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20 Oct 1998 : Column 1181


Midwifery Service

10.15 pm

Audrey Wise (Preston): I am honoured to present a petition signed by nearly 70,000 people from all parts of the United Kingdom. It concerns maternity services, and while many of the signatories are midwives, many are not. There are only 32,000 practising midwives, and many other people have signed to show their support. Maternity services are fundamental: we are all born and many of us are parents. We value our midwives.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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M8 Motorway (Upgrading)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Hanson.]

10.17 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I thank the Minister for the courtesies of his telephone call about the M8 announcement, and of his letter of 6 August informing me of the decision not to proceed with proposals to extend the motorway. Many people in Lanarkshire, not least in Coatbridge and Chryston, regard that as a serious blow. I need not remind my hon. Friend of what I can only describe as the economic devastation that has decimated Lanarkshire over the past 15 years or more. Solving the problems of Lanarkshire's economy is crucial if the area is to replace jobs lost in the closures at Ravenscraig, Caterpillar, Gartcosh and many other places. Only then can we restore hope to thousands of people's lives. Improved road networks are an essential part of that.

In December 1990, in response to local and national concern about the impact of these job losses, the then Secretary of State for Scotland announced the setting up of a Lanarkshire working group headed by Allan Stewart, then the Minister responsible for industry at the Scottish Office, bringing together the main agencies active in economic development in the area. The group's broad remit was to identify the main physical, economic and environmental constraints on revitalising the local economy. Its study found that physical problems were the most significant obstacles to the resolution of the problems that afflicted, and still afflict, Lanarkshire. One of the group's most important points was that it

That is what this debate is all about.

I remind the Minister that that recommendation was made way back in 1990. It met with unanimous support in my constituency and was endorsed by the then Strathclyde regional council, the Lanarkshire development agencyand the former districts of Monklands, Motherwell, Strathkelvin and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, which make up the present North Lanarkshire council area.

It was recognised then, not least by the Scottish Office, that the M8-A8 route between Glasgow and Edinburgh is one of the Scotland's most important internal and strategic routes. It is a primary link with major arterial ties, serving Scotland north of the central belt, southern Scotland and the whole of England. The decisions this August imply that the Baillieston-Newhouse sector--the one area that needs an improved infrastructure, having been denied it for too long--may well deteriorate rather than be improved. The situation could be with us for many more years.

People travelling on that section of the motorway cannot help but notice the significant amount of patching and repair. Scottish Office research has shown that it has carried the highest volumes of business trips of any road in Scotland. It is badly dilapidated and the geometryis substandard. Freight traffic is being blatantly disadvantaged. Allan Blackley of the local chamber of commerce spoke for many when he said that

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A significant cause of the A8's problems, where traffic has grown at twice the national average, stems from its dual role as a strategic route carrying long distance traffic and as a local route serving the communities and industries located around my constituency. The congestion and state of disrepair that are the natural consequence of the inadequacy of the present A8 mean that lorries are being diverted through the already overcrowded roads of my constituency. As a film buff, there are times when I wonder whether I am on the set of the film "Convoy" rather than on my own patch: lorries, lorries and more lorries.

Poor infrastructure affects the whole of Lanarkshire and, indeed, Scotland. We have known for years that the A8 is approaching the end of its working capacity and is increasingly in need of costly and disruptive maintenance. Minor incidents, poor weather and road works cause substantial delays, affect safety and have adverse environmental impacts on noise and air pollution.

The 1990 recommendations by the Lanarkshire working group that the A8 should be upgraded are even more relevant given the sheer chaos of today. Economically, the A8 has simply failed local enterprise. For far too long, we have lacked the infrastructure necessary to attract vital inward investment. Local businesses can do without roads that are constantly in a state of disrepair, with endless bottlenecks and tailbacks.

Moreover, the A8 is no friend of the environment. Its perpetual state of disrepair has undoubtedly increased noise and air pollution. Those are the very things that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, in his excellent White Paper, has said he wishes to eradicate.

The road also has a terrible safety record. Since 1986 on the A8 between Newhouse and Baillieston there have been almost 400 accidents, of which 87 were serious and 21 were fatal. Last year alone, there were eight serious accidents in which three people died.

When we consider the inadequacy of the A8 and its manifest dangers, it is no surprise that as far back as 1990 the Lanarkshire working group supported the upgrading first mooted in 1965--33 years ago. The Scottish Office also saw the need for change. At a national, regional and district level, the recommendations for the upgrading of the A8 were endorsed by the Scottish Office. It warmly embraced the proposal, described by it as a 10-lane superhighway--in parts 14-lane--as compared with the existing four lanes.

In a letter written by W. H. Valentine from the Scottish Office to the Lanarkshire Development Agency in 1996, the position was reaffirmed. On the development of EuroCentral, he stated:

When the then Secretary of State for Scotland announced in December 1996 that private finance would be used to complete the upgrading of the M8, he reiterated what people in Lanarkshire had been saying for years:

    "The upgrading will not only provide a new upgraded motorway but also an improved local road network which will allow distribution access to existing businesses and new economic initiatives along the road corridor, such as Chungwa . . . at EuroCentral."

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    He touched on an important point for EuroCentral,which is just one example of an enterprise that had based many of its vital business decisions on the assumption that the M8 upgrading would take place--in this case, the decision to invest £12.1 million to connect EuroCentral to the new M8 superhighway. Moreover, the M8 was enthusiastically supported at a public inquiry that required less than one day. There is now extensive congestion during peak flows at Shawhead, EuroCentral, Chapelhall and Newhouse.

I regret to have to say, but I do so in all candour, that the decision to abandon plans has greatly concerned inward investors who had been advised that the upgrade was imminent. The decision has reduced business confidence. Some people fear long-term damage to the local and national economy. How does the Scottish Office expect to encourage inward investment in an area in which the main arteries to the key markets in Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom and abroad fail to meet modern standards?

I must ask my hon. Friend for an important reassurance for my constituents on road pricing. Will the resources gained from pricing be in addition to current transport spending? Will the money be ploughed back into those communities that are paying the charges?

I should like my hon. Friend to clarify the contents of a serious letter from David Hart at the Scottish Office to the acting chief executive at North Lanarkshire council. On 13 October Mr. Hart said that

Frankly, "a limited enhancement" of the A8 will do little to meet the needs of all who depend on the regeneration of Lanarkshire. Too much time has already been lost. We know, after endless rounds of consultation, what local and national enterprises see as the way forward. They have told us time and again, I think rightly, of the crucial nature of the project.

If I were putting a question to the Minister's advisers it would be quite simple. What else do we need to know? Why go over old ground? Heavens! If the Romans had approached road building in this way, we would never have heard of Hadrian's wall, and the Antonine wall would no doubt still be under review.

What on earth is the point of another delay costing a lot more private and public money? The west of Scotland accounts for over 60 per cent. of Scottish manufactured exports, 42 per cent. of Scottish employment and 50 per cent. of employment in electronics and electrical engineering. That is very important. Electronics-based companies engage in just-in-time processes. In common with most sectors now, freight movements have become an integral part of the production process. Roads are critical to that sector. Some 85 per cent. of electronic products are circulated through and exported from Scotland by road; and even after all the reviews, there is no obvious alternative. I shudder to think how many orders have gone up in smoke, along with unacceptable amounts of pollution, while lorries have been held up in congestion on the A8 day after day. We just do not have the rail infrastructure to cope with that volume of business.

In the economy generally, about 80 per cent. of the freight lifted in Scotland is delivered by road. It is extremely difficult to imagine how the volume of traffic

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could be transferred and absorbed by other modes of transport. The M8 upgrading would complete the motorway link between Scotland's principal cities which is critical to the Scottish economy in general and to the regeneration of west central Scotland in particular.

Like my hon. Friends, I do not find that my arguments are inconsistent with the sort of Lanarkshire that I want to see. Of course it would be wrong to see Lanarkshire only in terms of closure, despair and unemployment. I want to see Lanarkshire utilise its potential--a well-educated and young work force and a healthy diversity of companies--and move forward to develop a strong local and modern economy served by the sort of viable transport infrastructure that I believe our people deserve.

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