Questions to the Secretary of State for Transport

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon):

My Lords, we are about to embark on our first session of Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Transport. There are three Questions to be covered in the 15 minutes available, so each Question and supplementaries will have five minutes. To allow as many noble Lords as possible to participate, I encourage noble Lords to keep their supplementary questions concise. I have of course reminded my noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport to aim for the same with his answers.

 

Buses
Question asked By Baroness Hanham

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he will publish the report of the consultation on local authority special grant funding in 2010-11 for the national bus concession in England.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as an elected member of a London borough council and-I may not be alone in this-as a holder of a Freedom Pass.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the consultation on local authority special grant funding in 2010-11 closed on 30 December. My department is in the process of analysing the responses. I am mindful of the deadline for local authorities to finalise their budgets and I intend to announce final funding allocations very shortly.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I remind the House that the consultation is on altering the final year of a three-year national agreement. What justification is there for London boroughs receiving less grant to support the cost of providing concessionary bus fares for Londoners within Greater London but outside their borough of residence? Why are the Government not prepared fully to grant-fund these journeys in London, when they fully fund equivalent journeys elsewhere in England?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the answer is simple and I can be brief: London has much more money than it needs to meet its obligations under the concessionary fares scheme. Indeed, the return of the noble Baroness’s own borough, Kensington and Chelsea, states that its spending on concessionary travel decreased by 7 per cent between 2007-08 and 2008-09. We are leaving London with half its gain in terms of the amount of money that it needs to meet its concessionary fares increase, so mindful are we of the need for Kensington and Chelsea and other London boroughs to be fairly dealt with.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Is the noble Lord aware that there is a problem with small, independent bus operators, particularly in rural areas, where they carry a higher than average percentage of concessionary passengers for longer journeys? For example, one company says that it is not being reimbursed for as many as one in five of its passengers.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the principle is that operators should be no better and no worse off by carrying additional passengers as a result of the concessionary fares scheme. The evidence is that, overall, there was more than sufficient funding going into the system to meet the concessionary fares on offer. As for rural bus services, over and above the concessionary fares funding, the rural bus subsidy grant of £60 million for 2010-11 will support nearly 2,000 services and more than 38 million passenger journeys a year. So we are mindful of the need for further support for rural bus services over and above the support for concessionary fares.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, does my noble friend think that it makes sense that wealthy pensioners, such as some of the present company, perhaps, should also benefit from this government subsidy?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, in my experience, wealth is in the eye of the beholder.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I declare my Scottish bus pass. How often does the Secretary of State regret not having a system of funding concessionary bus fares similar to the one that we have in Scotland?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I have no regrets about the operation of the concessionary fares policy, which has brought huge benefits to 11 million of the over-60s at the cost of more than £1 billion a year. We regard that as a very worthwhile investment in promoting mobility for those over 60.

Aviation: Climate Change
Question asked By Baroness Wilcox

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his response to the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change in its report Meeting the UK aviation target-options for reducing emissions to 2050 about a total increase of aviation demand of 60 per cent by 2050.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I welcome the committee’s advice. The report will be extremely useful for Government and the aviation industry in planning for the future. We are now engaging in further work to cost and assess policy options to meet the 2050 target. It is important that the aviation industry also focuses on operational and technological changes, which will contain the growth of aviation’s carbon emissions in the short term, and then reduce them thereafter.

Lord Soley: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Wilcox: Thank you very much indeed. I thank the Minister. In the light of that target, if the Government go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow, what measures is the noble Lord planning to use to constrain the growth of aviation elsewhere?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the Committee on Climate Change stated that on its central case scenario, a 54 per cent increase in flights by 2050 was compatible with the carbon reduction targets. The full utilisation of the third runway at Heathrow would represent a 10 per cent increase in flights, so it is perfectly compatible to increase the number of flights and passengers at Heathrow while also meeting our carbon reduction targets. I emphasise that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK; it is also running at full capacity at the moment. Therefore, the argument for expansion of capacity at Heathrow is stronger than for any other airport.

Lord Soley: I am on cloud nine now, as someone has just said to me, “So young, so eager”. I apologise to the noble Baroness.

We need our transport policy for railroad and air to be integrated, as it is in Europe, if we are to benefit from the single European market. Will my noble friend respond to the letter that I sent to him asking that the regulators take account of the inter-operability of railroad and air as they do in Europe, where all forms of transport are required to drive down their emissions and not simply compete with each other in a very simplistic manner?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend in all the points that he has made.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, given the complete and predictable failure of the Copenhagen conference and the fact that it is clear that the world as a whole will have no curbs on the growth of aviation passenger transport, can the Minister assure the House that he will look at the matter again and not do anything to curb the use of air travel for British citizens, particularly in view of his answer to the earlier question, when he expressed his desire to see greater mobility?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we need to strike a balance. It is important that we meet our carbon reduction targets, but we are mindful of the social and economic importance of aviation, which is why we welcome the key recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change that an increase of 60 per cent in the number of passengers and 54 per cent in the number of flights is compatible with our climate change obligations.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is strong evidence at the moment that aircraft manufacturers are taking this very seriously, particularly where the next generation of aircraft is concerned? I speak as the president of BALPA.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point, and the Committee on Climate Change emphasises that the development of technology such as novel airframe configurations, advanced lightweight materials, innovative laminar airflow control techniques and more electric airframe aircraft systems all significantly improve aircrafts’ environmental performance and fuel efficiency.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, what progress are the Government making in reducing groundborne emissions around airports? Clearly, the two are directly related.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the airport operators have targets for improving the efficiency of air traffic movements on the ground, all of which of course also contribute to the reduction in carbon emissions.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I declare an interest as a supporter of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. Encouraged by his earlier answer, and in view of declining passenger numbers and the emissions issue, will my noble friend commit the Government to withdrawing explicitly their support for BAA’s plans to expand runway capacity at Stansted and thereby end 10 years of blight on that area?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the decision on an application to expand the airport is a matter for the airport operator. However, I would not overdo the decline in air passenger numbers; if one looks at this in any historic context, they are continuing to rise sharply. In 1982, the number of air passengers was 60 million; in 1997 it was 146 million and in 2007 it was 240 million. Even in the midst of all the economic problems that we have had over the past two years, the reduction on that figure has only been very slight. There is still enormous economic and social demand for air travel, and there will be a need for additional airport capacity in the future.

Lord Elton: Is the Minister aware of how difficult it is for those who are amateurs in this field to swallow the statement that increasing traffic by 54 per cent will enable us to reduce emissions? That means that they will have to be reduced by at least 55 per cent in relation to each aircraft.

Lord Adonis: I do not wish to blind the noble Lord with facts, and I am an amateur myself in this business. Perhaps I might, however, simply give him the facts; today’s aircraft are 70 per cent more fuel-efficient than the first commercial jets were, and each successive generation of aircraft is significantly more fuel-efficient than its predecessors. That will give him some idea of how it is possible to significantly expand air traffic without increasing carbon emissions.

Railways: Passenger Satisfaction
Question asked By Lord Bradshaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will incorporate further measurements of passenger satisfaction, beyond those in the public performance measure, into future bidding processes for railway franchises.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the bidding process for the most recent rail franchise awarded by the Government, to Govia for Southern railway, included an evaluation not only of punctuality and reliability but passenger satisfaction in respect of trains, stations and passenger information. Those customer satisfaction improvements are part of the franchise and financial penalties apply if they are not met. I intend to include similar requirements in future franchise bids and contracts.

Lord Bradshaw: Is the Minister aware that Passenger Focus is undertaking work on the use of sampling passenger experience where the station, the car park, the cleanliness of the train, luggage space, information and many other factors are taken into account in a statistically rigorous manner? That is much better than the crude measure of public performance, which can be easily abused both by operators and by Network Rail.

Lord Adonis: I am well aware of the points that the noble Lord makes. Indeed, it was thanks to research done by Passenger Focus that the passenger satisfaction indices that I mentioned in my initial Answer were included in the Southern franchise. Passenger Focus is doing similar work for us in respect of forthcoming rail franchises, and I intend to see that a wider range of passenger satisfaction targets are included in those franchises.

Lord Snape: Does the Minister agree that the punctuality figures for our railway system in 2009 were probably the best in railway history? Would he also like to pay tribute to railwaymen and women for that excellent performance over the past year?

Lord Adonis: My noble friend is absolutely right. The punctuality figure now stands at more than 90 per cent in terms of the public performance measure, which is the best it has been since we started collecting these statistics. However, of course, “no complacency” are my middle names and I certainly do not regard that as high enough. We want to see it continuing to rise month by month and year by year. I point out that the public performance measure is for trains to be regarded as punctual if, in respect of long-distance trains they arrive within 10 minutes of their scheduled time and in respect of commuter trains they arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time. I do not think that most passengers regard that as absolutely punctual and we might have a more exacting target in the future.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I speak from these Benches not as Leader of the Liberal Democrats but as one of the poor bloody infantry who has to use the Bedford to Brighton line to commute into London. This morning there was a fire on the line that stopped the cross-London service. Last night, inclement weather stopped the cross-London service. Previously we have had technical breakdowns, industrial disputes and a whole list of excuses from First Capital Connect. Is there not an urgent need to see whether this franchise is being served properly? I can assure the noble Lord that if he asked the commuters on that line, they would tell him very clearly, “Come back Thameslink, all is forgiven”.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am only too well aware of the substandard service that has been offered by First Capital Connect in recent months. This is a matter of acute concern to me and my department. However, I am the bearer of some modest glad tidings to the noble Lord. The drivers’ ballot on the pay settlement was held yesterday, which led to a decision to accept the pay settlement. The intention is that a full, normal service will be offered from Monday. I stress that that is the intention of the company. Of course, in the current weather conditions, other factors may come into play. However, the company is well aware of the concerns of the noble Lord and of those many others who have been severely inconvenienced in using this service in recent months, and is fully intent on improving that service rapidly.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, when we previously discussed the problems of Eurostar, we talked about communications. Will there be included in the new franchises a requirement that there should be proper communications with passengers at all times?

Lord Adonis: The noble Baroness makes a very important point. Passenger information matters a great deal to passengers. We have seen the importance of that in recent days as services have had to be changed due to weather conditions. In the Southern railway franchise that I mentioned earlier, there is a requirement for improvements in passenger information, and that the passengers themselves should rate those improvements as satisfactory. I intend to incorporate similar requirements in future rail franchises.

 

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