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Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 14th May 2009.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 10:30 am, 14th May 2009

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

On 16 April, together with my noble and right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, I announced the Government's plans to promote ultra low-carbon vehicles. That will include financial help for those who wish to purchase low-carbon cars. During the Easter parliamentary recess, my noble Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for rail, made a six-day, highly successful rail tour of the United Kingdom. He travelled 2,200 miles on local and national services, and has since announced the appointment of two station champions to suggest ways in which station facilities could be improved.

On 21 April, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, announced the publication of the Government's new wide-ranging road safety proposals, aimed at making Britain's roads the safest in the world. Yesterday I was in Manchester to welcome an accelerated transport package for Greater Manchester, including plans for new Metrolink lines from Chorlton to East Didsbury and from Droylsden to Ashton-under-Lyne. These extensions, along with those already under way, will result in Manchester's tram network being twice the size that it is today.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Paul Clark, invited English cities to bid for up to £29 million in funding to be the country's first sustainable travel city. That follows the success of the country's three sustainable travel towns.

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I say that I try to use topical questions for the benefit of the Back Benchers? That should be borne in mind.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the Secretary of State for his response.

At a time when we are encouraging more people to travel by train, is the Secretary of State not concerned about the problems faced by disabled people in endeavouring to access some station platforms? In particular, may I draw his attention to the lack of disabled access to Crayford station in my constituency, operated by Southeastern, and ask him what he can to do assist with the problem and its solution?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

This is a concern for the Government and we are addressing it. I anticipate that there will be some modest funds available to improve access for the disabled. It is important that we ensure that all our citizens, able-bodied and disabled alike, have access to the railway network.

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G

Will the "modest funds" for disabled access be as modest as the second home allowance?

Submitted by Gareth Bowen

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Should the Government really be putting billions of pounds into Network Rail when, as a result of employment practices by a director of human resources, a man who called one of his staff a black effing b—, who kissed another member of staff on the cheek when she was on the phone, who asked to see the "white bits" of a member of staff as he asked her to take her top off when she came back from holiday, and who—

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I have always said right at the beginning of every Session that we must be careful as to how we use parliamentary privilege. I do not wish that the Minister should respond to this matter.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In March, I had a helpful meeting in Dunstable with officials from the Department about progressing the A5-M1 link—the vital bypass in my constituency. May I say to the Secretary of State that that is key to local economic regeneration in the whole of my constituency and beyond? Does he have any news for my constituents about how the scheme can be progressed more quickly than is currently indicated?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman had a useful meeting with officials, and we will always endeavour to assist in that way. He will be aware of the complications involved in the programming, together with the hard-shoulder widening in the M1 programme. We are considering various issues arising from those discussions. Work is continuing, and we will push ahead as soon as possible.

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G

"Work is continuing, and we will push ahead as soon as possible." doesn't really answer the question, does it Mr Clark. I am sure that if he had to drive through Dunstable or Houghton Regis during the morning and evening rushes every day,...

Submitted by Garry Lelliott Continue reading

Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Labour, North East Derbyshire

I want to ask the Minister about the welcome review of concessionary bus travel. He will be aware that there have been some problems locally, but people are very worried that they will lose the concessionary bus travel scheme. Will he confirm that the review will not jeopardise that scheme, on which many people aged 60 and over totally rely?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I reassure the House that we are proud of our decisions in 2001, 2006 and 2008 to give some 11 million people access to free local bus services across the country. The current consultation is examining an improved administrative system and is looking at raising it from district authorities to county councils. I encourage all concerned to contribute to that review, but we are emphatic about keeping the facility and the provision in place.

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Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Eurostar has received huge amounts of taxpayer's money in investment, yet nine years after the introduction of the pet passport scheme, which insists on strict rabies vaccine requirements, it refuses to allow passengers to take their dogs or cats on board, whereas regional railways and the tube allow that. Is that not wrong? What do the Government propose to do about it?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I have to say that I am not entirely sure, but we will seriously investigate the matter.

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Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

There is enthusiasm in all parts of the House for a high-speed rail link, but does the Secretary of State agree that a UK-wide high-speed rail system needs a United Kingdom, and that a separate Scotland would be a hindrance to any future proposals?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is right. I have recently looked at Spain's high-speed network proposals, and part of its avowed intention in allowing people to travel at high speed across the whole of Spain is to pull the country together. It seems to me important that the ambition for this country should be to achieve the same.

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Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South

Will the stations champion have responsibility for defending the legitimate rights of train-spotters? There is a serious civil liberties issue, as train enthusiasts have been impeded by station staff and prevented from pursuing an interest that is at least harmless, and at best can add to the security of a station.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

There has been much over-writing about the modest changes that are likely to occur as a result of extra security in our stations. We would all welcome that extra security, and it is important that people should be free to go about their legitimate enjoyment of their private time. I know how keen some hon. Members, particularly on the Liberal Democrat Benches, are on train-spotting. I would not want enhanced facilities for security to inhibit in any way my hon. Friend's pursuit of his leisure-time activities.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

From 2011, the increase in public spending will reduce to 0.7 per cent. a year, but many programmes, such as that of the Highways Agency, go on to 2014. How will the Secretary of State ensure that the highways building programme does not shudder to a halt in 2011? There will be considerable dismay in areas such as mine if the improvements to junction 9 on the M40, which have been promised for a long time, are affected suddenly in 2011 by everyone saying, "Terribly sorry, there is no money."

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am quite confident that the programmes to which the Government have committed of improving our highways, railways and capacity across our transport network can be delivered within the profile of spending that has been allowed by this Government. I am much less confident that that would be the case if the Conservative party were elected and imposed serious cuts on our transport network, including by failing to commit to Crossrail.

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Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

Will my right hon. Friend give a brief update on a matter of concern to me and many others regarding the rumour about the renegotiation of the franchise on the east coast main line with National Express?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

There will be no renegotiation of franchises.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

My constituent Jessica Berry attended the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign launch of its Trailblazers report. What more can the Government do to assist handicapped people, in particular young people, to access trains and buses, and to ensure that when they have accessed them they can get off where they want to, rather than sometimes having to struggle in order to reach their destination?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We take seriously, obviously, the accessibility of public transport for all concerned, in particular for those with disabilities. That is why there are end dates for all buses to be Disability Discrimination Act compliant by a rolling programme of 2015-16, and that is the case for railway stock as well. Programmes such as access for all, which allow people to move on to station platforms and across from one platform to another, are equally important. Those are the programmes in which the Government are investing money to ensure that we make life much simpler for those with disabilities.

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