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21 Oct 2008 : Column 275W—continued

Skilled Workers

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills if he will initiate a national audit of skills. [227771]

Mr. Simon: The provision of up to date and high quality information on skills needs is crucial both to Government across the UK, and to employers. That is why we have asked the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to produce an annual employment and skills assessment. The UK Commission will also continue the series of skill projections, that was established by government some years ago. In addition each of the 25 Sector Skills Councils has completed a Sector Skills Agreement, which map out exactly what skills employers need their work force to have and how these skills will be supplied.

Small Businesses: Research

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what recent steps the Government has taken to assist small businesses in undertaking research. [227371]

Mr. Lammy [holding answer 20 October 2008]: The Government have taken a number of steps to assist small businesses undertaking research:


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Transport

Driving Instructors

7. Willie Rennie: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will bring forward proposals for legislation to prevent convicted sex offenders from becoming driving instructors. [228331]

Jim Fitzpatrick: Current legislation includes a requirement for an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) to be a “fit and proper” person. Since March 2007, those seeking to qualify as ADIs have been required to provide enhanced level criminal record checks to ensure that those allowed on to the ADI Register meet this condition.

The Driving Standards Agency and Department for Transport continue to look for an early legislative opportunity to introduce powers to suspend Approved Driving Instructors.

Rail Network

8. John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate his Department has made of the extent of the rail network infrastructure in 2038. [228332]

Mr. Hoon: No direct estimate has been made of the extent of the rail network infrastructure in 2038. The Government’s long term vision for the rail network is set out in the 2007 White Paper “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”.

Railway Stations

9. Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much his Department plans to spend on (a) new railway stations in England and (b) a new railway station in Bromsgrove over the next three years. [228333]

Paul Clark: The planning and investment in new stations is largely a matter for Network Rail. However, the Government have invested in existing stations including the rebuilding of Birmingham New Street and Reading Stations and the provision of £150 million through the National Stations Improvement Programme.

The proposed new station at Bromsgrove is subject to consideration by the region on funding priorities.

England and Scotland Rail Links

10. Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for high speed rail links between England and Scotland. [228334]


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Paul Clark: The Government are looking at the need for additional transport capacity as part of the new approach to planning set out in the October 2007 document Towards a Sustainable Transport System. While Network Rail are reviewing the case for new lines as one option, increased capacity and enhancements to the existing network are equally important as shown by the £8.8 billion investment on upgrading the West Coast Main Line, leading to reduced travel times.

12. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for high speed rail links between England and Scotland. [228336]

Paul Clark: The Government are looking at the need for additional transport capacity as part of the new approach to planning set out in the October 2007 document ‘Towards a Sustainable Transport System’. While Network Rail are reviewing the case for new lines as one option, increased capacity and enhancements to the existing network are equally important as shown by the £8.8 billion investment on upgrading the West Coast Main Line, leading to reduced travel times.

Manchester Airport

11. Graham Stringer: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made on the development of Manchester airport as a hub; and if he will make a statement. [228335]

Paul Clark: Northern Way has begun work to identify the benefits to the regional economy from investment in the rail network around Manchester. This will feed into the study being conducted by Network Rail into the options for investment, due to be completed in summer 2009.

Seafarers' Pay

13. Ms Katy Clark: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions his Department has held with trades unions and HM Treasury on the Seafarers' Earnings Deduction. [228337]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Department for Transport has had informal discussion with Nautilus UK and HM Revenue and Customs, following the Special Commissioner's decision in the ‘Pride of South America’ case. Although there have not been any discussions with HM Treasury, I understand that my right hon. Friend, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is aware of the concerns raised by this decision and that HM Revenue and Customs will work closely with stakeholders on the interpretation of the Commissioner's decision to ensure that it is implemented in a fair and practical manner.

Halifax and London Rail Link

14. Mrs. Riordan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made in providing a direct rail link between Halifax and London. [228338]

Paul Clark: The independent Office of Rail Regulation is considering access applications from a number of train operators for new services on the heavily-trafficked East Coast Main Line from December 2009, including possible services through Halifax.


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Railways: Overcrowding

15. Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he plans to take to reduce overcrowding on the rail network; and if he will make a statement. [228339]

Paul Clark: The Rail White Paper, which we published in July 2007, described the forecast growth in rail usage and sets out the enhancements in capacity, reliability and safety the Government seek. At the heart of our plans is the £10 billion that we have committed to spend on enhancing rail capacity between 2009 and 2014.

18. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reduce overcrowding on the rail network; and if he will make a statement. [228342]

Paul Clark: The Rail White Paper, which we published in July 2007, described the forecast growth in rail usage and sets out the enhancements in capacity, reliability and safety the Government seek. At the heart of our plans is the £10 billion that we have committed to spend on enhancing rail capacity between 2009 and 2014.

A12

16. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects work to start on a junction between the A12 and the Northern Approach Road at Colchester. [228340]

Paul Clark: Delivery of the junction is tied to planning consent and is a matter for developers to take forward in line with plans for delivery of proposed housing, employment and leisure facilities in north Colchester.

Both English Partnerships and the Highways Agency are working in partnership to ensure an early start can be made, once developer funding is made available. Essex county council, along with other authorities have been allocated indicative funding for infrastructure provision through the Community Infrastructure Fund. Announcements on successful bids will be made next spring. Subject to the successful completion of the necessary statutory procedures, this could enable construction of the junction to be brought forward to the end of 2009 with completion by March 2011.

West Yorkshire: Transport Funding

17. Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans his Department has to fund transport links in West Yorkshire. [228341]

Paul Clark: West Yorkshire will benefit from a wide ranging programme of investment in local and regional transport, funded through local transport plans and the regional funding allocation process, as well as investment in the national road and rail network.

Mobility Scooters

19. Andrew Selous: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals to revise the law on mobility scooters. [228343]


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Paul Clark: The Department has no immediate plans to bring forward legislation on mobility scooters.

Motorcycle Driving Test

20. Mr. Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made on the introduction of the new motorcycle driving test; and if he will make a statement. [228344]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) has designed a new practical motorcycling test to accommodate the improved test and new European requirements. The Agency has developed 38 multi-purpose test centres from which the new test could be delivered and has trained its examiner staff to conduct the new test.

However, in response to concerns raised by the motorcycle training industry about the number of test venues available and the distance that some test candidates would have to travel, the introduction of the new motorcycling test has been deferred until the end of March 2009.

In partnership with motorcycling stakeholder groups DSA is currently developing further proposals for delivery of the test and hopes shortly to be in a position to consult widely on them.

Bridges: Repairs and Maintenance

Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many bridges have been strengthened in England and Wales since 2000. [227085]

Paul Clark: On motorways and trunk roads for which the Highways Agency are responsible, 210 bridges have been strengthened since 2000.

The management of the local road network in England, including maintenance of its bridges, is the responsibility of local highway authorities.

The Department for Transport provides funding to English local authorities, outside London, for highway maintenance, which they may decide to use for bridge strengthening, through their Local Transport Plan settlement capital allocations and through specific funding for maintenance for structures, including bridge strengthening, on the Primary Route Network (PRN). Funding in London is a matter for the mayor.

The numbers of structures funded under the PRN programme from 2005-06 inclusive of forward allocation to 2010-11 are:

Number

2005-06

127

2006-07

123

2007-08

115


A three year allocation was provided for 2008-09 to 2010-11. The number of structures funded for this period is 355.

Prior to 2005-06 the information is not available to this level of detail.

The strengthening of bridges owned by other bodies, such as Network Rail, is a matter for the respective bridge owners. Bridges in Wales are a matter for the Welsh Assembly.


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Bus Services

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many new public buses have been introduced in the last five years. [225607]

Paul Clark: The numbers (to the nearest thousand) of buses and coaches(1) newly registered in the public service vehicle taxation class(2) in the last five years were as follows:

Number (thousand)

2003

8,400

2004

8,300

2005

8,900

2006

7,600

2007

9,000


Bus Services: Concessions

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to change the national concessionary bus fares scheme. [226745]

Paul Clark: This Government introduced the statutory minimum bus concession in 2001 and subsequently improved the original half-fare minimum to free local travel in 2006. The successful introduction of the England-wide concessionary travel in April this year was a major achievement, but it represented a further significant change for both local authorities and the bus industry. As such, our current focus is very much on ensuring the continued success of the new concession.

We are currently considering possible improvements to the administration of concessionary travel and are likely to consult on some possible changes later in the year.

In July this year it was announced that by 1 April 2011, the statutory bus concession in England will be extended to include service personnel and veterans under the age of 60, who were seriously injured in service and are resident in England. Aside from this there are no further plans at present to extend the statutory minimum to different times, other modes, community transport or additional groups of people.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the estimated cost to local authorities of the national concessionary bus fares scheme is for (a) 2008-09 and (b) 2009-10; and what the estimated central government funding for the scheme is for each of those years. [226746]


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