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Even today, Ministers continue to talk about investment in roads to meet demand while at the same time talking about subsidies for railways that must be rationed because apparently the nation cannot afford them. The Government still prefer to spend £270 million on widening the M62, rather than £170 million on electrifying the trans-Pennine network, even though that would relieve congestion on the motorway much more effectively.
Tory Members may not like the suggestion, but they simply have never tried it. They have never examined what has happened with the development of public transport systems abroad. If they had, they would have pursued a different policy. They still prefer to spend millions of pounds on extending the congested M6 north of Birmingham before they start modernising the west coast main line, which would do much more to relieve congestion.
It is not too difficult to see that the real reason why the Tories are so determined to continue building roads in perpetuity, despite mounting opposition across the country, lies in the link between the Tory party and some of the major construction companies. One company, Taylor Woodrow, has given more than £1 million to central office since 1979. Trafalgar House has given £590,000, Tarmac has given £389,000 and Wimpey has given £385,000. [Laughter.]
If it is such a laughing matter, I wonder why Tory Members think that those companies did so. They did so because they believed that they would get a return--and, by golly, they did from this Government. As we have long
Column 1277known, the trouble with Tory transport policy is that he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is not the way to get the new forward-looking policy for Britain that is now needed.
Mr. Forman: The hon. Gentleman said that he was interested in the facts, rather than anything more rhetorical. Is he aware of the simple fact that, although there was no new net investment in surface public transport throughout the International Monetary Fund cuts in 1976 to 1986, many of the problems that my constituents face are the result of a policy followed by Governments of both parties, who inadequately invested in surface transport over that period?
Mr. Meacher: We are 15 years on, and the hon. Gentleman might look at his own record. The Government like to claim that they have given 40 per cent. of investment to public transport. Of course, that investment includes items such as the royal train, National Freight Corporation public pensions and the coastguard service. If we remove those items, investment in public transport has been about 26 per cent.--an extremely low rate. Three times as much is going to roads than to public transport. That is the point that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) should be addressing to Ministers.
Even if the Government were minded to make a change of direction, our second charge is that they are not in a position to deliver it. Their obsession with rail privatisation and bus deregulation is fragmenting services to an extent that makes it much more difficult to deliver a big expansion of public transport, even if they are minded to do so.
Indeed, the Secretary of State may soon have to decide whether he favours promoting competition between rail and bus operators, or whether he wants to help rail and bus to compete with the car. If it is the former, he may have to put a stop, under competition rules, to integrated ticketing valid between different operators. If it is the latter, he may have to enforce integrated ticketing to attract people away from their cars. Perhaps he would like to tell us his choice, but the fact remains that, whatever it is, Government policy is now wholly unfitted for the agenda that lies ahead.
What should be done? What is fundamentally needed in the United Kingdom is a genuinely sustainable policy that integrates different transport networks and provides real freedom of choice for the traveller and the commuter, not the present Tory policy, which is unsustainable and fragmented and which has distorted the Department of Transport into a ministry for endless road building and road widening. That is not only our view; it is shared by the royal commission, which is an across-the-board vindication of Labour's integrated policies.
We believe that that requires a moratorium on new road building and road widening, a major switch of resources into extending and upgrading public transport, greater use of light rail systems in inner-city areas and a significant shift from road to rail freight. Having said that, I immediately make it clear what our policy is not.
Column 1278First, our policy is not anti-car. It is pro-car because it is not in the motorist's interests, let alone anyone else's, to build more and more roads indefinitely that, within a few years, will result in more and more people driving on more and more crowded roads and in an inexorable rise in delays and stoppages. We favour freedom of choice for the motorist. The problem is that he or she does not have freedom of choice at present because alternative public transport systems that are affordable, reliable and convenient and that he or she might prefer to use often simply are not available.
Secondly, we do not suggest, and neither does the royal commission, that people should be required to get rid of their car. We do not even suggest that people should be encouraged to do so. All that we say is that the Government should provide a balanced and integrated transport system that will persuade people that it is common sense and in their interest to use the car less for certain purposes.
Our intention is to persuade the motorist to use the car less for particular purposes, such as driving into city centres with no passengers. We seek a cultural change, which is what is needed in Britain. We need a cultural change rather like the one that has occurred in the attitude to smoking and drinking and driving so that more socially responsible car use, such as I have suggested, becomes the norm of social acceptability. That requires a lead from the Government, but it is not being given at present.
Thirdly, we do not suggest that the choice is between the car and the present system of public transport, run down and under-invested as it is. We say that the real choice is between the endless expansion of the car society, which is ultimately self-defeating, and a balanced system in which cars, buses, trains and other means of transport can all play their interconnected and optimal roles. Fourthly, let me make it clear that our policy is not to stop all future road building but to undertake a major review to decide what is in the wider social interest to build. Ironically, the Government have given the highest priority to certain major, hugely unpopular road projects, such as Twyford down, the Batheaston bypass and the M25 and M62 motorway widening projects, but have neglected certain clearly needed upgrading projects such as--I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) agrees with this--the construction of a dual carriageway on the A1 north of Morpeth, and upgrading of the last few miles on the A2 into Dover and the A34 spine in the south-west.
We would look afresh at priorities in the light of new criteria, which would include the likely generation of new traffic, pressure for green-belt or out-of-town development and the capacity of alternative public transport options to solve the problem.
Column 1279Above all, we would want to see a common cost-benefit approach to all investment in transport that took the environment much more into account. That is not a utopian policy--far from it. There are strong practical reasons for believing in its realism.
There is scope for change in Britain today. Britain is the most car- dependent country in Europe. Public transport use is among the lowest. Where public transport has been improved, car owners use it: 40 per cent. of those using the newly reopened Robin Hood line into Nottingham are ex- car users and a similar proportion who use Manchester's Metrolink are well- off car owners from wealthy districts of Cheshire.
Mr. Meacher: If the right hon. Gentleman knows it, why has he been so slow to support the construction of light rapid rail systems in cities? Many projects have come to him and he has been sitting on them. There has not been the rapid development that was needed years ago.
Pedestrianised areas in inner cities have been found to increase retail turnover, not to diminish it. Where cycling facilities are provided, many people use them; York is just one of many examples. Where local authorities have set targets to reduce city centre traffic, many have dramatically succeeded.
Mr. Meacher: If the Minister is so pleased with the policy, why has he been so extremely lax and laid back about implementing it? If he thinks that he has made the change in direction that is really needed, I am astonished. The Government are still going substantially along exactly the same lines. Despite the sustainability policy and the car review earlier this year, very little has changed.
Many local authorities have had remarkable success stories--for example, the City of London traffic management schemes or the Manchester and Sheffield supertrams.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the effects of the Government's transport policy is that when environmentally friendly infrastructure is available it is often not used? I have a good example in my constituency. Very narrow residential streets are being blocked by heavy lorries delivering equipment to Railtrack in the centre of Cambridge. Equipment is delivered by lorry instead of by rail. Does my hon. Friend think that that is disgraceful?
Mr. Meacher: It is certainly extremely unwise and a good example-- [Laughter.] One notices that every time a suggestion is made of an obvious, common-sense departure from the current inanities of the Government's unintegrated transport policies, they are simply greeted by a great deal of laughter. Transport is an issue about which many people in Britain care. They think that the Government should not simply laugh about absurdities
Column 1280such as my hon. Friend mentions but should make some real changes. What my hon. Friend says makes a great deal of sense. I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with those issues.
A great deal more could be done to switch freight from road to rail and to coastal shipping. In the United Kingdom only 7 per cent. of freight goes by rail while more than 60 per cent. goes by road. By comparison, about 27 per cent. in France and a third in Germany goes by road. If rail freight in the United Kingdom was doubled exclusively to replace journeys of more than 100 miles by the biggest lorries, total road freight could be reduced by more than a fifth and mileage by the biggest lorries could be reduced by half.
None of the problems to which I have referred need involve extra spending-- [ Laughter. ] That just shows the extraordinarily closed minds that Conservative Members have. It is simple. If only a proportion of the money pledged by the Government for road building were reallocated, it would certainly be enough to provide much-improved, high-quality public transport systems, improved grants for rail freight and a wide variety of measures to cut inner-city traffic.
Few issues on the political agenda today are more important than transport. The Opposition have a vision for Britain. It is not of a country sinking ever deeper into a morass of pollution, congestion and concreted countryside. It is of a country in which transport is the ally, not the enemy, of the environment and where all modes of transport play their optimal role within a balanced network. That is our vision and our agenda. We believe that it is widely shared by the people of Britain.
"welcomes the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report on Transport and the Environment; recognises that its recommendations deserve thorough consideration and analysis; supports the significant measures already taken by the Government to improve the environmental impact of transport; endorses the Government's recognition stated in the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Strategy, of the need to influence the rate of traffic growth and its clear planning policy guidance which seeks to reduce the need to travel in the future; to that end applauds the Government's efforts to promote the development of public transport and its moves towards an effective partnership between public and private investment in transport; and believes that a balance must be struck between environmental concerns, economic growth and the freedom and choice provided by road transport.".
Column 1281I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) on his promotion--I would call it that--and I look forward to debating with him across the Dispatch Box. I hope that he will enjoy his new responsibilities as much as I am enjoying mine.
This debate centres on last Wednesday's report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. With my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Health, I welcomed that report--I do so again this evening--as an important contribution to the broader debate about how to balance the economic benefits and personal freedoms that transport can bring with the need for environmental protection.
The report begins by looking back to the 1970s, so I thought that I would do the same and remind right hon. and hon. Members of the nature of transport in Britain in the 1970s and the changes that have occurred since. The hon. Member for Oldham, West may then agree that we are far from the breaking point to which he referred; moreover, in doing so I will endorse the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley).
The mid-1970s were not our railways' finest hour. Only 14 per cent. of ordinary trains operating in 1977 were less than 10 years old--their average age was closer to 20 years. Today, the average age of similar rolling stock is 14 years and more than half is less than 10 years old.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): I do not want to sound too churlish at this stage in the Secretary of State's career, but he should not rely too much on statistics of that sort prepared within his Department. The diesel multiple units that he described as being around 20 years old in the 1970s were deliberately built with a design life of 30 years, so they still had another decade to go at the time.
In 1978, the fastest journey time between London and Newcastle was three hours and four minutes--it is now 24 minutes less. It took four hours and 52 minutes to get to Edinburgh; now it takes 47 minutes less. It took three hours and 33 minutes to get to Plymouth and today it takes 28 minutes less.
Between 1978 and 1993, 775 miles of route were electrified. More than 160 stations have been reopened in the past 10 years. I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West will be listening to the next sentence. More than £15 billion has been invested in the railways. Today, many more people fly--for business or to enjoy holidays. Fewer than 53 million passengers passed through our airports in 1978. Last year, more than 112 million did so.
On our roads, travel was often slower and more difficult. Since the late 1970s, we have opened more than 460 miles of new motorway and 160 new bypasses. In that time, more than £20 billion has been invested in our motorways and trunk roads to assist our nation's economy.
Column 1282During the 1980s and 1990s, travel has become a more important feature of our lives. As incomes have grown, travel has grown--a phenomenon that is quite apparent to the royal commission, if not to Opposition Members, and which clearly presents challenges. The commission's report sets out those areas in which transport growth can threaten the environment, especially pollution, noise and effects on land. We ought not to assume, however, that environmental damage always and necessarily grows in proportion to the growth in transport. The Government have taken very seriously their commitment to environmental protection. Consider, for example, the progress that has been made in improving air quality in our cities.
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I was anxious that, before he left the subject of the 1970s and stopped looking backwards, the Minister should recognise that in the 1970s and the early 1980s the public transport system in south Yorkshire was planned on an integrated basis. The system included some subsidy for the fare-paying passenger, but there was a year-on-year increase in the number of passengers travelling on public transport. Does the Minister recognise that that system--the best in Europe --was destroyed by the Government's deregulation legislation?
Dr. Mawhinney: No, because it is not true. I was trying effectively to deal with the argument of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, which I guessed at although I did not get the words right. The change, development and progress in transport, which have benefited individuals and the nation's economy, are considerable and impressive.
I shall turn to the future, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West wants me to, but we will inform our debate about the future by the facts of our recent history, which is what I have been doing.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West): Could my right hon. Friend also remind the House about the fact that the Government's road- building programme concentrated on bypasses? The advantage of those is that they remove congestion from towns and reduce accident rates. The Opposition seem to be against bypasses, but may I put in a plea for some more to be built fairly quickly in my constituency?
Dr. Mawhinney: As my hon. Friend rightly points out, there is widespread support for bypasses among the people whose lives will be relieved by them. Batheaston bypass may have attracted people with different views of environmental issues, but it was welcomed by the people whom it was going to aid, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West knows.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East) rose --
The acrid choking sulphur smog of the 1950s is no longer a part of London life. We have succeeded in halving sulphur emissions since the 1970s. In London, peak levels of sulphur dioxide have decreased tenfold.
Column 1283On 4 October, we lowered maximum sulphur concentrations in diesel by a third. In 1996, we will be lowering permissible sulphur levels by another three quarters, helping reduce further the levels of sulphur dioxide and also reducing particulate emissions.
With lead, too, we have seen dramatic improvements. Airborne lead concentrations have dropped by up to 70 per cent. in urban areas since the mid-1980s. Lead affects the intellectual development of children. Reducing airborne lead concentrations is a major environmental achievement of which all of us should be proud. On that point, I welcome the royal commission's support for continued efforts to promote the use of unleaded petrol. The commission's report endorses the Government's firm advice to motorists that those whose cars can run on unleaded petrol and who are not using it should start doing so, and that those already using unleaded petrol should not switch back to using leaded petrol. The introduction of catalytic converters was a significant development in new technology. A new car driven from the showroom today will emit 63 per cent. less carbon monoxide, 83 per cent. less hydrocarbons and 87 per cent. less nitrogen oxides than its 1978 counterpart. New trucks and buses are more than 50 per cent. cleaner than their 1978 predecessors.
Reductions in noise have also been impressive. Three modern cars make less noise than one 1978 model and 10 of today's trucks will make the same amount of noise as one 1978 equivalent.
Progress has not been limited to surface transport. A modern jet aircraft is typically four times quieter than the first generation of jets and twice as quiet as the second generation.
Dr. Mawhinney: The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that this is not a part of the motion. It is absolutely at the heart of the motion because the royal commission report talks about environmental pollution and mentions emissions and noise. Unlike his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West that is exactly what I am addressing, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen. Since the 1970s, emissions from aircraft engines have been reduced by 70 per cent. in the case of carbon monoxide and 90 per cent. in the case of hydrocarbons.
Tremendous strides have been made in the past 15 years. We have sought to allow people the freedom to make their own choices and to create for our industry the conditions necessary for it to thrive at home and compete abroad. What we have not seen in this country is the appalling environmental neglect that characterised those eastern European states where freedom was stifled and transport decisions were the prerogative of the bureaucrat. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West knows what is coming.
On the contrary, we have seen increasing concern for the environment at all levels of Government and society. But, in spite of all the progress we have made since 1979--in spite of the revolutionary improvements to our national transport system and in spite of the revelation that freedom of individual choice is the key to economic,
Column 1284social and environmental progress-- Opposition Members still cling to an obsolete belief that only the state can make acceptable changes to peoples' lives.
The Government will work with the grain of the British people. We recognise that there is real concern about the damage that transport can do to the environment. But we also recognise that Government cannot put more freight on to trains or move more people on to public transport at a stroke. Unlike Opposition Members, we share with the British people a belief in choice. We will present the facts. We will provide incentives and where appropriate seek to persuade, but we do not and will not direct people off or on to roads.
Our policy is clear, but the same cannot be said of the Labour party's. On 1 July the Evening Standard , presumably on the basis of a private steer, reported that an incoming Labour Government would "halt all new road schemes".
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who was then Labour's environmental protection spokesman, backed off that very quickly.
In October, the Labour party conference was told that "much" of the £20 billion that Labour claims will be spent on roads over the next eight years would be redirected by a Labour Government to public transport. Last week the hon. Member for Oldham, West promised us a "moratorium" on road building, and he has promised us one again this evening. How confusing; it is not so much a policy, more a way of life. As ever, the Opposition are torn between trying not to offend the public on the one hand and their trade union paymasters on the other.
The Labour party has not even considered the costs of imposing a moratorium --nor how much it would have to pay to the construction companies for breach of contract. [Interruption.] Let the House listen carefully. Our preliminary calculations suggest that the hon. Gentleman's gentle promise of a moratorium could cause a Labour Government to face claims for around £1.4 billion. Has the hon. Gentleman cleared that bill with his hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor? Of course not. What about the schemes undertaken by local authorities? Has the hon. Gentleman checked the legal basis on which he might force them to abandon their schemes? Has the hon. Gentleman cleared this with his right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Attorney-General? Of course not.
The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that the roads budget--much of which he would like to redirect--does not just pay for new roads. It pays for maintenance, lighting, bridge strengthening, safety schemes and all the other things which are part of the road structure of this country. Would the Labour party's moratorium include those areas? The hon. Gentleman did not say.
Has the hon. Gentleman told his hon. Friends--many of whom are keen for local road improvements--which schemes he would abandon? Has he told his right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to forget about the improvement schemes in his constituency which he supports? Has he told his right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), or his hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), for Wigan (Mr. Stott) or any of his other hon. Friends who write to my Department supporting their local road schemes?
Column 1285Has he told Labour local authorities what his plans for the roads programme will mean? Has he told councils such as that in St. Helens, where only last week my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London opened the M62 extension and was told by Labour councillors just how vital the project is to the town?
As for the Liberal Democrats, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will know that they oppose new road developments. You hear them say so in the Chamber week in, week out. But I have to tell you that it is a different story when they leave Westminster. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is in favour of the proposed road-building scheme in Yeovil. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is in favour of the road proposals in Berwick--in fact, he would like us to go further.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is in favour of roads in North Cornwall--ditto the hon. Members for Truro (Mr. Taylor), for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones).
Why cannot we all agree that the task of devising an acceptable roads and transport policy for the next century is complex and demanding, and that it will not be solved with slogans? The hon. Member for Oldham, West uses the phrase "integrated policy" without explaining what it means. He used it once in his speech, in saying that the Labour party did not want to expand the M25 but wanted an integrated policy of railways and light railways. But he did not tell us whether he wanted British Rail to run trains alongside the M25. Those slogans will not help us to make progress in determining what both he and I want--I shall come back to an area of agreement with the hon. Gentleman in a moment--which is a sensible policy which takes account of economic benefit, individual choice and environmental protection.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth: Instead of throwing some red herrings into the debate, as he has spent half his speech doing, will the Secretary of State address the issue as it really is? We are not doing drivers, the car industry or anyone else a favour by failing to deal with the problems, particularly in the urban areas.
When we talk about public transport in urban areas outside London, we are talking about buses. The Secretary of State answered my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) by saying that he did not believe that what she said was true. But the Government have destroyed integrated bus services in metropolitan areas up and down the country. They have allowed ever-growing congestion, and fewer and fewer people travel by bus. Will he now reverse the deregulation policy and get back to some common sense in the urban area?
Dr. Mawhinney: I must tell the hon. Gentleman that operating costs for bus services are down by one third, subsidies are down by a half and there are 20 per cent. more route miles. If there was a large element of truth in what the hon. Gentleman said, we would not be selling the London bus companies as easily as we are. All of them will be sold by the end of the year.
Bold statements about Government spending priorities will not be sufficient to achieve genuinely sustainable transport policies. Anyone who believes that the answer lies in a simple shift of Government support from road to
Column 1286rail is ill informed. We need to make careful judgments about our ambitions for society, and then consider what measures will be necessary to achieve them. We also need to realise that, if people are to change their attitudes and behaviour, they will need to understand and accept the reasons with a good deal more clarity than is the case at present.
I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West that we face some fundamental questions. We need to address the issue of how much traffic is generated by new road building and to face up to the challenges that traffic growth presents. The hon. Gentleman is right that the standing advisory commission report is at the Department. It was considered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) before I took over as Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman would not judge it unreasonable that I, as the new Secretary of State, should ask a number of questions about that report. He will know that it is customary for the Government to publish the report and their response at the same time.
My consideration of the report is drawing to a conclusion and I give the hon. Member for Oldham, West my undertaking to publish it and the Government's response shortly. I make no apology for the fact that I have taken my time to consider a report which I deem to be important and which, from what the hon. Gentleman said, which he also deems to be important. We will publish those documents shortly and we are making progress in their consideration.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): A few moments ago the Secretary of State said that the hon. Member for Newham, South supported the construction of new roads in his constituency. He should ask for a little more accuracy from his officials, because although I supported two improvements to the dangerous A13, which improved communications in Newham- -it was not a new road--I am opposed to a third flyover at Canning Town. I consider it to be unnecessary. I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that that does not constitute offering support for new roads in my constituency.
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South): The Secretary of State has been unduly modest about one aspect of the Government's proposals--their commitment to implement a 5 per cent. per annum increase in the motor fuel tax. Does he dispute the arithmetic, logic or politics of the royal commission's recommendation that that increase should be upped to 9 per cent?