6.7 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The starting point for this debate has to be the fact that Great Britain has some of the highest rail fares in Europe. I recognise, of course, that to pay for investment in the rail network the passenger—the fare box—will have to make an important contribution to the funds required. However, the passenger should not be asked to pay an unfair burden, and one way in which we can ensure that passengers are not forced to pay more than they need to is by ensuring that the revenue earned from the network is actually used for the benefit of the network—for the benefit of passengers—and is not siphoned off out of the system.

The evidence from the decades of the privatisation regime, instituted by a previous Conservative Government, is overwhelmingly clear. That approach has meant that billions of pounds has passed out of the system, away from passengers and away from possible benefits of infrastructure investment. Instead, the benefits have been in the form of big profits for many of the companies involved, not just train operating companies but those with ancillary roles in the system, including some of the

9 Jan 2013 : Column 417

providers of rolling stock, to mention just one example. This has not just been about money flowing out through large profits; it has also been about operating inefficiencies being brought into the system. Again, those have been to the detriment of passengers and, in their own way, have led to fare increases.

Mr Andrew Turner: Can the hon. Gentleman explain why such inefficient companies win these contracts?

Mark Lazarowicz: Let us leave aside the fact that there are not many operators in the field to bid. I am not saying that an individual operator is necessarily inefficient, but that the system as a whole leads to inefficiencies as well as to profits being paid out to private companies when they could be invested in the system.

I said that not all companies are inefficient. One example that showed the difficulties and negative effects of privatisation at their highest was the disaster of Railtrack, which was linked not just to private ownership and that company’s motivation in its operations but to the fragmentation of the operators and Railtrack’s distance from the train operating companies. That example also shows how some of the damage caused by privatisation began to be turned around. It is not a perfect organisation, but the publicly owned Network Rail has managed to repair some of the damage caused by fragmentation of the system and we have seen a safer railway network and better value for the taxpayer, for passengers and for other users of the rail network in the costs of maintaining the system.

Jim Shannon: One of the greatest burdens for people in employment is that 30% of their wages can go on travel. People are travelling further, too, to get jobs and employment. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that consideration has been given to those people who regularly use public transport, be it bus or rail, to get to work?

Mark Lazarowicz: Absolutely. That is an example of how increased rail fares damage people daily and effectively worsen their standard of living.

The most recent example of the damage caused by the privatised regime on the railways has been the fiasco of the west coast main line franchise. That fiasco is likely to land the Department for Transport—and therefore the taxpayer—with a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds, which could have been spent on improvements to routes, stations and rolling stock. In contrast, we have the experience of the east coast main line, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) referred earlier. Bringing the franchise into the public sector has been good business for the taxpayer and the directly operated company has brought money back into the public sector. In the last year, it has brought a premium of almost £200 million into the Department, which has gone back into the public sector rather than being siphoned off into a privately owned company.

The problem is that there is an inherent difficulty in the tendering system that operates on the railways under the privatisation scheme introduced by a previous Conservative Government. In order to bring about long-term investment and security, a Government will want to see long-term tenders, but the longer the tender

9 Jan 2013 : Column 418

the less reliable any prediction of future traffic and income can be. That leads to a risk of the tender becoming either a loss-maker, with the operator seeking to hand it back to the Government and to make them pick up the tab, or one in which excessive profits are reaped by the private operator. The system itself is at the heart of the problems with the railways and of the fact that money that could be used to benefit our passengers has unnecessarily flowed out of the rail system.

I want to concentrate on the east coast main line, which is of particular relevance to my constituency and to communities further south along the line. I urge the Government to drop the ideology and to choose the option that works and that will keep prices down for the traveller. They should keep the east coast line, which is successfully operated by Directly Operated Railways, in the public sector. I would rather that that was done on a permanent basis, but if the Government, for ideological reasons, are not prepared to do that, they should at least give the operators a long-term contract rather than leaving a sword of Damocles hanging over the company, the staff who work for it and the passengers and communities that rely on it.

The Government could also take the opportunity to allow Directly Operated Railways’ east coast line to be a genuine public sector comparator for the rest of the network. If the Government will insist on reprivatisation for the west coast main line, they should at least ensure that a public sector bid can be put on the table as a comparator against which we can judge which provides best value for money for the taxpayer and the best services for the passenger. That is the way forward. Let us start putting passengers first and make sure that they get the benefit of investment rather than the companies, which have taken too much out of the railways for too long since privatisation was introduced by a previous Conservative Government.

6.15 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. This is an important issue; there is a serious debate to be had about how we finance investment in the rail industry in future and about the cost of transport today. Like hon. Friends who have spoken, I will have no problem in voting against the Opposition motion; with depressing predictability, it is rather opportunistic, denies their record and contains few concrete proposals for the future. I asked the House of Commons Library for figures on how much rail fares increased between 1997 and 2010. The answer was 56% for local and regional operators and 98% for long-distance trains. Rail fare increases did not begin in May 2010.

My first main point is that although the debate on rail fare increases is important, the reporting is not always helpful or accurate; the headline turn-up-and-go “Anytime” rail fares are often cited and from that it is extrapolated that Britain has the most expensive rail system in Europe. However, those tickets account for less than 20% of ticket sales. When we look at the whole series of available fares, the position is not as straightforward.

In preparing for this debate, I looked at the Virgin Trains website for a hypothetical journey from Manchester to London. Yes, if I wanted to travel in peak time, turn

9 Jan 2013 : Column 419

up and go, a single would cost £154—a large sum. However, a wide selection of other fares for the same journey, as low as £12.50, was available on a wide range of trains. The point is that we have to look at the whole mix of fares, not just the headline ones.

We do not have the same debate in the airline industry. The difference between the cheapest and most expensive air flights on the same route, say to New York, is enormous—from a couple of hundred pounds to £1,500 if someone wanted to turn up and go.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am sure that it is possible to get a £12.50 fare from Manchester on Virgin Trains on some occasions. However, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that £12.50 will be valid to London Euston, but if he wants to go to Brighton, Dover or the south-west of England with a different operator, he will not be able to get a through ticket at that rate? He will have to get two separate tickets, which might cost more than a single through ticket, because he will not be able to get a cheap through ticket.

Iain Stewart: I accept that there is an unnecessary complexity in the rail ticketing system. The Transport Committee has looked at that issue and will continue to do so. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not go too far down that path, as time is limited, but he has made a valid point.

The comparison with Europe is interesting. A very good website called “The Man in Seat Sixty-One” does an independent comparison of European rail fares. Yes, when you look at the “walk up and go any time” fares, the UK is substantially more expensive, but on other tickets, including buying the day before, Britain is either on a par with France, Germany or Italy or very often considerably cheaper.

I mention that because when we talk about rail fares, we need to differentiate between passengers compelled to travel at a particular time of day and the vast majority who have some flexibility over when they travel. The Opposition are right to highlight in the motion the issue of super-peak tickets, but they miss an important point. I completely accept that some passengers will not be able to change their time of travel, but others can. A super-peak ticket should not be designed to increase prices but to give rail operators the flexibility to discount other peak-time travel and encourage passengers to travel slightly later or earlier if possible.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Iain Stewart: Certainly.

Bob Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend and namesake. Is it too utopian to hope that one day in future, rail fares, whatever they are charged at, will go up only by the rate of inflation, and that when we need to renovate our railways the Government will deal with that?

Iain Stewart: I am not sure whether it is utopian. The increased cost of investing in our railways has to be met by a mix of passenger contributions and taxpayer contributions. At the moment, the balance is about right. The cost of travel by any means is going up, and that takes into account the extra costs of energy. Similar

9 Jan 2013 : Column 420

debates are happening in Switzerland, Germany and other countries about how they cope with paying for the extra investment in the rail industry.

I return to my point about whether we can incentivise passengers to travel outwith the super-peak period. That is a line of questioning that I followed during the Transport Committee’s investigation when those in the rail industry were asked about what percentage of the daily commuter market could move their journeys as opposed to having to travel at the times they do. They were very reluctant to give a figure on that, so it is an area of uncertainty, but my own view is that with improvements in technology and more flexible working patterns, that share of the market will grow. In the last job I had before I was elected here, I had some flexibility because I could plug into the company’s database system and do a fair chunk of my work from home before having to travel in for meetings. If more and more employers give that flexibility to staff, as is entirely possible, it is perfectly feasible that rail operators will have an incentive to discount tickets—the shoulder, as it were—instead of putting up the super-peak fare, which I accept would be very unwelcome.

Time prohibits me from going into some of the other issues in depth. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, I hope that we have a further opportunity to explore the issues raised in the Select Committee report. There is a need to get the costs of running our railways down, as has been highlighted in McNulty and many other studies. I am encouraged by some of the innovations that are happening. I think particularly of the alliance between Network Rail and South West Trains. It is too early to give a full evaluation of that, but it is already showing signs of making it more efficient and cost-effective to maintain and improve the railway. There is the possibility of increasing revenue from retail space at stations. These factors will all feed into generating revenue for the railways and maintaining the pressure on keeping fare increases down.

I look forward to the Government’s conclusions from its consultation on ticketing. There is a real opportunity to drive down the cost of rail tickets in this country. However, we must look at the whole picture and recognise that we are pretty competitive compared with a lot of European countries. There will be pressures in future—that is a problem with the success of the railways to date—but the picture is not all bleak, and I very much welcome the steps that the Government are taking to improve the situation further.

6.23 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), has claimed that rail passengers are getting a premium service and that rail fares are not nearly as expensive as is being presented. I wonder who he is trying to kid. My constituents who are crammed like sardines into nearly 30-year-old trains do not believe that they are getting a premium service, and even McNulty acknowledged that fares overall are high relative to other countries.

Research by Passenger Focus has shown that fares in Britain are the highest in Europe, more than four times higher than the cheapest country for medium-distance journeys and nearly twice as high as the next most

9 Jan 2013 : Column 421

expensive. Granted, if someone can purchase their ticket far in advance and specify which train they want, and advance-purchase tickets are available for that service, they may be able to find a fare that is cheaper or comparable with those of our European colleagues, but for most people travelling for business that option is rarely available. Of course, if things happen and they are unable to get on a specific train at a specific time, they cannot transfer their ticket to another train, so the only way they can get the best price is to book in advance and accept zero flexibility and no refunds, which is something that the vast majority of us are unable to do.

Witnesses to the Transport Committee suggested that the way to solve overcrowding on trains was to price most people off peak times. Indeed, the Government appear to be considering super-peak tickets that would be even more expensive than peak tickets. When the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), gave evidence to the Committee, he answered a question of mine by saying that the railways are already a rich man’s toy. This Government seem to want to save some services for the super rich and price ordinary people off trains altogether. As Passenger Focus says, people should be incentivised to avoid travelling in the high peak, but not penalised even more when they cannot avoid it.

Our highly complicated fares system does not help train passengers to find the cheapest means of travel. The proposal to close ticket offices just adds to the difficulty, particularly for those who are unable to book tickets via the internet. It now costs more than £300 for my constituents to travel to London during the peak. They could get a holiday in the sun for a week, with spending money to spare, for the cost of getting to our capital city. Rail prices for long-distance travel have become obscene and mean that we are putting cars back on to roads. That surely cannot be right.

The vast majority of public transport journeys are made on buses. Since 2005, bus fares in metropolitan areas have increased by an average of twice the rate of inflation. Deregulation has produced a system where operators have been given a licence to print money at no risk to themselves. If an operator deems a service to be unprofitable, it can simply stop it and remove it from residents, unless the local authority steps in to save it. At a time when local authority budgets are being cut to the core, there is no money to support those services, and we know that services are being cut, leaving people unable to get to work and the elderly and people of limited means stranded in their homes.

Deregulation of the plethora of bus operators has also made it incredibly difficult to introduce any sort of travel card. London has had Oyster cards for nine years, but my constituents are still waiting. Although Transport for Greater Manchester is working hard to get our version of Oyster, it is finding it extremely difficult because of the various vested interests.

I spoke yesterday about my constituent Leah, who is affected by the cuts to tax credits and other benefits. Leah works 16 hours a week to earn £101, but she has to pay £18 a week for her bus fares. If she lived in London, she would pay £11.20.

9 Jan 2013 : Column 422

The increases in train and bus fares are hitting ordinary people very hard. Wages have not kept pace with inflation and we know that people are already having to choose between heating and eating. Public transport costs are forcing many who can to travel to work in their cars and those who cannot to give up their jobs. The Government need to help local authorities to introduce quality contracts and Oyster-like travel cards and to keep bus fares down.

It seems that running our buses or trains is a licence to print money. Even though the majority of rail franchises receive large subsidies, they still take operating profits out of the industry. It is very much a case of something for nothing, which is why it was so disappointing that, after the debacle of the west coast franchise, the Government, apparently on ideological grounds, would not even consider directly operating the railway, as is the case with the east coast franchise, and putting money back into the Treasury.

Finally, I want to challenge the notion that the previous Labour Government did nothing on rail. We inherited a railway that had been starved of investment for 18 years and we needed to do some fundamental repairs, including rebuilding the west coast main line, which was already electrified. In 2006-7, the Labour Government spent twice as much as the current Government are spending, and in each year since 2003 more money was spent on the railways under the Labour Government than this Government are spending this year.

Let us agree that public transport is also a public service. It needs subsidy and, more importantly, it needs to be affordable for all, so that it is not just a rich man’s toy.

6.29 pm

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): The cost of rail and bus travel is extremely important to many of our constituents. The motion has great appeal, but having looked at the detail, it is quite empty and poses many questions but gives no solutions to the problems that it identifies.

We must acknowledge the squeeze on the incomes of railway passengers over the past five years or so. Incomes have been stable at best for many people and salary increases have been well below price inflation. We need to recognise that fares have increased above inflation for the past 10 years. We must consider whether we can keep going back to those hard-pressed taxpayers year after year with those increases. In the debate about how we structure our fares, we must balance that need against the cost to all taxpayers of subsidising our railways, looking at how we can improve the efficiency of our railways, and ensuring that we see proper investment in the rail network and substantive service improvements. Having read the motion, I am far from certain that it strikes that balance.

There is no acknowledgement of the £16 billion of investment that the Government are putting into our rail infrastructure. That includes projects such as the Nuneaton to Coventry rail upgrade and electrification, which will bring a huge benefit to my constituents, particularly to my many unemployed constituents who are seeking work and do not have their own transport. The motion does not take into account the huge rail electrification programme and the new train and rolling stock programme, which will reduce the running costs

9 Jan 2013 : Column 423

of our railways substantially in the long term, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) eloquently explained.

The motion makes no mention of the improvements that there have been for passengers, particularly on the west coast main line, which is now seeing an additional four Pendolino trains and 31 trains being lengthened. When I get on the train at Nuneaton on a Monday morning, although I have to walk further along the platform to get to standard class, I know that when I get there, there will at least be a seat for me because of the new carriages that have been inserted into the trains.

The motion also makes no mention of the £2.5 billion to £3.5 billion of efficiencies that were identified in the McNulty report. I hope that when the shadow Minister sums up, he will elaborate on whether his party supports making the savings identified by that report. After all, there is a cost to implementing the measures that his party is proposing.

I note that the Labour party again brings “flex” to the fore in the motion. Perhaps the Labour spokesman will explain why, as with so many other policies, his party pursued the “flex” policy until a few months before the general election and then changed the policy for only one year. He also needs to say why, if it is such an awful policy, his Labour colleagues in Wales are still using it. The motion calls on the Government to ban operators from increasing fares above a strict limit. That is a laudable aim, but the motion is silent on what that strict limit should be.

That brings me on to the cost of bus travel. We must again consider the cost of living and the squeeze on many people’s incomes. Many of the lowest-paid people in my constituency rely on buses to get to and from work. The Opposition have been rather opportunistic in the motion and seem to have added bus travel to it as an afterthought. The text about bus travel is even vaguer than the first part of the motion. Again, the motion does not acknowledge that fares increased by 35% between 1995 and 2010, which included 13 years of Labour Government. During that time, the average fare increases were well in excess of 2.5%—the same as over the past two years. However, over the past couple of years, the increases have been below the rate of inflation. I say to the Labour Front Benchers that, during the period of the Labour Government, the subsidy to bus operators increased by 127%, while fares also rose by a huge amount. That is not good value for money.

As I have pointed out, Labour’s record on bus travel was not good. We know that if it were in government, fuel would be 13p a litre more expensive and bus companies would be adding that cost to passengers’ fares, compounding the increases that we have seen over the past couple of years. I suspect that if that had been the case, we would not have seen the £4 million investment that Stagecoach has made in new buses in my constituency, which I welcomed several weeks ago.

We must take into account the pressures faced by all our constituents and limit fare increases, but we must also acknowledge the taxpayer contribution and ensure that our public transport is fit and efficient for the future.

6.35 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): This is an incredibly important issue for the people of Plymouth and the far south-west. We are well over three hours

9 Jan 2013 : Column 424

away from London by train, we have no air link, so a vital connection to a city of 300,000 people is missing, and we have only two major road links. Yet the new fare for an anytime single to or from London with First Great Western is £131.50, and a single between Liskeard and Exeter, which is within the travel-to-work time that the Department for Work and Pensions thinks acceptable, is now £24. That is just for a one-way journey, which is prohibitive in an area of low wages. South West Trains has announced an average fare rise of 5.8% on its network.

I accept that running what is a Victorian rail network is not cheap, and Network Rail has been carrying out work, much of which was started under the previous Government, and driving cost savings through the system. Work such as improving the signals at Reading will eventually lead to time and cost savings as well as improvements in reliability. Can the Minister say, though, whether there is any scope for Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation to work beyond the plans for the immediate control period and contemplate a degree of flexing in projects that are earmarked for control period 5 or 6? Since the publication of the initial industry plan, it seems to have been recognised that there can be instances in which forward planning to the end of control period 10 could be acceptable, and I would welcome his comments on that.

Travelling by rail is expensive, and I believe that most passengers are generally willing to accept an increase in their fares in return for a reliable, comfortable journey. What they cannot accept is an increase when the flexibility in fares potentially allows money to go into the pockets of the private train companies and their shareholders. Even the National Audit Office has commented that the Government have not been able to demonstrate that allowing companies the flexibility to charge an additional 5% will not lead to the profits going straight to the train companies.

We know that the increases are hitting low and middle-income families hardest, and we in the south-west simply cannot accept them, particularly as we lose out in identifiable rail expenditure, as the answer to my recent parliamentary question showed. We get just £40 a head, compared with £119 elsewhere.

We have a serious problem with the reliability and resilience of the rail network. On two recent occasions I was on the last train through the system before the line was closed, the first time due to the flooding at Cowley junction outside Exeter and the second time when the sleeper train that I was on was caught in a landslide on the Friday before Christmas. It got through, but with various diversions. There are serious issues to address, and I am concerned by the fact that Cowley junction was not on the recent Network Rail list of projects. What we urgently need, and what Plymouth city council and its leader Tudor Evans have been pushing for, is a rail resilience taskforce. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that proposal.

The problems were threefold during the recent flooding. First, when the lines went down, communications were poor, with websites not being updated. To be fair to First, it now has a pretty good system in place, but I know from personal experience just how much conflicting information came out. Secondly, contingency plans were not in place. Buses were not immediately available, despite the forewarnings of bad weather. The bus operators

9 Jan 2013 : Column 425

could not communicate with the train companies, so there is more to be done. However, I want to put on record my gratitude and that of others to the people who worked in horrendously difficult conditions, including the emergency services.

Thirdly, we could do better on infrastructure management. Some £25 million has been spent on Dawlish, yet the signalling cabinets at Cowley and Taunton are still not properly protected. I do not need to tell the Minister that there are often no drainage ditches in low-lying areas in the Somerset levels and no alternative routes that can be used if the main line to the far west goes down. With no air link, when the M5 is closed due to accidents we are effectively cut off.

Fare hikes at a time of low wage growth are hitting people hard. We understand fare increases if we see improvements and investment, but the Government have no strategic direction for rail in the south-west, and the likelihood of more heavy rain and more problems frankly worries the hell out of people and businesses in particular. If the strategic group is set up, as suggested by Councillor Evans, I hope that the Government will look at its proposals and at the cross-benefit analysis of putting such improvements in place, at the same time as improving our economy, as it will be able to run for 365 days a year.

What have we in the south-west got to do to gain recognition for our needs, particularly in Whitehall which —I venture to say—does not actually understand the south-west? When Ministers and officials liken a city the size of Plymouth to Hastings, we know we have a problem. We cannot escape the fact that we have a serious problem that will not be resolved by super peak tickets and more money going to rail company shareholders. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has set out a clear case for a different and fairer approach, and I ask the Secretary of State to respond to my specific proposals for the south-west.

6.40 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for inviting me to deliver the winding-up speech for the Opposition. That was especially generous given yesterday’s front page on the “ConservativeHome” website and a lead article written by someone appropriately called Harry Phibbs—it was not spelled Fibs, although I am not sure what kind of future he thinks he has in politics. Mr Phibbs writes about a dozen politicians who he says should defect to the Conservatives, and he names me along with some other distinguished colleagues, including the former Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris). I am grateful that the shadow Secretary of State trusts me with this winding-up speech in the face of such provocation.

I understand Mr Phibbs’s confusion, because in the 21st century, party lines can blur on some issues, of which equal marriage and Europe are good examples. On transport, however, and the motion before the House, nothing could be clearer: as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood laid out when opening the

9 Jan 2013 : Column 426

debate, bus fares are up twice the rate of inflation, services are disappearing and a prime ministerial promise of capping rail fares at 1% above inflation has been broken. Fares are increasing not by 4.3%—1% above inflation—but by 9.2%, and even worse, Government documents propose super-peak tickets that will cost even more. There are no problems with party lines on this issue. People are either with the vested interests—the train operating companies and the Government—or with hard-pressed commuters, the Transport Committee and the Opposition motion on the Order Paper. I will return to those issues shortly.

The Secretary of State generously joined the shadow Secretary of State’s tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and—quite correctly—that was well greeted across the House. The Secretary of State has had difficult times during his short tenure. He is regarded as a honourable man but he has been picking up the pieces of the west coast main line franchise fiasco and the Davies commission signalled a Government U-turn—well, certainly a Conservative U-turn—on aviation policy in 2015. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood is not the only Member critical of the delay in the announcement by the Davies commission, and she is joined by Mayor Boris Johnson and Lord Heseltine. In my view, however, the biggest mistake—

Mr McLoughlin rose

Jim Fitzpatrick: I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me; he knows that time is very limited but I do not wish to be discourteous. I was about to pay him a compliment in saying that in my view, one of the biggest mistakes made by one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), was scrapping road safety targets that had bipartisan support across the House for 30 years and massively reduced deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Indeed, I commend the Secretary of State because at least he has had the decency to bring in forecasts that acknowledge we need to measure such things and set an ambition to reduce the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on the roads.

We have heard a number of thoughtful contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) made relevant points about the east coast main line and local connections, as well as sharing disturbing data on staffing conditions. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), a former Department for Transport Parliamentary Private Secretary, mounted a sterling defence of the coalition, which was a good way to sweeten his special local pleading, which I am sure went down well.

The distinguished Chair of the Transport Committee covered the recommendation from the new Committee report, to which I shall refer in a moment. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) reminded us how the Lib Dems are the honest brokers in the coalition. He even got the Scottish National party on side, albeit briefly. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) used his characteristic gentle aggressiveness and Transport Committee experience to criticise Labour’s record, and sought to use European comparisons to justify UK prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) raised the question of overcrowding

9 Jan 2013 : Column 427

on her local trains, as well as high ticketing costs and local buses, and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) majored on the question of costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) raised a number of local issues as well as discussing major infrastructure items.

To return to the substance of the motion, according to the Department for Transport’s figures—the annual bus usage statistics for England—there was an increase in bus fares of 6.5%, which means fares have gone up by, on average, twice the rate of inflation. They have gone up by 5.4% in London. As we have heard, research has shown that one in five council-supported bus routes were cut or reduced last year, and that 41% of local authorities have had to axe services. That is not a good record on buses.

As we have heard, on rail fares, the Prime Minister promised to peg increases at 1% above inflation. That is another broken promise to add to the 70 missed targets headlined in The Daily Telegraph today—although perhaps it is one of the 70. The target was not only just missed; fare increases of up to 9.2% have been registered. And it gets worse: the Transport Committee states in its “Rail 2020” report:

“We recommend that the Government rule out forms of demand management which would lead to even higher fares for commuters on peak times”.

Why does it make that recommendation? It does so because of a quote from the Government’s rail fares and ticketing review from last year. The scriptwriters from “Yes, Minister” could not have improved on this language, and hon. Members will need to concentrate on the words:

“To provide a stronger incentive for behavioural change and more even usage of peak capacity among existing passengers, a wider ‘menu’ of fares could…also include a ‘high peak’ fare priced higher than the current Anytime day fare, a season ticket priced higher than the current season ticket”,

which means higher prices on routes. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that, because the Secretary of State did not refer to it, even though my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood raised the super-peak ticket on a number of occasions.

Labour’s position is a total contrast. The noble Lord Adonis set out his view last year of the policy he followed as Secretary of State in 2010. He said:

“Prior to 2010, train companies had the right to increase individual fares by up to five per cent above the…RPI+1 per cent level. This was a legacy of the privatisation settlement. I scrapped this flexibility because I believed it was deeply unfair”.

Of his successor as Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, Lord Adonis has said:

“It was my firm intention to continue the policy for subsequent years, and I was mystified when…my successor…reinstated the fares flexibility. The only people who supported this change were the train companies. It is the job of government to be on the side of the travelling public. Labour took this seriously, which is why we scrapped the fares flexibility. By contrast, the present government appears just to be on the side of the train companies.”

Government Members asked why the policy was introduced only in 2010. That is a legitimate question, but a better one would be: why has it not been repeated since 2010? We have had three years of coalition fares increases, but the policy has not been back.

9 Jan 2013 : Column 428

The Prime Minister promised capped fares, but it has not happened, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), held out the prospect of the end of the era of above-inflation fare increases, but when asked by the BBC when that would happen, he could not answer. The Government are out of touch on rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood quoted the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, who said that rail is a “rich man’s toy”. The Under-Secretary of State—long-serving in the Government; long-suffering on the Opposition Benches—tried to claim over the new year that rail fares were

“not nearly as expensive as”

they were “being presented”, and that passengers were paying for a “premium service”. If by “premium service” he means paying more, getting less and standing for longer, I agree. Just this week, the rail Minister, the Minister of State, was bullied into using rail by the media, which was a sad passage.

Labour would put passengers first by banning train companies from increasing fares above a cap set by Ministers. Government Members have the opportunity to stand up for their rail and bus commuters by supporting our motion tonight in the Lobby. I strongly urge them to do so and I commend the motion to the House.

6.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the House on the crucial issue of public transport fares. I thank all those who contributed to today’s debate, and in the time remaining I will try to refer to as many of the issues raised as possible.

Let me say first that we fully understand and share concerns about the impact of public transport fares on the cost of living. That is why we have committed to retain free concessionary bus travel for older and disabled people. By the way, I applaud bus operators for offering free travel to jobseekers during this month to help them back into work. That is why we protected bus subsidy from the worst of the cuts and provided significant new funding streams to promote bus travel, and that is why we have chosen to keep the average cost of fare rises on the railway to 1% above inflation, scrapping the planned RPI plus 3% that would have otherwise come into effect this month.

Of course, we have inherited a position from the previous Labour Government who from 2004 onwards adopted a policy of relentless, real-terms year-on-year increases of 1% above inflation, a policy to which I understand the Labour party is still indefinitely committed. I note that from 1997 to 2010, rail fares rose by 66% under the previous Government. This Government, on the other hand, are determined to end the era of above-inflation rises as soon as we can, and I will come on to that in a moment.

Unlike the Labour party, which presided over a bloated and inefficient Network Rail and did nothing about it, we are taking forward steps with the industry, including a reinvigorated Network Rail, to reduce its costs by up to 30%. That is progressing well and we will release significant funds to return to the taxpayer and to the fare payer.

9 Jan 2013 : Column 429

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recognise that in the south-west we have a very big problem with flooding? We need to have the A303 dualled and the A38 sorted out. We need more trains getting into Plymouth early, and we need to ensure that we have more three-hour train journeys.

Norman Baker: I was in the south-west yesterday, in Exeter and Newton Abbott, and I saw fully the problems of the Somerset levels and Cowley bridge in particular. I am taking that specific matter up with Network Rail. As for the other matters, my hon. Friend has put his points firmly on the record, as I am sure he intended.

Detractors—I am afraid I include those on the Opposition Front Bench—have sought to find the biggest fare rise and portray it as representative of the whole story, which of course is simply misleading. Why they wish to frighten people off the railway, I am not entirely clear. Fares are not as expensive as some wish to present. Passengers who look beyond the headline quotes will see the bigger picture on train fares. Under the rules that permit flexibility within fares baskets—the Opposition apparently now dislike them, but they were very happy with them when they introduced them and carried them through for a number of years—for every fare that increases by more than the average, other fares must increase by less than the average, remain static or fall.

The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has made a big play about the 5% available to train companies. I did not hear her condemn the fact that Labour introduced that. I did not hear her condemn that fact that it was introduced on the very eve of the 2010 general election, with a legal proviso saying that it should be reversed on 1 January 2011. I did not hear her condemn the Labour-run Welsh Government, where flex continues to operate—or is it all right in Wales and not in England? Nor did I hear her refer in her opening remarks to the fares that have risen below inflation, or even come down. For example, season tickets between Shenfield and London, and between Gatwick and Croydon, have come down. Why does she want the passengers buying those season tickets to pay more under her arrangements than they are paying under our arrangements? Why does she want commuters between Ormskirk and Blackpool, who have seen their fares come down by 9%, to pay more? This is opportunism with a capital O that we are hearing from the Opposition. Of course, they are not interested in the fares that have come down. They are not interested in helping passengers; they are interested in misrepresenting the position to make political points. [Interruption.] Passengers welcome the fact that there are many cheap deals available on the railway that they can take advantage of.

Let me say this. Of course, there are some higher fares and there are particular higher fares paid by commuters. Everyone on the Government Benches recognises that, which is why we are busy looking at the fares and ticketing review and why we have sought to ensure we get better value from the railways to enable money to be returned to the taxpayer and the fare payer. It is also the case, however, that those who are able to travel outside the busiest periods can benefit from some of the cheapest fares in Europe. For example, advance fares are available from London to Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds for £6, or from London to Glasgow in the middle of the day for less than £30. Cheap advance

9 Jan 2013 : Column 430

fares have been a major contributor to the massive growth in the number of people using our railways in recent years. It is a real success story, and one of the reasons why we have more people on the railway now than at any time since 1929. That is not the picture the Opposition wish to portray, but it is the truth nevertheless.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) rightly referred to the need for a balanced comparison between different fares. Independent analysis by the website he referred to, “The Man in Seat Sixty-One”, has shown that only 15%, or thereabouts, of the tickets available in the UK are among the highest-priced in Europe. The other 85% are equal to, if not cheaper than, their comparators in other European countries.

On the fares and ticketing review, we are determined to ensure that passenger interests are catered for. We know that the picture can be confusing, even to the initiated, so we are considering how to make fares and ticketing more modern, more transparent, more flexible and more user friendly. In response to the Chairman of the Transport Committee, I say that we are doing a great deal on smart ticketing, which is integral to the fares and ticketing review, and transparency is a key element of that review. By driving innovation and exploiting the opportunities from new technologies, we can make the railway easier to use, tackle crowding and make the best possible use of the existing network.

On buses, if we believed what the Opposition said, we would think we were approaching the end of civilisation, that there were no buses left on the roads, and that it had turned into “Mad Max 3”. Indeed, I get the impression that Labour would grimly welcome that, with an “I told you so” satisfaction, were it to materialise.

On 28 February, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) warned of a Beeching-style cull of our bus network. It is true that in some areas local authorities have cut services probably unnecessarily. Campaign for Better Transport refers to Nottingham city council, which is Labour-run, Stoke-on-Trent city council, Darlington borough council, Leicester city council and Halton borough council, so perhaps she should put her own house in order before she starts attacking the Government.

Here is the good news, which we would not get from the Opposition either: passenger journeys in 2012, measured on the third quarter, are up 0.6% from the same quarter the year before. [Interruption.] Members are shouting about London. Even with London taken out, passenger journeys are down just 0.8% on last year. Is that a Beeching-style cut? Total bus mileage is only down 0.8% as well.

We are seeing that good innovation can work wonders. In Sheffield, for example, a wonderful partnership has been established by the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, and the price of multi-operated tickets has been reduced by 14% to stimulate passenger growth further. In Sheffield, First has reduced its commercial fares by almost 40%. Weekly and daily tickets now cost £11 and £3.40 respectively, compared to the previous prices of £18.50 and £4.60. FirstGroup has seen passenger growth higher than 20% across the whole of Sheffield, which equates to more than 50,000 additional First Bus journeys. We want to see bus companies working with local authorities. It is driving up passenger numbers,

9 Jan 2013 : Column 431

where they make the effort, but where they are slashing and burning, as they are in some local authorities, of course the consequences are different.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) quite rightly referred to electrification taking costs out of the railway. That is a key purpose in what we are doing, as well reducing carbon emissions. I am very proud to be part of a Government which is electrifying 850 miles of track—one in nine miles of the network being electrified, compared with the nine miles electrified by the previous Government in 13 years. I have heard no apology for that failure to invest in the future.

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 237, Noes 311.

Division No. 132]


6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Dame Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Yvonne Fovargue


Jonathan Ashworth


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter


Mr Robert Syms

Question accordingly negatived.

9 Jan 2013 : Column 432

9 Jan 2013 : Column 433

9 Jan 2013 : Column 434

9 Jan 2013 : Column 435

Business without Debate

european union documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 17870/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Regulation on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund repealing Council Regulation (EC) No. 1198/2006, Council Regulation (EC) No. 861/2006 and Council Regulation No. XXX/2011 on integrated maritime policy; and supports the Government’s view that the terms so far agreed under the partial general approach would support delivery of the ambitious Common Fisheries Policy reform package which was the subject of a separate partial general approach in June 2012.—(Karen Bradley.)

Question agreed to.

9 Jan 2013 : Column 436

Speed Limits (Rural Lincolnshire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Karen Bradley.)

7.13 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a great honour and a privilege to have tonight’s Adjournment debate and to raise an issue that I know is of great importance to many of my constituents—the issue of speed limits in rural Lincolnshire. The existence—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Those Members who are leaving the Chamber should do so quickly and quietly so that we can hear the Adjournment debate.

Stephen Phillips: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The existence of speed limits on our roads does a huge amount to reduce road deaths and accidents, and appropriate speed limits, particularly in residential areas, offer clear benefits in safety. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, a vehicle travelling at 20 mph at the onset of an incident will stop in time to avoid a child who is running out three car-lengths in front, while the same vehicle travelling at 25 mph—only 5 mph faster—will still be travelling at 18 mph at the three-car-lengths marker. A pedestrian hit by a car travelling at 18 mph is likely to suffer at least serious injury, and at that speed the effect on a child is roughly the same as the effect of falling backwards out of a first-floor window. A pedestrian who is struck at 20 mph has a 97% chance of survival; at 30 mph the figure is 80%; and at 35 mph it falls to 50%. It is plainly not appropriate for low speed limits to operate on every road, even in residential areas, but, as those in communities throughout my constituency tell me repeatedly, the setting and enforcement of proper limits in areas where pedestrians are likely to be found are critical to survivability rates.

The Government’s responsibility in all this is to set national default speed limits for different types of roads, and the present policy recognises—as it should—that residential areas need lower limits. However, local authorities can set different speed limits on roads where local needs and considerations suggest that the default limit is not appropriate. Many people living in a number of villages in my constituency say that their local speed limits are too high, and that Lincolnshire county council will not listen to their representations and lower them.

The current Government guidelines clearly state that although 30 mph is the standard speed limit for urban areas, a 40 mph limit may be used where appropriate. Roads considered suitable for 40 mph limits are those that are regarded as higher-quality suburban roads, or roads on the outskirts of urban areas where there is little development. Roads considered suitable for 40 mph limits should be wider than a standard urban street, and should have parking and waiting restrictions in operation and buildings set back from the road. There should be enough space for people on bikes, on horses and on foot to be segregated from the traffic, and there should be adequate crossing places.

Those guidelines, however, are not always followed. For instance, they do not apply, or have not applied, in the village of Fulbeck in my constituency. Fulbeck is

9 Jan 2013 : Column 437

bisected by a section of A road with a 40 mph limit, which is inappropriate. The village amenities are on both sides of the road. There is, for example, a popular children’s playground on one side, while the majority of dwellings are on the other. Children and elderly people struggle to cross what is a very busy road with blind bends, which is used by many heavy goods vehicles. Even fit adult villagers feel that they are taking their lives in their hands when they try to cross the road, and motorists are too often misled in a manner that leads to traffic incidents. Only this week, we saw a car leave the road. It is plain to all that the existing 40 mph limit in Fulbeck is simply too high, but my efforts—and those of villagers—to have it reduced to 30 mph have been to no avail, despite Government guidance that that should be the standard speed limit in all villages.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on securing a debate that is very important to Lincolnshire. As a result of my campaign in the Allendale road in Hexham, we reduced the speed limit outside a school to 20 mph. Is that not exactly the sort of campaign that the Government should be encouraging? Should not Government guidance strongly recommend the lowering of speed limits in the vicinity of primary schools in particular?

Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend has made an important and valuable point. I am making general points about speed limits in villages, but there is a very good case for them to be even lower near schools. In parts of my constituency, there are 20 mph advisory speed limits. I think that those should be encouraged, and I hope the Minister will confirm that they will be.

The Government’s present guidelines also state that in exceptional circumstances—which must, by definition, be rare—a 50 mph limit may be used on higher-quality roads where there is little or no roadside development. Among the roads considered most suitable for that limit are primary distributors with segregated junctions and pedestrian facilities. They would usually be dual carriageway roads or bypasses that have become partially built up. Again, however—at least in Lincolnshire—many of my constituents feel that the guidelines are not being followed, and that there are 50 mph speed limits in residential areas where plainly they should not be.

One section of the B1188, which runs through Branston, is a good example. It carries in excess of 12,000 vehicles per day, more than many of the A roads that serve Lincoln. None the less, there is a 50 mph limit, despite the existence of a double bend with limited visibility and access to farmyards and residential properties on it. The combined cycle and pedestrian path on this stretch is narrow and in poor condition, and, in the vicinity of the double bend, it is adjacent to the carriageway, with no kerb or verge to protect users. Indeed, it is in such poor condition that many cyclists prefer to use the road, further increasing the risk of collision.

A 50 mph limit is also in place through West Willoughby, a small village on a main A road in my constituency, where the road has a blind bend with private and farm entrances, a bus stop in each direction, and a post box on one side only. There is also a blind summit just outside the village, which considerably restricts the view

9 Jan 2013 : Column 438

of drivers both travelling on the main road and trying to turn out on to it. Slow and large farm vehicles are of course a particular hazard in that area.

In both those cases, there has been no reduction in speed limits in accordance with the Government’s guidelines, despite strong urging from me and the communities affected. In those cases, as in that of Fulbeck, I would like the Minister to undertake to come to the communities concerned and to look at the situation with me and do all he can to persuade the county council to follow the guidance his Department has given.

I have already mentioned the fact—and it is a fact—that Government guidelines are clear that a village should have a 30 mph speed limit. The present policy in Lincolnshire simply does not allow for that, and instead counter-intuitively insists that a mean speed calculation be used to set the limit. In effect, speed limits are endorsing what are often dangerous speeds through residential village areas.

In the case of West Willoughby a mean speed calculation meant a reduction from the national speed limit to 50 mph, but anyone who has been through the village will know that that is still too fast for sight stopping distances on the blind bend. Current policy in Lincolnshire does not allow that to be taken into account, however. Indeed, so defective is the policy in its present formulation that it removes the possibility of any discretionary decisions by highways officers, meaning that obvious dangers cannot be considered when they clearly should be.

The mean speed method of establishing limits is ridiculous. In the course of calculating the mean speed, a recording of vehicle speeds is taken for a week, but that includes the speeds of drivers breaking the limit. Figures provided by Lincolnshire county council from one recording in West Willoughby gave an average of 800 vehicles a day exceeding the national speed limit of 60 mph, with 70 of them exceeding 70 mph. The mean speed is therefore pushed up by those breaking the law, and if that is used to set speed limits, that is clearly potty. If Government guidelines are to suggest the use of mean speeds for calculating speed limits, the methodology should be associated with rural open roads alone, not those passing through villages. I hope the Minister will tell me that he will make that clear to the county council.

In October 2011, I joined local campaigners from Fulbeck and West Willoughby in meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who was then the responsible Minister in the Department for Transport. He agreed with us that no effective response has been made to local concerns for years and that action was needed. What is needed now is for the current Minister to get involved directly. I hope he will be able to tell me this evening that that is what he proposes to do.

I accept that there are particular circumstances associated with the county in which I make my home, namely the lack of trunk roads and the high number of small villages scattered in ribbon developments. That necessarily means that efficiency will dictate higher speed limits on open roads than might be the case in urban settings, but to suggest that it should dictate the same in village situations is to run the risk that the safety of my

9 Jan 2013 : Column 439

constituents will be trumped by the need to keep traffic moving between major population centres, which I could not accept.

I know that the Government are undertaking a general review of their guidelines to local authorities on local speed limits. I therefore want the Minister to tell me that he will listen to the points made by me and my constituents, and that if common sense based on guidance issued by his Department is ignored, as is too often the case at present, he will act to make the guidance on village speed limits binding. Only then will I feel that I have done what I can to ensure the safety on Lincolnshire’s roads of those whom I was sent to this House to represent.

7.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for securing an important debate on speed limits, not only in Lincolnshire, but in rural areas more widely. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) made a contribution that reiterated that road safety in rural areas is a key priority for many hon. Members, and it is a top priority for the Government and for me. Clearly, road deaths and injuries are not just statistics; they are tragedies for all those affected. Behind the statistics are men, women and children. Much of the harm and cost is avoidable, and those things are not the inevitable consequence of road transport.

Britain is a world leader in road safety. Although we can be rightly proud of that fact, there can never be any room for complacency. As we set out in the strategic framework for road safety, the focus is on increasing the range of educational options for drivers who make genuine mistakes, while improving enforcement against the most dangerous and deliberate offenders.

It is well known that a byword of this Government is our belief in localism. Therefore I believe that, wherever possible, local authorities should have the freedom to make their own decisions about road safety, according to their own local needs, and to develop local solutions. In many cases, part of ensuring road safety must involve the speed limits set in those areas.

I thought it would be useful to state at the outset the Government’s position and thinking on the setting and enforcing of speed limits. As my hon. and learned Friend said, national speed limits are clearly not appropriate for all roads. Traffic authorities set local speed limits where local needs and conditions demand a speed limit lower than the national speed limit. Speed limits need to be suitable for local conditions, and I hope that many in the House would recognise that councils are best placed to determine what those limits are, based on local knowledge and the views of the community, and having regard to guidance issued by the Department, and to the law and enforcement methods available to them.

As part of our campaign to keep improving road safety, we have already given local authorities the power to introduce 20 mph speed limits and 20 mph zones on their roads if they believe it appropriate to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made the point about 20 mph speed limits around schools, and it is exactly this power that we would hope local authorities would use. The Department provides local authorities

9 Jan 2013 : Column 440

with guidance on setting local speed limits, including 20 mph speed limits, and the conditions in which they should be set, in order to ensure that they are set appropriately and consistently, while allowing the flexibility to deal with local needs and conditions. It is also worth remembering that speed limits are only one part of rural safety management; the nature and layout of the road, and the mix of traffic also need to be considered. To achieve a change in motorists’ behaviour and compliance with the local limits, supporting physical measures are often required, as is local publicity.

On enforcement, it is of course for the police and local authorities to decide whether to use speed cameras, and how they wish to operate them. However, the Government do not believe that cameras should be used as the default solution in reducing accidents, and nor should they be used as a way of raising revenue. Local organisations and local authorities should seek ways other than just cameras to improve safety on their roads.

As we explained in our strategic framework for road safety, local communities can directly influence the use of their roads, as my hon. and learned Friend said his community has been doing, by various methods, one of which is the community road watch scheme, whereby local volunteers work with the police to monitor local roads. They can often provide valuable data and suggestions as to local road safety. However, it must be for traffic authorities to set speed limits that strike a sensible balance between the needs of all road users.

My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the 40 mph zones. The Department particularly wanted to consider appropriate areas—outside villages and in some areas of natural beauty—for using 40 mph zones. The Department wrote to the County Surveyors Society traffic and safety group in 2009 offering funding for local authorities to look at having 40 mph zones with the speed limit painted on the carriageway, so that some of the road safety benefits could be introduced without the ugliness of repeater signs on poles by the roadside. However, it is a disappointment that, to date, no local authorities have taken advantage of that opportunity. There are some 40 mph zones in rural areas, but I hope that others will consider the benefits of improved signage and road safety when taking advantage of the scheme.

I hope that I have already made it clear that road safety is a key priority for the Government and for me personally and we continue to take steps to improve the safety of our roads. None the less, if we consider the differential impact of road accidents on rural and urban roads, we can see that some two thirds of fatal traffic accidents happened on rural roads. The Department’s analysis of collision and casualty data shows that in Great Britain in 2011 rural roads accounted for 66% of all road deaths and 82% of car occupant deaths, but under 45% of the distance travelled. It is clear that although we have seen an overall reduction in road deaths and an improvement in the road safety statistics, rural roads have proportionately suffered a major impact.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the particular issue in Lincolnshire and I was disappointed to hear that there had been yet another accident in only the last week. Since 2008, the number of people seriously injured on rural roads has increased, bucking the general trend. As my hon. and learned Friend articulated well, local residents in the village of Fulbeck wish to see a lower

9 Jan 2013 : Column 441

speed limit. He was right to highlight his correspondence with my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), and I have read it through. It is clear that although the setting of local speed limits is primarily a matter for local authorities, and therefore an issue on which I am loth to and on which I would usually consider it inappropriate to intervene, I encourage local authorities to ensure that their speed limits are in line with the Department’s guidelines and are kept under review as circumstances change. The Government encourage local authorities to consider the introduction of more 20 mph limits and zones, particularly in built-up villages such as that described by my hon. and learned Friend. I look forward to discussing the issue with him when I visit his constituency later in the year.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the Department’s guidelines to local authorities on speed limits. We have recently consulted on the revision and reissue of those guidelines on setting speed limits in urban and rural areas and we intend to publish the revised speed limit circular shortly. The guidelines should be used for setting all local speed limits on single and dual carriageway roads in urban and rural areas and aim to provide greater clarity to local authorities about where and how to set those limits. I hope they will find that helpful. The guidance should be the basis for assessing local speed limits and for developing route management strategies and the speed management strategies that can be used in local plans.

My hon. and learned Friend will be interested to note that the guidance will clearly show traffic authorities that they should keep their speed limits under review with changing circumstances and consider the introduction of more speed limits in urban areas, and primarily residential built-up village streets, to ensure greater safety for residents and users of the road. The Department would expect a 30 mph speed limit to be the norm in villages, but in many villages a 20 mph zone or limit might be more appropriate.

I note that in the correspondence between my hon. and learned Friend and my predecessor there was some dispute about what might or might not constitute a

9 Jan 2013 : Column 442

village or the middle of a village. The final decision on whether a settlement is a village for the purposes of setting a speed limit is a matter for local authorities, but my hon. and learned Friend will be interested to hear that we are offering guidance on what definition of a village should be used when a decision about appropriate speed limits is being made; it involves 20 or more houses on one or both sides of the road and a minimum length of 600 metres. If there are fewer than 20 houses we suggest that, when setting speed limits, traffic authorities should make special allowance for any other key buildings, such as a church, shop or school.

We are also developing a web-based tool, which will allow local authorities to assess the full costs and benefits of any proposed scheme and the speed limits most suitable for local conditions. We hope that all local authorities will take advantage of the scheme when reviewing their local speed limits.

As I have already stressed, the Government believe that wherever possible local authorities should have the freedom to make their own decisions so that they develop solutions most appropriate for their local needs. The Government do not intend to make our guidance on setting speed limits mandatory. However, we expect local authorities to use and follow the guidance in determining the circumstances for setting local speed limits. I hope that Lincolnshire county council, as it has suggested in correspondence to one of my hon. and learned Friend’s constituents, will use the guidance, keep speed limits under review and be able to access the new tool.

In closing, I should say that I will be delighted to accept my hon. and learned Friend’s kind invitation to both Fulbeck and West Willoughby; I understand that my officials and his office are already corresponding about a date for that. I look forward to seeing the problems that he has talked about tonight at first hand. I hope that representatives of Lincolnshire county council will have listened to his contribution and those of his constituents and that by the time I reach Fulbeck, the problem will have been solved.

Question put and agreed to.

7.37 pm

House adjourned.