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Conservatives hit out at Labour shadow minister over absence from rail debate

PUBLISHED: 19:18 11 November 2014 | UPDATED: 19:18 11 November 2014

Ben Gummer, Mark Pendlington at Ipswich rail station at with the rail manifesto on its way to London.

Ben Gummer, Mark Pendlington at Ipswich rail station at with the rail manifesto on its way to London.

The Conservative MPs behind the Great Eastern Rail Line upgrade campaign have rounded on Labour for failing to turn up to a debate on the rail link in parliament.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer claimed that if Labour won power and reorganised the railway industry, the window for improvements would be missed.

At a debate in Westminster Hall, he hailed the “cross party” work between Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs across the three counties, but said he and other campaigners had found it difficult to get “some sort of coherence from Labour Party representatives in the region”, and Labour were the “fly in the ointment” of the plans.

He said: “It is sad to see they [a Labour shadow transport minister] are not represented here today for this very important matter for our region.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband has not sanctioned the re-nationalisation of the railway – a move favoured by rail unions – but has promised to change the law to allow public and not-for-profit companies to run train services, as well as private companies, like the East Coast main line.

But Mr Gummer claimed that if Labour did bring in legislative changes, its plans for the railway would be “put at risk”.

Adding: “In fact, it would not just be put at risk, it would not happen. It has to start in 2016, if we are to succeed. We have one window here.”

He claimed that the new spending period for Network Rail, up to 2024, and starting in 2019 and the new franchise, which is due to be renewed in 2016, meant the timing of the report was crucial.

He said the “noises from the Labour Party” were that there would be a massive reorganisation of the rail industry.

“They would not be able to commit to a new franchise in 2016, or the investment here, if they are going through that reorganisation,” he said.

The debate came as a report was sent to the Transport Secretary and Chancellor last week making the case for a near half billion pound investment, which campaigners claim could see a payback of £4.5bn.

It is hoped that the money will be allocated in the Autumn Statement next month.

Answering the debate rail minister Claire Perry praised the report for showing the economic case for improvements.

But she said that it was “not just this region” that needed investment.

Labour candidates Jessica Asato and Clive Lewis said in a joint statement that Mr Gummer and Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, lead voices in the campaign, were “playing politics”.

They said: “Labour wants to see improvements on the Great Eastern Main Line, which have been held back by three short term contracts under this Tory-led Government while fares have gone up by 20% since 2010.

“Lilian Greenwood, Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, will be visiting Norwich on Thursday to hear the case for greater investment herself and draw attention to the Government’s damaging proposals to break up the Norwich to Liverpool service.”

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