PACTS Comments on Parliamentary Questions: 24th – 27th Jan 2011
HGV Drivers (Diabetes)
9. Mr Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): When his Department plans to publish its consultation on changing the law to allow UK nationals with diabetes to drive heavy goods vehicles in the UK. 
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): The Department for Transport plans to publish the consultation document very soon. We welcome views from anyone interested in the proposed changes and will consider all representations before making our final decisions.
Mr Kennedy: I thank the Minister for that reply. She will be aware from correspondence that my question arises from a rather long-running constituency case, which is not untypical of those of other hon. Members across the Chamber. Given that the EU directive dates back to August 2009 and that we have an utterly inconsistent position in the UK-registered diabetic heavy goods vehicle drivers from elsewhere in the European Union can drive on our roads, whereas UK-registered diabetic
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HGV drivers cannot-can she give some consideration as to how quickly this glaring anomaly can be cleared up?
Mrs Villiers: We will certainly be working hard to get the consultation document out as quickly as possible. However, given that what is being contemplated is a relaxation of current road safety rules, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that this is not something to be undertaken lightly. We must ensure that we take the time to consider all the relevant factors to ensure that it is safe to make the change.
Rail Industry (Reform)
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): Sir Roy McNulty’s rail value for money study has identified areas where significant efficiencies can be achieved. It is clear that the most pressing need is to align incentives across the industry to ensure closer working between Network Rail and the train operating companies. Our franchise reform programme is a key strand in the strategy. Those reforms, together with Sir Roy’s final recommendations, will form the basis of a long-term strategy for the industry. We are committed to publishing those proposals by November 2011.
3. Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): If he will consider the merits of authorising traffic signals to display only flashing amber aspects in the early hours of the morning to reduce journey times. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): The Department is looking at various options for traffic signalling during quieter periods of the day and the flashing amber signal is just one of the techniques being considered among many others. However, in the interests of safety, it is important to ensure that any signalling technique provides a consistent and unambiguous message to all road users.
“The British motorist would find this system confusing.”
Norman Baker: As I mentioned, we are having a review of signs generally and that suggestion is being considered as part of that process. The difficulty is that the flashing amber signal already has a specific legal meaning in this country, where it is used to indicate legal precedence for pedestrians at pelican crossings. That means that we could not authorise a trial or the use of the flashing amber signal for any other application without first changing the meaning of the signal in regulations. A dual meaning might not be a very good idea.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am pleased to confirm that a new offence of keeping a vehicle with no insurance is being
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introduced, and that supporting regulations were laid before Parliament on 11 January 2011. Enforcement of the offence is planned to commence in the spring. The scheme for continuous insurance enforcement identifies uninsured drivers by comparing the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s vehicles database with the motor insurance database.
Gareth Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I am sure that he would agree that uninsured drivers are selfish in the extreme. Can he tell the House how much money will be saved for responsible drivers as a result of the changes, and will he also confirm that the police will retain the power to seize vehicles that are uninsured?
Norman Baker: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome for the steps that the Government are taking. I can confirm that the police will continue to have the power to seize vehicles, and he may be interested to know that last year they seized 180,000 such vehicles. Around 1.4 million vehicles are uninsured, which costs responsible motorists around £30 extra in their premiums each year. We think that the measure will save about £6 for each motorist.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister not recognise that insurance costs, particularly for young drivers, are reaching ridiculous levels? The AA premium index suggests that they could rise by 40% this year, which he is making worse with the rise in insurance premium tax. Given that fines are so low, will that not mean that people will sometimes be incentivised to avoid paying their insurance? What on earth will he be doing about that?
Norman Baker: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and my Department is in discussions with the Ministry of Justice about that specific matter. However, I hope that he would also welcome the steps taken today to clamp down on uninsured drivers, who are costing motorists more money.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): My aim is to improve the entire bus journey for passengers. That means better integration between bus and rail services, better passenger information, smarter and more integrated ticketing, greener buses and better accessibility for people with reduced mobility. That will be achieved through incentives for commercial bus operators, funding local transport schemes through the local sustainable transport fund, but, above all, through operators and local transport authorities working together.
Mr Wright: In my area, Stagecoach is blackmailing Hartlepool borough council once again by claiming that it cannot run an evening bus service without getting yet more public money. Stagecoach made £126 million profit from its bus operations last year, but seemingly cannot operate an evening service after 7 o’clock in Hartlepool. It is very clear that the current system is not working, so will the Minister bring forward proposals to re-regulate local bus services?
Norman Baker: There is, in fact, a large range of powers available to local authorities, not least through the Local Transport Act 2008, which enables quality partnerships, and even quality contracts, to be established, so if his local authority feels that it has an unsatisfactory relationship with the bus company in question, it is open to it to look at the options available in legislation.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I hope the whole House will join me in extending condolences to the parents, family and friends of the 12-year-old boy tragically killed while crossing the A64 to catch the school bus.
On the wider question of rural buses, what assurance can my hon. Friend give to those living in rural areas that we will have a more extensive service-or at least as good a service as we have at the moment?
We are conscious of the importance of rural areas, which is why the issue was flagged up in the local transport White Paper. I changed the guidance on concessionary fares to ensure that the special position of rural and long-distance routes was specifically recognised in that regard. We have been in touch with local authorities to look at innovative schemes, such as dial-a-ride and so forth, to ensure that local services, which are essential to rural areas, are maintained.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Approximately 7,000 vehicles underwent Vehicle and Operator Services Agency roadside inspections in December 2010. That was a combination of trucks and trailers, cars, buses and vans. That number comprised just over 17,000 checks of individual areas, such as checks for mechanical defects or drivers’ hours offences.
Andrew Bridgen: I thank the Minister for that answer. However, considering that the weather in much of December was so severe that it had a major impact on economic growth in this country and caused major disruption to the transport infrastructure, does he agree that VOSA should have a much more flexible and business-friendly attitude to conducting roadside checks, when hauliers and transport operators are struggling to supply the economy during severe weather conditions?
Norman Baker: I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s point, and he may be happy to know that VOSA did take a pragmatic approach to enforcement during the recent unusually difficult weather. In fact, in December 2010 it carried out only 60% of the tests it carried out in 2009. It has also taken account of a number of relaxations that the Government have made to drivers’ hours regulations because of the weather, and it has had regard to the inevitable delays that such weather can cause to journeys. However, we must ensure that all journeys on our roads are safe.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that there is real concern among staff who work at VOSA that the testing transformation programme, with the move towards private sector test stations and the closure of the VOSA test station network, is privatisation by the back door. Will he tell the House why there is such a push towards private sector test stations, and will he confirm that privatisation is not on the agenda?
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): Since I last answered questions, I have published details of our proposed route for high-speed rail, launched the local transport White Paper, including the bidding guidance for the £560 million local sustainable transport fund, set out our proposals for reforms to the rail franchising system, which will deliver better value for money for taxpayers and better service to passengers, and announced tough new measures to tackle uninsured driving.
T6.  Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): In my constituency, an average of 27 people a year are killed or seriously injured in crashes involving young people. That includes a tragic accident over the Christmas period involving a friend of my son. Graduated driver licensing, enabling a new driver to proceed to a full licence over a period, has been shown in many countries to reduce the number of casualties in that vulnerable group. What discussions has the Secretary of State had about introducing such an approach to improving road safety in this country?
Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend will know that the United Kingdom actually has an enviable record on road safety. Many of the countries that operate graduated licensing suffer worse safety records than the UK. Our policy is to avoid additional regulation whenever possible, and we would be very concerned about imposing any regulation that reduced the mobility of young people who had acquired driving licences, because of the impact that it would have on their participation in the labour market and in further and higher education.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I heard what the Minister said about uninsured drivers, but what thought has he given to requiring drivers to put details of their insurance on the car windscreen, which works well in a number of other countries?
Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman may know that the Department has introduced a programme of rolling monitoring of insurance, where anyone whose vehicle is uninsured now has to make what is, in effect, a statutory off-road notice declaration. The police will have access to the database and will be able to monitor, in real time, whether vehicles are insured or uninsured. That will give rise to a much more effective level of enforcement.
This week’s transport safety Written Answers:
Taxis: Working Hours
Bill Esterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what his policy is on the introduction of regulations limiting the number of hours taxi drivers are able to work (a) in a single shift and (b) in a week. 
Norman Baker: Where taxi drivers are employed, they are subject to certain provisions of the main European Working Time Directive which applies generally across the economy to those in employment; this includes a requirement to take “adequate rest”, and regular health checks for night workers.
PACTS comments: The issue of working hours for drivers is an important question, and should be monitored for all drivers of public transport. This week has also seen questions being raised about a European law to be introduced to Britain in 2012, which raises the limit of hours airline pilots can work. http://bbc.in/gPTWF2
Ambulance Services: Accidents
Mr Scott: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many emergency response ambulances have been involved in a road traffic accident in each of the last three years for which figures are available. 
enning: The number of reported personal injury road accidents involving at least one ambulance in Great Britain in each of the last three years for which figures are available is given in the following table:
|Number of accidents|
Mike Penning: The information requested is published in “Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2009 Annual Report”. The number of pedal cycles involved in reported personal injury road accidents in Great Britain by year is available from Table 10. The number of pedal cycle casualties involved in such accidents is available from Table 6c.
Mark Tami: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many pedestrians were (a) injured and (b) killed as a result of accidents involving cyclists in Great Britain in each of the last five years. 
|Number of casualties|
The above figures include pedestrian casualties from collisions involving cyclists only. Where other vehicles were involved in the collision besides a cyclist, pedestrian casualties have been excluded.
Highways Agency: Telephone Services
John Woodcock: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether his Department has set a target for reducing the number of calls to the Highways Agency public helpline which are unanswered. 
Mike Penning [holding answer 21 January 2011]: The Highways Agency information line (0300 1235000) has an internal target to have no more than 10% of calls abandoned where the customer has waited for at least one minute. Despite recent demand the current rate of abandoned calls for the year to date stands at 6.3%, well within target.
Public Transport: Visual Impairment
Norman Baker: The Transport Act 2000 empowers local transport authorities in England and Wales to determine what local bus information, including information relating to facilities for disabled passengers, should be made available to the public and the way in which it should be made available.
It is expected that under the proposed EU regulation on bus and coach passenger rights, that operators and terminal managing bodies would be required to provide passengers with adequate information throughout their travel. Where feasible, this should be provided in accessible formats upon request. Negotiation of that regulation should conclude in the next few months, with the final text then published in the Official Journal of the European Union. As a regulation it would have direct application two years after its publication.
The Department for Transport commissioned a research project to investigate the costs and benefits of installing audio visual systems on buses, and to consider ways of increasing the take up of these systems. This project will provide guidance for local authorities and bus operators as to the benefits of audio visual systems and ways of implementing them.
However, the first year for which forecasts are provided in this report is 2015. The most recent available set of congestion forecasts for 2010, can be found in: “Road Traffic Forecasts 2008: Results from the Department for Transport’s National Transport Model”, which is available at:
Norman Baker: The Department for Transport has used the National Transport Model (NTM) to estimate that in 2035 there will be 210 million passenger trips per weekday on average by surface modes (including road and rail, but excluding freight), in Great Britain. Of these, 4.2 million are expected to be over 50 miles long, and 1.5 million trips over 100 miles long.
Under a scenario assuming no additional runways in the South East, and using the then latest available GDP projections, this set of forecasts implied that there would be 37.6 million domestic air journeys per year between UK airports in 2030. The Department keeps its aviation forecasts under review and will publish updated forecasts as appropriate.
In addition, HS2 Ltd has published a forecast showing it expects there to be 7 million ‘long distance’ trips daily in 2033. However, this is not comparable to the preceding NTM figures. This is because HS2 Ltd’s model of ‘long distance’ travel is based on a subset of trips which differs from the national set used in the NTM, and its ‘long distance’ trips include some that are less than 50 miles long. This different dataset was chosen by HS2 Ltd to enable effective and efficient modelling of the likely impacts of HS2.
Mike Penning: The Secretary of State for Transport announced on 26 October 2010, Official Report, columns 177-79, the Department for Transport plans for funding road improvement schemes for the spending review period, to the end of 2014-15.
The Department for Transport will also take forward work on a number of schemes already under consideration for the next spending review period. At present, the Department is not developing proposals for future schemes on the A2.
Aviation: Snow and Ice
Mr Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what assessment he has made of the level of compliance during the adverse weather conditions experienced in November and December 2010 by (a) airlines and (b) tour operators with their obligations under the Air Passengers Rights Directive (261/2004) and the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Directive (90/314); and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what discussions he has had with the Air Transport Users Council regarding the level of compliance by airlines and tour operators during the adverse weather conditions experience in November and December 2010 with obligations under the Air Passengers Rights Directive (261/2004) and the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Directive (90/314) and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs Villiers: The Government expect air carriers and tour operators to honour their obligations to passengers under EU Regulation 261/2004 on denied boarding, cancellation and delay, and under the package travel directive 90/314, and to look after their passengers during times of adverse weather conditions.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has responsibility for enforcing regulation 261 in the UK. It reminded major airlines and airport operators of their responsibilities to their passengers during this period.
The CAA closely monitored the activities of airlines in this period and undertook remedial action where deficiencies were identified. The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) advises passengers on their entitlements under the regulation and is the UK’s complaints handler.
While the obligations of EC Regulation 261/2004 and of the package travel directive do not apply to airports, the Secretary of State has made clear that the Government and the regulator will be working with airlines and airport operators to see what might be done to address issues identified by the recent adverse weather conditions.
Mrs Villiers: In December the Minister for Road Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), announced that by April 2011 more data on speed cameras would be made available to the public by local councils and the police.
Large Goods Vehicles: EU Action
Robert Flello: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent progress he has made on discussions with his counterparts on proposed EU restrictions on the height of commercial vehicles. 
Mike Penning [holding answer 20 January 2011]: Department for Transport officials have discussed this issue with the European Commission on several occasions including, most recently, at a meeting on 17 January.
As I stated in my Westminster Hall debate on 18 January 2011, Official Report, columns 229-35WH, with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South also spoke at, the Government position is strongly opposing this measure and we are working with other member states and industry to ensure that the status quo is maintained. The Commission is now reconsidering its draft proposal.