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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman reminded us that his party strongly opposed the Edinburgh congestion charge. I am sure that he is aware that, as a result of that defeat, inspired by the Liberal Democrats and others, the city council now faces a shortfall in its budget for its light rail schemes. Given what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I would have thought that the Liberal Democrats would want to see that shortfall met. Unfortunately, the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications on the Scottish Executive, who is a Liberal Democrat, has turned down the request for extra funding. Will the hon. Gentleman urge his colleague to supply that extra funding?
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition Government in Scotland, so it is unfair to heap responsibility solely on a Liberal Democrat Minister. The hon. Gentleman implies that Liberal Democrats should be in favour of congestion charge schemes wherever they are and whatever form they take. That would be an irresponsible position. We need to look at each individual congestion charging scheme and see whether it is appropriate for that city. In London, we felt that it was appropriate; in Edinburgh, we did not.
Dr. Pugh: The Secretary of State answered his own question. He said that in order to have a good congestion charge that works well, one needs an enviable transport structure, including an underground and other services that London has and Edinburgh has not.
Tom Brake: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. One of the necessities for the introduction of a congestion charge is a public transport network that provides people with an alternative when the scheme is introduced.
Mark Lazarowicz: Given the hon. Gentleman's obvious hostility to new road building, will he confirm that he opposes the proposal to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a new road bridge across the Forth?
Tom Brake: The point that I have made about road building is that the Secretary of State has allowed the Department for Transport road-building programme to swell by an extra £1 billion and has not been successful in keeping those costs under control. We favour keeping the costs under control.
Objective three is balancing the need to travel with the need to improve quality of life by improving safety and respect for the environment. Some solid progress has been made on the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents. There are, however, some areas in which further attention is needed. Those include child deaths on the road. The number of serious injuries has fallen significantly, but the number of deaths is not falling at the same rate. We are also seeing an increase in the numbers killed or seriously injured while riding two-wheeled motor vehicles.
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I do have time to address the issue of air quality in detail. However, the Government's own performance report acknowledges that only four out of seven of the targets in that area will be met. I hope that the Government will not seek to achieve the remaining targets by revising the methodology to make it easier to achieve them. I understand that the Government intend to issue a revised methodology at some pointI thought it would be last month, but perhaps it will be this monthfor measuring the air quality around Heathrow. It will be interesting to see whether the outcome will be to make it easier to meet the air quality standards for the area around Heathrow and so enable the third runway to go ahead.
I hope that the Government will demonstrate more joined-up government on greenhouse gas emissions. The public squabble between the Departments for Trade and Industry and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about how to achieve the target and how challenging it should be is not helpful in dealing with what the Prime Minister described as one of our most significant problems.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): The hon. Gentleman acknowledged the problem of congestion, but although I have listened carefully to his speech I have not heard a Lib Dem solution. Will he clarify whether he supports the Government in their move towards a national road pricing scheme at an estimated cost of between £14 billion and £60 billion on a revenue-neutral basis? The lesson from London is that to change motorists' behaviour requires a strong price signal. Does not the evidence undermine the logic of a revenue-neutral approach and throw into question the wisdom of spending several billion pounds on it?
Tom Brake: I am happy to clarify our position. We are on record as supporting road-user pricing and saying that, for it to work, to be acceptable or palatable to the public, it must be revenue-neutral. That would mean getting rid of petrol duty and vehicle excise duty, otherwise the policy would be unsaleable to the public. If we want people to buy into a scheme of such size and complexity, we shall have to offer them that carrot.
The Secretary of State challenged figures supplied by his Department that stated that, taking into account inflation, VAT and optimism bias, there has been an underestimate for road-building schemes before 2003 of about £1 billion. He should have got that situation under control but he has failed to do so. We have asked the National Audit Office to investigate why there has been such a failure to address those underestimates and the significant cost increases for road-building schemes.
Several Members asked about Liberal Democrat transport policies. Our first priority will be to ensure that transport is fairer. A significant number of people still do not have access to cars, including the young, many senior citizens and people on low incomes. They are thus denied access to services or find it difficult to reach them. Unfortunately, many other Government policies demonstrate a lack of joined-up government.
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For example, post office closures mean that people with no access to a car find it much harder to use those valuable services.
Mr. Wills: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Government's support for concessionary travel? For example, in my constituency, Swindon borough council has benefited from nearly £1 million to make it available for precisely the groups that he wants to help.
Tom Brake: I am very aware of the Government's concessionary fares scheme and I welcome it. My only concern is that local authorities consider that it is severely underfunded and that the £350 million allocated will not cover the costs. Some local authorities are having to make adjustments to fares for existing passengers to try to accommodate the extra costs that will arise due to concessionary fares.
Paul Rowen: Is my hon. Friend aware that Tyne and Wear passenger transport authority faces a shortfall of £7.4 million as a result of the introduction of concessionary fares? The PTA will be forced to cut the very bus services that the scheme was supposed to encourage people to use.
Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): May I throw some light on that point? Yesterday, the Government announced additional and substantial support for Tyne and Wear, which means that free travel will be extended to the Tyne and Wear metro system. The director general of the passenger transport executive described the figures that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has just cited as "crude", so will the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) advise his Liberal Democrat friends in Tyne and Wear not to support premature cuts in the bus services while we are working through the issue?
We must help people who do not have access to cars. Fairness in transport must be a priority, and that involves enhancing passenger safety. I understand that a report will be published tomorrow that highlights the fact that the state of many of our stations is so poor that that, in itself, pushes people away from rail services, thus exacerbating the lack of accessibility to many train services. We need to grow the bus network. A number of hon. Members alluded to the fact that bus deregulation is an issue outside London, because bus companies can stop and start their services and threaten to withdraw bus services if they do not receive subsidy for a service that had been run previously by the private company. Light rail systems should be promoted, as they have a key role to play in many parts of the country in providing accessible transport, particularly for people with disabilities.
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