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Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's long-standing commitment to improved transport for the long term? In light of today's announcement, does he plan to review his guidance to local authorities, which may be in the course of submitting their local transport plans based on the sums previously available, rather than the increased public spending that we now have? In terms of minor
Mr. Prescott: On the last point, I can assure my hon. Friend that extra money is being made available for street lighting. It is an important investment for safety and for crime reduction, both of which cause considerable concern.
My hon. Friend asked whether local authorities will be advised of the extra resources available. The point of today's statement is to give local authorities an idea of the moneys that will be available not only in the first three years, but in the longer term. That will help them with their local transport plans, which will be given to me in line with the White Paper. The plans are to be for five years, so local authorities have a longer-term perspective to meet their transport requirements. That will be good for areas that want to take long-term decisions and have a proper guarantee of investment.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I welcome the Secretary of State's reference to the A1 and the study that he announced today. Can he assure me that safety factors, which present an overwhelming case for the dualling of that major road, neglected for so many years, will be fully taken into account? Will he bear in mind that his safety targets could be assisted by ending the head-on collisions that lead to deaths and serious injuries on that road?
Mr. Prescott: Yes. The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I was discussing that matter earlier in his region, and I have brought forward the multi-modal study that we set up and we hope that it will report by next year. His arguments about safety considerations on the southern part of the A1, north of Newcastle, are important, and we are dealing with those. Indeed, I believe that there is an argument for a strategic road for Scotland, although that matter would have to be discussed with the Scottish Executive. It would complete what I would consider to be a natural strategic road running from north to south.
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend is a frequent visitor to my part of North Yorkshire, and he knows that the legacy of the Conservative party has left transport policy in a total mess. Will he explain to the House how the multi-modal studies on the A64 corridor relate to the regional dimension, and how we can ensure that the regions deliver this policy?
Mr. Prescott: Multi-modal studies take into account the criteria set out in the road programme, such as the economic requirement, environmental considerations, safety and relieving congestion. Safety is a major consideration, especially with regard to the A64. Provided that multi-modal projects meet those criteria and fit into the regional assessment, they will be built and will be given priority. Although road building may be the solution to some congestion problems using a multi-modal approach, some problems may be solved by public transport, and we want to provide both.
Mr. Prescott: That industry has been growing for a considerable time. The issue is very controversial to say the least. There is considerable capacity in the south-east. We are approaching airport authorities about this matter, which is complicated, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows. In my role as a planning Minister, I will consider the terminal 5 proposal. That has a major effect on the assessments of airports in the south-east. I cannot say more than that, except that the study has started.
Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): May I raise three issues of importance? If the answers cannot be given now, I would welcome an answer later. First, has the Portsmouth light rapid transport scheme been successful? Secondly, will the Department endorse the innovative private finance initiative scheme for roads maintenance, which is a real leader in its field? Finally, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and I would be interested to know whether there is any news on the possibility of a bypass in Hindhead.
Mr. Prescott: I have made it clear to those authorities considering their transport plans that we are including 100 bypasses in the programme--50 in urban areas and 50 in rural areas. Some of them are to deal with congestion in the town and some are strategic. My hon. Friend should press his local authority to ensure that a bypass is included in its transport plan. Local authorities have responsibility for improvements in towns and roads through their local transport plans, which include bypasses. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) knew that, but he does now.
We are well aware of Portsmouth's application for a light rail system. We are building 25 LRT schemes. The hon. Member for North Essex made a fair point when he said that I had been critical of light railways compared with buses. That is true, but I have since been converted. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I am sorry, but I considered the facts and although they are more expensive--which was my criticism--more people would prefer to use a light railway rather than a bus. Light railways are more expensive, and make sense only in certain cities, but we have included 25 such schemes in our programme. I confess to a change of view. What is wrong with that? Is not that what analysis and the use of intelligence is about--qualities not too often shown by the hon. Member for North Essex.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): In view of the additional resources that the Deputy Prime Minister now claims to have available, will he reconsider the need to resurface the M20 between junctions 10 and 12 to alleviate the noise nuisance from which many of my constituents suffer? Will he also undertake to provide a permanent alternative to Operation Stack, which denies the use of the motorway to my constituents whenever there is a delay to cross-channel traffic?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned noisy roads, which clearly create a lot of problems. Even a new road that I opened quite recently turned out to be much noisier than expected. Therefore, we have made a commitment to resurfacing 60 per cent. of trunk roads where noise levels are far too high.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I warmly welcome the general thrust of my right hon. Friend's statement and the huge investment in railways and light rail structures throughout the country. As the money that is being invested in railway developments will end up in the ownership of Railtrack, which is not a publicly owned company, what will happen to the capital return that will benefit Railtrack shareholders? What control do the public have over the ultimate destiny of any land currently owned by Railtrack that may be disposed of in future for capital gain? Surely there is a democratic argument that if the public are putting a vast amount of money into the railways, we should have ultimate control over what happens to it.
Mr. Prescott: We have decided to keep the railways in their present privatised form. As I have said in the House, and even at party conferences, to take the alternative of nationalising the railway and finding some £12 billion is not our highest priority in present circumstances. In addition, I am bound to say that the current procedure allows public-private partnerships to discuss a 10-year plan, which could not be guaranteed by the Treasury. At least it is written into contracts--[Interruption.] If obligations are not met and the contract is broken, we can take back the resources. That seems quite a clever idea. We are not against good ideas and getting the best value for public money. It is a pity that the Conservatives did not take the same approach in a number of respects.
My hon. Friend referred to the money being put into Railtrack. It is going towards enhancement and new track. The Government sometimes have to provide money in order to encourage people to do certain things. As my hon. Friend well knows, we provide a subsidy--I used to refer to it as the PSO or public service obligation--to the operators, which also goes to Railtrack. We are bound to give Railtrack some public money and we have to make a judgment about whether it is accountable. Accountability is very important. We lay down the conditions and we have a pretty tough regulator now--much tougher than before--to make sure that the public interest is maintained. In addition to a certain amount of public money for borrowing and for public-private partnerships, the modernisation fund of £7 billion will allow us to expand the railway system with greater accountability than at present.