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John Mann: No driver likes speed cameras, but that does not mean that we do not recognise that they are important. Last year, seven people died on the A631 in my constituency. This year, no one has died since speed cameras were introduced. My right hon. Friend said he was reviewing the siting of 200 cameras. Will he also look at roads such as the A638? The number of people killed at one place on that road has not been sufficient to warrant a speed camera, but should not there be more flexible criteria in relation to siting cameras? The number of people killed on a longer stretch of that road than can be taken into account for the purpose of siting a camera shows that the road is a killer, and that it needs speed cameras.
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend illustrates the problem that we face. All Members of Parliament and local councillors will know that for everybody who says that a camera should not be in a certain place, there is someone else who says that we should do something about that dangerous road. The decision on the siting of individual cameras is a matter for police and local authorities, and my hon. Friend should pursue the matter with them.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con):
The Secretary of State will be aware that Durham and North Yorkshire do not have fixed camera sites, so his letter to me was silent on that point. The Under-Secretary with
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responsibility for roads has admitted that the child pedestrian casualty figures are unacceptably high, but what do the Government propose to do about that?
Mr. Darling: Durham and North Yorkshire are not in the netting-off scheme, and that is why they were not included. If they are not in the scheme, they are not obliged to provide figures and that is why they were not mentioned. It is for those areas to decide whether they want to have speed cameras. Child casualty numbers are falling, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was right to highlight our concern. We need to keep up the pressure to reduce casualties among children and motorcyclists, and the Department has a number of strategies to address that. No doubt we will return to the issue in future debates.
It is necessary to recognise that we have an inherited problem, built up over many years in which the country did not spend enough on road capacity. The solution has three strands. First, we need to increase capacity where necessary, and over the past few years I have announced plans to widen the major motorways and improve other roads and junctions. Secondly, we need to ensure that we put money into public transport so that people can have the choice to which the hon. Member for South Suffolk referred. Thirdly, we need to improve the way in which our roads are managed, because they are not managed particularly well. That is why we set up the traffic area officers, starting in the west midlands, to assist in keeping traffic flowing after an incident or accident.
All three aspects of our approach require investment, and so I come back to the issue of Tory policy. We have just received a lecture on the shortcomings of our policy, and that is fine. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to criticise, because that is what Oppositions do. However, at some point, the Tories will need some sort of policy if they do not think that our policy is right.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): Those three strategies are fair enough, but what would the Secretary of State say to rural motorists in constituencies such as mine, who have little public transport and are completely dependent on their cars but who face the highest fuel prices in Europe? What words of comfort does he have for them?
Mr. Darling: It is true that many people living in rural areas do no have the same access to public transport. That applies throughout the country, and transport policy has to recognise that cars are essential for many people. However, the real problem with fuel prices in the past few weeks has not been caused by tax, because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor deferred the increase in tax this year. The problem was caused by the dramatic rise in international oil prices over a very short period. The answer to that problem is to try to bring influence to bear on the OPEC countries to increase production, and that is precisely what the Government have done. Oil production has increased and we have seen a modest reduction in prices. However, the opportunism of the Conservatives in trying to suggest that international oil price changes would not have happened if they were in government beggars belief.
The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who used to be a transport spokesman, asked me about road user charging for lorries. Sadly, it seems that he could
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not wait for the answer, as he is no longer in his place. However, the Government remain determined on that issue. There has been some slippage in the timetable, but that is primarily because we want to ensure that the scheme works when it is introduced. Our experience of big IT projects and the experience of a similar scheme in Germany lead me to believe that we should take the time to get the scheme right, and not rush into something that then fails.
The Tories have also indicated that in the longer term they would consider whether road pricing for cars was a possibility, including distance-based charging. That will not happen in the near future, because it is a long way off technically, but the Government will shortly publish the feasibility study that we set up. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for South Suffolk has the courage to look ahead 30 or 40 years instead of concentrating on the 30 to 40-minute time horizon that has appeared to occupy some of his predecessors.
Mr. Darling: There are two separate issues there. The first is whether we intend to change the motorway speed limit, and I can confirm that we do not have any plans to do that. The second is variable speed limits on, for example, the M25 and other motorways to manage traffic flow, and we intend to develop those because they work.
On the subject of our railways, the legacy of a lack of investment is clear. We are putting money into the railways. The hon. Member for South Suffolk was critical of how much money we are putting in, but we are putting more money in because we are getting more out of it. British Rail used to reckon on replacing 500 miles of track each year. In the lead up to privatisation, that fell to 300 miles. After privatisation, it dropped to 200. However, this year, Network Rail will replace some 850 miles of track. If we want a reliable railway, the track and the signalling must be maintained just like the rolling stock itself.
In what could prove to be an expensive speech when the great day of judgment comes, the hon. Gentleman hinted that he would provide 140-mile an hour running on the west coast main line. However, he knows that the Tories' friends in Railtrackthe right hon. Member for Maidenhead only had one policy, and that was to bring back Railtrackhopelessly underestimated the cost of doing up the west coast main line. Under Railtrack the cost soared to more than £13 billion. Now it will cost some £7 billion, but when it is finished it will cut the London to Manchesterand indeed to Glasgowjourney times by half an hour; and when it is finished in four years' time, it will cut the journey to Glasgow by an hour.
The channel tunnel rail link is open, and it has already cut the journey time. Its reliability is good and it is due to be completed in 2007. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would think that no rolling stock was ever replaced. In fact, nearly 40 per cent. of rolling stock has been replaced over a five-year period, and nearly half of that has been done on London commuter routes.
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We are also improving the power supply south of the Thames, something that Railtrack never got round to doing, because of its incompetence. Last year saw 1 billion passengers travel on the railways for the first time since the early 1960s. I do not deny that much remains to do, but on roads, railways and the tubewhich now has £1 billion a year invested in itwe are putting money into the system, which successive Governments failed to do, and that will lead to improvements.
Chris Grayling: The Secretary of State will accept that the Government have made various promises over the years. He will remember the Strategic Rail Authority plan that specifically set out projects, with timetabled starting dates, for this decade, but most of them have now been abandoned. The Government have made commitments and promises that they have failed to keep.
Mr. Darling: Many of the things that we said we would do are being done. As I have said before, it is true that costs in the industry are far higher than they should be, primarily because Railtrack completely lost control of its spending. Bringing maintenance back in house has saved substantial sums. Last year, Network Rail spent £1 billion less than it thought it would, through efficiency savings, and that demonstrates the problems that were stored up by the policies that the hon. Gentleman supported.
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