PQs 10th – 12th Jan 2012

Speed Limits
Alun Cairns: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations her Department has received on the consultation on increasing motorway speed limits. [88239]
Mike Penning: The Department has received several hundred items of correspondence about changing motorway speed limits during the last three months.
The Government announced in October that they intended to consult about increasing the national motorway speed limit for England and Wales. The consultation is planned to start during the next few months.
PACTS comments: That the Department for Transport has received several hundred items of correspondence about a consultation which has not yet been published shows the strength of opinions on the proposal.
PACTS will respond to the consultation once it is launched, reinforcing concerns voiced in aParliamentary Briefing in 2004. 
Invalid Vehicles: Accidents
Alison Seabeck: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many road traffic accidents involved a Pride Colt 8 mobility scooter in each of the last three years; and whether mechanical failure was a contributory fact in any such accident. [88080]
Norman Baker: No national statistics are recorded concerning accidents involving mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs. From 2013, the police will be able to record whether a mobility vehicle has been involved in an accident on the public highway.
Invalid Vehicles: Safety
Alison Seabeck: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether the (a) Pride Colt 8 mobility scooter and (b) other mobility scooters designed for road use are required to have width-indicating side lights. [88081]
Norman Baker: All Class 3 mobility vehicles (which includes the Pride Colt 8 model) are required to have a minimum of front direction lamp, direction indicators, hazard warning lights, two rear position lamps, rear retro reflectors if being used on the road. In addition they are required to have an amber warning beacon if being used on dual carriageways. There is no specific requirement for width indicating side lights.
Alison Seabeck: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether her Department has commissioned any independent safety checks on the Pride Colt 8 mobility scooter. [88083]
Norman Baker: The Department has not commissioned any safety checks on any model of mobility vehicle.
Network Rail: Level Crossings
Karl McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions she has had with Network Rail regarding level crossings. [88187]
Mrs Villiers: The Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), meets regularly with Network Rail to discuss a range of issues. Within the high level objectives set by the Secretary of State, operational decisions regarding the rail network including those relating to level crossings remain the responsibility of Network Rail.
Karl McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether her Department provides guidance to Network Rail on the maximum acceptable time for a level crossing to be closed to road traffic in any one (a) hour, (b) day and (c) night. [88188]
Mrs Villiers: The Department does not provide guidance to Network Rail on this issue and there is no legal restriction on the time that a level crossing can be closed to road traffic.
However, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) does provide guidance to the rail industry on the operation of level crossings and on level crossing orders. Those orders can contain convenience or safety-related provisions for both road and rail level crossing users. The order making process is also managed by ORR.
Karl McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps her Department has taken, or has encouraged Network Rail to take, to improve safety at railway level crossings. [88189]
Mrs Villiers: Safety at level crossings is a matter for the relevant railway safety duty holder. These duty holders such as Network Rail have a legal obligation to reduce risks at level crossings so far as is reasonably practicable.
It is the responsibility of the Office of Rail Regulation to monitor that railway duty holders meet those obligations, and to take enforcement action to secure improvements as necessary. Additionally, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch has also investigated a number of previous level crossing incidents and directed recommendations to improve safety to Network Rail.
The current level safety crossing record is consistently one of the best in Europe and 2010-11 saw the least fatalities at level crossings in the last decade. In view of that record and the robust industry safety framework under which level cross risk is managed, we do not consider additional intervention from the Department is needed.
Community Transport
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how local communities can access the funds her Department has made available to promote community transport; and if she will make a statement. [88655]
Norman Baker: I refer the hon. Member to the statement made to the House on 8 December 2011, Official Report, columns 58-59WS.
The funding will be distributed to 76 local authorities in England, outside London, by formula. This is a repeat of the Supporting Community Transport Fund announced in March 2011. As with the first payment, we would expect local authorities to work with their communities to help decide how best to use this funding.
Transport: Weather
Andrea Leadsom: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures are in place to deal with severe weather in the winter of 2011-12. [88559]
Norman Baker: The Department has been working with public and private sector organisations, across the various transport modes, to boost resilience and preparedness for winter weather.
Salt stocks currently stand at over 2.7 million tonnes—a million more than last year—and all transport modes have refined and promoted their operational command and control procedures to improve their response to severe weather.
Last month the Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), announced £16 million of investment in our rail infrastructure to help keep trains moving in snow and ice this winter, which is part of a £38 million industry spending programme to make sure the rail network is better prepared for severe bad weather this time. Network Rail and the train operating companies have also taken a number of steps to improve the implementation of contingency timetables, and the provision of information to passengers during disruption.
Heathrow and Gatwick airports have made significant investments in additional snow and ice clearance capacity, and in staff numbers available for snow clearance, with Heathrow committing over £30 million to date and Gatwick investing £8 million .
Severe cold weather will always cause some disruption but the actions taken will ensure that the country’s transport systems are better equipped to cope with them.
Road Signs and Markings
Mr Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans her Department has to make greater use of vehicle information signs on motorways and A roads to inform motorists of congestion, accidents and road closures; and if she will make a statement. [87695]
Mike Penning: Following the recent Traffic Signs Regulations review, undertaken by the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency now have greater ability to inform drivers about traffic conditions. For example, signs can now be set to;
Give advance warning of severe weather (up to 24-hours in advance of a forecast event),
Give multi-modal messages warning of delays to other forms of transport (for example a closure of an airport or major train station).
Furthermore, the Agency are continually improving their information provision to customers with initiatives such as:
Improved travel time legends to show the time it takes to travel between two points affected by congestion or delays.
Legends that can be set to inform drivers when a closed road will re-open.
Legends to inform drivers that a road has now re-opened.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment she has made of the importance of roads to (a) reducing congestion, (b) increasing road safety and (c) economic growth; and if she will make a statement. [88707]
Mike Penning [holding answer 10 January 2012]: The Department collects and publishes a range of official statistics related to traffic and the road network. Most of these statistics are summarised in “Transport Statistics Great Britain”, the Department’s main annual statistical compendium publication, the 37th edition of which was published on 15 December 2011. Congestion related information includes changes to average speeds on local authority A roads and percentage of journeys deemed to be on time on the strategic road network.
The Government published a strategic road safety framework in May 2011, with a focus on high-risk groups in the short term and longer term benefits from technology and safer driving.
The Government’s Growth Review and National Infrastructure Plan, published in November 2011, identifies transport as a key economic infrastructure sector and, through the Autumn Statement, an additional £1 billion of new investment will be used to tackle areas of congestion and improve the national road network.
Railway Stations: Manpower
Teresa Pearce: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 9 December 2011, Official Report, column 422W, on railway stations: manpower, what discussions (a) she, (b) her predecessor and (c) her officials have had with the Chair of the Rail Value for Money Study on the calculations used to reach the recommendations in the report of the Rail Value for Money Study on (i) ticket office opening hours, (ii) ticket office staffing and (iii) the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement. [88127]
Mrs Villiers [holding answer 10 January 2012]:Ministers and officials met with Sir Roy McNulty and his team regularly over the course of the Rail Value for Money Study to discuss a wide range of issues.
The conclusions of the independent study, together with the detailed supporting material, can be found on the websites of the Department and the Office of Rail Regulation.
The Department is now considering the findings of the study and will shortly be publishing a Command Paper setting out a strategy for improving the efficiency and performance of the railway network.
Railways: Disability
Richard Graham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps she is taking to improve disabled access at railway stations. [88230]
Norman Baker: The Access for All programme will deliver accessible routes to 153 stations before 2015 and a further £7 million a year is available to train operators to use for smaller access enhancements. We have also recently introduced a new Mid-Tier programme worth £37.5 million to fund projects needing up to £1 million of Government support.
Tom Blenkinsop: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions she has had with the Association of Train Operating Companies on eligibility for disabled persons railcards following changes to disability living allowance. [88881]
Norman Baker: The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) review of social security benefits is still ongoing, and is expected to be completed in 2012. DWP will be introducing personal independence payments (PIP) to replace disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013. Once the new eligibility criteria have been confirmed, ATOC will work with Disability Rights UK, the Department for Transport and other key stakeholders to evaluate the required revisions to the Disabled Person’s Railcard eligibility criteria. Implementation will be timed to coincide with the introduction of PIP.
Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps she plans to take to increase access to train services for disabled people (a) nationally and (b) in Coventry. [88898]
Norman Baker: The information is as follows.
(a) We are committed to improving access to rail stations and we have therefore continued the previous Government’s Access for All programme, which will deliver accessible routes to 153 stations before 2015. £7 million a year is available for smaller access enhancements and a new Mid-Tier programme worth £37.5 million was recently introduced.
(b) All three stations in Coventry (Canley, Coventry and Tile Hill) have step-free access.
Driving Offences
Mr Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will take steps to permit persons found guilty of an offence under section 14(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to attend a driving safety course paid for by the offender that includes instruction on the benefits of wearing seat belts in lieu of a fine; and if she will make a statement. [R] [78680]
Nick Herbert: The police can offer such courses at their discretion. They do not require Government permission.
Road Infrastructure
Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve road infrastructure.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve road infrastructure.
Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve road infrastructure.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve road infrastructure.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): The Government announced in 2010 that we were investing £2.1 billion to start 14 new road schemes over this spending review period and to complete eight existing schemes. A further £1 billion of new investment was also allocated in the autumn statement to tackle areas of congestion on the strategic road network.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Although we always like to hear of the big schemes, is the Minister aware that low-cost engineering schemes save the most lives? They are the best investment and offer the best bang for the buck. In this the United Nations decade of accident reduction, the most likely cause of death for any young man anywhere in the world is a road accident, so will we consider any innovations we might introduce on the roads through low-cost schemes?
Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and the fact that he mentions is a sad indictment. Boys aged between 17 and 25 are 10 times more likely to be involved in an accident than a lady of that age. Low-cost schemes are vital, and some of the very low-cost schemes, such as retro-reflective paint on roads, have moved things on a huge amount in the last 10 years. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am considering such schemes.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Cycle infrastructure is sadly lacking across the country and that causes a number of safety problems, such as a recent tragedy at King’s Cross and many others around the country. What steps is the Minister taking to improve the quality and amount of cycle infrastructure on our roads?
Mike Penning: Most of the roads I am responsible for are part of the national road infrastructure, and I hope there are no cyclists on that part of the infrastructure. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: cycling is vital not only to local commuting and enjoyment but to the health of the nation. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman said.
Speed Limits
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What plans she has to encourage the use of 20 mph speed limits.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I recognise the value that 20 mph speed limits can bring in some locations, particularly outside schools, but it is for local authorities to decide whether and where to implement them. Last October, I took steps to make it easier for every English local authority to introduce 20 mph zones and limits more efficiently and with less bureaucracy.
Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Bishopbriggs in my constituency is trying to become Scotland’s first 20 mph town and, as research shows that the risk of children being involved in an accident is reduced by two thirds in 20 mph zones, that is understandable. I congratulate the Minister on the changes he has made. Of course, that improvement does not apply in Scotland, so may I ask what discussions he has had with his Scottish counterparts about the success of the scheme? It would be excellent if the Scottish National party Government followed suit, to the benefit of towns such as Bishopbriggs and others.
Norman Baker: As my hon. Friend will appreciate, this is a devolved matter so I have had no such discussions with Scottish colleagues. There are 2,000 20 mph schemes in England and evidence from the British Medical Journal shows a significant reduction in casualties and collisions of about 40%, a reduction in the number of children being killed or seriously injured of 50% and a reduction in casualties among cyclists of 17% where there are 20 mph limits in London. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to pass that information back to the Scottish Government.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Many residents in my constituency, like me, support the increased use of 20 mph speed limits, but we are finding that the time over which designation takes place is still inordinately long. I know that the Government have made welcome proposals, but are there any specific observations that my hon. Friend would like to make to assist my local authority in making speedier decisions?
Norman Baker: As I said in response to the initial question, we have made changes as part of the road signs review, “Signing the Way”, to make the introduction of such limits and zones more efficient and less bureaucratic. It is now possible to use roundels on the road rather than repeater signs, which saves money and is quicker to introduce. We are also looking at the requirements on local authorities to advertise road changes in traffic management terms.
Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): What plans she has for future use of variable speed limits.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): Mandatory variable speed limits will continue to be used as part of the management of traffic on controlled and managed motorways on the strategic road network. Three schemes will be started this year and there will be a further 10 schemes by the end of 2015.
Mr Knight: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We heard calls earlier today for the greater use of 20 mph speed limits, but is the Minister aware that often the danger that justifies a 20 mph limit is transient, such as outside a school, where the danger is present only briefly during the school day—in the morning, at lunch time and in the afternoon? As we already have the lowest speed limits in Europe, will the Minister encourage local authorities to make greater use of variable 20 mph limits so that once the danger has passed the limit will default to 30?
Mike Penning: That is exactly what is being looked at in the Department at the moment. On the motorway network, where variable speed limits help us to sweat the assets, where we can stick to national speed limits we shall continue to do so.
Topical Questions
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Today’s excellent report from the Transport Committee highlights the scandal of dodgy whiplash claims that are hiking up insurance premiums for honest motorists. Why, just a couple of months ago, did the right hon. Lady’s colleagues reject Labour’s amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which would have curbed whiplash claims? In light of today’s report will she reconsider that opposition?
Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman would be better directing his question to the Ministry of Justice, which leads for the Government in this area. I very much welcome the Select Committee’s report and the work of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in raising the issue. The Government are already taking action to ban such things as referral fees. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will work very closely with the Ministry of Justice to see what action we can take on this issue.
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Road crashes are the biggest single killer of young people aged between 17 and 25 in this country today. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Cheshire safer roads partnership’s “Think, Drive, Survive” scheme, which brings officers into schools to teach young drivers about better road safety? What more can the Government do in this respect?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that I have done that excellent scheme in Cheshire and have the certificate on the wall in my office. One of the things we can do is ensure that the test taken before someone is given a driving licence is fit for purpose and that it is not simply a case of passing a test, but of giving the skills everyone needs, particularly young people, to be able to drive and enjoy the road safely.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Driver fatigue and sleepiness is a major cause of road accidents, and it is estimated that one in six lorry drivers suffers from sleep apnoea. Does the Minister have any plans to increase health checks on lorry drivers to diagnose sleep apnoea?
Mike Penning: This is a condition that I have known about for many years, as I used to be a heavy goods vehicle driver, and it is something I am looking at now. The hon. Lady has met me and knows that we are working on this. I look forward to bringing forward proposals so that we can ensure that an industry that is already very safe is even safer in future.
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