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M4 Bus Lane

15. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What assessment he has made of the impact of the M4 bus lane on average journey times. [99022]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): The M4 bus lane pilot scheme is being monitored by the Transport Research Laboratory. The results show that in the first three months following the opening of the bus lane, buses and taxis are saving up to nine minutes in the morning and evening peak periods, while other vehicles are saving up to six minutes in the same periods. The reduction in the speed limits which accompanied the introduction of the bus lane resulted in slightly longer journey times outside the peak periods, but the overall effect was a reduction in total travel time of 3,500 hours a week for those using the road.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I am confident that the reduction in journey times is good for business people travelling between Slough and London. However, will my hon. Friend consider taking one more step to speed up journeys even further? Many of my constituents and I travel on the motorway in the early hours of the morning and, as my constituent Angela Kirk puts it:


Will my hon. Friend consider restricting the hours during which the 50 mph limit applies?

Mr. Hill: My hon. Friend is right to represent the concerns of her constituents. I assure her that the matter will be considered as part of the continuing monitoring and review of the scheme, and especially the safety implications.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Why does the Minister not ensure that his measurements start from the place where the tailback begins, rather than from where traffic starts to move? Is it not true that no savings have been achieved and that, if it is measured properly, less traffic now uses the M4?

Mr. Hill: The fact is that there are significant time savings for drivers. It is worth noting two further positive aspects of the scheme. First, on current performance, there

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are benefits to the economy of £750,000 a year, which represents an excellent rate of return on an outlay of £1.9 million to cover the cost of the scheme. Secondly, although it is too early to draw firm conclusions, forecasts by safety experts predict a 20 per cent. reduction in accidents. The Metropolitan police, who manage the road, believe that the scheme has improved safety.

Cleaner Vehicles Task Force

16. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): When the cleaner vehicles task force is expected to issue a report on its findings. [99024]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): In July 1999, the cleaner vehicle task force published its first report, recommending practical measures to encourage the manufacture, purchase and use of cleaner, quieter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The task force expects to publish another report in spring 2000. That report will take forward the key proposals and make further practical, cost-effective recommendations.

Dr. Gibson: Does my hon. Friend agree that investigations into alternative fuels and their benefits could do much for the health of our nation, especially in terms of the incidence of asthma and cancer?

Mr. Mullin: I certainly agree that that could make an important contribution to our constituents' quality of life. Two of the task force's earlier recommendations have already been acted on: first, the development of a greener fleet certification scheme for company cars and, secondly, the launch of an internet guide to enable purchasers of new cars to find out their carbon dioxide emissions and air quality impact. In addition, the task force has contributed to the development of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders label. I am pleased to announce that, from tomorrow, every new car will carry the label, which will give details of emissions of local pollutants and carbon dioxide.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If the issue is one of quality of life and is worthy of an internet guide, why are the Government reducing the particulate emissions targets?

Hon. Members: Help!

Mr. Mullin: The House will be pleased to hear that help is on the way. There are difficulties with the European standards, but our finest minds are working on the problem.

Local Transport

17. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): What progress has been made in the development of local transport plans by local authorities. [99025]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): Local authorities have produced 85 local transport plans covering the whole of England outside London. We are currently assessing the plans and will announce the allocation of resources in December.

Mr. Davies: Will my hon. Friend give an assessment of the transport plans he has received covering the London area? Are any of them sustainable transport plans such as Croydon's, which includes tramlink and cycling measures? What consideration has he given to

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park-and-ride schemes, to ease congestion resulting from retail developments? Will he discuss with his colleagues the possible redesignation of greenfield sites, with the aim of preventing environmental damage by major retail developments alongside transport links?

Mr. Hill: Let me say at once that the Government's position on the green belt has already been clarified during these exchanges. All 33 authorities in London have produced interim transport plans, Croydon being one of them. We are assessing the plans and we shall announce the allocation of resources in December.

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Beef on the Bone

3.30 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): With permission, I am pleased to be able to announce the Government's intention to lift the retail ban on beef on the bone. [Hon. Members: "Hurrah!"] That seems to have gone down quite well. This follows further advice from the chief medical officers, who now collectively agree that it is possible to lift the ban on retail sales. I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health have accepted this advice. I am placing a copy of the advice in the Library today. Officials of my Department will later today be consulting on draft proposals to lift in England the ban on the retailing of beef on the bone. This includes lifting the ban on food prepared for direct sale to consumers in restaurants and other catering establishments. Similar consultations will be taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to lift the ban there also.

As recommended by the chief medical officers, the ban on the use of bones for manufacturing food products, including infant foods, which lies at the extreme end of BSE protection measures, will remain in place. This also has the effect of preserving explicit consumer choice.

This lifting of the ban has been long awaited and I am delighted that it can now go ahead. The announcement will bring a welcome boost to the beef industry in what continue to be difficult times. I believe that we need to move forward as quickly as possible with the consultation on the lifting of the ban. Therefore--[Interruption.] Opposition Back Benchers should listen to the end of the statement before condemning it. Therefore, subject to the consent of the House, I propose to use the accelerated procedure for making the regulations to allow retail sales to take place before Christmas. Consultation will start today, with the aim that the amending regulations will take effect on Friday 17 December. These proposals will take effect in England only, but it is intended that similar legislation will be implemented in the other parts of the United Kingdom to the same timetable.

I know that enforcement authorities will wish to take note of my statement and of the Government's clear intention to implement the lifting of the ban by 17 December.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): I warmly welcome the statement and the very belated recognition by the Government that there is no justification whatever for a ban on beef on the bone.

I have five questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that when the ban was imposed two years ago it was only one of three options put forward by the Government's scientific advisers, and that the first option was publication of the research findings and the risk assessment of beef on the bone so that consumer choice really could be preserved?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government's compliance cost assessment shows that the ban has cost the industry more than £170 million since 1997?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is 10 weeks since the chief medical officer advised that retail sales of beef on the bone could safely restart? During that period, the industry has lost another £15 million.

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Fourthly, why does the Minister consider it safe to lift the ban today, when it was not safe to do so on 21 September when the chief medical officer reported? Has the Minister allowed Scotland and Wales a veto over whether English consumers can buy beef on the bone?

Finally, is the Minister aware that one month ago, the agricultural counsellor at the French embassy said that Britain's ban on beef on the bone at home was one reason why France was blocking British beef exports? Will the Minister now admit that his failure to lift the ban more quickly has seriously damaged confidence in British beef abroad, and has made the task of regaining our export markets much more difficult?


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