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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Since our last questions in June, the Department has made a significant number of policy announcements. To keep in your good books, Mr. Speaker, I will keep it short. We have announced a £1.1 billion programme for electrification of the Great Western main line and of the line between Manchester and Liverpool, a £14 million package to transform facilities for cyclists at rail stations and green permit schemes for
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works in the street in London and Kent. We have published "Low Carbon Transport: A Greener Future", and more details are available on the Department website.

Mr. Timpson: Does the Minister support, as I do, the proposal from the Association of Train Operating Companies that the Crewe to Chester line should be electrified, not least because of its importance to the Cheshire economy and to Crewe as one of the country's key railway junctions?

Mr. Khan: It is fascinating how support withers away when it comes to paying for things. There is a consequence of wanting investment in public infrastructure-it costs money. One party is committed to investing-

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Two parties!

Mr. Khan: Two parties are committed to investment, and one is not. When I was in Liverpool announcing the electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester line, I saw no support from the Conservatives. It is slightly rich for a new boy to lecture us about investment.

T5. [294817] Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Will the Minister let me know what practical steps his Department is taking to protect rural bus services-by practical steps, I obviously mean money?

Mr. Khan: I thank my hon. Friend for her helpful question. In the last 13 years, we have introduced a rural bus subsidy scheme that gives more than £15 million each year to subsidise buses that otherwise would not be profitable to run. In addition, we have given more money to the revenue support grant scheme, which means that main buses can be funded. We also fund community transport buses, which leads to a number of buses being run that otherwise would not be run. She has raised the important point that social justice demands that rural communities have buses that run.

T2. [294814] John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Given that more than 50 per cent. of flights from airports such as my local one in Edinburgh head to other UK mainland cities, what environmental impact study has been done on the effect of high-speed rail, which would remove the necessity for many of those flights?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): In the work that we undertook for what ultimately became the 2003 aviation White Paper, a substantial review was undertaken into the impact and requirements, for the foreseeable future, of the level of air travel within the UK and for long and short-haul flights. I was recently at Heathrow airport, and although we have obviously committed to investment in high-speed rail and to taking that forward, the proportion of flights to Heathrow is 8 per cent. internal and 7 per cent. short-haul-the vast majority of flights are, of course, long haul, which need to be made.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Again this week, there was an article in a national newspaper on the unacceptable behaviour of a senior manager working at Network Rail. I have been raising this matter, along with the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, for
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seven or eight months. I had a debate in Westminster Hall on the issue, where I asked 14 questions about it. Can I get an answer to those questions?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): Industrial relations and staffing issues are between employers and their staff-in this case, Network Rail and its employees. Network Rail is a private company and the Department cannot involve itself in the staffing and operational aspects of the company's activities.

T3. [294815] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), supported by his colleagues in Gloucestershire, has been an ardent campaigner for redoubling the Kemble to Swindon railway line. Now that, as I understand it, a significant amount of money-£30 million-has become available in the south-west, will the Minister take whatever steps he can to ensure that it is used to make that necessary improvement on our rail line?

Chris Mole: I have had discussions this week with the Minister for the South West that indicated that the regional funding allocation for the south-west region has been reassessed, and that it is possible now that the majority of the funds for the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble link can be found within the region. I will certainly be talking with departmental officials about closing the gap.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister inform the House whether there has been any progress in allowing the concessionary bus pass to be used as a senior railcard?

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We spend £1 billion on the concessionary bus fare scheme, which enables 11 million people who are either over 60 or disabled to use buses free of charge after 9.30 am and before 11 pm who would otherwise not be able to do so. He makes an important point about access to the railways, and I will write to him to give a substantive response, but suffice it to say that we have spent more money this year on such things than ever before in the history of this Government.

T4. [294816] Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May an old boy ask, given the performance of Ministers today, why on earth we have a Department for Transport? Ministers clearly have no influence over rail operators' timetables. They do not know the number of speed cameras there are about. It is clear that the Highways Agency looks after the roads and that rail operators look after the railways. What on earth is the ministerial team doing? Would it not be a good start-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of the House, that topical questions must be brief, and so must the answers.

Mr. Khan: As an old boy, the hon. Gentleman will remember the privatisation of the railway sector. As an old boy, he will remember the privatisation of the buses. As an old boy, he will remember the fragmentation of the public transport system. And he will remember the chronic under-investment in our public transport system
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for more than 20 years. Over the past 13 years, we have seen a 20 per cent. increase in the use of our buses, a 40 per cent. increase in the use of our railways and investment in the future as well. I am proud of that.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): This week, two conservative think-tanks have proposed getting rid of the pensioners' concessionary bus pass. Would a Labour Government guarantee the House that they would not do that?

Mr. Khan: Unlike Her Majesty's official Opposition, we are committed to the concessionary bus scheme and to having 11 million people in England being able to use it-as I said, free for the first time in the history of Governments in this country.

T6. [294818] Philip Davies (Shipley)(Con): The Airedale and Wharfedale rail lines, which serve my constituency, are two of the most congested in the entire north of England. When will Yorkshire get its fair share-not extra-of the transport budget to deliver the much-needed extra capacity on those train lines?

Chris Mole: All the regions of the UK get their fair share of rail investment and have done through the life of this Government. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman should recognise that, within his region, the Northern Rail franchise receives more subsidy than any other train operating company in the country.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that many of those who work on Britain's ferries are still not covered by the national minimum wage regulations. Can he outline what steps are being taken to close that loophole?

Paul Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is certainly true that there are issues about the national minimum wage legislation that we need to consider. At the same time, we should recognise the international nature of the shipping industry. One of the other achievements under this Government has been a substantial increase in the number of UK-flagged ships in terms of tonnage. I want to ensure that that continues. We are currently having further discussions with the industry and unions about the issue.

T7. [294820] Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): My constituents in Southend, West would like to know whether the commitments originally given by the noble Baroness Chalker will be honoured when the Government sell off the Dartford river crossing toll bridge.

Chris Mole: The pressures on the crossing are well known and the Government are committed to finding a solution to meeting the capacity needs of Dartford.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Will the Minister tell us when the promised public consultation on the shape of the new franchise for the east coast rail line will begin?

Mr. Khan: We speak all the time to key stakeholders. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that National Express East Coast continues to run the railway. The directly
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operated company, as a shadow, is ready to take over the running as and when required, and there will be a seamless transition. However, he can write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State any time that he wishes to do so.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister will be aware that Norfolk is the only county in England that does not have a dual carriageway linking it to a national road trunk network. Does he share my hope that the public inquiry into the dualling of the A11 from Thetford to the Five Ways roundabout will not push back the timetable for the project? Can he also give me an absolute assurance that-

Mr. Speaker: Order. One question will do.

Chris Mole: The Government are committed to progressing the dualling of the A11, to ensure that people in Norfolk and Norwich have the best possible access to the rest of the country as soon as possible.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I ask the shipping Minister to have an urgent look at pay in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? Last year senior managers were given an average increase of 15 per cent., compared with front-line staff, who got 1 per cent. Surely that is not acceptable.

Paul Clark: I have regular meetings with the MCA. There has been a reduction in the number of directors and a change in the provisions. However, we are obviously concerned to ensure that all public sector expenditure not only is in accordance with agreements, but is value for money and delivers the requirements that we need, in this case through the MCA.

Women and Equality

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked-

Equality and Human Rights Commission

1. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the commission's co-ordination of its work on different strands of discrimination. [294822]

4. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the commission's co-ordination of its work on different strands of discrimination. [294825]

The Minister of State, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality wrote to the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on 5 August, setting out the need for the commission to strengthen its relations with stakeholders and to set out clearly what is being done on each equality strand. A follow-up meeting was held on 22 September to discuss the matter. Such meetings will continue.

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John Howell: Given that the Minister for Women and Equality talked on the "Andrew Marr Show" about the need to be able to see the different strands of discrimination, rather than about having an amorphous, overarching human rights concept, will the Minister of State admit that the Government got it wrong in how they set up the Equality and Human Rights Commission?

Maria Eagle: No, I do not admit that we got it wrong. It was completely correct to bring together the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, in order to ensure, in addition to the new three strands, that employers and those regulated by the commission know where to go and have only one body to go to. That is completely the correct decision. However, it is also correct to ensure that the underlying causes of discrimination, which can be different for disabled people from those for black and minority ethnic people, for example, are visible and have different solutions, for which the commission can account to its stakeholders.

Mr. Howarth: Does the Minister agree with the chairman, Trevor Phillips, when he said that sometimes the best way to frustrate the British National party is for those who feel able to vote Conservative? Surely that is sound advice.

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is very wide, so I am sure that the reply will be very brief.

Maria Eagle: I do not always agree with what the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission says.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Are not human rights one of the important aspects of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and do they not underpin the whole approach to discrimination? Having that strand running through the commission is another reason why those organisations needed to come together.

Maria Eagle: I agree with my hon. Friend. That is an important underlying strand of the work of the commission. As the commission moves forward, it will be important for it to make its work on all the strands much more visible than it has perhaps been in the past, and it has undertaken to do that.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, but this was not the question that I thought I was going to be called on.

Mr. Speaker: I am not psychic. I can be guided only by what has been reported to me, and I had it down that the hon. Lady wanted to favour the House with her views on this matter.

Lynne Featherstone: Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I will therefore do so.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that parental rights are so good that women are having a difficult time being employed. I wonder what the Government are doing about that.

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Maria Eagle: I am not convinced that the hon. Lady has accurately cited what that report actually said. The commission is doing a lot of work on parental rights, for fathers and mothers, but not all the reporting of that work is an accurate reflection of what it has said.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): In the interview that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) cited between the Minister for Women and Equality and Stephanie Flanders on the "Andrew Marr Show" on 2 August, the Minister said that she did not favour the Equality and Human Rights Commission using the overarching human rights concept. How does the Minister of State think that it should instead deal with recognising the different strands and with making the commission more effective in combating discrimination?

Maria Eagle: My right hon. and learned Friend did not say quite what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. However, it is important for the commission to be much more visible in setting out its work on each of the strands for which it has responsibility, as well as its work on promoting human rights. It will be held accountable for that by my Department, the Government Equalities Office, as well as by the wider stakeholder community and others in this House.

Corston Report

2. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on steps to implement the recommendations made in the Corston report relating to women in prison addicted to drugs. [294823]

The Minister of State, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): In my role at the Ministry of Justice as Minister for Prisons and champion for women in the criminal justice system, I discuss this matter regularly with the Secretary of State for Justice. As of February, there are no longer any women prisoners being routinely strip-searched in women's prisons in England, and we are investing £15.6 million of new money over this two-year period in existing third sector organisations to divert vulnerable women offenders from custody.

Laura Moffatt: I am grateful for the Minister's response. On a visit to HMP Send, a women's prison, I spoke to women on the rehabilitation of offenders trust who were helping women to rid themselves of the scourge of drugs. The particular problem raised by the Corston report was that dangerous moment when women are released from prison, particularly when child care problems are involved. What further discussions has my hon. Friend had on protecting women at that difficult time?

Maria Eagle: I am glad that my hon. Friend has seen the excellent programme at HMP Send, which I have also had the benefit of visiting. It is doing sterling work. Much of the £15.6 million of extra resources to which I have just referred is going to one-stop shops and women's organisations in the community that have an express purpose and ability to offer personal support to those coming out of prison, and to solve problems with housing and with getting children back to women coming out of prison to prevent them from reoffending. I believe that that will be very effective.

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