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Column 1273Sackville, Tom
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spink, Dr Robert
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thompson, Sir Donald
Column 1273Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. David Lightbrown and Mr. Sydney Chapman
Column 1273Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House re-affirms the long established practice that decisions as to how a Select Committee once established should proceed are for the Committee itself.
[ Relevant document: The Sixth Report from the Transport Committee, Transport-related Air Pollution in London (HC 506). ]
That this House, noting the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's condemnation of current Government transport and land use policies as unsustainable, calls on the Government to make a major strategic shift away from an obsessional concern with road building and road widening in favour of an affordable, safe and reliable public transport system to reduce pollution, accidents, noise and congestion.
Last week's royal commission report is a comprehensive and authoritative repudiation of the Government's transport policies over the past 15 years. In the magisterial words of paragraph 14.51, "In the past, transport and land use policies have combined to promote life-styles which depend on high mobility and intensive use of cars, and which cannot therefore be regarded as sustainable." I emphasise the words
"which cannot . . . be regarded as sustainable."
Not one but two Government reports have now forcefully asserted what not only Labour but everyone with common sense has always known, but what the Government have always resisted: that it is impossible to build a way out of congestion. Even the Government's own standing advisory committee on trunk road assessment is thought to be telling the Government--it would help very much if the Secretary of State told us tonight when he will publish its report, which has been lying on his desk and that of his predecessor for some six months--that building more roads simply generates more traffic.
The fact is that 15 years of the Government's policies have brought our transport system to breaking point. If we want proof that unbridled individualism does not work, we need only look at our highways and inner- city roads.
Mr. Bottomley: My intervention may be helpful. Is it not true that, during the years when not a single extra mile of motorway was built, the growth in traffic seemed more related to the expansion of the economy? Is that not the dominant truth, although the report seems to exclude it?
Mr. Meacher: The Government are as guilty as anyone else in that regard. Moreover, today's circumstances are very different: there has been extensive road building on a massive scale, and no alleviation of road congestion--in fact, the reverse.
The need for a radical change of direction towards a new strategic approach is now overwhelming. The evidence is clear: the DTI's forecast that car use over the next 30 years will at least nearly double, and may even
Column 1275increase at a rate between doubling and trebling, cannot be handled through the building of roads to accommodate such a massive increase in the volume of cars.
Like many hon. Members, no doubt, I recently saw a newspaper picture of a large stretch of the M1 as it was in 1959. There were three vehicles on it; no doubt that was bliss. We have all seen pictures of the M1 as it is now-- indeed, I am sure that we all have experience of it--with hundreds of cars crawling for miles on end, bumper to bumper, at 5 mph. That is hell.
Widening the M25 to 14 lanes is not the solution to motorway congestion; it is a demonstration of the ultimate insolubility of the problem through such means. If we reach the year 2025 and it is predicted yet again that the volume of cars will double, will we then be offered 28-lane motorways? Where will this madness end? In addition there are the environmental effects. The royal commission puts the quantifiable cost of air pollution-- climate change, noise, vibration and accidents--at between £10 billion and £18 billion a year, compared with the £16 billion a year, or thereabouts, that motorists now pay in taxes, but that still omits the cost of congestion, which the CBI recently put at a further £15 billion a year.
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): The cost of congestion, in terms of pollution and delayed journeys, is enormous. The hon. Gentleman has argued that the M25 should not be expanded. May we logically conclude from that that he wishes that it had never been built? What effect would that have had on pollution and congestion in London?
Mr. Meacher: We are saying not that the M25 should not have been built but that it should have been part of an integrated transport policy including many other forms of transport that have been neglected--in particular, light rail systems, the development of British Rail and proper investment in it. Of course London needs such an outer road network, but that need simply will not be met by investment entirely in extending an already huge motorway. We have now certainly reached an absurd point.
The cost of the present policy also omits the unquantifiable but no less serious environmental costs--loss of land and access to the countryside, visual intrusion, disruption of communities and loss of wildlife habitats. As we all know from our constituencies--many Tory Members will be aware of this--the cost in urban areas has often been in terms of extensive demolition of housing, blight, as on the north circular road and the highly unpopular Hackney M11 link-up in east London, and sprawl, with growing out- of-town shopping developments. For all those reasons, which are familiar to the House, we are remorselessly approaching a transport nightmare. To be fair, the Secretary of State for Transport--I will be fair to him, compared with his predecessors--shows some signs of beginning to recognise that. He is starting slightly to mitigate some of the more extreme excesses of his predecessors.
Column 1276Our charge against the Government today is twofold: first, that there is no evidence that the Government seriously grasp the magnitude of the transport crisis facing Britain today and, secondly, that, even if they do, they are either unwilling or unable effectively to deal with it.
This is the Government who, five years ago, promoted the great car economy with a mammoth road-building programme of £18 billion, which was later increased to £23 billion. They have cut rail grants by more than £2 billion since 1983, and are cutting investment in rail by two thirds between 1991 and 1996. Despite March's roads review, they are still powering ahead with plans to widen British motorways into United States- style super-highways and will spend £6 billion over the next three years on road networks. They are still spending three times more on roads than on public transport and are pressing ahead with rail privatisation, which will increase fares, reduce services and push more people on to the roads.
Any Government who grasped the scale of Britain's transport crisis would change course on all those counts. This Government have changed course on none of them. They have shown an unswerving, visceral antipathy to the public sector since their first days of Thatcherite interventionism. [Interruption.] The Minister for Transport in London may laugh at the terminology. I am not worried about the terminology; it is the facts that count. I hope that the Minister will accept that we have seen a constant, persistent and destructive run-down of public transport. That is the key point.