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The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): This has been an important debate. We have had some excellent contributions, particularly from my hon.
Column 1311Friends the Members for Southport (Mr. Banks), for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), who represents a delightful part of the country, and for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), who put his argument extraordinarily well. Just as Churchill once remarked that we are all in favour of reductions in general and in public expenditure in particular, so we are in favour of curtailing the road programme, except in our own constituencies.
It is a shame that this evening's debate is so short, but that, of course, is a reflection on the Opposition's priorities. Their great claim of initiating this debate is in truth a sham. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) could not even finish the previous debate at 7 o'clock, so heaven help us if she were ever in charge of a timetable.
The reality is that there is a huge amount on which we can and have to agree, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said. He is right that we all have to address the serious issues that are raised by the prospect of limitless traffic growth. It is reasonable to consider that the ever-burgeoning volume of private motoring poses a real question over the sustainability of our lives as we move to the next century.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must address the consequences of greater general prosperity. I do not refer to that in terms of the immediate party political sense, but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already demonstrated, as we have become a richer community, so our demand for transport, and particularly the attractions of motoring, have become greater. Many more people enjoy both the attractions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has said, the freedoms, that the car brings.
I believe that we need to face an uncomfortable truth and it was one which my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) drew to the attention of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) in an intervention. My hon. Friend has probably forgotten it by now, but he emphasised the absolute linear relationship between economic growth and traffic growth. That is self-evident to anyone who is prepared to look at the issue seriously.
I agree with the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) that we must look at the issue of traffic generation and the induction of traffic. That was raised in SACTRA--the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment--report which my right hon. Friend is currently studying.
Dr. Bray: The Minister's argument about a so-called "direct relationship" between economic growth and transport used to be argued about electricity demand--until the oil price increase. Does he not anticipate the same thing happening in respect of roads?
Mr. Norris: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly good point, which is not that the demand for services in a developed economy powered by electricity or other forms of power generation has decreased but, rather, that we have concentrated our attention on addressing the finite nature of those resources, developing alternatives, and developing the kind of economies of scale and model about which we should be concerned.
Column 1312Incidentally, in addition to an analysis of the underlying problem on which we can all agree, in reality we all know, in broad and general terms, what the solutions to those problems must be. Although we heard remarkably little of it from Opposition Members, we all appreciate the fact that we need to create infinitely more sustainable communities.
Recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for the Environment together produced policy planning guidance note 13 on sustainable development. Essentially, it said that one of the most useful things that Governments can do is plan the need to travel. But for a few people, travel is not an end in itself but a process that takes us from our home to our work, shops, leisure activities and so on. If we can build sustainable communities in which we combine housing, jobs, leisure, recreation and other amenities, we shall have a chance to break through the inevitable link between economic growth and travel.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Norris: No, I have very little time, and I want to move on. In addition to the policy of sustainable development, we clearly also need to ameliorate the effects of road transport. The Department of Transport is currently doing that in a number of ways. First, it is improving the standards of new vehicles, about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an important announcement in recent weeks. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) referred to the spot checks initiated by my right hon. Friend as "pathetic", but I suspect that that verdict will not be shared by those motorists who encounter them; on the contrary, my right hon. Friend is rightly responding to the proper concern about emission levels and, in dealing with standards of existing vehicles, is initiating an important improvement.
Mr. Miller: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Norris: I am sorry, but I cannot. I have only eight minutes left, which is not enough for the notes that I have written. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport was right to refer to the need to continue to refine the technology relating to emissions. He made a perfectly sensible point. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) was also right to suggest that, in future, we shall need to look more closely at hybrid vehicles, electric power and so on.
We need to encourage a modal shift. We must persuade people out of private cars and on to the railways, and freight out of trucks and on to the railways. In that regard, how sad it was that the Opposition supported the recent damaging industrial dispute in the rail industry, which has probably done more than any other single action to discourage potential investors in rail from taking freight on to that mode. It will take years to put right, and the Opposition stand condemned for their support.
We must also encourage other modes, such as cycling and walking. Most sensible academics understand, however, that it is not good enough simply to spend huge sums on public transport because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said--I do not know whether the point has embedded itself sufficiently in Opposition
Column 1313minds--spending large sums of money on public transport projects sadly initiates only a very small transfer from traffic using the roads to those modes of public transport. Public transport is well used in those circumstances, as the SPOTT research, such as that undertaken by Westminster university, shows, but, sadly, once that use occurs it is not accompanied by a corresponding reduction in car use.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Norris: No; I will not give way.
It is obvious that it is not enough simply to apply the carrot; one must also apply the stick, whether that be physical restraint on vehicles--park and ride, and local parking control, which is obviously important--or pricing, which is a vital component.
We should investigate road pricing, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said. I am sad that, although the Government have said that that is too important an issue to ignore, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has already set the face of the Opposition against it, in spite of the fact that it is a hugely important tool in the control of congestion.
Yes, we have also accepted the need to price fuel. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already stated the Government's policy of adding 5 per cent. in real terms to fuel prices, deliberately to achieve the reductions in road traffic and emissions that we seek. He has made that brave statement in order to achieve our Rio targets by the end of the century. The Royal Commission, on the other hand, has said that we should do more, and that is where the attitude between the parties clearly divides. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said that we shall examine that proposition, because, difficult as it might be politically, we understand the severity of the problem. From the Opposition, however, as we all know, the hon. Member for Oldham, West has done nothing but to obfuscate and to retract from his original enthusiasm for the proposal as he realised the electoral unpopularity associated with it.
The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West was a classic of its kind. I noted, among other things, that he said that he is not saying that the M25 should not be built. I presume that he is saying that it should have been built, perhaps with three lanes but not four, perhaps four lanes but not five. Perhaps five lanes are right but not six; perhaps four, five or six lanes are right, but no
collector-distributor road. The hon. Gentleman must know that he cannot square that circle. It is no policy simply to try to nod in the direction of each lobby group.
I notice that we heard about integrated ticketing as the key to public transport--no doubt sitting alongside post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory as another of the meaningless slogans that we shall be offered. We also heard about an integrated transport policy, defined in Labour's terms as any policy other than that practised by the Government of the day.
To add insult to injury, at the end of a disappointing speech, the hon. Member for Oldham, West capped it all by saying that the link between the construction industry and the Conservative party was at the root of the great issue of congestion. It takes someone like the hon. Gentleman, with that extraordinary, twisted grasp on
Column 1314reality--that extraordinary, witchfinder- general mentality--to make such an assertion and to expect us to take it seriously.
The reality is, ironically, that it is the Government who are bearing down on public expenditure and taking the flak for it, while the Labour party sprays promises in the way that Damon Hill sprays champagne.
The reality is obvious; there are some serious issues. There is no free lunch. Yes, there will be some tough decisions on pricing: perhaps the £5 gallon--who knows, perhaps more. There will need to be other restraints on road use, in towns and possibly in open countryside, and no doubt they will inconvenience many people who would otherwise wish to make those journeys. Yes, there still will be a need for a road-building programme, for bypasses that can transform the quality of life for tens of thousands of people in the affected area, and for roads such as the M62 in St. Helens which can regenerate the whole town.
In that context, the reality is clear. The difference between the Opposition motion and the Government amendment is the difference between fantasy and hard reality. I have no hesitation in commending the Government amendment to the motion tonight.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question: --
The House divided: Ayes 259, Noes 299.
Division No. 316] [10.00 pm
Column 1314Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Column 1314Cann, Jamie
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela