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Mr. Don Foster, supported by Mr. Tom Brake, Ms Joan Walley, Mr. David Chaytor and Mr. Simon Thomas, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to draw up and implement polices to alleviate climate change; to require the setting of targets for the achievement of those policies; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 March, and to be printed [Bill 44].
As local services have declined, transport has become more important. For many of my constituents, the car is an absolute necessity; it cannot remotely be described as a luxury. Indeed, for many families in which the husband and wife both work or there are small children, two cars are often essential.
As the Government have piled on fuel taxes, however, the cost of running a car has become prohibitively expensive. It is a necessity that many people can no longer afford. Some 20 per cent. of households in Norfolk do not have a car--or, if they do, it is only at the expense of something else, which seriously affects their quality of life. For many people--especially the young, the disabled, families on low incomes and those who are retired on fixed incomes--a car is simply too expensive. It is primarily with those people in mind that I am introducing this Bill. It is simply no good for the Government to continue to tax motorists without providing an alternative.
I do not believe, however, that the Government can produce a national blueprint for rural transport. The man in Whitehall invariably does not know best. It is time that the Government--who have taken centralisation, micro- management and bureaucracy to new heights--let go and left decision making to people who know the local situation and the needs of local people.
A good example of central Government getting it wrong was the original terms of the grant for rural bus services. County councils were not able to use the grant for existing bus routes. Consequently, sub-optimal routes were opened, leading to the frequent spectacle of large subsidised buses travelling half empty. The purpose of this Bill is to force the Government to decentralise decision making to the local communities that need and will use public transport. It is also designed to ensure that Government action supports voluntary organisations, not replaces them.
Last summer, I commissioned four students--Emily Hill, Kat Colley, Adam Rumley and Amy Weight--from Fakenham college, an excellent sixth form college in north Norfolk, to do a survey of public transport from the point of view of the young and to produce some recommendations. Their survey revealed that 102 of 135 students between 14 and 18 thought that their extra- curricular, out-of-school-hours activities were severely restricted by inadequate public transport. Forty-nine students revealed that there was no regular bus service through their village, and 75 stated that no bus route went where they wanted to go at a time when they wanted to go there.
The truth is that young people without access to a car living in places such as north Norfolk are effectively marooned. They cannot go to the shops in the main town, Norwich, or to the leisure centre, the cinema or even the bowling alley in Fakenham. Other people suffer, too. School leavers find it difficult to get to work or to training courses. Wages are often very low in the country, and even with a regular job it is very expensive to run a car. There are not many jobs left in our villages, and the recession in agriculture is making them even harder to find.
Older people, mothers with young children and disabled people are literally stranded, unable to reach market towns. A report commissioned last year by the Countryside Agency showed that in villages with a population of fewer than 1,000, 31 per cent. of people thought that public transport was "very bad". The truth is that public transport is too limited in scope; timetables are inconvenient and infrequent; bus stops are often too far away and have no shelter; the service is not reliable; the service is slow because of the circuitous routes required; and it is expensive, especially for students.
I accept that there is no magic wand to wave. Students at Fakenham college and I have reached the same conclusion: we should invest in local community transport that is flexible and customer oriented--such as the dial-a-ride flexi-minibus scheme in North Walsham, in north Norfolk; the dial-a-medic-ride scheme, which provides door-to-door transport to the doctor's surgery; and the Age Concern minibuses in Fakenham and Sheringham. The Sheringham service is being expanded to serve various other towns in north Norfolk and is providing a service for young people, too.
In future, the North Walsham dial-a-ride service will target young people who want to go to Cromer and Sheringham on a Friday or Saturday night. That is what people want--a service that is driven by demand and has no fixed timetable and no fixed route. It cannot be provided on a county or a national basis; it has to be provided on a very local basis. Many of those schemes are run by volunteers and by charities that often need a few thousand pounds to run the bus, to fund a part-time driver, to advertise for volunteer drivers and to maintain the vehicle. It would make an enormous difference to such schemes if they were eligible for a rebate on fuel duty. I was encouraged by the proposal in the rural White Paper to set up a parish fund to support small-scale transport projects and to minimise bureaucracy. I have a horrible feeling that, in practice, the bidding procedure will be complicated and the bureaucratic checks a nightmare. We shall see.
The Government put integrated transport high on their agenda when they came to power. They have not delivered. Public transport has got worse, not better. Community transport determined and funded at the local level is a commonsense way forward. It will deliver flexibility, accessibility, convenience and good value.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Prior, Mrs. Gillian Shephard, Mr. Keith Simpson, Mr. David Ruffley, Mr. Richard Spring, Mr. Christopher Fraser, Mr. Desmond Swayne, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, Mr. John Whittingdale and Mr. Tim Collins.
Mr. David Prior accordingly presented a Bill to delegate further the provisions of rural public transport to voluntary organisations, district, town and parish councils; and to encourage and promote the use of such transport: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 April, and to be printed [Bill 46]
1. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.
2. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at quarter past Eight o'clock.
3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Nine o'clock.
4. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
5. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any programme motion to supplement this order or to vary it in relation to--
(a) proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments; or
(b) proceedings on any further messages from the Lords,
and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.
For most of the time in Committee we had a constructive debate. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), who chaired the Committee, and to the Committee's members. We had a very constructive debate about the detail of the Bill, and that debate improved the Bill. The debate in Standing Committee finished on time, with no guillotines imposed, and in fact the Government offered to run longer on one evening than was required. We had constructive discussions and I hope that we can have them again for the rest of today. We have plenty of time between now and 8.15 to conclude the debate.