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House of Commons

Tuesday 13 February 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Kent County Council Bill [Lords]

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 27 February

Medway Council Bill [Lords].

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 27 February.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Pedestrian Safety

1. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): What progress has been made in reducing dangers to pedestrians from rigid car fronts. [148439]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Robert Ainsworth): The European Commission has not yet made a formal proposal for making car fronts safer. On 6 February, the Commission hosted a meeting on this issue, and it is now considering how the matter should be taken forward. We are continuing to press for the best deal for pedestrians.

Mr. Flynn: May I congratulate my hon. Friend, and welcome him to his first Question Time as Minister? In Europe, 2,000 deaths and 18,000 serious accidents are caused every year by the rigid fronts of cars, usually by bullbars or by what the Americans call "killer grills". It is possible to prevent such deaths, given that the bullbars and rigid fronts concentrate and multiply the force of accidents. The effects are usually concentrated at the level of a child's head or the vital organs of an adult. Why is such slow progress being made on this matter? I do not question the enthusiasm of the British Government, but why is it taking so long to introduce the reforms? Lives are being sacrificed in the name of vanity and fashion.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcoming remarks, and congratulate him on his work

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over a long period in advertising the effects of bullbars. He will know that we have commissioned research by the Transport Research Laboratory, and that we have put forward to the European Commission a proposal to include in pedestrian protection proposals for cars the banning of dangerous bullbars. We have also submitted a proposal showing how the existing external projections directive could be modified to proscribe the fitting of bullbars. Discussions are continuing after last Tuesday's Commission meeting, and we will continue to try to find the best way to make progress on proscribing bullbars.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Is not a particular problem the large number of four-wheel drive vehicles on the road, some of which are excessively large, certainly for going down to Tesco's once a week? Is any special research being undertaken into the problems caused by such vehicles? If not, will the Minister initiate such research?

Mr. Ainsworth: As I said, we have had the Transport Research Laboratory do the research. It is true that such items are mostly fashion accessories. People do not realise how dangerous they are. We must advertise the fact that they are a danger and that people should not fit them. We must then make the best possible progress towards a ban on dangerous accessories on the front of cars.


2. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): If he will make a statement on modernising British ports. [148440]

3. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What his policy is on the construction of container ports on non-brownfield sites. [148441]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): The Government announced the publication of a ports policy paper, "Modern Ports", on 27 November. Ports have an important role in integrated transport policy. The paper identifies a number of specific initiatives that we hope to pursue. We intend to promote better regulation of the industry, and agreed national standards and good practice for port management and port operations alike. The paper sets out a balanced policy on port development that aims to make the best use of existing and former operational land and secure high environmental standards while supporting sustainable projects for which there is a clear need.

Mr. Quinn: This is a very important strategy nationally, but the work to be undertaken soon in the port of Whitby will be extremely important to many of my constituents. Does my hon. Friend agree that the harbour infrastructure developments in the port--to the tune of some £850,000, I understand--in addition to the needed rail and road land links into the port of Whitby, will deliver an important and viable future for my constituents? Will he support my plea for an inter-modal study to ensure that we can deliver the integrated transport policy to which he referred?

Mr. Hill: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's warm support for the Government's new investment in the port

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of Whitby. As he will be aware, my Department has approved nearly £500,000 for Whitby, and we have also approved investment worth £350,000 for the port of Scarborough. Both ports have received extra funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for other refurbishment projects totalling £500,000. My hon. Friend has made powerful representations in favour of improved rail connections to Whitby and road links to Scarborough. The Government are considering his proposals very carefully.

Dr. Lewis: The Minister having decided to group my question on the Government's policy on the construction of container ports on non-brownfield sites with the previous question on the Order Paper, I am sorry that he has not felt able to answer it more specifically. Is he aware that yesterday Hampshire county council rejected by 21 votes to none to turn down the proposal to develop the Dibden bay container port on the edge of the New Forest? Is he aware of the devastating effects that that development would have on Totton and the people of the waterside villages if it went ahead? Does he know that Associated British Ports has now admitted that it is not part of a national economic need that this port needs to be developed? Can he reassure my constituents, who were extremely worried to hear the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney), the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, state on television on 8 February:

Given that the Secretary of State has called in this proposal, how can we have confidence that it will be fairly and impartially adjudged when a PPS to a Minister in his Department appears to have made up his mind the wrong way in advance?

Mr. Hill: On the broad issue, we recognise that there are strong views about Associated British Ports' proposals to develop new port facilities at Dibden bay on Southampton water. That is exactly why we have recently announced our decision to call a public inquiry, which should start later this year.

In the circumstances, the House will understand that the Government cannot comment on the merits of the proposals. As regards his remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney), the hon. Gentleman really is a bit of a chump to bring such a matter to the Floor of the House. To set the record straight, what my hon. Friend actually said was that there was a balance to be struck between economic development and the environment, and that that was why we are having a public inquiry. In my experience, my hon. Friend is usually right about everything, and in this matter he was, as usual, spot on.

Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): I welcome my hon. Friend's statement and invite him to visit the historic port of Whitehaven, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has done on previous occasions. If he does so, he will see the enormous potential of the regeneration of the port for tourism, water sports and fishing, but does he recognise that the full potential can never be realised unless road improvements are carried out? Will he therefore look very closely at the proposal to improve the A595 from Lily Hall to Parton? It is a modest scheme in

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national terms, but would nevertheless be of enormous economic and social benefit to Whitehaven and the people of West Cumbria, including those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Mr. Hill: Of course I would love to visit the port of Whitehaven. The Government are committed to improving both rail and road links to ports as part of our 10-year plan for transport. I am aware of the campaign for the road, spearheaded by the Whitehaven News, and of the fact that the road was Cumbria's third priority in its recent local transport plan.

The Government have indicated that we expect to receive further local transport plan submissions in the summer, and I look forward to the opportunity of considering Cumbria's proposal for the road in its next set of plans.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Will the Minister go back to the issue of Dibden bay and answer the question that has been posed by Mr. Brian Dash, the local county councillor who for the past 10 years has led the campaign against the development, about whether it is in the national interest? Successive Ministers in this Government and the previous Government have made the point that the Dibden bay development should not go ahead unless it can be conclusively proved that it is in the national interest for it to do so. As that manifestly is not the case, will the Minister confirm that the public inquiry is a complete waste of time?

Mr. Hill: I suspect that those who take an opposing view on the Dibden bay development might consider that it manifestly is in the national interest. It is precisely to determine whether the development is in the national interest that we have convened the public inquiry to which I have referred. Furthermore, it may in due course be necessary for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make a decision about what is or is not in the national interest.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the success of the port of Dover, which is still a trust port and is the busiest ferry port in the world? When he makes representations on the European directive on ports, will he acknowledge the special differences between ports in the United Kingdom and ports on the continent? Will he ensure that the framework is set up in such a way that the rules do not prescribe against ports such as Dover and that those ports will not be disadvantaged?

Mr. Hill: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is, as ever, a doughty advocate of the port of Dover. Representations on the matter have been received from the UK Major Ports Group; we are also aware of the views of the British Ports Association and of several port and terminal operators. Our general policy on the proposed directive is to support the broad principles of liberalisation and competition in the provision of port services, subject to appropriate safeguards and standards.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): What is the point of a ports policy, or, indeed, of an integrated transport policy, that does not address the most important issue

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facing ports, especially in the south-east--that of capacity? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the industry forecasts that ports serving the south-east are likely to run out of container capacity within the next one to two years? Is that not typical of the Government's integrated transport policy? The policy is merely more pretty pictures, more warm words and more truisms. Like the railway, the tube and the road jams--the worst we have ever had--the Minister's policy is nothing but paralysis by analysis. [Interruption.]

Mr. Hill: That was, "paralysis by analysis"--just in case the House did not get it.

The hon. Gentleman really should have a word with his colleague, the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and with his Front-Bench colleagues who are looking daggers at his back. Do I detect the possibility of a division on this matter among Opposition Members?

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