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8.37 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): It is appropriate for me to participate in the debate on rural communities and transport in the context of the Queen's Speech. I want all those who have not yet done so to travel into Ulster, because it is more likely than not that they would fly into the international airport in my constituency, which lies at the heart of Ulster. They can take the airline of their choice because there is such a good selection of them--I prefer British Airways, which still does a fair job, even though it is not quite the airline it was when Lord King and I were running it.

I shall stop the aircraft 30,000 ft up and take a look around my constituency, because it is an attractive place, as is the whole Province. It is a big rural constituency with considerable industry and commerce, which lies 10 miles from Belfast lough. To the west at Toome, the River Bann--a great salmon river--runs out of Lough Neagh, where most of the eels that are eaten in Europe come from. The area is an untapped tourist attraction, but it is totally underdeveloped, so I intend to work on that one for the community of South Antrim and, indeed, for all of Northern Ireland.

Move eastward, through Randalstown and Antrim to Ballyclare, and turn south to Mossley, one of two big local government areas. Our local government headquarters are in Mossley Mill: local councillors did not, as they sometimes do, knock down the old and build a new and disgusting office block; instead, they took an old 19th-century mill and turned it into the headquarters of Newtownabbey council. That is something that I like.

Move further south and, on the fringes of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) is the legendary Dundrod circuit. Dundrod, with the mountain course on the Isle of Man are two of the great road circuits in the history of autosport, now road motor cycling.

Beside Dundrod is Nutt's Corner, which is in my constituency, where there is a small race track, which I hope, in co-operation with Members of the Assembly,

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we will develop as a centre for motor sport excellence in Northern Ireland. I would like it to be named the Joey Dunlop memorial circuit since Joey Dunlop came from my home town of Ballymoney in County Antrim. Up with Mike Hailwood, he is the greatest motor cycle road racer of all time. He died in Estonia last year.

I turn to my predecessors. I thank the Rev. William McCrea for looking after the interests of South Antrim in the eight months since he defeated me at the by-election; I won at the general election. I thank him for his service, as I am sure the House does. Willie still holds many public positions in Mid-Ulster, including in the local council. He has stood for many constituencies. I do not know where he will pop up next, but no doubt he will.

I go further back. I have known the past four hon. Members for South Antrim, including Sir Knox Cunningham. I met him at a small meeting in Ormeau park in the early 1970s--it was small by Ulster standards: about 100,000 people were in the park. He was a big man, as all the Cunningham family were, and are. A boxing champion at Cambridge and an impressive man on the platform, he had presence.

Sir Knox was succeeded by someone who older hon. Members should know well: Jim Molyneaux, who is in the other place now. For many years, Jim represented the old big constituency, which we still call--we are a bit old fashioned--the imperial constituency of South Antrim. He is a great parliamentarian. When the constituency was split because of increased representation, Jim went to Lagan Valley and Clifford Forsythe succeeded him.

Clifford was the quiet man of the Ulster Unionist party. He was well known in the House and highly respected. He was a great footballer in the 1950s. He played for Linfield at Windsor Park and for Derry City at the Brandywell. In modern terminology, that would be called parity of esteem. He served South Antrim very well. Unfortunately, he died--it surprised us all--at the age of 70, leaving a widow, Lillian.

I have many things to say about the big issues in Ulster: the agreement and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I will bide my time. It is a great honour to make a maiden speech. I am not really a career politician. I tried to win the by-election, when we failed, but we won the seat back against the trend at the general election.

I will be a Member of Parliament who represents the local issues in my constituency. In the Chamber, I will try to represent, with my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party, the needs of Northern Ireland. We are not Protestant Sinn Fein. We are the Ulster Unionist party and we will regain and strengthen our position as the leaders of Ulster Unionism.

I will also speak on and debate subjects in the House that affect the whole of the United Kingdom because I am a Unionist. There are Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, Ulstermen, Irishmen--they choose the term depending where they are--but we are all Unionists and the unity of the kingdom means a great deal to me.

8.44 pm

Ian Stewart (Eccles): Let me first explain that my normally robust Salford voice is somewhat weaker this evening, as I carried out my duties last night as the

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manager and chief cheerleader of the House of Commons tug-of-war team, which achieved a magnificent victory over the House of Lords team for the first time ever.

I congratulate the hon. Members for South Antrim (David Burnside), for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) and for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) on their maiden speeches, which they have made while I have been in the Chamber. They articulated their concerns and their vision for their constituencies with clarity. That bodes well for their advocacy on behalf of their constituents in the future.

I wish to confine my comments to transport. I was very pleased to serve on the Committee that considered the Transport Act 2000, under which concessionary fares for the elderly were introduced nationwide. In my area, the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority amended its travel concession scheme, with effect from 1 April 2001. Following wide consultation, the authority has introduced a new scheme whereby concessionaires will pay the flat-rate fare or a half fare, depending on whichever is cheapest for the journey. Therefore, the concessionary fare paid will be reduced for many local journeys.

From 1 April, the flat concessionary bus fare has been 40p, and the flat fare for the Ring-and-Ride accessible transport service and Metrolink have been 45p off peak. From 20 May this year, the flat-fare concession for off-peak journeys on local trains has been 45p. I commend the Government for their speedy action to ensure that men and women qualify for concessionary fares at the age of 60. I also commend the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority for its innovative and effective policies.

The Strategic Rail Authority was established under the Transport Act 2000, so I wish to say in passing that I hope that the authority will, when deciding which company should run the new trans-Pennine express franchise, heed the words to me of one of the new Under-Secretaries of State, who said that the authority must:

I hope that the SRA also gives due weight to the views of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority on that matter.

There have been a number of public transport improvements in my constituency, Eccles, in the past few years, including the Metrolink extension and new quality bus corridors. The Greater Manchester passenger transport authority has planned further improvements for the local public transport network. I have been working closely with the authority on those improvements, and I shall do whatever I can as a Member of Parliament to support and advance the authority's work.

People want affordable and reliable public transport--and, of course, they want it to be safe. The conclusions of the Cullen report on track and signal maintenance and on the need for effective training and induction programmes for drivers must be heeded.

I want to refer briefly to bus services. The Greater Manchester passenger transport authority is concerned about bus service provision. In recent years in some areas, there has been a reduction in the level of service and an increasing tendency to withdraw services from areas and estates designated as suffering from anti-social behaviour. That is a problem in my constituency, where some estates

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have had their bus services withdrawn. I accept, however, that buses have been stoned on some occasions on one estate. I do not expect drivers to be put at risk of injury, but bus companies should not delete services without consultation with local communities or relevant agencies. We must all work together to find a solution. It is not a transport problem with social implications; it is a social problem with transport implications.

If social inclusion is a national aim, bus companies have their responsibilities. Labour legislation introduced quality bus partnerships and other important measures, but we must be flexible and consider other measures that may be necessary to deliver quality bus services for old and young alike.

The Opposition like to paint themselves as the motorists' friend, but Labour is investing in both roads and the local environment. Labour has enabled the Highways Agency to improve the safety and the environment of families in my constituency, who have lived with noise and accidents on the M602 for too long. Changes to regulations introduced by the Labour Government mean that work can be done on more sites that are seriously affected by noise. For example, work is well under way to erect a noise barrier where the motorway crosses Parrin lane in the village of Winton, and it should be completed in July.

There is a debate to be had on the quality and substance of protection on motorways that is afforded by barriers. Should the barriers be made of current materials or should they be made of concrete? The debate should take place because there are pros and cons. Current materials allow cars and other vehicles to go through the barriers. In the Parrin lane area in my constituency, for example, over the past two years cars have gone off the motorway and fallen on the road below on three occasions. There has been danger to life and limb.

In policy terms, should the Government decide to use concrete barriers, which would force cars and other vehicles back on to the motorway? There is no easy answer to such issues and there needs to be further debate in the House.

I first raised the issue of the Cadishead Way bypass in my village of Cadishead and Irlam in my maiden speech in 1997, and I have raised it regularly with different Ministers since then. Transport Ministers had quite a high turnover in the previous Parliament, and a number received promotion. I hope that I shall shortly be meeting the newly appointed Minister for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar). I hope that he will be the last Minister for Transport that I have to meet on the matter.

The Tories failed to deliver a Cadishead Way bypass after 18 years of government. Labour is committed to improving our transport infrastructure and is putting up the money to make a real difference. Last year, the Government's 10-year transport plan promised a £180 billion package of public and private investment. We are investing in rail, local transport and roads.

I am very pleased that Salford council and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities have given the Cadishead Way bypass a high priority in their new transport development plan. Perhaps this year its time has come. If not, I shall be boring the House again this time next year.

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8.54 pm

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