HC Deb 17 November 1998 vol 319 cc747-8
33. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What incentives his Department is offering to transfer freight from road to rail; and if he will make a statement. [58639]

34. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

What steps he will take to encourage the increased use of the railways for freight transport. [58640]

35. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

What measures he is taking to encourage the transport of freight by rail. [58641]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

The Government want to see more freight move by rail. Last year, we doubled spending on freight grants from £15 million to £30 million and we further increased grants to £40 million. In contrast to the previous Administration, we are spending every penny of it. Next spring, we will have a shadow strategic rail authority to ensure that freight is taken fully into account in planning and developing the rail network.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he agree that the transfer of freight from road to rail in Wales would be far easier and much improved if there were a direct rail link between Holyhead and Cardiff? In that context, has he had the opportunity to look at the report by Friends of the Earth Cymru strongly advocating that?

Mr. Prescott

We are studying several reports on improving the freight rail system. A number of years ago, I considered the issue of Holyhead in respect of the trans-Pennine link with Europe and the land bridge concept. There are great opportunities and we are providing support for them at the moment.

Mr. Miller

My right hon. Friend knows that, in my constituency, there have been many complaints from businesses and industries that are trying to export, but are unable to exploit the rail freight network. Will he tell us in more detail the precise effects that his announcement will have on rail freight tonnage and the longer-term plans to develop the Government's excellent policy?

Mr. Prescott

We have taken a long-term view, particularly in regard to services to Europe. We renegotiated the channel tunnel link and we are now negotiating with the French authorities to see how we can improve the European services. We have asked Railtrack to look at all possible freight rail systems and the piggyback systems, and we are about to receive a report. We are pleased that a number of companies have increased the number of their wagons and engines, leading to a 12.5 per cent. growth in rail freight services in 1997–98—for the first time in many years.

Mr. Levitt

My right hon. Friend's reply will be welcomed, not least by three groups in my constituency: those communities that live next to main roads; the quarrying industry, which has already announced its intention to increase the amount of freight going by rail; and those campaigning for the restoration of the Buxton to Matlock rail link. Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House how the strategic rail authority will help to take forward the campaign to increase the amount of freight on the rails?

Mr. Prescott

The strategic rail authority will consider a multi-modal approach to maximise the contribution of road and rail interchanges, including park-rail systems, by which cars can connect with main rail systems, or the rail interchange systems, which have increased considerably in the past 12 months. Those are ways in which we can improve the possibilities, alongside increasing grants and encouraging people to move more to rail. There are clear signs of that change, with 12.5 per cent. growth this year. To coin a phrase, we are getting there.