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That the Companies Act 1985 (Operating and Financial Review) (Repeal) Regulations 2005 (S.I., 2005, No. 3442), dated 14th December 2005, be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.[Mr. Watson.]
Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): This year, under Government plans, council tax payers once again face increases that are more than twice the rate of inflation. With average bills already well over £1,000, many people on low incomes, such as pensioners, face having to pay as much as 10 per cent. of their annual income in council tax. In contrast, high earners, such as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, might pay less than 1 per cent. of their income in council tax. Such unfairness cannot go on.
That the year-on-year, inflation-busting increases in Council Tax are causing hardship to many and take no account of ability to pay; further that the proposed property revaluation and re-banding exercise will make an already flawed system even worse.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons votes to replace Council Tax with a fair and equitable tax that, without recourse to any supplementary benefit, takes into account ability to pay from disposable income. Such tax to be based on a system that is free from any geographical or politically motivated discrimination, and that clearly identifies the fiscal and managerial responsibilities of all involved parties.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): About half an hour ago, I listened to the Minister of State, Department for Transport, who will reply to the debate, wind up the previous debate and try to argue the merits and demerits of the handling of highways construction in this country. Many years ago, I was in the office that he now holds because I was Minister responsible for roads for about two or three years. I replied to many Adjournment debates. I felt a certain sympathy when I heard him describing projects proposed, projects postponed and projects cancelled, which has been the history of far too much of our infrastructure investment in this country. Governments have promised a glut of road building and investment one moment, but the next minute, in the middle of a financial crisis, have cancelled many such schemes. However, the Minister is accountable for the present situation. He is responsible for trying to deliver some consistency of purpose and putting important projects in place. While I sympathise with his complaints about some of the inconsistencies of previous planning, I hope that that will make him feel guilty and thus able to respond to my complaints about the way in which improvements to the A46 are being handled.
The A46 is built along the route of the old Fosse way. The Romans, who had an altogether better approach to infrastructure building, put the road on the map in the first place. The relevant part of the road, as far as I and other hon. Members in the Chamber are concerned, runs through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) between Newark and Widmerpool. The road forms part of the route between Lincoln and Leicester, via Newark. It runs close to the city of Nottingham, and important feeder roads bring in traffic from Nottingham to the junctions at Bingham and Widmerpool. The road links cities and the A1 and the M1, so it is an important artery for the whole region. The part of the road about which I am talking lies between two stretches of dual carriageway. There is a fast dual carriageway between Newark and Lincoln, and there is a fast dual carriageway from Widmerpool south to Leicester. There is quite a long bottleneck between Widmerpool and Newark, for which improvement has always been planned but never delivered.
The road carries quite a large amount of heavy goods traffic and is frequently congested. It is that most dangerous of roadsa three-lane, quite fast highway on which people expect to overtake down the centre when the opportunity arises, which has plenty of rolling small hills with dead ground and other dangerous patches. It does have a very bad accident record. There are also a large number of important rural junctions to various villages. Although there are always arguments about the precise route, there has never been any great controversy in my county of Nottinghamshire about the need to improve such an important route.
If I may, I shall deal only with the modern times of the road. I suspect that dualling was first canvassed before the second world war. In May 1989, the road was put
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into what we then called the trunk road programme. Quite a lot of work was done preparing for building and quite a lot of consultation with my constituents and others took place. The scheme was at quite an advanced stage when, in 1997, the incoming Labour Government took it out of the trunk road programme. I will not return to the debates at that time, because bad examples can be found under previous Governments, including the one of whom I was a member, but the present Government have behaved inconsistently.
When the Labour Government first came to office, they were against building roads. I went to see the then Minister, Lady Hayman, and told her that the road she was taking out of the trunk road programme would be reinstated, probably by her Government, within a few years once they had faced choruses of public complaint. Alas, she decided to take the road out of the trunk road programme; inevitably, it has been restored, because the need for it is fairly desperate. It has since been proceeding as a Highways Agency TPItargeted programme of improvementsproject under the Government's present arrangements.
I have been impressed by the progress made in recent years. Consultation on the preferred route has been going on since about July 2005indeed, consultation is still going on. There are still some arguments about particular junctions. There is one that I think the Highways Agency has got wrong, but we are all working on the basis that there is no objection in principle to a dual carriageway. We need a dual carriageway with split-level junctions and we have been getting down to the nitty-gritty of how to achieve the maximum benefit for villagers and traffic flow. We have now reached the stage where the draft orders are shortly to be published. The Highways Agency thought, as I did, that the orders might even be made before the end of 2005 and that we might be about to go to the last major public inquiry. I and my constituents have been expecting the construction of the road to begin in 2007 or 2008, and that has been the intention.
The reason I asked for this debateI am sure that it is the reason my hon. Friend the Member for Newark will be trying to catch the Speaker's eye and why the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) has come alongis that we are all slightly appalled to discover that, following so much preparation, the project is in imminent danger of being postponed for several years. The danger comes from the fact that the Government have decided that they regard the road as a regional and not a national priority. They have therefore indicated that the progress of construction will depend in part on their reaction to the advice of the regional assembly, which was asked to give advice by the end of January 2006 on where the project should fit into the regional priorities, so that the Government could make final decisions on how to proceed with roads in the east midlands.
The regional assembly has been given an impossible task. The estimated cost of the project between Newark and Widmerpool is £220 million, but an out-turn figure of £250 million or £260 million would not be surprising. East Midlands regional assembly has been given an indicative budget of £80 million a year for highway improvements in the east midlands. That is the second
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lowest budget in the country, and it is broadly in line with what has been spent historically in our region. As a result, advice is being sought from the regional assembly and others in the region on how to fit in an important project, the cost of which will consume at least three years of the entire budget for every transport schemecertainly every road schemein the east midlands. We cannot possibly expect people outside Nottinghamshire and the surrounding areas of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire to make that decision, as the early inclusion of the scheme in the programme would postpone every improvement, every bypass and every other demand in the entire region for three years.
The regional assembly has given its advice, but I have not seen it. I am relieved, however, to discover that it is not just a question of doing down Nottinghamshire. All the authorities in the region think that it is outrageous that they should be asked to put a whale in the pond by including the scheme in the regional programme. Local authorities are making representations to the Government saying that the project should be made a national one again. They have tried to allocate a date, but it is not an immediate one. If their advice is accepted by the Government they propose that construction should be postponed to 2012, 2013 or 2014. As with all road schemes, I will believe that when I see it. If the project, which is in an advanced state of preparation, slips from an early anticipated date to 2012 it will it be a very long time indeed before it is back on track. I therefore urge the Minister to make it a national project again.
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