HC Deb 24 April 1998 vol 310 cc1074-123

Order for Third Reading read.

9.35 am
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

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

I know that many Bills are waiting to be debated this morning, and that several hon. Members—for diverse reasons—want to speak, so I do not intend to be long. I can afford to be brief, because the Bill enjoyed detailed consideration on Second Reading and in Committee, and reasonably detailed consideration on Report.

Before saying a word about the Bill, I thank all those who have ensured that it has come thus far—to the threshold of completing its progress in the House. First, I reiterate my thanks to the Minister for Transport in London, very ably assisted by her officials. She has been an active supporter of the road traffic reduction campaign, and has been keen to find a way of ensuring that the Bill could be enacted. I am grateful for her co-operation.

Secondly, I thank the host of hon. Members in all parties who have supported and attended—some are attending today—to ensure that there were no hiccups on the way, and especially those who gave up several hours of their time to attend the Committee. The support from senior members of all parties has been much appreciated.

I also thank those who have had reservations about the Bill, but who have nevertheless not blocked its passage; I trust that their forbearance will continue today. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has had reservations, but after expressing them in considerable detail and obtaining some useful amendments—clause 2(4) is the result of his amendment—he has allowed the Bill to proceed. He and I have had a few cross words, but I believe that neither of us is the worse for it, and I am grateful for his tolerance, if not his ungrudging assent to the Bill's passage.

The main thanks, however, must go to the very many people who have campaigned for this important Bill, in a variety of ways. I hope that the Government will not accuse me of plagiarism if I claim—and do so before they do—that this is a people's Bill.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Oh, no.

Mr. Dafis

I am sorry about that. I thought that it was worth trying to get it in.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Would the hon. Gentleman share with the House the Welsh for "the people's Bill"?

Mr. Dafis

"Mesur y bobl" would be the phrase that we would use. I am sure the House will recognise that the word "bobl" comes from the same root as "people".

The rest of what I have to say can be presented briefly as if in reply to three questions. Why should we reduce road traffic? By how much should it be reduced? How can it be reduced? First, why? We have been through all that, but I reiterate that the Bill, if implemented, will save significant numbers of lives, including the lives of young children, among whom road accidents are one of the main causes of death. That is a striking and serious statistic. It will significantly reduce ill health; again, particularly among children, as the evidence from Great Ormond Street hospital demonstrated.

Incidentally, by saving in those two areas, the Bill will save significant sums of money. The measure will improve the quality of social life, which is seriously disrupted—in ways that we cannot always measure—by heavy traffic. It is an environmental imperative to reduce road traffic. That can be done without causing economic damage—indeed, it can be done in a way that brings significant economic benefit and creates significant numbers of jobs.

Secondly, by how much should road traffic be reduced? That is important, because the Bill does not contain targets. The Bill, as originally drafted, proposed a reduction of 10 per cent. on 1990 levels by 2010, and an interim target of a 5 per cent. reduction halfway through that period. That is a challenge, but, as Professor John Whitelegg has demonstrated and as other transport experts are willing to show, it can be done. However, the process must begin soon. That is an important message for the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister has acknowledged it, and he has stated that he intends to have more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car by June 2003.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The hon. Gentleman and I agree strongly on this matter, and we agree also that it is easy to have fine words. Everybody would like to see congestion and emissions reduced. Does he agree that, if we wish to see action, we must set targets, as we have done on so many other issues?

Mr. Dafis

Targets are an essential element in achieving change in environmental policy—there is no doubt about that. The issue that has been considered is whether targets should be included in the Bill. Targets will emerge as a consequence of the strategies that the Bill will engender.

Mr. Edward Garner (Harborough)

The hon. Gentleman is referring to clause 2 and targets, but it is unclear whether the Secretary of State is to publish and report targets that contain within them an element of local targeting. There is a deficiency in the Bill, which would allow the Secretary of State to publish bland figures for the whole of the UK—whatever that may be in the near future. However, the targets will have no effect whatever, because the traffic in the hon. Gentleman's part of the country may be entirely different from that in the Minister's constituency, for example. Does he envisage the Bill encouraging the Secretary of State to localise targets?

Mr. Dafis

The hon. and learned Gentleman may not know enough about current legislation. Following the willingness of the previous Government to respond, road traffic reduction legislation applies to local authorities, and requires authorities to set targets. This Bill is called the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill—in this case, "National" applies to Wales, Scotland and England.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

And Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dafis

Yes, although that is through a different mechanism. We have the strategic framework for delivering road traffic reduction locally, but the point of the Bill was to place that within an overall framework.

I was referring to the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister is on record as saying that targets are important in this field, and that he wishes to see significant reductions in car journeys by June 2003. It is worth mentioning that a 10 per cent. reduction is, in all probability, necessary to enable the Government to meet their other important target—the 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. I was pleased that the Government announced that they were to stick to that target, as announced by the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry during the debate on energy policy on Wednesday. If we are serious about the matter, we need a significant reduction of about 10 per cent.

My third question was, how can we achieve that reduction? John Whitelegg is one of a number of people who have shown that it can be achieved, and he has described the measures that can be used. He has said that a vast choice of measures could be adopted to achieve the 10 per cent. reduction, many of which are already in use. We are not seeking to reinvent the wheel—we are talking about using tried and tested methods. The methods that John Whitelegg suggests include: land use and planning policies; parking policies; bus promotion policies; travelcards; cycle facilities; and traffic management.

On freight, Professor Whitelegg has mentioned city logistics policies, which amount to the co-ordinating of the movement of goods to retail centres within towns. That policy has brought about significant reductions in some European countries. The use of new technology in dynamic scheduling and vehicle routing could enable freight to be delivered more efficiently and over fewer miles, by providing the necessary information. Professor Whitelegg emphasised that that can be achieved without significant increases in fuel prices, although he advocates such increases.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in real life, the only mechanism that will work is the price mechanism?

Mr. Dafis

I am afraid that I have to disagree. Nobody would deny that price influences people's behaviour. However, it would be dangerous to imagine that the price mechanism alone will deliver the results that we are seeking. Environmental groups have argued forcibly that, if we tried that, the social consequences and the public reaction would be negative, and we would not achieve the right outcome. Other, positive measures, such as investment, are needed. John Whitelegg has stated clearly that he believes that reductions can be achieved without increasing fuel prices, if the political will and a willingness to create the strategies exist.

I mentioned the three questions, and I have responded briefly to them. I wish to refer now to clause 2(2). Some have argued that clause 2(2) fatally weakens the Bill, by making provision for the Secretary of State not to have to set traffic reduction targets in certain circumstances. To be honest, I should prefer it if subsection (2) were not in the Bill. However, it is a concession that had to be made in order to obtain Government support. I understand why the Government wanted it in the Bill. I do not accept that it fatally weakens the Bill.

As the title of the Bill states, its purpose is to reduce road traffic. If, following its passage, the Government failed to set targets for road traffic reduction, they would fail to implement the purport of the Bill, if not the letter of it. I do not think that the Government would want to be guilty of that.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill would not be fatally flawed by the inclusion of clause 2(2) in its present form, but does he agree that clause 2(2) enables the Government to get off the hook of having to produce any targets whatever? If the Government in their absolute discretion think that other measures are appropriate, they can just use other measures. Will the hon. Gentleman try to move an amendment in the other place to ensure that the Bill achieves the purpose of requiring the Government to impose targets?

Mr. Dafis

That was a useful intervention. Of course, I cannot move an amendment in the other place, although I could encourage someone to do so. Perhaps the Government will consider an amendment at this late stage, even though the draft has been agreed. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest inserting the word "and" instead of "or" in line 13, so that the subsection would read: other targets, and other measures instead of other targets, or other measures". That is an interesting idea. If the Minister would consider it and respond positively, I should be very pleased.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

The hon. Gentleman is saying, in effect, that the Bill is completely useless as a measure of compulsion. If the Government ignore it, there may merely be a degree of moral opprobrium on them for doing so. Would there not have been more moral pressure on the Government if, when the Minister wrote to the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government would not oppose Second Reading provided that he agreed to a number of detailed amendments, he had told her what she could do with that idea? Would not that have exerted moral pressure? Instead, he has given her a cover story.

Mr. Dafis

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but I am not moved to agree with him. I do not intend to announce at this stage, on Third Reading, that the Bill is a useless exercise. It is an extremely useful exercise and it is important because it requires the Government to set targets, except in certain circumstances, which I shall deal with next. The impetus for the Bill has come from broad grass-roots support.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Having signed up to the Kyoto agreement for CO2 reduction, the Government will have to specify the areas in which reductions will be made to achieve those targets. One of the key areas is emissions from cars. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government will have to set and publish their reduction targets?

Mr. Dafis

I could not agree more. There is no doubt that road traffic reduction is crucial if the Government are to achieve their Kyoto target and their own voluntary target, which is much more ambitious. The Government will have to set targets, and the Bill provides a useful framework.

The Secretary of State would be released from the duty to set targets for road traffic reduction only if he or she could demonstrate clearly that other targets or other measures could better achieve that. The phrase used in the Bill is: more appropriate for the purpose of reducing". The Secretary of State would have to show that other measures were better for reducing the adverse impact of road traffic than the reduction of traffic itself. Those are the precise circumstances in which the Secretary of State would be released from that duty.

I do not believe that it could be demonstrated that other measures were more appropriate, bearing in mind the criteria listed in subsection (3). I do not think that they could be met or that the adverse effect of road traffic could be reduced without reducing road traffic. I do not believe that any Secretary of State could show that that could be done in any other way. In my view, meeting those important criteria involves reducing road traffic.

The adverse effects of road traffic listed in subsection (3) are: the emission of gases that contribute to climate change; the effects on air quality; the effects on health; traffic congestion; the effects on land and biodiversity; the danger to other road users; and social impacts. If those effects could be reduced in any other way, which I do not believe, it would be an extremely important achievement, and the enactment of the Bill would be amply justified.

I am proud to have been associated with the Bill. For the last time, I commend it to the House.

9.55 am
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

This is an appropriate time for the Third Reading of the Bill. As some hon. Members may have heard this morning, in the United Kingdom the incidence of asthma among children is the highest in the world. Although pollution is not necessarily the cause of asthma, it is accepted as the trigger for asthma.

I shall restrict my comments to clause 2. I regret that the Bill has no teeth. The targets have been extracted. A 10 per cent. target in the Bill—the same target as has been agreed for local authorities—could have been the Government's first step towards the 20 per cent. CO2 reduction target to which they are committed, as they have recently restated.

The Government's actions to date in relation to road traffic reduction and the reduction of CO2 emissions are disappointing. The Deputy Prime Minister recently announced an extra £500 million for public transport. I understand from a letter that I received from the Library that that £500 million is in fact £475 million. The figure was rounded up to £500 million. It is a novel approach to accounting that, for the purpose of an announcement, the figure was rounded up by £25 million to make it sound larger.

We read in the press today that Ministers and officials who are going to the green transport conference—where, among other things, green cars will be on show—are to be ferried there in 60 limousines. They will not catch the train from Manchester to Crewe because apparently the station in Crewe is in such a dilapidated state that the Government are scared to show it to foreign Ministers and officials, so they will travel in 60 limousines, none of which is gas-powered—they are all standard, petrol-driven limousines.

The Government said that consideration would be given to one of the amendments that I tabled, together with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), which related to a statement that the Deputy Prime Minister made after 1 May, when he was already in power. He stated that if, at the end of this Parliament, traffic levels were not held at 1997 levels, he would have failed, and that he would be held to account. That is not reflected in the Bill.

I accept that the Bill shows that, in principle, the Government are committed to doing something about reducing road traffic. It is definitely an improvement on the attitude of the previous Government, whose enthusiasm for road building would have done Jeremy Clarkson proud.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman was not in the House during the previous Parliament, but I was. I assure him that the previous Government were similarly committed to doing something about road traffic. Sadly, commitments to acting to reduce road traffic do not always achieve results.

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

Order. On Third Reading, hon. Members should discuss what is in the Bill and not what previous Governments have attempted to do.

Mr. Brake

I shall draw my remarks to a close. The Liberal Democrats give the Bill a very cautious welcome, because we think that it is the first very small step towards achieving reductions in traffic and CO2 emissions.

9.59 am
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on bringing his Bill to Third Reading. He was correct to acknowledge the help that he has received from the Bill's supporters and from those who asked questions about the legislation's detail and approach. I take this opportunity to commend the Minister on the good humour that she has shown throughout most of the process. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I regret one or two things that I said during our exchanges in Committee, and I hope that he will overlook them.

It is important to recognise that the Bill repeats at national level existing local authority provisions. Local authorities will have the greatest power to act to reduce road traffic because they are responsible for 96 per cent. of roads in this country. Central Government can assist not by saying that all the road traffic reduction targets will be achieved through their own actions, but by affecting the popular culture. People should not suppose that the road traffic reduction Bill, which provides an opportunity for the Government to introduce a strategy and publish targets, signals an end to all road building. Most of our constituents know that we must create more traffic canals that divert traffic away from residential, school and shopping areas.

We need a bypass in my constituency. We also need a roundabout on the A259, so that people can access the village of Ferring without having to travel an extra two or three miles because they cannot cross the dual carriageway. I am sure that hon. Members could repeat other similar examples. In my previous constituency of Eltham in south-east London, the building of the Rochester Way relief road prevented traffic from going through many rat runs and, to that extent, provided a more direct route.

I do not argue that that should be the main plank of our traffic reduction strategy. Although most people would like to see a reduction in road traffic, and many could, with some thought and rearrangement, have better lives by travelling less far, less often, they should not suppose that the Bill is anti anything: it is simply a means of trying to achieve a better life, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion pointed out.

Today is not the day to air particular niggles across the Chamber. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) acknowledged the fact that, regardless of what may happen at one Transport Ministers' conference in Crewe, the present Government are mildly interested in making arrangements themselves, as well as trying to invigilate the actions of others, that will lead to a better life. I believe that that is the only serious reason for entering political service.

I shall spell out the things that I believe the Bill will achieve when enacted. Ministers should be prepared to say when they have got some targets right and, upon reflection, some wrong. When I was a junior Minister at the Department of Transport, the then Secretary of State set targets for road casualty reduction. We were correct in the targets that we set for deaths and serious injuries, but we were wrong about our target for slight injuries—I shall not explore that point in detail now, as it is outside the scope of the Bill. The review process will help us to focus on what is achievable.

There is also the "how" question. The hon. Member for Ceredigion explained why it is sensible to have a strategy for reducing road traffic—which, in the main, involves reducing unnecessary road traffic. He did not talk a great deal about how that would be achieved—although he spent some time on how much could be achieved. I shall refer to the "how" question.

It is clear that we must examine journeys to school by teachers, pupils and parents in urban and semi-urban areas. I like the idea of the virtual bus: the child with the longest bearable walk to school is escorted by a parent, and other children join the walk along the way until there is a crocodile walking to school.

One of the biggest changes that I have seen in my 22 or 23 years in the House is that most teachers now drive to school. I do not believe that they needed to make that switch; I do not think that it has done much good. The same applies to journeys to work. Not everyone can change his or her job.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

Has my hon. Friend observed the fact that many schools—certainly those in my constituency—have special car parking areas for sixth formers because more pupils, as well as teachers, are driving to school?

Mr. Bottomley

It is not my intention to claim that a particular teacher or pupil should not drive to school. However, I believe that most teachers and many pupils and their parents should not become involved in regular driving runs. It is worth discussing how we can provide more people with better transport alternatives. In many cases, that will involve using two legs to walk or to cycle.

I refer to the issue of journeys to work. Not all people can change where they live, their jobs or their place of work—I shall not discuss teleworking in any detail. It is clear that people should consider their journey to work when deciding to live or work elsewhere. I have not the slightest idea why people are concerned about whether their new home is in council band C, D or E—which may make a difference of about £100 a year—when they are happy to spend £2,000 or £3,000 a year travelling to work by car or by public transport. That will have a far greater impact on their free time and their wallet or purse.

Mr. Forth

Perhaps such people have made their own judgment—which was freely taken—and are prepared to endure a lengthy journey to work, at the cost that my hon. Friend mentioned, so that their life style reflects their priorities. Do they not have that right?

Mr. Bottomley

I agree with my right hon. Friend completely, as I usually do. My point is that people may like to think about those issues. Before the Hayes bypass was built and the M25 was completed, I used to use the example of someone working at Heathrow who took 40 minutes to travel four miles to Heathrow from Hayes. Now that better roads and routes have been opened, that person takes 40 minutes to drive 40 miles. I leave people with that choice, as my right hon. Friend suggests. I shall not take too many more interventions, but I must give way to one of the well-known bicyclists in the Chamber.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course individuals must choose, but does he agree that Governments have a part to play in influencing their choice? Is not that what we are talking about in the Bill?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes, but the Government's actions will be limited. The Bill does not urge people to change everything that they are doing: it simply tries to find a strategy that allows for some change. I shall make a comparison between road traffic reduction and road casualty reduction. It is worth remembering that the Government identified the issues and helped people to make decisions about matters that were causing them the greatest distress, handicap and disadvantage. The Government did not reduce drink driving by young men by two thirds in two years through the actions of policemen, prisons or courts: that result was achieved by allowing people to make their own decisions. That is the most important message that we can send.

Governments can make some difference. That point is made by the fact that visitors will be able to travel on the Jubilee line underground extension to the largest conference seen in this country, at the millennium exhibition site on the Greenwich peninsula. When the American Bar Association comes to this country in the summer of 2000, if its members decide that they want to go from central London to the millennium dome on the same morning, the Jubilee line extension will be able to cope with them all in an hour and a half. That would not be possible with a motorway. Some of what the Government engender will make a difference, but most of it will be through a slightly different pattern of decision making.

I do not want to put too much emphasis on reducing emissions. It is true that some of the things that have been put in hand, partly by regulation and partly by commercial self-interest, will lead quite quickly to a reduction in motor vehicle emissions—for example, fuel efficiency improvements.

I declare an interest as chairman of a medium-tech company that counts cars going into car parks. The changes to car parking enforcement in London and other cities mean that no longer are there people driving round Berkeley square for two or three hours trying to find a space on a yellow line. Without enforcement, all the yellow line spaces were taken up. When one enforces the yellow line rules, people start to look for parking meters. When one prices parking in such a way that there is always a space, people get to their space first time rather than having to drive round for 20 minutes or so. That is a minor example.

I hope that we shall not go for road pricing for urban congestion, or for motorways, although there are good arguments for both. If people want to see the reasons, they are in the Transport Select Committee's reports.

The most important issue is whether people can make choices that improve their lives. We should not go always for disincentives. We should look for incentives that contribute to a better life, not just for people in cities or towns but for those in rural areas.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished former Minister responsible for roads. In the rural areas that I represent, and in the surrounding suburban areas—for example, Bedford—improving the roads so that people may gain access—I hope, by public transport—is important. I hope that he will agree that the Bill is not anti-roads. Good bypasses and good new roads are very much part of what he and I and the House are trying to achieve.

Mr. Bottomley

One of my brothers-in-law, who runs a railway, says that we have to change our approach to some of the railways. In the old days, when people did not have private transport and most of them lived in inner-city areas, getting to a central railway station was easy. Nowadays, most people do not live in inner-city areas. They have to get to the railway station by some form of road transport, whether that is bus, taxi or car, and we shall have to contemplate parkway stations, so that people with cars can reach a place where they can get on a train without causing chaos in the inner-city area. Those arguments can be developed in greater depth on another occasion.

I finish on what I call the Milton Keynes mistake, which was a Government mistake, but not one of this or the previous Government's making. Milton Keynes should have been built using the original proposal for a figure-of-eight railway line linking up the villages. One continuous railway line would have allowed everyone to get from the villages to the centre of Milton Keynes by public transport relatively simply.

Such a concept brings together public and private partnership in a way that provides advantages to all sorts of people. It allows the village to be the centre of a community, and the town centre to be the place of congregation and work, and of links to the rest of the world.

That was a planning issue spotted by the architect at the time, but it should have been carried through and duplicated—not imposed. Finding out the greatest advantage to the individual and the group, to my mind, sums up progressive conservatism.

10.13 am
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I received a larger postbag on this Bill than on many measures, and what was impressive was that many of the letters were individually written. Constituents sometimes feel that they have discharged their democratic responsibilities by scribbling an illegible signature at the bottom of a badly reproduced letter and sending it off to their Member of Parliament "demanding action", and think that it has made a valid contribution to the debate. I do not think that it does, and sometimes I have not endeared myself to my constituents by pointing that out. Whether that has anything to do with the fact that my majority is now 281 as opposed to 9,500 I do not know. Somebody once said that a coward dies a thousand deaths and a brave man dies but once. I have done it a few more times than that, but there we are.

There have been a great many letters. Some of them have obviously been orchestrated, but many have not, and that is quite impressive. The curious thing about it is that the letters that I have received quote the title of the Bill, but they are not talking about this Bill at all. What they are talking about is what they would like to see in a Bill called something like the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill. Sometimes, I have had to write back and say, "You're making a splendid case for a Bill, but I have to tell you that it is not the Bill before the House of Commons."

Mr. Forth

I am not asking my hon. Friend to divulge too many of the secrets of his postbag, but perhaps he would say what proportion of his electorate has taken the initiative to write to him to express their interest in the Bill. So that we can get some idea of the true concern among his constituents, given that he said that it is a large response of an unusual kind, can he give us some idea of the scale?

Mr. Nicholls

When I said that it was a large response, I meant large compared with other people who write to me about other issues. I have not totalled it. I think that it is probably into three figures. It is probably about 100 people. There is a school of thought—hon. Members sometimes take comfort from this if they have larger majorities than mine—that, if one gets 100 letters on an issue, it must mean that 74,900 people are not worried about it either way. Although that can be comforting, I am not so sure that it is true. Letter writing is a form of contribution to public life, if it is done well and is not just signing something that is pre-written.

In the same way that local political parties and local charities are run by a tiny number of people in any constituency, there is usually a great groundswell behind a campaign. One often says that behind a Conservative poster there is one vote and behind a Liberal poster there are 10. Although there may not be many actual letters, the matter does interest people. What troubles me is that, when they have written to me about the Bill, they have said that it will do things that it simply will not. People say that the Bill must be passed because, when it is, there will be substantial road traffic reductions.

In some ways, that is quite chilling because, by and large, the people who have written live in the three main towns in my constituency. They are not writing from Dartmoor. They are not writing from a rural location where, if they were not able to drive, it would be quite impossible for them to get in and out of a town to buy things. In a stern and sometimes condescending attitude, people will write that others are making unnecessary journeys. We all know the definition of an unnecessary journey: a journey that somebody else makes that we would not need to make ourselves.

We also know that road traffic reduction targets are all very well but, as a perk of one's ministerial job—I do not criticise the Minister for this, as I thoroughly enjoyed it—one has a ministerial car. I suppose that some members of the present Government are so genuinely caught up on their own convictions that they are putting in applications for ministerial bicycles, with baskets in the front for their red boxes, but by and large they are going around in ministerial cars. I find it remarkable when people write to me to say, "It's got to be done, as people are making unnecessary journeys," and when people unrealistically think that the taxpayer could or should provide a system of public transport that is so comprehensive that it could replace the service that people have to provide for themselves in their own village.

At times, I write back and say, "Hang on a second"—because I will live dangerously—"I disagree with what you want. I think you are simply wrong. I have to tell you that this Bill is not it." I usually get letters back to tell me that I have not read the Bill properly. It does not take long to read this Bill, and I shall come back to that point in a moment. I sometimes write back and ask which part of the Bill will reduce road traffic. So far, I have not received a single reply to that, for two reasons. Either people simply do not know—that will be most—or some will have taken the trouble to go down to the public library and read the Bill, which will not take them long.

One of the refreshing features of the Bill is that it can probably be understood on first reading. It might be necessary, however, to read it twice, for a reason to which I shall refer. That having been done, the reader can understand it. Anyone who goes to a public library thinking, "I'm going to persuade my Member of Parliament to vote for the Bill on Second Reading because it will bring about major road traffic reductions in my area," will be disappointed when he comes to read it.

When the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) spoke in favour of the motion that the Bill be read the Third time—I hope that he will not mind me saying that I think he did it extremely well—he set out a case for a Bill that is not before the House. I jotted down some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said. If it was in order for him to make such remarks, even though they might not have related directly to the Bill, it must be in order for me to refer to them in passing.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill will save lives, improve health and reduce road traffic. I am sure that there is such a Bill out there somewhere, ready to be written. I could even have a go at preparing such a measure now. I could share with the House, if it were in order to do so—I accept that it would not—what that Bill might be. I can assure the House, however, that it would not be the Bill that is before us. This Bill will do none of the things that the hon. Gentleman claims it will, to which I have referred. Instead, the Bill is about aspirations. It is an attempt to refer obliquely to the Bill that might have been, but will not be.

I do not criticise the hon. Member for Ceredigion, because we have all in our time been in a position when we have believed passionately in something. For all I know—I do not know him particularly well—when the hon. Gentleman came into politics the one thing that he wanted to do was introduce and take through the House a Bill that would bring about a reduction in road traffic. I may think that that is unrealistic, but that objective may have mattered to him passionately.

As a result, the hon. Gentleman drafts the Bill. He starts the process with which we are all familiar when we initiate private Bills. He needs to know, of course, whether he will receive Government support, and finds that he will not. However, I have a rather high regard for the Under-Secretary. She has dealt with a number of my constituency cases extremely briskly instead of merely shuffling trays around. I have high hopes of her, in due course, when it comes to the Kingskerswell bypass. That means that I shall restrain myself and not go through in any detail—others may not have the same restraint—the hon. Lady's position on those matters before she became a Minister and her present position. However, I am not sure that the facts have changed. Perhaps it is simply that the style of motor transport has changed.

It is quite significant that there was an exchange of correspondence between the hon. Member for Ceredigion and the Minister which was referred to in a Press Association news bulletin. I assume that the reference is correct. The hon. Gentleman apparently sent a letter to the Minister, to which she replied as follows:

The Government will not oppose a Second Reading, subject to your agreeing in the debate to address a number of detailed reservations. There is something about the way that civil servants help to draft ministerial responses that I always love, even though they helped me to do it.

What were the reservations? We shall hear about them in due course. What was the effect of that process? It was that the hon. Gentleman, if he wished to get his Bill through the House, would have to propose some pretty radical amendments to it. The issue arose in the context of a meeting that the Minister was invited to attend in her constituency. Anyone who has been a Minister will savour her response. When writing to explain why she would not attend the meeting organised by Friends of the Earth—this is marvellous—she said: I regret that I am not able to accept your invitation. It gets better when she writes: I am sorry that this will be a disappointing reply but I understand that the Bill will not be published before the beginning of January and until I know the provisions of the Bill, it is simply not possible for me to explain what my position on the Bill will be.

We are all politicians, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You used to be before you moved to a higher plane. What politician is not prepared to express a view on a Bill that he or she has never seen? We do it all the time. For us lowly people on the Back Benches, that is all we can do. However, the Minister is in a better position than that. She can write not only her own Bills but private Members' Bills. Although the hon. Lady may not have known the contents of the Bill, she could have written, "I'll tell you what, I am like other politicians in that I never pass judgment on a Bill that I have not seen, but I will"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is humorously discussing interesting matters. I am not so interested in what the Minister could do as in what the hon. Gentleman can do, and that is to keep within the terms of a Third Reading debate. What is done is done, and what is won is won. The Bill's Third Reading is before us. What the Minister did or failed to do has nothing to do with me.

Mr. Nicholls

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You enable me to move straight into the Bill and to say what the Minister did. It is obvious that she will not oppose the Bill today in the light of what happened at an earlier stage.

Perhaps the best bit of the Bill reads: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty". That is rather a nice phrase. The reader then thinks that he will move on to something rather better. There is the obligation in the Bill that is to be found in clause 2, which reads: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, subject to subsection (2) and with the aim of reducing the adverse environmental and all that. The aim behind the Bill is set out. That is marvellous and that is the bit that the hon. Member for Ceredigion wanted. However, subsection (2) states that the Secretary of State is not obliged to comply with the requirements of subsection (1)". The first subsection imposes an obligation and the second one states that the Secretary of State does not have to comply with it.

We have heard talk—perhaps we may hear more today—about Henry VIII clauses. Subsection (2) is more a Ghengis Khan clause. It reads: The Secretary of State is not obliged to comply with the requirement of subsection (1) if he considers that other targets, or other measures"—

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I think that my hon. Friend has erred. Is it not the Ethelred the Unready clause?

Mr. Nicholls

It may be. I prefer Ghengis Khan because of the brutal nature of the clause. I suspect that Ethelred the Unready was a deeply misunderstood social democrat of his day. The clause is much worse than my right hon. and learned Friend suggests. It states that the Secretary of State does not have to do anything if he considers that other targets or other measures are more appropriate—

Mr. Robathan


Mr. Nicholls

It is not even Machiavellian. It is absolutely Ghengis Khan. The clause does not state that The Secretary of State's judgment has to be submitted to Parliament. Instead, it provides the merest fig leaf. Only a moron in a hurry would think that the fig leaf will work. The clause tells us that, if the Secretary of State decides to take action, he shall publish a report explaining his reasoning and including an assessment of the impact of the other targets or other measures on road traffic reduction. That is it.

The Bill continues and mentions one or two other things. It comes to a brief end after about another half a page. That is it: there is no obligation on the Minister to comply with the requirements of the Bill. To describe the Bill as flaccid would suggest a degree of rigidity that would be completely inappropriate. The one tiny and pathetic subsection that might conceivably do some good—it certainly could not do any harm—is neutered in the next subsection by allowing all discretion to rest with the Minister.

I came along to the House today notwithstanding the fact that my constituents' concerns are not reflected in the Bill. I have been in politics long enough to know that, if I write to people to the effect, "This Bill is not what you think it is and therefore it should be opposed," they will not understand.

The Bill can be summed up in one quaint old phrase: like the chambermaid's baby, it is only a small one. The Bill will not do very much harm. I suppose the worst feature is the number of trees that have been slaughtered to produce the wood pulp to enable it, and other documentation, to be printed. It will not do much harm, but let nobody think that it will do the slightest bit of good.

10.27 am
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I shall speak briefly and a little more enthusiastically about the Bill than my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). I think that, strangely enough, there is in politics a place for exhortation, and that what the Bill does is exhort. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) shaking his head. I think that there is some value in the exhortation is that is contained in the Bill and I therefore give it a gentle welcome.

I am pleased to see the qualifications in clause 2(3) that require the Secretary of State, before targets are published for road traffic reduction, to have regard to matters such as "congestion",

danger to other road users", "social impacts", "effects on air quality" and "effects on health". Those considerations are of crucial importance to roads issues in my constituency.

The Minister knows that I have spent a great deal of time banging on about the Great Barford bypass and the need for the Bedford western relief road, which are highly relevant to the Bill. The position would be eased if there were a 10 per cent. reduction in traffic, but even if the Bill achieved that objective, there would still be a need for the bypasses for exactly the reasons that the Minister is rightly enjoined to consider "congestion", danger to other road users and "social impacts". The exhortation to consider the road traffic position in the round and in the context of an integrated transport policy, which is a grand way of saying that people should be able to find a bus or a train to get on after parking their cars, is valuable.

Mr. Dafis

Although I do not want to assist in spinning the debate out, I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's gentle support for the Bill, but he should not get away with claiming that it is only about exhortation. Clause 2(1) states: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State", which is a little more than exhortation. The duty can be suspended only in certain circumstances—I have mentioned clause 2(2)—but the fundamental is that a requirement would be placed on the Secretary of State, so the Bill is not only about exhortation.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I do not want to take away the hon. Gentleman's achievement, but he undervalues exhortation, which is a crucial part of politics. It is an aspect of leadership and gives people direction. He is perhaps closer to my point than he thinks. What would it be the Secretary of State's duty to do? There is a duty to set and publish in a report targets for road traffic reduction in England. Wales and Scotland. The duty is not to reduce road traffic, but to set targets. People aim to achieve targets, and when we exhort people to do something, we suggest a direction in which they should go.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. and learned Friend rightly says that there is an important role in politics for exhortation and that politicians should give a lead where they think it appropriate. My difference with him is that I have grave doubts about whether legislation and law making form an appropriate vehicle through which to exhort or to give leadership. I am asking for his advice and will obviously defer to his judgment ultimately, but should not the role of the law be much more specific and much more firmly based for it to be effective? I have difficulty with legislating to exhort, not with the concept of exhortation.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I understand, and to a considerable extent sympathise with, my right hon. Friend's point, but, in a democratic country, messages need to be put across and we need to set a sense of direction. We should not be so grand and so restrictive about the purposes of legislation that we do not occasionally use it to exhort and to push Governments of all flavours in a particular direction, especially through private Members' Bills.

When we were in power, we were willing to be pushed on many of the issues to which the Bill rightly refers. We were making progress with, for example, the practical impacts in Bedfordshire of trying to improve the quality of people's lives and the safety of people in villages such as Great Barford by getting on with building bypasses. We were making big efforts, under the private finance initiative and through the introduction of private money for road building, in the large new housing estates that will develop to the west of Bedford to achieve a Bedford western relief road. If the Bill will help with such matters—I hope that the Minister will say that it will—it will have a valuable effect in its exhortationary function.

10.33 am
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

It pains me to disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), but the pain is offset by the pleasure of admitting that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) said most of what I had intended to say. However, that will not stop me saying a little more to give him my complete support.

In making my notes about the Bill and when listening to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), I picked out the headings that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge pursued, but I shall put a slightly different emphasis on them. A number of my reservations about the Bill are similar to his. One is that it is driven by a single-interest group. Such Bills are becoming more common. There is a burgeoning—some say that that is healthy in a democracy—of well-funded and well-organised interest groups, but they do not always represent a majority or a widely-based view.

I intervened on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire to press him on how widespread the response to the Bill has been, generated as it has been by a single-interest group. Politicians should, as I did, measure the response by counting the number of spontaneous letters that they received from the electorate on the matter before the Bill arrived on the scene and before the single-interest group got to work. That is the acid test of how much the public are concerned.

I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge, but over the past two or three weeks there has been a well organised phone-in campaign in my constituency about the Bill and, of late, about one or two others. I pay tribute to the extent to which Friends of the Earth has organised the telephone campaign by its supporters in my constituency. I have enjoyed some interesting conversations with my constituents on the matter, and I shall mention them later because they reflect my hon. Friend's remarks.

To date, 25 or 30 constituents have been in contact with me. No doubt Friends of the Earth has more paid-up members in Bromley and Chislehurst, but only those people contacted me to say how much they supported the Bill.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

How much correspondence does the right hon. Gentleman receive from constituents who are not members of pressure groups complaining about the impact of traffic congestion, noise, smell, vibration and pollution on their lives?

Mr. Forth

At a rough estimate—I should not like the hon. Gentleman to hold me to it too strictly—about one letter a month. My constituency is a busy and, happily, relatively affluent outer-London suburb that enjoys a lot of traffic. I should have thought that I would have received more of a response if the concern to which hon. Members have referred existed. To date, I have not had such a spontaneous response.

It is claimed that the genesis of such Bills reflects widespread public support, but I challenge that argument because I do not believe that they do. Politicians may be subjected to pressure through their postbag or through telephone calls, but it is our responsibility to make a judgment about the extent to which that reflects widespread genuine public concern.

Mr. Robathan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that orchestrated letter-writing or telephone campaigns can lead one to adopt a more sceptical position? Although 100 constituents out of 70,000 may have written, we should consider the other side of the issue more closely.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Any group that puts pressure on Members of Parliament must make a careful judgment about the nature of that pressure and its likely effect.

In my discussions with constituents who made telephone calls at the prompting of the interest group behind the Bill, I took the trouble, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge, to ask—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to dwell on his constituency contacts or on a campaign, because, as I have said, we are past that stage. The House has decided on the Bill's earlier stages, and we are now on Third Reading.

Mr. Forth

That allows me to go into the point that I was making. I asked my constituents how they thought that the Bill would lead to the reduction in traffic on which they were so keen. That was not an unreasonable question. I said, "You have taken the trouble to call me to say how much you support the Bill's aims as set out in its short title." It was not unreasonable to ask them, "What sort of reductions do you envisage as a result of the Bill?" We often got into interesting conversations about whether the traffic that is generated by parents who are taking their children to school would be reduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) mentioned that. Some people said yes, but others were not so keen.

We are familiar with the list of categories such as families going to the supermarket to do their weekly shopping, people visiting relatives and elderly people who feel more secure in their cars than they do on public transport or in walking. Many kinds of traffic arise from family and personal circumstances and one must ask, "Which type of journey do we envisage being reduced perhaps not as a result of the Bill, but to reach the targets that the Government will eventually set?"

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge spoke about aspirations, a word that I have in my notes. My hon. Friend got there before me. The problem with Bills such as this one is that it is easy for them to result in aspirations or to exhort through legislation. However, if we have no clear idea of how to achieve results, we are being irresponsible. It is the duty of those who support such legislation to have a clear idea, even if it is not expressed, of exactly what traffic they envisage will be reduced, the effect on people's lives, and the cost implications. I hope that the Minister will deal with those matters in detail.

Mr. Dafis

The report by John Whitelegg goes through the categories of traffic and describes by how much specific types can be reduced and by what means. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the Bill is driven by a single interest group. It is supported by a broad range of organisations and many local authorities. A MORI poll that was published just before Second Reading showed that 79 per cent. of people wanted road traffic to be reduced. The Bill responds to a popular demand.

Mr. Forth

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has made that point because I am prepared to do a deal with him. If he is prepared to proceed with legislation on the basis of opinion polls and support, I shall trade my support for the Bill for his support for the restoration of capital punishment. As he knows, time and again people give their overwhelming support to proposals for the restoration of capital punishment. I am prepared to discuss with the hon. Gentleman the interesting notion of legislating by opinion poll, but, if we take that route, the hon. Gentleman must not be too selective.

I shall not pursue that line, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you might not approve of it. Legislating by such means is rather dubious. To say that many organisations want such measures is not conclusive or definitive. We have a responsibility to think about what real people in their ordinary lives think. Organisations have agendas, to which they are legitimately entitled.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The Bill places on the Minister responsibilities and duties to set a strategy and road traffic reduction targets. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be fine if people chose to travel fewer miles because that made their lives better? Is it by choice that we have the lowest homicide rate in the European Union?

Mr. Forth

Indeed. If we could find a way to combine freedom of choice with the Bill's aims, that would be ideal, but that is not the way that the case has been put. We are told that the Government will make a necessarily arbitrary decision about how much they think road traffic should be reduced and that, by some mysterious process which we do not yet fully understand, although the hon. Member for Ceredigion has an expert in whom he has touching faith, all the problems will be solved.

In his speech, to which we all listened carefully, the hon. Member for Ceredigion did not give an exhaustive list. That is a pity, because such a list would have been relevant. However, he mentioned parking, bus promotion, the use of bicycles, and traffic management. I agree that it is perfectly reasonable to charge for parking facilities. I belong to the school of thought that prefers the pricing approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West said, that would enable people to choose, which is what we expect them to do over cigarettes and car use. The Government continually increase the price of petrol.

People are given the message that the Government of the day think that consumers should base their judgments and priorities on cost. I have no difficulty with that concept, but it is not the same as bus promotion, which sounds good when it is said quickly, but I suspect means little.

Mr. Paterson

On the issue of pricing, does my hon. Friend agree that sticking excess duty on fuel is a crude, blunderbuss approach and not a reflection of the market? There are other ways to get closer to people's travel choices, but the blanket imposition of fuel duty hits everybody.

Mr. Forth

In my haste to be brief, I am in danger of glossing over such matters. My hon. Friend rightly stops me on the point that, although I support a pricing approach, I agree that the universal imposition of tax on products such as petrol ignores the complexity of the market and of the structure of transport with which the Bill aspires to deal. For example, there are differences between my hon. Friend's constituency and mine. Mine is urban or suburban, while his is much more rural, and that gives rise to different traffic reduction requirements. In the context of the Bill's aspirations, how far do we think that the measures that are likely to flow from it, if any, will make the distinction that my hon. Friend reasonably seeks? Will there be a much more sophisticated approach, using the pricing mechanism, to acknowledge the difference in the type of traffic geographically and by social groups? I shall not labour the point, but I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his intervention.

Bus promotion encounters the great difficulty that arises when people look to public transport, broadly and loosely defined, as the answer to most of the problems. The difference in nature between journeys that are undertaken in cars and those that people are able to undertake by public transport is so complete that the public transport solution probably has only limited applicability to reducing overall traffic.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

When my right hon. Friend intervened during my speech, he rightly said that we in the Conservative party can think about more than one topic. Perhaps he would focus on clause 2(2), which states that the Secretary of State is not obliged to comply with certain requirements if he considers that other targets, or other measures, are more appropriate for the purpose of reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic". Does that not encourage the Minister to do what I am sure my right hon. Friend would wish to be done when we wend our way through Chislehurst, and I would wish to be done when I see the increasing congestion and accidents in Great Barford and to the west of Bedford, and to build decent roads when they are needed as part of the response to the Bill?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. That is an interesting point. As he is well aware, one school of thought is that, the more roads we build, the more traffic we encourage, and I am intrigued that, in expressing his broad support for the Bill, he should almost in the same breath make a plea for a bypass. People whose views on this matter are much more sophisticated than mine argue that the M25 is a classic example of something that was designed to ease traffic and has done the opposite. We have to resolve that question clearly before we go much further.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion, the Bill's promoter, cited buses as one of the things that his pet expert, in whom he has obviously touching faith, had suggested to make progress and to solve the problem. No matter how many buses we produce and how sophisticated and pollution-free they may be, I cannot for the life of me see how they are going to replace the vast majority of those journeys that are undertaken by the citizenry in their cars for personal, family or private purposes.

Let us look more specifically at that, and take the vexed question of children's journeys to school. One of the arguments of the hon. Member for Ceredigion was that the Bill would save lives. He then mentioned children's lives. I wondered about that when he said it because it occurred to me that there is at least a possibility—I shall put it no higher than that—that, if we were to lure or force children out of their parents' cars and have them take the bus or walk, as schoolchildren did when someone of my generation was at school, or even my own children did, there is at least a possibility that the accident rate among school-age children might increase, not decrease.

Mr. Robathan

My right hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point, because, if all children were to walk or bicycle, particularly, to school, the chances are that there would be greater casualties. However, he must go one step further and ask: whose fault would that be? Would it be the fault of the child walking or bicycling, or of the motorist going too fast and driving too badly?

Mr. Forth


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot go as wide as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is going. There are items in the Bill, and it is up to him to speak to those and not go beyond the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Forth

I am, as ever, grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was perhaps making the mistake of picking up the points that the hon. Member for Ceredigion had made in his speech. I thought that that was what debate was supposed to be about, but perhaps the modernisation of the House has hit that on the head, along with so many other excellent traditions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that, if the right hon. Gentleman were the promoter of the Bill, he would be given some leeway, but we have gone beyond that and I am going to be very firm. It is nothing to do with the modernisation of the House. It is to do with the rules of the House, which are that, on Third Reading, comments must relate to what we have before us—and that is the Bill.

Mr. Forth

God forbid that I should ever be the promoter of a Bill, but perhaps my time will come. Then other colleagues will be able to have much fun at my expense, but I hope that that is a long way off.

I do not want to prolong the debate unnecessarily, but I did want to put the few views that I have expressed on the record, if only so that, if any more of my constituents telephone me, I can send them the extract from Hansard to show them what I have to say, rather than take the trouble of writing lengthy letters of explanation. As colleagues will be aware, Hansard is extremely useful in that regard. More important, I wanted the hon. Member for Ceredigion to understand the extent of my reservations about the Bill, although I am sure that it will proceed in a gentle and orderly fashion to its next stage in the legislative process.

I have no desire necessarily to stop that process, but we should all be aware that there is a danger that the expectations that are raised by such Bills and by those who promote them are in themselves dangerous. There is always a probability of disillusionment with the legislative process if we raise hopes too much with such Bills and then find that we are unable to deliver. That, I hope, will not be the case, although I fear that, with this Bill, it is extremely probable.

10.54 am
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on Third Reading, to welcome the Bill and to welcome the endeavours of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) in bringing it before the House. I do not share the scepticism of some of my hon. Friends—not because I do not appreciate their view that there is a measure of exhortation, as opposed to substance, in the Bill, but because I believe that it is going in the right direction. Let me explain why.

First, although there will be general approval throughout the House, and, indeed, among large percentages of people in opinion polls, for the concept that road traffic should be reduced, the reality is very different, as I know from my constituency. My constituency has three motorways going through it and faces the threat of motorway widening and of motorway service areas being built, usually in deciduous woodland that will be gutted or blown like an egg so that no more than the fringes around it are preserved.

In my constituency, there is much opposition to road traffic, and much concern about the way in which it reduces the quality of life. However, I also have to accept the fact that I represent a constituency—indeed, I have my own car on the edge of the constituency—where car ownership is the highest in the UK. When representative polling samples are taken in the constituency and people are asked their primary local concern, they answer, "Free car parking places." I must accept that, in those circumstances, my constituents are sending a double message.

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs)

Double standards.

Mr. Grieve

No, not double standards. My constituents genuinely wish their quality of life to improve—in relation to traffic, exhaust emissions and the like—but, at the same time, they share the problem faced by people throughout this country: the motor car remains the only means by which they can get from the place where they start their journey to the place where they intend to finish it. Most of the alternatives start from a place where they do not intend to start and finish at a place where they do not intend to finish. Until that issue is dealt with, or until there is a change in culture, we shall not make progress.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and I—I am sorry that he has just left the Chamber, but he has already sat through quite a lot of peroration from hon. Members, so I will forgive him that—have the privilege and pleasure of serving on the Environmental Audit Committee. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me about what has emerged during our deliberations over the months. Leaving aside my constituency, there is an enormous gulf between the revivalist aspirations represented by Ministers coming before the Committee and the environmental improvements that they wish to achieve, and the reality; and structures that may enable us to deal with that reality have not been set up.

Although it has been said that the Bill has been gutted by Government intervention, it appears that two key matters remain in the Bill. The first is the duty on the Secretary of State to publish and report road traffic reduction targets, and the second is that, even if he can wriggle off that hook so that he does not have to comply with the requirements, he will have to explain why, and publish that explanation.

Because of that, I—and, I should like to think, the hon. Member for Ceredigion—have a fertile area for further questioning on the Select Committee. We have a number of opportunities to question the revivalist approach—more characteristic of a Welsh chapel than anything else—that appears to animate some Ministers as they explain to us the wonderful new world that we are about to enter, and to introduce a little more hard reality. Even if the Bill achieves that purpose alone, it will still be worth while.

Road traffic reduction is a highly desirable goal, but it is also extremely difficult to achieve. One should not hazard oneself to prophesy, but when the reports are published in the next few years I should be surprised to find anything other than clear evidence that road traffic reduction targets are not being met and that road traffic is increasing. That is the grim reality.

Mr. Green

What is the use of targets if there are no penalties for failing to meet them? If the targets have to be met by the Secretary of State, it is inconceivable that any Government would allow legislation that would impose meaningful penalties on him. If there are no penalties, how useful are the targets?

Mr. Grieve

I accept that targets of themselves will not necessarily lead to a beneficial result. However, they will at least oblige the Secretary of State to set out what he believes to be achievable and, subsequently, to come before the House or the Select Committee to explain why he has not been able to meet them. He will then have to face the reality of why the targets are difficult to meet. To be more optimistic, the Secretary of State could come before the House or the Committee to say how, by some great and wonderful miracle, the targets have been achieved or are near to being achieved. That is desirable—

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Surely the issue is not whether the Secretary of State personally suffers some penalty if the targets are not met, but whether we can achieve an overall general improvement in the quality of life. Tens of thousands of people make a certain decision on 300-odd days of the year. Surely we should be trying to achieve a framework that will spot the things that matter, and not concentrate on the unimportant.

The Bill raises several issues on which the Minister could help to focus attention. No one expects the Minister to issue regulations—which could not be done under this Bill anyway—saying, "Thou shalt", or "Thou shalt not."

Mr. Grieve

I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I was about to make precisely those points. He has outlined exactly what the Bill will achieve and the benefit that will flow from it. The fact that the Bill's aim is modest does not detract from the fact that it is an essential building block in promoting the beneficial results that we want to achieve.

We have a long haul ahead of us. As I said earlier, Ministers come to the House and express themselves in revivalist terms in general, but never provide details of substance. It is time that we and they woke up to the fact that the issues of environmental improvement generally and road traffic reduction in particular are difficult. The Bill takes a small step in that direction. It will allow for greater scrutiny, which in turn will allow for greater public debate. That will allow for the changes in culture that we hope will enable people to take a different view of the use of their cars and become more inventive and creative about the use of alternatives.

On that basis, I am happy to support the Bill, and join my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Ceredigion in commending it to the House.

11.3 am

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House, for being today's miscreant in the mobile phone stakes. I would not like to be the hon. Member who, during Welsh questions on Monday, fled before Madam Speaker could identify him as that day's miscreant. It behoves those of us who pass laws to own up when we break the laws of the House.

The range of views expressed on the Bill this morning have been interesting—from a gentle welcome to severe reservations. That is a sensible range of responses. I assure the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) that I am at the gentle welcome end of the spectrum. To be honest, I do not think that the Bill will do a tremendous amount of good in achieving road traffic reductions, but it will do no harm. Indeed, some small amount of good may come from raising the issue in the public consciousness and putting a measure on the statute book that imposes continuous obligations on successive Secretaries of State to think about the issue.

The Bill has been improved as it has passed through its various stages, and may be improved yet further. Some of the improvements have been due to some of the Minister's more spectacular retreats. I look forward, with more than my usual eager anticipation, to her speech at the end of the debate. I am sure that she has prepared an enormous number of supportive remarks about the importance of road traffic reduction. It will be entertaining to see how she squares that with the fact that the Government have pulled many of the teeth out of the Bill, both during its various stages and following negotiations with the hon. Member for Ceredigion. In fact, I support the Minister, as I think that she has done the right thing.

The Bill imposes a responsibility on the Secretary of State. The House might find it useful to consider how, in practice, national targets would be implemented. As several hon. Members have said, there is a similar measure already on the statute book. It imposes similar responsibilities on local authorities for assessment and consideration of traffic issues. Obviously, local authorities can fulfil their responsibilities in a detailed way, while being sensitive to local conditions. This Bill is a much more ambitious attempt at traffic reduction because it sets national targets for England, Scotland and Wales. The danger is that they will be vacuous.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has already said that we should draw a distinction between traffic problems in different parts of the country. What are perceived to be the main traffic problems in urban areas—usually congestion and pollution—are entirely different from those in rural areas, which often boil down to heavy lorries on unsuitable country roads and a lack of adequate public transport.

My constituency is more or less 50:50 urban and rural, so my constituents, depending on where they live, suffer from all those problems. The danger of national targets is that, unless the Secretary of State wills it, he will not be able to fine-tune the targets. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the targets set out in clause 2 will not be imposed flatly, but that the Secretary of State will provide a more sophisticated response.

Given the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for regionalism, which I do not share, I have no doubt that he will be tempted to provide regional targets. Much more important is that the overall national targets should be broken down by categories of specific problems. Within the national targets, the Secretary of State should recognise the necessity for targets to increase public transport in rural areas and to keep lorries and other heavy goods vehicles on appropriate roads and off inappropriate ones, but also the necessity for an entirely different set of targets to reduce urban congestion and consequent pollution. Without that fine-tuning of the national targets, I am very much afraid that the net effect of the Bill will be small.

Mr. Paterson

It is all very well setting targets, but how does my hon. Friend suggest the Minister introduces practical measures to achieve them?

Mr. Green

That is a very important point. In many ways, I would prefer the national targets set out in the Bill to be put into effect at local level, instead of the decision being taken by Ministers or officials in Whitehall. Each locality will know what measures and targets are appropriate for its area and will be able to make a much more practical and sensitive response to the needs of local people.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I thank my hon. Friend for his customary courtesy in giving way. My local authority wrote to me asking me to support the Bill because, certainly at that time, it believed that the Bill would give it the power to set its own targets. Unfortunately, that is no longer in the Bill before us.

Mr. Green

I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says, because legislation already exists that enables local authorities to do just that. The Bill refers specifically to national targets. I am interested to learn that my hon. Friend's local authority wants to set local targets, and, in view of what we are learning from this morning's debate, perhaps he will be able to guide his authority in an appropriate direction, for which I know it will be extremely grateful.

I was talking about the interface between national and local targets. One hopes that the Bill has some practical effect, not least because, as hon. Members have already observed, our postbags have been bulging with letters on this issue—although I have to say that I have received more mail on other subjects. It is certainly true that there is a widespread expectation that, once the Bill has been debated, and, I hope, passed, something will happen and there will be a reduction in road traffic. However, the mechanism for getting from here to there is not apparent unless the Secretary of State takes up the responsibilities given to him in clause 2(1) but neatly taken from him in clause 2(2).

When the fine tuning to which I referred takes place, it is important that it is appropriate. My local authority in Ashford is going through a phase of closing roads. It regards that as an appropriate way to improve the flow of traffic through the town. Many local businesses are extremely anxious and oppose individual road closures, and are probably right to do so. Local authorities that take a fairly broad-brush approach may well get it wrong and cause economic damage.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion pointed out that there are economic aspects to the traffic problem, so some economic analysis is needed. The Bill mentions the economic damage caused by excessive traffic, but the House must recognise that economic damage can also be caused by inappropriate traffic reduction measures. Once the Bill is passed, one hopes that those who are required to implement it will strike the proper balance.

As I said, my constituency is half rural. The traffic changes that rural dwellers are seeking are not the same as those sought by urban dwellers. One of the weaker parts of the Bill is its reference to the provision of adequate taxi services in rural and non-rural areas. I am sure it is clear to the Bill's promoter that those who are most concerned about the provision of transport in rural areas are those least likely to be regular users of taxis. Taxis in rural areas tend to be extremely expensive. Constituents who complain to me about public transport in their villages tend to be either young people or the elderly and the retired who cannot afford regular journeys by taxi, so more thought is needed on that issue.

In the end, cost will be the key. If there is to be a serious attempt to reduce the use of private cars in rural areas through the increased provision of public transport, I have to tell the Minister in all conscience that the —50 million nationally that the Government provided in the Budget is only a drop in the ocean. For the Minister's sake, I hope that the Government do not talk that up too much as a great initiative because in a year or two people will be saying that it has made no impact in their areas.

I hope that the Bill will focus the Secretary of State's mind on the transport issues that people regard as important. In my constituency, the fact that the M20 is inappropriately surfaced, making it one of the noisiest motorways in the country as it passes through an urban area, is regarded as important. If we are seen to be tackling transport issues in a way that opinion polls show most people approve of, but there are no practical improvements on the ground, we are in danger of bringing the House into disrepute. People will say that we are just talking and having no practical effect on their lives. That would be disappointing, because the hon. Member for Ceredigion has seized the public mood and moved the debate forward a few inches. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that we do not encourage impractical and inappropriate measures, but that we do not ignore the public mood.

One of my colleagues said that the best he could say about the Bill was that it would not do much harm. Judging from my short time in the House, it seems that, if we are passing a Bill that does not do much harm, it will be one of the better Bills that we shall be passing this Session.

I commend the Bill to the House.

11.17 am
Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs)

I support the Bill's Third Reading and echo what many colleagues have said. Nothing in the Bill appears to be tyrannous. It certainly has the right intentions and reflects what our citizens know must happen in the next 20 years, which is that at least the rate of growth in traffic has to slow down.

I do not for one moment expect the targets that have been mentioned to be achieved. In my constituency, I have not been lobbied in support the Bill, but I have had many letters from pensioners in rural areas complaining about the increase in the price of petrol and wondering how they are going to cope with that.

I hope that the Bill will tease out precisely what the Government's policy on targeting is. I do not wish to put at risk the Arundel bypass scheme, which will be a very necessary relief to congestion on the A27. I thought that the Minister was in favour of a specific 10 per cent. national target, but the fact that the Government have taken the teeth out of the Bill suggests that they are not. I do not know whether they are looking to a targeting system that is aggregated from local targets, or whether they are abandoning the entire concept, which in any case has many flaws. I hope that the Minister will comment on that in her reply.

I am disappointed that the Bill does not focus more on ways of relieving traffic growth and congestion; I had hoped it would widen the territory on which the Minister was required to report annually. I should like to concentrate specifically on fiscal incentives.

One of the largest employers in my constituency is a mushroom grower that employs 500 people, mostly ladies who work different shifts. The company used to run a bus that took them to and from work. When the Inland Revenue told the company that the bus was a taxable benefit in kind, that records would have to be kept and all sorts of other nasty things, the company said, "Forget it," with the result that there are now another 300 cars on the road.

I wrote to the previous Government and, shortly after having the privilege of being elected to represent Arundel and South Downs, I also wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister, but I regret that I received no reply. Fiscal support, not discouragement, to companies, to bus people into work, particularly in rural areas, could be an important factor in reducing traffic growth and congestion.

Reference has been made to children being driven to school. I would comment selfishly that, as I drive to and from the House, I notice the dramatic difference in London traffic in the school holidays and in term time. A fiscal incentive for schools to provide more buses could be extremely positive.

Mr. Swayne

It is not always a matter of transport not being provided. I recently visited a sixth form college and was aghast to discover that a large proportion of the pupils drove to school, despite adequate transport provision. It was a matter of choice.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We appear to be having what is almost a Second Reading debate. On Third Reading we must discuss what is in the Bill and not our experiences in the constituencies we represent.

Mr. Flight

I was alluding to the matters on which the Bill requires the Minister to report, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They probably include the causes of congestion and increase in traffic. Having visited the United States a great deal—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Let me help the hon. Gentleman. At this stage we should not worry about the causes, which should have been addressed on Second Reading and in Committee. Now, on Third Reading, we must consider only the Bill that is before us.

Mr. Flight

I hope that the Government will take the reporting requirements in the Bill to cover a survey of the causes of congestion and rising traffic usage. I hope that such a survey will also include analogies with the way in which other countries are tackling the problems addressed in the Bill.

I welcome the sentiments in the Bill. It is unlikely that it will do much to reduce congestion and road traffic, as that will depend on how the Government use it. I should like to know what their position is on targeting and how they propose to use the reporting requirements. I am nervous that the Bill will become a propaganda sound bite, used to give the impression that the Government are doing something to reduce road traffic when, in reality, virtually nothing is being done. The Government's draft guidance on traffic reduction under the 1997 Act is rather weaker than the promises by John Watts when he was Transport Minister in a previous Government.

11.24 am
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

First, let me declare a minor interest. It is not one for which I receive money; indeed, I pay for it. I have been a member of Friends of the Earth for some years, although I do not always agree with that organisation—I often disagree with organisations that I support, and that included the previous Conservative Government.

I welcome the Bill—I am a junior sponsor of it—as an important step in the right direction. We heard that it wasted a lot of paper, but it is a very small Bill. Sadly, I do not think that it is printed on recycled paper. It is also very cheap at —1.10, if anyone wishes to buy it. It represents a step towards reducing traffic.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who represents a particularly beautiful part of the country that I hope will remain part of the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future. He has stuck tenaciously to the issue, and the Bill is now progressing to Third Reading.

We all know that the Bill is not perfect, but we have to start somewhere. We have to consider how to reduce road traffic. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) made some excellent points, and I shall reiterate two or three of them.

Cycling to school was commonplace when many of us were young. I cycled or walked to school most of the time. It is an obvious way of reducing what accounts for 25 per cent. of traffic in some places during school terms. I hope that the Minister will be active in encouraging road traffic reduction by those means.

Old photographs from the 1930s and post-war show that a huge number of people cycled to work. Now it seems infra dig. We cannot compel people to ride bicycles, but we should encourage them to do so. People drive to the shops when it might be just as easy to walk. I shall not dwell long on my constituency, where there is a large shopping centre at Fosse park. At Christmas time people have to park nearly half a mile away and walk to the shops because of the congestion.

There are many ways of reducing traffic. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) mentioned the fiscal angle. He is absolutely right. We have to encourage a change of behaviour, attitude and culture, and the Bill takes us one step towards that. We all want to reduce congestion, emissions, noise and the incidence of asthma. We want to stop new roads being built through attractive countryside. That is self-evident. The Government and all hon. Members can play a part in influencing and managing the choices that people make.

Mr. Paterson

As a member of Friends of the Earth, can my hon. Friend enlighten us as to what practical measures Friends of the Earth would take to achieve those desirable targets?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to remind us what Friends of the Earth would do. He must address the Bill.

Mr. Robathan

Not only do I bow to your wisdom, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am not a walking encyclopaedia of the policies that Friends of the Earth would have us pursue. I have already mentioned two or three that I know it would support, such as encouraging people to cycle to work and school.

The Government have a role in influencing and promoting choices. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am against compelling or restricting people or legislating unnecessarily, but the Bill encourages us in the right direction.

In defence of the previous Government, may I say that the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), is most committed to cycling, and was chairman of the all-party cycling group. He is also more committed than most hon. Members to reducing road traffic. It was unnecessary for the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) to attack the previous Government, because, in the previous Parliament, I attacked them for displaying much the same attitude as is now displayed by the Labour Government. A former Minister, Steve Norris, became a convert to, and an active promoter of, the cycling strategy, as I am sure the Minister for Transport in London would admit.

The present Government's reaction to the Bill, which is the most pertinent point in this debate, has been to remove from the face of the Bill the road traffic reduction targets, which are what the Bill was all about. Its title is the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill, yet it contains no targets, which I find rather distressing. I should like genuine targets to be put into the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will set such targets at some stage.

Road traffic reduction is a question of influencing people and setting an example. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire bicycles, as do I. I tackled the previous Government on this question as I do the present Government: perhaps Ministers should set an example by not being ferried around in large Jaguars, and by making greater use of public transport, their own feet and bicycles.

How many of the hon. Members who support the Bill regularly use public transport around London? How many use buses, trains, bicycles or their feet? It distresses me to see the large number of people who come not more than a mile and a half to this place by motor car every day. I shall not say how I got here today, but it involved no more than two wheels and a bit of puffing.

Mr. Flight

Was it by train?

Mr. Robathan

No, not a train—a bicycle.

One might say that, to a certain extent, the Bill is all about good intentions, but it is not merely about platitudes. It is about influencing people and setting a good example. It is also about individual action and choice, because individuals must be allowed to determine how they get to their destination. I confess that, when I am not in the Chamber on a Friday, I drive out of London to my constituency. The Government and Parliament have their role in influencing behaviour, and that requires us all—Members of Parliament and those outside as well—to put our actions where our mouth is. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, it is no good saying that we want to see road traffic reduction and then demanding extra car parking space. People must make the connection and be encouraged to use their feet.

If targets were good enough for Kyoto, as the Minister said on Second Reading, it is strange that we should not have targets in this Bill. However, the targets have been removed, and although the Minister has said that she will be setting targets later, traffic will not reduced and the targets will not be met with fine words, good intentions, platitudes or, indeed, well-meaning legislation. Traffic will be reduced by the action of us all, both individually and collectively, but it is Government action to which we look forward.

When the Secretary of State comes to setting targets and publishing a report, we shall examine how the Government have acted; if the Secretary of State falls back on clause 2(2) and takes advantage of the fact that he or she will not be obliged to comply with the requirements", we shall take up that issue as well.

11.32 am
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Some weeks ago, when I rose to speak in a Third Reading debate, I was swiftly silenced by the Chair because I dwelt on what I thought should be in that Bill, what it ought to do and what it did not do, rather than concentrating on what it did do. This morning, I shall put great effort into remaining within order, but the fact that this Bill does nothing at all presents me with a difficulty in speaking about what it does. When the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) introduced the Bill, I agreed with his words in every respect. He said that the Bill was underlined by three questions, the first of which was, why should we reduce traffic? He gave the reasons of health, environmental impact and economic benefit, which are laid out in the Bill and which will flow from the goal to which the Bill aspires. In that respect, I entirely support the Bill.

On the other two questions—by how much and how we might reduce traffic—the Bill is silent. That was my difficulty when several constituents asked me to sign the original early-day motion. I entirely supported the thrust and the goal of the early-day motion, but felt that it was somewhat irresponsible simply to state a target and say that it was desirable without giving any consideration to how that target was to be achieved.

The Bill in its original form would have been a far stronger measure than it has turned out to be. It began its life as the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill, but the targets have been removed. It is politics of the worst sort when a problem is perceived and examined but, instead of dealing with a solution, we end up merely posturing. It is no fault of the hon. Member for Ceredigion, but the Bill as it is now is posturing.

The reason why we have ended up with a targets Bill that has no targets is the attitude displayed by Ministers. Much posturing went on before the general election, and all sorts of early-day motions and petitions were signed and undertakings given about level of traffic and the reduction required; but, once in government, Labour has ensured that, for the Bill to receive a Third Reading, the targets had to be removed. It is monstrous, and Ministers have behaved absolutely unforgivably. This country faces an enormous problem of traffic increase and we sought to set targets for a reduction in traffic, but we now have a Bill from which those targets have been removed. That is most unsatisfactory.

11.36 am
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I regret to say that I have listened to the debate with increasing incredulity. Legislation is a serious matter and we should not legislate unless there is a clear reason for doing so and the legislation will actually achieve something. In their speeches, my hon. Friends have gently welcomed the Bill and then pointed out that it will achieve very little.

I, like other hon. Members, have received representations from constituents as the Bill has metamorphosed from its original form to that which we are debating this morning. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), I have no quibble with what Ministers have had to do to the Bill in order to be able to agree to it. I recognise the difficulty of setting down national targets in legislation and of achieving those targets and thereby achieving the overall policy objective, which is to improve the quality of life of us all.

There are endless means at the Government's disposal to achieve that objective. One way is to increase fuel duties, but we can perceive all sorts of difficulties with that, not the least of which is rural concerns not being identical with urban concerns. Therefore, as a method of achieving a national target, increasing fuel duties cannot work.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said, local councils face difficulties in achieving their objectives—when they close roads, problems are caused for local traders.

The issues are difficult, and the Minister has my sympathy in trying to meet the targets that the Government properly signed up to in Kyoto. I understand why they thought it necessary to gut the Bill, but, having gutted it, why do we not get rid of it? The Bill represents the minimum necessary to give a nod to what all hon. Members would consider appropriate objectives.

It is a perfectly legitimate criticism to say that the House passes far too much legislation. Under any deregulation initiative worth the name, the Bill would fail. It is a matter for the Government whether they want their poor, beleaguered civil servants to produce yet another glossy brochure and more briefing materials, to explain to the public and the Environmental Audit Committee why the targets cannot be set. The only contribution that the Bill would make to road traffic reduction would be negative—a marginal increase in paper production would be needed to produce all the glossy brochures, which would have to be distributed to all the interested parties.

I disagree with hon. Members who have said that we can exert influence only through legislation—we do not need legislation to exhort and to influence people. It is a shame that we have allowed the Bill to get so far, as it is not well able to achieve the objectives that we all support. It is up to the Government if they want to take on more onerous responsibilities, but under a deregulation initiative in years to come, the Bill will not be thought to have been worth the trouble.

11.41 am
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

I heartily congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on the fact that the Bill has come so far. One has to admire someone with strong beliefs, who is elected to Parliament and then brings a private Member's Bill to Third Reading—he must be feeling pretty tense now, as we have been speaking for more than two hours.

I am frustrated, however, as I feel that the Bill represents a missed opportunity. I do not think that any hon. Member believes that traffic, of itself, is good. The Bill outlines the negative aspects of traffic, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) mentioned asthma. I used to be asthmatic and I have two children who are asthmatic, although my family are lucky enough to have been brought up in the countryside, where there are few emissions.

The Bill completely ignores the benefits that the motorised vehicle has brought to our civilisation. All hon. Members have had clothes brought to the House in a motorised vehicle—all the food that we have eaten here today was brought on a truck—and drugs to improve the health of children with asthma travel to chemists' shops on lorries. The Bill will do nothing to change the fact that some traffic is essential.

The Bill confuses excess traffic with congestion. I give two examples from my constituency, where there are severe traffic problems that the Bill will do nothing to help. The Minister was good enough to listen to what I said in an Adjournment debate on the A5, which is not only a national trunk road, but part of the European network—it is critical in moving traffic round Europe. In a road that runs from Felixstowe to Holyhead, 32 miles are single-carriage—those stretches have hardly changed since they were built by Thomas Telford.

The Bill will do nothing to alter the awful situation on that road, where accidents occur every week. As the Minister knows, 25 people have been killed in the past five years, and two weeks ago, two French lorries ran into each other. The Bill may lead the Government down the wrong route of believing that all road building is evil. I believe that a new road must be built in my constituency, as the traffic that is essential to the economy of my area is increasing.

I give another example—in this case, the problem is congestion rather than traffic. The village of Hodnet has been waiting for a bypass for 40 years—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, the hon. Gentleman is raising constituency matters, which is understandable, as I know that he wants to draw those problems to the attention of the House. However, he must talk about the Bill. He could have raised those matters on Second Reading or in Committee, but he must not mention them on Third Reading.

Mr. Paterson

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for tripping me up. I wanted to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, although the Bill is well meaning, national targets will not bring practical benefits to my constituency. Much of our debate has been abstract, whereas I have tried to be concrete and practical.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said—I am delighted that he has resumed his seat, as I can now compliment him—national targets would not work, and most traffic decisions should be taken by local authorities, which understand local problems. In the Soviet Union, national targets were set on the kaleidoscopic activities of the Soviet economy, but they failed completely—it was a total disaster. I cannot see how a Minister in London can set a national target, as there is so much diversity in local economies. I agree with my hon. Friend that targets should be set locally, if they are to be set at all.

We have not sufficiently discussed how the targets can be achieved. In my interventions, I have tried to draw the attention of the House to pricing, as I am convinced that we can reduce traffic only by ensuring that the car or lorry driver thinks before he sticks his key in the ignition, and asks himself whether he needs to make that marginal journey.

I do not believe that the Government thoroughly understand how a market economy works. They have misunderstood how to use the pricing mechanism, and have imposed a vicious increase in fuel duties, which has a blunderbuss effect.

Mr. Dafis

I should point out that the road fuel escalator was devised by the previous Government; the current Government have increased it by 1 per cent.

Mr. Paterson

I am fully aware of that. I do not have to endorse everything that the previous Government did, as I was not a Member of Parliament at the time—I was in business, travelling around the world picking up practical experience, which I am now trying to bring to the House.

Mr. Graham Allen (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

Tell us about the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Paterson

I should be delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman about the CAP another time, as I have very strong views about that, too. The question of fuel duties is fundamental—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not like interrupting any hon. Member, but I must do so today. Unless I am reading a different Bill, I cannot see that it mentions fuel duties. The hon. Gentleman could have raised the matter in Committee, but not on Third Reading—we are rather restricted today.

Mr. Paterson

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for putting me on the right road again.

I was arguing that national targets will not work. I am a confirmed believer in the market, which already works in our transport system by rationing. Traffic will not be reduced unless the marginal cost of the marginal journey hurts the transport consumer. If one wanted to go to from Shropshire to London, it should be unthinkable to take a car through the centre of Birmingham on a motorway. There should be some price mechanism, some barriers to doing so. I have seen such measures working in Oslo, in Bergen and in Singapore. Even the Mersey tunnel has an electronically run toll system; the technology is there.

I would criticise the previous Government for not introducing road pricing. I regret the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who said that studies had shown that road pricing would not work, is no longer in the Chamber. I should have liked to hear why road pricing would not work, because I believe that it is the only practical system that will achieve the Bill's laudable aims. I should be most grateful if the Minister would inform us whether the Government have any plans to trial road pricing schemes.

11.49 am
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I wish to say a few words of support for the Bill. It has had a fair outing this morning, but that is perfectly legitimate, in that many colleagues from different parts of the country have had worries about the Bill, ever since we debated earlier measures in the previous Parliament.

The Government have obviously had concerns, and have insisted on a dilution of the Bill, because they no longer wish to be tied to set targets of the type that they were faithfully promising their electors before the general election. That is why the Bill contains the get-out in clause 2(2) that, if the Secretary of State does not want to set a target, he or she must publish a report setting out alternative means. I shall comment on that later.

Unlike some of my colleagues, perhaps, I have no objection to national targets being set. If one is to achieve anything, one must start with a national target. At Rio, we started with international targets—world targets—and Kyoto has continued the work. Those of us who were there first, saving the world, agreed with that, but unless one starts with national targets, it will be impossible to achieve change in an individual parish in Scotland, England or Wales. Therefore, I have no qualms about the Government going down the route of setting a national target. However, I wish that the Bill had taken into account the fact that targets that may be necessary to reduce congestion in London or other cities, or targets to reduce traffic in London or other cities where there is poor air quality, should be more stringent than those for rural areas. I hope that we shall receive the Government's assurance that they will take such considerations into account when setting a national target. Incidentally, many of us who do not live in London permanently, but are visitors here during the week, suspect that the smog in London is caused, not by motor cars, but by very dirty buses; one is never allowed to point out that diesel engines can do as much as petrol engines to cause poor air quality.

There are especially severe problems of congestion and poor air quality—and, no doubt, social impacts of motoring—in some cities and conurbations. However, I wish that the Bill contained a requirement to the effect that, when setting targets to tackle those pressing problems, and to reduce the ill effects on the health of people in large conurbations, where there may be a perception of too much traffic, at the wrong time of day, and not spread over a long enough period—altering which could deal with much of the problem—the Government must not penalise the many rural motorists who do not suffer congestion or air quality problems.

No doubt vehicle emissions in rural areas contribute to overall CO2 levels and to greenhouse gas, so we should have controls to ensure that the total amount of CO2 produced by vehicles nationally—whether they are in the rural lanes of Shropshire or Cumbria or in the busy streets of London—does not exceed the targets that the Government have adopted.

I believe that the Government have been rash in trying to adopt in Britain stricter targets than those that have been adopted in the rest of the world. The message that came through to me loud and clear when I was negotiating at Rio was that, however much Britain and western Europe may show that they are the good guys in cutting CO2 the Americans would be slightly behind us and China would not do a thing about it.

China, with its sulphurous coal and some of the dirtiest power stations in the world, made it very clear five years ago—I believe that its attitude hardly changed at Kyoto—that, as a developing economy, it regarded global CO2 targets and measures to control its emissions, not as something good to save the world, but as a nasty western capitalist plot to hold back its development.

Mr. Forth

In that context, can my right hon. Friend confirm what I have been led to believe: that domestic heating can give rise to almost as much atmospheric pollution as motor vehicles, if not more? Is he not surprised, therefore, that the Government reduced tax on domestic heating fuels at the same time as increasing taxes on motor vehicle fuels? How does my right hon. Friend square that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to square that, because it is nothing to do with the Bill.

Mr. Maclean

Those in another place might insert a good amendment on that. I shall not go down the route of considering domestic heating in this country, but I shall mention domestic heating in another country.

In India, the country with the second largest population, the huge amount of pollution is caused not by motor vehicles but by fires from heating appliances for the population of 800 million. An astronomical amount of fuel is burned in domestic heating stoves. India does have dirty, polluting cars in cities, but I suspect that the amount of fuel used in fuel-burning stoves is one of the biggest contributors to pollution there. I know that the Foreign Office was engaged in measures to plant a huge number of eucalyptus forests to supply India with more fuel for fires, adding to the problem.

I shall not stray further into that subject. I am merely arguing that, when we are setting national targets to tackle problems in this country, we must never lose sight of the fact that, however much we control our emissions of noxious gases, of CO2 and other gases from road vehicles—and there are merits in controlling them, to control health problems as well as the total amount of CO2—our contribution is but a small pin-prick among the CO2 producers in the world. That is not to say that we should not do our bit.

Mr. Green

Has my right hon. Friend considered that the get-out clause in the Bill, which allows the Secretary of State not to impose the national targets, might be appropriately used if this country were doing all that it could to reduce noxious CO2 emissions, but, as other countries were deliberately not doing so, our efforts here were having no significant impact on global warming?

Mr. Maclean

That would be the only legitimate use of the get-out clause. It was naive and foolish of the Government to come back from Kyoto saying that they had signed up to larger targets than anyone else. Because of the work of the former Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), we are not one of the worst producers of carbon dioxide or sulphur emissions. That is not to say that we should rest up and do nothing more, but we are among the good guys at the top of the league table. If we are to set a good example—more so than other countries—we could end up unfairly impinging on rural constituents.

It is easy to set targets. In the past 18 months, we have had three huge rises in petrol prices, which are impinging disproportionately and unfairly on rural constituents. They have not done much good in terms of dealing with the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. Nor have they solved the air quality problems in London.

The Government will be urban-centred in their approach, and will develop measures that will force people out of their motor cars and on to public transport in the major cities. That can be done, to a certain extent. However, there is no magical integrated transport policy that this or any other Government can think of which can force people in rural counties back on to buses or trains—they just do not exist in large parts of the country.

The Government say that we should go back to the magical days of 1978 before the Tories liberalised the buses. Possibly, there were more buses at that time. We had one on a Saturday going to Penrith—now, we might not have that one bus on a Saturday. However, there was no magical time when buses were running in rural areas every half hour. Most rural areas, if they were lucky, had one bus a week. It is pie in the sky to believe that a grant of £50 million, spread around the rural areas of England, will give us an alternative transport system that will enable people to give up their cars.

I give up my car most of the week—once I drive the 15 miles to Penrith, I get on a train. I should happily do that for ever more and use Branson's service on the west coast main line. However, there is no alternative to my making that car journey, and there is no alternative for thousands of my constituents.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, since the late 1970s, the large increase in car ownership—thanks to the general affluence that our country enjoyed under the previous Conservative Government—has meant that more cars are available to families? Therefore, the challenge is that much greater, in attempting to shift traffic back to buses or any other means of transport. Going back to what happened in terms of bus availability in the 1970s would not be sufficient because, happily, we have more cars, as people have chosen them to travel in.

Mr. Maclean

There has been a steady increase in car ownership since the second world war—it is probably an exponential curve. One might conclude that that is a bad thing, but I would not. It has liberated many of my rural constituents who never had an adequate bus service, even immediately after the war. I meet some wonderful old constituents who reminisce about travelling by bus to Penrith on market day. When I ask why they travelled only on market day, they reply that they had buses only on a Tuesday. Even before the war, there was only one bus, on a Tuesday. They remember times during the war when special service buses were laid on, and they could hitch a lift on them. That was not just in Cumbria—most other large rural counties were the same.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been in the Chamber when I said that making lengthy references to one's constituency is perhaps good for another time, but not for a Third Reading debate.

Mr. Maclean

I accept your chiding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attempting to draw attention to the difficulties and dangers of setting broad-brush national targets that do not take into account the needs of millions of constituents in rural areas who do not suffer from the problems listed in subsection (3).

I have no difficulty with the Government setting national targets, provided that they give us some guidance. I hope that the Minister will tell us clearly that when the Government set their national targets, they will take into account the needs of constituents who do not live in the cities—London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle—in which an integrated transport policy could work.

In those cities, many hundreds of thousands of people could be persuaded to use public transport systems—if they were boosted by more investment—as an alternative. There is no alternative, in large parts of the rest of the country, for the majority of the British people. There is no alternative, even if the Government put up the price of petrol to £10 or £15 a gallon. They will only bring about more poverty in rural areas and they will not be able to force people on to a public transport system that does not exist.

I want to hear from the Minister today how she proposes to set those national targets. I want to hear in what circumstances the Government will use the opt-out in clause 2(2). The opt-out is there for one clear reason: to deal with all the pledges that were made by the Minister and others who signed up to 10 per cent. targets in I do not know how many early-day motions. For the past three years, various early-day motions were signed by the Minister and others, pledging themselves to a 10 per cent. target on road traffic reduction.

Several Ministers in the present Government said that they believed in a 10 per cent. road traffic reduction. We have the names of all the Ministers serving in the present Government who signed early-day motions calling for 10 per cent. targets, right up to 1 May.

I know how our able civil service works when faced with a problem. If the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) is accepted, it will cause embarrassment to 20 Ministers who signed up to 10 per cent. targets. It is not in the nature of civil servants to cause embarrassment to Ministers, whom they must serve as efficiently as they can. Therefore, there is an excellent get-out. If, for whatever good reason, the Minister does not think that a set target under clause 2(1) is appropriate, the Minister may set aside that target, provided that there is a report to Parliament explaining that there are better alternative means.

The phraseology is good. I remember similar suggestions being made to me, sitting around a Government table looking for ways of getting out of a problem. Subsection (2) is a cop-out, to get the Minister and her colleagues out of an awful pickle.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

1 understand why my right hon. Friend says that subsection (2) is a cop-out, but does he agree that even from a cop-out, good can come? Subsection (2) focuses the mind of the Minister statutorily on the need to consider what environmental damage road traffic is doing—for example, in rural areas such as he and I represent—and the need for bypasses and health and safety measures in small villages that are snarled up by road traffic. That is a beneficial side-effect, which we hope the Minister will grasp with all her usual enthusiasm.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. I am merely drawing attention to the Government's hypocrisy in running with the cop-out clause. They are anxious to get themselves off the hook of their firm pledge to many organisations such as Friends of the Earth, and the early-day motions that they signed, pledging themselves to a 10 per cent. road traffic reduction target and no cop-out.

Before the election, it was suggested that the Secretary of State could ignore the 10 per cent. target and produce a report setting out the reasons—good stuff, but that was not acceptable. The then Opposition would have considered that a fudge. If the previous Government had produced a measure such as clause 2(2), the hon. Lady and all her hon. Friends would have accused us of not taking road traffic reduction seriously. They would have said that they had a 10 per cent. target, and that the measure was just a fudge to get the Tory Government off the hook.

Now the Government are using the fudge and trying to get themselves off the hook. However, my right hon. and learned Friend is right: good can come of it. We know that the Government will not set a target. If they had wanted to set a target of 10 per cent., or a 7, 5 or 2 per cent. target, they would have done so. They would be in the House today boasting about it. We would hear that they had fulfilled yet another pre-election pledge from Hampstead high street.

We shall not get that from the Government. Instead, they will dress up subsection (2) and the progress that they will attempt to make in that regard, and they will present that as meeting their targets. When they do so, I hope that they will examine the needs of rural areas, and consider the contribution that heating may make, the contribution that extra insulation may make, and the excellent bodies that we set up in government, such as the Home Energy Conservation Trust and various other—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is straying from the Bill again.

Mr. Maclean

I shall return to it straight away, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Minister will be honest about how she believes clause 2(2) will work. We need to know in what circumstances the Government will be tempted to set a target of 2, 5 or 10 per cent., as Labour pledged to do before the election. In what circumstances will the Government tell the House and the hon. Member for Ceredigion, the promoter of the Bill, "We're sorry, we accept the Bill and it will pass, but we shall use the powers in clause 2(2): we shall publish a report and set out the reasons why we are not running with the target"?

The House deserves to know today the Government's intentions on target setting. I suspect that we shall never see a firm road traffic reduction target. If such a national target is announced, I am afraid that it will be a broad-brush target that will inflict massive damage on those who do not have access to the transport systems that exist in only a few major cities in England and in Glasgow, which has an excellent system.

Does the Minister intend to set a firm target for road traffic reduction? If not, what criteria will the Government use to let themselves off the hook and go for the get-out in clause 2(2)? Will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will not set targets that disadvantage millions of people in counties that do not have access to the road system—not just a few Tory supporters in a few Tory seats, but many of those in rural areas whom Labour Members now boast that they represent? Those people should not suffer as a result of the Government's desire to show that they are better at clobbering road traffic than other Governments in Europe.

12.11 pm
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

This has been an excellent debate, in which 12 of my right hon. and hon. Friends have participated to great effect. The promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), also spoke, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) made a short intervention. I think it is significant that we have not heard anything from Labour Members so far—we obviously eagerly anticipate the Minister's speech. It is a very different scenario from that on Second Reading, when the Chamber was bulging with aspirants from the Government Benches seeking to show their support for the Bill. The fact that they are not here today may suggest that they are beginning to realise that the Government are engaged in a cynical exercise regarding this Bill.

The Bill is significantly different from the legislation that was before us on Second Reading on 31 January. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Ceredigion about the Government's systematic emasculation of his Bill during its passage through the House. He has assured me that he and the Bill's sponsors are not content with the legislation in its present form, but believe that this Bill is better than none at all, and would prefer to see it on the statute book. However, if they are lucky in the ballot and can persuade an hon. Member to take up the issue, they have promised to return in a subsequent session—in the same way that they returned in this session because they were dissatisfied with progress in the previous one—in an attempt to achieve their objective.

The Bill's title has changed since Second Reading: it now refers to "National Targets" rather than "United Kingdom Targets". The substance has also changed significantly. Clause 2—and, to a large extent, clause 1—has effectively been rewritten. The time scales in the Bill on Second Reading have been removed, and I submit that the Government have acted very cynically. As several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, this is nothing but declaratory legislation: it gives the Government the power to do that which it could do already if it had the political will.

If one seeks an analogy, one need look no further than what happened with road casualty reduction targets. We did not require legislation or a private Members' Bill to establish those targets. That was achieved to great effect by the previous Government when my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) was a Transport Minister. Those targets have been very influential. They were realistic and they have been achieved. They set a framework within which local authorities, the Highways Agency and others concerned about road safety could operate.

The Government could do the same thing with traffic if they had the will to do so. The Bill panders to popular concern about congestion and pollution but does nothing to solve the problem. Indeed, the Bill is about good images rather than reality. The Government are obsessed with image. If one wants further evidence of that, one need go no further than today's front page story of The Times, which gives an interesting backcloth to today's debate, because it refers to an important meeting in Chester today of European Environment and Transport Ministers, convened by the Deputy Prime Minister acting in his capacity as Chairman of the Transport Council during our presidency of the European Union.

One might have thought that a Government committed to integrated transport and to reducing road traffic in absolute terms would have taken the opportunity to ensure that all the delegates travelled to the conference by public transport, but we learn that the delegates—and, because it is a European event, their partners—and officials will arrive at Manchester airport, where they will be met by 60 cars to take them to Chester to discuss why other people should travel by public transport.

Apparently, the arrangements for the conference were discussed by Whitehall officials, who examined train services between the airport and Chester and suggested that the condition of Crewe station, where the overseas visitors would need to change, gave a poor image of Britain's railway network. That is what this is all about£image. The Bill is about mood music; somehow the Government are committed to reducing the adverse impact of traffic and are in favour of traffic reduction.

There was an opportunity for the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is Chairman of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Transport Sub-Committee, and a distinguished Member of the House, to meet some of these dignitaries from Europe in her constituency. She would have been able to draw their attention to the substantial new investment in Crewe railway station following the privatisation of Railtrack. She has been denied that opportunity.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying from the contents of the Bill. He must speak to the Bill.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)


Mr. Chope

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Atkinson

Was it not a pity that a special train was not selected? They could have hired one, covered in Walt Disney cartoon characters, from north London sidings to take the delegates to Chester.

Mr. Chope

My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion, but it may be too humorous to find favour with the Government.

This is not an isolated incident. The Government talk about a rationale of having an integrated transport policy and an inclusive society, but nothing is less inclusive and more exclusive than people travelling in limousines from Manchester airport to Chester.

Mr. Robathan

I specifically refer to the Bill. Surely we must all play our part if we wish to see road traffic reduced, and that particularly involves the example that might be given by our Government and the Governments of the European Union. Frankly, does not my hon. Friend think—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already stated that the point has been made. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) must move on. The behaviour of the Government is not in question. We are considering the Bill.

Mr. Chope

I accept that absolutely. In answer to my hon. Friend's intervention, after the local government conference in Scarborough this year, which was organised by the Labour party, the Deputy Prime Minister left from Scarborough station, in front of the cameras, and then stopped at the next station to get into his car—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not want to have to be on my feet again. It is not good for the House. Hon. Members must abide by the rules that they have made. I do not want to hear about the behaviour of any Minister. I want to hear about the Bill.

Mr. Chope

I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although the Secretary of State who will be given absolute discretion under the terms of the Bill is the Deputy Prime Minister, to whom I was referring, I accept your ruling.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I have been wondering whether my hon. Friend is doing justice to the Bill. If he focuses on clause 2(2), he will find that the Secretary of State, if he does not want to have targets for reduction, must consider other methods. For example, if there were a situation in which people would travel to a particular destination in a large number of cars, black or otherwise, there would be an obligation under clause 2(2), would there not, for the Secretary of State to consider whether two buses would do the trick instead and create less environmental pollution?

Mr. Chope

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. The Deputy Prime Minister could go further than that. Much of the discussion in Committee and that which has taken place behind the Bill, as it were, has reflected the idea that people do not need to travel as much as they do. What is to stop European Environment and Transport Ministers meeting by video conference link, thereby obviating the need for them to travel by aeroplane or car?

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) about the Secretary of State's discretion is an important one. It will be within the recollection of the House that, when Transport Ministers came to this country 10 or 11 years ago, the provisions of the proposed clause 2(2) were fulfilled and those Ministers were taken round the country, including Scotland, by train.

Mr. Chope

It is not a surprise to me to hear that that is what happened under the previous Government.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, the Bill does not require any targets to be set. Only if targets are set is there any requirement to report progress in relation to them. The hon. Member for Ceredigion now agrees with me that there is a large loophole in the Bill, bearing in mind what he believed the Bill would achieve given the drafting of clause 2(2). I am grateful for his response, following my intervention in his opening speech on Third Reading, that he will return to that issue in the other place. It seems that he will try to get some of his supporters to return to the issue.

The hon. Gentleman takes the view that the Government are of a generous spirit and are committed to the targets. That is where I disagree with him. If the Government are committed to targets, why have they insisted that there should be no unequivocal requirement to set targets in the Bill? Why has clause 2 been emasculated by the Government if in reality they are committed to the targets? Perhaps the realities are beginning to dawn.

There were the easy words and the easy signature that came from the Minister in Hampstead high street on 8 February 1997, when she signed up to a 10 per cent. reduction in traffic by the year 2010 compared with the level of traffic in 1990. When she came into office, she must have realised that that target would be difficult to achieve without imposing the most amazing restrictions on the travelling public.

In 1990, 250 billion vehicle miles were being travelled in this country. A 10 per cent. reduction would have reduced that figure to 225 billion miles. We know, on the Government's 1997 traffic forecasts for the year 2010, that it is said that 351 billion traffic miles will be travelled. Even in 1996, the figure was 10 per cent. higher than it had been in 1990, with 275 billion vehicle miles being travelled.

The Government have wriggled away from signing up to the target that so many Labour Members put their names to in the relevant early-day motion. The Government realise that there is a large credibility gap between what the target implies and what can be achieved. I pay tribute to the Government, because there is and always has been a link between economic growth and traffic growth, as there is linkage between air traffic growth and economic growth. The Government's figures in the departmental report that was published before Easter show a 3 per cent. increase in road traffic in 1997, which means that an extra 9 billion vehicle miles were travelled compared with 1996.

We should compare that with what the Deputy Prime Minister said when launching the integrated transport consultation: We have to face up to the challenge of using the car less. On 6 June, he said to The Guardian: I will have failed if in five years time there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it. On the basis of his progress in the first year, he must achieve a reduction of more than 1 per cent. in absolute terms in each of the remaining years of this Parliament to be able to avoid resigning, which he, as an honourable gentleman, would do if he failed to fulfil that commitment.

Perhaps reality is dawning on the Government. In Committee, why did the Minister refuse to accept the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am not going to allow discussion of what was or was not accepted in Committee. We are having a Third Reading debate, and we shall speak only about the Bill.

Mr. Chope

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is significant that the hon. Member for Islington, North is not in the Chamber, because he was concerned about this issue. He wanted to set a much less ambitious but specific target that would have been implemented on 1 May 1997 and would have ended at the end of this Parliament. The Government rejected that suggestion. The hon. Member for Ceredigion thinks that the Government must have had good reason for that because they are committed to setting targets, but it is evidence that they are unwilling to introduce meaningful targets against which performance could be measured in the life of this Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) was absolutely right to say that the Bill would give the Government a cover story. A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends think that the Bill would do no harm, but I am concerned that it would provide cover for a significant reduction in investment in roads infrastructure. My hon. Friends have referred to road schemes and bypasses in their constituencies that would reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality in the towns and villages that were bypassed and thereby improve people's health, and contribute positively to road safety. Clause 2(3) mentions all those issues.

The Government have been cutting back significantly on investment in transport infrastructure. The latest Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions spending plans propose in the current year expenditure of £230 million less on national roads than was spent during the last year of the Conservative Government, which is a 15 per cent. cut. There has been a dramatic cut in expenditure on roads of more than local importance, which are often built around towns and villages where bypasses are most necessary.

This coming year, £376 million will be spent, compared with £558 million in the last year of the Conservative Government. That is a cut of no less than 33 per cent., and the report shows that only one new bypass will be started this year. That compares with the Conservative Government's record of starting many bypasses every year because of the tremendous demand and need for them.

Mr. Dawson

Would the hon. Gentleman care to consider Lancaster? It had a Conservative Member for 27 years and the Conservative Government were in office for 18 years and had no—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Christchurch will not consider Lancaster.

Mr. Chope

The previous Government completed 400 road schemes, and 160 major bypasses, during their term in office. I am sorry that they did not get around to completing all those that the hon. Gentleman thinks are needed in his constituency. They will not be completed by a Government who start only one bypass a year.

The Government are significantly cutting investment in transport infrastructure. It is estimated that the investment by local authorities in the coming year will be only £1.76 billion. The amounts are small compared with the £30 billion that the Government raised in revenue from road users this year. That makes me suspicious about whether the Government have it in their heart to take the measures necessary to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment in many of our towns and villages.

The Government say that road traffic must be reduced, but they do not have a similar policy on air traffic, which is forecast to grow at about 5 to 6 per cent. a year between 1996 and 2015, with a consequent increase in use of fuel. The Government have no targets for reducing that, and when they were asked whether they intended to introduce a target, they said that they were developing a balanced package of measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and expected all sectors to play their part.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Perhaps my hon. Friend would focus on clause 2(1), which states: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, subject to subsection (2) and with the aim of reducing the adverse environmental, social and economic impacts of road traffic, to set and publish … targets". The Secretary of State has to consider the adverse impact of road traffic on towns and villages that so desperately need bypasses which, as my hon. Friend says, the Government are lamentably failing to provide?

Mr. Chope

I would not quarrel with my right hon. and learned Friend, because he knows the law and can interpret legislation, but clause 2(2) enables the Secretary of State to avoid complying with the requirements of subsection (1), which means that it will be possible for him to ignore the need for more bypasses.

The Minister for Transport in London has responded to a series of Adjournment debates in which hon. Members, including Labour Members, have sought investment in new bypasses. In none of her responses was there any sign that she was sympathetic to the building of bypasses as a means of reducing the adverse environmental impact of road traffic. She continues to speak about the need to reduce absolute levels of road traffic.

The problem is compounded by the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion, who said that we could not reduce the adverse impact of road traffic without reducing road traffic itself. Many Conservative Members think that we can reduce the its adverse impact by having road safety measures. Despite massive increases in road traffic, there are fewer deaths and serious injuries on the roads than when the statistics were first collected. In the one month of December 1939, no fewer than 1,000 people were killed on the roads. We can make improvements in safety without reducing overall road traffic. We can make improvements in emissions by using more environmentally friendly engines. The air quality targets published by the previous Government have shown that that can be achieved.

Noise is one of the environmental impacts that causes great concern to my constituents, and those of many others. Investment in the highways can significantly reduce the environmental impact of noise. If we invested more money in porous asphalt and other road surfaces, noise impact would be reduced. The key to reducing congestion is to remove bottlenecks, build bypasses and increase capacity. All those require investment and it is the investment side of the equation that the Government are not prepared to provide. That is why I come to this issue with quite a lot of scepticism and cynicism.

That cynicism has been increased significantly by the way in which the Government seem to be avoiding producing the working papers in support of "National Road Traffic Forecasts (Great Britain) 1997", which was published in October. Paragraph 2 of the introduction states: There are six working papers which will shortly become available. They had not become available by the middle of March, so I asked a parliamentary question about what had happened to them.

The Minister for Transport in London responded: I understand that four of the six working papers will be available by the end of March, and that the remaining two will be available at end April".—[Official Report, 19 March 1998; Vol. 308, c. 698.] In fact, one was available by the end of March and two were delivered two days ago. As we speak, three are still outstanding, including—interestingly, hon. Members may think—the one about forecasting uncertainty. It was promised originally that that would be one of the first papers to be delivered, but, for some reason, it has still not been released. If the Government are not able even to comply with their own targets for producing working papers in support of their documentation, how can we have any confidence that they will be able to produce meaningful targets for reducing the adverse impact of road traffic?

I am concerned that those documents have not yet been produced. Having looked at the ones that have been produced, one can see the chasm between the assumptions that lie behind the 1997 forecasts and the Government's language in addressing the issue of traffic and growth. Those forecasts show that, where gross domestic product increases, traffic will increase. They show that there will be a significant increase in population and households, and that household location will shift increasingly to the countryside. They show that that there will be an increase in fuel efficiency, but discount some of the Government's assumptions about the impact of land use planning.

Therefore, the Bill is a cover. It cannot disguise the fact that the Government are anti-car, rather than pro-environment. They support massively higher taxes on motorists, but are against investing the extra resource in the transport infrastructure-in just this financial year, 1998-99, £1.7 billion extra will be raised in taxes on the motoring public, but only £175 million will be re-invested in public transport.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to the £500 million which the Chancellor played up in his Budget speech and said that it was only £475 million. He should have gone on to say that it is not even £475 million in one year, which is what we were led to believe—the Red Book shows that the £475 million is to be spread over two or three years.

The Red Book also shows that, this year, despite raising £1.75 billion extra tax from motorists, only £175 million—£1 in every £10—will be invested in public transport, and almost all of that will be absorbed by London Underground. Indeed, a significant amount of the money allocated to London Underground is being paid out in compensation because of a personality clash between its chairman and the Deputy Prime Minister.

This is a relatively harmless Bill. Doctors have a succinct phrase for relatively harmless medicine—placebos. The Bill will make the voter feel better, but it will not achieve anything of substance. I applaud the way in which my right hon. and hon. Friends have seen the Bill for what it is. We look forward to the Minister's response.

12.41 Pm

The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson)

When the House last considered the Bill, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) threatened me with a venomous campaign. If that threat was delivered today, it carried all the serpentine terror of attack by slow-worm. The hon. Gentleman was confused about the Bill's purpose. I was surprised that he should be critical of the changes made in Standing Committee; he clearly does not believe in a Committee stage for Bills.

The hon. Gentleman was critical of the Government for cutting the road building programme. As he knows, the Government made a clear commitment in our election manifesto that we would work within the financial limits set by the Conservative Government, who consistently cut the road building programme.

It was interesting to discover that the hon. Gentleman is pro roads and believes that road building is the way out of the desperate congestion that costs this country £20 billion a year. We have yet to tot up the environmental costs of the failure of successive Conservative Administrations even to begin to define an integrated transport policy. We now clearly know where the shadow Minister and the Conservative party are coming from— they believe in building more roads, and they do not believe in a Committee stage for Bills. They appear to think that safety levels will be increased by building more roads and that we can clean up our air by building more roads.

The country has reason to be grateful, on this and other matters, to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who has worked so closely with Friends of the Earth on the Bill. The country cannot continue as it is—there must be a reduction in road traffic. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous words about me and, in particular, about my officials. His speech highlighted the importance of the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the improvements that there will undoubtedly be in road safety, health, quality of life and the undoubted economic benefits that will flow from reducing what seems to be an almost unstoppable rise in the amount of traffic on our roads. It has been estimated that, without a drastic change in policies, at the present rate of increase there will be an additional 42 per cent. of vehicles on our roads by 2010. However, as the House knows, the Government have made it abundantly clear that we intend to change those policies. We are firmly committed to the creation of an integrated transport policy and have made it clear that our White Paper on that policy will be published shortly. We have also made it clear that we regard targets across a range of issues for which the Government are responsible as essential in delivering the policies we believe the people of this country wish us to pursue.

The issue of targets and the absence of a defined target in the Bill has been touched on by almost every hon. Member who has spoken this morning, but the hon. Member for Ceredigion made the point especially clearly. It is one thing to have a target; even more important is how one achieves it. He listed some of the measures available to local and central Government not only to achieve a reduction in the amount of traffic on our roads but to deliver the polices that we have pledged to deliver.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) gave the Bill a rather half-hearted welcome, but I know that, in the main, he supports the philosophy behind it. No one, either in or outside the House, doubts for a moment that any commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be kept. I regret that I cannot remember which Opposition Member referred to the Deputy Prime Minister wriggling on a hook. The idea that my right hon. Friend would wriggle in any situation is absurd, and the idea that any Opposition Member could catch him on a hook is equally absurd.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) made a particularly thoughtful, informed and constructive speech. He referred to the enormous increase in traffic caused by parents taking their children to school. I am sure that all hon. Members acknowledge that parents' concerns for their children—concerns that often necessitate their taking their children to school—are not related exclusively to the fear of road traffic accidents. There is undoubtedly a "stranger danger" element to parents' concerns.

The problem caused by the school run was also touched on by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who is a sponsor of the Bill. I reassure him and the hon. Member for Worthing, West that it is Government policy to reduce parents' dependence on cars to take their children to school. That is why the Government are engaged in a cross-party exercise, which will inevitably produce policy, involving my Department, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment. We hope not only to help local authorities but to define best practice on how to create safe routes so that there will be a reduction in the number of cars parked, often dangerously, outside school entrances. We want children to be given the freedom to walk and cycle, although we acknowledge that that can happen only when the routes are safe for them so to do.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) used this morning's debate to highlight particular constituency interests. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the necessity for a bypass for his constituency—not only in his speech but, if I have counted correctly, in at least four interventions on other hon. Members. He knows that the Government have been engaged in a thorough roads review since we took office. As I have said, our White Paper on integrated transport will be published shortly, and the roads review will follow soon after.

Sir Nicholas Lye11

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for dealing with the specific point that I raised. As I read it, the Bill encourages the Government to look at the environmental effects of bypasses in a constructive way rather than encouraging them not to build bypasses on the basis of a 1 per cent. overall reduction in road traffic. Does she agree with my interpretation?

Ms Jackson

The Government require no encouragement to examine the environmental aspects of all our policies. One of the first actions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on taking office was to combine the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment. We have a clear commitment that environmental concerns must inform all our policy decisions. As I have said in the House, the specific environmental benefits of bypasses will be judged case by case against the Government's five criteria for new road building. The environment is central to those criteria.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) disputed not the legality, but the necessity, of Bills that, as he put it, were supported by single-interest groups, however well financed and popular. I found that somewhat surprising given the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to his own single-interest group—the Conservative party. I can understand his chagrin, because that single-interest group is markedly unpopular and less than well-financed and its last organised campaign, culminating on 1 May last year, received the most decisive rejection.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he had received few if any letters from constituents on the issue. That is hardly surprising if he is not prepared to support their concerns.

Mr. Nicholls

I also heard the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). My recollection is that he was saying that, because he wanted to serve his constituents, he would take care to find out what they all thought about an issue and not simply accept the word of a single-issue group.

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman's ears are as generous as he is himself. That is certainly not what I heard, but I would not argue with the hon. Gentleman's generous interpretation.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) gave the Bill a gentle welcome. He was particularly concerned that there should not be a broad-brush approach in defining targets for a reduction in road traffic numbers. The same concern was expressed by others, including the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) who put forward the undoubted case that there are variables across the United Kingdom, and specific conditions in rural areas.

There is no possibility that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not take into account the major differences that often surprise me in a country as small as ours. The specific factors affecting particular areas will be considered in devising and defining the criteria that will have to be in place to produce a reduction in road traffic numbers in the best interests of all our citizens.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

There is a serious point to the Bill, which I am sure the Minister has studied carefully. Clause 2(3) is absolutely specific that, in considering matters relating to both clause 2(1) and 2(2), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the adverse impacts of road traffic in terms of congestion … danger to other road users; and social impacts. What I want to know is whether the Government will abide by the law that they are helping to pass when considering bypasses.

Ms Jackson

By my reckoning, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire has now raised to six his total number of references to bypasses during this morning's debate.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) also welcomed the Bill. He referred to certain fiscal issues, which are not for me. He also mentioned the changes that have taken place with regard to an employer in his constituency. The Government are encouraged by the way in which increasing numbers of employers are examining, and often setting in place, green transport plans, whereby they offer their employees alternatives to overdependence on the private car. The Government—and I, as the green Minister for my own Department—have issued advice to all Departments on creating green transport plans throughout Government.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) was highly critical of the Bill, saying that it was no more than posturing, but the form and content of his speech highlighted the truism that people who live in glass houses should never throw stones.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) discounted the value of private Members' Bills in general, and said that he believed that there was no need for legislation in this area. Had there not been legislation, it is highly unlikely that lives would have been saved by the introduction of, for example, seat belts in cars.

Mr. Blunt

That is obviously not what I said. Private Members' Bills are extremely valuable if they make an important contribution to the way in which we run our society, but this Bill will not change much at all. Does the Minister believe that the Bill will change the way in which she prepares and brings forward policies in her Department?

Ms Jackson

One of the reasons it was so easy for the hon. Member for Ceredigion and me to work well together is that so many of our policies enforce and enhance the central thrust of the Bill. No one had to change my mind about the value of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve

I had not intended to intervene, but just before my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) intervened, the Minister mentioned my constituency, but she did not go on to deal with the points that I raised in my speech. I wondered what she intended to say and whether she was going to say whether the Bill will help to hold the Government to account.

Ms Jackson

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. It was my understanding that, although he supported the Bill, he felt that Ministers needed to wake up to the reality of delivering targets and achieving traffic reductions. I do not believe that Ministers in the Labour Government need any waking up in that respect. As I said, one of the first actions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was to combine the Departments of the Environment and of Transport. Issues relating to the environment, such as environmental protection and the environmental and economic need to create an integrated transport policy, are central the Government's policies. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept that as a sufficiently comprehensive answer at this stage.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire sees absolutely no value whatever in setting national targets. Not only we, but the previous Administration, set them for education, health and in an effort to reduce crime and to improve air quality. They form part of our commitments internationally and with our European partners.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border expressed concern about a broad-brush approach in defining targets. He spoke of his constituents' dependency on the car because public transport had failed to meet their needs. He said that there had been only one bus in his constituency even before the Conservative Government deregulated buses—which, I should add, put many rural inhabitants in a more benighted position.

There used to be more local shops and services in rural areas but, as a result of the previous Administration's misguided policies over the past 18 years, those services have been stripped from village centres. The necessity in rural areas to travel has increased year on year, but a concomitant public transport service has not been provided.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

One of the finest manufacturers of buses is the Dennis company, which is based in my constituency. It attributes some of its tremendous success in recent years to the fact that the deregulation of the bus market opened up investment. Does the Minister acknowledge that market forces have a vital role to play in encouraging consumers back on to the buses, and that the innovation of companies such as Dennis has made it much easier for consumers to use buses?

Ms Jackson

I am delighted to hear that the bus industry in the hon. Gentleman's constituency is experiencing a marked upturn in investment. I have to say that that upturn has occurred only since 2 May—long may it continue.

I thank again the hon. Member for Ceredigion and all those within and without the House who have worked so tirelessly to support the Bill. We believe in the importance of road traffic reduction and of targets, which will show how the nation is progressing.

The Bill is a small measure—it cannot cover many of the issues that Conservative Members seemed to think it should—but it represents an important step, and could make a major difference to all the matters that have been mentioned today. I strongly commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.