Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.35 am

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): I think that the House will have great difficulty adjourning at all. I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and on the problem of hedges, about which I have had any number of letters. I have also had a great deal of correspondence on the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill).

I want, however, to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). Yesterday, we had yet another glossy document full of soundbites and the language of the business school. Frankly, its announcement was a moment of hilarity.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1021

There were references to "modernising government", "developing", "involving", "listening", "supporting", "helping" and "engaging". The Prime Minister said:

    "The new issues are the right issues: modernising government, better government, getting government right",

and he talked of joined-up government. The statement was an all-time low for this Government.

I say that because I have a specific constituency concern that preoccupies not only me, but almost every Member of Parliament in the south, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), the hon. Members representing Portsmouth, Southampton and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand). That concern is the Government's absolute refusal to take any responsibility for the A3 at Hindhead. In the past 18 months, I have communicated 26 times with the Government on that subject. Every response is an exercise in Sir Humphrey techniques.

Initially, we had every hope that the A3 scheme would be approved as part of the trunk roads review. The A3 at Hindhead is the most appalling spot on that road; it is the only single carriageway stretch. The A3 is a strategic route on its way to Portsmouth and the continent. A modern country needs a modern transport system. I am sure that the Government would endorse that language. They have refused to give a straight answer on this issue.

The Government's transparent stalling device was to announce a consultation exercise on whether tolls would have a part to play. No Government will ever approve tolls at Hindhead because they would lead to rat-running, and that problem is already destroying villages. In December, I wrote to the Minister of Transport and asked specific questions, and I received the following reply:

They will then discuss among themselves the priorities for the studies. That is Sir Humphrey language, and it is buck-passing. I had asked the Minister of Transport what the timetable for that consultation process is, who is responsible and when he will visit Hindhead. For the past three months, I have been unable to discover the answers to those questions.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to give a categoric assurance that his Government do not use ministerial visits and the receipt of delegations as a form of patronage. Do they use them to reward their Back Benchers for good behaviour, as it is widely said they do? It is unacceptable for Members of Parliament, who have been misled by all the undertakings given during the trunk roads review, to be unable to secure a visit from a Minister concerning a scheme as serious as that as the A3 at Hindhead.

With great difficulty I managed to get a delegation to the former Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), but only by stressing the fact that I was a Privy Councillor--when we were in government, we would never have turned down a delegation led by a Privy Councillor. However, almost all my colleagues say that they cannot get access to Ministers.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1022

The Government proclaim the importance of modern, joined-up government, but what about accountability? Ministers are responsible for the trunk roads scheme and for the fact that motorists are now charged £33 billion to support the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although only one sixth of that sum is ploughed back into road schemes. If the Government are not prepared to act, they should at least be prepared to tell those concerned directly and straightforwardly. It is not good enough that Members of Parliament should be passed from pillar to post.

We now have the Government office for the south-east, the regional planning conferences and the Highways Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire and I have had more embarrassing meetings with some of these authorities than at any time in our parliamentary careers. The individuals involved simply look embarrassed, shuffle their papers and say, "These are political decisions", or, "These are ministerial decisions." The personnel change and, on occasion, a different agency will be said to be responsible. That is not satisfactory in terms of ministerial accountability.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to point out to his colleagues that if the Minister for Roads and Road Safety is placed in the Lords and is a former general secretary of the Labour party, he is not someone with whom many Opposition Members have natural contact. I seek information about the timetable, the individual responsible and when the Minister will visit.

There have been delegations, petitions and Adjournment debates, and we have contributed fully to all the consultation exercises, but that is not enough. The Minister needs to come to see the A3 at Hindhead for himself. Only in that way can I be sure that he is fully aware of the problem and understands why there is such great concern.

The A3 at Hindhead is crucial to the economic development of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. The Confederation of British Industry has made that clear, as has the trade union movement. The part of the A3 in question lies in some of the most internationally significant landscape in this country. It is magnificent National Trust land, which is why some years ago a tunnel was announced as approved Government policy. This part of the A3 is destroying beautiful villages throughout the area.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the extent to which the shire counties were treated vindictively in their funding settlements. Their settlements are such that they are having great difficulty maintaining health, transport and social services. The Government's refusal to act at Hindhead means that Hampshire and Surrey are under ever greater pressure to come up with transport packages that will help to mitigate the damage to villages such as Churt, Thursley, Haslemere and Grayswood. This is their number one priority.

This year, I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends have had more letters about transport than any other subject. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) recently held an Opposition day debate on road schemes, I and many others without success tried to contribute, such is the interest in this subject.

It will be difficult for the House to adjourn because of the many issues that hon. Members want to raise, but it will be especially difficult if our adjourning involves a

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1023

journey through Hindhead. Those who spend their high days and holidays on the Isle of Wight will once again find that it is almost impossible to move.

To summarise, I want specific answers that the Minister may like to put in writing. Please will he help me get answers to questions that I first asked in December? I want to know who is responsible, not the name of the agency. Who is the individual project manager? What is the timetable? When will the Minister visit?

10.45 am

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): It is always a delight to be present for the three-hour Adjournment debate, and it is just the same for the Opposition. It is especially delightful this morning because despite the great philosophical sweep that we sometimes hear from Opposition Members about where they stand on market forces, non-intervention and all the rest, when it comes to constituency cases, all those grand ideas fade away.

We heard first from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) who wants more money. He blames the new Labour Government for the fact that hedges are growing too high, although I rather suspect that they were growing 18 years ago, too. He wants regulations to control hedges--let it be known that a Tory Member of Parliament asked for more regulations, despite moaning about the other 2,000 for the rest of the year.

We then heard the butcher from the midlands, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill). Given that he is anti-Europe and anti-Common Market, although he developed such attitudes long after I did--after the single market, as a matter of fact--it is remarkable that he was asking for harmonisation of abattoir charges within the European Union. I would have thought that, as a purist anti-marketeer, the hon. Gentleman was off message.

Mr. Gill: I take this opportunity to confirm that I am implacably opposed to economic, monetary and political union in Europe. I want that on the record for everyone to see. I was not saying that I wanted harmonisation; I was saying that we should do nothing in this country until we have a level playing field with the rest of Europe.

Next Section

IndexHome Page