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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan):
Since our last Question Time in October, my Department has made a number of significant announcements, including today, about winning bids from a £30 million fund for green buses that aims to encourage and help bus operators and local authorities
to buy new low-carbon buses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We have also made announcements about a further £30 million programme to develop electric car-charging points in six leading cities across the country, and about a review by Sir Peter North of the law on drink and drug driving, for which a report is expected in March 2010.
Mr. Bone: I am sure that the Minister shares my horror that, this year, the number of children who were killed or seriously injured while riding their bikes has increased by a third. The Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust has pointed out that four official websites show children not wearing safety helmets. Is the Minister able to tell the House when the report on the effectiveness of cycle helmets will be published?
Mr. Khan: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his track record on this important issue. He moved a ten-minute Bill on this issue, and he is also, like me, the father of young children who ride bicycles. On the research that he referred to in his question, he will welcome the fact that we hope to receive some response by the end of this year about the effectiveness of cycle helmets. I am happy to meet him to discuss how we can move much faster in this important area, because I am as impatient as he is to see progress to ensure that zero young people are injured-or, of course, killed-on our roads as a consequence of riding their bikes.
T6.  John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend tell me what conversations he has had with his counterpart north of the border, particularly about the Glasgow airport rail link to Glasgow city centre? That proposal was part of the bid for the 2014 Commonwealth games and helped us to win the bid and be the city that will hold the games.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): My noble Friend Lord Adonis has good relations with his counterparts in the Scottish Government, but this is a devolved matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) might be interested to know that in developing a sustainable transport strategy for the rest of the UK, one of our priorities is connecting the country's major cities with international gateways such as ports and airports, but it appears that the current Scottish Executive do not have the same priorities.
T2.  Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Since 2007, the Driving Standards Agency has been looking for practical motorcycle testing facilities on the Isle of Wight. My constituents still face a long and costly journey to the mainland to be tested. The EU allows that test to be carried out on the road, so why will the Government not allow appropriate island and rural roads to be used?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark):
We have endeavoured to ensure that the vast majority of people are within a recognised mileage or distance travel limit of a recognised centre. Of course, I recognise that there will be some difficulties in achieving that and I believe that I have corresponded with the hon. Gentleman on the matter. However, we want a safe environment for the training required to ensure that
people are not killed or seriously injured on our roads. It is right that we continue our work to ensure that we have the right centres for that training.
T7.  Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Slough contributes £8 billion a year to Britain's gross domestic product. Its station is the fourth busiest on the Great Western main line, yet the recent rail utilisation strategy proposes no improvement to our appalling commuter rail service. However, buried in it is a tiny opportunity to connect the Great Western main line directly from the west to Heathrow. Can the Minister please put that proposal higher up the agenda? Unless we have a rail connection to the airport from the west we will lose opportunities to build Britain's economy.
Chris Mole: The Thames Valley local authority has identified a case for direct rail access to the airport from the west, particularly from Slough, Maidenhead and Reading, but one of the constraints identified by the study was a lack of electrification on the Great Western main line. The Government's announcement earlier in the summer has had a positive impact on the case for western rail access to Heathrow. We look forward to the local authorities and BAA taking that into account in their further assessments of airport surface access requirements. However, I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to see what we can do to facilitate such a development.
T3.  Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): A recent report by the Association of Train Operating Companies identified Wantage Road station in my constituency as one of just seven stations in the country that could be reopened. Will the Minister support me in pressing Network Rail to undertake a further detailed evaluation to reopen the station, with a view to getting it into Network Rail's investment programme for 2014-19?
Chris Mole: It is primarily for local authorities to give the lead on what local stations are needed for local transport services. We would expect Oxfordshire county council to work with Network Rail and the train operating companies to see what trains could call there. Any station that would require funding from the council would need to demonstrate that it would recover its costs from additional fares. We would then look at taking it into the franchise process.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): On question 3, the Minister quite rightly set out the suggested improvements to Manchester and Preston railway stations. They are on the line between Blackpool and Manchester that goes via Chorley, which is known as the misery line because of the overcrowding and undercapacity that exists on it. Does he agree that the line is in desperate need of electrification and the right rolling stock?
When we made our announcement in the summer, we committed to looking at further potential schemes for electrification around the country. My hon. Friend has entirely correctly identified the interplay between electrification and rolling stock on particular sections of track. When those requirements come together, we will get the benefits from having cleaner and cheaper electric trains to replace the diesels that might currently
exist. We are still reviewing some of the lines in the areas that he is talking about, and we hope to report shortly.
T4.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister may not be aware, but last week I attended a meeting of residents from the centre of King's Lynn who are very concerned about road safety and the speed of traffic along King street and Queen street, both of which have speed limits of 20 miles per hour. Will he confirm that, under the highways regulations, it is possible to have 20 mph repeater signs, including flashing fibre-optic signs, on such roads?
Paul Clark: One of the issues that we have been looking at in reviewing the road safety strategy has been taking forward guidance to local authorities. We want to allow them to reduce speeds, where they believe that is relevant, in predominantly residential areas. The use of the signs to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is certainly permissible, and they are used.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The Government deserve praise for a smooth transfer from National Express to the new company, East Coast. I would particularly like to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for giving a guarantee back in the summer that the company headquarters would remain in York. Now that he is looking at franchise arrangements for the longer term, will he ask his officials to consider the case for maintaining York as the headquarters in the terms of the franchise put out to contract?
Mr. Khan: With such an advocate for York as my hon. Friend, I cannot see the officials reaching any other conclusion. I am happy to arrange to meet him so that he can lobby me once again, as he has been doing so effectively since earlier this year.
T5.  Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that Ministers forced the public-private partnership on London Underground, will they now call for a report from Transport for London on why so many underground routes are closed every weekend for engineering works, disrupting the plans not just of Londoners but of people from all over Britain and further afield? It is really not helpful to London's tourism and economic health.
Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman, who believes passionately in devolution, will know that powers to run the tube have passed to the Mayor of London. He will be aware that TfL and the Mayor are in dispute with Tube Lines about closures caused by signalling changes on the Jubilee line. I will ensure that his comments are passed on to the Mayor, TfL and Tube Lines as soon as possible, and I will report back to him if there are any developments in that regard.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
The Association of Train Operating Companies recently said that the risks that it takes on in providing rail services to the public should be reduced. Does the Minister agree that with annual ATOC profits approaching £1 billion from a public subsidy of £1.5 billion, we
should be renationalising rail passenger services rather than tinkering with an already wildly generous franchise mechanism?
Chris Mole: We have finally got some stability into the franchising system. The National Audit Office commended the Government on the operation of the franchising arrangements. On that basis, it would not be helpful, at a time of record passenger numbers on the railways, to start disturbing the franchising arrangements.
T8.  Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Are the Government concerned at all about driving standards in this country, particularly appalling lane discipline on motorways? Will the Minister consult with that excellent organisation, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, to see how driving standards could be raised, for the personal security and safety of those driving and of others on the roads?
Paul Clark: We always take every opportunity to review the standards and the training provided-they are constantly under review. I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Lady that I will start having those discussions with the Institute of Advanced Motorists at lunch time, when I will address its annual lunch.
1. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the effect on trafficked women of the proposed closure of the Metropolitan Police's human trafficking unit. 
3. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What her latest estimate is of the number of women who have been trafficked (a) into the UK and (b) from one part of the UK to another for the purposes of sexual exploitation in the last 12 months. 
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): There are regular discussions between Equality Ministers and ministerial colleagues in the Home Office on the question of human trafficking. Trafficking is by nature a covert activity, so it is difficult to be precise about the numbers. The Association of Chief Police Officers, the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and others are on course for an estimate of the number of women trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation to be made available inearly 2010.
I am very concerned about the proposed closure of the trafficking unit in the Met, as particularly specialised skills are involved in the unit. What is the Minister's view on the issue, particularly bearing in mind that I have had a letter from Cressida Dick saying that it is inevitable that the change will take place because of reduced funding from the Government to the Met? That certainly came as a surprise to me, as I
thought that the Government had been very generous to the Metropolitan Police Service in terms of funding via the Greater London authority. She says that the-
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. We want to get off to a good start at this session. The question is simply too long. I will ask the Minister for Women and Equality to respond to the part of it-quite a long part-that she has heard.
Ms Harman: In order to reassure hon. Members that the Government, the Metropolitan police and police forces around the country will be taking strong action to investigate and bring to court those engaged in human trafficking for the purposes of exploitation, I should explain that human trafficking includes the offences of breaching immigration rules, rape, assault, kidnap, abduction, fraud and serious organised crime. A unit was set up in the Metropolitan police to focus on the new context of human trafficking, which involves all those crimes. Training is under way for both prosecutors and police, and we have the UK Human Trafficking Centre. A unit in the police was funded especially to upskill and improve the understanding of the Metropolitan police so that the whole issue could be mainstreamed. Funding has been made available for that, and it continues.
Mr. Bone: The Leader of the House has shown her passion and care on that issue, but does she share my concern that although the police are doing very well at breaking up brothels that use people who have been trafficked into this country, the real problem is at the borders? We should tackle that and try to stop it, but we do not seem to be doing so very successfully. Could we do more at the borders?
Ms Harman: We are working internationally, across Europe, through the UK Border Agency, which is working with its counterparts, to identify victims of trafficking. We have worked through Eurojust, which is the European network of prosecutors; and we have worked through European police forces. There is international action going on; it is by definition an international crime. There is also work taking place to freeze assets internationally, because sometimes many more than one or two countries will be involved. This is serious and organised crime; it is international; and we are all working together, as well as domestically, to track down the perpetrators and protect the victims.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But the unfortunate truth is that it is very hard to investigate and successfully prosecute cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation, and the Metropolitan police unit was making inroads. Will the Minister confirm that if the success in increasing the number of prosecutions does not continue, the decision will be revisited?
I pay tribute to the police and prosecutors for bringing to court so many cases in which the victim was an unbelievably vulnerable victim of human trafficking, but still the authorities managed to support them to give evidence and bring the traffickers to justice. Since the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, there have been 113 convictions for human trafficking offences, but beyond that there have been many more convictions for offences such as rape, fraud and assault. The police
and prosecutors are making good progress on bringing offenders to justice, and that will protect victims. Obviously, we keep-
Ms Harman: Because we want to ensure that these issues are mainstreamed. This is not some separate business for some separate unit; this is serious and organised crime. Incidentally, the Serious Organised Crime Agency works internationally as well.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): But dealing with trafficked women is a very specialised procedure, and the issue is not just about trafficked women, either. What about forced labour and child trafficking? I can get my head around the Met's clubs and vice unit dealing with that aspect, but what on earth will happen to the very specialist skills on the very special aspects surrounding trafficked women and children?
Ms Harman: I think that there are particularly specialised skills in terms of supporting the victims, and that is why we maintain financial support for the POPPY project, the Eaves housing charity and other organisations that support victims. However, all those involved in investigating serious and organised crime need to be aware. When I was Solicitor-General, I saw one case in which a woman had escaped from a brothel where she had been held captive and, effectively, raped 10 times a day-day in, day out, week in, week out. She found her way to a local police station, and even though she hardly spoke any English they understood and realised what had happened to her. We have to ensure that every police officer in every police station understands this issue. She cannot be expected to find her way to a specialised unit. This has to be understood across the board and mainstreamed, and we will give all financial support to the police and other authorities to ensure that that happens.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): We all agree that human trafficking is the modern-day slave trade and remains a prevalent form of violence, particularly against woman and girls. There is a need to take strong action against trafficking. Does the Minister agree that reports such as the recent one from London Metropolitan university, which downplayed the extent of trafficking and was based on asking a very small number of women whether they thought that they had been trafficked-hardly the best basis for evidence-do not help to make the case for action? The case for ensuring that every police officer is suitably trained and understands human trafficking and related issues would be far better made if we raised awareness generally about the extent of the problem. What are the Government doing to ensure that we do just that?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Lady. We have to make it absolutely clear that although we do not know the exact numbers, we have never based our case for concern on the overall numbers; it is enough if even one woman has been kidnapped, brought across borders to this country and bought and sold like a modern-day slave. When I was Solicitor-General, I came across one case in which two gangs brought a girl to a supermarket car park and bartered over her;
she was sold from one gang to the other. If there is even one case such as that-and there are many more-that is enough for us to take tough action.
I take this opportunity to deplore the reporting in The Guardian; it sought to imply that because we did not know the specific numbers, or because some estimate had been wrong, somehow we were on the wrong track. Those involved should be ashamed of themselves.
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