HC Deb 20 July 1998 vol 316 cc784-802 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on transport policy. A White Paper, "New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone" is published today and has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. It delivers on our manifesto commitment to develop an integrated transport policy, to assist mobility and economic growth, to fight congestion and pollution, and to help create a fairer society. It will widen choice, providing people with the real alternative of a decent, modern and reliable public transport system.

The public mood has changed. The previous Government's Green Paper, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Select Committee and our own consultation exercise have all demonstrated that there is now a consensus for radical change. Everyone now agrees that no change is not an option.

Privatisation and deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s produced a public transport system that was fragmented, lacked investment and attracted fewer passengers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am merely repeating the record. Privatisation and deregulation led to more congestion and did more damage to the environment and public health. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Last year, two records were broken: a record 1 million rail passengers complained, and a record number of rail millionaires were created. What an indictment of privatisation. Since deregulation, the number of bus passengers has fallen by 25 per cent. Car drivers sit in traffic for hours. The Confederation of British Industry complains of the £15 billion cost of congestion. Walking and cycling are often unpleasant and dangerous. Many women fear for their own safety on public transport, and for the safety of their children going to school.

If we do nothing, traffic will grow by 30 per cent. in the next 20 years, with more traffic jams, longer rush hours, and a 10 per cent. increase in CO2 emissions, at a time when the Kyoto accords require us to cut emissions.

The core of our approach is integration—to allow people to switch from bus to train and from their cars to park and ride. It is also about integrating transport with environment policy and land-use planning, with our economic, health, and education policies and with the creation of a fairer society.

People need better information to achieve a seamless journey. Today, I can announce a revolution in information to the passenger. We will introduce a comprehensive integrated national public transport information system by 2000. [Laughter.] Obviously hon. Members have not tried ringing transport inquiries to find out how to use the public transport system. It is generally agreed in the country at large that new public information systems are absolutely necessary. A passenger will be able to access information on all forms of transport to a single point by phone, teletext or internet.

Through better planning policies, we can reduce the need to travel, as we are showing with our millennium village in Greenwich. [Laughter.] Planning is an essential part of transport, as the previous Administration failed to understand, which is why our transport system is in such a mess. Homes should be close to shops, schools, health and other services, so that people can walk rather than drive. We will revise planning guidance to take account of our new integrated transport policy. We have given more emphasis than any previous Government to making it easier to walk and cycle. I endorse the target to double cycling within six years.

Rural areas have their own specific needs. Seventy-five per cent. of rural parishes now have no daily bus service, thanks to a deregulated bus system introduced by the previous Administration. We have already committed £150 million to improving rural public transport, doubling the support in many rural areas, and proposals are in the final stages of preparation.

Better public transport—particularly rail and bus—is the cornerstone of our approach, and a better, modern, reliable bus represents the best opportunity for leading a renaissance of public transport. Quality partnerships which already existed under the previous Administration in a handful of local authorities have proved popular with the public. Passenger numbers have increased by up to 40 per cent., and fewer people are using their cars. I want to see more such partnerships.

The bus must have priority on the road. That will lead to faster, more reliable services, which attract more passengers. Stiffer penalties and tougher enforcement will deter bus lane road hogs.

We can transform the economics of the bus industry by adding just two extra passengers per bus journey, and thereby improving revenues by more than £400 million. More revenue will lead to more investment, better buses, more frequent services, and proper training and conditions for bus drivers. The one I met yesterday could benefit from a visit to charm school—[Interruption.]—as could a number of Opposition Members—probably the same one that I attended.

Bus operators must help to spruce up bus stations, provide better information at bus stops, and co-operate on ticketing with other bus and rail operators. In addition, the Government are prepared to give statutory force to exclusive quality contracts on particular routes. The days of the cowboy bus operators are over.

For too long, the bus has been seen as a workhorse. I would like it to be a racehorse—[Interruption.]—and a first-class one, too. [Interruption.] You will have to control the zoo, Madam Speaker.

Today, I am issuing a challenge to bus companies and manufacturers to create a new bus fit for the 21st century in design, operation and comfort. We need buses that are more accessible to elderly and disabled people, and to mothers with children and heavy shopping.

Transport policy needs to pay special attention to the 13 million people in homes without a car. Pensioners in particular rely on good-quality services at affordable prices. I am therefore pleased to announce for the first time a national minimum concessionary fares scheme, guaranteeing at least a half fare for every pensioner in Britain. That will benefit 3 million pensioners who are currently denied the benefits of such a scheme.

Our proposals for railways are in line with the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, the response to which I am issuing today as Cmnd 4024. There is going to be tougher regulation of train companies. Spearheaded by our new strategic rail authority, enforcement will be speeded up and strengthened by tougher penalties. If companies continue to fail to honour their contractual obligations to the passenger, they will lose their right to operate. In the short term, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising will remain the operator of last resort, and British Rail will retain the ability to be a train operator. The functions of both will become part of the strategic rail authority.

The rail industry needs a stable framework to deliver long-term investment and better services for passengers. In the next six years, 17 of the franchises come up for renewal. Some train operators want early renegotiation of their franchises. I stand ready to consider their requests, but I should make one thing clear. If any application is to succeed, it will have to guarantee better performance, more investment, improvements for rail passengers and value for the taxpayer. An independent rail regulator will remain, but there will be clear demarcation between the regulator's responsibilities and the new responsibilities of the strategic rail authority.

Railtrack will be tightly scrutinised to ensure that it invests sufficiently in the rail infrastructure. The rail regulator has been critical of Railtrack's investment record as recently as last week. I intend to see that those criticisms are addressed, and that matters are corrected. I have asked the rail regulator to carry out a review of the level and structure of charges, including mechanisms for payment. We will set up new rail funds with £100 million to lever in additional leading-edge investment in the rail network.

The House is aware that the National Audit Office condemned the scandalous sale by the previous Government of the rolling stock leasing companies, known as roscos. I asked the rail regulator to investigate the failure of roscos—he has completed that—and to negotiate a new concordat with them on the leasing and re-leasing terms of rolling stock. If that is not effective, I will consider bringing roscos under formal regulation.

Rail freight is a better environmental option, and we endorse the rail freight industry's target to double traffic carried by rail in five years and to treble it in 10. We have already doubled rail freight grants. We will increase them by a further one third this year, and extend them to coastal shipping. It is my intention to reinvest the proceeds from the part sale of National Air Traffic Services in transport improvements, such as a Euro-gauge freight rail system from the channel tunnel right through to Scotland, if terms can be agreed.

This Government will invest in rail freight, although we recognise that more than 90 per cent. of goods will continue to be moved by road. From 1 January next year, European law requires us to raise the maximum gross weight of lorries from 38 tonnes to 40 tonnes. I am concerned about the cost of road and bridge maintenance with an increase in five-axle heavy lorries, and therefore want to give the strongest possible encouragement to the use of six-axle lorries. I have therefore decided to allow 41-tonne lorries on six axles from January 1999. I am not convinced of the case for 44-tonne lorries, but I will ask the new commission for integrated transport, which I will describe later, to review the evidence and make recommendations.

Everyone now acknowledges that we cannot build our way out of congestion; the days of predict and provide are over. We will give top priority to maintaining and managing roads. I propose to transform the Highways Agency into a network operator rather than simply a road builder. I am pleased to announce the signing today of an historic agreement between the Highways Agency and Railtrack to work together on developing integrated solutions.

We will allow the Highways Agency to operate a number of pilot charging schemes, and use the income stream to reinvest in the road network. For example, I am looking at how to redirect toll revenue from the Dartford crossing to improve traffic management on the M25.

Like millions of my fellow drivers, I know that sitting in traffic jams at all times of the day robs driving of its convenience. It is not pro-car to allow congestion to escalate. It is not pro-car to allow smog and pollution to increase. The car driver is breathing air around three times more polluted than the air outside. The most anti-car policy is to do nothing. Being pro-public transport does not mean being anti-car.

I am pleased to announce today a new deal for the motorist. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh about improving conditions for motorists, but many complain bitterly, through the motoring organisations, that there are actions that the Government could take, although the previous Administration failed to do so. The Highways Agency will have specific responsibility to reduce delays. We will establish regional traffic control centres to help traffic flows and improve information to motorists about roadworks and delays. We will also act against cowboy wheel dampers, and we will use the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's databank to provide better information and protection for drivers when buying used cars.

As school holidays begin, everyone notices the difference in traffic. Parents driving their children often short distances to school increases congestion significantly at peak times. Some schools have already shown that safe and secure routes, with adult supervision, can reduce unnecessary car use. Parents welcome that, as an extension of choice and a safer alternative.

No transport issue is more important than safety. We intend to issue a new road safety strategy and targets later this year. In response to the Select Committee, we propose to carry out a thorough review of the institutional arrangements for transport safety. [Interruption.] The reviews are being carried out by the health and safety bodies, and they need time to conclude them.

The key to the success of our new approach to transport is partnership. Let no one say that we are not putting our money where our mouth is. We have made a £1.7 billion increase in public investment for transport over the next three years, and we are setting up £7 billion-worth of public-private partnerships for the underground and a £6 billion partnership for the channel tunnel rail link, which collapsed under the previous Administration's negotiations.

Together with new revenue streams for local authorities, commercial freedom for local authority airports, and private investment in buses and trains, this represents the biggest ever investment in public transport. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, we are doubling total transport investment over the next seven years.

Partnership will also be important at local level. Local councils will consult all the main interested parties to draw up local transport plans. The plans will set targets and identify actions to develop public transport, improve air quality, enhance road safety and reduce road traffic. This major new initiative will be backed by £700 million, which will enable the development of 150 local transport strategies over the next three years. There will be new powers for local authorities to levy charges on the use of congested roads and on workplace parking. Revenue from this will be used to improve local public transport and traffic management.

These will be local schemes decided by local people, defined by local needs. Proceeds will be reinvested in local transport through a ring-fenced fund. All such plans will be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The White Paper establishes the principle. I intend to issue a consultation paper in due course on its implementation.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for having the courage to establish—[Laughter.] No other Government have been prepared to do it. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for having the courage to establish such a radical reform of public finances, allowing hypothecation of the income—something which was not even in the 1996 Green Paper, when the previous Administration discovered integration after 17 years of failure in transport policy. The Government are ending decades of under-investment, modernising our transport system, and investing for the future.

Transport must be publicly accountable. I intend to give real power to the passenger. There will be public hearings on rail and bus franchises; stronger bus and rail consumer bodies, joining forces with real powers; and a strategic rail authority with real teeth to improve standards for the passenger.

The White Paper is the start, not the end, of the debate. It is almost 20 years since the last comprehensive transport White Paper. In 18 years, the previous Government produced only a Green Paper on transport at the end of their Administration. The speed of change means that we cannot wait another 20 years. Hon. Members will appreciate that I have only touched on the main points of the White Paper, which covers all forms of transport. There will be a number of "daughter documents"—similar to today's rail document—on roads, freight, aviation, shipping and others.

Transport policy is not just a matter for Government. The debate needs the involvement of all sections of society. The Government therefore propose to establish an independent commission for integrated transport, which will monitor targets, provide a forum for debate, and make regular reports to Ministers, Committees and this House.

The White Paper is based on a real consensus for change. No change, frankly, is not an option. The country wants a better transport system which does not continue to damage our health, industry and environment. The country wants a transport system which improves the quality of life for everyone without passing on a poorer legacy to future Administrations—as the previous Administration did.

Radical change is necessary. The White Paper is about that radical change and how to achieve it. I commend it the House.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

The White Paper was promised for the spring—it is true that spring was late this year. It is also the case that the White Paper has been seen, apparently, by lobbyists, journalists, interest groups, local authorities, the world and his wife, but not by Parliament—but, then, the Government like Parliament to be in its place. However, I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for his courtesy in letting me have a copy of his statement—at 2.45 this afternoon.

Before the election, the Labour party said a great deal about transport. It promised immediate benefits, an immediate end to planning blight, and radical transport policies. Now the great day has come, and what do we have? We have extra taxes for road users, more regulation, more bureaucracy, and no improvements for the travelling public even promised until after the next election. What a wasted opportunity.

If that is the best that the right hon. Gentleman can do after 14 months of dithering in government, 18 years fulminating in opposition, the £26 billion investment in roads that we left in place, the billions that our policies of privatisation and deregulation have brought into the system, the framework for transport integration laid out in 1996 and our changes in planning guidance, we might as well have been waiting until next spring—unless, of course, teeny-boppers and financial whiz kids overruled the right hon. Gentleman; perhaps we shall hear.

Given the importance of the White Paper in the right hon. Gentleman's own mind, I have a number of questions. Will he confirm that the increase for transport announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week was creative accounting within his existing departmental budget, and that the real increase was not the £600 million announced by the Chancellor—that is per annum—but £7 million, as calculated by the British Roads Federation?

Is it not the case that the so-called extra funding of £1.8 billion is made up largely from the proceeds of reducing subsidies to the privatised railways? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore confirm his conversion to the cause of that privatisation, given the benefits that our policy is affording him?

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what he means by British Rail "retaining the ability" to be a train operator? Is he saying that British Rail has the right to compete for franchises, for example?

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he plans to remove all the subsidy to London Underground by the year 2000? Will he tell the House what assumptions he has made about the likely private investment in London Underground by the year 2000? What contingency plans has he made in the event of those plans failing, and what would be the consequent effect on fares and overcrowding?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he intends to fund his plans for improvements in transport infrastructure by imposing more taxes on road users? By how much does he intend that taxation to increase, and how soon will the consequent improvements be in place? How will he guarantee 100 per cent. hypothecation of those taxes, and what system will he put in place to ensure transparency? Can he guarantee that the Treasury will not take its slice of the taxes and charges by imposing VAT on top?

The right hon. Gentleman made rather little of this in his statement, but I refer him and the House to the very useful graph in paragraph 236 of last week's comprehensive spending review, where the new income assumptions are clearly shown. Does he accept that higher taxation for motorists will disproportionately affect women, the elderly, people with disabilities and people in rural areas, all of whom regard the car as a necessity, and for all of whom safe and secure travelling by car is a major consideration?

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there will be an exemption from workplace parking charges for health and education establishments? What other exemptions does he plan? How will the new income streams generated by the new taxes and charges on motorists affect his Department's assumptions for the distribution of local authority finance?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, during the past 15 years, there have been massive improvements in the manufacture of cleaner cars? What plans has he to encourage further improvements on the previous Government's record of a 25 per cent. reduction in vehicle emissions during the past five years?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to the Road Haulage Association, the increasing differential between United Kingdom and continental diesel prices will lead to the loss of 26,000 UK jobs in this Parliament, and what does he intend to do about it?

I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement on rail freight and his tribute to the performance of the privatised companies involved. I hope that his appreciation will further encourage his conversion to the cause of privatisation.

How is the right hon. Gentleman's proposal on land use planning compatible with his wish that 2.2 million new homes be built in the countryside? Should new homes be built so far from the jobs and services on which they depend?

Will the right hon. Gentleman now be specific with the House and with the nation? How does he propose to measure the success of his policies? Will he set targets for the overall reductions of traffic growth, the increase in train and bus travel and the number of journeys made by cycle and on foot, and how would he monitor and enforce those targets?

The White Paper has been leaked, hyped and, my word, oversold. It promised action. It is delivering more taxes, a phone-in opportunity, more regulation, a new commission, a new authority, 152 new transport committees, some regional transport centres, a shower of documents, several pilots and—of course—two reviews. It owes nothing to Labour's pre-election promises or, perhaps, even to the right hon. Gentleman's views. It owes everything to focus groups, dithering, interference from No. 10 Downing street and confiscation by the Treasury, and it confirms that, in last week's spending announcement, the right hon. Gentleman was the loser, and so were the travelling public.

Mr. Prescott

The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) will be aware that it was correct for me to give her a copy of the statement three quarters of an hour before the statement was to be made in the House, and that I acted appropriately.

The right hon. Lady complained about the long wait for the White Paper. I explained to the House that it was right and proper for it to be published after the comprehensive spending review and the conclusions on transport. It is a bit much for her to criticise me, given that her party was in power for 18 years and produced only a Green Paper on transport. After a little more than 12 months in office, I have produced a Green Paper and a White Paper. That is an acceptable speed for dealing with a matter as important as transport, especially when compared with the Conservatives' record.

The right hon. Lady complained about the changes that we intend to make in order to achieve an integrated transport policy and find new revenues for it. That was the obvious conclusion not only in her Government's Green Paper, but from our own observations and discussions during consultation. The policies that she now rejects were summed up in her Government's Green Paper in 1996, which stated: The Government will therefore discuss with the Local Authority Associations and other interested parties how best to take matters forward on these topics, with a presumption in favour of introducing legislation, in due course, to enable congestion charging and area licensing to be implemented, and is prepared to consider Local Authority Associations' with all their transport committees arguments on the taxation of private non-residential parking. That was after 17 years of a Tory Government. If there was ever an indictment of a policy pursued by the Administration, it was their own conclusion—the same as we have arrived at—that it is time for change, and that no change is not a way forward.

On the proposals for charging and for swinging to public transport, the same consultation paper said that the objective of any future transport policy—which the previous Government did not have an opportunity to implement, having lost the election—was to persuade people to use public transport more and to use their cars less. Charging, about which the right hon. Lady complains so bitterly, was to be an element of that policy.

Nevertheless, the right hon. Lady's point is correct. We will have to find new income streams. For her to complain that the resources of £1.7 billion are now reduced to £7 million, on the advice of a PR agency, is a bit much. I bitterly regret the comments about my White Paper. No PR agency has had access to this White Paper. That was a story in the press. There is no evidence. I feel very strongly that the first body to whom I speak about the contents of the White Paper should be the House of Commons.

I regret the leaks that may have occurred in other cases, but, as the right hon. Lady pointed out, the main discussion has been about the table in the comprehensive spending review, which clearly showed extra new forms of income. That was stated, the press speculated on it, and there has been much argument and intelligent discussion about the implications of those charges.

I can assure the right hon. Lady that there will be a consultation document to examine how they might apply, who will be exempt, and whether charges will apply to hospitals and such places. There are major questions to be answered. The House will properly expect the Government to produce a consultation document. Of course I will do that, as I said in my statement.

With regard to British Rail and the arguments about privatisation and the use of resources, about £1 billion was spent in preparing for rail privatisation. The loss of those public assets, sold to the private sector, turned people into millionaires. Under the previous Administration, the subsidies given by the state in public service obligation payments rose from £1 billion to £2 billion. The private sector received twice the subsidy that the previous Government were prepared to give British Rail, and, having been given twice as much subsidy, of course it would appear to do better.

The freight industry is another example. I inherited a deal—which, unfortunately, I could not stop—whereby the previous Administration sold off the railway companies, gave a £250 million dowry along with that sale, and guaranteed that there would be no charges to travel through the channel tunnel until 2005. If those concessions had been given to the state sector, it would have been able to offer increased freight services.

A prejudiced Administration's loaded game against the public sector led to a transport policy that saw fewer goods carried by rail, more people travelling on congested roads, a worsening environment, and all the other problems that we have highlighted in our criticisms of that Administration.

The shadow Secretary of State referred to transport services in rural areas and for the disabled. She should bear in mind the fact that a third of people in this country have no access to cars; their only option is public transport. Under her Administration, public transport services were reduced and made less available, and prices increased far more than those associated with car use. Those people paid the penalty for the previous Government's failed transport system. In those circumstances, there is no reason for us to offer any apologies about these matters.

I think that the commission for integrated transport could examine the targets that the shadow Secretary of State highlighted. Those targets include measuring the reduction in car use, and calculating how many more people use public transport and how many would take up cycling opportunities. Those are the sorts of targets that should be established, assessed every year and reported to the House in order to gauge the Government's effectiveness in implementing the White Paper and the integrated transport policy. We will be measured on the success of our policies, and we are prepared to be so.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

You have no targets.

Mr. Prescott

Targets have been set for greenhouse gas emissions and CO2 gases. We are setting targets for cycling and for a reduction in car use. The consultation documents will establish those targets in the transport plans.

As for the transparency of those plans, the shadow Secretary of State will be aware that local authorities already issue transport policies and programmes, in which targets between local and central Government have been agreed for a long time. We shall ensure that there is decent transport for everyone. The reactions so far, particularly from the press and the public at large, show that the time for change has arrived—and we intend to lead it.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the first time in 18 years that a Government have set down an integrated, sensible and responsible transport policy? Is he aware also that the fact that he inherited such chaos and fragmentation, yet has come to the House with an imaginative, sensible plan for the future, is a great credit to him and to his commitment?

We shall expect the strategic rail authority to be much more responsive to the needs of the customer, and we welcome the extra funds for rail freight. Will it be possible to formulate soon a policy for aviation, which is fundamental to the economic benefits of this country? Many people in rural areas who are currently extremely badly served by all forms of public transport will have listened with astonishment to today's performance by the shadow Secretary of State.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks, and her support. I am particularly grateful for the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee's work on the strategic rail authority and other transport matters. My hon. Friend knows that we have published today a Command Paper in response to her Committee's work. Our White Paper reflects the unanimous opinion arrived at in the Committee, across party lines, about the way to improve the railway system. Those ideas involve the strategic rail authority, and I am grateful for that support.

Aviation and airports are an important issue, involving the development of open skies in Europe, the recent negotiations between ourselves and America culminating in the British Airways-American Airlines deal, and ongoing discussions regarding terminal 5. Some fundamental issues must be decided, many of which are influenced by European regulations and negotiated bilaterally between countries. We intend to deal with those matters and follow them up in the forthcoming document on aviation and airport policy.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

The hypocrisy from the Conservative Benches is breathtaking, given that the previous Conservative Government were the Administration that delivered petrol price increases and a cut in the road programme, but no practical action to help motorists and others get from A to B.

As for the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement, perhaps, unlike the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), I shall reserve my judgment on its overall impact until I have the chance to read the full document, which is lengthy. However, there seem to be some missing issues.

There is no real action to tackle the self-interests of the out-of-town super-stores. There are no parking charges for them, despite recommendations from the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. It seems that there is no action to change the company car tax system, which currently rewards the gas guzzler for ever more miles and penalises those using public transport. Above all, there is no target for traffic reduction, either year by year or as an ultimate objective, although the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be one. If there will be one, will he tell the House what it will be, so that we can judge him against it as he invited us to do?

Is the Deputy Prime Minister able to announce a review of the Government's own use of cars by Departments, not least by Ministers themselves? Indeed, are we to anticipate, as I hope we are, charges both for Ministers and other Members for the free parking that takes place right here in the heart of central London?

May we anticipate that the right hon. Gentleman has secured a legislative slot for action on these matters, especially on congestion charging and business parking, which were promised to local authorities, and without which they will not be able to take forward local transport plans that the right hon. Gentleman rightly talks about? After all, it was the previous Conservative Government who last proposed them, back in 1996. If we do not get these measures in the next legislative timetable, it will not be until the new millennium that any action begins to start. In that case, what is the difference from the Tories?

Mr. Prescott

Liberals are always holier than holy, aren't they?

A number of the questions that have been asked by the hon. Gentleman are under review. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he wants to look at company car tax. He thinks that it is a crazy way of encouraging people to drive cars to get the allowance, and to drive greater mileages than necessary. That is under review.

As for the target reduction to which the hon. Gentleman referred, we have already given draft guidance to local authorities about that. Nationally, we wanted to be sure about our negotiations in Kyoto. Thankfully, under the presidency of the British Administration, we were able to secure not only the Kyoto agreement but the Brussels or Luxembourg agreement. Our target now is a 12.5 per cent. reduction.

Mr. Matthew Taylor


Mr. Prescott

I know. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not made the connection. Exhaust gas comes out of a car, and if there are fewer cars moving, there is a reduction in gas emission. Targets for cars and reductions are an essential part of the process. By the end of the year, we will be producing a sustainable document setting out what contributions can be made towards those ends. There will be variations from town to town. There should be discussions with local authorities rather than a blanket target.

I encourage everyone to read the White Paper and to come to a judgment later. I hope that people will do precisely that. As for legislation, it is for the legislative committees to determine the priorities of legislation. I cannot say any more on that. The House can be sure that the White Paper has a demand on the legislative programme, and we intend to make that the position.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Peter Snape.

Mr. Prescott


Madam Speaker

Does the Secretary of State wish to come back?

Mr. Prescott

indicated dissent.

Madam Speaker

No—take another opportunity. The right hon. Gentleman has answered a lot of questions already.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I shall be as helpful as ever, Madam Speaker.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on what, I know, is for him the culmination of many years of enthusiastic work in this area of policy. May I press him on enforcement of bus priorities? My right hon. Friend mentioned the need to enforce the law on bus lanes, but there are other matters, such as parking and loading and unloading at bus stops. Does he intend to press the Home Office to allow local authorities to be responsible for this area of enforcement? As he says, they are to keep the money, anyway.

Finally, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on resisting the temptation to allow 44-tonne lorries on to Britain's roads, something which the Conservative party would have done had the nation been unwise enough to re-elect it last May. Does he agree that those lorries, which are the heaviest, are the most subsidised by the community, do the most damage to our roads, and directly oppose and compete with long-distance rail freight? For those reasons, they should be resisted.

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for his compliments and can confirm that we are discussing with the Home Office precisely how to deal with people who disobey the regulations and enter bus priority lanes, causing great difficulties and delaying buses. Such people are much resented by other motorists who stay in the correct lane and observe the law. We are considering many penalties in respect of these matters, and, with the Home Office, we hope to make a statement shortly.

On 44 or 41-tonne lorries, I resisted the arguments, and I do not think that the case has been made that the number of lorry movements would be reduced by moving to 44 tonnes, but I wanted to signal that 41 tonnes was more than I was expected to do in respect of the European regulations. I hope to encourage a move to six-axle vehicles, which are less damaging to the roads; maintenance bills are massive, so it would be more helpful if we did that.

I am quite prepared to leave my mind open and to see what the report from the commission for integrated transport says on whether the balance between rail and road can be achieved by moving to 44-tonne lorries, but let me be frank—I want more to go on rail. That would give the rail industry a number of years to reach the targets that it has set out and which I have endorsed, without being undermined by the challenge of the 44-tonne lorries.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

On dedicated revenue streams, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that all the money will be ring-fenced and that it may be applied to transport schemes, and not be siphoned off by the Treasury? Will he also make it clear that his Department will not make assumptions about revenue support grant and take sums equivalent to that revenue away from local councils?

Will the right hon. Gentleman correct the impression he gave that the previous Government were in favour of taxing workplace parking? Their Green Paper clearly stated: The Government would not favour allowing the taxation of private non-residential parking. Will he make that absolutely clear?

Mr. Prescott

No. I made it clear that private non-residential parking will be subjected to review in the consultation document—these are charges to be taken into account. On whether that income would go directly to one source—local authority transport plans—all charges are subjected to value added tax and other taxation arrangements. [Interruption.] Conservative Members have not yet learnt that they imposed that, and that the charges that the Conservative party brought in subject them to tax.

In these arrangements, hypothecation means directing that money to transport improvements. I do not envisage that to affect other local authority transport expenditure; this is additional money, but I shall want to know what are their plans for transport policies and programmes, which they have to agree with me before they can even get to the stage of raising money and agreeing the priorities of expenditure.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

May I congratulate the whole ministerial team on the vision in the White Paper? There is a problem, however: in the dark years of Conservatism in the 1980s, when Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, almost the whole of Britain's bus manufacturing capacity was destroyed, including the Leyland Bus plant in my constituency, which was able to produce almost 3,000 buses a year. With Volvo's recent decision to place bus orders with a manufacturer in Poland, there is almost nothing left of the United Kingdom's bus manufacturing capacity. Can we have a strategy to rebuild Britain's bus manufacturing industry? Perhaps it might return to Workington one day.

Mr. Prescott

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. One of the casualties of the privatisation and deregulation of the bus industry was continuity of investment. Buses got older because company owners found it more profitable not to invest in new ones, but to pay off the debts of purchasing the company. That led to such an uneven demand that the bus industry collapsed. Indeed, we have effectively seen the destruction of the bus manufacturing industry in this country.

However, there is still some manufacturing left, and I should like to see that built on. I look forward to a future in which the transport industry is geared towards assisting our manufacturing industry by providing new investment. Those are the resources that I have talked about, which are embodied in the White Paper.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

Although I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's conversion to the merits of rail privatisation, I wish that he had said a little more about the record growth in passenger numbers on the railways since privatisation. May I ask him about roads? As a result of the transport supplementary grant settlement, will there be any money for local bypasses, such as the urgently needed Wyre-Piddle bypass in my constituency? Will he tell local authorities that environmentally unsustainable new settlements for commuters in the countryside will no longer be tolerated?

Mr. Prescott

Did the hon. Gentleman say "Why a piddle?" bypass? [Laughter.]

We shall change the priorities to ensure that many bypasses are built so that villages are safer and healthier places in which to live. Improving the roads programme will be a priority. Next week, a statement will be made about the roads programme, which will be relevant to the hon. Gentleman's question.

I am not a convert to privatisation; I still believe in a publicly owned, publicly accountable system. Once we have secured the investment for the channel tunnel rail link and the underground, those will return to public ownership.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

In welcoming the ring fencing of money raised from roads and parking charges to fund local transport improvements, may I ask my right hon. Friend carefully to consider the taxation of air traffic pollution—both air and noise pollution—and ring-fencing the proceeds to local public transport schemes? For instance, as air traffic from Gatwick and Heathrow grows, my constituents in Croydon are paying the price of worsening air and noise pollution. They would welcome new investment in public transport.

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend makes a fair point about air traffic pollution. It is a matter we want to look at in our review of aviation policy. However, any changes to the fuel used or to air traffic pollution internationally requires international agreement. We shall deal with that point in our paper on aviation.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

So that we may know how much new money there really is, will the Deputy Prime Minister say by how much the rail transport subsidy will be cut—how much he will save by reducing it—how much of that will be spent on his public transport programme, and what proportion of the extra money to which he refers that represents?

Mr. Prescott

For the reduction in subsidies, we shall have to wait until the franchises are renegotiated, which some franchisees are now asking for. In some cases—as in the case of Connex—it is clear that they want more subsidies. Renegotiation of some of the franchise agreements may be completed before their seven years are up. At the present stage, we envisage a considerable reduction—some £1 billion—in the privatisation fund. The fund started at £2 billion, and I think that it went down to about £1.6 billion, so we envisage a further reduction in those payments.

However, even if those targets are achieved, any money will go straight back to the Treasury rather than simply into transport, which is why the changes we have made are extremely important. The new streams of income that we have introduced will come directly to transport. It is like saying that savings are being made. The Conservatives doubled the subsidy to underpin privatisation, and the state sector received only £1 billion. That was hardly an example of good management of resources by the previous Administration.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister, particularly on his announcement about concessionary fares. May I be a bit parochial for a moment? He referred to the Dartford-Thurrock crossing and the use of toll charges to maintain traffic management of the M25. Does he agree that it would be unfair if only the Dartford-Thurrock crossing users paid the bill for M25 traffic management, given that many low-paid people on the north banks of Kent and the south banks of Essex use the crossing to get to work? Should not traffic management costs be met by everyone who uses the M25, including those who live in the rich, leafy lanes of Surrey and elsewhere?

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend may have a point. We shall discuss that matter with the various bodies. There is a massive flow of traffic on the M25, and it could do much better if better management techniques were used. That costs money, and it is one way of using some of the resources. As we have made clear in our discussions with the Highways Agency, the possibility of other forms of income remains open.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

The Deputy Prime Minister is to be congratulated as, he has concentrated on the chaos created by motor cars. We particularly welcome his statement about concessionary fares for pensioners, which he referred to as a "national" minimum concessionary fare. Will it apply to the nation, or just to England and Wales?

Mr. Prescott

This is when I call a taxi! The national concessionary fare will apply to England and Wales. I do not think that it will apply to Northern Ireland, but I am not sure. The right hon. Gentleman has caught me out, so I shall write to him.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the regeneration of recycled land in north-west Kent, which includes my constituency, will result in up to 50,000 new jobs and 20,000 new houses. That will increase transport needs. Will he be able to assist transport projects, such as the Thames Gateway metro and the Kent Thameside transit system, in alleviating some of the traffic problems that will be generated?

Mr. Prescott

We are considering a number of improvements in the transport corridors. We have already announced investment in the underground and in the channel tunnel link, and the Minister of Transport will be making a statement about road priorities in the south-east. It is an important area, and there has been a tremendous growth in transport. We must get more people in the south-east to change from their cars to public transport. Public transport must be reliable, and the only way to achieve that is to give it the priority that I have talked about in the White Paper.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The right hon. Gentleman talked about using the White Paper to create a fairer society. He also said that people must come to a judgment about his White Paper, and that he wanted to ensure that he put his money where his mouth was. Does he agree that his proposals on workplace charging ensure that taxpayers' money—motorists' money—is being bitten off by the mouth of the Humber?

Mr. Prescott

I shall deal with the facts of the matter. The previous Administration agreed that such charges should be considered. The difference is that I have got them hypothecated: I do not know whether the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) has got the shadow Cabinet to agree to establishing a new principle of hypothecation. We have announced extra money for the channel tunnel link, investments, and changes in the Treasury rules. Those measures will provide a considerable amount of money for the transport system.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

In an attempt to prevent the occupiers of the 20,000 new homes in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) from driving through my constituency, I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on dedicated bus routes and the improvement of bus links. May I draw his attention to the extension of the Jubilee line to north Greenwich, where there is a major arterial road? That will provide a rapid transport link. We need to link bus routes with the London underground network to reduce car use in south-east London. Other than the bus and the car, there is no alternative to the Connex network, which is already overcrowded at peak times.

Mr. Prescott

We must give considerable attention to the ways in which we can make existing capacity work more effectively. I have agreed to the £35-million extension of the docklands light railway to the airport. The number of people travelling on it will increase from 1 million to 3 million, and the time taken to get from the airport to the centre of London will be reduced by almost half. It will reduce congestion on the extraordinarily expensive Limehouse link, which cost £250 million for one mile. We should give priority to linking existing systems and to obtaining new investment.

On my hon. Friend's point about the Jubilee line, my first priority is to modernise what we have rather than to consider further extensions, although we are prepared to examine the priorities involved.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Deputy Prime Minister referred to an increased use of park-and-ride schemes. Can he give us a categorical assurance that such schemes will not be set up on green-belt areas—I am thinking of, for instance, the proposed scheme in Rawcliffe—when other appropriate areas are available?

Have the Government had a chance to cost the impact on shops and small businesses of charging local residents for access to cities at peak time?

Mr. Prescott

Access and congestion charges will have to be the subject of a proper consultation document, and I have promised to produce such a document. As for park-and-ride schemes in green-belt areas, I am in a quasi-judicial position in that regard, and cannot comment. The hon. Lady's constituency, however, is near the city of York, where a scheme that I opened a few years ago when I was the Opposition transport spokesman has been highly successful. People can still do their shopping at supermarkets on the outskirts of York, leave their cars there, and catch buses into town. More and more people are using that scheme, which is an intelligent way of employing the park-and-ride system.

Planning inspectors have to make decisions about these matters, but, if there is a dispute, they are eventually referred to me.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley)

In Greater Manchester, a combination of deregulation and privatisation of bus services had, by 1993, led to an extraordinary situation: buses were creating more pollution per passenger mile than cars. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in conurbations such as Greater Manchester, the best way to get people out of their cars is to re-regulate the buses and invest in metrolink?

Mr. Prescott

The deregulated system—particularly in Manchester, where there was a massive conversion from the normal regulated service to a deregulated minibus system—created far more buses in the city, more congestion and more pollution. Frankly, it was a disaster. I believe that there is a role for a regulated form of transport, and what I call the quality contract. As I said in my statement, that is a possible way forward, and we are prepared to consider such proposals on a statutory basis.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

The Government have just helped General Motors to retain its car plant in Luton, thereby saving thousands of jobs there and in the surrounding supply industries. Can I take it from that that the Government will build new roads in the south Bedfordshire industrial area in order to continue to promote economic growth and reduce congestion?

Mr. Prescott

A statement about roads will be made next week. It is obvious, however—"predict and provide" is part of this—that, while it is possible to build more and more motorways, they fill up as fast as they are built, creating even more congestion. The policy must be changed—a conclusion that the previous Administration reached in their Green Paper.

We are not suggesting that cars should be banished, or being hostile to the motorist; we are asking motorists to use their cars less, and public transport more. Elsewhere in Europe, where there are more cars per head, people use them less, because there is a better transport system. In Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Leeds and Brighton, all of which have given priority to public transport, ridership has increased considerably, and people are using their cars less. That is what we are seeking to achieve.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the bold and imaginative way in which he has tackled difficult problems. I approve of charges for congestion and for parking in city centres, but what will be the mechanism for overseeing the way in which local authorities invest in public expenditure schemes? Will there be rigorous oversight, so that we receive value for money, and local authorities learn from one another's best practice?

Mr. Prescott

At present, our local transport plans must be agreed with central Government. Local authorities will have to talk to operators and, indeed, passengers: that will be the method of oversight and control. I do not want consultation to be limited to local government and operators; it should equally involve passengers, who sometimes have a different view even from elected councillors. I expect the plans that are agreed, and expenditure priorities, to be agreed with the community before coming to me. I shall measure them against the targets and guidance that I will provide, and local authorities will then oversee and implement the policy.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

Following the Deputy Prime Minister's self-confessed successful visit to a charm school, will he have the good grace to acknowledge that I and my colleagues argued long and hard during the previous Administration for many of the proposals that he has presented? I welcome local transport packages. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that, when he came to office and faced the shambles of the previous Administration's policies, only about a quarter of the qualifying local transport packages that met the Department's specifications were funded. Can he assure the House that under his plans, all those packages which meet his Department's specifications will be funded?

Mr. Prescott

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the charming way in which he asked his question. I shall respond in my charming way.

I have advocated for many years the ideas to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I am pleased to be in a job where I can begin to implement them. However, Governments can implement only that for which resources allow. I have tried to find new ways of financing, even to the extent of getting changes for local authorities in the Treasury rules to allow greater flexibility to invest. The issue is not only the amount that I can find—almost £2 billion—but about finding new, agreed income streams. As I said in my statement, those new streams will be geared very much to public transport requirements.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that acid particle emissions from motor vehicles have done more damage to York Minster and the other historic limestone buildings in York in the past 20 years than has been caused in the previous two centuries? Is he further aware that measures such as the park-and-ride schemes introduced by York city council, and its traffic-calming measures and pedestrian and cycle priority schemes, provide necessary alternatives to car use in York? Does he commend those schemes to other authorities?

My right hon. Friend will remember that, when the Conservatives were in power, they closed the York carriage works. Since the election, his transport policies have created a market for rail freight wagons, and a freight works has reopened in York. On Monday, the first freight vehicle will roll off the production line at the Thrall works in York. That shows that the markets, as well as transport specialists, approve of my right hon. Friend's policies.

Mr. Prescott

I was delighted by the opening of that plant, which was scandalously closed under the previous Administration, not because railway stock was not wanted but because they were not prepared to ensure that investment was available. If they had invested in rolling stock instead of using the money to meet the cost of rail privatisation, that plant could have been kept in being, but their ideological requirement was to privatise.

I welcome the advance in freight wagons by the English, Welsh and Scottish Freight Rail Company. My hon. Friend spoke about environmental problems and acid particles. York's excellent policy has not only improved buildings in the area but encouraged more people to cycle. Much more can be done to facilitate cycling, and I think that about 20 per cent. of journeys in York are undertaken in that way. I congratulate the Labour administration in York on its comprehensive policy on these matters.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We must now move on. There will be another important transport statement next week.