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1 July 2008 : Column 205WH—continued

Similarly, an alternative proposed boundary would run down Withington road, almost directly outside my house. If that were the boundary, I would be able to park my car at the front of my house and not pay a
1 July 2008 : Column 206WH
charge for driving into the city centre. However, if my neighbours and I parked our cars in the garages at the back of our houses, and therefore drove out on to Withington road, we would have to pay. The consultation must fully address such details, rather than vaguely mentioning an inner ring. Simply describing the inner ring as

is hardly helpful to the residents of south Manchester.

It has been suggested that the M60 would always be the outer ring, but discussions are now taking place about the possibility of the city council boundary being the outer ring. Once again, people must be made aware of that vital piece of information. There has been a lot of disquiet in Wythenshawe about the prospect of having to pay the full charge because the area is south of the M60, and a decision on where the southern boundary would go would be a significant factor in people’s decision about whether to support the scheme.

Other issues that must be addressed in the consultation include the cost to the motorist and the provision of proper details about what transport improvements people can expect to see implemented and when. Originally, people were promised that all the public transport improvements would be in place before charging could begin. The consultation document suggests that

but figures that have been bandied about suggest that only 80 per cent. of the improvements would be in place before the charging scheme is introduced.

As for costs, the consultation document suggests that the daily charge, which is £5 at 2007 prices, will be no more than £6 in 2013, even though the figure of £8 has been bandied about. Whichever is the correct figure, people must know the details so that they can make an educated decision. In total, a staggering £3 million is to be spent on the consultation process. That should be easily enough to ensure that people are properly consulted and feel part of the process. However, a significant proportion of the £3 million is to be spent on spin, rather than on genuine consultation. The £810,000 that is to be spent on TV adverts that tell people very little is not money well spent. A consultation document that costs £627,000 and which is thin on detail is hardly worth the paper that it is written on, never mind the cost of distribution. I hope that there will be a meaningful consultation and that it will give people a real say, but I rather suspect that it will not.

12.12 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Good afternoon, Mr. Wilshire. This has been an interesting and lively debate.

When we debated local transport on the Floor of the House last year, several hon. Members, including many of those who have contributed today, said that the key to the successful delivery of local transport was the interrelationship between national and local government. In my comments, I highlighted an important principle, which lies behind what we are discussing. I said:

The Government tried to wriggle out of that by saying that they had introduced new guidelines on local and national transport. They said:

That is the essence of where we are today, and it explains why Greater Manchester has said that its local transport requires improvement and investment, as we have heard from several hon. Members from the Greater Manchester county area, who know these things far better than I ever could. At the same time, however, Greater Manchester is allowed to bid for funds under TIF only if it submits to the Government’s bullying on the congestion charge. That is the background to the debate. The Government are effectively telling Greater Manchester, “Of course you can have money from TIF, but only if you put in a congestion charging scheme.”

Clearly, there must be roads in Greater Manchester that are gridlocked and car-parked like the M25, a number of the roads in Greater London and—even five years on—a number of the roads in the congestion charging scheme. However, the hon. Members for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said that congestion in Manchester is not as bad as it is in Greater London; indeed, the hon. Gentleman said that it is receding. There is therefore an issue about whether we are talking about a congestion charge. If we are, is it actually needed?

Furthermore, as several hon. Members have said, those on low or middle incomes, who face rising living costs of between 4 and 10 per cent. this year, will have to find an extra £1,200 a year from the family budget to pay for the congestion charge. That will clearly be difficult, but for those who will not even benefit from the scheme, the whole thing starts to unravel.

Several of the schemes announced under the TIF bid are not new. For instance, on 22 March 2000, the then Deputy Prime Minister visited Manchester to announce the “no strings attached” go-ahead for the “big bang” expansion of Metrolink, and that is now also part of the scheme. If several of the things that are to be included in the scheme are not new, the whole thing starts to look very difficult.

The Government endlessly tell us that there is £3 billion of investment, but the reality is that although between a half and a third—it is probably closer to a half—of the £2.8 billion of total investment will come from the Government, the rest will come from charges, loans or increases in local taxes. Those of us who have seen the congestion charging scheme in London will know that some people live in areas that do not benefit. As the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said, those who live in areas that are not in the centre of a scheme do not benefit from any of the proceeds, even though they have to pay for it. My constituents in south-west London would certainly recognise that sentiment.

Mr. McCartney: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Stephen Hammond: No, I have only—

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned my name and misquoted what I said.

Stephen Hammond: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to re-quote what he said, I will let him intervene.

Mr. McCartney: I said that the TIF bid will, for the first time in 20 years, give my constituents something for something, not something for nothing. Up until this bid, we were subsidising infrastructure in Manchester city, but we were getting nothing back in return. TIF addresses that for the first time.

Stephen Hammond: The right hon. Gentleman also said that his constituents had been paying through the precepts for a long time and that they had been getting nothing. That is exactly what my constituents got under the previous Mayor in London. Under this scheme, the extra money that is needed to make up the total amount will have to come from an increase in local taxes or the transport precept. We will have to rely on more cars coming in to pay an ever-increasing charge or we will have to increase the boundaries.

The Minister therefore has a number of questions to answer. For instance, exactly how much of the £2.8 billion will come from the Government and how much will come from local lanes and local charges? What guarantee does she intend to put in place to ensure that there will not be an excessive rise in charges each year to meet that contribution? My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made a good point about an extension to a third outer ring. Can the Minister tell us definitively one way or the other whether that has been ruled out? Does she accept that the scheme will hit those on low incomes very hard? Will she propose measures such as the residents’ scheme in London to alleviate that impact? Will she have consultations with the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority?

My biggest concern, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, relates to the democracy of the scheme. Three of the 10 councils whose residents will be asked to pay the charge have already said that they oppose it, while another has called for a referendum, but the Government seem determined to bully Manchester into congestion charging. The Secretary of State, who represents a Greater Manchester constituency, is effectively telling the city, “If you want the extra money to improve local transport you can have it, but you have to have this scheme.” Last year the Select Committee on Transport equated that approach with blackmail. It is very poor that the Government should seek to ride roughshod over what may prove to be the wishes of the people of Greater Manchester, and not seek local consent or validation.

Referendums may be seen as an imperfect method of obtaining local consent or validation. A local referendum took place in May when the chairman of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority lost his seat on the council to an anti-charging candidate. It is clear, therefore, that the Government must consider the whole question of how they want to go about validation. It seems that congestion charging should have the consent of the local population.

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There was recently a statement on TIF funding. The Secretary of State kept silent about any views on referendums for her constituents or the people of Greater Manchester, and that spoke volumes. Now we have heard that there will be 14 weeks for a consultation process. There has been a brochure, which some hon. Members have suggested they will not get. We have talked about a single exhibition bus and some public demonstrations. Does the Minister think that that is an adequate method of consultation for a scheme of this size? Does she not accept that, despite all the imperfections of referendums, many of which have been described—I shall certainly not go over them again in the short time remaining—they are a way of validating support, and the Government should tell Greater Manchester that a referendum would be an acceptable method of showing, for all to see, whether there is support for the congestion charging scheme? If there were to be a referendum and a no vote, would the Government accept that they should stop their bullying and consider that there must be a plan B?

The debate underlines the inescapable truth for the Government that local plans should follow local needs and local transport requirements and not just be a misnomer for a Government directive. They should stop bullying residents in Manchester and let them decide whether they want congestion charging. All congestion charging schemes require local validation or consent. I hope that the Minister will learn from this experience and will consider amending the Local Transport Bill accordingly, when she has the chance, perhaps on Report.

12.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on securing the debate. It is obviously an issue of great importance to her constituents. The debate has reflected strong views on the main issue and on a referendum.

It is worth revisiting initially some of the background to the Manchester TIF bid. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and, in a very passionate speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said, Greater Manchester is one of the fastest growing economies in the country. Its economic success is vital to the success of the north-west as a whole, and to the UK economy. Right hon. and hon. Members sometimes considered the immediate effects of the proposal on their constituencies. However, it is important to point out, as some did, the effect of the Manchester economy on that of the north-west as a whole.

Some 45,000 new jobs have been created in the past five years in Greater Manchester and there is the potential for a further 210,000 to be created by 2021. However—this is the key point—in Greater Manchester, as in many of our key cities, future growth and prosperity are threatened
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by congestion on the roads. Indeed, Greater Manchester has identified, as many hon. Members have pointed out, that as many as one in seven future jobs in the city region could be at risk as a result of growing congestion. It is also important to take into account the knock-on effects on the environment, air pollution and health, which make it vital to tackle congestion.

A TIF proposal was submitted in response to the big challenges in Greater Manchester. I challenge the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) on his remarks about a bullying, bribing approach. The Government invest something like £2 billion a year in local and regional transport, which is a huge increase on what the previous Administration spent. TIF money is additional to that. It is a question of thinking about innovation, and responding to the fact that people say that, if there is to be congestion charging, investment in public transport as well would be a good idea. That is what the process is all about—saying that around £3 billion of investment could go into the Greater Manchester area through the transport innovation fund bid. I therefore reject the idea of bullying and bribery.

I stress that widespread consultation on the bid is of course important. My hon. Friends the Members for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) all argued for the importance of thorough consultation. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said that he was meeting the passenger transport authority and officials from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, and he is right to do that.

As for a referendum, we have not said that it is obligatory to hold one, but we certainly see robust consultation as critical to the success of TIF packages. Greater Manchester has made it clear that it is embarking on a period of extensive consultation. I welcome that step, as many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have done. It is vital that local people can engage in the process, examine the proposal closely, and see the potential benefits of charging as part of a wider package of transport improvements, or consider some of the issues that have been raised in the debate today. It is important that the local authorities themselves can find the solution on how to carry out the consultation. It is not for Whitehall, Westminster and Ministers to dictate.

The consultation should be wide and involve local people, businesses, motorists, public transport users, transport operators and groups with special interests, such as people with disabilities. That is the kind of wide-ranging consultation we want. As I have said, we do not require authorities to hold a referendum, but we do not rule it out either. A referendum would not be a substitute for effective wider consultation as well. We have been very clear about that in our discussions.

It is quite difficult to deal with all the detailed points that have been raised, but the debate has shown that there will be lively discussion in the coming weeks. I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members will continue to contribute to that debate, and will encourage their constituents to do the same.

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RAF Nimrod Fleet

12.30 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I welcome this opportunity to raise the important matter of the safety of the RAF Nimrod fleet, a subject relating largely to the tragedy that befell Nimrod XV230 in Afghanistan on 2 September 2006 in which 14 brave service personnel lost their lives. This debate is also about the lessons that have emerged since then from the board of inquiry and the coroner’s inquest; from information that has come to light through freedom of information requests; from the Ministry of Defence’s reaction to those developments; and in time, we hope, from the independent review conducted by Charles Haddon-Cave, QC, into the broader issues surrounding the loss of XV230.

The Minister will appreciate that, as the Nimrod MR2 fleet is stationed at RAF Kinloss in my constituency, the issues are of direct concern. Safety questions affect all air and ground crew as well as civilian workers, who take great and justifiable pride in their work and want to secure the highest safety standards. Safety questions affect the families of those who died aboard Nimrod XV230 and those who continue to fly the Nimrod fleet. Safety questions remain for many experts and former RAF personnel who have watched the developments and have significant concerns. Safety questions also remain for me as a constituency MP. In the absence of appropriate, detailed information from the Ministry of Defence, I have had to rely on FOI requests, letters to and from the MOD, and statements by Ministers in the media. Safety questions remain because the ageing Nimrod fleet has experienced continual fuel leaks; because there is a repeated inability to get planes airborne; and, most recently, because the coroner’s inquest expressly recommended that the fleet should be grounded until risk levels are as low as reasonably practicable.

On 4 December 2007, the official board of inquiry published its findings on the loss of XV230. The board believed that the No. 7 tank dry bay was the most likely location for the seat of the fire and the most probable cause was escaped fuel contacting a supplementary conditioning pack air pipe at 400ยบ C

Four separate factors were listed as contributing to the accident: the age of the aircraft, the maintenance policy, the failure of hazard analysis and the lack of a fire detection and suppression system, and the failure to identify the full implications of successive changes to the fuel system and associated procedures.

In an oral statement to the House of Commons on the same day, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

I shall return to that point. He went on:

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In my reply to the statement, I said to the Secretary of State:

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