HC Deb 14 January 1991 vol 183 cc601-2
4. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a public statement about transport in Greater Manchester.

Mr. Freeman

Today British Rail introduces class 158 vehicles to the transpennine route which links Manchester with Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle. The rail link to the airport will open in 1993. The Metrolink light rail scheme is under construction and will open in about 12 months.

Mr. Bennett

Could the Minister explain to my constituents who, during 1988 and 1989, suffered a great deal every time they entered Manchester Piccadilly station because British Rail was carrying out so-called improvements to that station, why, even after those improvements, they are still suffering because of a poor service? Is he aware that the centre of Manchester was snarled up on several occasions before Christmas because of the large number of people using the roads there? They used those roads because they have totally lost confidence in British Rail's ability efficiently to run local services in and out of Manchester Piccadilly.

Mr. Freeman

I am aware of the discussions between the passenger transport authority and British Rail about section 20 support under the Transport Act 1968 for suburban services in Manchester. I understand that regional railways are seeking to resolve the reliability problems, particularly with older rolling stock such as the pacers and the older diesel units. As to the congestion in the centre of Manchester, I hope that the introduction of Metrolink, for which the taxpayer is providing a cash grant in excess of £50 million, will help congestion, particularly for those who travel from a south-westerly or northerly direction into Manchester. Let us hope that, in due course, it will be possible to extend the Metrolink to include and benefit the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not a fact that Manchester airport is the third largest in the United Kingdom and that the second terminal will double its capacity from 9 million to 18 million? Is it not also a fact that, of the £87 million that the Government earmarked for borrowing approvals, a lion's share has gone to Manchester international airport? Does not this speak volumes for Members of Parliament representing the north-west and for the Government, who have listened to what we have had to say?

Mr. Freeman

It speaks volumes for my hon. Friend and his colleagues who have strongly pressed the Government to support the expansion plans for the airport. My hon. Friend is correct to say that the new terminal at Manchester will permit a 50 per cent. increase in the number of passengers using it. The rail link from the centre of Manchester to the airport is well under way and will open in 1993, as I said to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Further to that, there will be a road link to the airport. All will help the future growth and prosperity of Manchester.

Mr. Eastham

At this late hour, the House hopes that there will not be conflict in the Gulf, but great play has been made in the media of the fact that Manchester airport will be used to receive many of the casualties that may occur if there is a war.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about transport in Greater Manchester.

Mr. Eastham

That is what my supplementary is about.

If there is a conflict and many casualties are directed to Manchester airport, will the Minister ensure that all contingency expenses such as reception, accommodation, security, nursing and transport are met from the central contingency fund rather than by the owners of Manchester airport?

Mr. Freeman

I note the seriousness of what the hon. Gentleman says. He would not wish me to comment in detail, but I undertake on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend to get the answer to that question and to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Prescott

As the Minister has made clear, Manchester airport will be subjected to the new security measures introduced because of the Gulf crisis. Will he give us some idea of what those measures will be? Will they include inspection of all luggage that goes into the hold —a move against which the Government have set their face in the past—and the levy that is necessary to finance the machinery for that? Will he consider the economic regulations imposed by his Department on the airports that prevent them from raising the extra money to finance that essential part of security checking?

Mr. Freeman

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not expect me or any of my ministerial colleagues to comment on specific security measures at British airports or on advice to British airlines in the coming rather tense period. As to the examination of luggage going both to the hold and into the cabins of aircraft, my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister for Aviation will ensure that, in the coming troubled days and weeks, all necessary steps are taken to ensure that not only British travellers but those passengers visiting our shores can travel as safely as possible.

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