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A number of hon. Members may have been expecting the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) to move the new clause, but he is out of the country and unable to be with us. With the permission of the House, I shall speak in his place.
The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and I have not agreed on much, but I am grateful to him for not pressing amendment No. 412 to the vote, thereby enabling us to debate road traffic reduction targets and providing at least a few moments for the Minister to discuss proposals relating to school crossing patrols, on which I hope there will be good news.
Hon. Members will be aware that I am not new to the issue. Indeed, I was delighted to be able to take through the House the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, which was the first Act to refer to reducing traffic on our roads. The original version proposed requirements not only on local councils to adopt traffic reduction targets, but on central Government to develop traffic reduction targets over 10 years. Unfortunately, in order to get the Act through the House, the second provision had to be deleted.
The Labour Government seem almost obsessed with targets. They began with five pledges at the general election; now there are thousands of targets for one thing and another. Indeed, there are even targets for achieving targets, so it will not be difficult to convince them to add yet one more to that long roll call. Introducing traffic reduction targets would be of great benefit to them as it would clearly show their commitment to tackling the traffic problem. It would also show that they have taken the advice that they sought and that has been offered to them.
On a number of issues, the Government have been keen to follow the advice of the Commission for Integrated Transport, which was set up by the Deputy Prime Minister. They will therefore be aware that they invited the commission to consider the issue of traffic targets and that paragraph 7 of its report states:
The new clause would require the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to draw up a strategy to reduce traffic by 10 per cent. on the current levels by 2010, and to set an indicative level for traffic for each year between now and then. That would have the advantage of demonstrating the Government's commitment. It would show that they take note of the advice that they have sought and have been given. Equally important, it would enable the Government to redeem the Labour party's promises and commitments.
New clause 3 merely repeats the words that were used by Friends of the Earth in its campaign. It merely repeats the words that 300 Labour MPs have signed up to and agreed to support. It merely repeats the commitment made by the Deputy Prime Minister. It gives voice to the commitments made by the Labour party in the run-up to the general election. I am confident that many Labour Members will be in the Division Lobby in a few minutes' time to support new clause 3. I can certainly assure the House that many Liberal Democrat Members will be there, because they, too, signed up to those commitments. They will honour their commitments by voting for new clause 3.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I hope that the Liberal Democrats will not push the new clause to a vote, because we are on a tight timetable and we should have a proper Third Reading debate on this huge Bill. However, should they be minded to do so, my advice to the House is not to support the new clause. The hon. Gentleman's speech shows the dangers of Members of Parliament signing up to the programmes of pressure groups, thereby extinguishing their right to make a sound judgment. I have always believed that we should listen to pressure groups and to our constituents and then make a judgment.
There is a simple problem with this road traffic reduction strategy--it will not work. I speak from many years' experience in my constituency. We have been disappointed by Government after Government who have refused to address the traffic problems of a mediaeval city. We thought we were close, but in the short space of about a fortnight the incoming Labour Government decided to cancel the best hope we had in Salisbury of improving the quality of life for our people and preserving our ancient city by building a bypass. That hope has been dashed by this Government.
We are all in favour of reducing traffic--just as we are all against sin--so long as someone else is doing the reducing. That is the problem with soppy proposals such as this. There are various ways of tackling traffic problems. People can be taxed off the roads, or planned off the roads--which I think is probably the most effective method, speaking as a former Roads Minister. The Bill contains plenty of planning regulations in other guises that would achieve that aim. Public transport can be increased to an extent, and that will help, but it will never meet the needs of the rural constituencies represented by the Liberal Democrats who tabled this daft new clause. Alternatively, everyone can be condemned to gridlock, which is what is happening now.
In fact, only one thing will work. Before they get into their cars, people must ask themselves whether their journey is really necessary. In many cases it is not, and that consideration might enable us to make real progress.
I am worried about the idea of setting targets. In my experience, targets never work--there is always disappointment when they are not met, and it is always possible to find a reason for the fact that they are not achievable. There is another flaw in the new clause. Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to
At the last general election, I was the only candidate who was in favour of a bypass. Guess who won? Guess whose election featured the second smallest swing against the Conservative party? I was deeply grateful to the Liberal Democrat candidate for supporting the anti-bypass proposals, because that ensured that I would be able to continue representing my constituents.
The new clause is not helpful, but we should not vote against it. Indeed, I hope that it will not be put to the vote. I hope that common sense will prevail--and common sense is what we need above all in our transport policy.