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Rail Regulation

10. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): If he will make a statement on the roles of the Strategic Rail Authority and the Rail Regulator. [21566]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The purposes and functions of the Strategic Rail Authority are set out in the Railways Act 1993, as amended by the Transport Act 2000. The Rail Regulator's functions and duties are set out in a number of Acts, including the Railways Act 1993, the Transport Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Minister for that illuminating reply, but is he aware that passengers are more concerned about whether their trains are going to arrive on time and whether they can travel in reasonable comfort? Is either of the bodies continuing to collect information about time keeping, in which there has been a serious decline since October this year? Will the Minister publish regular reports on time keeping in the rail network?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman recognises a problem that is part of the great difficulties of the system that we inherited from the Government whom he supported. The Opposition should recognise that it is that fundamentally flawed model that has created the difficulties. Notwithstanding that, there is, obviously, still a need to run the system. He will be extremely pleased with the progress that the new chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, Richard Bowker, has already made in starting to set new leadership in the industry. He will shortly be announcing the franchising proposals and will announce next month his strategic plan for the industry. That is the way in which leadership should be taken forward, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): In a recent parliamentary answer, the Minister confirmed to me that he was still in discussions with Railtrack about matters concerning the completion of phase 1 of the west coast main line modernisation; no mention was made of phase 2. What information has he provided to the Strategic Rail Authority about the matters that are outstanding, how will that outstanding work be financed and when will the project be completed?

Mr. Spellar: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the problems with the west coast main line,

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which demonstrate exactly the reason why we had to take action with regard to Railtrack. It priced the project at £2.3 billion, but it was then going to cost £7 billion and rising. I was absolutely astonished that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) tried to brush that to one side as an insignificant item in its accounts. The matter requires discussion between the Department, the Strategic Rail Authority, Railtrack and Virgin Rail, precisely so that they can work their way out of the horrendous difficulties that the abject failure of Railtrack has placed with the authority, the Government and the train operating company. As he would expect, we are involved in very active discussions on the matter, because of the complexities and difficulties that we were left with.

Area Cost Adjustment

12. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If he will make a statement on the working of the area cost adjustment. [21568]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead): The area cost adjustment consists of two elements: a labour cost adjustment and a rates cost adjustment. The labour cost adjustment is by far the most important. It is based on comparisons of average wages in London, the south-east and the rest of the country. Average wages are derived from the new earnings survey for a range of occupations considered to be relevant to local authority employment.

The rates cost adjustment is based on rateable values per square metre for commercial office space. There is a slightly different approach for schools buildings.

Mr. Robertson: I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister know that the area cost adjustment costs Gloucestershire £4.648 million a year? I understand that the Government are to review the area cost adjustment. Does he agree that it is wrong for Gloucestershire to lose out by such an amount? Does he further agree that the basis for the formula—that it costs more to run services in, for example, neighbouring Oxfordshire—is wrong, and will he therefore guarantee that Gloucestershire will not lose out unfairly after the review?

Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the current ACA methodology was developed under the Conservatives in the early 1990s. If there are serious problems, perhaps he should consult the history books to ascertain how they arose. At the time, Conservative Ministers did not believe that there was strong evidence to show that average wages varied much between authorities outside the south-east. That may have changed by now, and the Government are therefore reviewing the matter.

Various options, including an ACA that is more specifically associated with individual authorities, are being discussed with the Local Government Association. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know how openly the review is being conducted, he can look at the LGA website, where the different options are displayed.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. I want to clarify a point about this afternoon's debate on the motion on the facilities of the House.

Some years ago, I referred to Mr. Gerry Adams as the dishonourable Member for Belfast, West. The then Deputy Speaker ruled that such unparliamentary language was permissible because our rules protect only Members who have taken the Oath or affirmed. Will you confirm that the ruling continues to apply? Although I accept the need for moderate language in an emotional debate such as this afternoon's, is it still in order to describe someone who has not affirmed or taken the Oath as a supporter of terrorism or to refer to any other unpleasant facts that the evidence suggests?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order, which gives me the opportunity to remind the House of the wise words of "Erskine May":


I recognise that strong feelings exist on the issue, but let us conduct our debate in a civilised manner. The Chair will not tolerate unparliamentary language or behaviour.

BILL PRESENTED

Justice (Northern Ireland)

Jim Fitzpatrick presented a Bill to make provision about the judiciary in Northern Ireland and to amend section 6 of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876; to make provision about the law officers and other legal officers and the courts in Northern Ireland; to establish a Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, a Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and a Northern Ireland Law Commission; to amend the law of youth justice in Northern Ireland; to make provision for making available to victims of crime information about the release of offenders in Northern Ireland; to make provision about community safety in Northern Ireland; to amend the law of legal aid in Northern Ireland; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 75].

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Elections (Entitlement to Vote At Age 16)

3.33 pm

Matthew Green (Ludlow): I beg to move,


The Bill is an attempt to use common sense to tackle civil rights and the health of our democracy head on. I am sure that no hon. Members consider marriage, a full-time job or having children to be lesser responsibilities than voting, yet that is what successive Governments have effectively told us by failing to tackle the voting rights of 16 to 18-year-olds. We expect young people who work to contribute taxes, so why cannot they have a say in who spends their hard-earned money at local and national level? We treat them like adults one minute and children the next.

Let us be consistent. If we expect young people to be accountable and responsible, we must afford them responsibilities and respect. Young people under 18 can die fighting for their country, so is it not madness that they cannot elect the very people who send them to war? Respect and equality are at the heart of the Bill: giving 16-year-olds the vote is a fundamental right.

Why bother, some may ask? After all, we have all heard in the news about the increasing apathy of young people towards politics. I am sure that some will say, "What is the point of giving young people the vote if they are not going to use it?" Giving young people the chance to vote can only benefit society. It will empower young people and give them a greater sense of responsibility in society. We will make politics more relevant to the young and encourage personal responsibility by giving them a stake in the future.

We cannot deny someone their rights simply because they choose not to use them. If we played that game, we would have to forfeit the rights of almost half the population in the UK, given the results of the last general election—some democracy we would have if we did that.

Unlike some adults, young people are interested. A research poll carried out following the general election for Charter 88 and the YMCA came up with some surprising results. It seems that young people are still interested and have faith in the political system. Some 62 per cent. believe that voting is an important way to defend the public interest, and 61 per cent. believe it makes the Government responsible for their actions. More than half believe that voting is instrumental in getting the right people elected who will represent their views.

We cannot take young people for granted. As the research also shows, if we fail to nurture young people's interest in politics, we lose it. As many as 47 per cent. of 16 to 17-year-olds said that voting could have a lot of influence; that dropped to only 35 per cent. once they reached their early twenties—a 12 per cent. drop in just five years. How can we tell young people that we are interested in their views, yet at the same time not let them have the vote? Young people are judged old enough to

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start a family and contribute taxes. We should now allow them to elect the Government who will spend their taxes and provide the hospitals in which their children are born.

The change has the support of the Electoral Reform Society, the British Youth Council, the YMCA, the National Youth Agency, the UK Youth Parliament, the Children's Rights Alliance, the National Black Youth Forum and the Care Leavers Alliance.

The last time that the voting age was lowered was under the Representation of the People Act 1969, which came into force for the 1970 general election and allowed 18 to 20-year-olds to vote for the first time. I understand that a total of 81 Members of this House had the opportunity to vote that year, which they would not have had otherwise. Without giving anyone's exact age away, I shall mention a few of them, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). I understand that he insisted on using his vote, with his father driving him from Hereford, where they had moved to, to north Wales to make sure that his vote counted at the age of 19.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), were also able to vote for the first time in 1970 thanks to the lowering of the voting age. They could not have done so if the voting age had not been lowered the previous year.

We all know how quickly youthful passion and idealism can fall victim to cynicism and apathy. How many more Ministers, Chancellors or perhaps even Prime Ministers will be encouraged if we foster young people's interest in politics early on?

The citizenship curriculum that is being made compulsory in September 2002 will teach all young people about the political process: 16 and 17-year-olds will be better informed about politics than ever before, and probably better informed than most adults. Young people are the future. We want to encourage their interest in the community in which we live as well as the world around them. We must motivate young people before they lose interest, and there is only one way to do that—give them the vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Matthew Green, Mr. Andrew Stunell, Jane Griffiths, Angus Robertson, Lembit Öpik, Dr. John Pugh, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Paul Marsden, Mr. Alan Reid, Adam Price and Mr. Roger Williams.

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