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Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con):
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out, it is to this Government's continuing shame that they are killing off so many innovative local transport schemes by national diktat. When will they do what
they have done in so many areas of transport, not least in relation to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers)-drop their policy, follow our policies, and allow local authorities to make truly local decisions?
Mr. Khan: One of the problems in doing what the hon. Gentleman claims to want to do is that his party in Westminster disagrees fundamentally with the Mayor of London on so many issues, whether it be Crossrail, an estuary airport or speed cameras. On funding, the hon. Gentleman should be aware-if he is not, I am again happy to undertake to write to him to educate him-that any major funding scheme below £5 million needs no approval from the Department for Transport. It is right and proper that we have a duty to taxpayers to ensure that money is spent properly, but there is a light-touch approach. When a major project is submitted to the Department, we work with those involved to ensure value for money and deliverability. I do not apologise for ensuring that every penny of taxpayers' money is spent properly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Department for Transport does not hold that data for 1997 or 2008. The deployment of speed cameras and the number in place is a matter for local road safety partnerships.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful for that rather inadequate answer. The Minister will know perfectly well that the number of speed cameras has almost trebled since 1997. Since statistics from his own Department from 2008 show that only 5 per cent. of road accidents are caused by breaking the speed limit, do the Government not need a broader strategy to reduce fatalities and casualties on our roads, instead of continuing to be a one-club golfer?
Paul Clark: The hon. Gentleman has obviously taken his line from his Front-Bench colleague the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), in terms of the idea that there is only one part to the Government's road safety strategy. It is blatantly clear that that is not so. Our strategy is centred on education, enforcement and engineering. Let me point out that last year, excessive speed remained a contributory factor in 26 per cent. of all deaths on our roads. Although we have had a 14 per cent. reduction overall, which is part of our strategy, excessive speed had an effect in 26 per cent. of cases, involving 600 individuals. I make no apology whatsoever for giving local partnerships the choice in taking forward measures that will help to save lives, which all the evidence indicates happens with speed cameras as part and parcel of the approach, or one tool in the armoury.
Paul Clark: I will write to the right hon. Gentleman specifically about the requirements of the national strategic network in relation to speed cameras. Speed cameras that assist in slowing people down help to save lives. Indeed, that is endorsed by his own party, in the shape of the Mayor of London, who wrote to the Secretary of State saying that safety cameras had helped with speed and saved 400 lives.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Has the Minister seen research from the university of Liverpool and the department of statistical science at University college London on the regression to the mean effect? Does not that call into question some of the claims made by the Government on the effect that fixed speed cameras have on reducing accidents?
Paul Clark: Obviously, one would expect any Department worth its salt to keep the evidence always under review. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of evidence showing that where speed cameras were in place, there was a reduction of up to 42 per cent. in serious injuries and deaths. Of course we keep matters under review, but these measures save lives, and are one of the right ways forward for local partnerships. The change was made in April 2007, so the great announcement recently made in Liverpool that we would end centrally controlled cameras is not correct; that is a matter for local decisions in the local partnerships that are doing sterling work to help to save lives.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Department for Transport has sought to increase awareness of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnoea by including relevant literature in correspondence sent to vocational drivers and operators. It has also undertaken focused presentations to representative bodies, published informative articles in motor trade industry magazines and increased awareness among medical professionals.
Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for their interest in this issue. My hon. Friend will be aware of recent academic research suggesting that one in five lorry drivers may suffer from sleep apnoea. Given that if diagnosed and treated it does not prevent lorry drivers from continuing their careers, but that if undiagnosed and untreated it means they are a risk to themselves and other people on the roads, can his Department commit to doing even more?
May I first put on the record my recognition of the dogged determination that my hon. Friend has shown in campaigning on this issue? I thank her for arranging with me a meeting with her constituents,
including the father and fiancée of her constituent who was killed as a result of this problem. I can guarantee that we will continue to work with the charity sector, the medical profession and occupational health to raise awareness. We will review the new Australian research to which my hon. Friend refers when the full evidence is available, and we are taking steps to reissue guidance to general practitioners on the medical form D4.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): London Midland has now received 37 new class 350/2 Desiros and retained seven four-car class 321 trains to provide additional capacity. From December there will be five additional Watford peak services to help reduce overcrowding on Northampton trains between Watford and Euston. That has led to an overall improvement in the public performance measure to 90.7 per cent. for the period from 23 August to 19 September 2009, against 86.6 per cent. in the same period last year.
Ms Keeble: I am grateful for that answer, but is the Minister aware of the local concerns about the urgent need for real, substantial long-term improvements to the train service? There is local anger about the day-to-day management of services, including cancellations, overcrowding and the farcical failure of the train company to get even the announcements on trains right. Will he or one of his colleagues therefore come to Northampton to meet rail users, listen to their concerns and take up the issues of concern to commuters in Northampton?
Chris Mole: One of the Secretary of State's predecessors was in Northampton only in April, but my noble Friend has advised me that if he is in the area he will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the local rail user group. I assure her that the performance of the train operating company is the subject of regular scrutiny by the performance delivery group, which I chair. We look closely at factors that contribute to any delays or cancellations, whether they are caused by Network Rail or by train operating companies.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): East Midlands Trains, which runs to Northampton, also serves Derby. On Sundays it runs only half the services, and journeys take double the time and cost the same. Is that fair for the consumer?
Chris Mole: As I made clear earlier, we are the Government who promoted the notion of the seven-day railway, and we will continue to press Network Rail to ensure that wherever possible, it maintains the Sunday timetable to which it is committed.
9. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect on small and medium-sized businesses of changes to arrangements for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to test goods vehicles. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): In assessing its change programme, VOSA considered the impact on its entire customer base, most of which consists of small and medium-sized businesses. Service criteria have been established, based on independent market research and customer consultation.
Angela Watkinson: I thank the Minister for his reply. Operators will welcome any improvement to efficiency in the test station network, but there is great concern among very small businesses about the likely cost impact when the tests are carried out by a private company. When will he be able reassure them, and when will a decision be made, as to the likely cost of tests under the new arrangements?
Paul Clark: The overall policy is to ensure that we have testing facilities that are closer and more responsive to the customer base. Indeed, as my substantive answer suggested, some 90 per cent. of all operators have fewer than six vehicles. That represents the vast majority of VOSA customers, and we are keen to ensure that they are not penalised. There is a £6 premium on designated third-party premises at this stage. We are reviewing that and would expect to see it removed within the next two years.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Motorcyclists on the Isle of Wight must get their vehicle to the mainland for it to be tested. That is at least an hour and a quarter each way. What is being done to ensure that a test station is available on the island?
Paul Clark: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the position in the Isle of Wight, but overall, we seek to ensure for customers that 90 per cent. of the population is covered by facilities that are within either 30 miles or 60 minutes of them: that is our 30-60-90 rule. Obviously, we will struggle to maintain that in some places, but we will always review the situation and undertake to look for further designated third-party premises.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Ministers and officials within the Department for Transport have regular discussions with the rail industry about the functioning of rail franchises. The Department continues to manage the delivery of obligations of all rail franchise contracts, and officials report frequently on delivery to the Secretary of State.
Miss McIntosh: Are the Government minded to reconsider the length of the franchise offered, particularly for the east coast main line? Does the Minister share my concern about the debt that the company that holds the franchise-the second company to have failed when holding it-has run up with the banks, which of course is now being serviced by the taxpayer? This is a particularly difficult time, so what is he going to do about that franchise?
Mr. Khan: The hon. Lady raises an excellent point. We keep our options open on the form and length of rail franchises. She is right to imply that a longer franchise might help to support more investment and provide greater stability, but she will be aware that when the directly operated- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but there is a lot of chuntering from Opposition Front Benchers. Clearly- [ Interruption. ]
The point is that when the Directly Operated Railways company takes over the running of the line next year and when it comes to retendering, one of the things that we could look into, and seek representations on, is whether the franchise should be longer.
Mr. Khan: My noble Friend the Secretary of State looks into some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, including rail usage-who is using the railways-and whether there are advantages in how a franchise is run. One advantage of retendering is that we can take on board passengers' concerns. This is not directly relevant to him, but we recently refranchised South Central and asked Passenger Focus to ask users what they would like to see in the next franchise. I am happy to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to meet officials to discuss what can happen in the next phase in relation to his constituency and his community.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Under the concession agreement, there is a need for a wide range of regular meetings with the concessionaire, Severn River Crossing plc, regarding day-to-day routine operational and maintenance issues, financial and contractual matters, and contingency planning. Issues recently discussed include operational maintenance, planning for events, including the Ryder cup in 2010, and the use of tag and credit or debit cards for Severn bridge toll payments.
Jessica Morden: The Minister will be aware that users of the Severn bridges can pay by cash, cheques or euros, but not by credit or debit cards, which is particularly incomprehensible for first-time visitors to Wales and causes a lot of inconvenience. Will he reassure my constituents that this long-standing issue is moving to a satisfactory conclusion?
I have been reading the letters that my hon. Friend has written to the Department, and the Hansard reports of the questions that she has raised.
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole), has reminded me that he met the Highways Agency as a direct result of her representations. She will be pleased to know that, in parallel with the negotiations with the concessionaire, we have proposed the necessary amendments to secondary legislation to permit debit and credit card payments at the Severn crossing. As a consequence of her representations, the agency has asked the Severn River Commission to consider the feasibility of introducing a variant of the season tag, which would be suitable for regular car-share groups.
12. Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If he will assess the effect on the tourism industry of the proposed reduction in the number of direct rail services between London and Torbay constituency. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): First Great Western operates two daily services to Torbay via Taunton that take around three and a quarter hours, and South West Trains operates two slower services via Yeovil that take around four and a quarter hours. The South West Trains services will be withdrawn in December 2009. Few passengers use these services to travel to Torbay from London, and regular faster services are available from London to Torbay by changing at Newton Abbot.
Mr. Sanders: I am not sure that many other constituencies face a halving of their direct line services to London. The Waterloo service is cheaper than First Great Western and is used by people, including occasionally the MP for Torbay to get from the constituency to London. Will the Minister review the situation in the light of the fears of the tourist industry that it will lose custom as a result of those cuts?
Chris Mole: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the number of trains on the Torbay branch line will remain the same, providing access to Torbay. The Department has received no representations from South West Tourism on this issue. If the Liberal Democrats would run rail services because they are totemic rather than because they meet passenger needs, it perhaps tells us something about how unprepared they are to take-
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