HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc912-4
4. Mr. Jon Owen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to act to reduce urban congestion. [646]

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

Local authorities are best placed to tackle the problems caused by urban congestion in their areas. The Government will continue to assist through the resources that they make available to local authorities for transport investment.

Mr. Jones

If it is all down to local authorities, why did the former Secretary of State for Transport say in his comments to the Transport Select Committee that the Government needed to address that matter? During the past 16 years, we have seen continuous growth in the number of vehicles on our roads, and the roads cannot take it, especially those in our cities. Urban congestion is probably the largest transport issue, yet the Government are complacent and do nothing except deregulate buses. Bus deregulation puts more coaches on to the roads but they have fewer passengers in them, which is the very opposite of what is needed.

Mr. Norris

It may be that confinement to the Whips Office has blunted the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the great transport debate which the previous Secretary of State for Transport initiated and to which many Opposition Members responded enthusiastically. It may come as a further disappointment to the hon. Gentleman to know that the broad principles of that debate are well established and that local authorities across the country welcome the package approach to the local transport settlement. They see it as the right way forward which brings a comprehensive local transport solution. Incidentally, they have been enthusiastic applicants for the package in this year's settlement round.

Sir David Mitchell

On congestion, may I revert to the Newbury bypass and ask whether my hon. Friend will take effective action to stop the bypass being obstructed by those who flout the law?

Mr. Norris

Yes, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Allen

Is the Minister aware that one of the best ways to reduce congestion might be to encourage the greater use of school buses and coaches but that, to do that, we need to convince parents that using school transport is better than taking children to and from school in the morning and evening? Will he therefore consider introducing legislation to make the wearing of seat belts on school buses compulsory? Will he also ensure that old vehicles are brought up to standard so that parents are reassured? I hope that he will not hide behind the European Community, as this matter is entirely within the competence of the British Government. Will he please ensure that they introduce the relevant legislation?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that school transport is important. About a third of all vehicles on the road in the morning rush hour are said to be school journey related. He is equally right to say that such journeys would be better undertaken by more efficient forms of transport such as the school bus. Sadly, however, he is wrong to suggest that the problem lies in the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I warn him not to take that course. If it is a commitment that he is making on behalf of his party, I should be interested to hear him expand on it.

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fitment of seat belts, which might be a more accurate expression of his question, he should know that the legal position is that this country is, in fact, leading the way in Europe. This is the one country that has understood the importance of such a development for schoolchildren everywhere and it is making excellent progress, despite the best efforts of the Commission, to ensure that the measure is implemented at the earliest possible date. I hope that it is something in which the hon. Gentleman at least will be prepared to take a little pride.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my hon. Friend, who I know is very concerned about congestion in cities, consider the worsening situation caused by the growing number of articulated vehicles being used for daytime deliveries, often in very crowded areas of a city? Will he consider bringing about powers so that, in certain areas, deliveries are limited to 30 cwt vans rather than massive articulated lorries?

Mr. Norris

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is indeed of concern to us that so much of the problem, in our medieval towns particularly, is caused by heavy vehicles. Several local authorities have now instituted arrangements whereby deliveries can be made only early in the morning or late at night. In fact, we are looking at the proposition of having a general distribution depot located on the fringe of a town from which journeys into the town could be made by much smaller vehicles. My right hon. Friend is on to a very good point.

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