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8 July 2008 : Column 1273

Andrew Gwynne: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. She will know the tremendous benefits to industry and commerce not only in Greater Manchester but throughout the north-west of England of having a large regional hub airport based at Manchester. Will she ensure that the vital economic role played by regional airports such as Manchester is properly considered in the current aviation policy consultation and in the current debate about the expansion of Heathrow?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. In fact, I think that about 35,000 jobs are supported by Manchester airport alone, and businesses choose where to locate in Britain partly because of international connectivity. The economic impact of transfer passengers has been widely debated inside and outside the House, and when we consider the issues about Heathrow expansion, it is important to take into account the impact of such passengers within the UK. After all, one quarter of all transfer passengers at Heathrow come from regional airports. That is one factor that we must take into account, but obviously the decision will be based on local environmental considerations as well as on the overall economic impact.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I agree with the Secretary of State that regional airports make a very important contribution to the economic development of the regions in which they are located, but does she agree that it is also important that, like all other forms of economic activity, regional airports are subject to proper planning controls and constraints in the interests of the communities around them? In that connection, does she think it reasonable for the Government to plan for East Midlands airport to become a major air freight hub, with the implication that there will be an increased amount of night flying, without any controls on night flights in and out of the airport to reflect the balance of interests between night-flying operators and the communities around the airport?

Ruth Kelly: The right hon. Gentleman will know about our proposals in the air transport White Paper. There are clearly issues in respect of East Midlands airport, but he would not expect me to touch on them in the House, partly because they are being contested. The fact is that regional airports are hugely important for regional and UK economic growth, and the provision of specific places for air freight is also important for the country’s economic growth. Clearly, they need to be properly planned, and clearly we need to take into account the local environmental impact, including the impact on noise and air quality.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Could the Secretary of State impress on her Treasury colleagues the concerns of regional airport operators, who feel that they are being asked to set up a cumbersome and expensive bureaucracy to collect the new aviation tax, instead of that being left to the airlines, which currently collect the aviation air passenger duty that the new tax is replacing?

Ruth Kelly: I take that as confirmation that the Conservative party supports the Government’s proposals for an aviation tax that reflects the impact of aviation on the environment. The Treasury is consulting on the detail, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is thinking about the issues with a view to making decisions later this year.

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Multi-purpose Driving Test Centres

10. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many new multi-purpose driving test centres the Government plan to establish; and at what cost. [216864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Driving Standards Agency plans to establish a network of 66 multi-purpose driving test centres. The capital budget for the project is £71 million and revenue costs will be £13 million per annum.

Mr. Bone: The Minister has rightly confirmed that the Government are planning to spend £71 million because of a European Union directive. However, if the Government had applied for a derogation from the directive so that 50 kph was translated to 30 mph, no expenditure would have been necessary. Why did the Government waste £71 million rather than apply for a derogation?

Jim Fitzpatrick: We do not see it as wasting £71 million, but as something that improves the test and the facilities for examiners and the examined. It will enable the tests to be conducted off-road because of the manoeuvres that are expected to be required. That will enhance safety because it will improve the skills of those who go to the new multi-purpose driving test centres.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I sincerely hope that Crawley will have a multi-purpose test centre. It is vital that the new centres should allow people to take a variety of tests, provide safety and comfort to those taking their tests as they wait for people to arrive and provide secure accommodation for those who are teaching. I hope that all those things will be achieved at Crawley.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The new purpose-built MPTCs are environmentally friendly and compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. They provide improved facilities for customers and staff. When my hon. Friend visits her new centre, I am sure that she will be impressed by the facilities on offer.

Mr. Speaker: I call Crispin Blunt.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Question No. 19, sir.

Mr. Speaker: No, we are now on topical questions.

Mr. Blunt: My apologies, Mr. Speaker; I had not seen that the previous three questions had been withdrawn. In that case, may I ask whether the Secretary of State thinks that the management and accountability structures of Network Rail are satisfactory? If her answer is yes, will she seek some early medical attention? If the answer is no, what does she propose to do about it?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Government have no plans to look again at the structure of the railway industry. I am confident that the current governing procedures for Network Rail are satisfactory. They are delivering for the passenger and the railway industry.

Mr. Speaker: We turn now to topical questions; my apologies to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt).

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Topical Questions

T1. [216844] Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): I am delighted to tell the House that, on 9 June, I was pleased to announce the Government’s support for a £2.8 billion investment package for public transport in Greater Manchester by awarding its transport innovation fund bid programme entry. Last month, I announced that Bristol had been appointed Britain’s first cycling city, alongside an additional 11 cycling demonstration towns winning a share of a record £100 million to increase cycling in their areas. Yesterday, following the publication of Professor Gallagher’s review of biofuels, I announced my intention to consult on slowing down the rate of increase of the renewable transport fuels obligation to take into account emerging evidence about the sustainability of biofuels and to establish international sustainability standards and controls. Today I made a statement on the timing of the Heathrow consultation process that set out how I intend to ensure that all the evidence can be considered before crucial decisions are taken before the end of the year.

Ms Taylor: I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend confirm in yesterday’s statement that the Gallagher review has rejected a moratorium on biofuels development. Will she acknowledge and accept that by slowing down the rate of use of biofuels, which according to the targets set will be 5 per cent. by 2010-11, we will undermine investment and research in the world’s leading biofuels company on Teesside?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Partly underlying the Gallagher conclusions on the renewable transport fuel obligation and the decision to keep the 5 per cent. in place, albeit on a slowing timetable, was the desire to keep innovation in the industry and to encourage the investment in the north-east that has already been found. Importantly, Professor Gallagher said that we should amend but not abandon our biofuels policy. The RTFO is set to rise to 5 per cent. I hope that the industry can now have some certainty that that will happen, albeit at a slightly slower pace.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): EU limits on NOx pollution become legally binding in 2010. At the weekend, Professor Mike Pilling, who chaired a Government expert group on Heathrow air quality, disputed DFT claims that an expanded Heathrow is capable of complying with those limits. The Environment Agency has also highlighted the impact of NOx and worsened air quality on mortality and morbidity around Heathrow. Is the Secretary of State planning to listen to her environment advisers or ignore them?

Ruth Kelly: Of course we are planning to listen to our advisers, just as we are planning to listen to all the responses to the consultation. This morning, I told the House that we were going to carry out a rigorous process and ensure that we analyse all the responses to the consultation and provide a full impact study—including on equalities, which is another issue that has been raised—in order to make an appropriate decision based on the science before the end of the year.

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Mrs. Villiers: The right hon. Lady’s environmental calculations on Heathrow are under sustained attack. The flight path proposals from NATS could destroy the tranquillity of much of rural England. Her plans for Stansted make no sense and command no support. Is it not time for her to rethink her “predict and provide” approach to aviation, go back to the drawing board on the environmental data on Heathrow and drop her deeply misguided proposals for a second Stansted runway?

Ruth Kelly: I do not agree. I find it quite surprising, that the Conservative party has turned its face against any expansion of aviation in the south-east. That view is not supported by the business community. The clear evidence is that there would be a substantial negative impact not only on the London economy but on the UK economy. Clearly, we have to balance that impact against any local environmental considerations. Our modelling at the Department for Transport shows that, even with the third runway, NOx emissions from Heathrow would fall by almost 50 per cent. between 2002 and 2030. We have been very clear about our intention to put that modelling into the public domain, to have it scrutinised and challenged, and to reflect on the outcome of that. It is absolutely imperative that we make our case based on the scientific evidence, not on some arbitrary political positioning.

T2. [216845] Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): Warrington Bank Quay main line station is currently having a long-awaited refurbishment, but we still have only 98 car parking spaces. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State use her considerable influence to get us the car parking that we urgently need?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): My right hon. Friend probably has more influence than I do, but of course I am willing to take up the case. My hon. Friend is right—all the evidence is that the more car parking space is provided at railway stations, the more people will use public transport, particularly the railways. Virgin and Network Rail are aware of the situation at Warrington Bank Quay, which remains problematic unless new land is bought or the car park is double-decked. Nevertheless, I am informed that Virgin and Network Rail aim to provide 140 new car parking spaces by November 2009.

T4. [216847] Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In 2001, the Government promised that, in the next 10 years, they would produce a more silent surface on all the urban motorways. We are still waiting for the major repairs that have to take place close to Walton-on-the-Hill, between junctions 8 and 9 of the M25. Why are my constituents going to have to wait any longer for the Government to deliver on their promises?

Mr. Tom Harris: Essentially, the hon. Gentleman is asking that new, low-noise surfacing should be imposed on particular stretches of motorway, even when they do not require resurfacing as a result of wear and tear. The Government’s position is that the best value for money for the taxpayer is to use low-noise surface material when it is necessary to resurface a motorway. If the hon. Gentleman believes that a huge extra expenditure in his
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area is justified, he should speak to those on his Front Bench, but I do not think that they would be willing to put their hands in their pockets and make that commitment.

T3. [216846] Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Last year, 1,500 people died in London as a result of air pollution. A decision was taken this morning that will set in reverse 50 years of work to improve the air quality in London by issuing an invitation to encourage even more polluting, gas-guzzling, Chelsea tractors to poison the air we breathe. What can the Government do to protect us from the anti-environment excesses of Boris the buffoon?

Mr. Speaker: Order. We should use temperate language.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): My hon. Friend obviously feels strongly on this matter, but the issue in question is devolved to the Mayor of London. No doubt my hon. Friend will make his views clear to him.

T5. [216848] Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Given the number of airlines going out of business and the number of British airlines suffering in the credit crunch, does the Minister agree with the recent decision by the Civil Aviation Authority to increase its charges at Heathrow by 86 per cent. over the next five years?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): That decision is a matter for the CAA, which makes the recommendations. There is an outstanding legal case, in which easyJet is undertaking a judicial review of certain decisions made, and those matters will be resolved in the courts shortly.

T6. [216849] Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Transport for London is investing in greener, non-petrol driven buses, but it is a slow process. There should really be a national, co-ordinated programme of investment. What is the Department doing to get a programme under way, so that we can ensure that the majority of buses—if not all of them—are non-petrol driven?

Ms Rosie Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the investigation of alternatives. There are various ways in which we can assist in that process. Research programmes have been undertaken to look at some of the alternatives and, in some instances, we are assisting businesses in that respect. With the reform of the bus subsidy for operators, we will be able to look at what can be done to encourage alternative, more efficient vehicles.

T7. [216850] Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): The guidance published in 2006 on setting local speed limits was welcomed by those campaigning for 20 mph limits. However, instead of just encouraging local councils to adopt such schemes, what plans have the Government put in place to ensure that they are made mandatory, and not just outside schools, but nurseries, too?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I do not want to disappoint my hon. Friend, but we do not have plans to make such schemes compulsory. As she has outlined, we have given guidance, and we hope that local authorities take up the opportunity
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to introduce 20 mph speed-limit zones, where they think it appropriate. That could involve nurseries or shopping precincts and not just schools. The matter is very much under local control, depending on the profile of road safety in that area.

To help with take-up, we plan to collect data from towns and cities where such schemes have been introduced. That project is now in hand. The preliminary evidence shows that where zones have been introduced with physical restrictions—be they road humps or chicanes—we have seen about a 60 per cent. reduction in crashes and a 67 per cent. reduction in crashes involving children. There is great value in the introduction of 20 mph zones. Local authorities throughout the country have shown great interest in them, and we hope that many more will take up the option.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Yet again this year, as in every year, the Government are pushing up train fares above the cost of inflation, with their flawed retail prices index-plus policy. At the same time, franchised train companies are having to pay a premium—a kind of stealth railway tax—for their franchises, which might account for the fact that the Government’s expenditure on railways is due to fall next year, according to their own figures. When are the Government going to get off the fare escalator, abandon the RPI formula and give fare-paying passengers a fair deal?

Ruth Kelly: I certainly understand the pressure on people’s personal finances. I am determined that we shall restore passengers’ confidence in rail fares, and the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of regulating rail fares. We cap fare increases after inflation to protect passengers from unduly high fare increases. It is worth remembering for a moment that almost half of all rail journeys are made with regulated fares, which are no more expensive in real terms than they were at the time of privatisation, so clearly the regulatory cap is serving a purpose. It is important that we simplify the system and ensure that people are confident that they receive good value for money when they pay a rail fare. The Association of Train Operating Companies has promised to promote price simplification and, ultimately, bring in a price promise, but I think that we may need to go further. That is why I have asked Passenger Focus, the rail passenger representative group, to conduct a study to see what further changes are necessary.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): My right hon. Friend issued a statement this morning that will delay the decision on Heathrow until the end of the year at least. For my constituents, that means continued blight. I have families with young children living in overcrowded accommodation in my constituency who cannot sell their properties. Lenders are no longer lending to people in my area, blighted by Heathrow, to enable them to purchase and sell properties. The solution is to drop the madcap scheme for expansion but, in the meantime, will my right hon. Friend meet a delegation of constituency MPs from the area and consider the introduction of an emergency blight package to compensate those people affected by the Government’s delay in their decision-making processes?

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