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10 Dec 2002 : Column 171—continued

Mr. Darling: I have already spent quite a lot of money today, and I will be careful about offering to spend more. I know the stretch of road to which my hon. Friend refers, and the Highways Agency will keep the matter under review.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Do the Government have a policy on reducing road traffic?

Mr. Darling: Let me make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, if the economy continues to grow, and if, therefore, more people have more money and more reasons to travel, and if we get more people into work who must therefore travel to work, it follows, does it not, that people will move around more. Secondly, one of the reasons why more people are moving around today than were doing so 10 years ago is that, 10 years ago, we were in the teeth of a recession. Surely it cannot be any Government's policy to try to lock people up in their own homes. Our priority is not to stop people moving around but to make sure that we tackle congestion, improve the reliability of journeys and improve road safety. That is the Government's policy, and it will continue to be our policy.

Clive Efford (Eltham): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the price of owning and running a car has gone down in the last year? If we are to tackle congestion on our roads, especially in relation to inter-urban transport, we must address that issue. I accept my right hon. Friend's statement that the introduction of inter-urban congestion charging is a very difficult task, but we need to find other methods to encourage people to leave their cars at home. When he comes to consider the M25 review, it should not just deal with congestion and road size but with transferring people from their cars to public transport. It must also consider major park-and-ride schemes for the London area.

Mr. Darling: I agree with some of what my hon. Friend said, as where it is possible to get people out of their cars and into public transport, our transport policy ought to back that. That is why we have announced funding today for the metro light-rail schemes. In relation to London, for example, my hon. Friend will know that I am anxious to make sure that there are improvements to the Thameslink, and that a workable, affordable and deliverable Crossrail project is worked up. He will also know about extensions not just to the tube but to the docklands light railway. At the risk of raising a sore point, we have, of course, announced large sums of money going into the London underground. My hon. Friend is right that money must go into public transport because people must be given a sensible alternative. Without that, we do not have a coherent public transport strategy. I agree with that, and I also agree that some of these issues are difficult and take time to see through.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): Can the Secretary of State tell us how long it will take to make a judgement about

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the A358 route from the A303 through to the M5 at Taunton? When does he expect to make a decision on that important issue, on which I think he is heading in the right direction? Can he also say whether he remains committed to dualling the rail line between Exeter and Salisbury?

Mr. Darling: In relation to the link through to Taunton, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise time. What is important is that we look at all the implications before coming forward with a final worked-up proposal. I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman by giving him an artificial time plucked out of the air.

The rail improvements are matters for the SRA to consider, and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking on that at the moment. What I can say is that it is particularly important to make sure that the SRA and First Great Western concentrate on achieving a reliable service between the south-west and London.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): While I realise that today's announcement is restricted to England and Wales, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has had any advances made to him from the Scottish Executive in relation to similar additional funding being made available for roads north of the border.

Mr. Darling: Well, no, because the Scottish Executive must fund its roads programme from the sum devolved to it. Many hon. Members would be surprised if the national Government offered to hand over more money. Road policy within Scotland is devolved. We do, of course, have a clear interest in working with the Scottish Executive in relation to rail policy and aviation policy, much of which are national responsibilities.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Some years ago, the Government promised to resurface concrete roads. The A50 is one of the concrete roads that deserves and needs to be resurfaced. There has been no mention of that in what the Secretary of State has said today. A promise was made, so when can the people of Doveridge expect the A50 to be resurfaced?

Mr. Darling: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked a similar question and I said it was the Government's policy to replace such surfaces. That is part of a rolling programme that will take some years to carry out, because some surfaces are relatively new and the policy is relatively recent. I certainly undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman about the stretch of motorway that he mentioned. However, I remind him and all Conservative Members that, if the work is to get done, it will require sustained public spending. It is an awful pity that the Conservative party's policy is not to match us on that spending. If we return to stop-go policies, all the things about which hon. Members have complained today will continue.

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Orders of the Day

European Parliament (Representation) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.31 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has two clear purposes. The first is to enable us to play our part in supporting the enlargement of the European Union and the participation in European parliamentary democracy by the new accession states. Secondly, it will enfranchise Gibraltar in the European parliamentary elections. Together those purposes will form a major step towards fulfilling UK responsibilities arising from the widening of the European Union democracy to include new member states, and towards ensuring fair representation for those entitled to vote in elections to the European Parliament.

I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is here to reply to this debate for the Opposition. We had understood that his colleague, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), might lead on this issue, and I confess that that had surprised me. Given the fascination of the hon. Member for Stone for all things European, I would have been a little startled if anyone had managed to prise him away from a Bill that had Europe in the title. Nevertheless, for all the hon. Gentleman's history on matters European, I hope that this is one Bill on which he and his party can agree, as I believe that its provisions should command all-party support.

Both main aspects of the Bill are about allowing those who are not currently represented in the European Parliament to vote in European elections and to be represented in the European Parliament. Part 1 establishes a mechanism by which the number of UK Members of the European Parliament can be altered to allow space at the European Parliament for new accession states.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Lord Chancellor's press release of 9 December refers to the notion that Gibraltar should become part of the Welsh region for the purposes of representation in the European Parliament. There is also talk of Wales having four seats instead of five. Will the Minister explain the reasoning behind that?

Yvette Cooper: We have not specified that Gibraltar should be part of the Welsh region. We have made it clear that the Electoral Commission must come forward with a recommendation as to which region Gibraltar should be part of. That could be one of the English regions or the Welsh region.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale): Although it is most welcome that Gibraltar will have representation in Europe, is the time not now right for Gibraltar also to have representation in this Parliament at Westminster? Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that?

Yvette Cooper: The position of Gibraltar is complex and has evolved over many years. Very few areas of

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Westminster legislation affect Gibraltar because much of its legislation is made in the Gibraltar Assembly. That process is important and I know that it receives the support of the people in Gibraltar. Therefore, I do not propose a change at this time. However, I shall come to the issues regarding Gibraltar's franchise under the European elections. That issue has also been discussed in the European Court.

Part 2 sets out a provision to enable the people of Gibraltar to vote in European parliamentary elections and to have their interests directly represented in the European Parliament for the first time. We intend to bring both changes into effect by the time of the 2004 European parliamentary elections. Both parts of the Bill reflect the United Kingdom's international obligations under the treaty of Nice and the European convention on human rights.

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