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24 Mar 2010 : Column 118WH—continued

3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing today's debate. As chair of the all-party group on Africa and through his membership of the International Development Committee, he has demonstrated a long-standing interest in development in general and in the future of Zimbabwe in particular. The insightful report on land in Zimbabwe by the all-party group is a powerful testament to his interest.

I also acknowledge the many other thoughtful contributions made by Members on both sides of the House, including interventions by the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash), for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who chairs the International Development Committee, and the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith). I shall come in due course to the substantive speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), along with the Opposition spokespeople's comments.

A number of Members have referred to the reputation that Zimbabwe's land has earned that country as the bread basket of southern Africa, and how rebuilding the productive capability of Zimbabwe's land for commercial and smallholder farmers is critical to the country's future. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and the hon. Member for Newbury in particular drew our attention to the continuing violence in Zimbabwe.
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My hon. Friend highlighted the case of Gertrude Hambira, secretary-general of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, who had to go into hiding following harassment and intimidation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to continue to highlight the harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists, and the way in which farm invasions have continued and, in some respects, escalated. We continue to urge all sides of the Government to fully observe the spirit as well as the letter of the global political agreement. The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned two of his constituents, Adele and Bruce Moffatt. The experience that they have just endured is another powerful illustration of the problems that continue to scar Zimbabwe, not only in the experiences of those who work on and own farms, but in the human rights situation in the country more generally.

Some of today's speakers are members of the International Development Committee. When the Select Committee recently visited Zimbabwe, it was able to witness some of the Department's work, and I look forward to receiving that Committee's report shortly.

As others have said, today's discussion about land reform has to be set in the context of the challenging political situation in Zimbabwe. I believe that the inclusive Government remain the best opportunity for achieving the economic and political reform that Zimbabwe so desperately needs. The establishment of an inclusive Government has led to progress: for example, the stabilisation of the economy has meant that goods are available in shops, inflation has been tamed and there is now a reasonable basis for discussion with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Huge improvements are still necessary, but there has been progress.

The humanitarian situation has also improved. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall in particular, will remember that, at this time last year, more than 100,000 people had been affected by the worst cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe's history and 7 million people were receiving aid. This year, fewer than 250 people have been affected by cholera and about 2 million are likely to need food aid.

Mr. Cash: Are the Government ensuring that the aid we give goes to sanitation measures?

Mr. Thomas: We are giving support for sanitation measures. The hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to point out, in response to one of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), that almost all our aid goes through the United Nations or international NGOs. A very small proportion is spent as technical assistance to Ministries that are committed to reform. Our aid goes through organisations in the UN or through INGOs with whom we have
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long-standing working arrangements, and there is an extensive programme of audits and evaluations of the aid's effectiveness.

That leads me to highlight the continuing challenge of delivering basic health and education services, which Members who have visited Zimbabwe and those who follow events there closely will recognise. I welcome the efforts by President Zuma and his team to address the blockages that impede implementation of the global political agreement. We have consistently called, and I do so again today, on all sides of the Government of Zimbabwe to push forward reform and do all they can to meet the needs of their people. We had a useful discussion with President Zuma when he came to London. He joined the Prime Minister in calling on the inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to complete as soon as possible the implementation of the global political agreement. Both countries called for an immediate end to harassment, the repeal of repressive legislation and the establishment of the principles of free speech and free association. They also made it clear that the inclusive Government have to put in place the conditions for free and fair elections.

Many Members know that President Zuma recently visited Harare. I understand that the visit resulted in real progress and agreement in principle on a range of the outstanding issues that impede progress in Zimbabwe. President Zuma said that the package agreed during his visit would take the process forward substantially. Given the sensitivity of the discussions, he has obviously not disclosed the details of the agreements that were reached, but we are hopeful that the details will become public. The Zimbabwe negotiating teams from all three political parties and the three South African facilitators will meet from 26 to 29 March to discuss the issues further and develop implementation plans. They intend to report back to President Zuma by 31 March.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Is the Minister able to enlighten us on any discussions that the Government have had with President Zuma about how he, or the Southern African Development Community, as the guarantor of the global political agreement, will take the agenda forward? It is all very well reporting and reporting, but how will it be taken forward?

Mr. Thomas: As I have said, one the key ways for SADC and South Africa to take forward the process is to meet with the players in the inclusive Government. President Zuma's recent visit to Harare is an important sign of his commitment to take forward the global political agreement and to try to broker further progress. We welcome the President's visit, and the fact that his negotiating teams are following up on it.

As the all-party group reports, donors have to approach the complex issue of land reform with great sensitivity. I welcome the fact that the report clearly states that the UK did not make promises at Lancaster house that were subsequently betrayed-

Mrs. Janet Dean (in the Chair): Order. We must now move on to the next debate.

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Manchester Bus Travel

4 pm

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The Manchester cross-city bus scheme illustrates some general points about bus travel in urban areas, and it is obviously specific to Manchester. Its purpose is to improve public transport between East Didsbury, Manchester city centre, Middleton and Salford, and it runs through much of the inner city. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) would also like to make a few points about the impact on his constituents.

The scheme consists of bus priority measures, such as excluding cars from part of the route, road widening, increasing capacity at different junctions and adjusting traffic light sequencing electronically-not between red, amber and green, but when they go on and off and what priority they give to buses. Everyone would agree with the scheme's objectives, which are to improve bus services, to integrate public transport, to improve reliability, to decrease journey times, to provide environmental benefits and to reduce accidents. Unfortunately, when examining the scheme in detail, it becomes clear that it is most unlikely that those objectives will be achieved.

The majority of my points are about the Manchester scheme-why it is fundamentally flawed, and why it will disadvantage my constituents-but general conclusions may be drawn about the difficulty of improving public transport, particularly bus transport, in urban areas where the bus system is deregulated and a free-for-all.

Experience of bus priority measures on radial routes shows that, although there may be an increase in the number of buses travelling along major radial routes and an increase in the number of passengers on those routes, the bus companies-First Group has almost a monopoly in north Manchester and Stagecoach has almost a monopoly in south Manchester-achieve that and increase their profitability by withdrawing services from other parts of the network and putting them on those radial routes. There are improvements on radial routes at peak times, but a worse service elsewhere. If the integrated transport authority wants to replace the withdrawn services as part of the network, there is a direct raid on the public purse. That applies anywhere, but it applies particularly in Manchester.

The first objective is improved bus services, and services on those routes are quite good, although they could be better throughout the city. It is difficult to improve them by much, but there is likely to be a worsening of services in the network as a whole. We must remember that, although authority is available in the Local Transport Act 2008 to start quality contracts and to take control of fares, service levels and networks, the proposals are based on partnership, so there will be no control of fares, networks and schedules. Bus companies will be able to do what they do so well and have a business model that directly targets the public purse, rather than producing the best bus services for passengers.

I shall illustrate what is happening in Greater Manchester, and why we need quality contracts and not the cross-city scheme. People in Broughton and Kersal in Salford use the 95 and 93 routes. One is subsidised and the other is provided by First Group as part of the deregulated system. They are unreliable, and greater public subsidy has been put into one of those routes, but passengers
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have a poor service. What those passengers require is a service to Hope hospital, but there is no direct connection because First Group does not find it profitable to run that service. People also need services to new centres of employment, such as the new BBC site in Salford Quays, but there is no direct route. That is a case for having a planned and regulated network, and I hope that it illustrates, in particular and in general, why we are unlikely to see an overall improvement in public transport.

The second objective is better transport integration, but that simply cannot be guaranteed in a deregulated system because the bus companies will put on and take off services, so that they make the most profit and receive more subsidy from the integrated transport authority.

The third objective is reliability. The 95 and 93 routes are unreliable not because of congestion-in the early evening when there is little congestion the buses often do not turn up-but because First Group is unreliable. I asked the Department for Transport a parliamentary question about the causes of unreliability generally in the bus system. At least one third of them were due to poor maintenance and buses simply not turning up. It had nothing to do with congestion. That objective is unlikely to be achieved.

There may be an improvement in journey times, particularly for journeys across the city, if the scheme goes ahead. But for the vast majority of my constituents who go into the city centre, the improvement in journey time would be limited.

I simply cannot understand what environmental benefits there would be for my constituents. There would be more buses, so more particulate matter-PM10s and PM2.5s-and more congestion. There would probably be an increase in rat-running and noise pollution, so my constituents would suffer twofold or threefold. It is also claimed that there would be a reduction in accidents. There is a comparator on the Cheetham Hill road and Bury Old road, where a bus priority scheme has been put in place. When travelling from Manchester city centre, a big sign before the bus priority section shows how many accidents there have been in the previous 12 months. The evidence is that the scheme, which is hazardous for pedestrians, is not good for car users or shopkeepers and has not helped to reduce accidents-quite the reverse.

On economic benefits, it is vital to the economy to increase capacity, so that more people will go into Manchester city centre to enjoy the benefits of a thriving economy. In the analysis that we have seen, there is no assessment of whether the scheme would mean more people getting into the city centre, or fewer.

A consultation process on the scheme started in October and continued until December. I asked for it to be extended, and the integrated transport authority and the passenger transport executive were good enough to extend their acceptance of submissions for another four weeks. However, they did nothing extra to improve communication with my constituents who were involved, and I found that the consultation was deeply flawed and very poor.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend remind the House that as part of that "wide public consultation", the group of people who missed out were Members of Parliament?

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Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend makes an objective comment and I agree with him. Such a major scheme should have had not only consultation but pre-consultation and discussion. That did not happen. There was an exhibition in the sixth-form college where I have my offices, but it attracted only 50 people. Within my constituency, and just outside it, probably between 15,000 and 20,000 people are affected by the scheme, so there is a suspicion of bias. Two hundred people have written to me supporting the extension of the consultation and asking for traffic impact assessments. That has not been done. The engineers have looked and said, "There is sufficient capacity on the major routes and those routes near them, so it is all right." That provides an incentive for rat running, rather than looking at the impact of the scheme on my constituents.

One of the surprising things was the number of people who wrote to me-perhaps it is not that surprising. Some mentioned the potential impact of rat running, which has to be envisaged and does not happen at the present time. However, people who live on the main road, Rochdale road, are more strongly opposed to the scheme because their businesses and ability to access their homes will be badly affected. The final nail in the coffin of the suggestion that the consultation was effective and successful is that almost nobody to whom I spoke or who wrote to me, including some well-informed residents groups such as the Trinity group, or the Collyhurst village group, knew about the scheme until I talked to them. The consultation has been defective, to say the least.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister a number of questions. Some of my points refer to the integrated transport scheme. I know that the Government supported the Local Transport Act 2008, and they have put money into helping integrated transport authorities move towards quality contracts. Can the Minister do anything else to help the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority move towards a quality contract that would deal with some of the problems in a way that the cross-city bus scheme does not? Has he got a breakdown of Exchequer expenditure and local expenditure and how it would be used in the scheme? Will he tell us whether the bus service operator grant could be transferred to the integrated transport authority? Although integrated transport authorities have little control over buses, if the bus service operator grant were transferred to them it would give them a real handle on how to deal with those bus companies that exploit my constituents. Does he agree that Greater Manchester is not making the progress that it should towards an integrated transport authority because it is led by a Liberal Democrat and supported by Conservatives? Both west Yorkshire and south Yorkshire are making more progress.

My final point is that there is clearly no benefit for my constituents. They will get the pollution, the rat running and the noise, but very little improvement in the time it takes to get into the city centre. All the benefits, if there are any, will go elsewhere and people are likely to get a worse bus service. Some of the junctions on roads where people live will have increased capacity. The junction of Moston lane and Rochdale road is dangerous at the moment, and together with local councillors, I fought hard to get improved pedestrian crossings on that road. If the junction capacity is increased, it will become more dangerous. I look forward to the Minister's reply to the general and detailed points about this scheme.

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4.15 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Let me begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing this timely debate. When I reminded him that the integrated transport authority had not bothered to consult Members of Parliament in its wider consultation, that was not a matter of vindictiveness on my part. Together with some of my local councillors, I will go to see the chair of that body on Friday, so the debate is timely in that sense and it is helpful to concentrate people's minds on the exchange that will take place later this week.

I share my hon. Friend's unease. We all agree that in Manchester in particular, and for bus transport in general, the idea of a modal shift and getting people out of their cars and on to buses is right and proper. Improving the quality of the bus travelling experience is important as part of that process, and where possible, part of that means taking buses out of congested zones and helping them to move more quickly. That makes a lot of sense.

In Manchester, the concept of the bus corridor attempts to tick a box. For virtually all my life and that of my hon. Friend, Manchester has been a city with its north and south broken apart. Integrating transport systems to give proper through transit is a good idea, and I concede that that concept has merit. However, the specifics of this scheme are difficult in two ways. First, it is not certain that it will make the difference that we are told it is intended to make. Secondly, if the scheme makes a difference, under the law of unintended consequences, improving the lot of some will have a potentially serious and deleterious impact on the lives of others. Those who will experience the downside of the scheme are more likely to live in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, because our constituencies are at the centre of the conurbation. Of course, if we see the affluent suburbs of Greater Manchester shifted into bus transportation that will be a good thing, but not if the cost is borne by our inner-city constituents.

My hon. Friend concentrated his remarks on the north of the city, but I want to mention the route through the Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road corridor that comes in from the south of the city. It is probably one of the most bussed routes in this country; there might be parts of London that can out-bus it, but there is nothing in the north of England. It is the student corridor, and a huge number of buses go up and down that route.

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