HC Deb 24 January 1997 vol 288 cc1207-29

Order for Second Reading read.

12.30 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on the success of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Bill. It is an important measure and it has my party's support.

I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in ensuring that there is an opportunity today to have an important discussion on the Road Traffic Reduction Bill. Having thanked one hon. Member, I also thank the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have announced their support for the Bill. I thank in particular the hon. Members who have agreed to act as sponsors of the Bill—again, they are from both sides of the House. They support the Bill because, like me, they are concerned about the significant problems created by the excessive amount of traffic on our roads. Like me, they believe that something needs to be done urgently; this is therefore a Bill whose time has come.

That view is widely shared outside the Chamber, and I pay tribute to the many organisations, especially Friends of the Earth, that have played such a key part in preparing the Bill. I also pay tribute to earlier attempts to deal with the problem, not least those led by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), which have helped in the preparation of the Bill. I pay tribute to many other organisations including, for example, the townswomen's guilds. Many councils, which will have additional duties placed on them if the Bill is enacted, have nevertheless recognised its importance and have shown their support for it.

Hundreds and thousands of individual members of the public have become involved. I have had more than 1,000 letters in support of the Bill and a petition in support of it now has more than 350,000 signatures from every part of the country. I thank all those people for their support and encouragement.

I single out one other person—the Minister. As soon as I had the opportunity to introduce a Bill and selected the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, the Minister was courteous enough to afford me the opportunity to meet him and then to have discussions with his officials. Those discussions have been extremely helpful and constructive, and I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for their support and assistance. I shall refer to one or two of the Minister's further suggestions later in my speech.

Hundreds of thousands of people recognise that Britain is facing significant problems as a result of excessive traffic.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

It is a pleasure to be one of the sponsors of the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the choice facing the British people is simple: increased gridlock or very much better public transport?

Mr. Foster

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman and I thank him for his support in sponsoring the Bill. It is critical that we find ways of improving public transport so that it is sufficiently attractive to convince people to leave their cars and use it. However, the Bill goes further and proposes important measures to tackle the problem.

We are all well aware of the problems, and I shall not read out a comprehensive list. However, it is worth reflecting that figures supported by the Confederation of British Industry show that road congestion costs British businesses a staggering £19 billion a year. In addition, the problems created by lost days at work because of traffic accidents cost industry another £6.5 billion a year.

Excess traffic also creates problems for the health of the nation. One in seven young people already suffer from asthma, which is exacerbated by air pollution caused by traffic fumes. A study by Lancaster university shows that some 15 million people—a staggering number—suffer ill health as a result of traffic fumes. Sadly, the research shows that there are some 10,000 premature deaths each year because of traffic pollution.

There are wider environmental problems. There is evidence that, each night, 63 per cent. of the British population live with noise levels above the upper limit set by the World Health Organisation. It is difficult to calculate the cost to the nation of health problems caused by road traffic, but independent estimates vary widely between £4.5 billion a year and £12.5 billion a year.

We are all aware of the other environmental problems. We are all concerned about global warming, and the Government have taken action to tackle the problem. The causes of global warming include carbon dioxide emissions; vehicles account for 22 per cent. of those emissions.

Traffic problems represent a major contribution to acid rain—a major environmental problem. It is estimated that some 700 sites of special scientific interest are likely to be seriously damaged by acid rain, to which air pollution from car fumes is a major contributory factor.

We should also be concerned about energy consumption. In Britain, transport accounts for 33 per cent. of energy consumption and 80 per cent. of that is used by road transport. If we could address those problems, we could save lives, improve the environment and save the nation billions of pounds.

The problems are already bad; the real concern for the House and the nation is that there are currently 25 million vehicles on our roads. All reasonable estimates suggest that the number will double in 25 to 30 years. Given that the problems are bad now, we should think how serious they will be in 25 years' time if we do not take action to tackle them.

The Bill's measures do not pretend to provide all the solutions to the problems. As the hon. Member for Castle Point pointed out in the previous debate, his Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Bill is part of the solution to a very serious problem. If it becomes law, my Bill will be part of the solution. It provides the mechanisms by which many of the sensible suggestions and solutions that have already been identified may more easily be put into practice. It also identifies how new solutions may undergo trials and, if successful, be put into practice.

Many councils have already worked hard to identify ways in which they can begin to tackle the excess traffic in their areas. I hope that the Bill will ensure that all councils have to consider such measures, share examples of good practice and develop new, imaginative solutions.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Am I right in assuming that clause 4 would allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to draw up guidelines for councils in advance of the drawing up of local plans so that, among other things, any incompatibility between neighbouring councils may be avoided?

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. If appropriate measures were not included in the Bill, it would be possible for councils to develop plans that might cause problems for neighbouring councils. A good example of that concerns crime watch provisions. We are all in favour of crime watch schemes, but if all they do is divert criminal activity to a neighbouring area, problems arise. Provision for the Minister to ensure, for example, development at a regional level, the creation of opportunities to co-ordinate different proposals and the giving of guidance in advance to councils on the sort of action that he would like taken is a vital part of the Bill.

One statistic always worth reflection by those who say that nothing can be done—it is one of many that I could cite and a staggering thought—is that, in London, one in eight car journeys are under 1,000 m. If we cannot do something about such short car journeys, we shall have a real problem in future.

Clause 2 places a duty on councils to draw up local traffic reduction plans, set targets for reducing or curtailing the growth of different types of traffic in their area by 2005 and 2010 and set out measures that, in their opinion, are necessary to achieve those targets. The Bill would also expect them to provide an estimate of the cost of the measures, an assessment of the effect of each of them on the reduction in road traffic and an assessment of the likely reduction in carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds and PM10 emissions—particles of less than 10 microns—in the atmosphere.

The Bill does not, of course, limit what might appear in such plans. It contains a number of measures that might be included in them. Examples are given that will, I hope, be the basis for the sharing of good practice. They could include encouragement of cycling or walking, alteration of planning policy to reduce the need for travel, provision of more and better public transport—as the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said—reductions in the speed of road traffic by traffic-calming measures and the creation of pedestrian-only or restricted traffic zones, backed by effective park-and-ride schemes such as those in my constituency. They could also include provision of more information to people about the alternatives available and work with businesses in the locality to promote, for example, car-sharing schemes.

I pay tribute to BAA, which has organised a computerised system at Heathrow so that all its employees can have an access to an effective database to see if anybody is travelling to work from their area with whom they can link up. I also congratulate Nottingham council which has worked with local businesses, especially Boots the Chemist, to develop schemes that will reduce road traffic use by their employees.

I pay tribute also to the Confederation of British Industry. The Minister, I know, has some reservations about targets that might be set by the Government or anybody else. Interestingly, the CBI, which some might suggest is not the most radical of organisations on environmental issues, suggests in its latest publication "All Aboard" that individual companies should set targets for the reduction of mileage travelled by employees. The CBI's target is much tougher than any that have been suggested for the Bill. The CBI suggests a 10 per cent. reduction in mileage travelled by employees using a car in the course of work over the next twelve months. I hope that local councils, when developing their plans, will consult businesses and many other organisations.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I support the Bill, but will the hon. Gentleman admit that increased car numbers and usage will cause tremendous pressure in the future, irrespective of what we do—although, of course, we must carry on with the battle? The duty on local authorities to consider ways to reduce car usage should not distract them from considering how useful bypasses can be in certain areas where traffic has already built up and is intolerable, such as in Read, Simonstone and Gisburn in my local area, where the local residents are in favour of a bypass. Yes, we need to reduce traffic, but we should not forget the usefulness of bypasses.

Mr. Foster

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because some hon. Members and people outside the House have suggested that the Bill is in some way an anti-car Bill. It is not: it is an anti-excess-traffic Bill. The hon. Gentleman gave one example of the measures that need to be taken, but the Bill focuses on reducing the amount of traffic on the roads, because that is one of the best ways to reduce congestion and the need for additional roads.

The other clauses will give opportunities to the Secretary of State to give reasonable priority to the measures contained in the plans drawn up by local councils, including an opportunity for the allocation of central Government funds to local councils to give high priority to the traffic reduction measures proposed in their plans. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will report to the House every two years on the success of such measures in the reduction of traffic.

As the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned, clause 4 refers to an opportunity for the Secretary of State, should he so decide, to consider ways to composite some of the individual local plans into regional plans and also, if he so chooses, to develop regional targets. As I said earlier, I have had constructive discussions with the Minister and I thank him for those. Since those discussions, the Minister has rightly pointed to small technical amendments that would make the Bill even more effective. I am grateful that he has agreed to have discussions, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, and to make those changes before the Committee stage.

The broad principles of the Bill are designed to ensure that we get effective value for the money spent by Government on transport policies and, especially, that we increasingly direct valuable and scarce resources towards tackling the problems created by excess traffic rather than simply trying to accommodate them. This is a Bill whose time has come.

12.49 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on his good fortune in winning such a high place in the ballot, which has given him the chance to introduce the Bill. I can well understand—not only from his record, but from what I know of the beautiful city of Bath—why it makes good sense from his point of view to propose such a measure. I have known Bath well for many years and, in my humble opinion, the city is sometimes brought near to ruin by traffic congestion, which does considerable damage to the soft limestone of many of the buildings and creates other difficulties. Almost the worst problem of this nature in Bath is the surfeit of tourist coaches—a subject to which I wish to return.

I should like to place it on record that—unusually for my speeches in the House—I feel reasonably well qualified to speak on this matter, because I have not owned a motor car since 1976. That is not to say that I do not drive or that I am incapable of driving, but I make the minimum necessary use of the motor car. I am a fairly keen cyclist when I find the time and opportunity and when the weather is kind, and I make extensive use of public transport. My habitual mode of transport when going to and from my constituency is the train.

Two of my constituents took part in the lobby in support of the Bill on Wednesday. Alas, I was not able to meet them—although I would have liked to meet them—as I was busy with other parliamentary duties. However, I should place it on record that the Bill has the enthusiastic support of Edwin C. Can of 6 Reynolds close, Carshalton, and of Robert Steel of 14 Palmerston road, Carshalton. That shows the good sense of my constituents on this matter.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

And other matters.

Mr. Forman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

The Bill has various merits—one is that it is brief, and another is that it is couched in general terms. The hon. Member for Bath touched on the latter advantage, and said that one does not want to be too prescriptive when circumstances can change as a result of technological or scientific breakthroughs, changes in the planning laws and other factors.

The most important part of the Bill—although not its only important part—is clause 2(6), where the hon. Member for Bath sets out guidance for local authorities on how they might go about implementing the measure if the Bill becomes law. I commend him on that, and on the fact that he makes it a permissive, rather than mandatory, list.

I wish to divide my remaining remarks into two sections. The first will be a brief analysis from my point of view of some of the problems touched on by the hon. Member for Bath, and the second will be one or two suggestions of ways forward.

First, real problems are caused to many of our constituents by congestion, and there are also considerable economic costs. The hon. Member for Bath mentioned the best estimate from the CBI, and many other estimates have been made to support the argument. It is clearly a difficult calculation, as one never knows what might have happened in the absence of vehicles in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the general drift of the argument is right. Congestion is costly and involves not only straight economic costs but opportunity costs—an important concept in these calculations.

It is also worth putting on record the lamentable fact that, although this country has fewer cars per head or per family than many countries of comparable wealth and income, we make greater use of the cars we have. There are more journeys per head or per family and many of those journeys are lamentably short, as the hon. Member for Bath said when he quoted figures for London. Clearly, we do not want to go further in that direction, because it is not good for human health or the environment and it contributes to congestion.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Bath was right to mention air pollution and to link with that both noise and vibration. Those are serious and linked problems, as I know from my constituency and elsewhere. Air pollution is obviously a contributory cause, although not the only cause, of asthma in children, bronchitis in elderly people, and so forth. Vibration is serious, particularly when lorries and buses go down streets—especially urban streets—that are not sufficiently reinforced or over bridges that are too weak, both of which are typical examples.

In my youth, I lived in Shrewsbury—a lovely old Roman and mediaeval town—which was at the time virtually ruined and shaken to pieces by the traffic going through the centre rather than around the outside. Things may well have changed since then, but that gives an example of what I am talking about.

The noise is a public nuisance. We are legislating against noise from stereos, videos, ghetto blasters and neighbours. Why should we not legislate more rigorously against traffic noise? Carshalton village is a lovely place, but if one stands on the pavement there one can scarcely have a conversation without shouting because of the traffic noise. It is not good news.

Thirdly—I might be slightly argumentative with this point—the media report extensively these days the increasing number of examples of aggression on the roads by drivers when they get behind the wheel, which sometimes lead to the ultimate expression of that weakness, the so-called road rage. Having observed these conditions for many years, I am convinced that, if people are deeply and increasingly frustrated in urban areas by intensive traffic congestion, the moment that they get even 250 yd of clear road, let alone a mile or so, they put their foot firmly down on the accelerator and go like a bat out of hell, venting their anger and frustration in that way. If they are blocked or something goes wrong with their ambition to get from this point to that point a quarter of a mile further on, on a nought to 60 in seven seconds basis, all their anger and frustration come out and there is a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and road safety in general. The Bill might contribute positively towards a solution to that problem, too.

Fourthly, the existence of all this traffic transforms our environment, often adversely. One of the most important issues in my constituency at the moment is the prospect of a huge Sainsbury megastore being built in the heart of Wallington on the corner of Stafford road and Woodcote road. My constituents who live in the nice, quiet, leafy streets around about do not want that store, for the simple reason that they feel that the planning process does not take sufficiently into account the development's traffic congestion implications. The roads are already in gridlock at certain times of the day—particularly when mothers are taking children to and from school by car, which is a new development compared with 20 or 30 years ago. Also, everyone makes greater use of the car, and there is no doubt that, if traffic levels are already near saturation point, it will not contribute to the quality of life, to people's health, the good of the nation or anything else to precipitate further congestion by building a store that is too large for the location.

The store is intended to serve a regional catchment area and, on planning and other grounds, if one is wise one does not put that sort of store in a residential area where there is not the necessary capacity on the roads. That is another reason to support the Bill.

It would be a good thing if planning policy could be a central element in the legislation and could be focused on. For too long, planning policy has been driven, if I may use the pun, by the needs of the motor vehicle industry. One has to get the matter into perspective. I do not have time to go into all the issues, but we must, for example, return to encouraging the use of private rail sidings, which would make it feasible for more freight to be carried on the railways rather than in large lorries, which often have to travel on unsuitable roads.

The heart of the problem is not so much the lorry, bus, taxi, car or motor cycle, although those are all contributory factors; it is the internal—sometimes known as the infernal—combustion engine. Although it is not yet in the marketplace, technology is already available for dual-powered—part-electric and part-petrol or diesel—gas-powered or solely electric vehicles. The only thing holding back the motor manufacturers is their worry about the risks involved in being first into the market; they would much rather be second.

Such developments must come, however, and were the Bill to be introduced in five or 10 years' time, when there were many more electric vehicles, I would not support it so urgently, because the nub of the problem—the means of propulsion—would have been dealt with in a benign way. Even then, people would suffer the disadvantages, frustration and cost of being stuck in a traffic jam: imagine a traffic jam of milk floats, for example, which would not be much better, except at the margin, than a traffic jam of today's cars.

With the information technology revolution, more home working, remote working, or what might be called teleworking, will move from the pages of the New Scientist or Nature to become a reality for more and more people. That will be helpful, because it will reduce the need for many journeys.

What is definitely not part of the solution—I am glad that the hon. Member for Bath did not mention it—is the idea of red routes through suburban areas on circumferential routes. I have in mind in particular the ill-fated and unwanted red route from Bromley to Kingston which now threatens the heart of my constituency. If that goes ahead, it will produce nothing better than a poor man's south circular, somewhere between the real south circular and the M25.

The red route will have a magnetic effect on traffic, not necessarily creating more traffic in the aggregate but drawing more traffic on to that intended corridor and creating mayhem, to the considerable disadvantage of my constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will note that we in Carshalton—especially the nice, traditional parts—are fiercely opposed to the extension of the red route along the A232. I hope that his Department will heed public opinion on this matter.

Most of the solutions that I have to offer are completely compatible with those in the wise speech of the hon. Member for Bath. Many of the main solutions are in clause 2(6), which I commend to the House. The Bill makes a useful contribution in highlighting for the Department of Transport and for local authorities the areas to which they should look for the best way forward.

There are roughly three approaches to the problem, and they have to be taken in combination. The first and mildest approach is that of exhortation, whereby people make speeches in debates such as this, saying, "Isn't it awful? Why don't people get out of their cars and use public transport, walk or cycle? Why don't they copy my virtuous example?" That is all very well, but it will not persuade many people, because they can legitimately argue that they genuinely need their cars, and that public transport does not meet all their requirements.

Many women, for example, are worried about the safety of their children on the school run and prefer to take them in the car, even though they know that they are contributing to the problem, rather than putting their children on public transport or telling them to walk to school. Equally, public transport late at night is not as good as it should be, and women habitually feel unsafe on it. For those reasons, exhortation is not enough.

The second approach is that of encouragement or inducement via the tax system, grants and the other levers available to Government. We all know of the success of the tax relief on lead-free petrol, which is a good precedent, showing how powerful the mechanism can be. We also know that it is the Government's policy to increase, on a sustained basis, the price of petrol by using the tax mechanism in an attempt to discourage, at the margin, the use of all sorts of petrol-engined vehicles. I know that this could have an impact on the cost of living, so it is a double-edged sword. Speaking as someone who represents a suburban constituency, I believe that it would be better to abolish the vehicle licence system and put the tax burden on petrol. That would give the right economic signals to motor manufacturers, as well as others, to develop the leanburn engine.

If we wanted to be really eccentric and brave in our encouragement and inducement, we would look seriously at road pricing. I will not develop the arguments about that today, as that would probably be out of order. However, the issue must be dealt with in some way. I am sure that hon. Members know that the difficulty is that all econometric evidence about transport economics suggests that the cost of petrol and diesel is, in economists' jargon, very price-inelastic. That means that we can go on jacking up the price for a long time, but people will not alter their behaviour very much, at least not in the short term. If the cost were more price-elastic, the economic signals would be more valuable and would play a larger part in the cluster of solutions.

The third approach—this is where it gets toughest of all—is that the House could consider imposing, through the law, explicit prohibitions and requirements on those connected with vehicles. That would move us forward in the right direction. I think, for example, of requiring people to display certain discs on their windscreens if they intend to go into a certain part of an urban area. That already happens in some places. I think also of the Californian example in the United States where, at certain times of the day—especially commuter periods—cars are not allowed to cross bridges on their way in or out of San Francisco unless they contain at least two or three people. There is another example in Athens, which has some serious environmental problems. On the basis of registration numbers, the authorities try to limit the number of vehicles that can go in and out of Athens on any given day.

My conclusion—you will be delighted to hear those words, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that all those factors can contribute positively to the solutions that are required. The list that I have just given—like the list given by the hon. Member for Bath in his excellent Bill—is incomplete without large additional investment in appropriate forms of public transport. We need sustained investment in pubic transport and I am glad that the Government have made that possible in recent times. However, it is a lamentable fact that, over the 10-year period from 1976 to 1986—which, as the House will note, straddled two Governments of different persuasions—there was no net new investment in public transport. During that time, both Governments made mistakes, and we are still suffering some of the consequences.

We must have better buses with priority lanes; we have to go for initiatives like the Croydon tram link; we must have better and more frequent trains which are more reliable, such as the south London metro service which is planned for my constituency; and we must have better planning policy, to encourage people to live and work in the same place. That is an important point. Those hon. Members who know anything about inner-London districts, such as Clerkenwell and Bermondsey, will know that, in recent times, there has developed a mixed activity of living and working, retail and commercial. That is very healthy. It means that people can walk to and from work.

I want to follow up something to which I referred earlier. For goodness' sake, let us remember our late colleague, Robert Adley, who used to sit in this very seat. He was always, rightly, banging on about wretched tourist coaches. They are a real pain. They clog up central London and our other great cities. They are not properly policed and they get away with murder. They double-park and pollute the atmosphere, and are full of tourists who get out on the wrong side. They are a safety hazard and bad news. If nothing else results from the debate, let us at least deal with the problem of tourist coaches.

1.9 Pm

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)

I shall be brief, to allow as many Back Benchers as possible to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on his Bill and I am able to be brief because of his eloquent introduction in which he gave so much detail as to why the House should support the measure. It is clear from the names of the Bill's sponsors and of the hon. Members of all parties who supported early-day motions on the issue that there is cross-party support. The Bill is also supported by organisations such as Friends of the Earth and other environmental organisations, and by the many people who have written to hon. Members. I shall not list by name and address the constituents who have written to me, because it would take too long. They are a measure of the wide-ranging support for the Bill throughout the country.

Within its existing budget, Labour fully supports the Bill's principles and aims, which are consistent with Labour policy as set out in our policy document "Consensus for Change". We want an integrated, balanced transport strategy and are committed to working with local communities and business to find effective, equitable and environmentally sustainable solutions to congestion, pollution and traffic growth. Therefore, we welcome the Bill and its detailed provisions to ensure that effective legislation will result.

In introducing the Bill, the hon. Member for Bath gave clear details of the problem. He quoted statistics and it is worth repeating that congestion is currently costing business about £19 billion a year and that that figure could rise to more than £40 billion in 10 years. It is forecast that, by 2005, which is one of the key dates in the Bill, one third of the motorway network will suffer chronic congestion for most of every day, and all but one of London's major roads will become gridlocked. We cannot ignore those statistics.

The effect on health, and the cost to the health service of environmental damage and air pollution, is massive. The hon. Member for Bath gave the estimates and all hon. Members will agree that whether the direct health cost is £3 billion or £4 billion, we cannot ignore it: action must be taken. The Bill is a step in the right direction.

Local authorities have a crucial role in regenerating local transport and should be given increased power to set priorities and to produce and implement local plans in line with a national strategy. The Bill is a move towards that goal but, as the hon. Member for Bath said, it is not in itself the solution, but part of a range of measures, mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), which will form an overall strategy to address the problem.

The Bill will allow for decisions by those who have a detailed knowledge of local needs. At local level, the development of strategies should be based on clearly defined objectives that adopt the package approach. That takes into account all modes of transport, incorporating bus and rail services, roads, cycling and walking, and places a strong emphasis on better management of available facilities. Effective public transport has a crucial role in that package approach and at local level must provide a realistic alternative to the car. From a wider perspective, the effective use of road space is important for the success of local transport plans. We therefore require a coherent set of objectives for our future use of roads. That should focus primarily on the maintenance and better management of existing roads, both nationally and locally, rather than being a first step in the development of new roads.

In addition, it is important that we build on the many opportunities at local level to reduce the number of cars on roads. There are many good examples of good practice that can make a relatively rapid impact on reducing the number of cars. The hon. Member for Bath has already given examples. Throughout Britain, there are many good practices, such as in York, where a road user hierarchy has been successfully introduced, which prioritises pedestrians and cyclists by providing them with better space and conditions. There has been extensive pedestrianisation of roads and the creation of cycle route networks, together with bus priority and park-and-ride schemes.

Similar initiatives have been taken in cities such as Nottingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and many other parts of Britain, to try to find out what is appropriate to local needs. The strength of the Bill is that it allows people with that local knowledge to build on good practice, to consider specifically what is in the interests of local transport needs and to bring forward measures to the Secretary of State for Transport on how those needs should be tackled.

As I said, I intend to be brief because I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to speak, but I want to ensure that the support from the Labour Front-Bench team is clear. We recognise good practice throughout Britain, and those good practices will be the backbone of the local plans that will be drawn up to meet the aims and aspirations of the Bill.

We support the Bill because, in the existing framework, it allows local targets for traffic reduction or for a restraint on traffic growth to be set. It allows for consultation with people, businesses and environmental and other organisations, to ensure that plans meet local needs. The proposals will allow for the encouragement of cycling and walking and better public transport provision, and they will speed up the reduction in the use of the car.

As the hon. Member for Bath said, this is not an anti-car Bill, but it considers alternative ways in which people can travel round their community, to limit the environmental damage of car use. It will take into account the way in which funding can be made available to local councils because of the strength of the local plans that they introduce. It allows the Secretary of State to monitor the plans and to co-ordinate good practice throughout Britain. It enables guidance to be forthcoming from the Department of Transport, to ensure that all parts of Britain recognise the opportunities and the way in which good practice is being developed in other parts of Britain, so that they can replicate it where it is appropriate to local needs.

Therefore, I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath. I am sure that any technical problems can be solved with the Government. I assure him of the Labour Front-Bench team's support for a swift resolution of any outstanding difficulties, to ensure that the Bill, after its Second Reading, which I am sure that it will receive today, has a swift passage into legislation. In that way, we can tackle as quickly as possible the immense problems of congestion and environmental damage throughout Britain.

1.18 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

I realise that to express reservations about the Bill is probably like expressing reservations about motherhood and apple pie, but I want to put some words of caution into the debate. I agree with much of what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, but the Bill falls victim to the delusion that legislation can help to perfect the world. I accept all that has been said about congestion, pollution and the adverse consequences for my constituents and for Britain, and I bow to no one in my determination to drive people back on to the railways. I am a great enthusiast for boosting rail travel. However, I still sniff the smell of an anti-car Bill, despite the reassurances of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who introduced his Bill so effectively.

The car offers a degree of personal mobility that is almost comparable in its democratic importance with the freedom of speech, for which we fought in earlier generations. It has enabled a social revolution in terms of mobility of labour and consumer choice. It has also enabled families to take holidays and to maintain links, given the increasingly disparate nature of extended families. It has also provided safety for children on the school run, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman).

I accept, of course, that those who have been left behind by those who own cars, especially those marooned in rural communities, need alternative forms of public transport. That is why I am an enthusiast for the privatisation of the railways—a process that is currently improving rail links in my constituency. That is why I am also an enthusiast for the Local Government and Rating Bill, which gives powers to parish councils to develop alternative means of transport in their area. To me, however, the personal mobility offered by the car is a good thing.

The car is also important to the economy. In my constituency of Worcester and throughout the county of Worcestershire, hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs have been generated by car manufacture at Rover and Land Rover, as well as by component suppliers. Only this week, Opposition Members have criticised Ford in the Chamber because of the jobs lost at Halesowen.

Mr. Forman


Dr. Godman

Poor geography.

Mr. Luff

I am sorry about that; I meant Halewood.

We have unanimously welcomed the inward investment made in this country by Honda, Nissan, Toyota and BMW. Car manufacture is an important part of our economy, with which we must not tamper.

Let us consider some of the issues facing my constituents in relation to the car and shopping, which are more relevant to the Bill. People go to shop by car not just because that is convenient or because the buses do not run at the right time, but because they want to make bulky purchases. It is difficult to cycle home with a heavy weight on the handlebars.

Worcester is in fierce competition with neighbouring towns such as Cheltenham and shopping centres such as Merry Hill, or merry hell as it is sometimes known by the locals. The Merry Hill out-of-town shopping centre depends on the car to get people to it. It is hugely popular. There are plans to expand it, and an inspector's report is now before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Worcester city council has written to me to ask me to oppose that expansion, because it recognises that it will damage the vitality of the city—it may or may not be right.

The problem is that the city council's Labour colleagues at the county council have been developing plans for the transport and traffic management of my city that will have exactly the same impact. That is why I am delighted, if I may say so in public, that my hon. Friend the Minister rejected the Worcester package bid for the coming financial year. He did so following representations from myself, Nicholas Bourne, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Worcester, and Derek Prodger, who is leader of the Conservative group on Worcester city council.

My hon. Friend the Minister was not convinced that that package would have done more good than harm. Clause 4 refers to regional consideration, and I accept that in relation to Merry Hill and Worcester, it might be possible, should the Bill become law, for my hon. Friend to do something to control the traffic to those two locations. As a result, perhaps there would be equality of treatment—one city doing the wrong thing by driving cars away might not damage it as much as it might at present.

I am concerned about how the plans were drawn up in my area, and that is what concerned my hon. Friend the Minister when he rejected the package bid. The best laid plans of mice, men and Hereford and Worcester county council can go wrong, even if they are well intentioned. The first phase of the Worcester package has been disastrous. It has failed largely because of the failure to consult. The Worcester Civic Society and local businesses were not effectively consulted. I am glad to see that today's Bill includes statutory provision for such consultation. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bath will consider including parish councils as a statutory consultee, when that is relevant. Their expertise would be useful when considering traffic reduction plans.

In Worcester, we have two bus priority schemes. I am all in favour of such schemes, but one of them has been introduced in a narrow part of the main access road from the north of the city, and there is just no room for it. I was involved in a near-accident two or three weeks ago, when a lorry swerved out to avoid a cyclist, which meant that I had to swerve into the bus lane to avoid the lorry—fortunately, there was no bus coming up on the inside.

The Worcester city package bid has had the effect of frustrating cycling from the north of the city into and out of the city centre. As a result of the package, there is now no good northern route in and out of the city. Therefore, although bus priority schemes are a good idea—there is nothing wrong with them—they must be well planned and well operated. The situation is equally bad in the Lowesmoor area of Worcester, where massive traffic chaos and congestion have been created—which I sometimes think may be a conspiracy to make my surgery inaccessible, as it has been very badly affected.

I can cite many examples of how good ideas have had the wrong effect in practice, and I fear that the Bill could pressurise local authorities to rush in hastily with ill-considered schemes that have similar detailed problems. My concerns are shared by national organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry—which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) quoted in his speech. The CBI describes the Bill as focusing on the wrong goals, as inflexible and unrealistic, and as possibly damaging to the competitiveness of the UK economy.

Therefore, although the Bill contains good intentions, we must be absolutely sure that it provides the right answer to the problem. The Automobile Association shares that concern. It stated that the Bill completely ignores the complexities of people's lives and the transport system in the late 1990s. The Road Haulage Association stated: capacity restraints on the movement of goods by road and on road transport based consumer services will only harm industrial efficiency and impair the quality of life of the vast majority of people in the UK. The Bill is well meaning, but is it the right approach to the problem? My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington suggested some specific alternative mechanisms. There are many other options which, if I had the time, I should have liked to bring to the attention of the House. I shall not oppose the Bill, but I have severe reservations about it.

1.26 pm
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

My speech will be brief because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak on the Bill, and I also do not wish to do anything to delay its passage. I am very proud to be a sponsor of the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on promoting it through the private Members' lottery.

The Bill is important, and I was amazed to discover so much cross-party support for it. When I was first elected a Member of Parliament 10 years ago, it was unthinkable that we would debate, in such a calm manner, a way in which to put road traffic reduction on the political map. I hope that today's debate will help the Bill to secure a speedy passage through the House.

Friends of the Earth must be congratulated on the work that it has done across the country in campaigning on the issue. I also pay tribute to all hon. Members who have already signed early-day motion 289, and I urge them to ensure that the Bill is passed rapidly.

It is incredible that the House is no longer discussing whether we should support such a Bill, but how we can support it. The time has come to deal with the issue of road traffic reduction. However, we must examine the issue not only from the top down, but from the bottom up. The Bill provides a real opportunity to do so—even with the concessions that will have to be made to speed its passage, which we hope will be completed before the general election.

Why should we support the Bill? The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) has just expressed some reservations about the Bill, but I believe that we must support it. The air that we breathe has been polluted; the quiet of the countryside has been affected; and traffic congestion has caused business to lose money, as we have heard, to the tune of £19 billion annually. Excess traffic is also a social problem. Many people, particularly the elderly and those on low incomes, are becoming isolated because they no longer have proper access to public transport.

Road traffic reduction is not only an environmental issue but one of social equity. Figures show that 5 per cent. of people in the top 20 per cent. income bracket do not own cars, whereas 60 per cent. of those in the bottom 20 per cent. income bracket do not own cars. We must deal with social equity and ensure that we do not create even greater divisions in an already divided society.

I am delighted that the Minister is supporting the Bill. However, in the past 10 years, we have suffered from the tunnel vision of the Government's multi-billion pound roads programme. This morning, I was happy to hear him say on Radio 4 that, perhaps in three years' time, we shall not be so committed to the current programme and will move to a more balanced programme. We should have done that and turned the oil tanker around, as it were, long ago.

The proposals cannot be implemented soon enough. I note that the Government have finally recognised the need to act, and I believe that we are on course to discovering how an integrated transport policy, as set out in the Bill, can take account of what local communities want and reflect that in the national policy laid down by the Department of Transport.

Many organisations have contributed to the preparation of the Bill. I support all that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has done in identifying the sites of special scientific interest that are under threat from road building, and the species and their habitats that are under threat from acidification. Transport 2000 and SUSTRANS in particular have done a great deal of work to promote not only cycle networks but safer routes to schools across the country, including in my constituency. It gave me great heart to be campaigning alongside an organisation such as the Townswomen's Guilds, which recognises the legitimacy of the issue.

I believe that we face a real challenge, but the Bill is a milestone that will ensure that much can be achieved more quickly. It will enable us to bring local communities and businesses, parish councils and any other groups that have a stake in the community, together in a partnership to plan policy—it is no good having a national transport programme that has no regard for local needs.

Time is limited, but I shall end by reading a letter from a constituent, which has just arrived on my desk by chance. It is from Stacy Stonier, a pupil in class 60'B at Holden Lane primary school in Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent. She says: I am ten years old. I go to Holden Lane Primary School in Staffordshire. We are doing a topic about Environmental change. We are looking at the proposed matter of widening the M6 around Staffordshire. I feel it will be a deplorable idea to widen parts of the M6 around Staffordshire, because if it is widened more people will go onto the M6 expecting it to be clear, but they will join more people thinking the same thing. Then it will be the same as it is now. It is not easy to tackle traffic problems, but if the Bill is enacted and if we have a partnership of business, industry, local authorities and local people, we shall find a way to meet the challenges. That gives me great optimism for the future, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to speak, albeit briefly, in support of the Bill.

1.32 pm
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on being successful in securing the opportunity to introduce the Bill. Should it become law, it could become one of the most important pieces of traffic legislation for some time. I am pleased that the concepts of the Bill are very much in line with Liberal Democrat transport policy, as set out in our paper entitled "Transporting People, Tackling Pollution".

We all agree that traffic congestion, the pollution and the damage that it causes to our environment, and its effect on the quality of life and health of our citizens, is a serious problem. Much was made earlier of the incidence of respiratory illnesses aggravated by traffic pollution. It is important to note that work carried out at Birmingham university a couple of years ago showed a direct correlation between the closeness of major urban roads to centres of population, and the traffic levels on those roads, and the incidence of respiratory illness. It found conclusively that if traffic levels increased, hospital admissions for respiratory illness rose quite significantly a few days later. We have to face that major problem.

As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) said, electric cars might be a help, but the generation of electricity also releases pollutants into the atmosphere.

Traffic growth is not a new problem. It is fascinating to reflect that, back in the 1960s, an eminent professor, Mr. Buchanan, produced a famous report entitled "Traffic in Towns". He recognised the problems of traffic growth even then. I recall a study at about the same time, which showed that, if we were to attempt to meet the traffic demand in London—let us remember that this was in the 1960s—we would, in order to build the necessary roads, have ended up covering the whole of London with asphalt. It is not a new problem; we have known about it for many years but have done very little about it. The problem is that politicians—of all parties—like to build things. They like to leave their mark. How many city or town relief roads can hon. Members think of that are named after an eminent local politician? [AN HON. MEMBER: "The Rendel bypass."] Not quite.

Although one can name a relief road the Alderman Smith bypass, one cannot put a plaque on a traffic reduction scheme. That is the essence of the problem. We have to recognise that there is a far greater dependence on the car, particularly for short trips. The problem does not relate to car ownership levels, which will continue to increase. We have to govern how people use their cars. We have to recognise that there is a new approach now to managing traffic. It is not just about managing the growth in traffic but about managing to reduce that growth.

I welcome the Bill because it sets out the measures that local authorities can use. I particularly like the example given of introducing cycleways. My constituency of Eastleigh has worked hard to create a network of cycleways throughout the borough, to provide an alternative means of transport around the town.

We have to address the problem of planning guidelines. That is a major point. Too many planning authorities throughout the country are forced into allowing more and more developments on the borders of their area, thereby generating more dependency on the car. We must change planning guidelines so that we can reduce dependency on the car and make it much more viable to walk, cycle or use public transport.

I welcome the Bill. It is indeed a milestone in transport legislation. I welcome the all-party support that it has received, from the Opposition Front Bench and from the Minister, who has been particularly helpful. I can assure the House that the Liberal Democrats will do all we can to ease the Bill's passage through the House. I sincerely hope that it will become law before the end of this Parliament. I shall do all that I can to support it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bath once again.

1.36 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I offer my compliments to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for his Bill.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) and I travel different political roads, but if I thought for one moment that this was an anti-car Bill, I would not support it, because for many people living in Scotland—from many different classes—on our islands and those in our far-flung communities, the car is an essential mode of transport.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) who is sitting to the right—perhaps where he should be—of the hon. Gentleman. One of the finest examples of the utility of a bypass is at that tragic town of Dunblane, which experienced dreadful road conditions until that bypass was built. Anyone travelling through Perthshire up to the highlands had to wend their way through that small, lovely town, but with the bypass it is far easier to travel north and south in that part of Scotland.

I asked the hon. Member for Bath earlier about the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the implementation of the Bill. My concern centred on individual councils drawing up local plans. In the west of Scotland we have the Strathclyde passenger transport authority, which is made up of representatives from 12 councils. It is chaired by Councillor Charles Gordon, of Glasgow, the biggest council on the authority. One of the smallest is my authority, Inverclyde council. Strathclyde passenger transport authority used to be part of Strathclyde regional council, but it is now a body bringing together those 12 councils.

I hope that the Bill takes into account the fact that the 12 councils are together in one authority. Over the years, the authority has developed an integrated passenger transport system which embraces buses, trains and ferries. We must not forget how important passenger ferries are to the communities in my part of Scotland.

Similarly, superb cycleways and walkways have been developed under the aegis of Strathclyde passenger transport authority. I would not want its role to be diminished in any way. It is a trail blazer in Scotland; it is the only one of its kind. In other areas of Scotland, however, authorities are looking at the Strathclyde passenger transport authority as a model that they can introduce in their regions.

If we reduced road traffic as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) proposes, a consequence, perhaps unintended, would be speedier response times for our emergency services. Not long ago, I was heading back towards my office in No. 1 Parliament street when I saw an ambulance.

Mr. Forman

indicated assent.

Dr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman may have witnessed a similar scene.

The ambulance was attempting to navigate its way through the traffic in Parliament square. I timed the ambulance as the driver sought to escape along the Embankment, and it took him six minutes just to get through Parliament square. Some London Members may say that that is not surprising. However, a consequence of the plans proposed in the Bill might be that ambulances, the police and the fire services could respond much more quickly.

Even in my constituency, where the problems are far less serious than those of the big cities, we are concerned about the response times of the emergency services. Much more needs to be done to control traffic, so that our first-class fellow citizens who staff the emergency services can go about their work unimpeded by being snarled up in a traffic jam as that poor ambulance man was in London. For that reason alone, we should talk about the need to control road traffic.

I should have declared a personal interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My wife is a baillie on Glasgow council and she is a member of the passenger transport authority. I must say that before someone comes back to me on the point. I would like to see the developments in Strathclyde take place elsewhere in Scotland. As long as the Bill would enhance rather than impede such developments, I warmly welcome it.

1.42 pm
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for providing the opportunity for us to discuss these important issues today by introducing his Bill. We have seen the House at its best, looking at a serious problem in a serious way. The Bill is important and constructive. I thank him in passing for his warm tribute to my officials, and, indeed, to me. I think that I surprised some of my officials, who I am sure had me marked down as an unreconstructed J. Bonnington Jagsworth.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I hate to rain on the House's parade today; unfortunately I have not been able to be here for the whole debate, which I shall read with interest.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill's title would not pass the Trade Descriptions Act 1968? Nothing in the Bill will reduce traffic. The Bill would take valuable resources, which should be used by councils to reduce traffic, to be spent on plans. Local authorities such as mine will probably spend more money—perhaps all the money they have available—doing that rather than taking the action that hon. Members are asking for.

Mr. Watts

I hope that it will be possible for us to agree on arrangements that do not impose enormous new burdens on local authorities, but enable them to implement measures that help relieve traffic problems and, where appropriate, reduce them.

As the hon. Member for Bath said, some elements of the Bill will require further consideration if we are able to offer Government support. However, I am sure that we have a basis for agreement.

In the transport debate which culminated in the publication of our Green Paper last spring, the issue of traffic growth took centre stage. The Green Paper stated: The central issue arising from the debate is the level of concern about the impact of transport on the environment and about how far present levels of traffic growth are sustainable. The Government believes that a change of emphasis is needed, towards recognising the long term consequences of traffic growth. But other factors need to be taken into account, especially competitiveness and freedom of choice"— themes raised by hon. Members during the debate.

Against that background, the Green Paper proposed a number of specific measures, including a better system for the planning of trunk roads as part of the regional planning guidance system. It may well be the way in which we bring together individual local plans for consideration on a regional basis. It proposed measures to make more efficient use of the existing transport infrastructure and to reduce car dependence—especially in towns—through giving more responsibility to local decision makers.

It was also against that background that the Green Paper considered traffic targets—whether national or local—which are at the crux of the Bill. A number of organisations, including the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, have proposed national targets. The targets fall into two categories: those for the absolute level of car or public transport use, with a decrease in one and an increase in the other, and those for the relative use of cars and public transport against total traffic movements.

The first and most obvious question is how, within any meaningful national target, we can allow for the wide variation between different parts of the country—or countries, as we are considering the four countries of the United Kingdom—in terms of the proportion of total transport represented by the use of cars, buses and trains. For example, public transport use represents nearly 90 per cent. of commuting journeys to central London but is typically only a few percentage points in rural areas. Those are the extremes; there is a wide range in between.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned the importance of cars for those who live in the island communities in Scotland. A single national target would bite on different parts of the country in different ways.

Secondly, targets are often proposed without those who propose them having a clear idea of the measures required to achieve them. At national level, very few measures could reduce traffic substantially and clearly relate to any change in traffic pattern. Generally, more measures are available at the local level, especially in towns and cities—for example, tougher parking restrictions.

Given some of the press stories about the Bill that appeared over the past few days, I should make it clear—as have the hon. Members for Bath and for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth)—that the Government have not suddenly become anti-car. Nor is the Bill anti-car. After all, if we fail the tackle the problems of congestion, that will not do much good for people who want to use their cars, or for the important industrial uses of road transport. Unless we can ensure that road capacity is available for essential road use by encouraging the switch of less essential journeys to other transport modes, we shall not meet the requirements of any part of the economy or society.

Accessibility is a key issue. In particular, urban local authorities will need to make it a priority to achieve good accessibility for all transport users as well as pedestrians, whether they are residents, commuters, shoppers or local businesses. Local authorities in particular will need to give serious consideration to the effect on the local economy and the vitality of our towns and cities of any transport measures that they introduce.

Thirdly, targets based simply on increasing public transport use will not necessarily have a corresponding effect in reducing road traffic, because a large part of the increase in the use of public transport might come from people who would have otherwise not made the journey, or have made it on cycle or on foot.

Fourthly, we already have a range of targets that bite directly on the environmental impact of transport, which is sometimes forgotten. Those include our targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from all sources to 1990 levels by 2000, and air quality targets that are proposed in the draft air quality management strategy. The hon. Member for Bath did not forget them. Indeed, he drew specific attention to them.

As we made clear in the Green Paper, the Government are keeping the case for national traffic targets under review. Indeed, we have already accepted the case for national cycling targets. They are to double cycling levels by 2002 and to double them again by 2012. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is a very enthusiastic cyclist.

Our view is that target setting is likely to make most sense in the local context, and in our Green Paper we said that we would be interested to discuss local authorities' experience of local target setting. The local dimension is crucial. The Green Paper makes clear the need to strike the right balance in local transport measures. That means that local authorities are generally best placed to take the lead for their areas within a broad framework, although it is of course vital that they consult widely locally with residents and business interests. Where they do not, the measures they devise are unlikely to be the best available.

There may be common policy elements between areas, and it is inevitable that local factors such as the degree of local public transport provision, development pressures and local economic growth will influence the strategy that needs to be adopted. Consequently, it must make more sense to pursue targets, whether they relate to the reduction of road traffic or encouraging alternative modes of transport, at a local level.

We are therefore looking with local authorities at potential measures that might be needed to manage traffic in their areas. Local authorities, of course, already have extensive powers to regulate traffic and restrain car use. Due to lack of time, I shall not recite them all. I suspect that they will be familiar to hon. Members who take a close interest in this topic.

I believe that local authorities will be broadly sympathetic to the idea of setting local targets as an integral part of their local transport strategy. Indeed, a number are already choosing to make use of such targets. It is, however, important that targets are useful tools to help local authorities achieve their goals and that they do not tie their hands unnecessarily. The Government would consequently want to see a number of clauses in the draft Bill changed before we felt able to offer our support right the way through to the statute book. Such changes would not, however, work against the spirit of what the Bill is trying to achieve.

I cannot accept that it would be sensible to compel all authorities to set targets for reductions in traffic whatever their local circumstances. An authority covering a largely urban area, for example, is likely to regard controlling traffic growth as a more pressing problem than one whose setting is predominantly rural.

There would also be little sense in obliging local authorities to set targets for reducing traffic levels in areas where traffic growth was expected to accompany new development arising out of regeneration initiatives. All that that would achieve is the undermining of such initiatives. I have in mind the regeneration of the Dearne valley and the need for the remaining missing road link to be completed, about which three hon. Members came to see me earlier this week.

All such examples point towards giving local authorities the main voice in deciding whether targets to control traffic volume have a useful role to play in their areas. There is no reason, though, why such flexibility should cause them to treat the issue with any less seriousness. We therefore believe that the Bill should create a statutory obligation for local authorities to undertake a review to consider the need to set local targets for absolute volumes or for forecast traffic growth. It would then be open to them to decide, following their review, not to set targets, but, if they reached that conclusion, we would expect them to give clear reasons why they thought that the appropriate response in their circumstances.

Another point that I have raised with the hon. Member for Bath is that the Bill should focus more specifically on those local authorities with key transport responsibilities. At present, the Bill extends to county, district, unitary and London borough councils. However, in England at least, the local highways authorities, given their role in determining local transport strategies, are best placed to consider the need for targets, and no useful purpose would be served by extending that requirement to district councils.

I accept, however, that the whole range of local authorities should be involved in the consultation processes that the Bill suggests, including the parish councils mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff). If local plans and targets are to be achievable, it is important that they have credibility for the whole community.

Ms Walley

The real point is how we can promote partnership at the local level in consultation with all the groups that should be involved. It would helpful if the Minister could clarify that point further before Committee stage.

Mr. Watts

The consultation phase is important, and when we consider whether to support transport packages, we will want to be convinced that there has been proper, widespread consultation and that there is a consensus of support for the measures proposed—if not, they are less likely to succeed. That is a point that we will discuss further.

I shall now explain how we envisage that the system of reviewing and setting targets will fit into the existing procedures for considering local transport strategies. Given the differing local government structures and financial mechanisms for providing support to local authorities in England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, it will be necessary to give further thought to how to proceed in each country. Therefore, the Bill should not attempt to set hard and fast rules about the mechanisms to be used to undertake such reviews.

Those mechanisms can and should be agreed in due course outside the legislative terms of the Bill, not least because of the need for consultation with local authorities to ensure that we devise workable mechanisms. In Northern Ireland, the roads and transport functions that lie with local authorities in the remainder of the United Kingdom are the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, and therefore a legislative framework is not needed to implement those polices in Northern Ireland. The Bill should not perhaps be extended to include Northern Ireland.

I shall confine myself in my remaining remarks to discussing the situation in England, although I am not suggesting that the Bill is in any way less important in Scotland and Wales. There is no reason why a review of the need for targets should be a free-standing exercise in a vacuum. On the contrary, it would make sense to consider further how local authorities might choose to incorporate it into their existing transport planning systems. That brings me to the question of the package approach and the present arrangements in England for providing capital support to local authorities' transport programmes.

Given the nature of the transport policies and programme—TPP—system, we wish to consider whether it might offer a suitable mechanism for local authorities examining whether targets have a role to play and what those targets should be. I note that the latest edition of the Transport 2000 "Streets Ahead" bulletin accepts the TPP submission as an appropriate vehicle for setting targets to reduce the rate of traffic growth and to stabilise traffic volumes. I should add that my Department has already made it clear to local authorities that the use of targets has a helpful role to play in devising and monitoring transport strategies for their areas.

However, given what I have said about the differing needs of individual parts of the country and the circumstances of separate authorities, I do not believe that it would be right to lay down inflexible conditions in the Bill for the setting of targets, such as the measures to be adopted or the statistical bases against which changes in traffic volume should be measured. That is far better left to the guidance that is issued regularly.

I therefore believe that that part of the Bill needs to be simplified to concentrate on the principles and not the detail of the mechanisms. That detail will flow from our consultation with local authorities, with whom we will work in partnership. That said, the Government clearly have a role to play in assisting local authorities to undertake their reviews, and again our help could he given through guidance.

Clause 2(6) suggests that the measures that local authorities cite in their plans could include areas for which they do not currently have powers. That is flawed. As I have said, we are consulting local authorities on the further powers that they might like, but if the plans to achieve the targets are to be realistic, they must be based on powers that can be exercised and for which funding can be provided.

I wish to bring my remarks rapidly to a close, and I would like to suggest to the hon. Member for Bath what I believe to be a way forward. I have pointed out the key changes that I believe will be necessary to ensure continuing Government support, and I suggest to him that the way to achieve that is to resume the constructive dialogue between my officials and those who have assisted him in drawing up the Bill. I believe that we could then resolve the matter and produce the amendments that are required. I extend to him an offer of help with the technical drafting, so that, if amendments are incorporated, the Bill will be able to go on the statute book.

We will initiate discussions with local authorities on the practical mechanisms for undertaking reviews and setting targets within the TPP process. Those can go in parallel so that, by the time we reach the later legislative stages, we have at least a broad idea of what is acceptable to the local authorities and what is workable. If I have the agreement of the hon. Member for Bath to that basis for proceeding—I believe that I have his agreement, from earlier discussions and from what he has said today—I am content to recommend to the House that the Bill be granted a second reading.

Mr. Don Foster

This has been a useful and constructive debate, and I thank all those who have taken part. Like the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) earlier, I do not want my winding-up speech to delay subsequent business. It was a shame that the only discordant voice we heard came from the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), who breezed in and out. Perhaps, if he had stayed a little longer, he might not have made the remarks that he did.

Otherwise, there has been a great deal of support, and I am very pleased to accept publicly the Minister's offer—I have made it clear to him privately that I would do so—to work together constructively to get the Bill through as quickly as possible. This debate has done something that has never really happened before in this House—it has put traffic reduction firmly on the political map, and I am grateful to all hon. Members for enabling us to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).