New Forest East


[Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend [Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling] continue to endorse the importance that the 10-year transport plan places on the role of major ports as transport hubs, and as vital to our international trade? Does he continue to endorse the improvement of rail freight use to those ports as a key element of freight strategy? In the light of the decision, announced by the Government this morning, on the future of Dibden Bay and the expansion of Southampton Port, will he give additional priority to the upgrading of the rail link between Southampton and the West Midlands to ensure that Southampton freight can travel efficiently on the rail from the port to its destinations?

Mr Darling: Yes, it is important that we improve rail links between our ports and other parts of the country. I understand the disappointment that my hon. Friend will have felt at the decision on Dibden Bay, but I am sure that he will accept, in the light of the inspector's report and the overwhelming environmental difficulties there, that the Government's decision is right. I say to him and to the House that that decision was made on the individual application. There are other applications for port developments in other parts of the country, on which the Government will decide in due course. The decision on Dibden Bay was taken entirely on the application's own merits, and those alone.]

Dr Julian Lewis: As the MP who represents Dibden Bay, I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). It is only a pity that the Government did not think about upgrading the railways in that connection from the outset. I congratulate the Government on their decision on Dibden Bay; it is a classic case of David outwitting Goliath. We thank the Government for listening to our community; we thank them for observing the environmental safeguards; we thank them for taking the right decision today.