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Merchant Ships

6. Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): How many British merchant ships have registered under the red ensign since the Government introduced the tonnage tax. [55532]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): Since the tonnage tax was introduced by the Finance Act 2000 in July of that year, a total of 173 merchant ships have joined the UK shipping register.

Mr. Henderson: My hon. Friend paints a much better picture than that pertaining during the years in which Conservatives waved Union Jacks at their party conference with one hand while lowering the red duster on hundreds of Merchant Navy ships with the other. Is he monitoring the companies that are benefiting from the tonnage tax to ensure that they deliver on training and jobs for the Merchant Navy fleet? If not, perhaps he could begin by monitoring P&O, Lord Sterling's company, to ensure that he not only reaps the benefits but delivers the goods.

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend always takes an assiduous interest in maritime matters on his constituents' behalf. The tonnage tax places an obligation on companies that enter into it to train one new cadet for every 15 existing officers. So far, 58 companies account for 510 training places. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will monitor the situation carefully to ensure that the companies comply. He is right: in five years in

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government, we have re-established the United Kingdom flag, and the Union Jack flies on more vessels now than it did five years ago. The UK is now a force to be reckoned with in the maritime world, after years of neglect under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Does the Minister agree that the significant improvement in the amount of tonnage sailing under the red ensign is not enough in itself? Does he share the view of NUMAST, the ships' officers union, that more job security is needed for British officers, and that greater emphasis must be placed on training UK cadets? Given that crews on some UK ferries are operating under contracts that prohibit them from joining unions such as NUMAST, will he ensure that proper social and employment conditions are enforced on ships that come under the red ensign as a result of the tonnage tax?

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman half-heartedly notes our success in getting ships on to the UK register. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has done an excellent job in providing a service to the shipping companies and others, thereby ensuring high environmental safety standards for those ships, and the highest safety levels for those who man them. Our commitment extends beyond training, and we will monitor the situation carefully. We have also ploughed a considerable amount of money into the smart training scheme to ensure that there is a proper training base in this country. The Government have done more in five years to enhance training than probably any other Government in the past 50 years. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) nodding in assent.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Does my hon. Friend remember the warm welcome that Jeffrey Sterling gave to the introduction of our tonnage tax when he told us at a Labour party conference that this Government had done more for the merchant fleet in our first 18 months than the Tories had done in the past 18 years? However, can my hon. Friend assure me that the production targets, the targets to increase cadets by 25 per cent. year on year, and the targets mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Henderson), will be met? What sanctions can the Government take against those companies that fail to deliver?

Mr. Jamieson: The answer is simple: if companies do not comply with the conditions of the tonnage tax, they will be taken out of that tax regime. I echo my hon. Friend's comments and commend him on the work that he has done on maritime matters. He has always spoken vigorously in favour of the maritime industry and its interests. The work that we are doing and what we have achieved in the past five years have considerably enhanced the UK flag and our standing in the maritime world. I assure my hon. Friend that the issues he raises are at the forefront of our minds.

Canal Network

7. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will make a statement on his Department's policy on expanding the canal network. [55533]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): Questions on this matter would usually be answered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I should like to take this opportunity to say that the Highways Agency has carried out work on that and has reached a satisfactory outcome in some cases where there is an intersection of canals and highways in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Michael Fabricant: May I take this opportunity to thank the Minister on behalf of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust Ltd? I also thank the 2,500 people who walked the route of the canal with me. The Minister will be aware of the difficulties that have arisen because the canal will be bisected twice by the Birmingham northern relief road. What guidance will his Department issue to ensure that future canal routes are not bisected by roads? May I also thank the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for his intervention with respect to the guidance on roads and bridges, and for the help that he has given for all modes of transport that travel at under five kilometres an hour?

Mr. Jamieson: Well, what can I say? I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and note his kind remarks about the Secretary of State. I am not sure whether he has cleared them with his Front Bench, although it seems clear from the reaction of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that he has not.

I am aware that there has been a particular success in the case of the Lichfield and Hatherton canals and the bisection of the Birmingham northern relief road. That came about as a result of undertakings given in the 1998 Transport White Paper in which the Government ensured that environmental needs are a key consideration for the Highways Agency when it makes improvements. In the particular case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, a bridge and foundations for an aqueduct have been put in place to allow the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust to restore the canal. That is a shining example of joined-up government. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman sailing down the canal, perhaps in a barge, to raise funds for the party in government that allowed that to happen.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): May I thank my hon. Friend for his support in developing the canal network? Will he ensure that when restoration takes place, planning will be such that no development will take place over disused canals and that restoration can proceed without difficulties? Will he also ensure that there is full consultation on restoration and development with those voluntary organisations that have a great interest in the canal network?

Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will very much take note of his comments. Where canals intersect roads, and where that affects the work of my Department, we have put in place guidance, in the Department's design manual for roads and bridges, that ensures that those canals are

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not locked out for ever and that they can be redeveloped in the future. That probably has widespread support on both sides of the House.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): As vice- president of the Worcester-Birmingham Canal Society and the Droitwich Canals Trust, may I say to the Minister how delighted we are with the progress being made by British Waterways on the reopening of the canal network? May I draw his attention in particular to the proposed reopening of the Droitwich junction and barge canals, which, again, are receiving marvellous support from British Waterways? Will he pledge the support of his Department to the reopening of the spectacular three-day cruising ring between Worcester and Droitwich, particularly with regard to closing trunk roads to enable engineering work to be conducted? Will he help in that specific regard, please?

Mr. Jamieson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I look forward to joining him on one of those canals—perhaps I am on the boat—and I shall make sure that those matters that affect my Department will be attended to assiduously.

Road Traffic Speeds

8. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What action his Department is taking to reduce road traffic speeds. [55534]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The measures being taken by the Government to reduce excessive and inappropriate speeds are contained in the road safety strategy, "Tomorrow's Roads Safer For Everyone", which was published in March 2000.

Helen Jackson: Does the Minister agree that proper enforcement of speed limits is not anti-motorist, as some people think, but pro-safety? Does he understand that, where digital cameras have been introduced and proper enforcement used, there has been a dramatic reduction in deaths and serious injuries? Will he therefore accelerate the programme—not of speed but of digital cameras—to include not only the A616 Stocksbridge bypass, which he knows is a particularly dangerous road, but other particularly dangerous roads in urban and rural areas?

Mr. Spellar: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for the delegation that she brought to make representations to me about the Stocksbridge bypass. She rightly identifies the success with cameras. In terms of the pilot projects, on average, at camera sites, the number of people killed or seriously injured fell by 47 per cent. compared with the average over the previous three years. Twenty-six police force areas have now been accepted for the scheme, and, it is hoped, all who want to join will do so in the next 18 months. It is appropriate to stress that one of the key elements of the scheme is that, in order to ensure that reduced speed leads to reduced accidents, cameras are clearly visible, clearly painted and clearly signed. That has been widely recognised and appreciated by motorists across the country who understand the need for cameras but want to ensure that they are not out to catch motorists but to save lives.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Does the Minister agree that one of the important factors with regard to speed

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limits is appropriate signage? Will he therefore undertake to introduce legislation that will enable repeater signs to be put up to make sure that motorists know what the speed limits are?

Mr. Spellar: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a slightly difficult issue in terms of whether having repeater signs in some areas and not in others leads to confusion for motorists. I am particularly concerned about roads where the speed limit has changed—for example, where a road that used to be subject to a 40 mph limit is now subject to a 30 mph limit, as happened, for example, on the Chester road in Birmingham. I am particularly anxious that that should be clearly signed, and, where there are cameras, that the prevailing speed limit should be clearly indicated. There are balanced arguments on the other issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, which we are examining at the moment.

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