23rd June 2011
Mike Penning answers MPs' questions on motorway speed limits, the A63, the coastguard service and the effects of foreign hauliers being able to buy fuel more cheaply on the continent and undercut UK companies.
Motorway Speed Limits
Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): What recent representations he has received on varying national motorway speed limits. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): My ministerial colleagues and I have received a variety of representations, including via the red tape challenge to the highways regulations, on the subject of varying the motorway speed limit. The issue raises interesting aspects of our current behaviour, and we will continue to look at it.
Stephen Mosley: The maximum motorway speed limit in several European countries, including France, Italy and Germany, is currently greater than 80 mph. In order to help deliver the economic benefit of reduced journey time, will my hon. Friend consider increasing the motorway speed limit to 80 mph?
Mike Penning: The existing limit has been in place since the ’60s. We will weigh up safety and environmental aspects against enforcement—although we all know that 70 mph is not being enforced—and how increasing the speed limit to 80 mph would help the country to grow in infrastructure. We will look at the balance in those areas.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): In assessing the impact on safety of increasing motorway speed limits, does the Minister agree that another potential consequence will be our ability to meet our carbon dioxide emission targets? Has he received any representations from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who, as we know, is something of an expert on these matters?
Mike Penning: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who had my job before me, but he should have listened to the answer I gave a few moments ago before reading out his prepared question. We will balance the environmental aspects against the safety aspects, and also take into account the legislative process and whether or not we can get Britain moving better.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): May I press the Minister a little further? What analysis has he done of the extra fuel usage and CO2 emissions that would result from increasing the speed limit from 70 to 80?
Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman should also have listened to what I said. I did not say that we had conducted the consultation; I said we would balance various aspects during the consultation, and I am sure he would like to take part in that consultation and in our discussion about what is the right balance.
Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): What plans he has for future improvements on the A63. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): The spending review announcement in October 2010 listed the A63 Castle street improvement scheme for potential construction in future spending review periods, subject to the statutory process.
Karl Turner: The Labour council has had productive talks with Associated British Ports and Siemens this week, but is it not about time the Government became enthusiastic about the massive investment in my constituency and considered bringing forward plans to improve the A63? We are desperate for that.
Mike Penning: The Government are very enthusiastic as well, and there have been discussions with colleagues in the area and the Secretary of State in past days. We have to accept the financial mess that the previous Administration left us in, but we will do everything we can. If there are huge investments going in, perhaps the investors would also like to invest in that infrastructure, as is the case in other parts of the country.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The Humber local economic partnership recently submitted a bid for an enterprise zone based around both sides of the Humber—the green port in Hull and the Able UK site on the south Humber gateway. The A63 will be key to linking that. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the enterprise zone? Will he work in a joined-up way across Government to progress the A63 development?
Mike Penning: We work across Government on all such projects. We accept that enterprise zones will bring in more investment and growth, which is what we need to get out of the financial mess that we are in. I am sure that we will meet other Ministers and work forwards, but we have to go through the statutory process first.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): This morning the Transport Committee asked the Government to withdraw their modernisation proposals for the coastguard and consult on revised plans. Its report is very clear:
“The evidence we have received raises serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed.”
Despite failing to do so before now, will the Secretary of State finally listen to coastguards up and down the country and abandon his dangerous and reckless plan to close more than half of Britain’s coastguard stations?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): We welcome the Committee’s report. If the hon. Lady looks at it carefully, she will see that it actually says that the status quo is not acceptable and that coastguard stations need to close. The process we inherited from the previous Administration had been sitting on their desks for years. We said right at the start of the process that we would listen and come up with proposals after consulting. It is a shame that they did not do the same.
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to mitigate the effects of foreign hauliers who use their advantage of being able to buy fuel more cheaply on the continent to undercut British companies?
Mike Penning: We have a commitment to bringing in lorry road user charging to level the playing field. It is important, however, that we do not penalise our own truckers with whatever scheme we bring in. We are in ongoing negotiations with the Treasury and we are committed to introducing a scheme in this Parliament.