HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc138-9
2. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

What recent representations he has received on ultra-light railway systems. [184916]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Since January, my Department has received 13 letters on ultra-light railway systems.

Mr. Dalyell

Are James Skinner's claims for the fuel efficiency of ultra-light rail convincing?

Mr. Darling

As my hon. Friend knows, of the 13 letters that I have received, 13 came from Mr. James Skinner. What he and, indeed, other operators propose does have some attraction, and the Government have supported that. However, we have reached the stage at which Mr. Skinner and others need to engage in a commercial undertaking to pursue these matters so that they can be developed further. The Government cannot give grants to individuals here and there without the prospect of commercial development. I have explained all that to Mr. Skinner in nine replies. I dare say this exchange will prompt another letter, but I shall stick at it.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con)

For months, Hampshire county council and Portsmouth city council have pleaded for a funding decision on the light rapid transit system between Fareham, Gosport and Portsmouth, which is thought to be one of the most attractive in the country. Is the Secretary of State aware that the compulsory purchase orders are to go ahead today? It is monstrous that that should take place in the absence of a decision. What is the reason for the delay on the funding decision, and when can we expect it?

Mr. Darling

In approximately one hour.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

Does the Secretary of State agree that something that light rail and standard rail systems have in common is the fact that too many disabled people find journeys intimidating or impossible? Does he further agree that at the current rate of progress our rail systems will not be disabled-friendly until 2035? Will he get a grip on the problem and take action to make rail journeys more accessible and accommodating for people with a disability?

Mr. Darling

The right hon. Gentleman's general point is a good one—we should make sure that transport is accessible. As for railway carriages, my recollection is that they will be compliant by 2025, not 2035.

Mr. Knight

That is still too long.

Mr. Darling

Let me explain something to the right hon. Gentleman. The average life of railway carriages is 25 to 30 years. If we made them completely compliant, rolling stock would have to be replaced much earlier, which costs money. It is a bit rich of a party that is committed to cut transport spending by £2 billion to lecture us on doing things quicker. We are replacing most of our rolling stock so that next year, I think I am right in saying, Britain will have the youngest rolling stock fleet anywhere in Europe.