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18 Mar 2010 : Column 957

EU Legislation (Buses)

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet representatives of bus operators to discuss the effect on them of the requirements of EU legislation. [322753]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Ministers and departmental officials meet regularly with representatives of bus operators to discuss issues affecting the bus industry, including those relating to the effect of EU legislation on bus operators.

Mr. Bellingham: When the Minister comes to consider the European passenger rights legislation, will he bear it in mind that small rural bus operators, which provide vital services in constituencies such as mine, are very different from long-distance, international operators? Does he agree that we already have very effective domestic disability legislation? Furthermore, a date has been set for scrapping buses that are non-wheelchair compliant.

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman has written to me about this issue, and I am aware of his concerns. I have raised it with the bus company Norfolk Green in his patch, and I have written back to him. It is worth putting it on record that he is right to raise his concerns.

We secured significant improvements to the text of the EU passenger proposal. They included the removal of the public service contract condition from the exemption for urban, suburban and rural buses, which would have rendered it largely unworkable in our deregulated market. The hon. Gentleman will also be pleased to know that we secured the removal of the provision introducing strict liability for bus and coach operators, which would have conflicted with our well-established fault-based system. He and I both used to be lawyers, so we both appreciate the importance of that system.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I wonder whether the Minister could please take a look at the application of European legislation by Lancashire county council? The very existence of much valued transport providers such as dial-a-ride, which we all have in our constituencies, is being threatened by a hurried tendering exercise. So far, that process has seen the contract being awarded in-house, back to the county council, thereby threatening the much valued voluntary organisations that provided the service valiantly over the years.

Mr. Khan: I thank my hon. Friend for raising once again the way that her council treats some of the most vulnerable people in her patch. I am happy to meet her and to write to the council leaders to make sure that they understand the requirements of the current legislation. We cannot allow people to use the EU as an excuse for punishing those who need help the most. We will not allow that to happen.

Traffic Congestion

6. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the level of traffic congestion. [322755]

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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Under the urban congestion programme, person journey times have improved by 5.5 per cent. over the last four years on key routes in the 10 participating urban areas.

On the strategic road network, delays for the slowest 10 per cent. of journeys in the year to January 2010 have reduced by 7.7 per cent. since the March 2008 baseline. However, I recognise that congestion is still a major issue for the many people stuck on roads in buses, cars and other modes of transport. Reducing congestion remains a major priority.

Ann Winterton: Is the Minister aware of the recent report from the Road Users Alliance, which predicts that traffic jams will rise by 37 per cent. over 15 years? It goes on to claim that underinvestment has left Britain's roads

What is the Government's answer to that criticism?

Mr. Khan: I am unaware of that figure, but the hon. Lady is right to say that congestion incurs a cost for the UK. In his report a couple of years ago, Sir Rod Eddington quantified that cost at £22 billion by 2025 if steps were not taken to reduce congestion. That is why we announced last year that we were making £6 billion available to reduce congestion by widening motorways, making it possible for drivers to use the hard shoulders, and introducing active traffic management. This year, we have spent £2.5 billion on encouraging people to use buses, and made £1 billion available for older and disabled people. Over the next five years, we will invest £15 billion in our railways. More people are using rail today than at any time since the 1940s, and more people use buses than at any time since privatisation in the 1980s. Smarter choices need to be made.

Barking to Gospel Oak Line

7. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Transport for London on the electrification of the Barking to Gospel Oak line. [322757]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): There have been no discussions since the first half of last year. This is a Transport for London proposal and I understand that it needs to commission further development work but is not currently funding this.

Jeremy Corbyn: I wonder whether my hon. Friend could help in this matter and perhaps seek a meeting with the Mayor of London and Transport for London. As I understand it, his Department has offered £25 million towards this very important refurbishment by electrification of this line, which will help to take freight off the roads and increase the efficiency of the London overground network. Will he therefore press the Mayor once again to accept the Government's money and find the small amount that is required from his budget in order to ensure that the project goes ahead?

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Chris Mole: No specific sum was committed by the Department for Transport, but the Mayor for London does have £3 billion non-ring-fenced investment in transport. His priorities seem to be with his friends in Kensington and Chelsea rather than with my hon. Friend's constituents in Barking.

Car Journeys

8. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What estimate he has made of the number of miles travelled by cars on roads in England in (a) 1997 and (b) 2009. [322758]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): In 1997, cars travelled an estimated 195.9 billion miles on roads in England. This rose to 214.2 billion miles in 2008. Figures for traffic on roads in England in 2009 will be published in July 2010.

Mr. Robathan: May I take the Minister back to 6 June 1997 when the then Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Transport, in an interview with The Guardian, said:

I know that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has moved on, but I wonder if I might hold the Government to it, and ask the Minister, first, what he will do about it, and, secondly, why would anybody believe anything that any Labour Minister says after this?

Paul Clark: There is a very simple answer to that. The proof has been in the delivery in terms of investing in our infrastructure, across railways and roads. It is a result of having a substantially buoyant economy, with 2.5 million more people in jobs. The number of households with more than two cars today is 32 per cent., which is more than the households with no car, which is 25 per cent. The investment in our roads is a result of the buoyant economy that we have had. Our record in terms of increased use of buses, trains and road, which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has just mentioned, recognises what a successful economy we have run.


9. Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): What progress has been made on his plans to reduce the blood alcohol limit for driving from 80 mg to 50 mg. [322759]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): My noble Friend the Secretary of State announced in December that we had asked Sir Peter North to undertake an independent review of drink and drug-driving legislation. The review is examining options for changes to the legal alcohol limit for drivers. Sir Peter has been asked to report initial findings by the end of March. We will then consult on his findings before finalising and publishing the post-2010 road safety strategy.

Mr. Leech: Will the Minister assure the House that if the drink-drive limit is reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg, a mandatory driving ban will be in place for drivers found guilty of being over the limit between the new and the old limit?

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Paul Clark: I will not prejudge Sir Peter North's report, but we will certainly take on board his recommendations on whether there should be a new lower limit in tandem with the current limit and whether penalties should be revised. I am determined to ensure that the 430 deaths recorded in the 2008 statistics as a result of drink-driving are reduced still further and that we continue the successes that there have been in improving our road safety.

Heathrow (Air Quality)

10. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of the likely effects on air quality in the area of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. [322761]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Department for Transport published its latest assessment of the likely effects of a third runway at Heathrow Airport on local air quality in the "Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport-Impact Assessment" document in January 2009. A copy of the impact assessment and earlier technical reports on the air quality modelling have all been deposited in the Libraries of the House.

Mr. Amess: We are already in breach of European air quality directives. Does the Minister not accept that, as a result of the extension of the third runway, air and surface pollution will increase and it will be impossible for us to meet our air quality obligations?

Paul Clark: No, I do not accept that. When in January 2009 we announced our decision to proceed with the third runway at Heathrow, we made it clear that we would have in place stringent requirements on air and noise pollution. We have worked with the Committee on Climate Change, which has indicated that, even at the most pessimistic level, we would be in a position to meet growth in passenger numbers of some 60 per cent., or a 54 per cent. increase in flights. However, we have made it clear that we will have in place a legally binding agreement that there will be no further expansion beyond 2020 without ensuring that we are on target to meet the stringent requirements that we set out.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Given that the EU has already-in December-thrown out the Government's shameful application for an exemption on particulate matter, which is especially dangerous in relation to respiratory diseases, do the Government really propose to go ahead with an application on nitrogen oxides?

Paul Clark: We certainly believe that we should continue, because what we cannot do is put at risk UK plc and the requirements of businesses in this country, or bury our heads in the sand about the requirements for aviation. At the same time, however, we have to make sure that we meet the stringent requirements on environmental pollution and noise levels for all concerned that we set out in our announcement in January. It is important that, instead of suggesting that we do not need to meet the requirements of those who require aviation services, we meet the challenge, show leadership and go forward.

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Cycling and Motorcycling Accidents

12. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of deaths of, and serious accidents involving, motorcyclists and cyclists. [322763]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): Specific road safety initiatives aimed at motorcyclists and cyclists include a new Think! campaign on motorcycle safety, training for young cyclists via Bikeability, and the enhanced rider scheme for post-test training for motorcyclists. Last year, we published proposals to improve road safety in the consultation document, "A Safer Way". That included proposals for new guidance on encouraging more 20 miles per hour zones.

Mr. Sheerman: Does my hon. Friend agree that we are perhaps becoming a little complacent about the number of deaths on two-wheeled vehicles? I checked the figures recently: in two years, deaths among motorcyclists equal the number lost in our armed services on active service in 40 years. The widow-makers and orphan-makers are the people who drive such vehicles and are killed. That is disgraceful in a civilised society.

Paul Clark: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the number of people who die or are seriously injured on our roads, but I am pleased that all those involved in road safety have been able to achieve substantial reductions in the number of deaths and serious injuries among both cyclists and motorcyclists. However, we recognise that there is further work still to do, and we will continue to take that forward in the new road safety strategy.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Often, it is the drivers of four-wheeled vehicles who cause the harm. But, what steps is the Minister taking to try to stop ordinary pedal cyclists going through red lights, cycling the wrong way and endangering pedestrians- [ Interruption. ]

Paul Clark: I will not mention the Mayor of London; that would not be right. I will say, however, that the hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Everyone who uses the road, whether they are cyclists, drivers of four-wheeled vehicles, lorry drivers, bus drivers or pedestrians, needs to respect the rules of the road and operate accordingly. I agree entirely.

Rail Ticket Information

13. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): If he will take steps to ensure that members of the public have access to accurate information on rail fares to enable them to decide which tickets to purchase. [322764]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): We require National Rail Enquiries and train operators running ticket offices to provide to the public accurate and impartial information on timetables, train running and fares. Both do so with a high degree of accuracy-98.4 per cent. and 99.3 per cent. respectively in the most recent tests to check the accuracy of responses.

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Alun Michael: I am surprised at the Minister's figures. Will he not accept that the information available online is still inconsistent, confusing, inadequate and based on the interests of train operators? Do we not need, and will he take action that requires the industry to provide, a simple system based on the needs and interests of travellers?

Chris Mole: My right hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that 86 per cent. of inquiries to NRE come from the internet. The ticketing and settling agreement requires train operators to retail accurately and impartially. The journey planning engine, the key mechanism behind the internet site, ensures that the customer can see the cheapest walk-up fare for the times in which they are interested; and the cheapest fare finder facility checks for all the best offers on any particular route. We are working with Passenger Focus and National Rail Enquiries to improve the quality of information so that it shows general explanations of ticket validities-in other words, when off-peak and super off-peak fares are valid.

Topical Questions

T1. [322768] Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Since our last Question Time in January, my Department has announced high-speed rail proposals to revolutionise travel between our major cities, with trains running up to 250 mph; announced planned investment of more than £800 million in a package of local major schemes throughout the UK; and outlined new proposals to improve bus travel and tackle antisocial behaviour, including a ban on alcohol consumption.

Dr. Harris: Chiltern Railways' proposed new rail route from Oxford to London Marylebone via Bicester is welcome, but there are concerns among residents of north Oxford about frequent and, because of their speed, noisier trains passing their houses. First, does the Minister agree that mitigation is the key issue for those residents? Secondly, given that his noble Friend the Secretary of State was willing to meet me last year to discuss the issue, will the Minister ask him if he would be willing to meet us again to discuss mitigation?

Mr. Khan: The announcement of the £262 million Chiltern Railways Evergreen 3 project has some downsides, and on behalf of my right hon. and noble Friend I am happy to make a commitment for him to meet the hon. Gentleman in the next few weeks. If, for some reason, my noble Friend cannot meet him, I shall ensure that either I or one of our ministerial colleagues is able to do just that.

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