HC Deb 21 February 1994 vol 238 cc4-6
4. Mr. Duncan

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of his Department's annual budget is currently spent on roads; and what proportion on public transport.

Mr. MacGregor

In the coming financial year, I expect roads to account for just over 50 per cent. of my budget and public transport for about 40 per cent.

Mr. Duncan

I confess that I am somewhat taken aback by that reply, because I was going to put in a special plea for the Oakham bypass in Rutland. Does not my right hon. Friend's reply show that whereas 90 per cent. of journeys are undertaken by road, nearly half of his Department's spending is on public transport? Will he undertake to trumpet that statistic rather widely and use it to confound those critics who try to argue that the Government do not spend enough on public transport?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree. We are spending substantial sums on the road programme and on, I assure my hon. Friend, the bypass programme, which I know is widely welcomed. When we compare our expenditure with that made a long way back, it is clear that we are spending record sums on public transport. The fact that 40 per cent. of my Department's budget goes towards the equivalent of 10 per cent. of total journeys shows how much we are skewing it towards public transport. I assure my hon. Friend that I am determined to demolish the myth that the Government do not spend on public transport. Many statistics, including those on London Underground, prove that.

Mr. Harvey

Given the future balance between spending on roads and on public transport, will the Minister bear in mind the growing evidence of the connection between vehicle emissions and respiratory allergies? That evidence has come particularly from the Office of Science and Technology and the British Lung Foundation. Is he aware that 90 per cent. of the carbon dioxide pumped into the air comes from vehicles? Will he bear in mind that small children are among those most at risk because in urban areas they are at the height of vehicle exhausts? What steps will he take to toughen standards for vehicle emissions in urban areas? Will he put more money into public transport as an alternative to the motor car?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said that 40 per cent. of my Department's budget is spent on public transport. The fact that 90 per cent. of passengers and inland freight goes by road clearly shows how much we are spending on it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will support me in all the other measures that we are taking, such as insisting on catalytic converters, our drive for further improvement in vehicle emission standards and the programme to improve motorways, trunk roads and local roads. If we can remove congestion, we shall remove a considerable amount of atmospheric pollution. Our traffic-calming measures are also contributing to reducing that problem.

Mr. Matthew Banks

What proportion of my right hon. Friend's budget is being spent, and how much is it costing the taxpayer, to remove protesters from places such as Twyford down where protesters have failed to achieve their aim in the democratic process but now seek through public disorder and, in some instances, violence to achieve their aims? Is it not time that we spent that money on road safety schemes and public transport infrastructure in general, on which it deserves to be spent?

Mr. MacGregor

I take my hon. Friend's point. The cost to the public purse of security measures at Twyford down was £200,000 and the protest against the M11 link at Hackney has also cost a considerable amount. The important point is that there have been prolonged public inquiries into those schemes and others, at which everyone has had the democratic right to have his or her view taken into account and expressed. Decisions must be taken and it is a negation of democracy for a tiny minority of people to hold up what the vast majority wants. Moreover, my hon. Friend is correct to say that the money could otherwise have been spent on environmental issues, such as planting even more trees and shrubs along the roads concerned.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as a result of the access charges announced by Railtrack last week, every part of the British rail network, including the vastly profitable east coast main line, will need subsidising by the taxpayer? What sort of triumph is that for Tory doctrines? Will he further confirm that, as a result of last week's announcement, the whole railway network will be charged those enormously inflated access charges indefinitely, whereas decisions on subsidy will be taken every year? In the light of that, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those inflated access charges will make the railway system appear to be far more heavily subsidised than it is and that, in the long term, those access charges represent the biggest threat to our railway network since Beeching?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he wants taxpayers' money put into the railway system to subsidise socially necessary lines. I hope that he will not condemn us for making it clear that we are continuing to do so. Had the hon. Gentleman done his homework, he would be aware that we are having the access charges accurately costed to reflect the cost of running the infrastructure. Until now, that has not been done. The costing will take account of depreciation and the proper return on capital so that we can get investment in the infrastructure.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the change that I announced last week will have no impact on fares or investment. He should look at the whole matter properly, as we are giving the system a proper commercial structure so that decisions can take account of the cost of different parts of the system.

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