual schemes. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Department for Business, Enterprise and
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Regulatory Reform, on behalf of the Government, keeps our assumptions under review in response to changing circumstances.

T5. [208011] Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Does the Minister agree that for the sake of all the people sitting in traffic jams around the Dartford tolls today, as well as having a consultation we should try to have, say, a week without tolls or something intelligent such as tolls going just one way?

Ms Rosie Winterton: I have to say that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal for a week without tolls is completely unintelligent. The idea that one could somehow, for one week, remove the barriers and have vehicles going through at speed is so dangerous that it is ridiculous. The other idea—that we should take the whole tolls compartment away—is just ridiculous. The hon. Gentleman needs to come up with slightly more sensible suggestions if he is to be taken seriously.

T7. [208013] Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure the Minister is aware of the £100 million scheme proposed by Network Rail to cut 10 minutes off the journey time between Sheffield and London on the midland main line. Given that that scheme would cost only 1 per cent. of what was spent on the west coast main line but would yield 25 per cent. of its benefits in journey time savings, does he not agree that it is a very good deal? Given the benefits to Sheffield and other economies in the area, it ought to be given favourable consideration by the Government.

Mr. Tom Harris: My hon. Friend has run an enthusiastic campaign on this scheme. It is not my job as rail Minister to interpret the engineering benefits of the scheme; it is up to Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation, as he knows. I am sure that in the next few days we will get an assessment from the ORR of whether the scheme is deliverable and represents best value for money.

T6. [208012] Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Given the inevitable disruption to two of the four lines between Reading and Paddington resulting from Crossrail, will the Minister look urgently at the reinstatement of a three-mile loop on the Exeter-Waterloo line, and can he say when the work will start on the agreed route at Axminster?

Mr. Harris: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on his last point. On his substantive point about the conflict between the different tracks after Crossrail services begin, he will know that Crossrail is essentially a metro service and will not use the fast lines between Reading and Paddington. A great deal of work has gone into making sure that there is no conflict between Crossrail services and existing fast services between Reading and Paddington. I am not aware that anything has changed in that respect, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me with more details I will be more than happy to respond in detail.

T8. [208014] Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Plans have been published for the £5.5 billion upgrade of the Thameslink line, which is very welcome for our
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constituents. How will my hon. Friend make sure that it runs to time and to cost, and that its effect on the travelling public is minimised, including the upgrade to Gatwick airport?

Mr. Tom Harris: I echo my hon. Friend’s welcome of the £5.5 billion the Government have committed to making progress with Thameslink. The work we have done in preparation for both phases of Thameslink, the first phase of which is due to be completed in 2011, gives me enough confidence to believe that work will be completed on time. Phase 2 will not be completed until 2015, after the Olympics have finished, but phase 1, which will provide a major step change in increased frequency on the north-south route, will be completed on time and to budget.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): As the Minister will be aware, traffic along the A120 leading to Braintree gets worse and worse every day. An announcement on the extension of the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey is long overdue. When can my constituents expect an announcement?

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of discussions on this scheme, I seem to remember, and of course he is keen to know what progress has been made since our last meeting. I will be able to make an announcement in due course. It will not be an early announcement, but I am happy to give the commitment that he will be kept up to date with any decisions taken. The major problem is the steep increase in the cost of the scheme, but working with my officials we will try to find some way forward, and I will keep him fully informed.

T9. [208015] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): It is 20 years since the electrification of the east coast main line, and the line is now used practically to capacity. Atkins has produced a study saying that a new high-speed east coast line would generate two and a half times its cost in economic benefits. Will the Government look seriously at the case for more and faster trains connecting Yorkshire and the north-east with London and the Eurostar services to the continent?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend rightly champions the cause of his constituents. It is important that we continue to invest in rail services. He talks about faster, more frequent trains. Yes, we must have faster and more frequent trains, but not at any price. I welcome proposals for high-speed lines and for conventional lines running at greater frequency, and proposals to upgrade the network. I have already invited Network Rail to consider all the options that we might look at for funding—not in the next period, but in the period beyond—so that if demand materialises for rail travel and more and more people continue to use rail services, we will be in a position to make the right long-term choices.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Further to the earlier question about BAA, and given that Britain needs an effective and efficient airport network,
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does the Secretary of State agree that Britain’s competitiveness is being negatively affected by the monopoly of BAA?

Ruth Kelly: I certainly agree that Britain’s airports are not highly regarded across the world, and that is having a negative impact on perceptions of Britain abroad. That is a situation that we must sort out. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Competition Commission is looking into the situation. I am not going to pre-empt its final conclusions, which will be published later this year, but I would say that the issue is not just about ownership of airports; it is about the regulatory system, too. I recently announced that we were setting up a review to look into the economic regulation of airports across the piece, so that we put passengers right at the centre of our proposal. The issues are the passenger experience, capacity in the aviation sector and, potentially, ownership, although the ownership questions are ones for the Competition Commission.

T10. [208016] Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): Will the Minister look into an issue that was raised with me by the excellent Severn tunnel action group, which is campaigning for better services for its railway station, so that in future new or altered rail franchise documents include requirements to promote rail-to-rail connections, and greater use of rail is encouraged?

Mr. Tom Harris: This is a subject on which my hon. Friend and I have corresponded. I have committed to
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meeting her and a delegation of her constituents to discuss the issues. She is right to say that connectivity of through railway journeys is vital if the growth in the railways that we have seen over the past 10 years is to continue.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): This week, Mr. Bill Emery of the Office of Rail Regulation severely criticised Network Rail’s punctuality, delivery and overruns. Will the Secretary of State bear Network Rail’s poor performance in mind in the rail freight application process, given its blithe assurances in my constituency that it would not cause delays, and not take its evidence as seriously as it would like her to?

Mr. Harris: It is absolutely true that Network Rail has not performed as well as it should have over the past six months or so. However, it is also true that Network Rail has developed a world-class engineering organisation. I have absolute faith that whatever difficulties Network Rail has to overcome—and there are difficulties—it will manage to produce the excellent railway service that we all want. Network Rail has already committed to a 31 per cent. improvement in efficiencies over the current control period. We will find out exactly what the performance demand will be from the Office of Rail Regulation by the end of this week. However, I am confident that, in contrast with the awfulness of Railtrack, which was introduced by the previous Conservative Government, Network Rail will deliver for the passengers of this country.

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Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My constituents are concerned about the Government’s proposals to introduce polyclinics, which will possibly see the closure of GP services throughout Shropshire and the borough of Telford and Wrekin. Given the anxiety of my constituents and those of other hon. Members, in all parts of the House, may I ask you what guidance, if any, you have been given by the Government business managers about an early oral statement on this important issue?

Mr. Speaker: The Government business managers do not give me guidance; I give them guidance. However, the issue is not a matter for the Chair.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether I may make a pre-emptive strike. I understand that the Home Secretary and her Ministers will be available for the press and media after 4 o’clock to reveal the so-called concessions on the 42-day controversy. I have asked the Vote Office whether it has received any indication about the availability of those amendments and the answer is no—the expectation is tomorrow. Surely it is wrong that the press will be spun the line on those amendments before Members of Parliament have had a chance not only to examine them, but to comment and to rebut the arguments of that absurd policy.

Mr. Speaker: What the hon. Gentleman has said is a pre-emptive strike: the situation has not happened yet and therefore I cannot rule on the matter. I will have to look into it if it does happen.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for you to issue instructions to Government Departments and Ministers to the effect that if they produce a press briefing or press release, it should, at the very least, be put in the Vote Office at the same time as it is provided to journalists?

Mr. Speaker: I will not be drawn into this argument.

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