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Cross-Border Transport

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010

2. What recent discussions he has had with Scottish Executive Ministers on the resilience of cross-border transport links to extreme weather conditions. (309550)

The Department for Transport and the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, have been regularly monitoring salt supplies and stock levels across Great Britain with the help of agencies, local authorities and companies that supply salt. There has been very good co-operation across the UK.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. However, airport closures, train delays and hazardous driving conditions made it very difficult for Scots travelling to see friends and family over Christmas and returning to work in the new year. There is particular concern about salt supplies, with the Scottish Government saying that the stocks are steady and well managed, but local authorities crying that they do not have enough. Does he think that Scotland has learned the lessons well enough from England’s big freeze last February?

Remarkable efforts have been made, again north and south of the border, by gritters, by all those involved in the emergency services and home help, and others to keep Scotland moving, and largely that has met with some success. However, there are lessons to learn. Some local authorities have not had enough supplies, and early in the deep freeze, there was not enough co-ordination or co-operation. We can learn lessons from what has happened during this cold spell in Scotland.

On the issue of extreme weather, may I offer my thanks to the Government for the introduction of a new weather monitoring station for cold weather payments in Strathallan in my constituency? Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State urge on his ministerial colleagues the need for even more local monitoring stations so that those payments can be made appropriately to the people who need them?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the improvements that we have made to monitoring stations. I can confirm to the House that in Scotland cold weather payments have accounted for £39 million of additional support across Scotland, helping 400,000 Scots who otherwise would find it difficult to heat their homes and cook their food during the deep freeze experienced there.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the staff of cross-border rail services, particularly on the west coast main line, who kept the trains running even when every other form of transport had ground to a halt and who managed to provide information and care to passengers whose journeys were inevitably delayed?

I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency over the weekend to see how local people were coping with the deep freeze. As a former transport Minister, he has enormous experience of rail services. He also has a detailed knowledge of the huge efforts made to keep the west coast main line fully operational and on time. Difficulties were experienced in other parts of Scotland—train services between Glasgow and Edinburgh were disrupted, as were many other services, but remarkable efforts were made to keep that line open. I pay tribute to the way in which the company workers stayed longer and worked harder to maintain the tracks, making a huge commitment to keep Scotland moving.