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Norman Baker: Will the hon. Gentleman share with the House his views of the Manchester metrolink? Does he share my despair at the way in which it has been handled and is not going ahead?

Mr. Stringer: I was about to mention the tram system in Manchester. I have said in Westminster Hall and in the Chamber that I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the wrong decision in stopping the tram system in Manchester. Of course, it is reasonable to have concerns about costs. Any Secretary of State would be so concerned. Given that the costs had increased in November and December last year and that the detail of those costs was known in February of this year, it was not reasonable that no work was done in the Department for Transport. On 20 July, we were told that the tram scheme had not been approved. That was wrong. Some of the reasons for the increase in costs were entirely down to the Department and the Government. There were the Railtrack problems and the way in which the Government dealt with them. Other factors included the cost of borrowing, which increased the risk factors in any contracts. The way in which passenger transport authorities and executives were asked to tender was expensive. Regulations that the Government have signed have put too much power in the hands of the utilities, with the result that they can sign their own cheques. I accept that there is an issue about costs.

It is not the case—I respect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for bringing this up—that more work should have been done before we set up a working party, on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) sits. I hope that the working party will arrive at a positive conclusion. I cannot say strongly enough that if we want a decent transport system in Greater Manchester, buses in a deregulated system will not provide the answer. They are moving more and more on to densely populated corridors and away from peak times. It is not possible for shift workers to use them on Saturdays and Sundays or early in the morning and late in the evening.

Even in a regulated bus system—right hon. and hon. Members cannot be expected to know this—there is not sufficient capacity within bus corridors in Manchester to
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provide the capacity that could be made available by a tram system. The tram system will provide more capacity than the buses could ever provide. The Government proposals do not allow regulation of the buses. If we want to improve the environment and support the economy, we need a tram system. Nothing else will provide that support to Manchester.

This debate is also about local and devolved government affairs. Great cities like Manchester and Leeds should not have to go to a Secretary of State to ask, "Can we have a tram system?". When Manchester and Leeds last had tram systems—they were put on the streets 100 years ago—those cities took the decision themselves and paid for the systems out of local taxation. There is something fundamentally wrong with the balance between local decision making and taxation raised locally and central Government. This is not a criticism of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. A constitutional issue is raised when it is the Secretary of State for Scotland not approving a tram system in Manchester, when he cannot take the same decision over tram systems in Scotland. That is not a criticism of him, but something deep down in the constitution has gone wrong when that happens.

The rejection of the regional assembly by the people of the north-east gives the Government an opportunity to consider devolution. Devolution was not on offer to the people of the north-east; what was on offer was centralisation of local government, for which council tax payers in the north-east would have had to pay more. Therefore, devolution was not rejected. Now that the Conservatives are saying things that they would have described as loony and extreme in the 1980s about the future of local government and the powers and resources that it should have—I welcome them back into the fold of supporting local democracy—we should try to build an all-party consensus to deal with the structural problems of local government, because the present situation is not sustainable.

Power should be given back to local government, but there is a bigger problem because that will still not deal with the problems of regional inequalities and regional diversity. It cannot be right, and it is not sustainable, to carry on with the Barnett formula, when the reasons for it, beyond the politically expedient—reasons of poverty—when it was introduced by Lord Barnett in the 1970s have gone. There is no reason to carry on paying more to Scotland when it is in a better economic position than the north-east. That is not a sensible solution. The problems of regional inequality in the north-east, the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside will not be dealt with until the unfair spatial expenditure in this country is dealt with, as well as the governance arrangements in local government.

3.1 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in today's debate on the Gracious Speech, and it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). He obviously speaks with great experience and authority about transport matters, as does the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but I shall not follow him down that path. He has made me realise, rather depressingly, that it is now 40 years since I first fought a parliamentary seat
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not many miles from his constituency. I also remember using trams quite regularly in Manchester, so that dates me quite well.

I want to speak about two important issues—first, one of the greatest international challenges that we face, and, secondly, one of the most difficult national challenges that we face. The first is climate change and how we must reduce harmful emissions, and the latter is the provision of housing in our country and the environmental implications of that.

I want to begin, perhaps unexpectedly for the Minister, by congratulating the Government on one achievement. We may have to look around to find the one achievement, but as I understand it the Government have already met the Kyoto protocol commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions. They were asked to reduce them on 1990 levels by 12.5 per cent., and I understand that since 1990 we have achieved a 14 per cent. reduction. If I was a cynic, I would be tempted to ask the Minister by how much those harmful emissions were reduced between 1990 and 1997 when the Kyoto commitment was made.

Norman Baker: Before the hon. Gentleman is too complimentary about the Government, I point out that the Kyoto target relates to where the Government are between 2008 and 2012, and it is possible that they may go backwards before then.

Sir Sydney Chapman: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I intended to add that caveat, and I will do so, but before I do, it is also fair to remind the House that the Government went further than the Kyoto commitment and pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, and last year went even further and pledged themselves to a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050, although I suspect that not many of us will be around to see if that latter pledge is realised.

Of course, as the hon. Gentleman, whose speech I listened to carefully, said, in the last year for which I have figures, 2002–03, carbon dioxide emissions in Britain increased by 1.5 per cent. I do not know whether the Minister has the figure for last year, but I would be interested to know it. I have to say—we must all try to make a political point if we can—that the levels of carbon emissions are greater today than they were in 1997.

I want to make one point on aviation emissions. There has been a significant increase, and it is very worrying, but in fairness to the Government there must be not only EU agreement on reducing aircraft emissions, but international agreement. If we acted unilaterally, all that would happen is that Heathrow would get into economic trouble, and most planes, particularly from across the Atlantic, would merely fly to Schiphol airport. Rather like the Kyoto proposals on harmful emissions, there must be international agreement, and I hope that the Government will work for that. I am sure that they will.

On renewable energy and the Government commitment to ensure that 10 per cent. of electricity comes from renewables by 2010, I do not want to be depressing or pessimistic, but it is unlikely that that will be achieved. I hope that even at this late stage they will
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try to do so. Basically, they must increase the renewable input into the total electricity output by 1 per cent. per annum if they are to achieve that. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) that there seems to be too much reliance on wind farms and wind power. I am for wind power, but we must consider its environmental consequences, and there are clearly many parts of the country where it would be quite wrong to erect large-scale wind farms. We must develop solar, wave, tidal and geothermal energy, and biomass and biofuels. My criticism of the Government, which I echoed when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs presented her White Paper, is that they should have targets for the different forms of renewable energy, rather than just relying on the global reduction.

Clearly, my next point is not the Government's responsibility, but what helps to deal with harmful carbon dioxide emissions is a plentiful supply and area of rainforests. The sad fact is that in the past 20 years the world has chopped down no fewer than 4.6 million sq km of rainforest, and we are really cutting off our nose to spite our environmental and ecological face. I know that this is not our problem, but the developed world has to help the developing world if we are to save our rainforests. I do not want to go further down that route, except to say that when I talk about having lost 4.6 million sq km of rainforest—and I am not metrically adjusted—I am talking about an area the equivalent of 11 times the size of our country.

On housing, I accept that whichever Government are in power, it is an intractable problem, which verges on the impossible, to provide the right land for housing needs. The nimby syndrome appears when Governments of whatever hue suggest that extra housing should be provided on site A rather than site B or site C.

The sad fact is—I do not want to exaggerate—that the housing market has almost collapsed in parts of the north of our country, while prices have rocketed in the south in general, and in the south-east in particular. The average price of a new home today in the northern regions of the country has broken into six figures—£100,000—whereas in London it is more than £250,000. Indeed, Barnet is not the most expensive borough—I think that that is the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea—but the average price of a new house in my constituency is almost £300,000, and the average for the borough as a whole is more than £280,000.

The problem must be grasped. The extent of the problem is borne out by one of the most remarkable statistics that I have ever come across: I knew that the population of our kingdom had increased by 4 million over the past 25 years, but I did not realise that the number of households had also increased by 4 million, owing to the demographic changes that are occurring all about us. Sadly, more and more families separate and break up. When I first entered politics, the typical British family could be described as a man and a wife with 2.4 children—incidentally, the 2.4 children have decreased to 1.6 children. With all the separations, divorces and remarrying that is taking place, it is probably better to describe the typical British family today as a child with 2.4 parents—I wish that I had thought of that description, but I did not.
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