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House of Commons Hansard
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25 June 2009
Volume 494
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [282118]

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, as this is the first of what I hope will be many Transport questions, I wish to outline briefly the priorities of the Department for Transport. The new ministerial team is committed to making progress on three main priorities. First, we want to provide extra capacity on our transport networks on a sustainable basis, to meet increased demand. Secondly, we want to move quickly, and for good, to low-carbon technologies and practices within each mode of transport. Thirdly, we want to improve the attractiveness of public transport by making it possible to make door-to-door journeys more easily, in whole or in part, by that means.

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The Minister may be aware that the Office of Rail Regulation has failed to find funding for the regeneration or rebuilding of Crewe station in this funding cycle. Although some basic alterations have recently been made, they fall woefully short of what is necessary for the proper functioning of this major interchange of which the town should be proud. Can he undertake to ask the Secretary of State to look at enabling those long overdue improvements?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for the interest he shows in the regeneration of that important part of the country. The Crewe railway gateway scheme was confirmed as a regional priority for investment in February. The Department’s officials are ready to discuss with Cheshire the way forward on this scheme once the major scheme business case has been submitted. Either the Secretary of State or I will write to the hon. Gentleman to give him an update, and perhaps he can be involved in the process too.

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The Secretary of State, who could be called the Minister for bicycling, knows of the massive increase in the number of people choosing to cycle to work. Given the increase in the number of cyclists on roads that are already congested, what are the Government doing to ensure cyclists’ safety and to encourage more people to get on their bikes?

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My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and we need to ensure that more people cycle and are safe while doing so. She will pleased to learn that an announcement will be made when our carbon reduction strategy is unveiled next month, and I think she will be very pleased with some of the things the strategy says.

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T2. The shipping Minister is, I know, aware that late last year the Maritime Coastguard Agency was involved in, and approved, the design of bulkers for the transportation of waste meat products from the abattoir on Orkney for disposal on the Scottish mainland. Despite that expensive effort, Northlink ferries this week refused to carry the products because of the escape of a small number of maggots on to the car deck. That refusal threatens the future of meat production on Orkney, which is an agricultural community. Can the Minister assure me that the MCA will not allow itself to be used in this way, as that poses a real threat to the future economic viability of our community? [282119]

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The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s role is to act for the safety of ships and their crew and passengers. Equally, it has a responsibility under health and safety regulations for cargo of animal by-products that are liable to leak. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that last autumn discussions were held and a route through was found, which involved improvements to the containers. I understand that there has been an issue recently with maggots escaping from the trailer, and that there are one or two other issues. We will certainly ensure that the MCA is not used, and that it carries out its duties properly. We will look further into the matter.

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I wonder whether Ministers have yet had the opportunity to speak to their counterparts in Holyrood about the importance of the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh to communities on both sides of the border, not least given its appalling safety record. Does the Minister agree that the regional funding allocation system is totally inadequate to deal with the urgent need to upgrade that road? Will he enter into discussions about bringing about a definitive plan to finance and implement urgently the dualling of the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh?

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Order. I do need briefer questions from now on.

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The requirements for being categorised as a road of national importance are based on the amount and type of traffic flow on the road, and take into consideration whether traffic is redirected on to other routes. The case for the A1 north of Newcastle is not robust enough for us to consider re-categorisation, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter, because I know it is of real concern to his constituents.

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T3. Turning to strategic rail links in the south-west, Lord Adonis told me a few weeks ago that after the Axminster loop is completed, he will reconsider the question of dualling the track between Salisbury and Exeter on the Waterloo to Exeter route. Can the Minister confirm that that is going to happen? [282120]

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I can confirm that that is actively being investigated.

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There are growing concerns about both the service to passengers on the east coast main line and the future of the franchise. I have written to the Secretary of State to request a meeting to discuss those concerns—will my right hon. Friend arrange such a meeting as soon as possible?

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I have with me the letter that my hon. Friend wrote to the Secretary of State, who is happy to meet him to discuss the concerns he has raised. I know they are concerns not just to him but to his constituents, and I will ensure that the meeting will, hopefully, alleviate some of the concerns he has raised.

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T4. The cost of installing and procuring a speed camera is £40,000 plus the ongoing maintenance costs, compared with only £7,000 for a vehicle-activated speed sign. Has a proper cost-benefit analysis been done of those two methods of road safety control, and will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to extol the opportunities to save money while maintaining road safety standards? [282121]

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We take every opportunity to take the steps necessary to ensure that our roads are as safe as possible for all users, and that we use everything available to us. I am delighted to tell the House that the road casualty statistics for 2008, announced today, show that the number of deaths has fallen by 14 per cent. Although that figure is now down to just 2,500, we cannot be complacent and we need to take every step possible to ensure that the roads continue to be safe, and to meet our goal of having the safest roads in the world.

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May I, too, welcome you to your role, Mr. Speaker? I am delighted to see you there.

Northern Rail, which serves my constituents, faces a 34 per cent. increase in passenger numbers—to 84 million—since being given a contract based on a steady state in 2004. Does the Minister agree that there is a pressing need for new rolling stock, because otherwise everybody will be standing on those journeys?

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The Department is very much aware of the pressures that passengers face on some northern train services. We hope that at some stage in the near future, we can relieve some of those pressures.

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T7. The Department’s 2008 road transport forecasts predict a one-third increase in vehicle traffic by 2025. How much of that is driven by unacceptably high levels of immigration, and how on earth is this country going to cope? [282124]

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I have seen lots of tenuous causal links, although not one involving immigration, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the decisions taken by the Government mean that £6 billion will be invested in our roads that would not have been available had the Conservatives been in power.

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Two disabled constituents of mine have faced difficulty when travelling by air. One has pulmonary hypertension and was charged extra for oxygen on the flight. The other is a man with Parkinson’s. Despite having assisted travel, he faced humiliating three-hour waits at Heathrow airport without access to a toilet, food, water or assistance. That cannot be acceptable: what steps can Ministers take to make sure that the airlines appreciate their responsibility for disabled passengers?

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At the outset, let me say that I am appalled at the examples given by my hon. Friend, which I should be more than happy to discuss with her. The provision of oxygen, whether free or for a charge, is clearly a matter for the airline operators, and I recommend that people look at their websites to see what is available before they travel. The key UK airlines provide oxygen free of charge, but I am looking forward to next week’s debate in Westminster Hall.

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T8. The Government will be aware that many country areas have huge difficulty maintaining their roads and lanes. The maintenance backlog is massive, not least because of the heavy vehicles that use the lanes. What are the Government going to do to help local authorities in rural areas maintain country lanes and roads to a proper standard? [282125]

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The investment going to the regions through local transport plans and other funding streams has more than doubled in the past 10 years. It is for local authorities to target that money appropriately, but rural roads are central to the new road safety strategy that is currently out to consultation. We want to focus on finding engineering and other solutions to improve safety on rural roads.