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Ruth Kelly: I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. Journey times will be 20 per cent. shorter for those travelling in and out of Greater Manchester, and there will be more reliability and less traffic. There will also be more capacity on rail services, including on the busiest routes, so that people have a real option for travelling in and out of Greater Manchester.
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The single most important benefit to the residents of Greater Manchester and those who live beyond its boundaries is that Manchester will have the opportunity to continue to grow and to compete on the international stage in a way that it has not been able to do until now.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The investment in public transport in Greater Manchester is much needed and very welcome, but a special tax that will be paid only by people in Manchester and that could take up to £2,500 off their annual income is very much opposed by people in Manchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the consultation process the scheme’s opponents should be given the same ability to distribute literature as those proposing it, to ensure that the consultation is fair and balanced?

Ruth Kelly: I commend my hon. Friend’s long involvement in championing Manchester’s cause, but I do not think that anyone has accused the opponents of the congestion charge and public investment scheme in Greater Manchester of being silent—indeed, they have made their voices heard in several respects. If he casts his mind back to when the initial proposals were being considered and Greater Manchester residents and businesses were asked whether a bid should be submitted to Government, he will well recall that the majority of residents agreed not only with the principle of a bid being submitted, but with the proposals themselves.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady accept that many of us are much attracted by her announcement today and believe it to be one of the things that we must, in principle, do if we are to deal with climate change? We had better get this scheme absolutely right, because this is something that we will have to do all over the country. I was surprised, therefore, that she did not use the words “climate change” in her statement. Will she tell me how many tonnes of CO2 emissions will be saved by these decisions?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his far-sightedness and on not being seduced by the short-term political opportunism of his Front-Bench team. He rightly refers to climate change; indeed, my statement referred to the environment. The only CO2 emission calculations that I am aware of were those produced by the Greater Manchester authorities, which estimated that about 6 per cent. of all CO2 emissions could be saved by the scheme.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): I welcome today’s statement, but with some reservations. For example, I am clear from what happened this morning that my constituents are not yet sufficiently aware of why we need such a proposal. We were waiting for a train that did not turn up, but my constituents did not understand that the necessary investment in the rail industry had not been made and that this proposal will help. My plea to the Secretary of State is to let the passenger transport authority do the campaigning to convince people. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and others will campaign against the proposal, but the role of Government should be to give genuine information to my constituents and to everybody else so that they can make a reasoned decision. Will the Secretary of State give that commitment?

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Ruth Kelly: Indeed, and today’s statement is part of that process. It is important that not only are arguments made for the Government’s policy but people are given clear, unambiguous advice about what the proposals are. Today, I have set out in some detail, as have the Greater Manchester authorities, the specific proposals for each borough. I know that not only will each borough benefit from more rail capacity, but bus services will be transformed. Yellow buses are being introduced, as are guided busways between Leigh and Manchester, and between Bolton, Farnworth, Kearsley and Manchester. People need to see the details of the proposals to be able to make up their own mind, but I am certain that, in the long run, they will be convinced.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If these proposals are as attractive as the Secretary of State suggests, surely the best way to indicate the level of local support would be to put the proposals to local people in a Greater Manchester-wide referendum. That way, she could sell the proposals, the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and others could oppose them, and the Government, if they are right, could demonstrate that the public are behind them on this. If the Government are wrong, a costly mistake would be avoided.

Ruth Kelly: The Greater Manchester authorities could choose to do that if they wished. Their judgment is that the proposals will be welcomed by local people and businesses. Indeed, my local borough is considering holding a poll of the sort that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I believe in devolution and these measures should be considered and determined locally.

David Heyes (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): The announcement today is welcome and somewhat overdue. This level of investment in what the Secretary of State has called a world-class city is entirely appropriate for Britain’s second city. It will certainly be welcomed in my constituency, Droylsden and other areas throughout Greater Manchester, as will the completion of Metrolink. I am pleased to hear that that will be implemented before the congestion charge is introduced, because that is crucial. While there is a need to tackle congestion through road charging, does my right hon. Friend agree that the scaremongering and misinformation put out by the Conservatives, especially in the recent local election campaign, will make the process of consultation so much more difficult?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right. For instance, a scare story was put out by the Opposition that the congestion charge zone would be extended to boroughs outside the inner and outer ring, but that is complete nonsense. It is important that people are provided with the facts and are able to make an informed decision based on those facts.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Bearing in mind that Trinity Street station in my constituency has needed serious investment for several decades now, that the Bolton-Manchester rail corridor is one of the most congested in the country, and that extensions of Metrolink will not benefit Bolton, how can Bolton’s
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three Members of Parliament convince their commuting constituents that this scheme will be of benefit to them also?

Ruth Kelly: I shall certainly be arguing the case in Bolton that there should be a state-of-the-art interchange linking both the rail services at Bolton with bus services; a new, high-quality bus route linking Bolton, Farnworth, Kearsley and Manchester with a 10-minute frequency for much of the day, segregated for a large part from other traffic; and more trains holding more people, so that people can travel in and out of the city centre in less crowded conditions. When those improvements are combined with a real upgrade in the quality of buses provided and a new yellow bus service for children travelling to school, commuters in Bolton will be convinced that an extremely good deal is on the table.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I have grave concerns about the proposed imposition of congestion charging, because it would be very difficult for my constituents to switch to public transport, given how things stand. We have had severe cutbacks in our bus services, and my right hon. Friend has even visited a station that I have campaigned to have improved. We will not benefit from an extension of Metrolink either. So the position is dire—I have campaigned a lot on it—and it will not improve quickly. My constituents will be concerned to ensure that they have a proper say, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me an assurance today that everyone who wants to do so can have a say on these proposals.

Ruth Kelly: Certainly. Indeed, my hon. Friend’s constituents will benefit just as others across Greater Manchester will from improved buses and greater rail capacity. Stations such as the one I visited are likely to be refurbished as a result of the announcement today. Some 42 stations across the area will benefit from a significant programme of refurbishments, including regular real-time information services about train arrivals, as well as better quality facilities for passengers.

My hon. Friend is right that her constituents need to have a say. Greater Manchester has promised a consultation that will be carried out independently, and the results will be submitted to the Government for consideration as part of the process.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome the proposed investment in a new bus interchange station in my constituency, extra carriages for overcrowded commuter trains, new buses and perhaps, in the future, the Metrolink. May I ask my right hon. Friend for more details about the consultation process and the information to be provided, particularly in relation to road pricing, as my constituents will want to know more about the effect on very local journeys? As she will be aware, the outer ring cuts through my constituency, separating the north from the south.

Ruth Kelly: Greater Manchester will want to satisfy itself that people will still be able to travel to work freely and that that journey will be improved for the vast majority of people in the future, both for motorists as a result of reduced traffic on the roads, which will lead to
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shorter journeys and more reliable travel times, and for those who choose to travel on the roads outside peak hours or on the new bus and rail services. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of a good consultation process. I understand that the Greater Manchester authorities will provide information to every household across Greater Manchester, although these are questions for them. There will be exhibitions where people will be able to come to find out more about the proposals, and views will be gathered so that they can be submitted to the Government.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): The economic success of the UK has led Greater Manchester, and the city of Manchester in particular, to become a huge success. It is important that the city of Manchester is not choked on its own success and that the benefits are spread throughout the borough. That is why I welcome the infrastructure provided by the improvements to Wigan Wallgate and Wigan North Western stations and the additional and better rail links. Will my right hon. Friend announce at some stage in the future that there will be further improvements to the road infrastructure, which is equally vital to boroughs such as Wigan as the rail network improvements?

Ruth Kelly: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern as a former chair of the highways in Wigan for a number of years, as I have just been informed by my colleague on the Front Bench. It is absolutely right that we have to maintain the infrastructure in roads. The Government are providing more than £2 billion of capital support to local areas across the country, but in the future Greater Manchester, too, will want to consider how to keep those roads properly maintained to ensure that motorists have the reliable journeys that they are promised in this bid.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I, too, welcome the £3 billion investment in public transport in Greater Manchester, which is much needed. Will the Secretary of State allay my fears that communities such as Denton and Audenshaw might become divided towns? What pressure can be put on the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities to ensure that those communities that straddle the M60 charge zone can continue properly to function as single communities?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is essential that as a result of the proposals, social inclusion is not only maintained but improved and that communities do not become divided but are brought together. The bid offers local people the opportunity to make the case to the GMPTA about what improvements are needed to make that happen. Buses might need to be more frequent or more reliable, or the prices might need to be kept down. The local discount scheme might need to be designed in a particular way. The yellow bus service might need to take into account the fact that some parents live on one side of the boundary while the school is on the other side. The £2.8 billion package is sufficient for that.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I welcome today’s announcement, because the improvements to local bus services and to Metrolink will be of enormous
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benefit to my constituents, who have waited far too long. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on confronting the difficult issue of congestion charging, on not running away from it and on not conceding to those who want to put their heads in the sand and hope that congestion will go away, because it will not? Does she agree that a lot of fine tuning needs to be done during the further consultation period? Will she look in particular at the questions of exemptions for public service workers and residence permits for those within the zone? In particular, will she consider differential charging according to the emissions rating of the vehicle, so that those who run the most fuel-efficient vehicles will pay less in the congestion charging scheme?

Ruth Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. It is important that the Government back ambitious plans proposed by local authorities that are prepared to take the measures necessary not just to tackle congestion in the future, but to have a beneficial impact on the environment and, indeed, on the quality of life in those areas. An important part of the plans will be how any discount scheme operates. Greater Manchester has advised the Government that it intends to offer discounts, probably aimed at low-income groups, but the specific design of exemptions, or indeed how the charging scheme operates, is still in the process of being worked up. It is one of the points that it will wish to test through the consultation process.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): This is obviously a great opportunity for Manchester, and I suspect that what is being proposed will be a model for what will happen in many of our great cities over the years to come, but given some of the feedback that we have had about the scheme, can my right hon. Friend confirm that all the councils that are members of the transport innovation fund partnership are volunteers, that there are no pressed men and that the scheme was designed by people in Manchester for people in Manchester?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Greater Manchester’s leaders have come forward, on behalf of the citizens and businesses in Greater Manchester, with ambitious proposals to transform their local economy and to make Manchester a world-class city. It is right that the Government back those leaders who come up with ambitious plans to support future prosperity, to tackle climate change and to improve the quality of life, and it is important that the Government back that with hard cash.

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Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): As a Leeds Member, I sincerely welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and wish Manchester well in this enterprise. Many of my constituents work in Manchester, and they cross the Pennines every day to do so. My concern is to ensure that, if increasing numbers of commuters use the trans-Pennine route, they have better services. At the moment, there are certain deficiencies on that route and, as she will know, there is enormous congestion on the M62 which also needs to be addressed.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we are continuing to invest in the capacity of rail services. As he well knows, we have the fastest growing railway in Europe. As part of the TIF bid, extra capacity will be made available not just for the growing number of people whom we as a Government expect to use the railway over the next five or 10 years, but to support people who want to move out of their cars and start taking the train instead. Indeed, the busiest rail services in and out of Manchester have the most gain.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. My only disappointment is that Manchester, not Sheffield, will get the package, although I accept that I am in a fairly small minority of people in Sheffield with that point of view at present. If we in Sheffield and, indeed, other cities come to the view that a package of congestion charging and public transport improvements is the only realistic way forward to a transport strategy for the future, will she back cities that come forward at a later stage as enthusiastically as she is backing Manchester? In the meantime, will she encourage all cities to develop some sort of strategy to tackle congestion, as that is currently not being done by all cities?

Ruth Kelly: Certainly, and that is the reason why we have set up a small pump-priming fund to enable towns and cities to develop proposals to tackle congestion in the future. Of course, if Sheffield and, indeed, other cities across the United Kingdom want to propose ambitious plans to do so, we will consider them on their merits. Indeed, if £200 million a year appeared not to be adequate, we would reassess the size of the pot to ensure that it was generous enough to fund the right sort of proposals.

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Points of Order

4.14 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may remember that last Thursday, during business questions, I asked the Leader of the House whether she could persuade the Minister for Housing to come to the House to initiate a debate, or make a statement, on the Government’s eco-town policy. The Housing Minister perhaps heard half of what I said, because she appeared on “Newsnight” on Friday night to address what she no doubt thought was the nation. Are there any means by which you could persuade her that, once she has got as far as the BBC studio—

Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Garnier: Yes, it is not a point of order, Mr. Speaker, but it is a point of deep frustration that I am raising as a point of order so as to persuade the Housing Minister to go not to a BBC studio for once, but to the House of Commons, to tell us about her eco-towns policy.

Mr. Speaker: As the hon. and learned Gentleman says, it is not a point of order, but I am interested in the area referred to, because it once belonged to the great co-operative movement, in which Springburn was involved.

Mr. Garnier: And it still does.

Mr. Speaker: And it still does. It is not a question of me persuading Ministers. Ministers know that they are always very welcome here, and are welcome to make a statement. That point will be heard.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week at business questions, the issue of the privacy of Members’ addresses was raised with the Leader of the House. Her house is now subject to—well, it is not quite a terrorist attack,
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but some people might find it quite terrifying to have people climbing all over their roof. Surely that illustrates why we need further action to protect Members’ addresses, and to protect our rights under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

Mr. Speaker: I will not be drawn into the matter, because the issue could come before the courts.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I learned this morning that an oral question of mine that was on the Order Paper had been unstarred by the Home Office without any discussion, or even the courtesy of notification of the occurrence. In my view, the question was in order; it was about the number of offences created by the Government, most of which were undoubtedly created by the Home Office—there are probably some 3,500 such offences, according to the best estimate. What is to stop Ministers and Departments from unstarring questions that it is politically embarrassing for them to answer?

Mr. Speaker: I think that the answer to that latter point is: nothing at all. It might help the hon. Gentleman to hear that transfers are a matter for the Ministers concerned, and not for the Chair, but transfers of oral questions can deprive a Member of the chance to put a question in the House. Oral questions should therefore be transferred with particular care.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that Departments have discretion over whether they answer an oral question. However, I, too, was listed to ask the Home Office a question; it was on migration. If the Government avoid difficult questions by bumping them off to the Cabinet Office, how on earth do we get the Home Secretary to come to the Dispatch Box and answer questions on migration?

Mr. Speaker: May I say that that is the same point? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to repeat my statement.

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