HC Deb 30 January 1998 vol 305 cc621-85

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am proud to introduce this extremely important Bill. Its enactment will certainly constitute an historic turning point. I am aware that, in promoting the Bill, I am acting as a kind of spokesperson for the road traffic reduction campaign, which is broad-based and has been gathering momentum over several years. It is no longer a fringe concern, as it was once perceived. The campaign has, of course, included all along the environmental or sustainability organisations, which is not surprising. Along with the Green party, they have been the driving force behind the campaign, which has been supported by the Plaid Cymru parliamentary party.

Those organisations have been joined progressively by other more mainstream organisations including, for example, the Women's Institute, the Townswomen's Guilds, and the Confederation of Passenger Transport. In addition, 200 local authorities have declared support for the Bill, including my own. Crucial organisations concerned with health and the welfare of children have also joined the campaign. It is worth naming some of them. They include Barnardo's, the British Medical Association, the Child Accident Prevention Trust, the National Asthma Campaign and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. For practical and immediate reasons, those organisations see the need for the Bill and what will flow from it.

The campaign has been impassioned, determined, formidably organised, sometimes rumbustious, well thought out, sophisticated and well informed. Today is an important staging post in that campaign. The wide-ranging support for the Bill is symptomatic of the transformation that has occurred in public opinion and general consciousness. For 425 Members of Parliament to have declared support for the Bill, even for it to have been presented to the House of Commons as a credible policy proposal, would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. People were warning long before that that likely traffic growth was unsustainable and would cause serious problems, but they were largely ignored by mainstream opinion. Would that it had been otherwise. We must learn the lessons of that for the long term.

Had the story been otherwise, we might have avoided much of the massive damaging impact of unfettered road traffic growth. The patterns of road traffic are unsustainable consumption writ large. Road building to accommodate ever increasing traffic swallows land, including areas of ecological value and special scientific interest. Extraction, transportation and refinement of petroleum imposes incalculable damage. The Sea Empress was just one example of that. We should also include the Gulf war and the power of Saddam Hussein as part of the major side effects of our dependence on petroleum. Of course, road traffic makes an important contribution. Combustion of petroleum produces 22 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom.

There is scientific support, including from the energy technology support unit, for saying that the United Kingdom will be unable to meet its laudable target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 even with the technological improvements that we need for motor transport—I shall come to that later—without significantly reducing road traffic. Let us remember that stabilising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will necessitate a 60 per cent. reduction in emissions globally. A cut of around 90 per cent. will be needed in the developed world. Tackling road traffic is the biggest issue in moving—as we must—towards sustainable consumption patterns.

Few of us have not been touched by the human damage caused by road traffic, with loved ones, friends or acquaintances killed or maimed. I have seen too many of my former pupils affected. There has been a steep rise in fatalities on the road over the past year in Dyfed and Powys, where I live, with many young people being killed. The accompanying social damage, particularly from heavy traffic in urban areas, is undeniably serious. Children can no longer play in the streets. Some 80 per cent. of children have bikes, but only 25 per cent. use them on the road, compared with 66 per cent. 20 years ago. When I was a boy, the problem was to get a bike. There was plenty of space on the road, where we used to play football and cricket. Those who were lucky got a bike when they were about 11 if they passed the scholarship. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that alienation, crime and social isolation increase with traffic levels. We are dealing with a far-reaching phenomenon.

The economic costs of congestion are enormous—between £15 billion and £20 billion, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Maddison and Pearce put the cost higher than that in the study, "The True Costs of Road Transport", according to which the net economic cost is between £20 billion and £30 billion.

The effect on health has concentrated people's minds recently. A recent Department of Health report says: We have clearly underestimated the true overall effects of air pollution. It says that the deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 people a year are "brought forward"—a euphemism for people dying sooner than they would otherwise—and an extra 14,000 to 24,000 people are admitted to hospital because of air pollution. Children, the elderly and the poor suffer most. In an enlightened editorial a couple of weeks ago, The Guardian said:

Those most at risk are those who are condemned by age or poverty to live near congested roads, to cross them on foot and to shop on their pavements. According to Dr. Ian Roberts of the child health monitoring unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, more than 6 million children are at risk because of the volume of traffic on our roads. Children in social class V are at five times more risk than those from social class I. A recent study in Edinburgh showed an even greater disparity. The children of families without cars suffer from the activity of those with cars. That is a significant social class issue. Dr. Roberts links the problem with declining physical activity, leading to obesity and likely adverse effects on children's mental and emotional health.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, historically and for the future, such measures are more important for improving the nation's health than direct health provision? Some of the arguments are akin to those for dealing with tobacco advertising rather than putting on taxes.

Mr. Dafis

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. We need to move towards prevention of problems. We should prevent ill health rather than just treating it when it arises. Smoking is a major issue, but I must not pursue that diversion at the moment.

That is part of the sustainable development agenda, which is about putting things right in advance rather than allowing them to develop unfettered and trying to tackle the problems afterwards, which is a large-scale end-of-pipe solution. We need to do something at the entrance to the pipe, not just at its exit.

From even that brief selection from the enormous body of available evidence, we can reasonably conclude that Parliament has a responsibility to put in place policies to reduce road traffic. Until recently, it was commonly argued that traffic growth was inexorable and that the only answer was to accommodate it by building and extending roads. That changed with the report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, published a few years ago. It showed clearly what should have surprised no one—that more and better roads lead to increased traffic, resulting in the same amount of congestion.

A recent study by London Transport and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions says that vice versa also applies—closing roads can reduce traffic. Phil Goodwin, the Government's adviser on transport policy, found that, on average, 20 per cent. of traffic that used a road disappeared when it was closed. It did not move to other roads; it just disappeared—I think that he used the word "evaporated". People found other ways than the car to make the journey or decided not to travel.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I am particularly keen on that point. When the hon. Gentleman next corresponds with the 200 or so local authorities that support the Bill, will he bring it to their attention? Local authorities are remiss at taking it into account. Usually, they just try to make roads wider so that traffic can get along them more quickly.

Mr. Dafis

That has certainly been the frame of mind hitherto. I shall see what I can do about contacting all those local authorities, and a few others besides. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in that. The more of us who participate in producing such a change of consciousness, the better.

The more and better roads approach to solving congestion is a cul-de-sac—I hope that hon. Members will forgive the expression—although there are no doubt places where road improvements, and even new roads, may be necessary. Any such schemes pose unpleasant dilemmas. Most of us have come across such difficult choices on bypass proposals. The only way to reduce the number of dilemmas is to reduce road traffic. Road traffic reduction is an imperative.

It is important to see the measure not as a necessary but unpleasant process that we have to undergo in a hair shirt spirit, but as an exciting opportunity to create healthier and better communities and a crucial step towards sustainable development—no less than that. The flip side of the damaging impacts that I have described is the range of great benefits that would come from reducing road traffic. According to John Whitelegg, a 10 per cent. traffic reduction would lead to economic savings of more than 10 per cent.—he suggests between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. According to Dr. Roberts of Great Ormond Street, when traffic volume falls, the reductions in child pedestrian death rates are greater than the reductions in traffic. Biodiversity, quality of life, health, safety, social cohesion and social inclusion would all gain from a reduction in road traffic. How much they would gain depends on how much we reduce. That is a matter for further consideration.

For the record, let me emphasise at this stage that we who support the Bill recognise the fact that we personally enjoy the advantages of being able to use cars and to have freight transported by lorry. We are talking about taming, not abolishing traffic.

Many people have expressed concern about the effects of road traffic reduction on employment. That is something that we cannot ignore, but the evidence suggests that the fear is misplaced. Friends of the Earth commissioned ECOTEC Research and Consulting to model the impact on employment of a 10 per cent. reduction from 1990 levels by 2010—that was the target in the original Bill.

ECOTEC found that there would be a net increase of 87,000 new jobs, taking into account not only losses in motor manufacturing, maintenance and infrastructure, but gains through growth in the cycle, bus and train sectors. We are talking about manufacturing, but also about the infrastructural development that would go along with the changes.

Friends of the Earth describes what would happen if we implemented a fully sustainable transport strategy, including investment in high technology to make the remaining road traffic—which we shall have for a long time—more environmentally friendly. It is vital to move towards technological innovation, to make cars on the road more environmentally friendly.

If we did that, taking into account the investment that would go with it, plus the increase in car leasing that Friends of the Earth foresaw, the net employment gain would be as much as 122,000. There would be far fewer losses in the car-based industries, because people there would work on the improved technology and on new types of cars and lorries.

The remaining question for many people now will be: can that be done? They think that it ought to be done; they can see the imperatives for doing it and the great advantages, but they still ask, "Is it feasible to reverse traffic growth, and even to reduce traffic by 10 per cent. by 2010?"

The Deputy Prime Minister will be familiar with the work of Professor John Whitelegg, now of the school of the built environment at Liverpool John Moores university. I believe that he advised the Deputy Prime Minister before the election, when the right hon. Gentleman was not in government.

John Whitelegg has written a report showing that the 10 per cent. reduction target in the original Bill—it is not in the present Bill, and I shall talk about that in a moment—can be achieved by implementing various tried and tested policies, without any reliance on increased petrol duty. We already have higher petrol duties, but John Whitelegg says that even without those, the targets could be achieved through other methods, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Recognising that rural areas require a distinctive approach, Professor Whitelegg says:

We can be confident of a 33 per cent. reduction in urban areas". As 91 per cent. of the United Kingdom population is urban, that would mean a 30 per cent. overall reduction even if rural areas were exempted from the traffic reduction policies outlined in his report.

Neither John Whitelegg nor I believe that rural areas should be ignored or exempted. A great deal can and should be achieved there, and there are major benefits to be gained. Traffic congestion is a growing problem in rural areas as well as in urban areas, and health problems exist in rural areas, too. Indeed, there are signs that the health effects of damage to the ozone layer may be even greater in rural than in urban areas.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the challenges is to persuade the tourist industry to consider other means of bringing people to areas that they can enjoy because of their outstanding beauty, rather than encouraging them to clog the roads in summer, thus making their enjoyment that much less?

Mr. Dafis

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that interesting and important intervention. In his area, the north-west, Snowdonia national park, with other organisations, is developing strategies to try to bring about more environmentally friendly forms of tourism and encourage people to use public transport.

I was talking about rural areas, and there is a lot to be done there. However, the vulnerability of such areas has to be borne in mind, especially in connection with increasing vehicle fuel tax. Eco-taxation will be a live issue over the next couple of years, and its distributional effect must be borne in mind when it is designed.

Recent studies by the Institute for Fiscal Studies have found that higher petrol prices bear down especially heavily on rural dwellers and on people on low incomes. Of course, low incomes and rural areas go together in my part of the world. Some rural dwellers, in places where there are high proportions of commuters, are well off—but that is not the case in the part of the world from which I come, and to which I return.

There are ways of addressing the issue, and a Government interested in creating a more equitable society, as the present Government are, should make good use of them. Sustainable development means social equity as well as environmental sustainability. I am tempted to repeat that but I shall not; I shall simply stress how important it is not to forget it.

Given the overwhelming strength of the case, it is small wonder that there is such a powerful consensus in favour of road traffic reduction. A recent survey showed 80 per cent. support among the population at large for setting road traffic reduction targets.

A recent convert, Mr. Paul Everitt, deputy director of the British Road Federation, said:

Clearly the economic, and more importantly, the environmental consequences of society's increasing dependence on road transport are a cause of concern. The need to reduce the level of traffic on our roads … is beyond question and not an issue for debate. Equally I don't think the benefit of reduced traffic levels is an issue". It would be wrong of me to claim Mr. Everitt's support for the Bill, but his statement of support for the principle of traffic reduction is important and welcome.

It is also clear that that growing consensus includes the Government. The Labour party's pre-election policy handbook said:

Transport targets will be set at both national and local level … Our strategic aims are … to reduce and then reverse traffic growth". Both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport are on record as supporting the original version of the Bill, with its 10 per cent. target. I was encouraged by the way in which both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment referred to the Bill before the Environmental Audit Select Committee on Wednesday, especially by the fact that they supported the setting of targets as a key policy instrument in driving ahead the sustainable development agenda in general.

Of course I am also delighted that I, with the supporters of my Bill, have been able to agree on the content of a Bill that retains the essence of what my party had in mind. We also have agreement with the Government—with some qualifications, which I shall deal with later.

It is important to emphasise that we need my Bill despite the fact that the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 is already on the statute book. Michael Chisholm, emeritus professor of geography at the university of Cambridge, has written to me and also published an article emphasising the need for the local process in the existing Act to be encompassed within a United Kingdom-wide strategy.

Clause 1 simply defines what we mean by "road traffic" in the Bill. Subsection (1) of clause 2 places a duty on the Secretary of State to set national targets for road traffic reduction in a report to Parliament, with the aim of reducing the adverse environmental, social and economic impacts of road traffic". It is right to emphasise "national" targets. We need them, as well as United Kingdom targets.

Subsection (2) provides the flexibility—which some may find problematic—that the Government may need, by allowing the Secretary of State not to specify overall road traffic reduction targets so long as she or he can show that other targets are more appropriate means of reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic". That provides considerable flexibility—I hope not too much.

Subsection (3) lists the criteria to which the Secretary of State must have regard in determining the targets or other measures. Those criteria clearly imply the need for significant road traffic reduction. If we take them seriously—and they will have to be taken seriously because they are on the face of the Bill—they imply significant reductions and therefore significant targets. Hon. Members will observe that there are no significant targets in the Bill, because those are a matter for later determination.

Subsections (4) and (5) deal with the time scale, the frequency of publishing progress reports, and the deadline for publishing the first report. I understand that the Minister wants to reserve her position, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say later. Of course, those matters are, in a sensible place such as this, negotiable.

The Bill provides an important opportunity for the Government to establish their credentials as a Government seriously committed to sustainable development. I am encouraged by the way in which sustainable development is emphasised as an increasingly important theme in Government policy; it crops up all over the place, and that is excellent. That is a big transformation, even from five years ago.

Enacting the Bill would give the Government credibility and further enhance the United Kingdom's reputation—which is now considerable—for driving forward the sustainable development agenda in international negotiations. It would assist in pursuing sustainable development at the European Union level. I understand that there is significant interest on the European mainland in the Bill and its proposals. The environment is a key theme in the UK presidency of the EU.

I am proud to be associated with the Bill. I have underlined this part of my script, so I shall say it slowly and clearly: I believe that it is the responsibility of all those who support the Bill and support sustainable development to do all that they can to ensure that it reaches the statute book. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.1 am

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on being fortunate enough to draw a high place in the ballot and on his good judgment in choosing the right Bill to promote. I know that he has long supported such legislation, and I am delighted to give him my endorsement.

I want to interject a note of caution. The hon. Gentleman said that surveys show that the Bill has 80 per cent. support. I suspect that that is similar to the support that we get when we ask people whether they would like to pay more tax and have better education and health services: everybody says yes, but when it comes to the crunch, they make different personal decisions. Eighty per cent. support for the Bill really means that people want everybody else to leave their cars behind, so that the roads are clear for them.

I thoroughly supported last year's Road Traffic Reduction Bill, which has now been enacted, but the new Bill takes us an important stage further, by introducing national as well as local targets. We must recognise that even the most willing local authority cannot achieve as much as it would like, because of the restrictions. In Committee on the previous Bill, I talked especially about the need for an integrated transport policy. I am glad that the Government are honouring their manifesto commitment to an integrated public transport policy. That is a matter that has to be tackled at national level.

We may also need fiscal incentives. It is cheap to use a private car, and often very expensive to travel by public transport. If we are to make a determined effort to get people out of their cars, we may have to think about the balance of funding for the two forms of transport.

National planning is also important because the further people have to travel to work or to shop, the more they will be inclined to use their own cars. Cycling and walking are obviously much easier if people live near to where they work or shop.

I have been involved for many years in campaigns in Cambridge, and I well recall being a member of Cambridgeshire county council from 1985–89, when it was hung. The Labour and Alliance—as I believe it was then—parties on the council introduced a series of plans for park-and-ride sites on the edge of the city, but unfortunately they were not completed by the time that the council reverted to Conservative control in 1989. It was a great disappointment that the new Conservative administration decided to abandon the plans.

There has been a change of heart among Conservatives. It is marvellous for those of us who have been campaigning for 20 years or more for traffic reduction to witness the sudden conversion. I do not know when the change of heart happened; perhaps it was fairly recent: when they went into opposition, perhaps. Cambridgeshire's Conservative county council now supports park-and-ride, and perhaps rather regrets the fact that it did not do so earlier.

Congestion nationally costs us between £10 billion and £19 billion a year. The environmental and social impacts cost us another £10 billion to £18 billion a year. Those are not trivial sums. The problems impact on us all, whether through lost time at work or reduced opportunities for our children to play outdoors.

Congestion and air pollution are extremely bad in my constituency. We have the reputation of having the third most polluted street in Europe: Parker street, right next to the bus station. I know that residents there are anxious that road traffic reduction should be an important part of our policy.

Perhaps it is surprising that traffic should be a major problem in Cambridge, because we have such a high proportion of cyclists. Current statistics show that about 21 per cent. of journeys to work are by bicycle, which is as high as in many continental cities, where the facilities are much better.

There has been steady pedestrianisation of the city centre, introduced by the county council when it was Labour and Liberal Democrat controlled. I am sorry to say that, even with their change of heart, the Tories are considering a reversal of some of the road closures introduced by the previous administration.

The real problem is that we have learnt to love the car; we now have to learn to love it and leave it, at least sometimes. Let us consider how we use the car, and the alternatives that are available. A recent survey showed that at 8.50 am 18 per cent. of the traffic is taking children to school. I have three children, the youngest of whom is 24, and never once did any of them go to school by car. Perhaps we were fortunate, as we lived in an urban environment, always within two to three miles of the schools. My children were always able to walk or cycle to school.

It is important to have safe routes for walking and cycling to school. Parents are naturally concerned that their children may have real problems getting across the road, largely because of everyone else driving their children to school. I support the local authority initiatives that promote and mark out safe routes to school, so that parents can feel more confident about allowing their children to walk and cycle to school.

Shopping is often mentioned as one of those things for which one needs a car. My local radio station, Radio Cambridgeshire, broadcast some interviews this morning with people who were leaving their cars in a city centre car park. They were asked what it would take to get them out of their cars. One woman remarked, quite rightly, that she needed a car to do her shopping. There is a simple solution to that—home deliveries.

Home deliveries were made when I was a child, and I am old enough to remember my local Co-operative shop delivering our groceries by horse and cart. I am not suggesting that we should go back to that—although it was quite wonderful. I remember the horse very well, because I used to feed him carrots. The important point is that supermarkets could do more home deliveries, enabling us to leave our cars at home.

In another interview, a man said that he could not do without his car because he needed it for work. He said that he would be happy to go to work by public transport or bicycle, but that when he gets there, he needs his car. It is unfair for employers to expect their employees to use their own cars for work purposes. Employers should make arrangements that permit people to walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work, providing them with cars at work if necessary.

Some employers in my constituency do a great deal in that area. I should like to mention the world conservation monitoring centre, which has a policy of encouraging people to use bicycles. It is located not in the city centre but out on the Huntingdon road, a couple of miles or so from the centre—yet over 60 per cent. of employees cycle to work. The centre has managed that by encouragement and by providing good facilities for washing and showering when people arrive at work. A good example is set by the top of the hierarchy, because the director cycles to work.

I have recently called for better cycle parking at Cambridge railway station. People would be much more prepared to use public transport if good interchange facilities were available. It is a question not just of buses arriving at the railway station in time for the London trains, but of having places where people can leave their bicycles safely.

We have experimented with park-and-ride in Cambridge, as I mentioned. It has not been a great success in persuading people who work in and commute to Cambridge to leave their cars on the edge of the city, and it tends to be used more by shoppers. It is probably more convenient for commuters to use it, but what tends to happen is that commuters drive to the city early in the morning and use the available on-street parking spaces. There are then not enough spaces for people who want to make short-term shopping visits.

I have not owned a car for 11 years and my husband does not own one either—we are not cheating in that way. The luxury of not owning a car comes about because I live close to the railway and bus stations in Cambridge, and I am fortunate enough to be able to walk or cycle. When I am in London, I find that the traffic is so heavy and fast that I am worried about cycling—it is hazardous. That could be addressed by better cycling facilities.

On the occasions when I walk to work—which I do twice a week—I am struck by the lack of good pedestrian facilities. In my journey from my flat in Southwark, I have to cross two roads—Borough high street and Southwark Bridge road. I always feel as if I am taking my life in my hands when I cross those roads. There is no phase in the traffic lights that permits pedestrians to cross. When one thinks that the traffic has stopped, one quickly dashes across—only to find a car coming round the corner. Those matters seem small and trivial, but we could do a lot more to encourage more people to cycle.

Although we have made progress in Cambridge, a white line by the side of the road does not offer much protection, particularly when cars are parked illegally over the cycle lanes. I should like to see better facilities, with a proper barrier between cyclists and other road users, so that people feel safer.

I was delighted by the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body, published yesterday, which shows that I have at last been successful in my campaign for a cycle allowance for Members of Parliament. The report does not say how much, but it shows that the body supports my plea for an allowance. I hope that that will encourage far more of us to use our bicycles on constituency business and to set a good example to our constituents.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Why does the hon. Lady think that the taxpayer should pay for her to go on her bicycle?

Mrs. Campbell

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that if I were to buy a car, it would cost the taxpayer a great deal more than if I were to go by bicycle. It would also cause congestion and add to the air pollution problems in Cambridge. I am sure that my constituents would far rather I travelled by bicycle than by car, even though it might cost them 5p or 6p a mile.

I wish to point out the advantages of cycling and walking. One feels fitter and healthier, and an active life style means that I do not feel pressured to go to the gym to get my exercise. It is also cheaper not to own a car; I reckon that I have saved about £3,000 a year by not owning a car, which is useful. I do not require a parking space, so I can have a nice front garden instead of having it turned over to tarmac. If I am travelling by train, it is easier to use the time productively than when I travel by car. I mention those matters because when people talk about walking, cycling and not using a car, they talk about the disadvantages. I want to concentrate today on the advantages, of which there are many.

Finally, I make a plea to the Secretary of State that when he considers integrated transport with better cycling and walking facilities, he should think about the impact of good telecommunications. More teleworking, teleshopping, distance learning and, perhaps, more health services delivered over a telecommunications system could reduce the need for travelling. Sometimes putting in a broad-band network instead of building a road might be a good investment.

I am delighted to support the Bill, and I wish it every success. I congratulate again the hon. Member for Ceredigion on promoting it.

10.17 am
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on his Bill. He has a proven track record as a champion of the environment and he has pushed the green agenda forward in this House. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman was the first to promote the original version of this Bill back in 1994. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) got the Road Traffic Reduction Bill into law last year. Sadly, the then Conservative Government allowed it only at the cost of the removal of any national traffic reduction targets.

The Bill reintroduces the principle of targets, which have the support of Liberal Democrats as they have had from the start. This is an important Bill, and I am delighted to see the overwhelming cross-party backing that it has received—although given that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) seems to prefer a car allowance to a cycling allowance, I am not altogether sure that the support is as cross-party as I thought.

Parliamentary, political and pressure group support is only part of the story. The public have also played their part. Women's Institutes, parish councils, Churches and many individuals have taken up the cause. An NOP nationwide survey recently found that eight out of 10 people agree that the Government should set targets for reducing traffic. That said, I am not under any illusions, and I do not think that other hon. Members are. Almost everyone wants less traffic, but few people feel that they personally should use their car less. I shall address that point later.

I emphasise that change is not only desirable but unavoidable. If we do nothing, the Government's theme tune would have to become, "Things can only get worse". With car ownership expected to rise by as much as 40 per cent. by 2010, clogged city roads will become increasingly frequent, with jams and halts. Many motorways—not least the M1—are already at capacity, and often beyond it.

We may not even be able to park. In Truro, a recent residents parking scheme had fewer than 200 spaces for 600 residents because the terraced streets had no room for more. Currently, demand for spaces equals supply, but as young drivers grow older and can afford the cars that many older residents have never had, not only will streets be jammed when people want to drive, but there will be nowhere to park when they want to go home. Short of bulldozing attractive traditional terraces, there is no technical quick fix or miracle cure for congestion. Whatever we may say about air pollution, we can all imagine the potential for curing it. There is no avenue to a simple solution for congestion. We shall have to learn to love our cars a little less and use public transport very much more.

Like many hon. Members, I have heard the concerns of the British Road Federation, car manufacturers, the Road Haulage Association and many others. The interesting thing is the change that has taken place every time that I have spoken to them in the past few years. Now, almost none of them argues that nothing needs to be done. Instead, they concentrate on more practical points: economic damage, unrealistic targets and possible social injustice. It is our job not only to present the counter-arguments—although 24,000 premature deaths a year and 6 million children at risk from the volume of traffic should be reason enough—but to take account of those real concerns as we approach solutions.

On social justice, we must strongly refute claims that in some way the poor will pay disproportionately for road traffic reductions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost one third of households do not own cars. The majority of them comprise people who are poor, sick, disabled or elderly. How can reductions in road traffic, combined with improvements in public transport, disadvantage such people? Road traffic accidents and the pollution caused by traffic fall disproportionately on poor children in inner cities. Children in social class V are at a five times greater risk than children in social class I. Policies to reduce unnecessary car traffic, such as road charging in city centres, reforming company car incentives or air pollution fines, to fund clean, reliable, quick and safe public transport, will bring clear benefits to all, but especially to the poor, sick, disabled and elderly.

On economic cost, we should remember that road traffic already costs us £20 billion to £30 billion net a year, including road building, health service costs and the price of traffic congestion. It will cost us vastly more if we sit back as motorways and city centres grind to a halt as traffic increases. No business will benefit if Baroness Thatcher's great car economy turns into a great big traffic jam.

Those vast costs do not complete the picture. They do not include the loss of quality of life or the fact that children cannot play outside because of the dangers of traffic. Increasingly, they cannot walk to school because their parents are concerned for their safety on busy, congested roads. Each night, more than 60 per cent. of the British population lives with noise levels above the upper limit set by the World Health Organisation.

Although the Bill is designed to cut traffic, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, it is not an anti-car Bill. I like my car at least as much as the next person. Car ownership will probably continue to increase. The Bill does not prevent that, but it is consistent with Liberal Democrat hopes for people to have the choice and incentives to use their cars less.

Although many people need cars, that is not always the case. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) gave a good example. Representing a large rural constituency that can take a couple of hours to drive across, the idea of doing the job on a bicycle is not as appealing as it may be in Cambridge. I have another example, not unlike hers. Some friends sold their car because, living in London, they mostly used their travelcards to get about by public transport for work and leisure. In London, that opportunity exists. Of course, they needed a car sometimes but they worked out that they could take a taxi or hire car for every such trip far more cheaply than paying depreciation, maintenance, tax and insurance on a car that would on most days sit unused outside the house.

There is a not uncommon twist to that story. Recently, my friend got a new job. He got no help with his travelcard, but a brand new company car. My friends now have every incentive to travel by car with the taxpayer's assistance because the more miles travelled, the bigger the tax break. Why are company cars tax allowable whereas travelcards are not? Why is it that the more one drives, the better the tax breaks? That madness has to stop. We need only ask any accountant. The year-end trip to Edinburgh to up mileage for the tax break is nonsense in terms of any rational policy, including from the viewpoint of Treasury funds.

As more people have cars, the more the assumption that we all have cars is built in, whether in respect of shops, work or leisure. The Bill is about the realisation that the greater our dependence on the car, the less choice we have. The hon. Member for Cambridge asked why home delivery has gone. It is because shops assume that we have cars to put our shopping in and that there is no longer a demand. For people who do not have cars, that is a lack of choice and a real problem. For them, the reality is increasingly that we are building in no choice at all. The more we build our lives around cars, the more we need them until we become slaves to the car.

I am delighted that the Government now support the Bill, albeit with a clause that appears to be designed as a possible let-out. I hope and believe that they will not use it and that their support, agreed this week, is a sign of things to come in the transport White Paper, to which we look forward with increasing interest.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

While welcoming the Bill, does my hon. Friend regret that it contains no firm targets? Road traffic reduction has to play a major part in hitting the Government's target for CO2 reductions.

Mr. Taylor

I agree, but I also understand that such things have to be negotiated. I hope that the Government will produce targets soon. I understand that that is likely in the White Paper, although nothing is finalised. We will certainly hold them to that. In the climate of tough decisions on lone parents or disability benefits, there are no excuses for not being brave enough to produce policies and targets to curb traffic and improve public transport.

Most of the work to deliver road traffic reduction will be local. To do it, local councils need the active co-operation of central Government, including the power to control congestion and to raise revenue to invest in the local transport packages that are the route to road traffic reduction. Without the revenue, nothing can happen. Without the revenue to improve public transport, there really would be a question about social justice, let alone practicality. The powers should include the possibility of urban road pricing and the taxation of non-residential parking spaces. The news reported this week that local traffic-related fines may be earmarked for public transport would be an excellent first step. The Liberal Democrats have urged it for many years. If the Government are doing that, it is welcome.

As a representative of a rural constituency, I wish to consider the very real concerns of rural people. Rural areas have higher levels of dependency on cars than urban areas. In recent years, they have experienced a steady decline in the provision of public transport and rural shops, schools and health care facilities. Increasingly, that has made the car a necessity for many. The closed rural school in one village forces people to drive to the next village or town to get their children to school. The closed local village shop forces people into town to do their shopping. The increasing provision of factory sites, which is based on the assumption that people will have to travel there, forces people into the car to get to and from work. To change that, rural areas need financial help to support small local schools, post offices and cottage hospitals, so there is less need to travel. We all have to understand that there is a cost attached to that and the Government need to acknowledge that in the allocation of funding.

It is not all cost—the planning system can help by bringing together facilities such as rural workshops on the edge of villages and making sure that there are safe routes to schools, rather than designing in the need for extra car trips. That said, this year's big cuts in Government funding for local councils do not help. They are certainly the result of inherited Conservative spending plans, but they are leading now to the loss of almost half the bus services in Cornwall and of student transport in Devon. Part of the answer in rural areas, as in urban areas, will be to find the funds for increased public transport investment. That will especially help those who, too often, are forgotten—those who have no access to a car at all—and the best way in which to do so is to unlock the funds from the car economy itself.

Whereas in many cities and towns, congestion forces us to consider measures such as road pricing and much greater use of improved public transport systems, in rural areas, there are still free-running roads and there will never be the access to public transport that can be available in cities. However, we can still discourage unnecessary car use and pollution and help people to afford the transport they need. For example, less than 3p extra per litre of petrol could fund cutting the annual car tax from £145 to only £10 for cars up to 1,600 cc—that is, two thirds of cars on the road. That would encourage everybody to own smaller, less polluting cars and so would tie in directly to cutting pollution. We have to ensure that we can enforce pollution targets and, at the moment, car engine size is a good indicator of pollution levels.

The tax cut would allow a typical car owner to drive more than 20,000 miles a year before the tax saving was outweighed by the petrol rise, although every time people drove, they would be that much more aware of the petrol they bought. An elderly person relying on a small car, but doing low or even average mileage each week, would be far better off. Indeed, finding £145 in one lump or even paying that sum in two tranches is difficult for people on low incomes, so not only would such people make savings, but they would find it easier to pay as they go. The gas guzzlers would pay more—as they should; it is not wrong or unreasonable to ask that of them. They would always have the option of changing their car and I hope that they would.

Different policies for rural areas from those for cities are appropriate in some cases, but everyone has a part to play—it just takes imagination and a little policy courage. In 2001, it will be the 200th anniversary of the first vehicle to run under its own power. Contrary to popular belief—this is not a Cornish yarn—it was invented by the Cornishman Trevithick, as was the train, although the subject of the wrong face being on the back of the £5 note is one for another debate.

Mr. Dafis

It is worth mentioning that the first run of Trevithick's train was made in Wales.

Mr. Taylor

Celtic honours are shared—I shall leave it to the English to defend themselves.

It is to the modern-day Trevithicks, whether in Wales, Cornwall or elsewhere, that we need to look for the ingenuity and enterprise necessary to solve the transport problems of today, with the support and guidance of a progressive and radical Government. I hope that that is what the Government will prove to be in respect of this issue and, if they are, they will have our support.

10.33 am
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I shall be brief, because I know that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister is giving her full support to the Bill and that there is all-party support for it. This is clearly a debate whose time has come. Today, we need to move on, away from rhetoric and towards putting our words into practice. I am also delighted that the whole principle of road traffic reduction is to be incorporated into our policies on sustainable development and integrated transport. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who has put so much effort into ensuring that that principle should underpin our road and transport policies and who has brought his Bill to this stage today.

I am conscious that the early-day motion tabled in my name now has 425 Members of Parliament supporting it, which shows that across the country, there is now wide support for this issue. Members of Parliament do not really support issues unless they feel that demand to do so is coming up from grass-roots level. There is an enormous groundswell of support among people who would prefer to work in partnership with the Government, local authorities, business and everyone who has a stake in this issue, rather than have to resort to some of the terrible examples of direct action that we have witnessed against a road-building programme that was underpinned not by the principles of sustainable development, but by the idea that all we had to do was predict what would be needed and then go ahead and provide it. We now have a principle that will underpin our transport policy and will allow us—at long last—to implement the integrated system that we have needed so badly for so long.

I remember speaking at a large conference across the road in Central hall when we were trying to get support for what I shall call phase 1 of this Bill—the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, which ended up applying only to local targets, rather than to local and national targets. That happened entirely because the previous Government refused to support the issue at national level. How can we have a policy of integrated transport when it is possible to require, with good will, local authorities to restrict traffic and consider ways in which to get traffic moving locally while, at national level, we have a national road programme that pours traffic into local areas? Whatever local authorities may want to do, they have no control over the national policy that completely undermines their attempts to address the problem. I regret that this Bill, when it reaches the statute book, will have been legislation in two stages. Although the Government are now consulting on how to implement local road traffic reduction measures, local and national road traffic reductions could have been implemented simultaneously—and they should have been, because the two have to go hand in hand.

One of the problems facing us and one of the challenges facing the new Government is how to incorporate the Bill into our integrated transport policy. How is that to be done, given that there is already a head of steam building up in the current reviews of sustainable development, integrated transport, fiscal policy and so on? There are a series of policy decisions that are currently out to consultation, such as local structure plans, which are being prepared in my local authority of Staffordshire. We are already some way down the road toward completing a series of initiatives that will set us on a policy track for the next five or 10 years yet, with the best will in the world, the Bill will not be on the statute book in time for it to underpin all that is currently happening.

My point is that, although we have accepted the principle and the Government are going to make it part of our integrated transport policy, we are not quite there yet—we are in a period of transition. We have to work out how to change the direction of the oil tanker of policy which, regrettably, has been set on the course of how to build new roads and wider roads, but which must now be turned towards the sustainable policies that we have been discussing today. Those policies would give local authorities the opportunity to introduce safe routes to and from schools and to consider the multi-modal opportunities for road, rail, cycling and walking. It is a question of horses for courses and recognising the social needs of rural areas which, I agree, we must address.

We must consider how to move from our current journey to another that will allow us to have a sustainable transport policy, with the overarching principle of doing the right thing for our planet and meeting our Kyoto commitments. That is a challenging prospect; it will take great courage from Ministers and Secretaries of State to ensure that all the commitments that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister so willingly gave at yesterday's Environmental Audit Committee can be met.

There is one area where there will be pitfalls and I hope that the Government will consider it closely. I refer to the way in which the current trunk road assessment, currently being considered at ministerial level, will fit into our integrated transport policy. I want to ensure that that trunk road assessment considers procedures based on sustainable development—which make assessments of how we predict and provide—and not on the old systems of appraisal and methodology. It is vital that that happens.

We have already had an interim road review which gave us, back in June and July, a limited road-building programme. It is not a secret that I objected to some of the outcomes—that is on the public record. We now have a further interim review which is to consider policies and spending principles for the next five years. I want us to ensure that when the outcome of the interim review of trunk roads is considered—whether that involves roads or road widening—the principles of road traffic reduction, which we have accepted and which we know will eventually come on to the statute book, relate to what is currently happening. We should consider how transport policies, not just roads, could meet our needs. That will be a major challenge, but I have every confidence that the Government will be able to come to terms with it and to decide how to make progress.

There is underinvestment in all our transport facilities in my area of the west midlands. At a local level, the city engineer and the city council want to provide many facilities, such as the local crossings that people want; they want to invest in safe routes to and from schools and to promote essential changes on safety grounds to roads and roundabouts to ease the multi-modal approach. However, as a result of the previous Government's spending restrictions, which have been carried over, they do not have the money to carry out those improvements on the scale that they would like.

Across the region, owing to privatisation, railway stations and services have been run down and we do not have direct links to the Manchester or Birmingham airports.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The hon. Lady is quite right to make that point; so many small stations could be either used to a greater extent or reopened. The Great Western railway goes through my constituency; 125 trains run from top to bottom, but hardly a single one stops in my constituency. There are, however, a string of towns that could be provided with a rural stopping service; it would connect to mainline stations and reduce much of the traffic in the early mornings.

Ms Walley

I could not agree more; our local railway stations could be used and developed far more. Anyone who, like me, has spent 10 years writing to the various sections of British Rail—and, now, the privatised industries—trying to make use of local integration to catch trains from local stations and to access the InterCity European connections will know that those issues always become someone else's responsibility. People will feel as frustrated as I do that we are not making the best use of the facilities that we have. In order to do so, a partnership must exist between all those with a stake in transport.

I am reminded of a meeting about the west coast main line, the railway route from Glasgow to Manchester and London, which I attended last Tuesday. It was attended by Railtrack and by Richard Branson of Virgin railways. At that meeting, many Members of Parliament said that we needed to invest. Investment is needed, not just for the west coast main line and the quick routes into London, but for local railway stations, wherever they might be, to get from A to B to C, and not just from east to south to north to west.

I was recently in Switzerland, and I could not believe the integrated transport system that operates there. Not only are local railway stations used far more efficiently, but one can book in with Swissair, have one's luggage taken and checked in at a local railway station, which may be in the middle of nowhere, and have it directed to Heathrow airport or wherever the destination may be. That is integrated transport and railways are part of it.

Instead of simply considering which roads are needed and which routes they should take—in the west midlands, for example, the recommendation to widen the M6 will probably go before Ministers—we must consider which transport changes are needed. We could transform the choices available to people if only we could consider all the transport options and deal with them in an overarching way so as to provide horses for courses. We have just heard about deliveries by horses and cart horses, but we must not put the cart before the horse; we must look to see what is needed. If it makes sense to go by foot, to cycle or to walk, that is what we should do.

We must consider how freight is transported so that industry does not complain about the cost of congestion, but looks at the different multi-modal methods of transport—whether using coastal shipping or inland waterways, or providing better access to freight depots. I would love to see the freight depot at Longport in my constituency used more; I would love some of the £600 million or so that is being considered for widening the M6 motorway to be used for developing opportunities for freight transport instead.

We are in a period of transition; I am sure that we shall arrive at our destination. As we continue on our journey, even more opportunities and options will arise, and people will be more inclined to accept them when they see all the benefits of reducing the health problems and delays caused by our over-emphasis on road transport and its development. We are in a transitional stage; many improvements have been made, but not enough.

The challenge for the Government—I am sure that they will address it—is how to deal with all the interim decisions that could lock us into a way of developing our transport infrastructure that was not sustainable in the long term. I urge the Minister when she replies to take account of the genuine concerns that the trunk road interim review has caused. That review must be seen to be driving us towards sustainable development, not locking us into road routes.

10.48 am
Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

I am pleased to be able to speak in today's debate. The Minister will remember that last November we had an Adjournment debate on the subject of Poole harbour bridge, during which I made a contribution. Members of Parliament representing Dorset were able to highlight the various issues of concern to us, especially the harbour crossing and how it affects the traffic infrastructure. I am sure that the House will forgive me if I use my contribution today to highlight the issues that are of great concern to my constituents, both personally and in the business community.

My constituency is an interesting mix of urban development around the outskirts of Poole, including a large industrial base, and the rural economy of mid-Dorset.

We are also affected by tourism—we live in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the isle of Purbeck, and Wareham forest—and in addition we have to cope with the demands of traffic generated by Poole harbour.

The Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 makes clear the requirement on local authorities to prepare reports relating to levels of road traffic. It deals with forecasting, not reduction. I believe that it is too soon to assess the impact of the 1997 Act; we do not know yet what its impact is. More legislation at this stage may confuse the issue. We also await the Government's proposals on an integrated traffic policy. I am afraid that the Bill could put the cart before the horse.

Unfortunately, targets alone do not reduce traffic volumes; specific initiatives will have to be undertaken, such as restrictions on car usage and motoring taxes. I fear that restrictions on the use of the car which are appropriate in one area will be wholly unacceptable in another. I cannot see where the Bill takes account of that.

Local needs and circumstances must be paramount. My constituents may have priorities different from those of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who introduced the Bill.

The Bill—published, I believe, so late this week—has been the source of a massive lobbying exercise. I have been amazed by the scale of communication that I have received. I received letters about the Bill from Friends of the Earth, the Green party, the British Road Federation and, ironically, the National Union of Students.

I must tell the House that there has been a great deal of anxiety about the Bill locally; I shall return to that in a moment.

Mr. Dafis

As the British Road Federation has been mentioned, it is worth placing on the record an extract from a letter that I have seen from Paul Everitt, deputy director of the British Road Federation. He says: I am pleased to see that many of BRF's concerns have been addressed, particularly the removal of specific targets and the recognition that transport policy is about more than traffic volume. Then he says that he believes that the White Paper is the most appropriate mechanism, and continues:

It is now up to MPs to decide whether this is an appropriate piece of legislation. I think it is fair to say that the outright opposition of the BRF no longer exists, and that there is a recognition that the Bill has addressed many of the concerns that it had.

Mr. Fraser

I did read that letter and information that I was given, and I shall shortly mention some of the things that I would like to happen.

The Bill, as it stands, intrigues and concerns me. I am sure that it has the support of many of my hon. Friends.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fraser

Not at the moment. I am sorry; many of my hon. Friends want to speak.

However, before the Bill can come anywhere close to gaining my support—I speak positively—I need some clarifications, assurances and amendments. I hope that some of those will be forthcoming this morning.

At the core of the Bill, as laid down in clause 2(1), is the duty of the Secretary of State to set and publish … national targets for road traffic reduction in the United Kingdom. I support the aim of reducing road traffic, but I question the concept of "national" targets.

Clause 2(2) states that

The Secretary of State is not obliged to specify targets under subsection (1)". How are those two subsections to be reconciled?

I welcome many of the criteria laid down in clause 2(3). Some of the factors that the Secretary of State must bear in mind are to be welcomed—greenhouse gas emissions, effects on air quality, effects on health, congestion, and danger to other road users—but will the Minister tell us what "other social impacts" means?

Mr. Lepper


Mr. Fraser

I repeat that we support the concept of road traffic reduction. Indeed, it was the Conservative party that, before the most recent general election, passed the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997. However, the critical difference is that that is focused on local, rather than national, targets.

As we are told every day by the Government, this is a nation of regions—a nation of localities. Does it not seem odd that, when there is to be devolution for Scotland and Wales and when we are discussing the possibility of an assembly for Northern Ireland and regional assemblies, we should now be considering the idea of national targets for road traffic?

Several very important points need to be answered. How will the reduction targets be set? Will the criteria be published? Will the different factors to be taken into account be weighted, and on what basis? Most important, if we are to have national targets, how are local factors to be taken into account?

In my constituency, we have two, potentially conflicting, areas: the urban area of North Poole and the rural Mid-Dorset. My constituents suffer from congestion caused by a lack of adequate roads, especially around the area of Poole harbour. That also has an adverse effect on local business. Before any traffic reductions are made, numerous transportation activities must be put in place.

To put it simply, to reduce congestion, there is no alternative to building the Poole harbour crossing, with the extension of the A31 link, and an upgrading of the A350 north, which is currently dangerous and inadequate for its purpose. There will be deaths on such roads—an issue that was mentioned earlier—and deaths will increase. I shall find it very difficult to explain to my constituents if the Government do not honour past commitments to upgrade the road infrastructure in my constituency.

In other parts of my constituency, the idea of reducing traffic is treated with incredulity. In the more rural areas, people ask what alternative there is to their car. Young mothers and elderly people have no alternative, and I can tell the House that they feel very bitter that their very limited use of the car becomes more and more expensive as the Government try to penalise car use in their pursuit of an urban agenda.

In Dorset, we have an enormous amount of tourism in the Purbecks, and I accept that there are far too many cars. The road system is also wholly inadequate. A bypass for Wareham has been planned for many years. Only by local consultation shall we achieve the best result for those living in the area.

My fear is that national legislation will not overcome the problems that confront us. Until now, the local environmental habitat has taken precedence over the quality of life of local residents, to the extent that the local authority has put forward a plan that would effectively cut off the Northmoor Park part of Wareham, and split the town into two. That is wholly unacceptable to the town, and to the local economy.

On one hand, we have the "Wareham ahead" project, looking at regeneration of the town, and on the other we are splitting the town into two, ensuring that half the residents will have to use the larger port town of Poole rather than the one in which they live. I believe that that is contrary to what the Bill was designed to achieve.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

In all the hon. Gentleman is saying, in his attack on national targets, surely he has missed the important point—that local authorities must take account of travel-to-work areas. The difficulty is that travel-to-work areas are not coterminous with their local authority boundaries, so there is a need for some recognition of a wider sphere of influence. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that.

Mr. Fraser

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. When I speak about the local authorities later in my speech, I shall mention some aspects that need to be recognised.

I believe that, although of course local people would welcome road traffic reduction, they would not necessarily do so if it were done in the form proposed in the Bill. The Bill, as it stands, will not ease traffic volumes and congestion in my constituency. As I see it, a balance must be achieved, and that can be done only on a local basis, with the knowledge of the specific problems faced by those who use the roads and those affected by them.

What would be the result on the local economy if tourists abandoned the Purbecks? How can national targets address that? It must be a question of traffic management by the local authorities, which are charged with the responsibility of setting the agenda, which understand the priorities and can balance the often conflicting needs of an area. In Dorset, we rely on the visitors but want to manage them when they are there. It is a local management problem, which I believe must be dealt with locally.

Mr. Dafis

I am sorry to intervene a second time. Many of the things that the hon. Gentleman says make sense, but I emphasise that the Bill provides a broad framework at the United Kingdom level which enables enormous flexibility at local level. It even makes possible an increase in traffic growth in certain areas, which can be counterbalanced by significant reductions in large urban areas. The Bill is flexible, but we need an overall strategy to make local action meaningful in the broader context.

Mr. Fraser

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I did say at the start of my speech that I wanted to address certain points that had been put to me, and I am trying to articulate those to the House today, so that they are understood.

What about heavy goods vehicles? The A305, the Blandford road, is a nightmare for those living near it. Residents want weight restrictions to be imposed so that lorries bound for the port of Poole use a preferred route, which is longer, but many local companies are located on that road, so any restriction would be difficult to police. The road falls into the area of two authorities—Dorset county council and the Borough of Poole unitary authority. One supports the weight restriction and the other opposes it, both for entirely justifiable reasons. Which is right? How would a national roads policy balance those arguments?

Many heavy goods vehicles head towards Poole harbour, which is a gateway between the continent and the north-west of England, Wales and Ireland. The current port facilities could handle twice the present trade, but the road system could not. How would a national traffic reduction target address these issues? Would precedence be given to the road freight that thunders past my constituents' front doors, or to the people of Mid-Dorset and North Poole who understandably believe that an enhanced road system is the only answer to their misery? All these issues can be dealt with only locally, not by setting national targets.

I suppose that the key question is as follows: why does the hon. Member for Ceredigion, who is no longer in the Chamber, feel that he is in a position to impose constraints and solutions that he thinks may be appropriate for his constituents whereas they will not be appropriate for mine? How does the hon. Gentleman propose to reassure my constituents and those who are running local businesses, who express so much concern over the possible implications of the Bill?

Will the hon. Gentleman tells us how national targets are to be achieved? Where is the detail that would inevitably have to follow the passing of the Bill? If extra duties were to be placed on local authorities, who would pick up the bill? What happens if the targets are not met? What consultation has the hon. Gentleman undertaken with rural business in drafting the Bill? I wish these questions to be answered.

Ms Walley

An important factor to bear in mind is that industry and business do not benefit from congestion and bottlenecks. Perhaps I may speak on behalf of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who is back in his place. It is important that there should be a partnership and full consultation within a framework so that what is right in Poole can be worked out in conjunction with all those who have a stake at local level. It is only right that national Government should provide that framework, something towards which my hon. Friend the Minister has done so much work.

Mr. Fraser

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments.

I do not wish to sound negative, although Labour Members may think otherwise. However, as the Bill stands, I believe that it will not help to solve the problems that it seeks to address. Indeed, quite the reverse. The Government have yet to implement the 1997 Act, yet more legislation is proposed.

There is much more that we can do before legislating again. I ask the hon. Member for Ceredigion and the Minister what consideration they have given to road pricing, managing traffic flows, use of new technology and compelling local authorities to examine the increased use of park-and-ride to reduce town and city congestion. In Dorset, we have a wonderful scheme in Swanage where a steam railway has been recommissioned. It is most effective. It will be extended to Wareham. I would like that sort of approach to be considered carefully in the context of the Bill.

Has consideration been given to making increased use of the private finance initiative in the public transport sphere? What has been done about increasing the rate of grant for transferring freight from road to rail?

There is so much that can and should be done to tackle the problems that we face. The Bill needs to contain some of the measures that I have outlined before I can see it succeeding.

11.3 am

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on introducing the Bill. As we have heard, the Bill is effectively unfinished business. It is about restoring the teeth that were drawn from the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 in an effort to achieve parliamentary consensus so that it might take its place on the statute book. That was done during the death throes of the Conservative Government. We are no longer in that situation because we have a Government with a substantial majority and a clear mandate to govern. We have a Government who are committed to developing an integrated transport policy and setting a direction for transport for the new millennium.

If we are honest, we all know that good words and good intentions are no substitute for clear and measurable targets that lead to deliberate outcomes. We know also that consequences flow from non-action. If we are not positive, we risk the equivocal support that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser).

We are told that road traffic congestion is costing business about £20 billion a year and that about 15 million people suffer from ill health as a result of traffic fumes. We know also that almost every primary school class in the land has an array of Ventolin inhalers alongside the lunch boxes and satchels. As we have heard, children from the poorest sections of our communities, where car ownership is at its lowest, are most at risk of being mown down by the private car. No sane or decent society and no national legislative body can continue to turn a blind eye to these matters.

I understand that some people will argue that any sane and sensible measure to restrain traffic constitutes an anti-car measure. I represent a Birmingham constituency and I am not anti-car. I want the motor industry to thrive. At the same time, I want it to build cleaner, safer and more secure vehicles. I want it to recognise that there is a future in designing both on-board and external telematics and using other technology to enable it to produce the cleaner and more efficient cars that we want. I want people to buy cars, but I want them to use them much more selectively.

About five or six years ago, Birmingham city council contemplated a plan to build three major dual carriageways to accommodate projected traffic growth within Birmingham. That scheme would have resulted in the demolition of business premises and people's homes, including many in my constituency. The building of the dual carriageways would have accommodated people from outside the area who wanted to make through journeys to the city centre.

Not surprisingly, the local population and the business community rejected the proposal. Closer examination of people's real travel patterns and desires revealed the need for very different measures from the road building that was proposed. It was found that most journeys within the corridor were less than two miles. It was found also that they could be accommodated by better provisions for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. The end-to-end journeys to the city centre are made by people who invariably drive into the city and create the morning peak. They park their cars all day in cost-free company car parks or deprive shoppers of access to public car parks. They drive out of the city in the evening, creating another bout of congestion, leaving in their wake road accidents and pollution. These people do not live in the area that is affected.

Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why women in particular are buying cars and using them more frequently is that they are concerned about their safety when using public transport? If we are to develop an integrated transport network and encourage people to use public transport more often, we must bear it in mind that women have particular needs, including safety, when using public transport. Often women drive into city centres because they are concerned about their safety late at night. They are concerned also about not being able, because it is not available, to use public transport to travel to areas that they wish to reach.

Mr. McCabe

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I thoroughly agree with her. One of the clear messages is that if we are to encourage people to use their cars more selectively, we must provide reliable and secure public transport so that it is a viable option.

The issue in south Birmingham is that the people who would suffer the pollution, the demolition of homes and businesses, and the excess traffic are not the people who will use the road; it would be used by people from elsewhere.

The experience of south Birmingham shows that we do not automatically need to build to accommodate traffic growth. We need to learn more about the nature of people's journeys, and design transport policies that readily accommodate the journeys that people want to make. We need to look at various options that will help people, many of which have been mentioned today.

We must clearly encourage companies to make greater use of green transport plans. That will avoid the need for commuters to plough through other people's residential areas and churn up their environment. I agree with the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) that the taxation of free company car parks is long overdue.

As was pointed out earlier, we have a great deal of spare rail capacity, which could accommodate commuters who want to make the kind of end-to-end journeys to which I referred.

In the context of the Bill, we should recognise that the United Kingdom has a relatively good record on road safety. However, it was only when we established clear accident reduction targets that we started to make significant progress in road safety. Targets to restrain traffic growth are of exactly the same order. I am not particularly concerned today about the specific targets that the Government will eventually determine, although I find the simplicity of the Friends of the Earth targets of reductions of 5 and 10 per cent. on the 1990 levels attractive.

The crucial point is that we must set a framework in place. We must be clear that we need targets that everyone will work towards. The alternative to such decisive action now is that we continue to equivocate and allow people to suffer unnecessary ill health, cause businesses to lose money unnecessarily, and damage communities that could thrive with alternative transport systems.

11.12 am
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I am pleased to contribute to the debate, especially as my constituency is one of those most criss-crossed by the motorway network. Meriden in the west midlands has the M40, the M42 and the M6 running through it. Some of the most congested sections of those motorways pass through a narrow section of green belt between Coventry and Birmingham. Issues of pressure on land use are therefore acute in my constituency.

I should make it clear at the outset that our intention is not to oppose the Bill but to raise concerns in a way that would strengthen and finesse the measure before us.

I concur with the view of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) that a more realistic target would be the restraint of traffic growth. The national road traffic forecasts into the next century predict a 38 per cent. increase in traffic by the year 2016 and a 60 per cent. increase by the year 2031. That is a daunting prospect, which emphasises the need for measures to restrain that level of growth. I am concerned about whether targets will achieve that, without specific measures behind them.

There is no denying that many of our major motorways and trunk roads are heavily oversubscribed. I have looked into the weighting on our motorways in Meriden. The M42, which was built to take a capacity of 70,000 vehicles a day, now takes 120,000 at peak times. The section of the M6 in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) was built for approximately the same capacity and is taking 140,000 vehicles—double the number that it was originally intended to take. We cannot ignore the serious implications of that.

I applaud the Government for the roads review, in so far as it allows us to stand back from the difficulties of our congested motorways and recognise that, in the case of the M6 and the M42, severe environmental consequences flow from simply widening those motorways. I make a plea to the Government to undertake a study of the issue. Adding lane capacity to motorways may provide a short-term solution, but as acres of green-belt land go under tarmac—for ever, probably—there may still be congestion at the traffic nodes, as a result of the extra capacity flowing down those lanes.

An example is the widening of the M42 from junction 3A to junction 7. The main problem, however, is the motorway node between the M42 and the A45, which has Birmingham international airport on it and the national exhibition centre, both of which sites have recently been expanded. Only yesterday I had the good fortune to attend the topping-out ceremony at the extra exhibition halls at the NEC. It does not take much to realise that extra exhibition halls mean extra visitors, extra traffic and extra parking.

I appeal to the Government, when they examine the issue of traffic reduction, to consider the subject of integrated land use. We cannot discuss the use of roads in isolation. Integrated transport systems must take account of land use on the surrounding land.

A further aspect of the Bill that should be highlighted fortunately falls into the area of responsibility of the same Minister, now that we have a new mega-Ministry, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Planning and housing come under the same Department. Road traffic use is a vital consideration when new housing is built. Current national building targets envisage an additional 4.4 million homes. The great question is where such a large number of homes would be built. The location of that building will inevitably have a great bearing on the surrounding transport network.

In Meriden, there is great concern that there may be additional building into our green-belt area, which loads an already congested motorway network. The Conservative party is strongly opposed to the erosion of countryside and green belt. I urge the Government to consider the matter carefully. We were alarmed by the expression about the green belt being up for grabs. I am sure that that was just a throw-away remark, but the location of future new housing is an extremely serious matter.

I make a modest plea on behalf of the motorist. Most of us in the Chamber are car owners. Only a few of us manage to find other solutions in exclusively urban settings. It is important for the success of the initiative to reduce the rate of traffic growth that we decide whether to use carrots or sticks. If motorists are to be discouraged from taking their vehicles to work and parking in an urban setting, there must be adequate parking facilities at the point from which they could take public transport. I shall illustrate that with the problem that my constituents face. There is a reasonable main line and there are short-distance commuter networks from the Meriden constituency into Birmingham and Coventry, but parking facilities are often woefully inadequate. I know from my experience of canvassing during the election campaign that the railway station car park at Dorridge, which is the centre of a suburban community, is full by 8 o'clock in the morning. The surrounding roads have just had yellow lines painted on them, so it is now difficult for residents of Dorridge and the nearby areas to use the railway station. We need to consider car parking arrangements.

I regularly use the west coast main line to travel to Westminster. The service is of great assistance to me and my constituents as I deal with a great deal of my correspondence on the train. However, parking at Birmingham International railway station is extremely difficult, although the car park there was extended fairly recently. The local, practical reasons for the problem illustrate the way in which national traffic reduction targets often overlook local circumstances.

It costs only £2 to park indefinitely at Birmingham International railway station which adjoins Birmingham international airport. As it costs a great deal more to park at the airport car park, people going on holiday park their cars in the railway station car park. We should not overlook local solutions in our quest for an overarching policy. That is why we need to emphasise the role of local authorities.

Do the Government have any firm plans, as we read in yesterday's newspapers, for local authorities to have the ability to earmark or ring-fence money in respect of road-pricing schemes and improving public transport systems? I would be interested to know whether the Government are in favour of road tolling. The scheme for the Birmingham north relief road has now been accepted, and at the weekend I learnt about an interesting scheme in Leicester to control the flow of traffic into the city.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

I know that the hon. Lady is aware of the road-pricing scheme in Leicester that was aimed at finding out how much it costs to price people out of their cars and on to public transport. The scheme provides a fast route from good car parking into the town centre. Is she aware that the experiment has revealed that motorists have to pay £6 to take their cars into the town centre before they consider using public transport? That is the dilemma that we face.

Mrs. Spelman

I was aware that a range of charges was being considered and I would be interested to know whether there are plans for other such schemes. If there are, I should like to make a plea on behalf of the retailers in the heart of the city of Birmingham who are concerned about the prospect of road pricing as they feel that it might deter retail customers.

Perhaps it would be useful to consider toll-free times and zones. There is no doubt that the heaviest congestion on the west midlands motorway network occurs around commuter times. Shoppers can arrange to travel to the city centre during off-peak times. I should be most concerned for the overall economy of the region if shoppers were deterred from supporting retailers in the city centre because they were penalised by the road-pricing system.

Where road-pricing systems operate on the continent, particularly in France, the local communities benefit from toll-free zones. The peage system on French motorways that pass close by major cities is often suspended at certain times. Local people have to put up with so much pollution, noise, nuisance and congestion that it would be hard for them to bear most of the burden of the cost.

I invite the Minister to tell us about some of the studies that the Government might be carrying out in relation to best practice elsewhere in Europe. The city of Zurich in Switzerland has managed to stabilise traffic growth, so it would be interesting to take a lesson from that major European city. I should also draw the Minister's attention to the success of the Umweltkarte in Freiberg in south Germany that has limited the access of heavy goods vehicles to city centres by introducing a scheme to encourage synchronised deliveries. Instead of several lorries travelling to the city centre each day, one lorry distributes to a variety of outlets. If that is too complicated, it is often possible to have a depot outside the city from which short-distance distribution facilities are arranged. That reduces the number of large heavy goods vehicles and their attendant pollution in city centres.

I should like to commend what the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) said about pollution. Although the subject is outside the remit of the Minister's Department, let me draw her attention to the health aspects relating to the composition of vehicle fuel.

We should re-examine the effects of pollution on health and the development of cleaner fuel. In that respect, British legislation has mirrored that in the United States. The removal of lead from petrol under the previous Conservative Government was a major success and represents an important contribution to the nation's health, but vehicle fuel still contains components that are detrimental to health. In the United States, progress has been made in the reformulation of gasoline—particularly the removal of benzene, which scientists tell us is just as carcinogenic as lead. Perhaps there is a case for taking another look at the health aspects of fuel composition as part of the general objective of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) advocated the use of bicycles. I recall from my days in that city that the greatest danger to health was being run over by one. She drew attention to the pollution in Parker street in Cambridge city centre. I recollect that that is also largely due to the variety of fuel used by the public transport fleet—notably buses—as diesel fuel has a high level of particulates. Perhaps as one of the more general objectives of the Bill and our efforts to improve the nation's health, we should look again at the composition of fuel.

Finally, to return my point about land use in relation to transport, let me make a strong plea for the on-going study on the allocation of additional homes to different parts of Britain. Last Friday, I visited a wire rope manufacturer, Webster and Horsall, at Hay Mills in Birmingham. When the company was looking for more staff, it advertised for recruits who could walk to work. The factory's shift pattern and the availability of public transport meant that people coming from Chelmsley Wood in my constituency had to take at least two buses, and spent at least an hour and a half getting to work. That led to reduced reliability and many staff resorted to bringing their cars to work.

As part of the Government's strategy to provide new homes, I urge them to consider urban regeneration, not just for the sake of the urban economy but to benefit the country overall by relieving congestion on our arterial and commuter roads.

11.28 am
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today's fundamentally important debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) not only on introducing the Bill but on his perseverance and persistence in the face of considerable odds in the past.

I am pleased that the Government are prepared to support the Bill, because that bodes well for the White Paper, which needs to be both radical and innovative and yet needs to attract a wide consensus of support. People should not confuse the Bill with the White Paper. The Bill clearly sets out a national framework for targets, but leaves a tremendous expanse to be filled in by suggestions and proposals in the White Paper, and by the work of local authorities and local people.

Nor should the Bill be regarded as anti-car or anti-road. It seeks to redress a crucial balance, but there is certainly no automatic implication that no more roads should ever be built or that we should move away from investment in the motor industry. Rather, we need to innovate and develop environmentally friendly and efficient vehicles and ways of using fuel.

When developing a framework, we must be clear that the needs of rural areas differ from those of urban areas. The Bill is about dealing with congestion problems and clearing road space for public transport, cycling and walking, and for innovative transport schemes such as low-energy vehicles that can service major shops and town centres. It is very much about safety and health, and about regenerating rundown areas, which is a fundamental part of the battle against poverty. As several hon. Members have said, one of the crucial factors about people living in poverty is that they suffer from the environmental impact of roads, from noise and pollution, which dramatically affects their quality of life and can affect longevity.

Rather than take a terribly cautious approach to the Bill, we should thoroughly embrace it. It is potentially extremely good, not only for the environment but for business. Town centres that adopted the radical traffic reduction measures that could result from the Bill could make themselves much more attractive places in which to work, to visit and in which to do business. Excellent opportunities could be provided for innovative industry and businesses to consider environmentally friendly ideas to create jobs and prosperity.

I am always pleased to talk about the city of Lancaster. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Ceredigion refer to one of my constituents, Dr. John Whitelegg, who is an eminent person in this field and with whom I have had many stimulating conversations. We do not always agree, but his views have influenced my thinking. Indeed, the other day the county surveyor exclaimed in surprise that I was beginning to sound like Dr. Whitelegg. I do not know whether that is a compliment to him or to me. Much of the work that Dr. Whitelegg has done over the years has been important and influential, and I hope that it will finally come to fruition in the White Paper.

Another reason why I want to discuss Lancaster is that it is an outstandingly attractive city, set in a beautiful area, and a thoroughly pleasant place to live. Unfortunately, it has a burgeoning traffic problem, which makes life extremely difficult. It has narrow streets that were never built for motor traffic, let alone the current quantity of traffic. Residential streets are used as rat runs by people trying to avoid congestion, but they pile up problems in their wake. Even when cars are not trying to move round the city, they are parked throughout it, which detracts from the grace and style of a beautiful historic town.

The residents of Lancaster also suffer from pollution problems, such as asthma, and all the difficulties that they bring. Moreover, as in every other city, the ultimate tragic contradiction is that some of the most dangerous places are outside schools. As it is dangerous for children to walk to school, parents take them in the car and the problem is compounded.

Lancaster is a place of ideas and innovation. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) is no longer here because, rather than horses and carts, as she suggested, I recently tried out an invention called a "brox", which is a three-seater bicycle contraption. It has the supreme advantage over ordinary bicycles in that it has proper seats rather than saddles, and a large boot so that people can do their shopping. It is light and well geared, so that it can be taken up all sorts of hills. Given that everyone looks at me when I go round in it, I might use it for the next election campaign. I shall certainly be inspired to use it, given the news about the cycling allowance for Members. In some towns, the Post Office has started to use that sort of vehicle to make heavy deliveries to badly congested and polluted areas, and has been able to get over those problems.

Lancaster city council is progressive, and has introduced traffic calming measures, such as bus lanes. It has one of the best cycling strategies in the country and is working on green commuter plans and safer routes to schools. However, we need the impetus of a Bill such as this to set a national framework and national standards for traffic reduction. We need that push from the Government.

As my hon. Friend the Minister may be aware—our noble Friend Baroness Hayman, the Minister for Roads, is certainly aware of it—the Lancaster area needs some road development. Indeed, it is crucial in order to underpin a radical traffic reduction plan, which would involve the development of major transport interchanges that would bring together different modes of transport—trains, cars, hire cars, taxis, bicycles, light vehicles and lorries. Road pricing should be part of that radical traffic reduction plan. We should take a carrot-and-stick as well as a carrot approach.

There should be high-quality, regular, well-publicised public transport, with excellent information about when the next bus will come along and access for people with disabilities. I was amazed the other day when I was on a bus in Lancaster. Someone I know got on and said to me, "You shouldn't be on this bus. You're a Member of Parliament, you should be in a car." We should get away from the attitude that buses are for people who cannot afford cars. People should be seen on buses, and we should all get out this weekend and travel on buses, in order to make that point.

I look forward to the publication of the White Paper. I hope that there will be road pricing, with fiscal measures and hypothecation, to ensure that money from motorists goes directly into public transport schemes. People must see the benefit right at the point of delivery. There is scope for clamping down on company cars and providing differentials in road fund duty.

We need a new vision for transport. We have had some odd comments from Conservative Members on the Benches immediately opposite—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Empty Benches opposite."' Yes, the sadly depleted Benches.

We are in a position to develop a new consensus, but we must be willing to examine our life style. There is a great deal to achieve. We can make our town centres and cities much more pleasant and exciting places in which to live and to invest, and thus attract more visitors. I hope that the White Paper will introduce radical measures, because I want the city of Lancaster to become not only one of the finest historic cities in the country, but one of the most environmentally attractive places in which to live, to do business, to innovate and to prosper.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Many hon. Members want to speak, so it would help if speeches were briefer.

11.42 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I take note of what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about being brief; it is a pleasure to see so many hon. Members trying to contribute to the debate. Ten years ago, the Chamber would probably have been empty if this issue had been raised. The House should pay a big compliment to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) for the work that he has put into this Bill and the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, and for his work as chair of the Globe group in this Parliament, which has been effective in raising many environmental issues. The Road Traffic Reduction Act was a turning point, and if this Bill gets through all its stages, I hope that it will be an even bigger step forward in the search for a solution to problems of the environment and transport planning.

I represent probably the most densely populated inner urban area in the country, with the least amount of open space. Interestingly, it has below-average car ownership, but faces huge problems of pollution and congestion. I am the chair of the local Agenda 21 forum in the borough, which has carefully examined ways of improving public transport and promoting debate about it. Recently, there was an interesting debate between Friends of the Earth and the manager of one of the local car showrooms about having a car-free borough. The debate collapsed when the manager claimed that it was impossible to travel from Orpington to Islington every day other than by private car. The credibility of the argument for the free use of cars in urban areas collapsed.

I am constantly aware of the pollution difficulties that people face in my area, and in London as a whole. I live slightly high up in the Archway area, and in the mornings I can look down into London and see the wretched Canary Wharf towering above a huge cloud of pollution. It is not as if any industry is left anywhere in London that produces substantial amounts of pollution. All that pollution is transport borne: it all comes from motor vehicles and the internal combustion engine.

I live near the part of the Archway road that is a four-lane highway, which someone cleverly built in the hope of getting a motorway that would extend southwards to the docks and northwards to the M1. I am glad to say that neither extension has been built, so we have this ridiculous, one-mile stretch of motorway-standard road. I did a quick survey this morning of car use on that road. For every 20 cars I counted, only five contained more than one person. Most of the other 15 were large cars: it is always the Ford Fiesta that has five people, and the Mercedes that has just a driver. We have all seen the beat-up Fiesta with people crawling out the windows, while someone else drives along using a mobile phone in his large Mercedes, probably with a "Use unleaded fuel only" sticker on the back. Such drivers ignore the fact that they are creating a vast amount of pollution and waste as they perambulate their way down to the City to park in a very expensive underground car park, financed by the rest of us, before they go back home again to Potters Bar in the evening. If they ever thought about it, they would actually be better off on the train: it would be quicker and there would be less hassle. The only irritation to the rest of the world would be their using the mobile phone on the train instead of in the car.

The back page of The Times this morning contains a photograph of the A30 bypass that is being built at Honiton. Swampy was there a year ago doing his best to try to save the environment: he is a splendid fellow. The picture shows the destruction of a beautiful part of the countryside so as to remove the Honiton bottleneck on the holidaymakers' route to the west country. Once that bottleneck has been removed, another one further down the road will be removed, and so we go on and on pouring more and more cars into our cities, into the west country or wherever. At the same time, we have under-used railways and a complete lack of imagination in much of our transport planning. I hope that things will change, and I believe that they will.

If we do nothing about car usage, it will double in the next 20 years: car ownership will possibly increase at an even greater rate. The car creates an illusion of mobility, but it also creates many of the pollution, road safety and security problems. Many people tell me that they prefer to drive around the borough because they feel unsafe walking at night. There is some truth in that: there is an element of danger in walking around urban areas at night. But the more people drive and the less they walk, the more dangerous it becomes. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy. We must seriously consider methods of reducing car usage and car ownership, and the Bill goes some way towards that.

In the near future, the Government will be faced with a huge debate about whether to put money into the channel tunnel rail link. I do not want to prejudge that debate, but it seems to me that a phenomenal amount of time is spent discussing money being put into railway developments, whereas there is little discussion about the phenomenal amounts of money that are put into road developments. Road developments are the most expensive way of creating an inadequate transport infrastructure, and are the most wasteful use of energy possible.

In 1959 and 1960—in our own lifetime—the M1 was paraded as the solution to the country's transport problems between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. Already, it is over-used and totally inadequate. The M40 was constructed as a parallel motorway to the M1 on the run up to Birmingham. That, too, is reaching full capacity. The M25, which was projected to solve all of London's problems, is the world's largest car park. Proposing to widen it to six lanes will not solve the problem. We must be far more assertive in protecting our environment.

Public transport faces problems. The London underground, which many hon. Members must use all the time, is an excellent system, a brilliant innovation—but it is woefully underfunded and lacks investment. It needs a great deal of money, as does the bus network. Fortunately, London has never had the disaster of total deregulation of bus services that has been visited on the rest of the country. We have a regulated, moderately well-integrated bus service in London, which has meant a growth in bus traffic in every year for the past five or 10 years—unlike in other parts of the country. Ludicrous deregulation, high fares and the running of buses only at the busiest times of day must increase car usage, reduce mobility and make many people in rural areas who cannot afford a car feel totally alienated from society. Last year, when I visited the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion, I was appalled at bus fares for short-hop journeys from the station. That is pretty common in many areas.

Throughout the south-east, we have quite a good commuter rail network, serving a ring of towns. Beyond those towns, however, in smaller towns and villages, bus services simply do not exist. They will not exist if we leave it to the free market to decide whether to invest in what will be a fairly long haul in persuading people on to buses and out of cars. There must be proper regulation and—I believe—public ownership of the bus industry, in order to promote a serious environmental policy. Likewise, we should reopen a considerable number of under-used freight-only lines or partially closed railway lines. With imagination and investment, things can be done.

Mr. Reed

Is my hon. Friend aware that the cost of rail privatisation has made the opening up of such railway lines in Leicestershire almost impossible? The cost to the county council of running the line between Loughborough and Leicester, which includes the station that I regularly use, doubled overnight as a result of rail privatisation. Until we bring back into line the cost of rolling stock and leasing of lines, and the price that a county council has to pay to use the stations that it built before rail privatisation, investment will not take place.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, I know quite well the line to which he referred. As an avid reader of the Railway Magazine and several other journals, I know of the problems. County councils and others have imaginative proposals to reopen lines and stations and develop better services. Indeed, over the years, they have put quite a lot of effort into that. They now cannot afford to carry on, and as a result, all the imaginative investment, which was often made in the teeth of opposition from the previous Tory Government, is being wasted. We must have more imagination. If we leave everything to the market, we shall not succeed in attracting more people on to railways.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

In view of the large subsidies given to train operating companies, does my hon. Friend think that taxpayers are getting value for money? Does he agree that, with regard to local government schemes, there is a greater burden on council tax payers than there was before privatisation?

Mr. Corbyn

Yes. My hon. Friend is right. Although we are increasing subsidies to rail operators, we are not necessarily getting a better service because of the loose guarantees that were extracted when the franchises were awarded. We look to the new Government to be much tougher with rail operating companies. I hope that, as the franchises come to an end, we can return to public ownership and running of the railways. That is the best way of guaranteeing a decent service and an integrated transport system. Such a move must be at the heart of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion is talking about national targets—that is right. He is talking about all the criteria that Ministers will have to take into account in considering local plans—that is right. He is talking about the role of local government—that is right. We must also ensure sufficient investment in the public transport network. For too long, the Department of Transport has been obsessed with road building as a solution to all our problems, and thought that railways were a problem in themselves. We should consider the matter the other way around and increase the use of railways and rail freight, and the efficiency that goes with it.

We face serious environmental problems in urban as well as rural areas. It is shocking that there are so many ventilators for children who suffer from asthma, in primary schools in London and other cities. Most of that asthma is caused by traffic pollution. Children's lives consist only of home, television, car, school, car, home, television. There is often nowhere for them to play outside, and it is unsafe for them to walk on the streets. We are bringing up a generation that knows nothing of the joy of running about, playing in the street, walking or cycling. Such social aspects are behind the Bill.

We are faced with environmental problems the world over. If we carry on increasing the use of the internal combustion engine and do not integrate aspects of life such as jobs and housing, the destruction of the environment, the possible pollution of the north Atlantic from oil drilling and all other environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from vehicles will worsen. We cannot solve the problems of the whole world, but we can certainly do our bit in this country. We have signed the target set in Kyoto—I wish that it was 20 per cent. and not 8 per cent., but at least we signed up to something. Road traffic planning and integration of public transport is an important part of such a commitment. We can make a cleaner and better environment. It is dreadful to look over every city and see a pollution cloud, which is caused largely not by industry but by cars driven by one person going in and out of the city day in, day out. City centres are being destroyed as more and more car parks are built.

The Greater London council showed during its brief tenure that it is possible to make public transport cheap, efficient and popular. The GLC was abolished by the Tories, but when we again have an elected authority for London, I look forward to the integration of planning and transport, and rational thinking—away from the madness of the free market.

11.57 am
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

You have asked me to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because other hon. Members want to speak. I shall try to carry out your instruction.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on bringing the Bill to the House. He has been an indefatigable campaigner on the issue for many years. It is splendid that he has brought the Bill so far.

I am an amateur on traffic. I have travelled to 60 or 70 countries in my business career and experienced good and bad traffic systems. I whole-heartedly agree that traffic growth cannot continue. That is the basis of the Bill. I agree that there are evils that come from traffic. I have two asthmatic children, and we have all suffered from noise and congestion and know about the hideous problem of road deaths.

Motor vehicles are not an unmitigated evil. They have brought extraordinary liberty and prosperity to millions of people. I clearly remember a farmer's wife telling me when I was about 12 that she had never seen the sea. She lived 30 miles from it. There has been an extraordinary increase in the variety in people's lives and their ability to generate wealth. The car has increased the sum of human happiness. None of us is not wearing a product that has been taken somewhere by truck. The truck is not an unmitigated evil. A modern market economy cannot work without the motor car and the lorry.

That is particularly true of a rural constituency such as mine, where it is not practical to substitute private motor vehicles with public transport. The local economy of north Shropshire has done well in recent years. Unemployment is a little over 3 per cent. Arbitrary national targets could damage such a rural economy, where the private motor car is essential. My local economy has a high percentage of car owners. We are penalised when that is taken into account for calculations, because it is not an indication of wealth, but an essential of everyday life.

National targets are not the answer. The past 70 years have shown that central planning does not work. Gosplan did not deliver the kaleidoscopic requirements of the people of the Soviet Union. We cannot lay down national targets on traffic.

Mr. Brake

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a strong case for setting national targets for health?

Mr. Paterson

We can legislate that the moon is made of green cheese, but it will not necessarily work.

I should like to see more bite in the Bill—it will not achieve a lot as it stands. It is regrettable that the Minister has taken the bite out of it.

I understand that the Bill originally set a target of a 5 per cent. reduction on 1990 traffic levels by 2005—I think that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) probably knows the figures from her early-day motion—and a 10 per cent. reduction by 2010. The Minister supported that in her previous incarnation in opposition. The Bill has been emasculated.

I should like a real commitment from the Government to address the problem through the price mechanism. If the price mechanism is taken away, the market hits back with rationing. If I try to drive from Shropshire to London at any time after 6.30 am, the traffic is solid where the M54 hits the M6. That is rationing. If I am stupid enough to do that, I shall be on the motorway for two hours achieving nothing. The most ludicrous example that I can give from my travels is that two years ago a customer of mine insisted on a 5 am appointment in the centre of Los Angeles. Because of the traffic, at any time after that it would have been uncertain that either of us would arrive.

I sympathise with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), but I draw the opposite conclusions. The marginal cost of a journey such as that in Los Angeles does not hurt anyone. Petrol is extraordinarily cheap there. The situation is similar here. Once someone has bought their car and paid their car tax, the extra is in the marginal cost of the petrol. We should put more bite on people to decide whether their journey is necessary.

I know a business man who had a crucial series of appointments in the centre of London, but did not know when he was due to be at certain addresses or where some of the appointments would be. It was easier for him to take a car, a driver, a box of papers and a mobile phone and drive all the way from the north-west of England, through the central conurbation of Birmingham on the main motorways into the heart of London than to take the train, because the railway was competing with its hand tied behind its back. There was no bite on that car journey. There should have been a question in his mind about whether he could afford to drive through Birmingham and cross the boundary formed by the M25. I do not think that he should be banned from doing that, but there should be a penalty on going anywhere near the centre of London. I should be grateful if the Minister gave a commitment that part of the review in the White Paper due this spring will be a serious study of road pricing. I would criticise the previous Government for having been far too timid on that issue.

The technology is there now. I have been to Bergen and Oslo, where one drives into the centre of the town with an electronic gadget on the windscreen that automatically clocks up the journey. There is no infringement of civil liberty, which could be a worry; one simply gets a bill at the end of the month. Similarly, when one drives down an Italian autostrada today, there is an electronic counter, and one can drive through the toll barriers at 60 or 70 mph.

I should like the country to be zoned. The people of north Shropshire should have the right to drive around on their everyday business. I do not like the arbitrary use of increases in fuel tax, because that penalises rural areas. However, if those people want to travel further—into the middle of Birmingham, for example—that should begin to cost them money.

That would generate funds, which could be put aside for mass transport schemes, which I hope would be run by the private sector. We could have buses, and help could be provided with toll lanes and schemes such as those in Leicester, which have already been mentioned.

Unless those problems are addressed, traffic will increase to the point at which congestion damages the market economy. We need to put a market element back in, and I should be grateful if the Minister commented on that idea.

12.5 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on his work on the Bill, and pay tribute to the thousands of people throughout the country who have worked on it and supported it for some time.

Over the past five years, the emerging consensus in favour of traffic reduction has been striking. The turning point came in the early 1990s, when the Government predicted that by the second decade of the next century, traffic would have increased by 140 per cent. From that moment, people understood that that trend was simply unsustainable. The recognition by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment of the fact that building new roads simply resulted in more traffic was also an important turning point.

The consensus has come about because people understand now that the great car economy has taken us to the brink of economic disaster. Many hon. Members have spoken about the impact of congestion on cities, about the impact on children's health and about the destruction of local communities, small towns and villages, whose roads were built for horses and carts, and not for the internal combustion engine.

I want to make two points above all, the first of which concerns the need to grasp the nettle of green taxation. I agree with the hon. Members who have said that there are many ways in which the Government can encourage and induce people to leave their cars at home. Those include providing safer routes to school, and encouraging people to cycle and walk, to make more of their journeys by public transport and to think whether their journeys are really necessary.

However, there are limits to the extent to which we can change people's behaviour by encouragement. Other hon. Members have spoken of the need to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach. I believe that it is important to wield the stick firmly—subtly, but firmly. Unless we wield the stick, there will not be sufficient investment to fund the carrots. That is why it is critical that when the Government legislate following the White Paper, they grasp the nettle of green taxation. That includes road pricing—there is now an emerging consensus in favour of that—and a steady and continuous increase of taxes on fuel. That started a few years ago at 3 per cent. annually, then it rose to 5 per cent. and now it is 6 per cent. annually. Three years ago, the royal commission on environmental pollution recommended a doubling of fuel prices by 2005.

The striking aspect of the annual increases that have been introduced is that motorists have largely accepted them. There is little complaint and no mass campaign against them. I believe that most motorists, although they like cheap fuel and benefit from the mobility and freedom that the car brings, understand that the unrestrained growth in traffic is not sustainable and has to be stopped. That is why they are prepared to pay more, as part of a package of measures designed to bring that about.

I want to link the carrot with the stick. We must go ahead with the continuing increase in fuel prices and consider other imaginative ways in which to increase the cost of motoring. That has to be done to get people out of their cars. I would like the Government to consider a measure that was first taken on board by the previous Labour Government 20 years ago: the switch of road tax to the cost of fuel.

As was mentioned earlier, abolishing vehicle excise duty and transferring the cost to petrol would be revenue neutral for the average motorist in the average small car; in fact it would be a considerable advantage, because the cost would be phased throughout the year, rather than being paid up front once or twice a year.

It is crucial to tackle the issue of vehicle excise duty and either switch the one-off annual cost to the cost of fuel or introduce a phased form of duty that is related to engine size, fuel efficiency or volume of emissions, as happens in almost every other European country—and as happens here for heavy goods vehicles.

We must grasp the nettle. Hard choices will have to be made about the level and range of green taxation as part of our integrated transport strategy. The transport infrastructure does not exist in isolation: it simply reflects the wider economic patterns—the life styles and culture—of any society. In Britain, the culture of private car ownership is powerful and dominant.

Unless we take into account all the issues that determine our economic structures—including land use policy, the nature and location of housing, and the development of new technology so that more people can work at home—we shall simply scratch the surface by tinkering with the transport system. The whole question of the economics of private car ownership needs to be explored further. People who are deeply attached to their cars incur far greater costs for themselves and their families by insisting on private ownership than they would by a much greater use of taxis, public transport or occasional car rental. More research needs to be done to demonstrate that it is cheaper, and equally convenient, to rent or lease a car or to use taxis occasionally.

This is not an issue on which we can be self-righteous or pontificate, because we are all dependent on the car to a greater or lesser extent. We all bear a responsibility for changing our own patterns of behaviour as well as encouraging our constituents and others to do the same.

12.12 pm
Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), to all the Bill's supporters and to Friends of the Earth, which has done a great deal of work in preparing the Bill.

By the time that we reach the millennium, I shall be one of those odd people who will have survived the second half of this century not only without owning a car, but without even being able to drive. That has not prevented me from holding down a secure job; being the leader of a council; ensuring that my children got to school regularly and did well there without needing lifts in a car; or, indeed, being elected to Parliament.

I will admit that without cars, my campaign might not have been so successful and, of course, if my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) offers me a lift home from time to time, I do not refuse. It seems to me that that emphasises the importance of car sharing. We heard this morning about Fiestas in contrast to other, more expensive cars—the one crammed with passengers, the other with a single passenger. There is an aspect of car sharing that has found favour in this country—taking children to school. At other times of the day, car owners seem to fight shy of it.

I have managed to survive for a long time without being able to drive. One of the reasons for that is, fortunately, that I live in an urban constituency—I do now and I always have done. However, there are drawbacks to being unable to drive. There are now areas of the wonderful countryside of East Sussex and West Sussex around my constituency that I find difficult to visit. That was not so 20 or 25 years ago, when I first moved to the area, as there was then a rural bus network. Where do we look for the reasons for the decline in rural bus services? We need look no further than the deregulation policies of the previous Government, which have done so much to harm the rural way of life.

One of the strengths of the Bill is that it recognises the need for flexibility; it recognises that the needs of different parts of the country are themselves different. The Bill also provides a vital link between the agreements that this Government did so much to ensure were eventually reached at Kyoto and the local Agenda 21 programmes which are in operation in all our areas.

My constituency has acute traffic problems. It is a Regency and Victorian town in the main, with streets that were not designed for the kind of traffic we have today. There are conflicting demands of tourism, commerce and conservation. Tourism is linked to the appeal of our Regency terraces, for instance, and to the street pattern of an 18th-century fishing village in the Lanes, which many hon. Members will have visited at party conference time. We cannot widen the roads without destroying part of the character of the town in which I live—the character that draws people to Brighton in the first place.

I pay tribute to the work that is under way across the Brighton area. The bus companies are working in conjunction with the local council in the kind of quality partnership which, I am glad to say, has resulted in a 5 per cent. increase in bus usage across the Brighton area in each of the past four years. This Government—and, I must say, the previous Government—have played a part in that by ensuring that funding is in place for the bus lane network, which will be completed in the near future.

I was glad that Ministers saw fit to support that programme in this year's transport policies and programmes settlement to Brighton and Hove council. The bus companies have played their part by investing in newer, cleaner vehicles with lower platforms which are easily accessible for disabled people, people with lots of shopping or people with baby buggies. That is helpful to travellers—if the bus can get close enough to the kerb when it pulls up to enable them to make use of those improvements in design. All too often, we find that an inconsiderate driver has parked in the place designated for a bus stop and that the bus cannot get close enough to help those people. The work is under way. Such quality partnerships between bus companies and local councils are vital.

Much more can be done. Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) told the House of the virtues of the home zones scheme. Locally, we are beginning to work towards producing safer routes to school, but the national framework to encourage that work, which I am sure will be provided by an integrated transport policy, is vital.

One aspect of the transport system in my area is in many respects woefully inadequate—the rail system. I find it easy to get up and down fairly quickly from Brighton to London, but to the east lie Ashford and the channel tunnel link. Anyone who tries to make the journey by rail from Brighton and Hove to Ashford must be prepared for hours—if not days it sometimes seems—of travel.

There was a dispute between the promoter of this Bill, whose constituency's name I will not attempt to pronounce again, and the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) about the inventor of the railway. Brighton has the honour of having the longest surviving electric railway in Britain—the Volk's railway—but much of the track between Brighton and the channel tunnel link at Ashford is not yet electrified. For much of the way, it is single track. That does nothing to encourage passenger travel or to encourage businesses to use the line for freight. There has been a startling lack of imagination on the part of Railtrack and the privatised rail companies and operators in respect of investing in the system. My constituency is losing out on many of the economic benefits that should be provided by the channel tunnel link, so close as the crow flies, but so far in terms of transport links.

Everyone recognises that simply building more roads will not help to solve the problem. A week or so ago, I attended, with many other hon. Members of all parties, a presentation by Baroness Hayman and her team on the results of consultation by the Government office of the south-east on the trunk road building programme. It was interesting that a major factor that came out of the consultation was the recognition that more roads were not the answer to our problems. I urge support for the Bill, which enables us to put our transport and environmental problems in a context in which there are clear links between what is happening in local councils and what the Government have achieved internationally at Kyoto.

12.22 pm
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

It is clear from the debate that the Bill is part of an emerging political consensus aimed at tackling the environmental damage of inefficient road transport usage. "Inefficient" means inefficient methods of transport, inefficient and unnecessary journeys, and the overloading of inappropriate roads, particularly with heavy vehicles. I hope that the Bill will complement measures to improve public transport and enable sensible decisions about our road infrastructure.

A balance needs to be struck. I represent a semi-rural constituency. When I spoke to the Doncaster Ramblers annual general meeting after doing four surgeries, I had to confess that I had not walked or even cycled between them because it was a 30-mile round trip. The car has its place in our daily lives.

A point that I would like to make on behalf of women, particularly working mothers, is that they use cars to take children to school not only because of safety, but because of changing life styles over the past 30 years. More women are working. The combination of pressure of time to get to child care, to school and then to work often means that the car is the only viable option for such women. I hope that, when considering proposals in that respect, we consider people's life style and recognise that some trips—especially the combination trips with which many women have to cope every day—are a necessary feature of their lives. That said, there are plenty of examples of unnecessary car use.

In the borough of Doncaster, there is heavy congestion in the town centre at certain times of the day. I also receive persistent complaints from people in the outlying villages that the bus services connecting those villages to the town travel at inappropriate times, miss certain villages and are irregular. As my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) mentioned, our constituents are clear about who is to blame for that chaotic system—the previous Conservative Government, who deregulated our bus services. We have evidence to show that, because of that policy, passenger numbers on buses have fallen by a quarter.

I also have constituents who complain about the pollution from heavy vehicles that have to make long winding journeys through villages at relatively slow speeds. Both residents and road hauliers point out that short link roads could replace those inefficient polluting journeys through residential areas, with short efficient routes to the major road and motorway networks. That is what I mean by making sense of the road infrastructure; my constituency is criss-crossed by motorways and major roads, but it suffers from a lack of link roads to industrial centres.

In the past six months, in local discussions about the new deal programme, I have been pleased by how we have tried to tackle the problem of transport to work so as to encourage people back into the workplace. Very often, it is the lack of transport that prevents people from getting jobs or from getting to work on time, and that has become an important feature of the Government's employment policies.

In the past decade, we have become increasingly aware of the adverse impact on health of poor air quality and the sudden rises in hospital admissions when air quality deteriorates. I do not believe that there is a teacher in this land who does not take a daily count of the number of inhalers used in his or her classroom. I speak not only as the mother of a daughter who suffers from asthma, but as one who can remember that, when I was at school, hardly anybody had an inhaler. In 30 years—in living memory—that has changed completely and having an inhaler is no longer the exception to the rule. I also represent a constituency with a large proportion of elderly people who suffer from industry-related breathing difficulties such as emphysema. For such people, the quality of air has a daily impact on their lives.

I am delighted that the Government are supporting the broad principles of the Bill. The Bill also complements efforts to cut emissions through fuel technology. I have visited a firm in my constituency, K. H. Manufacturing Ltd., which has developed an air-steam inspirator which halves emissions and guarantees a fuel saving of 5 per cent. on any vehicle. That Denox device, which can be fitted to buses and heavy vehicles and to old or new cars, is just one example of the ground-breaking research and development being carried out by British companies which recognise the environmental challenges we face. I look forward to bringing more details of that device and its innovation to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) and everyone else who has taken part in the debate. I can say with confidence that the Bill and the Government's approach to transport and the environment will be warmly endorsed by my constituents.

12.27 pm
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. My remarks will be brief, owing to the large number of hon. Members who wish to speak. It is gratifying to see so many hon. Members on the Government Benches, if not on the Opposition Benches.

I welcome the Bill, which is an important stepping stone in our being able to deal with congestion on our roads. It follows the successful Act pioneered by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who was in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on his dogged pursuit of the issue which I sincerely hope ends in success. I am also happy to recognise the role of the sponsoring organisations: I shall immediately declare my membership of Friends of the Earth and, although not a member of the other two organisations—the Green party and Plaid Cymru—I congratulate them on their collaboration with hon. Members on the Bill. It is an important example of the new politics bringing forth a new, positive environment, where people can begin to take back control over their lives and collectively show responsibility to each other, the country and, indeed, the planet.

I also welcome the fact that the Government are supporting the Bill. That is important because it shows our commitment to a more rational integrated transport system. The White Paper that is expected shortly will display that commitment and will, I am sure, be widely greeted and supported. It shows the Government's belief in the need to deal with the excess of the car, and demonstrates the Government's commitment to tough, national targets to deal with and cut CO2 emissions and to meet stringent air quality standards.

I note the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about the problems of urban pollution, but when I was trying to save a well-loved and well-known rural hospital, which deals with patients with chest complaints, the high ozone levels on the site were used as arguments against me. The hospital is quite close to the motorway and the ozone rises up above the motorway and dumps itself on top of the site. The problem, therefore, is not just an urban one, but a rural one.

We also intend to double the amount of cycling and reduce the number of road traffic accidents, a not inconsiderable problem. The Government will build on the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 by publishing guidelines on its implementation and requiring local authorities to consider how to meet local reductions in the number of cars on their streets.

While I accept that some minor amendments to the Bill will almost certainly be necessary as it passes through its Committee stage, in the spirit of collaboration, I ask the Bill's sponsors to seek a compromise to ensure that the measure receives the widest support. That is not to underestimate the rigorous requirements that the targets will involve, but both new and existing legislation will show what is possible and where we can obtain public support.

I do not intend to talk about forecasts, about which we have heard enough already. I do not intend to talk about congestion costs, environmental degradation or the horror of road accidents. I want to concentrate on the ways in which we can encourage less use of the car. That can start in some fairly simple but effective ways. For example, if we can start to reverse the decline in the number of schoolchildren either walking or cycling to their place of education, we can immediately reduce the pressure on our roads at what is now, for many of us, the busiest time of the day. That will, I hope, make schools more pleasant places to be when children are dropped off or picked up. It will also provide a long-term benefit as children will become less reliant on the car and healthier in the process.

It is that sort of win-win situation that we should be seeking through education and encouragement. We should be aiming to change perceptions so that it no longer appears to be safe for children to choose the traditional means of making their way to school.

If we can further reduce the amount of money that we currently spend on road building, we can expand creative schemes such as park-and-ride. If handled properly, pedestrianisation can not only be a boon to town centres, but can change people's cultural attitudes so that they become more willing to ride, then walk, rather than simply jumping in a car at the earliest opportunity and staying in it come what may.

If we can make cycling a more general pursuit by dramatically extending the number of cycleways and by giving greater preference to cyclists, we can improve safety and give freedom to people to use the most convenient method of travelling between short distances. Given the number of people who own bikes and the increasing cachet of being a cyclist, if we can double their use, as implied by the Government's targets, that alone will make a significant difference.

We must make the greatest changes in public transport in order to make any legislation a reality rather than a dream. I know that I shall not be the only person to use my experiences this week to show how miserable travelling on public transport has become. Anyone who travels on a train can graphically describe the late running, the overcrowded carriages, the poor facilities and the catalogue of excuses. If one uses a bus, it often seems that there is a competition between operatives as to who can run the dirtiest, smelliest, oldest vehicle on the road. We have just got to be able to solve those problems.

If the Conservative party had to be attacked on two grounds alone, I am sure that a valid case could be made for citing the way in which the Conservative Government privatised the railways after years of neglect and the way in which they deregulated the buses. We have heard much about those things, both of which have been an unmitigated disaster. Starved of real investment, appalling at customer relations and only interested in the bottom line, our so-called "public" transport is now a charade.

I am sure that I am not the only person in the Chamber today to be convinced that, if we had not allowed our provision to slip so deplorably, we would not be in the mess that we are in today, and we would not need to debate this type of Bill.

With that in mind, I would devise what I call the alternative transport test, which can be put not only before Government but before individuals. It would allow everyone to test out ways to branch out travel-wise by comparison and contrast. I do not pretend that it will be without sacrifice, but one person's sacrifice is another's gain. In these days of counterfactual analysis and contingent valuations, it should not be beyond the rhyme or reason of personkind to take decisions based on new scenarios, which place obligations on the individual as well as expecting Government action.

The alternative transport test would ask three questions. The first question would be, "Is another form of transport available?" I ask that deliberately for, in the semi-rural constituency that I come from, many villages have little or no access to public transport. That is why I hold bus deregulation in contempt. It has been an unmitigated failure in rural areas. However, even there, people can respond positively by car sharing and initiatives such as community transport. Local authorities, by careful use of bus tokens and subsidies, can help rural and other areas. That is just the type of joint responsibility that is needed in the alternative test.

The second question that should be asked is, "What is the cost, reliability and convenience of different forms of transport?" That also needs to be thought through. Individuals need to make a proper assessment of what it would be like to use other forms of transport. Obviously, the Government can make commitments to those other forms of transport, but individuals can really make a jump, in the sense that they can understand what they do every time that they jump in a car, and what they could do if they chose not to do so. The real costs need to be factored into anyone's equation.

Thirdly, and finally, we should ask, "How can the alternatives sit with regard to planning and the tax system?" Time will not allow me to explore that issue in detail, but several hon. Members have done so in sufficient detail. Suffice it to say that we need to place other forms of transport at the front end of all our planning, and not simply to treat it as an afterthought. More thought needs to be given to the relationship between where people live and where they work, and to the type of transport that is available to them. The individual must take the lead in that regard, but it is also a matter for Government.

The difficult issue of tax cannot be avoided indefinitely, and the Government must face up to it. If we genuinely want to make our society a better one in which to live, we must evolve a green tax strategy which penalises the use of the car while allowing moneys raised to go into other forms of transport. I am very pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been making utterances to that effect in recent days, and I congratulate him. I hope that he holds faith and that we support him.

I am emphasising that the Bill is about Government action and about placing the onus on the individual, in equal measure. The old adage that you can take a horse to water—we have heard a lot about horses and carts—is very apposite in this respect. In supporting the Bill, which I do whole-heartedly, I would ask that its resonance is felt, not just in the House this morning—now this afternoon—but, more especially, among the general public. They need to get the message and to find alternative ways of moving themselves about, and if they do so our society will definitely be a better one in which to live.

12.39 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I join all those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on coming high in the ballot and on choosing such an important subject for his Bill, which takes up an issue that has received widespread support from the House. I am pleased to add my support to the Bill.

The growth in road traffic has caused our country many problems. Congestion causes delay, which has an impact on the economy. Pollution has an effect on people's health. Health problems arise also through lack of exercise. Road safety issues arise. In Barnet, for example, there are 2,000 personal injury road traffic accidents every year. That is an issue that is especially close to my heart. Before entering this place I had been a personal injury solicitor, working with accident victims, for 20 years.

I have seen some of the victims of road accidents. I have met the bereaved families, the children without a father and the wife without a husband. I have met people suffering from paralysis as a result of road accidents, along with those who have received severe brain injuries, right down to the humble whiplash, which is an extremely painful and disabling condition.

I am talking about real people, not statistics. More often than not, these people were pedestrians, cyclists or motor cyclists rather than car drivers, who are responsible in the main for traffic accidents.

The general issues of congestion and pollution, for example, are best illustrated by the growth in the school run, which was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). When I was at school, which was quite a few years ago, hardly any pupil went there by car. I suspect that that would be said by practically every Member in the Chamber. That applied to both primary and secondary schools.

I am informed by the Library that nationally one in 10 trips by car—a fifth of peak hour traffic—is a school run. In 1975–76, 12 per cent. of children travelled to school by car. In 1994–95, that had risen to 27 per cent. Those national figures are mirrored locally. In Barnet, during school holidays, car traffic falls by about 10 per cent. at peak times.

School runs cause many problems for local people. For example, there is a secondary school in my constituency near Apex corner. It is an excellent school and I am not singling it out because it presents any particular problems in the area. It does not represent an especially difficult traffic problem, merely a problem that is created typically by the school run.

Many people who live in north London will be aware of the congestion at Apex corner. Those who travel into London will also be aware of it. The congestion in the area is contributed to by the traffic that is generated by the school as it cuts into narrow residential streets where the school is situated. It is a largish school and the nearby streets were not designed for the level of traffic that uses them. There are tremendous problems for local residents. Recently, while knocking on doors in the area, in Mill Hill, I heard many complaints about the difficulties caused by school traffic.

Why has that happened? Obviously there are safety considerations. Apparently, 25 years ago, 50 per cent. of nine-year-olds were allowed to cross the road alone. Nowadays only 10 per cent. are allowed to do so. There are concerns about personal security. There is an increased perception of the dangers of school journeys that does not necessarily reflect the reality.

Part of the problem stems from the Conservative Government's education policy. They implemented an admissions policy that created more selection. That restricted choice for local people, making it more difficult for them to send their children to local schools. At the same time, the geographical catchment area was increased, thus contributing to traffic difficulties. I am sure that when schools are interviewing parents of prospective pupils, one of the questions that they do not ask is how the children will be taken to school. Perhaps the schools do not take into account, as they should, the impact on the local community of the traffic that is generated.

The school run does not have an impact only on traffic levels, congestion and pollution. It has an impact also on children's health. We know from statistics produced by the Library that between 1985 and 1992 the average distance walked by children overall fell by 20 per cent. Over the same period, the average distance cycled by children fell by 26 per cent. There is thus an increased risk of a lower level of fitness along with a risk of obesity.

We should encourage parents to consider ways of taking their children to school that do not involve the use of a car—perhaps walking or cycling with them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, we should make it safe for them to be able to do so. Walking or cycling would probably be quicker than using the car. In Barnet, journeys up to 3.7 km are as quick by bike as they are by car.

The school run is only one of the symptoms in the growth in traffic. We need clear strategies and targets, which the Bill is designed to provide. There is a need for strategic targets both locally and nationally. Barnet council has been responding to the wishes of residents in developing a clear transport strategy, and one is certainly needed. An Association of London Government survey was conducted in the area in 1996, which showed that 26 per cent. of local residents were concerned about traffic levels.

Barnet council held a conference a couple of years ago, called the Barnet 2000 conference, which considered where the area should be headed by the millennium. The conference repeatedly stressed the importance of setting targets for traffic reduction. That strategy went out to consultation last summer, and it goes to the full council next week for final approval.

We must tackle not only the problems caused by traffic, but the social inequalities created by car ownership. The centralisation of facilities—shopping centres, hospitals and schools—has generated more traffic, as well as increasing social inequality. There are 120,000 cars in Barnet and 20 per cent. of families have two cars or more, but 30 per cent. have no access to a car at all.

As services and facilities become geographically concentrated, non-car owners lose out, because of public transport difficulties, and car owners use their cars more. That is particularly exemplified by the Conservative Government's decision to close Edgware hospital. One of the big issues that arose from that was the transport difficulties to alternative facilities at the Barnet and Northwick Park hospitals, in particular. Constituents without cars face a one-and-a-half-hour journey and need to change buses. Those with access to cars complain of the difficulty of their journey, especially at rush hour. That is why I am extremely pleased that the Health Minister announced last week that services would be returned to Edgware hospital, putting local services back where people need them—in their local communities. That will restore what the Conservatives took away.

Barnet's transport strategy contains ambitious targets for traffic reduction, but I regret to say that the Conservative party in Barnet has not seen fit to support that comprehensive range of measures. It sees them as being anti-car, whereas I see them as being pro-people. It is only by reducing car usage that we can do something about the problems.

It is important that local strategies should be linked into the national strategies identified by the Bill. Barnet probably has more trunk roads and greater lengths of trunk roads running through it than any other London borough. In 1996 an average of 414,000 vehicles used the motorways and trunk roads in Barnet every day. In my part of Barnet, in my constituency of Hendon, we have not only Apex corner, but the north circular/A41 interchange at Brent Cross, and perhaps busiest of all, Staples corner, the roundabout complex linking the M1, the A5 and the north circular. In those roads we have some of the most heavily used networks in London.

I am sure that many hon. Members have sat in traffic jams at those junctions, waiting to get out of London for the weekend and wondering why they are stuck there. I remind them that those roads go through heavily populated residential areas, which motorists probably do not even notice as they add to the local pollution. We know from the traffic studies that have been done for the Brent Cross extension that pollution levels are already above European limits. That is why the Bill is so important.

I shall conclude by reading extracts from a letter to the Government office for London from Mr. Franklin, the chairman of the Brent Cross residents association, which he has copied to me. The letter, from a resident who lives near those very busy roundabouts, states: For the past 20 years and more we have had to suffer ever increasing problems from traffic, noise, dust and pollution. People who have chosen to live in quiet, suburban roads and avenues have seen them transformed into traffic rat-runs and parking nightmares … On any weekday Hendon Way is solid with traffic, and we now experience jams on Sunday afternoons … Everyone acknowledges the need to curtail traffic, as one means of reducing the effects of pollution, and no doubt appropriate legislation is anticipated. I am pleased to say that I consider the Bill to be the start of that legislation. I willingly lend it my support on behalf of my constituents and the residents in my area, such as Mr. Franklin.

12.48 pm
Mr. Martin Caton (Gower)

This has been a good, if rather one-sided, debate. I am aware that others wish to speak, so I shall be brief in support of the Bill and against monogamy.

I realise that this is probably not the most propitious time in the world's political history to launch an attack on monogamy, but it must be done. The monogamous relationship that must come to an end in Britain is the unhealthy, obsessive and dangerous love affair that, for far too long, we have enjoyed with a metal box that has a ring of rubber at each corner.

Our passion is understandable. For many of us, it is a relationship that has been the most liberating experience of our lives. It has enabled us to see, do and enjoy things that would otherwise have been beyond our reach. The love of our lives has made us feel more significant, more powerful and more independent than any other lover we have ever known. We are besotted, but in our hearts we know that it cannot continue because, quite literally, it is proving to be all-consuming.

We have to begin to shed ourselves of the monomaniac, exclusive love for our motor cars and appreciate the special virtues of polygamy. We have to start nipping off for romantic weekends with the railway system. We have to be prepared to get together day or night with many other new lovers—the good old bus as well as trams, light railway systems, guided buses and the bicycle. We have to be prepared far more frequently to indulge in a practice that involves only the stimulation of our own bodies—walking.

The reasons have been spelt out already in the debate, especially by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), whom I congratulate on introducing the Bill. I also thank him for reminding the House that the first railway system was in Wales—the Mumbles railway, which is partly in my constituency. I wish that we still had it as it would enable 10,000 of my constituents to travel to the heart of Swansea without having to queue in traffic jams.

Our monogamous relationship with the car is damaging our economy, killing our children, destroying our environment and stressing us out. In more and more towns, cities and villages, it is making life quite intolerable.

We have to share ourselves out a bit more. I suspect that persuading us to do so will take an armoury of sticks and a shed full of carrots. Different sticks and carrots are likely to be appropriate for different geographical areas and circumstances. Many have already been mentioned in the debate and others are outlined in the Library research paper.

In employing various mechanisms to achieve change, we need to set ourselves realistic and achievable targets for reductions in road use and then we have to develop strategies to meet those targets in respect of transport, land use and local and national taxation. The Bill's objective is to establish those targets.

If we can get more people to embrace alternative ways of getting about, they will learn to love them for their own special attractions. The Bill will help us become a nation of happy transport polygamists.

12.52 pm
Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)

I am sure that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) for injecting some humour into a rather heavy and serious debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis)—I have been having some Welsh tuition from my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), who is sitting behind me—on introducing the Bill.

As I am conscious of the time, I shall limit my remarks to a particular way in which we can reduce the volume of traffic on our roads—the reintroduction of the school bus. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on the excellent start that we have made in tackling the adverse impact of road traffic by setting targets for CO2 emissions and limits on air pollution. I am delighted that the Government support the Bill, with minor amendments.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and others, I represent an historic and highly congested city—Chester. Whether I talk to residents' or tenants' groups, parents or parish councils, the call is always the same: please do something about traffic congestion and pollution.

I want to speak on behalf of children and about their safety. More than 90 per cent. of children now live in urban areas. They can no longer play or travel safely in their local neighbourhoods because the once quiet residential streets of Chester are now used as rat runs by motorists trying to avoid congestion. Children attempting to cross the road to go to school, the corner shop or the local play area risk being mown down by speeding drivers.

Other hon. Members have given local statistics and I shall give some that relate to Chester. They show that in the past 20 years, the number of 11 to 15-year-olds walking or cycling to school has fallen by more than 30 per cent. The proportion of seven and eight-year-olds travelling to school unaccompanied has fallen from 80 per cent. to under 10 per cent. It is now calculated that in Chester more than 70 per cent. of journeys to school are less than two miles, which could easily be walked or cycled, as it would have been when most hon. Members went to school. Now, however, parents take their children to school because they believe that their children's lives are at risk from the ever increasing traffic volumes.

I wish to focus on the fact that less than 5 per cent. of children travel to school on a designated school bus. That is why the Government need to look again at the issue of school transport. The provision of school transport dates back to the Education Act 1944, but times and circumstances have changed dramatically since then. Only children who live more than three miles from school are granted free public transport; others must pay the full commercial fare. Given that more than 70 per cent. of school journeys in Cheshire are less than two miles—I suspect that the figure is much higher in my urban constituency—we should consider giving all children free travel, or a subsidised flat fare, irrespective of the distance that they live from school. We should do that not only for reasons of safety but because many parents choose to drive their children to school because it is cheaper than the commercial bus fare.

All hon. Members whose local authorities have not yet taken up the initiative should urge them to introduce the safe routes to school project, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). It was launched a couple of years ago by a consortium of local authorities together with Sustrans. Its objective is to improve the safety and well-being of children travelling to school, and to give parents the confidence to allow their children to walk and cycle to school.

May I outline the plans for Chester? My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) talked about disused railway lines. In my area, a disused line goes from Shotton in north Wales to Mickle Trafford. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) is smiling: I am sure that he remembers it well. Three of our main high schools and numerous primary schools are within a short distance of that disused line. The two local authorities are working with Sustrans to turn that line into a safe cycle and walkway that hundreds of Chester schoolchildren can use to get to school.

The Government have said that education is their No. 1 priority, and I urge the Minister to include in that the journey to school. Many hon. Members have commented on the research that shows that children's more sedentary way of life is taking its toll of their physical well-being. Moreover, our children are becoming less aware of the dangers of traffic.

The school bus has many advantages, not least the fact that the journey to school can aid a child's development of social skills. I end by reminding hon. Members of the effect that the school bike shed had on their emotional, mental and even perhaps their physical development.

1 pm

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)

It seems as if hon. Members are as one in support of the Bill, except for a few dissidents who opposed it earlier on and then quickly disappeared. By now, they are probably in their Mercedes cars clogging up the roads in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), in their rush to get away from London before the traffic jams. Many of us are present not only because we welcome the Bill, but because we are concluding unfinished business. I add my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), and I thank him for his support now and in the past. I also congratulate hon. Members who have tried to get the House to take seriously the effects of traffic pollution and the need for national targets to be set, so that we can make progress towards the protection of our environment.

The debate has been made easier by the Government's decision to support the Bill. It is now a matter not of whether we accept the need to reduce traffic, but of how we achieve that. We could argue about what is a sensible target, but I accept the Government's view that we should take on board the targets that have already been set and build into them new targets for road traffic reduction.

The Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 puts the onus on local authorities to produce plans for reducing traffic in their areas. They also measure the effects of pollution on air quality. Eight of the nine pollutants that they monitor are from road traffic emissions. If ever there was a need to reduce road traffic, it is now, because we must ensure that those pollutants are removed so that the air is cleaner.

As chair of environment services on Northampton borough council and chair of the local Agenda 21 forum, my experiences were both exciting and frustrating. We tried desperately to reduce car use; sometimes with good effect, but sometimes with frustrating consequences. Northampton was one of the first towns to undertake real-time air quality monitoring. As chair of the committee, I was able to see from the machines what roads were being polluted at what times of the day. I saw the huge polluting effects of the M 1, which passes my constituency. No matter how polluted the town became due to wind direction, the local authority could do nothing about it. We knew that we needed Government assistance if we were ever to solve the problems of congestion on that motorway. Northampton's air quality literally depends on which way the wind blows. If the wind blows away from the M1, our air quality is high. If it blows towards the M1, our air quality reduces.

We have tried hard to raise public awareness, and to get people out of their cars and on to public transport. We have tried all sorts of methods. I remember having quotations placed on the back of Northampton buses, which we think worked. It led to some interesting correlations between myself and the back of Northampton buses, which I would rather not go into. But as long as it achieved the desired effect, it was obviously worth while.

We have also been working closely with the private sector, to try to promote rapid light transport in Northampton. The local authority is working to try to introduce the necessary measures to effect the reduction of traffic in our county. We cannot do that alone; we need Government intervention and support to ensure that there is a national strategy to reduce car use.

Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)

I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend is saying about partnership, which is important to the Bill. I should like to comment on the contrast between the previous Government's consideration of traffic and transport in our communities and this Government's approach. Under the previous Government, RAF Burtonwood in my constituency, about which I have spoken before in the House, was made a publicly accessible distribution centre, which resulted in heavy vehicles travelling through local communities on narrow country roads. In contrast, this Government have decided to work closely with the local authority, in consultation with local people, to determine appropriate use of the site. There is a possibility that the site will become an urban village with cycleways, resulting in effective use of public transport and bicycles.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. There must be a realistic partnership between national and local government, to put forward some of the desired measures in order to reduce traffic levels. That was the fault of the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, inasmuch as it placed all the onus and responsibility on local authorities.

I still receive letters from constituents—and ward constituents, as I still have the pleasure of serving on Northampton borough council—about traffic problems, such as car parking and the speed and volume of traffic. To use a term from the Green party campaign concerning the national march, my constituents are, "fuming mad". They say, "This is dreadful. You must get rid of this traffic." Most people are coming round to accepting that there are simply too many vehicles on our roads—21 million at the last count—and that we must reduce the number.

The original target set was the number of cars in 1990. For some of us, that does not go back far enough. I imagine that many of today's 21 million cars already existed in 1990. We should look forward to the day when there are fewer cars than there were in 1990. Perhaps the number of cars in 1971 would be a good target.

Reference has been made to the number of children who no longer walk to school but rely on the motor vehicle. In 1971, 80 per cent. of seven and eight-year-olds walked or cycled to school. I should know, because I was one of those who chose not to go to school by car. I am giving away my age; I am a spring chicken. Now, less than 8 per cent. of children walk or cycle to school. When one considers that incredible difference in such a short time, one sees the need for quick and clear action.

Opponents of the Bill have said that it is anti-car, which is absolute rubbish. We are all car owners or have used them in the past. The Bill is certainly anti-pollution, pro-health and pro-public transport. It gives us the chance to work with colleagues in considering an integrated transport system, to ensure that the Government meet their strategic responsibilities in reducing pollution.

I said that I would be brief. I shall close by observing that it is 100 years—almost to the day—since the Government repealed the laws requiring motor vehicles to be preceded by persons carrying red flags. Hon. Members might reflect on how the roads would be had that law not been repealed. Some of us might welcome the sight of 21 million people marching down the high streets with red flags aflame—I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is dressed accordingly—but we must look to the day when we can use less restrictive measures on the motor car and entice people out of their vehicles on to public transport or bicycles, or persuade them to walk short distances. That would bring about the improvements that we all want.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion on bringing the Bill forward. I hope that it will receive full support from all hon. Members.

1.10 pm
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

I should also like to place on record my appreciation of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), for bringing the Bill forward. It is universally approved of. The word universal is relevant, because the Bill is about politics—universal and personal.

Five of my seven grandchildren suffer from asthma to varying extents. That causes particularly stressful problems. Anyone who has seen a victim in terrible distress with that childhood ailment knows how panicking and damaging it can be. One of my grandchildren lived in Newcastle in his early years. He recently moved to Morpeth, which is 15 or 18 miles from Newcastle. Suddenly, his health improved. The air is cleaner and the problems of pollution are fewer. He found it markedly beneficial going to a local school.

There is always a down side. My daughter moved to find some fresh air for my grandchild, but she now has to travel to Newcastle for work by motor car, whereas she previously went on a bicycle. There are swings and roundabouts. That shows the need to balance public transport with people's needs.

I have had personal experience of that. Since my election on 1 May, my constituency office has been approximately six miles from Leeds city centre. I try to use the buses. One night, as I was waiting with my assistant to catch the bus back home, we watched bus after bus going in the other direction, out of the city. After 50 minutes, not one had come back. I wondered whether it was like a Monty Python sketch and there was a gigantic hole further along the route down which all the buses were disappearing.

The next day we wrote to the passenger transport executive to complain. We got a reply within a few days saying that the problem was caused by traffic congestion in the city centre. I found that an inadequate reply to my complaint about where the buses had gone. Only later, when one of my constituents complained about a similar event and said that empty buses had passed her by out of service, did it come to light that the bus company's solution to being behind schedule was to run the buses back out of service and empty, leaving stranded passengers all along the route into the city centre. That is an idiotic way to run a service, because it is not a service. The company could afford to do that because it was receiving substantial sums from the public purse to support the service. Passenger income did not seem to matter.

I gather from all the contributions that I have heard today that, given the nature of the Bill, no one will reasonably object to its contents. I have undertaken to mention very few of the things that I originally intended to talk about, to make time for one more Back Bencher to speak.

However, there is one element of the problem that I owe it to my constituents to mention. Many hon. Members have mentioned the problems generated by school-related traffic, and we should be most careful about what happens if and when it is felt necessary to close a school. We have been involved in several school closures, especially closures of primary schools, because numbers have fallen.

We must be careful that as a result of closures, we do not generate additional journeys, with people having to take children further by car to school. Our Victorian forefathers understood the need for schools to be within easy walking distance of their would-be pupils, and we should return to that aim.

I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, and look forward to its successful progress through Parliament.

1.15 pm
Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this important debate; I understand the time pressures. It is unfortunate that not one Conservative Back Bencher is in the Chamber to hear the end of the debate and the Minister's comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on bringing the Bill before the House.

Eccles, my constituency, is one of the three Salford seats, criss-crossed by one of the world's finest motorway, trunk and local road webs. That web is vital for communications and commerce, but the paradox is that it exacerbates the problem of increasing road transport and the resultant pollution and health problems.

Eccles, Salford in particular, and the north-west of England as a whole have some of the oldest and most used industrial roads in the world. It is not uncommon to look out of one's office or home and see an unplanned crater in the road, with the resultant standing traffic.

We are not only increasingly conscious of the nuisance and frustration that that causes for industry and the public alike, but we are more acutely aware of the devastating effect on the health of constituents and the pressure that that places on the national health service.

Two main trunk roads lead into Salford from the west—the A6, which goes through Swinton and Pendlebury, and the A57, which passes through my own town of Irlam and Cadishead, through Barton and Winton into the centre of Eccles.

I should like to draw to the Minister's attention what happened recently, when there were road works, both planned and unplanned, on all the major trunk roads, and the Highways Agency gave notice that a major section of the M602, which runs into Salford from the west, was to be closed for repairs.

That meant that all the roads on the west side of town were either closed or had major repairs taking place on them. I wrote to the Highways Agency to ask what liaison had taken place with the city of Salford highways department. The Highways Agency has yet to respond to my letter, but the principle of maximum liaison between the various agencies, and of the clearest and highest-quality information for the public and industry, is essential.

I support the Government's strategic approach to both trunk and local road policy. I believe that we need a strategic but flexible approach that allows resources to be directed quickly to unforeseen problems.

In my town of Irlam and Cadishead we have an unfinished bypass that emerges at the worst bottleneck in the village of Cadishead. The town is a one-road ribbon development along the north bank of the Manchester ship canal. There is only one road in, and one out. That is already unacceptable and dangerous, and it could deteriorate into a state of collapse when the massive shopping city, the Trafford centre, comes on stream.

We need a flexible strategy that allows cities such as Salford either to receive funds from Government or to raise the necessary revenue locally, at the same time as we develop an integrated transport system. I support the Greater Manchester bid to run a pilot integrated transport system. It should be noted that some local authorities, such as Salford, to their credit, anticipated the new Labour Government's prioritisation of education and health by investing more than the Governments in the previous 18 years allowed in education and social services.

The city of Salford is to be congratulated, but it is all too conscious that those priorities have meant that, among other services, highways have suffered underinvestment. The situation is now chronic, and special support and consideration must be given to areas of special need, such as Salford and other places throughout the country, where chronic problems may deteriorate into a state of collapse in the all too near future.

I have highlighted the need for maximum planning liaison and public information; a parallel trunk and local roads strategy that allows for the unexpected; and a recognition that local authorities such as Salford may need special understanding, funding or permission to raise funds locally. Above all, most of those issues should not be seen in isolation. As well as an integrated transport policy, we must have an integrated society. That means that we must consider all the knock-on effects of policy on our constituents.

The country is much like the human body. There is no use having good veins and arteries if the capillaries are not working properly, and vice versa. There is little sense in having a national trunk roads strategy if the local roads are not dealt with at the same time. I commend the Bill to the House and thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion for promoting it.

1.21 pm
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on his success in the ballot and on being so persistent on this subject.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) on an eloquent plea for common sense and on the balanced judgment that he displayed. He drew attention to local issues in Wareham and Poole, including the need for investment in the new Poole bridge and the important role of the car in an area heavily dependent on tourism and with a largely elderly population. As my constituency is in the same county as his, I understand many of his points.

I add my plea for the link between the A31 and Poole bridge to be completed and for the bridge itself to be constructed. Transport by sea is an important part of the overall picture. Poole harbour brings in much traffic from overseas, and if we do not find the routes to enable it to get to other parts of the country without affecting the residents of areas such as Ferndown and Poole, it will be very bad news for them. Many lorries en route to Poole harbour are destroying the quality of life in Ferndown, in my constituency. That would not happen if the new link road for which we have been calling were constructed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) made a realistic speech, calling for restraint in traffic growth rather than an arbitrary reduction overall, which she said was unrealistic. She identified the need for specific measures to back any targets and expressed a concern, shared by so many Conservative Members, about the Government's cavalier attitude to green-belt issues, and the consequent fears among her constituents and many others throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) brought an international dimension to the debate by stating from his experience overseas where some measures have worked and where others have not worked to reduce traffic, and traffic congestion in particular. He argued against arbitrary targets and expressed concern about an adverse impact upon the economy in Shropshire if arbitrary targets to reduce traffic were introduced there. He contributed in a way that will be telling in future, in the debate about whether we should engage in road pricing as a means of curbing congestion.

Earlier this month, the joint sponsors of the Bill—the Welsh nationalists, the Green party and Friends of the Earth—sent a circular letter to their supporters, enclosing a copy of what was described at that time as the latest version of the Bill, together with a commentary upon it. Although the Bill had not been published, I presumed that it would be in similar terms to the version sent with that letter. How wrong that presumption was.

The Bill, published on Wednesday this week, is very different from the draft. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Ceredigion was so relaxed about the emasculation of the Bill which he has held dear for so long. The Opposition welcome the fact that the Bill in substance is so different from the more extreme, proscriptive version promoted by Friends of the Earth. That is why we shall not oppose it today.

In government and now in opposition, the Conservative party has adopted a consistent stance on the issue. We want to reduce road traffic congestion and increase the proportion of travel by public transport. We believe that an arbitrary target for reducing road traffic is, in itself, meaningless. Targets are no use unless the means by which they are to be achieved are spelt out and command popular support. Holland introduced a national target for traffic reduction and then experienced the largest increase for years.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the CBI has come out in favour of a 10 per cent. reduction in one year—a target that seems anything but arbitrary? In the commercial sector, a company in my constituency, Boots, set a target that has produced a 10 per cent. shift towards car sharing. It has subsidised 50 routes to cut staff travelling time, as part of a commitment to a citywide reduction of 30 per cent. in commuter travelling in three years. That would seem to be anything other than arbitrary.

Mr. Chope

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that individual companies and organisations can make targets, which they set for themselves and do their best to achieve. That is different from the Government laying down an arbitrary target for every individual. That is why we think that it is better to look at the issue locally, where traffic issues are best dealt with.

Much was made during the debate of journeys to school. If ever there were an issue that one would have thought could be dealt with locally, it would be journeys to school. Surely we do not need national targets for the proportion of journeys to school by car—what we need is local action. It is because the Conservative party supports local action that we passed the 1997 Act, and we are pleased that the Government have issued draft guidance on it.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

It is interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman say that these matters should be dealt with locally. If the previous Government were interested in reducing traffic—especially in our towns—why did they persistently and continuously allow the development of out-of-town and edge-of-town supermarkets?

Mr. Chope

Those two issues are not connected.

Caroline Flint

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the previous Government's national policy of deregulating bus services had an impact locally, which has resulted in one quarter fewer passengers using bus services? Is not that a case of national policy affecting local supply and demand?

Mr. Chope

I am reluctant to take any more interventions because of their poor quality. The hon. Lady misses the point. Bus deregulation delivered more bus services and more investment in buses. I can speak from personal experience of the many smaller buses that have been brought into use by private companies. Their municipal predecessors thought that double-decker buses driving around the countryside was the only way. Now we have smaller buses more suited to the purpose.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Chope

I am not going to give way.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion made much of the idea that a reduction in road traffic would not damage the Welsh economy. I think that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) suggested that the best thing in the world would be to close off a whole lot of roads. A survey by the Welsh economy research unit at Cardiff business school showed that the building of the Bangor-Chester expressway—100 km of road in north Wales that cost £732 million—had a wide-ranging and significant impact on the economy of north Wales and the lives of its people. Increased accessibility has raised standards, improved choice and relaxed an important location constraint, improving the region's attractiveness. The diversion of traffic from seaside communities, which in the short term has reduced trade, offers opportunities for improving the coastal resorts in the longer term. Surveys show that people think that the new road has improved the region's competitiveness, and reduced journey times and congestion along the route. That is typical of the success that comes from wise road investment.

In contrast, the closure of Hammersmith bridge for repairs—there is talk of permanent closure—has meant that Putney bridge has had an increase in traffic from an average of 49,000 vehicles a day to more than 70,000. Let us not delude ourselves that closing bridges or roads does not adversely affect neighbouring communities.

Dr. Tonge

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope

I want to make progress first.

Looking at some of the arguments deployed by Friends of the Earth, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two statements: Road building cannot solve the problem of excess traffic"; and this campaign has no view on whether any particular road may or may not ease a local situation. So there is no inconsistency in supporting this Bill and in supporting a particular road. For that reason, for instance, David Rendel MP supported the Newbury by-pass, but is also a keen supporter of this Bill. I am glad that that is its view, because it is consistent with the approach of Labour Members. Only this week, the hon. Members for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) and for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) promoted a campaign in an Adjournment debate for the completion of the Bingley relief road. The hon. Member for Shipley said that completion would bring tremendous relief to the local community. He accepted that there would be an increase in the volume of traffic but said: Capacity will be sufficiently increased to relieve congestion in the town and ameliorate the problem of rat running".—[Official Report, 28 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 315.] As a trans-Pennine route, it would be important for the local community.

Expensive road investment has also been supported by the hon. Members for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson), for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), for Dover (Mr. Prosser), for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) and for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard).

Mr. Dawson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope

I shall in a minute. I know that it is embarrassing for Labour Members to realise that Conservative Members have been consistent in saying that we need increases in capacity to deal with road congestion, as well as measures to discourage people from using their vehicles. We need to have both measures used in tandem, rather than simply concentrating on restricting the ability of people to use their cars.

I was saddened by the way in which some of the speeches by Labour Members and the propaganda from Friends of the Earth played on the emotional issue of child health and air quality. Nobody in the House can be other than concerned about the substantial increase in child asthma and in asthma generally, but it is wrong to assert that that is solely because of traffic pollution. A 1998 new vehicle creates only one tenth of the atmospheric pollution created by a similar car produced in 1970, such is the progress in technology in motor vehicle production. In Sweden, levels of nitrogen dioxide in urban areas have fallen by two thirds in the past decade, despite growth in traffic. Since 1992, toxic emissions from motor vehicles in this country have fallen by no less than 25 per cent.

In the draft guidance on the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, the Government recognised that it was a Conservative Act—the Environment Act 1995—that paved the way for the national air quality strategy, which is now in the process of being implemented at local level. We can get better air quality while not reducing the number of vehicles on the road, if each vehicle is less polluting.

Mr. Drew

It may well be true that newer vehicles are more technologically advanced and pollute less, but what about the many old vehicles still on our roads? How are they to be improved? Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to take measures against them?

Mr. Chope

We are prepared to take measures against them, but what is happening is that the cohort of vehicles is gradually becoming more modern, because every year about 2 million new vehicles come on to the road and the proportion of older vehicles declines. It is also fair to say that less use is made of older vehicles than of the latest vehicles: new vehicles tend to travel up to 20,000 miles a year, whereas many of what may be described as old bangers are taken out only occasionally and cover about 5,000 miles a year.

In the remaining time, I wish to draw attention to some of the points in the draft guidance on the 1997 Act, which was issued for consultation by the Secretary of State. That guidance demonstrates that the Government show a welcome understanding of the realities that must underpin policy. Paragraph 24 states: An area where employment and population are growing rapidly will, other things being equal, experience a high rate of traffic growth. That is a recognition that growing employment brings greater traffic growth. There is also a recognition that it is better to refer to reducing growth and the rate of growth, rather than to reducing actual levels of traffic. We think that that is a more realistic way forward.

Finally, I shall refer to a letter circulated by the three organisations sponsoring the Bill, because road users will be alarmed by the terms in which the draft Bill was presented to the supporters by Friends of the Earth, Plaid Cymru and the Green party. The letter, which was sent to those supporters earlier this month, states: Dear Supporter Four Years Hard Work: Now We Spring The Trap Enclosed is Traffic Reduction File No 10. It springs the trap that you have all worked so hard for over the last four years. All your letters; your phone calls; all your lobbying have set this trap. It continues:

But a trap is most effective when properly sprung. In the run-up to the Second Reading of the Bill on 30th January we must snap this trap shut as hard as possible. We have this opportunity now to make all the work really bite and bite hard. The letter then sets out recommendations to the supporters, including writing to Ministers who in the past have signed early-day motions supporting a much more extreme version of the Bill than the one before the House today. It recommends issuing press releases challenging the Government to keep to their promises. Finally, it recommends that the supporters should organise stunts and picket MPs' offices.

It shows poor taste for the Bill's campaign team to use the metaphor of the illegal and vicious gin trap to put their case. Friends of the Earth has been successful in media manipulation and influencing public opinion. The extract that I read out shows that it is a past master of the darker arts of political campaigning. It is not clear whether the change to the Bill is because the organisation seduced the Minister or vice versa; we look forward to her telling us the truth.

1.40 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I compliment the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on managing to keep his 100 per cent. record of demonstrating to the House in all his contributions, regardless of the subject of debate, his masterly failure to grasp the issues. Having begun by averring support for the Bill, the hon. Gentleman's final diatribe was unseemly and unnecessary but, regrettably, somewhat familiar.

In common with, I believe, every Member of the House and, I would argue, millions of people in this country, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) for introducing the Bill. It addresses issues of particular concern to people in this country, issues that it is my Department's responsibility to deal with and find solutions to.

This has been a good debate in that contributions from all hon. Members have, in the main, been supportive of the Bill's aims; they have, in general, been clear as to why the Bill is so necessary. Consistent themes have run throughout the contributions that we have heard. I think that all hon. Members would agree that the witty contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) underlined how the car, which has been perceived for so long as a symbol—indeed, an actual provider—of individual freedom, has, by virtue of its numbers, begun to be a real threat to so many people and areas of this country.

There have been recurring themes running through all the contributions. The hon. Member for Ceredigion outlined many of them and explained where our concerns lie as we attempt to reduce the amount of traffic on our roads. He touched on the damage done to health, to the economy and to both the built and natural environment. He also pointed out that those dangers are often directed at the most vulnerable—the very young and the very old and, particularly, the poor. The same points were made by other hon. Members.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to the Environmental Audit Committee on the importance of targets. It is our perception that targets are important because they act as building blocks. They can be the driving force to define policies, which are of no value unless they inherently show that they can produce the achievable target.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) tended to discount the idea of targets in any shape or form. I can tell him that we already have national targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and for improving air quality. We have a target of doubling cycling—which was introduced by the Conservatives when in government, and which we have accepted—and targets for reducing road deaths.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake)—who, I regret, is not in his place—drew attention to the fact that we set targets for health and for education, so it seems entirely appropriate that we should consider using targets to help us when we are, as this Government are, in the process of producing an integrated transport policy. Targets can be valuable and important in that process.

The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) made an argument which was repeated by many hon. Members—that land-use planning was important in taking any decision regarding transport. He also emphasised the marked anxieties of people in rural areas; there, too, land-use planning is vital in the siting of hospitals, schools, shops and so on. The importance of land-use planning in devising an integrated transport policy is one reason why my Department is now the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) spoke about the possible damage caused to children by traffic and about the school run—an issue that many hon. Members mentioned. As many hon. Members have done, she suggested a range of options whereby an overdependence on the car could be eased for all of us. She also spoke of the benefits of cycling, as she has done consistently—and, if the report is to be believed, triumphantly.

I am happy to tell the House that the Government, despite very tight spending limits, found an additional £1 million for the London cycle network, and we hope that the money will be used strategically, concentrating on junctions and roundabouts, because many cyclists have brought to our attention the need for such improvements.

We were privileged to have among our number in the Chamber this morning a member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit—which the Deputy Prime Minister has described as the terrier snapping at the heels of Government—in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley). She, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and the hon. Member for Ceredigion have consistently made parliamentary speeches on environmental issues. Today, she presented her arguments cogently, as she always does. I say to her that the creation of a comprehensive, strategic overview of all transport modes, to enable us to define the real contribution that each makes, is central in our consideration of such issues and in the devising of our White Paper.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) rightly made a case on behalf of his constituency. Several hon. Members have managed to do so, as it is entirely proper that they should, to communicate their constituents' specific anxieties. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole asked for clarification about which social aspects were being damaged that could be improved by the Bill. I know of families in my constituency who are separated by a river not of water, but of traffic. In areas where regeneration and job creation are needed, some employers have advertised that people need not apply for a job if they do not have a car. Obviously, that is an absurd situation. There must be a provision for all people, if they have the qualifications, at least to present themselves for a job interview, and the fact that they do not own a car should not preclude that opportunity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) said that the debate on the Bill would have an effect on our children's health and argued, as had the hon. Member for Ceredigion and many other hon. Members, that it was not an anti-car Bill.

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) called for integrated transport and land-use planning. She also made a call for cleaner fuel. It is a pity that that call was not heard by the Conservative party when in government. Many years ago, the campaign was started to remove lead from petrol. If I remember rightly, the then Conservative Government fought tooth and nail to delay that process.

Mr. Chope

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson

I regret no. We are running rather short of time.

Mr. Chope


Ms Jackson

Very well.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to the hon. Lady.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)

The hon. Gentleman did not give way.

Mr. Chope

I gave way on a number of occasions.

I was involved as a Minister in the Department of the Environment. I know the enthusiasm that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State put into the campaign to reduce lead in petrol. A vigorous campaign was orchestrated and run by the then Conservative Government. That may stick in the hon. Lady's throat.

Ms Jackson

I deeply regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman. That was shameful.

Ms Walley

I put it on the record that during the time to which the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred, I was an Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson on the environment. I remember well the debates that took place with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, with the Government saying that they did not want to make the proposed concessions.

Ms Jackson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) stressed that the Bill was not an anti-car measure. He said also that it was not all pain in seeking to reduce overdependence on road transport and drew attention to the inherent gains in stimulating new ideas and processes. He rightly stressed that there could be great benefits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), in his inimitable way, took up the issues that are so important to our children's health. He underlined the enormous part that good public transport can play in our lives.

I have touched on the issues raised by the hon. Member for North Shropshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) advocated land-use planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) stated, with no small pride, I felt, that he was neither a car owner nor a car driver. He highlighted how really good partnerships between local authorities and bus providers, as in the area that he represents in part, can make a vast difference to the quality of people's lives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) highlighted the present inefficient system. We have it because for far too long, there was no attempt to create a properly integrated transport strategy. My hon. Friend also highlighted health dangers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) drew attention to the concerns about children in regard to their needs and health. He stressed the importance of public transport and argued that we must seek to provide a high-quality service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) also spoke about children. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell)—she represents my former county town—reiterated children's needs. There have been continuous themes throughout the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) argued that the Bill is anti-pollution, not anti-car. The current dangers to children's health were related by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) from direct family experience.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) will allow me, I shall write to him on the particular constituency issue that he raised.

I believe that the Bill should be allowed a Second Reading, subject to the will of the House and to the agreement of the hon. Member for Ceredigion. If there has been a real difficulty this morning, it has been in the pronunciation of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. He knows where I am talking about. If the hon. Gentleman will agree to a number of amendments being made in Committee, I shall touch on the detail of those that the Government believe are needed. They will not alter the main thrust or intention of the Bill as it has been published.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

The Government have sought amendments to the Bill which would mean that they would have the power not to set national targets. Can the hon. Lady confirm to the House that it is, nevertheless, the Government's intention that there should be such national targets?

Ms Jackson

I shall touch later on the particular changes—the minor amendments—that we shall propose. I have already said, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion made the point, that the presentation to the Environmental Audit Committee by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment underlined how important the targets will be in our White Paper and in formulating an integrated transport policy.

The promoter and sponsors of the Bill share the same aims as the Government. We cannot carry on as we are. Congestion on our roads is increasing and it delays people and the movement of freight. It causes personal frustration and cost to both the individual and the national pocket. The damage to our local and global environment is affecting our health and our climate. Those who cannot afford a car, or who do not have access to one, face growing social exclusion. Increased road traffic can also reduce social amenity, by making it less safe for children to play on the street, for example—as was pointed out by several hon. Members—or for elderly people to cross the road.

Current forecasts suggest that the situation will be even worse in 20 years' time. The latest national road traffic forecast shows that road traffic is predicted to increase by around 38 per cent. from 1996 to 2016, and by 60 per cent. by 2031. Average journey times are also expected to increase. In the worst case, journey times on urban motorways in peak periods are predicted to double by 2031. That assumes that there is no change in current policies. That is why the Government are committed to developing a new approach to transport policy, with the simple aim of making life better for us all.

Dr. Tonge

In considering targets and estimating the rise in traffic congestion over the next few years, will the Department take into account the terrible effect that any expansion at Heathrow airport would have on traffic congestion in west London? In view of the effects of that disastrous development, will the hon. Lady consider asking the Minister of State to call off the inquiry now?

Ms Jackson

The hon. Lady is well aware that it is not within the powers of the Secretary of State to call off the inquiry.

Many respondents have highlighted the need for targets, both national and local. I can assure the House that targets will be a significant feature in the Government's White Paper. Targets that are already in place—especially on greenhouse gases, as agreed at Kyoto, through the national air quality strategy, and on reducing road casualties—are likely to be significant drivers of new transport measures, at both national and local level. We are considering carefully whether there is a need for additional targets, including national road traffic reduction targets, to provide a further impetus to the policies that are adopted.

There is a role for non-governmental voluntary targets. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) highlighted the initiative in his constituency, where local businesses are taking steps to provide green transport plans for their employees. The hon. Member for Ceredigion, I believe, referred to the advisory committee on business and the environment, whose recommendation is that, where practical, business should seek to reduce by 10 per cent. the number of people commuting to work in solitary state by car.

I have already referred to the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, passed in the dying days of the previous Government. There is, inevitably, as there should be, a link between the Bill and the duties placed on local authorities under the Act. Two weeks ago, we issued draft guidance to local authorities on meeting their obligations under the Act. At present, we are consulting publicly on the guidance. However, we envisage that local authorities will have to produce reports under the Act by July 1999. In these reports, authorities will need to set out the results of their reviews of existing and forecast levels of traffic on local roads in their area. Crucially, the reports will have to contain targets for reducing traffic levels on such roads, or their rate of growth.

The Government recognise, however, the incredible variety of our country. Regional and local variations mean that traffic levels and the transport needs of different settlements will also vary. It would be absurd and, I believe, detrimental to insist that all authorities should set identical traffic reduction targets for their areas. The Act allows local authorities to decide, after close consultation with local residents and businesses, what targets they should set, or whether there are good reasons for not setting targets for all or any part of their area.

I now turn to the first amendment that the Government believe is necessary before we can offer the Bill our support. It relates to clause 2(5), which requires the Secretary of State to publish the report under subsection (1) within 12 months of the Act coming into force. I would ask the hon. Member for Ceredigion to reconsider that requirement. Subsection (1) places a duty on the Secretary of State, subject to subsection (2), to set and publish in a report to Parliament, national targets for road traffic reduction". Under subsection (2), The Secretary of State is not obliged to specify targets under subsection (1) if he considers that other targets, or other measures, are more appropriate for the purpose of reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic, but in that case the report must explain his reasoning and make an assessment of the impact of the other targets or other measures on road traffic reduction. I trust that as local authority reports are not due for completion until July 1999, the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be more realistic for the report to be published within 18 months of the Act coming into force.

The second amendment that the Government consider necessary would delete from clause 2(4) the requirement for reports to be published no less than once every three years". Although the Government recognise the value of regular reports, we do not see the need for such a requirement to be enshrined in legislation. It would mean that, unless amending legislation were introduced, such reports would have to be produced ad infinitum. That does not seem sensible and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman agreed to reconsider the proposal.

The Government also wish to introduce amendments to clarify the position of whether separate targets will be set, and reports prepared, by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland, in addition to any targets set and reports prepared for England by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Having pointed out the key changes that the Government would like to make to the text of the Bill, I close by stressing once again that we strongly support and share its main aims. Subject to the will of the House, I look forward to working with the hon. Member for Ceredigion to secure a mutually acceptable outcome. I can confirm that the Government are prepared to make Parliamentary Counsel's time available to assist with the redrafting that is required to address the points above and any further redrafting that may be required to ensure that the Bill is in a legally acceptable form. If I have the hon. Gentleman's agreement, I am content to recommend to the House that his Bill be given a Second Reading.

2.2 pm

Mr. Dafis

With the leave of the House, I should like briefly to sum up the debate. First, may I ask the House's forbearance if I do not mention the constituencies of hon. Members? I have the greatest difficulty in getting my tongue around these English names. I find "Cam-brid-ge" and "Milton Key-nes" particularly difficult—[Laughter.] One name that I can say without difficulty is Bath and I should have mentioned in my opening speech the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who introduced the first Road Traffic Reduction Act in 1997.

I welcome the Minister's support for the Bill and her offer of help from parliamentary draftsmen to make sure that it is legally acceptable. Her proposed amendments are acceptable. That is very good news and I trust that the Bill will receive a Second Reading.

We have had a fascinating, well-informed debate, acknowledging the variation of circumstances in different areas. We have also had some competent descriptions of local circumstances and hon. Members have thought hard about the realities and the logistics of achieving the desired aim.

Some of the concerns raised by Conservative Members were perfectly legitimate, but others were a little dubious. Their legitimate concerns can be addressed in the detailed strategies that will be devised to operate within the broad framework of the Bill. I should imagine that enlightened Conservatives, such as the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) and the former Secretary of State for the Environment, whose constituency I cannot remember and could not pronounce if I could, support the Bill.

As things have turned out, it is highly unlikely that any hon. Member would object to the Bill. Indeed, it would be astonishing if anyone dared to object to it after what we have heard today. Given the strength and breadth of support for the Bill and the enormous importance of enacting it, it is essential that we complete the remaining stages in good time for the Bill to proceed to the other place and get on the statute book. I hope for co-operation from the usual channels to ensure that that happens.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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