HC Deb 22 November 1991 vol 199 cc313-4W
Mr. Prescott

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement of the achievements of his Department since October 1990.

Mr. Rifkind

My Department has continued to ensure that Britain's growing transport needs are met with regard to safety, efficiency and with proper respect for the environment.

Serious road casualties have continued to fall. In particular, road deaths in the year ending June 1991 were at their lowest level since 1948, despite a ninefold increase in the volume of traffic in the intervening period. We are continuing to promote greater transport safety through regulation, publicity and investment. The Road Traffic Act has reformed road traffic law in the light of the North report and will ensure that bad driving and drink driving are properly punished. The law on the wearing of seat belts has been extended to passengers travelling in the rear seats of cars. We have enhanced our road safety publicity campaigns under the "Safety on the Move" umbrella, notably on drinking and driving and child road safety. For the first time, expenditure of over £30 million was specifically earmarked in the 1991–92 transport supplementary grant settlement for low-cost safety schemes.

Increasing sums are also being spent on improving the safety of public transport. British Rail plans to spend over £200 million on specific safety measures during the current year and London Underground plans to spend over £80 million this year on further safety improvements. We have helped to secure international agreement at the International Maritime Organisation to improvements in standards for ro-ro ferries, oil tankers and bulk carriers. Under the powers in the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, measures have been introduced for the first time for the security of passenger shipping. Existing aviation security measures have been strengthened and new ones are being developed. A new transport security division has been created within the Department, with enhanced resources.

Significant progress has been made towards the reduction of pollution from motor vehicles. Agreement has been reached in Brussels on substantially tougher emission standards for both cars and lorries. Since 1 November, thme annual MOT test has included a test on vehicle emissions.

Investment in transport infrastructure by both the public and private sectors is at historically high levels. The electrification of British Rail's east coast main line, at a cost of some £450 million, was completed in June 1991. British Rail invested more than £800 million in total in 1990–91—the highest in real terms in a single year since the transition from steam to diesel in the 1960s—and is expected to invest over £1 billion in the current year. London Underground investment, currently running at about £450 million a year, is also at record levels. The increased EFLs for 1992–93 announced in the autumn statement—£2,040 million for BR and £1,210 million for LT—are further evidence of the Government's commitment to the railways.

Provision for national trunk roads and motorways is being maintained at over £2 billion a year and has been more than doubled since 1988–89. The opening of the M40 extension to Birmingham in January 1991, and of the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford in May 1991, closed important gaps in the English motorway network. Since October 1990, we have opened over 150 miles of new or improved trunk roads, including 15 new bypasses.

We have continued to take steps to encourage an enhanced role for the private sector in the provision of transport infrastructure. The new Queen Elizabeth II bridge between Dartford and Thurrock was financed and constructed entirely by the private sector. The New Roads and Street Works Act has introduced new procedures for the authorisation of privately financed roads. We have announced our choice of concessionaire for the Birmingham northern relief road.

To encourage private sector participation in the railways, I have written to the chairman of British Rail asking BR to respond positively to reasonable proposals from the private sector to run new passenger and freight services, to charge fairly for the use of railway facilities and to allow private operators to use their own locomotives and train crew if they wish.

We have secured the passage of legislation to enable trust ports to move into the private sector and a number of them are now seeking to do so.

The Government have remained at the forefront of moves to liberalise the provision of air transport services, both within the European Community and through bilateral arrangements with other countries around the world. Since March 1991, airlines have been better able to match services at Heathrow to the needs of passengers, following our removal of most of the traffic distribution rules governing access to the airport.

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