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I was pleased to see the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of a proposed road traffic pricing Bill. That too is part of the story. I have only a couple of minutes left and no doubt others will enter that crucial debate, but I will say this. If the market could resolve the problem of
cars and congestion it would have done so, and I do not think it can resolve the issue of inter-city travel either.
Let me end by listing some of the developments I want to see, as, I am sure, do other Members. We know that they will not happen overnight. The 10-year transport plan has already been mentioned. The Queen's Speech has moved in the right direction with the road pricing Bill and some of the new powers that will be given to local authorities, but we need to know the options for tackling climate change. I am not one for setting up White Papers when they are not necessary, but we need a White Paper on climate change and transport, climate change and energy, climate change and raw materials and the relationship between Brazilian forests and the furniture in our houses. Parliament needs to look at the options, recognise some of the dilemmas and choices faced by Government, and try to address what should be a cross-party issue. The environment does not discriminate among political parties or interest groups; it affects everyone, and I hope we shall all be able to address ourselves to it.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). He and I both have the privilege of serving on the delegation to the Council of Europe, which gives us a chance to see a good many transport systems in other countries in Europe and further afield. I see massive investment in road infrastructure in other European countries, much of which we, as British taxpayers, are funding.
I was in Serbia recently, examining its constitutional referendum arrangements. Serbia is being flooded with European Union funds to improve its road infrastructure, yet we are being told in this debate, and by the Government generally, that we cannot afford to invest in our own roads with our own taxpayers money here at home. Before I develop my theme of transport, I wish to draw the Houses attention to one statement in the Gracious Speech:
My Government will continue its investment in, and reforms of, the public services in order to improve further their effectiveness and to help the most vulnerable members of society.
That is a load of baloney, because it is not what is actually happening on the ground. I illustrate that assertion with reference to the recently announced intention of Jobcentre Plus to close the jobcentre in Christchurch. That will force all the people who use it to travel to Bournemouth, and all the staff who live locally will have to move to Bournemouth. Up to 900 people who use the jobcentre every week will be inconvenienced and put to substantial additional expense. Those people are the most vulnerable people in society, and the Government will remove their access to their local jobcentre at a time when unemployment is rising. Instead, the Government will offer access to paid-for phone calls, which are expensive, and a system that does not work. The Government make great statements about helping vulnerable members of society, but before we fall hook, line and sinker for the contents of the Gracious Speech, we should examine what is happening on the ground. In my constituency, the Government are not acting in the way that they describe.
I wish to speak about transport because I think that there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the transport proposals in the Gracious Speech. On the one hand, the Government are facilitating and reducing the cost of travel for pensioners and disabled people. I would be the first to support that. On the other hand, they seem to want to restrict and add to the expense for everybody else who wishes to travel, including businesses.
Let us consider free off-peak travel. Christchurch borough has 43,000 residents, 17,500 of whom are eligible pensioners or disabled people. Under the old half-fare scheme, some 5,600 registered for and used the scheme, but some 10,600 use the new scheme, introduced this year. That shows how popular the scheme is. Indeed, about a quarter of the borough of Christchurch use the concessionary fare scheme. However, when the Government come forward with new proposals to make the scheme national, what will they do about the money? This year they provided a grant of £237,000 in addition to the grant given last year to Christchurch borough council, and that was meant to meet the full cost of the additional burden. However, the cost is at least twice that. I suspect that if the cost of the national scheme is imposed on individual local authorities, it will be crippling. If we are to have a national concessionary fares scheme, it should be funded nationally by central Government.
For all the individuals and businesses who need to use our road network for their daily businesslet us remember that they create the wealth that will enable us to pay for free transport for the elderlythe Gracious Speech offers only extra cost and regulation, and the prospect of ever more gridlock. The Gracious Speech makes no reference to investment in our road network as a means of increasing capacity and thereby reducing congestion. If demand exceeds supply, one can either ration provision or increase capacity.
Why are the Government rejecting the proposals that we should increase capacity? Whenever one goes abroad one sees the massive investment in new roads. Recently I was in Turkey, and Antalya airport now has more than 8 million passengers each year. Many of them may come from Newcastle airport or Bournemouth international airport. Our constituents go to Turkey because they enjoy the weather, the local people, the hospitality, the ease of transport there and the clear roads in that country. The same is true in Spain and Portugal. We can travel through France on its tolled motorways to good effect. Such new networks are on the continent. Why are we not prepared to use UK taxpayers money to build them here in England? In Scotland, English taxpayers money is being spent on Scottish roads.
The hon. Gentleman objects, so I will give him an example. The road from Dundee to Arbroath has recently been widened, but it will not take any more traffic than it did as a single carriageway road. [ Interruption. ] I am told that when traffic lights were erected on the single carriageway road to enable the dual carriageway to be built, there was no congestion, even with only one carriageway working. That is an example of our double standards. There is
massive investment in roads in Scotland using English taxpayers money, but not enough for our own roads in England.
Stewart Hosie: The A92 was fully funded by Angus council, not by any English taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong about there being no congestion as a result of traffic lights. I invite him to come to my constituency. On the A92 at Claypots junction at rush hour he will see all the congestion that he would like.
If the Government are concerned about CO2 emissions why do they not look at the impact of reducing CO2 emissions by allowing vehicles to travel in congestion-free conditions rather than congested conditions? Everybody knows that miles per gallon are lower in congested conditions than in free-flow conditions. We should spend money on dealing with congestion hotspots, rather than in other ways.
I know that we are saying that we must set a big example to the rest of the world on climate change, but let us remind ourselves that a lack of investment in transport infrastructure here is seriously damaging the health of our economy. Let us also look at what has happened since we started setting an example back in 1990. Between 1990 and 2003 CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption measured in million tonnes of carbon was reduced in the United Kingdom from 152.8 million to 147.3 million, down by 5.5 million. We have set an example. Has the rest of Europe followed us? In the same period CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption increased in Austria by 4.8 million tonnes, in Belgium by 3.1 million tonnes, in the Czech Republic by 10 million tonnes, in Denmark by 1.5 million tonnes, in Finland by 4.8 million tonnes, in France by 9.3 million tonnes, in Greece by 6.5 million tonnes, in Italy by 14.5 million tonnes, in Ireland by 3.1 million tonnes, in the Netherlands by 7.4 million tonnes, in Norway by 2 million tonnes, in Portugal by 5.3 million tonnes, in Spain by 29 million tonnesand it even increased in Sweden. What good has it done us to set an example when none of those other countries in Europe has been following us? All that has happened is that we have made ourselves less economically competitive.
Let us look at what has been happening in the rest of the world. Has it been following us? In Australia the increase is 23.9 million tonnes, in Brazil 30 million tonnes, in Canada 33 million tonnes plus, in Chinese Taipei 35 million tonnes, in India 125 million tonnes, in Indonesia 46 million tonnes, in Japan 51 million tonnes, in Malaysia 20 million tonnes, in Mexico 20 million tonnes
Mr. Chope: With the greatest respect Madam Deputy Speaker, the point that I am making is very pertinent to the issue covered by my partys amendmentwhether we will have more traffic congestion in this country or less. The amendment refers to gridlock. I shall quote one further figure: in China there has been an increase of 399 million tonnes in that 13-year period. In 15 countries, most of which I have mentioned, there has been an overall increase of 1,111.2 million tonnes of CO2 over 13 years.
The Government are very proud of having set up some highly complicated and bureaucratic carbon offset arrangements. I recently received an answer on that from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What is the conclusion? As a result of all that, there will be a savingor an offset, ratherof 300,000 tonnes of CO2 by the middle of 2009; that is less than one third of a million tonnes. I do not need to spell out that that is an irrelevant and pointless gesture in comparison with what is happening.
What is happening is that the people who are the enemies of freedom are using the environmental case as a means to try to suppress individual liberty and freedom in this country. I shall conclude my remarks by quoting Baroness Thatcher. She said:
For me, the economic progress, scientific advance and public debate which occur in free societies themselves offered the means to overcome threats to individual and collective wellbeing. For the socialist, each new discovery revealed a problem for which the repression of human activity by the state was the only solution and state-planned production targets must always take precedence.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I am strongly tempted to go down the transport route in my remarks because I disagree with just about everything that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) said. He said that he supported concessionary bus fares for the elderly, but then immediately opposed the Government extending them to anywhere outside Christchurch. He asserted that we need a massive new road-building programme to reduce congestion, apparently without knowing that in 1992 his own Government set up a committee that conclusively proved that more road building simply postpones the build-up of congestion. His statement at the conclusion of his speech that the enemies of freedom are using the environment to suppress liberties is just too silly to merit a respond.
I want to focus on the security issue and the other wider matters that bear on that. I take it that that issue forms the centrepiece of the Governments legislative agenda for the coming year, but it goes far wider than anti-terrorism and a tighter law and order crackdown, which dominate the Queens Speech. Climate change is the overarching issue that threatens our security, our entire civilisation and our whole way of life.
Until we give absolute priority to combating climate change, there will be no long-term energy security, which is absolutely central to the secure future of everyone, and there will be no food security or water security in this country or anywhere else. That imperative should dominate every aspect of Government policynot just energy, but transport,
industry, construction, agriculture, taxation, fiscal policy, public expenditure and foreign policy. I must, regretfully, say that at present it dominates none of them.
We are nowhere near on track to achieve the 60 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050 that the scientists say is necessary. That requires a huge shift to renewables, which at present provide just 4 per cent. of electricity generation in this country, compared with an average of 20 to 25 per cent. in the rest of the European Union. It requires a massive drive to ramp up energy conservation, which is in the doldrums. It requires car and aeroplane manufacturers to cut emissions radically. It requires all industries to report on and reduce their environmental impacts year by year, which unfortunately the Chancellor recently ditched. I believe that that was a mistake. It requires big incentives for local food production to cut air miles dramatically. It requires energy efficient building standards for all new build, as already exist in Europe and Scandinavia. It requires a carbon quota for every family according to their size, which should be gradually reduced over time in a way that rewards the conscientious and penalises the wasteful. At present, none of those policies is in place, and most are not even being contemplated.
Nor will reductions in emissions be achieved by a climate change Bill in the Queens Speechwhich, of course, I welcomeif it lacks annual targets. If the Government choose, as they seem to be doing, a five or 10-year period instead, all that will happen is that such a level of slippage will build up in the early years that too big a gap will be left to be surmounted in the later years, and the target will simply be missed, perhaps by a considerable margin. That is exactly what is happening now. In six out of the past eight years there has been an increasesometimes a very small increase, I recognisein greenhouse gas emissions.
What the Government should clearly do on climate change, which I regard as our ultimate security, is commit to the necessary target of a 3 per cent. annual reduction in overall UK emissions, then produce a report on the countrys performance in meeting the target and, where there is slippageeveryone understands that there will be slippage, there is nothing wrong with thatmake it clear that the Government will introduce whatever changes are needed to keep Britain on track. If we were to do that, we would acquire the moral and political authority that the Government rightly seek to lead the way internationally in pressing other countries, especially the United States, China, India and the other big countries, to commit to an enhanced and extended climate change protocol, which is the absolute bottom line condition for global action to stabilise and ultimately arrest climate change.
Nor is the more conventional and narrower concept of security in the Queens Speech being handled as effectively as it might. Of course the physical security of the nation must be our absolute and immediate priorityno one will dispute that for a secondbut endlessly ratcheting up the controls over every aspect of our national life will never deliver real security unless we deal with the underlying factors. I must give credit to the Home Secretary, because he spent some time supporting that point.
If we are tough on security, we equally need to be tough on the causes behind the current insecurity. There are several contributory factors; it is certainly not just one. Material circulated on the internet such as gory images of executions, martyrdom videos and portrayals of carnage, particularly where it involves women and children, can have a big impact, especially on small group dynamics where Islamic networks distance themselves from normal social contacts and create autonomous cells that generate intense fanaticism and dedication. It is among such groups that the rage prompted by the horrendous daily carnage in Iraq, the refusal to condemn the indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon and the widespread perception among Muslims of a grossly imbalanced US-UK policy in favour of Israel to the neglect of the Palestinians, feeds on itself and drives terrorist activity.
Of course, the Government have taken the line that there is no link between British foreign policy and Islamic militancy. Well, I frankly do not believe thatI think that very few people dobut equally, neither do I believe that anger at British foreign policy is the sole cause of extremism. I would certainly view it rather as a key contributing factor. That is one of the strongest reasons why a fundamental review of policy on Iraq is so desperately needed now.
If our forces in southern Iraq have now achieved all that they reasonably can and our continued presence there is exacerbating the security situationthat is, as we know, exactly what the military are now sayingit is imperative that we withdraw our forces on the shortest time scale, although not immediately. I readily concede that it is not practicable to do so immediately, but it should happen in the shortest time scale consistent with securing at least the minimum stability that is still salvageable. That should be our aim. In so far as it is compatible with that goalI think that it probably isI very much welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretarys speech yesterday. It is the only way now to bring the disaster of the Iraq war to a close without humiliation. I seek to raise it in this debate because it would go a considerable way towards easing the domestic tensions in this country that arise from the almost daily reports of terrible civilian slaughter.
Setting out a revised Government strategy on Iraq is imperative, but it is certainly not the only essential thing to do. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, we must give the highest priority, through our influence with the EU and the US, to achieve a viable and sustainable Palestinian state. That is probably the best and the only likely way to stop al-Qaeda recruitment. We need a much more even-handed policy between the Arab states and Israel in the middle east. At home, we need to do much more positively to integrate Muslim citizens in the UK in employment, housing and education and to promote a culture that focuses much more on the positive values of both communities.
My last point is that there is also a further gain to be had if those changes of emphasis in foreign and domestic policy can bring about a reduction in the tensions of our society. There have been dozens of criminal justice and law enforcement Bills over the past decadeall in the name of protecting, very sincerely, the freedoms of our society. Those Bills have been so wide ranging, so unremitting in their clampdown on so
many aspects of our society and so intrusive into the reality of some of our traditional liberties that we are seriously at risk of undermining the very freedoms that we profess to be preserving.
I referhon. Members know this very wellto the use of control orders, the introduction of identity cards, the reduction of jury trials, the limitations on the right to protest, the extension of stop-and-search powers, the anti-terrorism Acts that allow an 82-year-old man to be bundled out of a hall for heckling, a highly unequal US-UK extradition treaty and now, apparently, the attempt to reverse a clear decision of Parliament taken only a few months ago and to extend the 28-day limit on detention without charge to 90 days. I beg the Government to look again and to consider whether that is not the wrong way forward.
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