Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for so charitably giving way. Whatever the merits of an improved railway service, and however desirable it may be to secure the passage of freight on such a service, can we take it that he is not committed to the destruction of the road haulage industry? If he acknowledges the centrality of that industry to our economic performance, does he agree that it was a regrettable omission by the Deputy Prime Minister when, while he was consulting his dictionary of quotations, he failed to refer to the letter from the director general of the Freight Transport Association that appeared in The Times on 15 March? That letter stated that not only did the Budget not improve the competitive position of the road haulage industry but it made it worse. The letter has been supported by a plethora of business organisations. Where do the Liberals stand--on the fence, or somewhere discernible?

Mr. Taylor: The answer is simple: as with car users, so with lorry users. We believe that the principles should be that people pay for use, not ownership, and that if they use more environmentally unfriendly modes of transport, they should pay more. Linked to the increases in petrol prices should have been deep cuts in the duties paid

15 Jul 1999 : Column 616

simply to put a lorry on the road in the first place. We do not want to get rid of lorries, but to make sure that they compete on a fair basis with other modes of transport, and that there are disincentives to the unnecessary use of transport. On that basis, I believe that there could be a better deal for the industry.

Sir David Madel: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Taylor: No, because this is a short debate and the hon. Gentleman might speak in it himself.

The challenge facing the Government is to introduce the legislation and ensure that it is implemented earlier. The Conservative party should understand that the criticism of its policies expressed in The Times and the Western Morning News, which represents a rural community, is based on the fact that those polices represent ignorant short-term political opportunism that will not wash and has not washed.

3.21 pm

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Given the constituency that I represent, I am as aware as anyone that on transport issues, we need to balance different, totally legitimate interests and needs. My interest arises from the fact that my constituency contains the largest car plant in this country: 50,000 jobs depend on that plant, so it is of vital importance to my constituents. I sometimes worry that I am becoming typecast in the House, because I never seem to talk about anything else.

Not only do many of my constituents work at that plant, but they live near it. They tell me that, although they want it to thrive, they are aware of the related problems of traffic movements, including lorries going to and from the plant. When the Conservatives consider their new transport policy, they should talk to some of the car firms such as Rover, which is talking about getting more of its freight off the road and on to rail. That is to be applauded.

My constituents also suffer from a high incidence of asthma, so airborne pollution is a problem. There is also a problem of traffic congestion, both in the centre of Northfield and on the route from the south of Birmingham into Birmingham city centre. There is a railway station at Longbridge, which is the last stop inside the Birmingham boundary for what is known as the cross-city line, so it is a major rail route. My constituents want that line to be extended to another part of my constituency, so that the local people can enjoy greater access and mobility. My constituents know that our rail system needs greater investment.

Conservative Members have talked about speed, and I have another interest to declare in that respect. I am not opposed to speed--indeed, I have a competition licence--but I know that speed is to be used on the track, not on the roads. We in Birmingham know that only too well: last weekend, a car came off a slip road off a major dual carriageway and ploughed into a party of nightclubbers; 41-year-old Selbourne Daly died and many others were seriously injured. The issue of speed cannot be ignored.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious charge against the Conservative party's position on that subject. Can he give examples based on past evidence of accidents that would result from the application of the sensible policy of having minimum speed limits on major

15 Jul 1999 : Column 617

roads, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)? Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that having a modest minimum speed limit on a major road will result in a serious increase in accidents? That is nonsense.

Mr. Burden: Having studied the document, I find it difficult to understand what the Conservatives are saying about speed, although the document talks about increasing speed limits on motorways.

I have yet to understand what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) means when he talks about traffic-calming measures. Most of the places where traffic-calming measures are used or have been requested are residential roads, where they have been shown to reduce the number of accidents. My point is that absolutist views should not carry the day in this debate. Unfortunately, absolutist views are written all over the policy document that the right hon. Gentleman launched this week.

The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants extra investment in our transport system, even in public transport, but we have yet to see how that investment is to be financed. He has said that the Conservatives would privatise London Underground, but I would dispute that that would raise the sums that he has forecast. He says that that privatisation would raise £760 million--presumably, that figure assumes that no public money would go into the process. Does he honestly believe that that is the amount of money needed by public transport in this country? Is that how much the roads programme that he wants to implement needs? I do not think so. What we need is not slogans, but a grown-up discussion about our transport policy. The policy document that was launched this week does not contribute to that debate.

Yesterday, I attended the inaugural conference of the west midlands regional chamber, which was addressed by the chair of the west midlands branch of the Confederation of British Industry, Mr. Digby Jones--a man who argued fiercely in favour of the Birmingham northern relief road and who understands the need for a proper road traffic system. However, he made it clear in his speech that we cannot go on as we have been going, and that we are not facing up to the real issues unless we tackle congestion in our city centres, which might involve charging motorists or imposing restrictions on them.

Transport polices require further investigation. I welcome the policy document published by Ministers at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. If we are to tackle the problems effectively, we need to consider different policies and pilot a full range of them. One such policy is workplace parking charges, with which I admit I have some problems. If such charges focus entirely on city centres, there is a risk of displacement of activity out of city centres; but if we widen the net too far, we might not achieve our objective of addressing congestion in those city centres. However, that is an argument not for throwing out such ideas but for piloting them properly.

The same is true of congestion charging, on which Conservative Members should make their views clear. As I understand their comments today, they are not opposed to all congestion charging, but they are opposed to its use in all but new areas and on additional roads. Does that

15 Jul 1999 : Column 618

mean one or more of the roads in the programme that they are halfway to announcing in their new policy document would be available for a congestion charging scheme? We need to know rather more about their policy.

We also need to address environmental issues--my constituents, dependent as they are on the motor industry, want us to address those issues. We should applaud the efforts made so far by motor manufacturers, such as their agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent. in 10 years. They have already achieved a great deal in terms of reducing harmful emissions: within 10 years, the emissions produced by a motor car will be about 100 times less than they were 10 years ago. However, manufacturers should be asked to do more.

We can help, for example, in respect of vehicle excise duty, on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor). Although relating excise duty to engine size is a good start, engine size is not an accurate measure of environmental friendliness. We have to move to more sensitive measures on carbon dioxide emissions and so on. We can also do more to encourage the use of environmentally friendly fuels such as liquid petroleum gas.

Let us remember that there are no easy solutions, and that balances must be struck. We want to encourage manufacturers to make motor vehicles safer, but all too often that means increasing their weight, which brings with it the danger of decreasing fuel efficiency. We need to encourage a balanced policy.

We can do far more through the use of technology, telematics, information signalling and so on, not only to improve the private motor car but to make our public transport much more reliable and accessible. Above all, we need investment. There are different routes for investment, but although our constituents understand the need for certain kinds of charging and restrictions on car use, they will rightly expect results, and they will expect them soon. That means that the way in which we phase expenditure, borrowing and charging will be crucial, because we cannot ask our constituents to wait for results in the distant future while charging them now. We must therefore take an imaginative approach. We cannot go on as we have been doing.

We must take action quickly because the Conservative Government, sadly, left us with a chasm that we must cross. I do not know how one can cross a chasm by taking small steps. We need to take a large leap, which requires a great deal of investment and joined-up thinking. Most of all, it means that there should be no return to the days of slogans. We have seen such slogans in the policy document launched this week by the Conservative party, which had been starting to move away from their use. I was more impressed by the policies that were beginning to emanate from what I understand is now called the old Conservative party than by those from the new Conservative party. Let us have a grown-up debate and get our country moving again.


Next Section

IndexHome Page