Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Speaker : Order. I understand that all hon. Members with English constituencies have received, or are in the process of receiving-- [Hon. Members :-- "Not true."] That is my information.

Mr. Channon : I have tried to help hon. Members with English constituencies by making the information available. If that has gone wrong, I apologise, but I think that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House with English constituencies have received the information.

Mr. Cohen : It is an absolute disgrace.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. There are 38 hon. Members seeking to take part in a subsequent debate. Points of order on this matter, for which I have no responsibility, will simply delay us. Mrs. Dunwoody.

Mrs. Dunwoody : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Under normal circumstances I would never dream of doing anything to hold up the business of the House, but in this case there appears to be a difference between English Members who are Conservative and those who are not.

Mr. Channon : I can assure the hon. Lady that that is not the case and, if she checks, I am sure that she will find that she has the information.

Rail freight can expect to benefit substantially from the Channel tunnel. We shall continue to provide grants for rail freight facilities where they help to keep lorries off unsuitable routes. But rail's share of traffic is less than a tenth of that on the roads. For many inter-urban road movements, rail services do not offer a realistic alternative. So while rail is important, it can meet only a small part of the increased demand for transport outside the major city centres.

In framing future roads policy, I have borne in mind the effect that roads can have on the sensitive landscape of this country. We will be taking all reasonable steps to minimise any adverse impact of road schemes on their surroundings. The House will also appreciate that taking traffic away from unsuitable roads will help the environment and improve the quality of life of many individuals and communities.

New roads are safer roads ; and I expect that improvements to the road network will make a major contribution to my target of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century.

I am publishing today, in the White Paper "Roads for Prosperity", our plans for roads.

The inter-urban motorway and trunk road network, with which the White Paper deals, provides the core of the country's road system. It carries some 30 per cent. of all traffic and 40 per cent. of heavy goods vehicles. We have reviewed traffic trends and produced new forecasts. Those

Column 484

are set out in the White Paper. They project substantially faster growth than previously estimated. In the light of the new forecasts, the Government have concluded both that our main efforts to provide additional transport capacity in support of growth and prosperity must be directed towards widening existing roads and building new ones, and that a step change in the programme is essential. Accordingly, I can inform the House that the road programme will be more than doubled, from over £5 billion to over £12 billion. That includes substantial improvement of most existing motorways and many major trunk roads. Some new motorways are proposed. All the schemes are listed in the White Paper.

The expansion of the programme concentrates on the need to keep Britain's goods moving. Improving major routes for through traffic will bring widespread benefits to the regions and the inner cities by providing better links throughout the country.

Rapid progress is essential. An additional £27 million is being made available from the reserve this year for immediate work by consultants on preparing the new programme. Motorway widening will be a key element of our plans, and will provide the scope for early relief of congestion. I have already taken steps to speed up our internal road planning procedures. But I can reassure individuals and others affected by specific schemes that their rights will continue to be protected.

The Government are determined to provide a modern transport infrastructure for a modern Britain, and this White Paper will make a major contribution.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : We welcome the Government's acceptance of the fact that the economic and social cost to the nation of chronic congestion is such that urgent action in the form of a doubling of present road expenditure is needed. Is it not a damning indictment of 10 years of the present Government's complacency and inactivity that such radical action is now needed? Does it not show that 10 years of Tory transport policy has been a failure?-- [Interruption.] I am used to the yobs on the Conservative Benches, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to calm down.

Mr. Prescott : Will the Secretary of State for Transport confirm that the unprecedented growth in the economy and in car ownership to which he refers is not unique to Britain under Mrs. Thatcher, but is a long-term trend in society that has been witnessed in virtually every other European country in the last 25 years? Those countries planned for it with road improvements and by making greater investment in public transport.

Britain is unique in the Government's failure to help relieve road congestion by promoting rail travel and other forms of public transport on the scale of other European countries. Is it not the case that deregulation, privatisation and the cutting of financial support in the public sector undermines public transport and forces more people on to the roads? Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the background to the White Paper is inadequate spending on road maintenance, so that every class of road in Britain is now in a worse state of repair than 10 years ago? Even on the basis of the programmes outlined in the 1985 and 1987 White Papers, the Government have failed

Column 485

to meet their own targets, and instead of the backlog of motorway maintenance work reducing this year, it has increased.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, on average, the Government spend less in real terms each year on our national road network than Labour did when in office, despite a 40 per cent. increase in road traffic? The record shows that Government expenditure on roads is nowhere near as high as the Secretary of State would have us believe-- [Interruption.] The Secretary of State keeps mumbling, as he does during Question Time. I assure him that I obtained from the Library comparative figures showing the real expenditure levels, and I can show them to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants--instead of him telling the House how good is the Government's record.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm also that, in the last 10 years, Government revenue from all forms of taxation has more than doubled to £15 billion, so Britain's transport system is more heavily taxed than that of any other European country--and less of that taxation is spent on transport than in any other European Country? In those circumstances, does the Secretary of State agree that the imposition of tolls is unacceptable and provides no solution to the problems that exist but is merely a further tax on the travelling public of this country? Does he accept that the White Paper fails to fit into the wider transport context? Is there not a danger that the Government, in responding to public concern about the growing transport crisis, have come up with panic measures-- [Laughter.] Any plan that proposes, as the White Paper does, doubling of expenditure that cannot possibly be undertaken until after the next general elction is only a paper plan and offers no solution to current problems. The only definite expenditure is the £25 million that will be paid to the planners to provide yet more plans ready for the next general election. That is what the White Paper is really about. Does the Secretary of State accept that 10 -lane super-highways speeding traffic into the cities are useless if chronic congestion means that it cannot move in the cities when it arrives there? What effect will the White Paper's plans have on the environment, especially in respect of vehicle emissions? Road traffic alone accounts for more than one third of all harmful atmospheric emissions and is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. There is no mention of that in the White Paper, despite the Prime Minister's alleged concern about the greenhouse effect.

We agree that extending Britain's inadequate road network is part of the solution, but does the Secretary of State not accept that we cannot go on for ever building new roads and adding extra lanes to motorways in a vain attempt to keep pace with demand? Does he not accept that in some places building new roads simply generates greater congestion? The White Paper estimates that road traffic will increase by between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. in the next 30 years. Does he not accept that it would not be possible, even if it were desirable, to keep expanding the network to meet such demands? This White Paper has all the reflections of Tory policy. It has a good title, it is a glossy brochure, it promises jam tomorrow for the super-jams of today, and it commits no

Column 486

expenditure between now and 1992 to deal with the programme. It is a sham and will do nothing to relieve the congestion problem.

An Hon. Member : Answer that.

Mr. Channon : I shall try to answer, rather more briefly than the hon. Gentleman put his questions ; and I shall answer all the questions.

At one moment, according to the hon. Gentleman, this was a panic measure, at another it was a paper plan and at yet another it was part of the solution. It was rather difficult to discover whether the hon. Gentleman was in favour of it. I rather regret including in the plan, as a gesture to him, two proposals in Hull. If he thinks that it is a paper plan, we can quite easily withdraw them, it that is what he wants.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming what my right hon. and hon. Friends have been saying for a long time about the unprecedented growth in the British economy, which leads us to need more transport infrastructure. I am also grateful to him for pointing out that this will be needed for some years ahead since clearly he is expecting, as we are, the continuation in office of a Conservative Government.

To hear the hon. Member talk, one might imagine that we were not investing anything in railways or public transport. I have taken the precaution, since he says he has as well, of looking at exactly what was spent in real terms by the Labour Government on both public transport and the roads. The House might be interested to learn that, at 1987-88 prices, investment by British Rail in the railways in 1978-79 was £425 million. The figure is now £654 million--50 per cent. up--and increasing. Capital expenditure on national roads in England was £668 million and it is now £1,052 million--again, a 50 per cent. increase. So much for the nonsense of what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Prescott : I will write with the figures.

Mr. Channon : I shall look forward to the hon. Member's letter with my usual anticipation.

The hon. Member is right to point to some of the defects in our system. He talks about maintenance, among other things, but fails to point out that, in their last four years in office, the Labour Government cut the road programme by 40 per cent. That is the measure of the sincerity of the Labour party and shows why we are the only people likely to put forward a programme to improve Britain's infrastructure.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is to be congratulated on persuading the Treasury to give priority to the roads programme on such a massive scale? Will he accept that it must be right, as he suggests, to expand capacity on motorways by widening existing routes rather than building new routes? None the less, it is important to improve the environment by moving traffic away from towns and having more bypasses. In that context I wish to make an explicit request, which is that the map of the road through Worthing should in no way prejudge the issue of having a bypass rather than going through Worthing, which is the impression that the map creates.

Mr. Channon : I can assure my right hon. Friend that the last thing I wish to do is to mar the happiness of the day

Column 487

and offend him by announcing a bypass through his constituency, the route of which he does not like. That I certainly am not planning to do today.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is quite right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it is a great help to widen the motorways, because it can be done more quickly, and it is environmentally better, since we do not have to build so many new roads, which is what causes so much heartache and difficulty.

I hope my right hon. Friend will be pleased to see that there is to be some improvement of the A27 and that he will welcome that. I agree that we have to improve all the trunk roads as well as motorways, and to do so in a way that is environmentally sensitive. I will bear very much in mind what he says.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. Clearly I shall not be able to call all the hon. Members who wish to be called, because of the pressure on the next debate. I will allow questions on this matter--of which I imagine we shall hear more in the future--to run until 4.45 ; then we really shall have to move on.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne) : Has the Secretary of State seen the Public Accounts Committee report on road planning, which is published today and which shows the inadequacy of some road planning methods? Do the right hon. Gentleman's current proposals take that into account?

Routes to the north-west will become even more important following the introduction of the Channel tunnel. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to my reading of the report, large parts of the M6 are not due to be widened? Can he tell us when the whole of the M6 will be updated to meet the demands of the increased traffic that will be essential if the Channel tunnel is to bring advantages to the north-west?

Mr. Channon : I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have seen the preliminary account of the views of the Public Accounts Committee. I am sure that he will agree, however, that it would be improper for me to reply today to the serious points on which the Committee has rightly focused, as they require careful study. I think that, by chance rather than by design, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that some attempt has been made to deal with at least some of the difficulties that have arisen in the past within a few hours of his Committee's drawing attention to them.

The right hon. Gentleman made particular mention of the M6. Let me point out to him that expenditure of some £700 million, no less, is proposed for the M6, with widening of the stretches between the M1 and junction 4 of the M42 and between junctions 11 and 20, with some other smaller improvements. If he has any other specific point in mind I should be delighted to take it up, but I must point out that the M6 is to receive a massive improvement. I think that that will be welcomed by many hon. Members.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Although there will be a warm welcome throughout the country for the marvellous news that my right hon. Friend has brought us this afternoon, there will be utter consternation in the north-east tonight when it is noticed that the map in the White Paper does not include a blue road from the

Column 488

national motorway box to the north-east. That means that the north-east is now the only region--the only set of conurbations--in the country that is cut off from a national motorway system. The statement that consideration will be given to future motorway status will, I think, be welcome, but will my right hon. Friend give us an undertaking now that that consideration will be positive?

Mr. Channon : I cannot announce that it will be positive before we have studied the matter. My hon. Friend will be aware, however, of the considerable improvements to the A1 between London and the Scottish border, including stretches of the A1(M), on which more than £400 million is to be spent. He will also be aware of the study that has been announced in the White Paper, which shows that we shall consider the points that he has in mind. This will be a major route corridor study dealing with the stretch from Stamford to the central A1 south of Doncaster and the portion south of Darlington--and so it goes on. We shall consider carefully what my hon. Friend has said. I certainly do not rule out roads of motorway or near- motorway standard, and we shall investigate the possibility of full motorway status from London to Tyneside.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of increased expenditure on infrastructure. Does he not agree, however, that more attention should be given to investment in the railways, and that cost-benefit analysis criteria should be used instead of the present one-off capital return on investment?

Does my hon. Friend accept that, given the proposals in his White Paper to widen the M25 to an eight-lane motorway, an investigation should be mounted to see whether a high-speed rail link could be run on the western side of the M25 to link Heathrow and Gatwick airports to the Channel tunnel, as well as the rest of the country?

Mr. Channon : I have had a little difficulty with high-speed rail links in other parts of the south-east recently, so I am not overwhelmingly enthusiastic to leap into that straight away without a moment's thought. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that British Rail is investing about £4 billion over the next five years. One can argue whether that should be more or less, but it is a substantial sum. There is massive reconstruction and investment in British Rail at present. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's criterion for how the two things should be compared would work out in favour of railways. The results of the two investment criteria are much the same, although the criteria are different.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : Oh.

Mr. Channon : I know that my hon. Friend does not entirely agree with that point. I am working on him, and I hope to convince him in the end.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : As my right hon. Friend points out in his statement, the growth of road traffic has been larger than originally expected, or officially projected. He is to be warmly congratulated on responding in a vigorous, imaginative and sensitive way to this colossal problem. This is thinking on the scale that we need. Will he concede--I am sure he will--that traffic growth on the railways is also far greater than the projections, and that even his idea of one tenth of traffic being on the railways

Column 489

may be invalidated by events? Does he agree that we should be thinking not only of the magnificent step change in road investment but also of a step change in railway investment, if necessary reinforced by capital from the private sector, if we are to join the gigantic, integrated, high-speed rail network and the high-speed freight movement throughout Europe that will dominate the 1990s and the beginning of the next millenium?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly because of his experience in dealing with transport problems. I hope that he will find that some of the schemes proposed this afternoon will benefit his constituents in Guildford. I agree about the importance of rail infrastructure and rail investment. I have given the House the figures that we have in mind. All sorts of other possibilities open up. One thing that is fundamentally important to all parts of the House is that we should be satisfied--certainly we have to be satisfied within the course of this year --with what British Rail proposes to do to meet the needs of constituencies north of London when the tunnel opens. I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House are concerned about that.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : What concerns me about the White Paper is the lack of emphasis on safety measures. In regard to the A46-A47 link road, the major road that will link Nottingham to Peterborough through Leicester, the Secretary of State should note that the local authority has said many times that it does not have the resources to meet the safety objections raised by local residents. What assurances can the Minister give the House about expenditure by the Government on safety measures, as opposed to merely building more roads?

Mr. Channon : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned safety. An important spin-off of the White Paper will be the effect on safety. I estimate that about 16 per cent. of the expenditure will have direct safety consequences. With more motorways and trunk roads, built to better standards, it is likely that the number of accidents will come down. As we all know, motorways are the safest roads in the country, and trunk roads are infinitely safer than roads in the middle of towns and cities. The programme will have beneficial effects for road safety. I am determined to meet our target. That will help us. On the point that the hon. Gentleman raised about one road, I had better write to him, but I am anxious that safety should be enhanced.

Mr. Adley : My right hon. Friend is an intelligent and well-educated man. Will he therefore accept the logic that, when he says in his statement that rail's share of traffic is less than one tenth of that on the roads, that does not need to be examined too far for one to understand why? The more we put into roads while neglecting the railways, the more the discrepancy will grow. Can he explain why British Rail cannot meet his Department's grotesquely overrated criteria simply to electrify the line between Ashford and Hastings for Channel tunnel traffic, yet he can stand up and propose to drive a motorway from the Channel tunnel to Southampton without any justification in financial terms as against the costs of rail? Which of the following two courses has my right hon. Friend taken? Has he said, "We can get another £7 billion

Column 490

for transport infrastructure. Shall we see if that money is better spent on roads v. rail?", or has he simply said, "Here is £7 billion. We will have roads, roads, roads, boys. Let us do what the Department of Transport always does."

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his preliminary remarks, which were right. Most unusually, he was inaccurate in his later remarks. British Rail is planning to invest £4 billion in the railways over the next five years, of which over £1 billion is earmarked for Network SouthEast. By the end of the decade, BR will have renewed over 85 per cent. of its diesel passenger trains and electrified 60 per cent. of InterCity and about 30 per cent. of the total route mileage, the biggest rail renewal programme since the transfer from steam to diesel.

My hon. Friend asks about new railway lines. That is major investment, which we look at on its merits to see if an investment case is made out. I assure my hon. Friend--he knows this well--that no British Rail investment case has yet been turned down during the lifetime of this Government. Indeed, 30 major investment projects have been approved by Ministers since the Government objectives were first set in October 1983.

I assure my hon. Friend that I am extremely anxious to expand the railways as well as the road system to meet the needs of Britain's transport infrastructure. British Rail is at present expanding, not contracting. I am certain that it will go on expanding and not contracting, and I should like to have more discussions with my hon. Friend about that very point.

Mr. Robert Hughes : How much money is to be spent in Scotland on the roads? Is money being made available for the A96 north of Aberdeen, between Aberdeen and Inverness, which is an extremely dangerous road? What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to bring to fruition the electrification of the east coast main line between London and Aberdeen by having the Edinburgh to Aberdeen line electrified? Will he confirm that he has made information available to his counterparts in England, whereas Scots Members have no information whatever? Will he answer those questions and not rely on Ministers at the Scottish Office to do so? Mr. Channon : The hon. Member and I are old acquaintances. He would be surprised if I had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish roads, as he knows perfectly well that I am not responsible for them. I have done my best to be helpful to English Members. If that was wrong, I shall never do it again-- [Interruption.] I have done my best to help them in the past. My answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about Scottish roads expenditure is that, as he knows, there is an automatic formula by which Scotland gets a proportion of the roads expenditure in England ; I believe that 10 eighty- fifths is the normal proportion for Scotland. [Interruption.] That was worked out long ago, and not by me. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has a question down on the subject, showing that attention has been drawn to the matter.

My answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about the

electrification of the line from London to Aberdeen is that, if an investment proposal was put forward by British Rail, I would look at it. The hon. Gentleman will welcome the news that, under the present plans for the electrification of the east coast main line, the journey to Aberdeen will be about 20 minutes shorter.

Column 491

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his White Paper and especially on his announcement of new trunk road improvements in East Sussex. There is a proposal in the White Paper that there should be a study of an east-west strategic route between Kent and Hampshire. I recognise that national and regional requirements may have given rise to the need for such a study, as there is already some anxiety about the precise location of this route. May we have an assurance that East Sussex will be involved in that study, so that local interests may be looked after?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. He will know that the studies listed in the White Paper are investigations into possible needs for additional capacity. They may or may not lead to proposals for schemes, which would need to be considered before they were put in the programme. Were they to result in schemes to be put in the programme, the rights of everyone affected would be taken into account in that there would be full public consultation and public inquiries. East Sussex and any other county council that was affected would have its views taken into account. I hope that my hon. Friend feels reassured by that answer.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Will the Secretary of State give a pledge that the central London road assessment study, which threatens areas such as Leyton, Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes will be scrapped? What faith can we have that those roads will be environmentally sound, when roads such as the M11 link road, which is to go through my constituency, has been denied a tunnel by the Department? Will he put up the money for that to go in a tunnel? Is not the plan for a country which is not green but motorway grey?

Mr. Channon : I am not sure that I quite understood the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. He made a brief intervention on the question of the M11 last week, every word of which I read with considerable interest and care. I am not announcing any decision on the assessment studies this afternoon ; that will come later on. As the House understands, the general thrust of the White Paper relates largely to roads between cities, not conditions inside London, which we will have other opportunities to debate. I have somehow become aware of what the hon. Gentleman thinks about our road schemes.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that anyone with an ounce of objectivity must congratulate him on winning this amount of money from the Treasury and providing such a forthright statement to the House? Anyone who does not think that should have been elected as the deputy Leader of the Opposition, but that is another matter. Will my right hon. Friend consider the position in the south-west, not just-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. There is great pressure on time.

Sir Peter Emery : Jealousy will get people nowhere. Will the Secretary of State look at the roads to the south-west, where he will see that there is no blue motorway from Andover, from east to west? Will he look particularly at the improvements proposed to ensure that dual carriageways, not single carriageways, will be built? Single carriageways are being scheduled and opened, but they are out of date before they are opened and, in the long run, will cost the country much more money.

Column 492

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about the scale of expenditure. The amount and timing of the expenditure will be a matter for decision in the public expenditure survey, in the usual way. My hon. Friend makes a good point about the south-west. I hope that he will be pleased about the upgrading of the A30 from Honiton to Ironbridge, and with the Wilmington bypass on the A35. I am sure that he will also have seen that we are assessing the needs of the route of the A38 from Exeter to Plymouth, which might have some effect in the south-west. I shall bear in mind what he says. One effect of the programme will be that the number of single carriageways will be considerably reduced as a proportion of the total road programme, because there will be many changes from single to dual carriageways. I think that I can meet my hon. Friend's points almost in their entirety.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Why has not the Secretary of State taken the opportunity to accept the case for a second east-west link, trans -Pennine motorway to link the industrial areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire? Would not the natural place for that be an eastwards extension of the M65 to link with the M62 and M1?

Mr. Channon : No doubt the hon. Gentleman has not yet had time to read table 2 of the White Paper, but when he gets round to doing so, he will see that we propose to do exactly that. We propose to study a major trans-Pennine route corridor, and

"Provision of additional capacity between south Lancashire and Yorkshire"

I think that he will find that satisfactory. There are problems with the national parks, and I welcome his views on that point.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : We will soon get rid of them.

Mr. Channon : If that is the hon. Gentleman's view, I will take it into account.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : My right hon. Friend will be congratulated by many people in my constituency tonight, because there are no fewer than four improvement schemes for the Ryedale area in the White Paper. That entirely reflects the thriving economy in the greater York area and the need for these roads. Will my right hon. Friend think again about the A19 between York and Thirsk, which needs to be dual carriageway?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I hoped and believed might conceivably be pleased. He will see that some of the A19-- Norton to Parkway--will become a dual three-lane road. I note what he says about the single carriageway bypasses of Shipton by Beningbrough and Thormanby, which we shall look at with his points in mind.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May I suggest that, when the Minister produces a statement, before announcing it he puts it in the Vote Office rather than causing chaos in the Lobby? That the Minister should produce statements in writing for Members before announcing them is a handy development, for which he certainly has my support. What action will the right hon. Gentleman take to ensure that environmental damage from these road proposals is minimised? People are apprehensive about that. For example, does he recognise the enormous costs

Column 493

involved in tunnelling the proposed Aire valley road at Shipley, which will amount to £90 million? I hope that he is prepared to spend that sort of money.

Will the Secretary of State be prepared to make more generous grants for railway sidings--the statement appears to contain only one comment by way of an aside on that? Will he provide such grants to encourage traffic on rail when the sidings are installed? Will he also consider railway developments such as the cross--Bradford rail link and not concentrate too much merely on roads?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that I tried to tell Members roughly how their constituencies would be affected by the White Paper before making this announcement. I shall bear in mind any improvements that might be made in the system that we have adopted.

Of course, we are looking at all sorts of rail studies. The hon. Gentleman will be especially pleased that we are examining section 8 grants to see whether they can be improved.

There is always a difficult balance to be struck in environmental matters. As we are widening roads more than in the past, there will be less effect on the environment, because fewer roads will have to be built. The hon. Gentleman is right about the environment ; we shall carefully look into it, and difficult cost judgments will have to be made.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I thank him not only on behalf of the south-west but on behalf of my constituents for his announcement about an Avonmouth relief road, which was campaigned for by my predecessor, by my predecessor's predecessor--and by his predecessor, Martin Maclaren. My right hon. Friend has sensibly not given the date of construction. Will he give me some sign of when I must start camping on his doorstep in order to get the Avonmouth relief road started?

Mr. Channon : First, I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is right to say that he and his predecessors have actively campaigned for this road, which I am glad to have been able to announce today. As for the exact timing, the House will see in paragraph 32 that we shall have a full roads report later in the year which will set out the complete and detailed road programme with supporting information. That will be the moment to start camping : I look forward to seeing my hon. Friend then.

Mr. Tony Banks : To me, the White Paper represents motorway madness par excellence. I would have been prepared to cheer the right hon. Gentleman if he had announced a doubling of investment in the railways, which is what the people of this country clearly want. They do not want this amount spent on roads.

I have looked through the document as quickly as possible. Where is the big private sector investment to come from? Or is this just a great big transfer of cash from the taxpayer to the British Road Federation lobby, as represented here by Conservative Members? The only thing that distinguishes this from other White Papers is that, despite all the blank spaces, there are no

Column 494

pictures of grinning Ministers in it. Could it be that the right hon. Gentleman's photo has been vetoed on the grounds that he will not be in his position much longer?

Mr. Channon : We have very nearly doubled investment in the railways, and I hope that when that happens the hon. Gentleman will send me a present--

Mr. Tony Banks : I will lead the cheering.

Mr. Channon : Well, I look forward to that.

We are on our way to doubling investment in the railways, compared with what the Labour party spent when in office.

The hon. Gentleman complains about improvements to the motorways. I think that he will find that most Members in all parts of the House recognise that, if their constituencies are to flourish, they must have better transport links. Those who represent seats in the north and the midlands would be surprised at what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Henry Bellingham : (Norfolk, North-West) : Is the Secretary of State aware that this White Paper will be met with jubilation in Norfolk, particularly in west Norfolk? The Minister has selected two strategic routes into Norfolk--the A11 and the A47--to underpin Norfolk's economic prosperity and assure its competitive position for 1992.

Next Section

  Home Page