HC Deb 02 May 1996 vol 276 cc1288-9
7. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will institute a review of transport links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. [26381]

Mr. Moss

In view of the continued success of commercial transport operators and the growth in traffic between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, I do not believe that there are any grounds for a review at this time. In any event, shipping and air services between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are a matter for the Department of Transport.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful. Will the Minister, however, confirm that the route from Cairnryan and Stranraer to Larne remains, in the thinking of the Government and of the European Union, one of the principal routes between Great Britain and the island of Ireland? In order to ensure that it does, will he say what guarantees he has obtained so that after rail privatisation the link from the west coast main line to Stranraer will continue to operate a service at least as frequent as, and preferably better than, the current one?

Mr. Moss

I am happy to confirm that the Government consider the sea link between the ports of Stranraer and Cairnryan and Northern Ireland to be vital to the economy of Northern Ireland. The steady increase in freight and passenger traffic, combined with the introduction by operators of improved vessels and infrastructure, point to the viability of these operations.

The privatisation of the rail link is a matter for the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Transport; but I understand that a minimum service requirement for the proposed line has been put out to consultation.

Mr. Beggs

Can the Minister confirm that the A8 Larne to Belfast road is part of a recognised Euro-route? Does he agree that total funding for the roads programme in Northern Ireland has been inadequate for years? Does he recognise that cancelling the proposed dualling extension for the A8 has caused considerable concern? When reviewing proposals for future road development in Northern Ireland, will he give consideration to the increased traffic that will travel the A8 owing to the new P and 0 fast ferry service due to come into operation in June? Will he therefore seek to reinstate the dualling extension in the Northern Ireland's roads programme?

Mr. Moss

I confirm that the A8 is indeed a trans-European network route, and that funds for road improvement are not sufficient to meet the ever-increasing demand. We have repositioned schemes in the programme this year to reflect new priorities—especially the traffic congestion on the west link in Belfast. I am happy to reiterate, however, that the Government's long-term intention remains to dual the A8, in stages spread over the six to 15-year major roads programme. That may be subject to change if traffic volumes on the A8 change significantly. In any case, investment can be considered for minor improvements to ease congestion, eliminate delays and deal with aspects of road safety.