HC Deb 31 July 1998 vol 317 cc653-76

11.9 am

The Minister of Transport (Dr. John Reid)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement about our strategic review of trunk roads, the report on which, "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England", is published today. I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) and to my noble Friend Baroness Hayman for their tremendous work on the review, of which I and my colleagues have been the beneficiaries. Copies of the report explaining our decisions will be available in the Vote Office after this statement. I have sent details to all Members of Parliament with English constituencies.

The Government are committed to modernisation and prudent public finances. Those themes formed the backdrop to the roads review. The outcome is not the grandiose but impractical notions of our predecessors, but realistic, practical decisions that will help business, help people and help Britain.

Trunk roads are vital for business and personal travel. They carry a third of passenger traffic and more than half of freight. Traffic is expected to grow over the next 20 years by about 50 per cent. By 2016, a quarter of our trunk roads will be seriously congested if we do nothing, so to do nothing is not an option. We need a new approach, building on that set out in our integrated transport White Paper. "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England" is based on the fundamental principle that trunk roads must have a central role in our integrated national transport system.

There are four other key points in our approach. We will make better use of the existing network—building new roads will not be the first option—help motorists by investing more in road maintenance; reduce the negative impact of trunk roads on people and the environment through safer roads and less noise, pollution and intrusion; and ensure that trunk road planning is integrated with regional land use and transport strategies.

We are giving the Highways Agency new objectives, putting more emphasis on its role as the operator of the network rather than simply a road builder. We intend to consider options for charging users on trunk roads and using the revenue to maintain and improve the network and provide new income streams for the Highways Agency. We have already announced that we are considering continuing charging on the Dartford crossing and using the income to help to deliver integrated transport objectives on the M25. Today, I can announce that projects to make better use of the network will benefit from 60 per cent. more funding by 2001–02.

Roads are a vital national asset which has been poorly maintained. Without a change in direction, the state of the roads will worsen. We shall begin to put that right. We have already increased the provision for capital maintenance of roads by 50 per cent. for the current year. I am pleased to tell the House today that, in addition, maintenance spending overall will go up by a further 20 per cent. by 2001–02. We shall progressively tackle the backlog and maintain trunk roads at minimum whole-life costs. Together with our proposals to encourage less damaging six-axle lorries, that strategy will save money, enhance safety and reduce disruption.

The trunk road network has a good safety record and we shall establish targets to reduce road casualties further. I am pleased to announce that we have set up a ring-fenced budget for small safety projects that will grow steadily to £50 million in 2001–02.

Well-planned bypasses and certain other road improvements can improve the environment and transform towns and villages without doing serious harm to the countryside. The key is to ensure that the environment is given full weight from the outset. From now on, there will be a strong presumption against new roads affecting environmentally sensitive sites.

In that context, the House will be pleased to know that we are reducing the number of sites of special scientific interest affected by the programme from 49 to eight. We will also use low-noise surfaces for new roads and, where appropriate, when an existing road is resurfaced. We will also have a dedicated budget to tackle some of the most difficult existing noise problems.

Getting the planning framework right is absolutely crucial. I can outline three measures to ensure that such a framework is put in place. First, future trunk road planning will be part of the regional planning system and set in the context of the overall transport and land use strategy for each region.

Secondly, we propose to transfer about 40 per cent. of the existing trunk road network to local highway authorities. Those roads should be managed by local authorities as part of local transport plans.

Thirdly, we have ended the discredited "predict and provide" approach to road building. Instead, our new appraisal approach is based on the five criteria of integration, environment, safety, the economy and accessibility. The new approach will become an increasingly important tool for appraising alternative options across all forms of transport.

For the first time ever, we conducted a wide-ranging public consultation on our review of the trunk roads programme, with meetings in each region, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh played a prominent part. My noble Friend Baroness Hayman met Members of Parliament to hear their views. About 14,000 written representations were received. Together, that gave us a clear picture of regional priorities.

For the first time ever, we analysed objectively the problems that we were seeking to address using broadly based criteria; for the first time ever, we have provided financial stability through our three-year spending programme and seven-year transport investment plan, which will enable our programmes to go ahead; for the first time ever, we have a practical and focused programme. Gone is our predecessors' massive wish list of 150 schemes, most of which would never have been built, over a time scale that was never specified and for which money was never assured.

We have considered the schemes that could be started in the foreseeable future and produced a programme that is funded and delivers our objectives. That comprises the 37 schemes in our targeted programme of improvements, all of which can be started within seven years.

The largest category is safety and healthier communities, reflecting the importance that we attach to those objectives. The programme includes much-needed bypasses that will take large volumes of traffic out of towns and villages, thereby improving the quality of life. It also includes schemes designed to improve sections with poor accident rates.

The next category, regeneration and integration, includes junction improvements to remove bottlenecks that are hampering development; dualling schemes to improve access to remote areas; and schemes to facilitate access to a rail freight terminal and an airport. The final category, jobs and prosperity, includes schemes to deal with bottlenecks and other schemes needed to support economic growth in particular locations.

Many of the schemes not gone ahead with reflect serious transport problems that need to be addressed. There will be a programme of studies to consider practical options and develop integrated transport solutions. The House will not expect me to give details of every scheme, but I should cover two particular issues.

The motorway network is the core of the road system and is essential to the nation's economy. A number of schemes for widening the existing motorway network were under consideration. We had to balance their potential economic benefits against the impact on the environment and local communities. In some cases, such as proposals to widen the M6 between junctions 11A and 19, we propose to study all integrated transport options, including shifting traffic from road to rail, in order to develop the best integrated transport solution to deal with serious problems on that important route between Birmingham and Manchester. For the first time, we have brought together Railtrack and the Highways Agency under a concordat that allows them to work together on such problems.

The M25 is a strategic motorway important to the entire country. It is severely congested, and that is bad for the economy and the environment. There are no easy answers. We need a package of measures including traffic and demand management and attractive public transport alternatives. We are setting in hand a major study to develop such solutions. Meanwhile, we propose a number of short-term measures, such as closed circuit television cameras covering the whole motorway and the extension of variable speed limits. We shall also investigate using the hard shoulder as a climbing lane, subject to safety considerations.

However, problems between junction 12, with the M3, and junction 15, with the M4, are so acute that providing some extra capacity has to be part of the strategy. It is the most heavily used section of our motorway network, with flows of up to 200,000 vehicles a day. The most up-to-date traffic management measures have already been applied to that section. More capacity is needed to allow a breathing space while wider integrated transport policies take effect, and to allow for gradual introduction of necessary traffic and demand management strategies. We have concluded, therefore, that the widening scheme should go ahead, but we are cancelling two other widening schemes on the M25 between junctions 15 and 19.

One other scheme brings together economic, environmental and heritage issues. Stonehenge is unique. It is a world heritage site. Yet its setting has been described by the Public Accounts Committee as a "national disgrace". The solution developed by my Department, by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and by English Heritage is to put the 2 km section of the A303 that passes the stones in a cut and covered tunnel. At least a third of the costs will be found from heritage sources. The scheme will have major heritage and environmental benefits. It will remove a bottleneck and improve traffic flow on the A303. Above all, perhaps, it shows what can be achieved by cross-departmental working and integrated transport thinking.

Judgments about roads are never easy. The policy that I have announced today is good for the economy because it gives priority to maintenance, to making best use of an asset, and to investing in a number of urgent schemes. It is good for safety and the environment. We have dramatically reduced the number of sites of special scientific interest affected by the programme. It makes good financial sense with a practical, deliverable, programme for the future. "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England" sets out a radical approach to trunk road policy that is based firmly on our integrated transport strategy. I commend it to the House.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making available to me a copy of his statement and the report at the correct time. All hon. Members will have found it helpful to have had individual copies of the parts of the report appropriate to their constituencies. I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I congratulate him, and I wish him well. We regret that his post has been demoted from Cabinet rank, feeling that that illustrates the Government's attitude to transport. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will perform his task well. I only hope that his ministerial career will not be affected by the poisoned chalice that he has been handed today. I am delighted that he has made an oral statement. It has come at the last possible moment, but that was not of his doing.

The previous Conservative Government laid down the principles on which an integrated approach to transport policy should be based, as the Secretary of State was generous enough to acknowledge last week. There was general agreement that road building must be carefully appraised, and responsible use of the car encouraged. The previous Government also indicated an end to the predict and provide strategy.

If we felt that the roads review was doing all that, we would welcome it. However, it demonstrates that the Secretary of State lacks the clout to establish transport as the priority promised before the general election. Even given the hugely increased spending plans announced in the comprehensive spending review, the Secretary of State was rolled over by the Treasury. As a result, the travelling public are getting a triple whammy. Road users will pay more in fuel taxes, congestion charges, workplace parking charges and motorway tolls; there will be no early improvement in public transport to encourage people to use the roads less; and, today the right hon. Gentleman has announced that the main strategy to achieve his Department's aim is to force people off the roads by increasing congestion and jams.

I have a number of questions for the right hon. Gentleman. Will he confirm the answer that the Minister for Transport in London gave on 27 July to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) that less money will be spent next year on road construction and maintenance than was spent this year? If the position has altered in the light of his announcement, can he tell us by how much and in what way?

The right hon. Gentleman confirmed that only 37 of the 140 schemes under consideration have been given the go-ahead. He said that construction of those schemes is due to begin during the next seven years. However, the comprehensive spending review identified spending totals only for the next three years. What assurance can he give that the 37 schemes will both start and reach completion?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made no increase in the comprehensive spending review for local authority spending on roads maintenance? What message does he think that conveys to local authorities when he is proposing that they take on greater responsibility for the roads network? Will he define "minimum whole-life costs"?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the so-called extra funds for maintenance are derived either from reducing subsidies to privatised rail companies—if he does, will he be generous enough to withdraw his Government's objection to the principle of privatisation—or from the total removal of subsidy from London Underground by 2000? I asked the Secretary of State last week, but he was unable or unwilling to answer, what investment is expected from the private sector between now and 2000 to justify that removal. What happens if it is wrong? Does Rail Maritime Transport share the Secretary of State's aspirations?

The answer given by the Minister for Transport in London on 27 July states that spending on bypasses is to be halved next year, from £157 million this year with one start, to £82 million next year. Does that mean a half start? What hope does the right hon. Gentleman hold out to the 500 communities that, with Friends of the Earth, see relief from congestion and pollution arising from properly planned and constructed bypasses? How many of those communities will today be disappointed?

What contribution does today's statement make to the Government's ability to meet their stated carbon dioxide emissions targets and their commitments under the Kyoto agreement?

We welcome the setting up of properly resourced and equipped regional traffic control centres. Given that so many of the road schemes that the Minister has today delayed or scrapped have been the subject of reviews because of congestion problems, how quickly does he envisage road users experiencing real improvements on, say, the M1 and the M6? Many will be listening to his reply as they sit in jams and I do not think that further studies will be much comfort to them.

One notable exception to the Government's general approach to road improvements and road building, for which the right hon. Gentleman gave some explanation, is the M25. I am sure that he would like to confirm to the House that the Government have changed their mind, and widening that road is no longer lunacy.

Now that the Government have published a transport White Paper designed to reduce dependency on the car, will the Department be publishing revised forecasts for traffic growth, based on the success of their policies?

The Deputy Prime Minister said that the country was in the mood for radical change in transport policy and that he was in the mood to give it to them. After all his promises of immediate benefits for the travelling public, all the hype, the glossy publications and the media opportunities for the right hon. Gentleman to prove his public transport credentials by standing at a bus stop before sweeping off in the ministerial Jaguar, the radical change amounts to more taxes for motorists, less investment in transport overall and the certainty of more gridlock on the roads. The long-delayed roads review, far from achieving the immediate benefits that the right hon. Gentleman promised, is in fact delivering more delay, more planning blight and yet more Government reviews. Jams today, jams tomorrow, jams until after the next election—that is the Government's transport policy.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

One hundred and fifteen questions.

Dr. Reid

I shall attempt to answer only 110 of those questions. First, I thank the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) for her congratulations and am deeply moved by her concern about my future career prospects, but I think that I would rather take care of them. The fact that no less a person than the Deputy Prime Minister is in charge of the Department is a sign of the priority that we place on transport. As for the right hon. Lady's other questions, I shall avoid answering those that were merely personal abuse.

The right hon. Lady asked whether less money was being spent on investment in, and the maintenance of, trunk roads next year and the answer is no. Spending will increase by £52 million during the next year, as I have managed to discover in the 72 hours that I have been in the Department, so I am glad to be able to enlighten the right hon. Lady on that matter. There will be an extra £470 million for trunk roads in the next three years—the comprehensive spending review period—and, in addition, in the longer term, extra money will become available from our income streams.

On privatisation, we have made it plain that an integrated transport policy means the integration of all forms of transport, cross-departmental working and a partnership between the public and private sectors. The difference between the previous Conservative Government and our Government is that we are not driven by a blind ideology down the pathway of one form of ownership. We want the public and private sectors to work together.

On the Kyoto summit, we shall be producing a document to outline our detailed response in the autumn. As for road maintenance, we have restored the cuts that took place under the Conservative Government.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

What about money for local authority roads maintenance?

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman has a cheek interrupting as he does, when the Conservative Government, after 18 years, left us in a worse mess than any other Government have done. I shall give one example. The right hon. Lady had the brass neck to criticise us implicitly about bypasses. We have given the go-ahead for 15. The highest number in any year during the 18 years of Conservative control of the transport system was 16, so this year, we have almost reached the highest figure that the Tories ever managed to achieve. Their record in their last three years was as follows: in 1994–95, they started the sum total of three bypasses; in 1995–96, they started one; and in 1996–97, they started one. So, this year we are starting three times more than they did in their last three years and they ought to consider those figures before they speak.

In reality, the previous Government had 18 years during which they did not even begin to think about such issues. They did not carry out an annual review and, indeed, did not even carry out one every decade. They spent tens of millions preparing schemes and then dropped them when they realised that they could not afford them, for example when they prepared their grandiose plans to build link roads around the M25 only to abandon them. They said that they did not believe in predict and provide, but acted as though they did during that period. Every year, they produced a fantasy football league of hundreds of road schemes, which were never funded, planned or carried out and for which no time scale was delivered. We are offering a policy programme based on a rational analysis, which is practical, and which is funded—we have laid out the funding—and can be delivered within a specified time. That is a marked improvement on the 18 years of the previous Government.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the first sane and sensible attempt, certainly for the past 20 years, to get a transport policy that will deliver not only safety schemes but improvements that will have an immediate economic and environmental benefit? It will be most warmly welcomed throughout the United Kingdom. The situation as regards road maintenance is now dangerous, as he will be aware, and we welcome his commitment to do something about it urgently. Finally, any Government who are prepared to put road safety, environmental planning and the commitment of ordinary householders to a peaceful life at the top of their list of action should be wholly commended.

Dr. Reid

I thank my hon. Friend, who is the Chairman responsible for transport on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and whose views on those matters we always listen to with respect. I welcome her comments about a more rational balance and a planned and integrated approach. I entirely agree that far too little attention has been paid to maintenance. Finally, as I understand from a brief comment she made as she entered the Chamber that she has not yet received her letter, I am pleased to be able to inform her that one of the 15 bypasses that I mentioned is in her area and I am sure that she will welcome that news.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

I begin by congratulating the Minister on his new role. However, in presenting the report, the right hon. Gentleman needs to be clear in his own mind whether it is an announcement of a huge cut in the road programme, as he started off by saying, or whether it is a massive increase, as his final comments to the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman suggested. The truth is that the majority of schemes have been not cancelled but delayed, and the outcome of the reviews will establish whether this is really a new deal on roads.

Can the Minister explain why the Government, who, pre-election, described widening the M25 and the Birmingham northern relief road as "madness" have gone ahead with both? That expenditure is unwise when some important village bypasses have been cancelled. Most importantly, if this is joined-up thinking and an integrated transport strategy, can he detail how much has been saved by the postponement and cancellation of road schemes and how much is being spent on increased investment in public transport as a result of the announcement? It seems that the Chancellor has done better out of this than the new Minister and that the statement is rather more Brown than green.

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he is the Liberal transport spokesman. I presume that they are as united on transport as on every other thing, so I await the six other views on transport from those on the Liberal Benches.

On joined-up thinking, in comparison with what went before, and with the Liberals, this is not merely joined-up but positively seamless. It starts with a rational review and a policy basis rather than what has happened in the past: a long list largely determined, in practice, by the Treasury and determined presentationally by choosing a number and doubling it. We want to get away from that. It involves hard choices.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that I had talked about the volume of the road scheme. I did not claim at the end that it was a massive increase. I talked about the fantasy football league figures used previously in the Tory wish list, which sometimes had 150 schemes; they were up to 500 at one stage. If we wished to continue that, we could announce that, at some indefinite stage in the next millennium, we had 1,000 on our list and cost them at £12 billion or £15 billion like the Tories did but everyone, especially business men, motorists and the Road Haulage Association, would know that none would be delivered because they were purely presentational. We are taking hard decisions, but we believe that it is better to be honest with people than to try to delude them by presenting large numbers.

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not received his letter but glad that he did not get it before asking his question. We could not start the A30 Bodmin to Indian Queens improvement, which he supports, sufficiently quickly—within the seven-year period—to make it one of the 36 roads in our targeted improvement programme. We shall give it full appraisal. After that, and the statutory procedures, it will be taken forward without delay.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I welcome the statement. It is particularly welcome that we are getting rid of the idea that we move traffic jams around the country. Each new bypass merely moves the jam from one place to the next. If we are to make much better use of our trunk roads, can my right hon. Friend address two problems: controlling speed and making sure that limits are observed for the safety of the people living close to roads; and ensuring that roads are not so often blocked by thoughtless parking?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend is Chairman of the Environment Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee. He has expertise on both speed and parking. We are looking at those issues. There is a review of speed limits and variable speed limits.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman's first statement in his new job should be such an appalling announcement. If he cared to drive from Scotland to Portsmouth, he would find that the first traffic lights are at Hindhead. That is the only single carriageway stretch on the A3 and holds the secret to the regeneration of Portsmouth. It is landscape of international significance. The pollution and the danger to local people are appalling. The time for studies is over. The threat of tolls will be regarded with contempt by local people who already face the rat runs. Can anything persuade him, after delegations, Adjournment debates, petitions and representations from environmentalists, business interests and the residents' association?

Dr. Reid

I understand the right hon. Lady's disappointment. She had a project on what I described earlier as the large wish list. I hope that her disappointment has not jaundiced her view of my whole statement. The problem with wish lists is that they went on indefinitely without dedicated funding. They were unspecified. Perhaps one reason for her disappointment is that, for many years, her project was on such a list. It was never implemented. She was a member of the Government who did not implement it, although she had some influence with the Government and the Department of Transport. I recognise her disappointment, but all the years of Conservative Government with the project on their list are a perfect illustration of how putting presentation above substance, as they did on those matters, ultimately creates only disillusionment. The scheme could not start sufficiently quickly to be considered for our targeted investment programme. It is not completely abandoned but on hold. It will be considered in the proposed A3-Hindhead study.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Heathrow is in my constituency, and the Minister will appreciate the concern of many of my constituents that the announcement of the widening of the M25 is a trigger for building terminal 5 at Heathrow. Given that concern, and the integral link between the M25 and terminal 5, why was the widening of the M25 not referred to the terminal 5 inquiry for the inspector to comment on? Can he give a categorical assurance to the House and to my constituents that this in no way pre-empts the decision on terminal 5 development?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend knows that any schemes associated with Heathrow terminal 5 development are being considered at the public inquiry. This was a separate study. The decision was taken on its own merits. It was a free-standing study. It would not have been appropriate to link it in any way with another project in the same area for which a public inquiry was already under way. Junctions 12 to 15 are in the targeted programme for improvement, and the scheme will be accompanied by an effective demand management and traffic control strategy.

I realise that my hon. Friend is on the losing side of the argument on this matter, but I point out that we considered the whole scheme in great detail. He knows that there was a much more extensive proposal for widening the M25, large sections of which were rejected by us because of the wider considerations. We should like to have been in a position where it would have been possible to consider not proceeding with widening. That would have been a better world for all of us, but we inherited not that world but the one we got from the previous Government. On that section of the M25, the congestion is so bad and so many things have been tried that there was no alternative but to proceed.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman at least on inheriting and continuing Conservative policy on the Great Barford bypass and the Clapham bypass, on the decision to seek private money for the Bedford western bypass and on the go-ahead for the Tempsford flyover. However, may I ask him to clarify something in the context of this new deal, which makes us fearful that it is a new deal of less money for bypasses? Can the citizens of Great Barford expect an early start to a bypass that is necessary on every one of the five criteria that the Government have put forward?

Dr. Reid

There is never a greater exercise in circumlocution than a Conservative with good news from a Labour Government trying to make out that it is all the product of the previous Conservative Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt welcome the fact that the Clapham bypass and the Great Barford A421 bypass, which he supports, are in our targeted programme. The Tempsford junction improvements, which he supports, have been given the go-ahead following a positive recommendation by the inspector who held the public inquiry in February. I should have thought that it would be sufficient just to give plaudits to the Government for their wise decisions without demanding the exact day on which the schemes will start.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend both on his statement and promotion; mind you, it is the first time that he has been PC in his life. Will he confirm that the improvements, which are being designed with the local authority, to the A1 bypass in my constituency in the vicinity of the Metro centre are in the programme, because I have not received my letter yet, and whether the necessary safety improvements to the A1 north of Morpeth, which is an extremely dangerous road, are in the programme as well?

Dr. Reid

I thank my hon. Friend for his politically correct remarks. I have to admit my ignorance on that particular scheme. I will see him immediately afterwards. I have not, in the three days that I have been at the Department, been able to remember all 137 decisions, but I shall ensure that the answer is communicated to him as quickly as possible.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I warmly welcome the Minister's commitment to build the Stonehenge project within seven years. He knows that he can rely on me to give him every encouragement to ensure that it actually happens. Will he join me in thanking the National Trust for its constructive and helpful attitude in abandoning its objections to the building of a road on inalienable property? Will he ensure, however, that a grade separated junction is built at the western end, and that not only the Winterbourne Stoke bypass, for which we are very grateful, but the Chicklade bypass is built? Perhaps more important, will he explain how the one third of funding for the project is going to come out of the budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and whether that will mean national lottery money, or money that is taken directly from the Department's budget?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the scheme. On its funding, the details of which I shall communicate to him, I think that he is mistaken, but I shall want to clarify the exact technical details of it and write to him. The scheme does include the bypass of Winterbourne Stoke, as he said. I have noted his comments on the other matters that he has raised.

In general terms, today's decision on Stonehenge is very good news for the House. It shows that we have moved away from the days when we regarded trunk roads or other roads in an isolated fashion, just as concrete and as the only solution on every occasion. We have been able to highlight today our integrated approach by cross-departmental agreement, for which I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, but we have also been able to illustrate that transport is much more than just a link between areas: it is a method of access to elements of our history and heritage and therefore makes a major contribution to the quality of life. We have been able to do that today with the Stonehenge announcement, which is welcome news for the House as well as for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

May I express my delight at the fantastic, magnificent and far-sighted announcement that the A650 Bingley relief road has been given the go ahead by a Labour Government—something which the Tories failed to do over such a long period? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that scheme will improve the health and environment of my constituents and bring improvements for integrated public transport?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that plans are already in the offing in Bingley to commemorate the local heroes from the ministerial team at the Department? St. John of Bingley is one suggestion that has been made.

Dr. Reid

Because of my hon. Friend's work, this, perhaps of all the announcements, will give greater delight throughout the House than any other. I know that we traditionally have a Father of the House; I do not know whether we have a Child of the House. However, the rational but active and dynamic campaign that my hon. Friend has run on this issue has been a credit to him. Although he has been in the House for only a short period, it bodes extremely well for his future.

The Bingley relief road, of which my hon. Friend has been the most serious and effective advocate, is in our targeted investment programme. It will improve safety and the environment, and I am very glad that we were able to announce the scheme in our statement. Had it been on the list of the previous Government, he may have got it somewhere around his 74th birthday. I am glad that we shall be able to deliver that somewhat earlier.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promotion.

With regard to the A46 Lincoln to Newark road, I think that the Minister will understand the concern in the county of Lincolnshire. Would he be good enough to tell the House whether he can guarantee that the bypass will be started before the end of the seven-year period, and can he in particular tell us when it will start?

The right hon. Gentleman will also know that three Lincoln roads have been detruncked: the A17 to King's Lynn, the A15 to the M180 and the A57 to Sheffield. They now become the responsibility of the local authority. Is he proposing to transfer to the local authority money to maintain those roads equivalent to what is currently spent under the national responsibility?

Dr. Reid

On the general decision, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments. The A46 Newark to Lincoln improvement is in the targeted programme for a number of reasons. Rational decision making is assisted by the five criteria: accessibility, safety, environment, economic development and integration. This scheme will improve safety, and journey reliability and assist in the regeneration of Lincolnshire, so it was very important that it went through.

On the start date, if we did not believe that the bypass would start within seven years, it would not have been in the target list. We have made hard decisions and schemes were excluded, not because we thought that they were not worthy schemes, but because we had to set a reasonable time frame for the start of schemes before we gave concrete promises. Therefore, I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the exact date when it will start, but I can assure him that it will be in the programme.

On local authorities, there will be methods of ensuring that a fair amount of money is transferred for maintenance. That will be dealt with in further documentation.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

While joining in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the decisions he has taken, I want also to congratulate him on listening to the earnest pleas of Hull Members of Parliament for the Hedon road improvements, which are important to the economic integrity of Yorkshire, to the full opening of the port to ensure better facilities for our trade with northern Europe, and to the development of land in the area to improve employment prospects. It is a good decision.

When the Minister comes to consider the main motorways, I urge him to promote a campaign for lane discipline. So often on the M1 and the M6, the inside lane is empty while motorists are hogging the central lane, which not only causes great delays but encourages dangerous driving, with people trying to overtake on the inside. It also encourages road rage. A campaign for lane discipline on motorways would go a great way towards solving some of the problems.

Dr. Reid

I have noted my hon. Friend's thanks to our right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The scheme is included in the programme because it met the criteria. It is a good and important scheme which will relieve congestion and create jobs and prosperity. I am glad that the Hedon road scheme on the A1033 is part of our targeted list.

On my hon. Friend's point about the M6, the problems that he identified are important matters of management, which we will be looking at carefully. In a more general sense, it is precisely one reason why we are shifting the Highways Agency from simply being a road building agency to being an agency that will have to look at and give effect to much wider considerations, including management. It will have to deploy a tool kit of ideas and practical proposals that span a much wider area than just road building. Management, maintenance, upkeep and rational use of our resources have been ignored for years.

The M6 exemplifies the problem. A railway line that is underused runs almost parallel, for miles and miles, to a road that is greatly overused. Surely it is a matter of common sense and balance to consider the two together and determine how to make best use of present resources, as well as considering future road building, rather than exhibiting a knee-jerk reaction to everything and saying, "Let's build a new road." To do that would leave many of our roads in the mess that so many of them were left in when the previous Government left office.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I wish the Minister Godspeed in dealing with all the studies to which he has committed himself today. There is no time scale for the west midlands area study. For how long will business commuters and home owners continue to suffer from the uncertainty over proposals for motorways in their area?

Dr. Reid

I am aware that the hon. Lady is concerned about blight in her area. The widening of the M42 has been remitted to the west midlands area study, which will address congestion and environmental problems in and around Birmingham and the black country. It will consider the wide range of measures to which I referred earlier, including those that have already been included in the metropolitan transport package.

The hon. Lady need not doubt my capacity for study. I have always taken the simple view that it is better to think before acting—although I understand that that has not always been regarded in every quarter as rational.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his appointment and I wish him well for the future. I strongly welcome the strategies and principles that underpin the roads review that he has announced today. At long last, the Government are getting a grip on the shambles we inherited from the Conservative Government.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have today announced that they will not be proceeding with the immediate construction of the Low High Newton bypass on the A590, which is near my constituency—even though the existing plans were endorsed and approved by a full planning inspector's report two years ago. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the review of the environmental impact of the road on the Lake District national park—a perfectly understandable review—will be injected with a sense of urgency so that my constituents can look forward to improvements to that stretch of the road, for which they have been waiting for a long time, and which the previous Government failed to deliver?

Mr. Jenkin

It was in our programme.

Dr. Reid

Everything was in the previous Government's programme, but nothing was ever delivered.

I am glad that my hon. Friend appreciates the nature of the problems with the A590 High and Low Newton bypass, to which he has given great support. A balance must be maintained between the economy and the impact on both the built and natural environment. That is one reason why we shall remit the scheme for further study of safety and environmental impacts.

I could not hear whether my hon. Friend mentioned the A66 Temple Sowerby bypass, which I know he has supported previously. It has not been considered for the target list because its time scale is not sufficiently advanced. However, I am glad to tell him that the A66 Stainburn and Great Clifton bypass, which he also supports, has been included in the target list. That should be some compensation.

Judging by the list of roads that my hon. Friend supports, I can only assume that the large campaign that he ran—when, in my previous incarnation, I was Minister for the Armed Forces—to get two huge aircraft carriers through the strategic defence review now requires him to build at least two huge roads to Barrow-in-Furness, where he will hope to build those carriers.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the Minister on his move to his new post, and thank him for the announcement about the A6 Great Glen bypass in my own constituency of Harborough. The pity is that it is not to be started this year, as was intended under the previous Government.

Mr. Prescott

We did not take it out.

Mr. Garnier

If the Deputy Prime Minister would like to leave the Chamber now, I am sure that we should be delighted to see him go.

What are the funding arrangements for the detrunked A6? Will the money be ring-fenced? Will the Leicestershire county council highways authority be required to ensure that the A6 detrunked road competes for money with its other roads programmes? Will the Minister assure us that the money that is to be set aside for the Great Glen bypass will be available, although we are not quite sure when within the seven-year envelope the road is to be built?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his—I think it was a welcome. I was not quite sure whether he was saying that, because he wanted the Great Glen bypass last year, our decision to proceed with it now is fatally flawed and he wants us to withdraw it?

Mr. Garnier


Dr. Reid

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to explain to me later whether he was requesting that we change our mind and not proceed with it. However, I shall take it that he was not asking for that. I have already said that there will be a fair exchange on money for local authorities—which, as we have clearly stated previously, will be done through the standard spending assessment.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the small mercies of the decision on the Lamberhurst bypass, which will enable people to travel a little more speedily to Hastings. May I invite him to come to Hastings to see the problems there of deprivation, low skills and high unemployment? The greatest gift would have been the bypass that we so much needed. I appreciate that, in his letter, he said that he is still minded to make orders for that scheme, subject to options in improving access to Hastings. The argument for a bypass has already been made, over many years. Will he ensure that a very early decision is made on implementation of any review? What time scale is likely to apply?

Dr. Reid

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the Lamberhurst bypass, and realise his deep disappointment on the other matter. Everyone knows—from my short time at the Ministry, even I know—that no one has fought harder than he for his case. He has been absolutely assiduous and energetic in making it. I am also under no illusions that he will now drop his views on the matter, and I realise that he perhaps thinks that we have got it wrong in an extremely important matter. I assure him that either the Secretary of State or I will be pleased to receive representations on the matter should he wish to see us again. I realise just how much importance he places on that specific decision, and I am sorry that I could not be wholly positive about it today.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

It seems unfair that, so shortly after his appointment, the Minister should have to come to the Dispatch Box to announce, in respect of the M25 in my constituency, precisely the widening which was described by the Labour party in opposition as "madness", which Labour's then spokesman promised to scrap, and which the Labour candidate in my constituency in the general election promised would be scrapped on day one of a Labour Government. The Minister might want to reflect on police statistics which show that people who do U-turns on motorways seldom survive to tell the tale.

However, I welcome the Minister's acknowledgement that a legitimate use of the billions of pounds in tax that the Government are raising from motorists is the alleviation of the environmental impact on the communities through which motorways pass. Will he confirm to my constituents in Thorpe and Egham that when that section of the M25 is widened, the very latest, state-of-the-art absorbent sound barriers and the best possible porous asphalt surfaces will be used to minimise the impact on them?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He would be churlish not to accept that, unlike the previous Government, the present Government have made it clear that noise abatement will be a serious component of our consideration of new roads and the maintenance of old roads, and an important element in the practical remedies.

As for the M25 decision, the hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that I am not in the least disappointed to be at the Dispatch Box—I am not only pleased but honoured to be here. Lest the hon. Gentleman should be in any further doubt, let me say that there has been no U-turn. The principles that we applied to our consideration outlined before the election by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister are still the principles on which we take decisions. The Deputy Prime Minister has led the team and the review with consistency throughout.

Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the reality of the world left to us by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported. Just one section of the M25 is so bad that there is no conceivable alternative to going ahead with the widening. To do anything else would mean inflicting on something like 200,000 motorists a day more of the misery that they had to suffer during the 18 years of the previous Government.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. The statement has been running for more than an hour. I recognise its importance to Members, but I can let it run for so long only if I have Members' co-operation, which I am not getting. Instead, I am getting long statements and long questions. I want brisk questions to the Minister, and I think that I shall have the Minister's co-operation when he responds. I want to do right by Back Benchers who have an interest in the matter, but they must do right by me and by the House.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, especially for not including in it any schemes that have a direct impact on my constituency. The last thing the Reading area requires is more roads. The Thames valley is already congested, and the solution is not to build more roads.

I am pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that we require an holistic approach to our transport problems. Will he reassure me that the proposed London to Reading corridor study will take an holistic and cross-departmental approach and will not just consider the need to increase capacity along that corridor?

Dr. Reid

Agreed, welcomed and assured.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Does the Minister recognise that the vast bulk of traffic, both private and business, will continue to use the roads as a result of individual decisions made by private motorists and businesses? Will he give the House an undertaking that he will not seek to penalise and to drive off the road, either through neglect of the road system or by other penalties, the vast majority of decision makers who want to use the roads for their own purposes?

Dr. Reid

What will drive people off the roads is the awful congestion in some places. The Government fully support real freedom of choice, but that means the ability to move one's car at more than 2 mph, which is impossible in many parts of the country. Of course we have no intention of adopting a dictatorial or penal attitude. We want to give the motorist and the business man choice, but, in order to do that, we have to use the full range of the assets that we have for moving from A to B. That means taking an integrated, holistic approach involving persuasion, education and putting money into other forms of transport as well as the road network. Throughout, we have followed a broad and balanced approach; it is right for the motorist, for the business man and for our quality of life—as well as for the number of journeys undertaken.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

The people of Kegworth in north-west Leicestershire will welcome the fact that safety and health remain the criteria for decisions on bypasses. They will be deeply disappointed, however, that it was not possible to go ahead with the A6 bypass, because the projected line of that route and the need for it have existed for 50 years. Will the Minister reassure the people of that area, which lies at the congested heart of the east midlands transport infrastructure, that it might be possible to go ahead with the A6 element of the rather wider scheme in respect of junctions 23A to 25 of the M1, about which I am agnostic? The need for the A6 bypass remains acute.

Dr. Reid

The schemes have not been abandoned, but put on hold for further study. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have a 50-year timetable and simply add names to the list. The reason schemes were taken off the list was that we were not convinced that they could start within seven years and we did not want to make illusory promises. However, they have certainly not been entirely abandoned.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

My constituents in Epping Forest will be disappointed that the planned improvement to the M11 motorway there has been cancelled. Although I appreciate that the Minister has been in his post for only a few days and may not have had a chance to consider this aspect of the Government's policy, they will be more concerned that he has given no indication as to whether he plans to revise the congestion forecast, because it does not appear that anything said today or last week will improve congestion at all. Can the Minister confirm that today's announcement proves that the Government are willing to sacrifice the efficient and effective road network upon which business and industry depend in order to please Swampy and his friends?

Dr. Reid

The whole thrust of what I said today is that we have to tackle congestion, but the previous approach of using one exclusive instrument—building more roads—has patently failed. We have to achieve our objective through a breadth of measures and by taking an holistic and integrated approach to all forms of transport.

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

Can the Minister confirm that proposals for a western orbital motorway drawn up by the previous Government are now totally dead and will not form part of the west midlands area study? It does not take a genius to recognise that in a hugely densely populated and industrial area such as Birmingham and the black country, building new roads is not the answer. There is no space for priority bus lanes, so an effective network of light and heavy rail is absolutely essential. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post in the hope that his departmental officials will tell him that although light rail does not provide value for money compared with buses, it is the only possible solution for 3.5 million people in the west midlands.

Dr. Reid

There are a lot of questions there. We are building the Birmingham northern relief road. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's comments to my officials, who have no doubt heard them already. I shall write to him on the other detailed points.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

I strongly support what the Minister has said about new roads, which will promote economic growth and sustain industry and employment. With that in mind, will he end the delay over Dunstable's A5 north-south bypass; and could we proceed with new, urgently needed roads in south Bedfordshire to sustain industry and employment?

Dr. Reid

The study about which I have written to the hon. Gentleman will also consider the A5 at Dunstable.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his post and I agree with the thrust of his statement. I also welcome what he has said about the A66 and the decisions that have been made since the Government came to power. Does he accept that a new deal for the A66 would require dualling from Scotch Corner to Penrith? There has been an all-party campaign on that for the past decade and a half, with the full support of the CBI.

Dr. Reid

We recognise that there is a serious problem and we shall carry out a safety study of the A66. It will be for the regional planning conference to consider its priority for investment.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

May I add my congratulations to the Minister on his promotion? Given that there are no schemes approved or even targeted for my constituency, will he confirm that shire counties such as Surrey will have a proper increase in the budget transferred under the standard spending assessment in the way that he has described? Will he be prepared to meet delegations from areas such as Surrey, where long delayed bypass schemes have now been put further into the future? If the Chancellor cuts the budget further after three years so that even some of the seven-year schemes miss their target, will he apologise to the House and the country?

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman speaks as though the previous Government had a 10-year agreement, or even a three-year agreement. They had a one-year agreement. We have an agreement for at least three years of stability—and up to seven years with investment. The previous Government never remotely approached that.

The news about the A3 Hindhead improvement will be disappointing for the hon. Gentleman, but the project could not be started in sufficient time for us to include it in the target list. Under the old method, it would have been on a list, like every other project, but that would have been a list of paper roads leading nowhere. We would rather put up practical proposals that are feasible and funded.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On the question of providing jobs and employment, has my right hon. Friend looked at the recommendations of the coalfields task force, set up by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister? The recommendations involve road programmes that will lead to the prospect of many jobs—15,000 in north Derbyshire. Will those projects be given priority?

Dr. Reid

I have announced a number of improvements in the coalfield areas. We are studying that issue further. A report is coming in October.

My hon. Friend properly points out that we have to consider economic development, jobs and regeneration. We are having a balanced review. For many decades, Governments took only one view, irrespective of the environmental consequences. It would be wrong to swing the other way and say that every decision had to be based on environmental consequences, irrespective of the effects on jobs and regeneration. Throughout the Department, led by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, we are trying to promote a balanced view, an integrated transport system, interdepartmental work and an holistic solution to the problems—because the old way did not work.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Although the inclusion of the A41 Aston Clinton bypass in the targeted programme of improvements is welcome—I genuinely thank the Minister for that—does he recognise that my constituents will be gravely disappointed that the previous construction date of 2002 has been scrapped? I remind him in no spirit of political partisanship—my Government did not construct the bypass either—that my constituents have waited 61 years. There has been a 40 per cent. increase in traffic flows over the past five years and there are now 30,000 vehicle movements each day through the village. In the light of the diet of accident, injury and death that my constituents have had to swallow, will the Minister bear in mind their pressing claim for the earliest possible construction date for the bypass?

Dr. Reid

I am very glad that we have been able to proceed with the bypass at Aston Clinton. From memory, it should take about 70 per cent. of traffic out of that village. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of proceeding early. In the same non-partisan spirit with which he made his remarks, I should point out that, of the 61 years that we have been waiting for the bypass, we have had Tory Governments for 50.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, and I welcome today's statement. Does he agree that high priority should go to schemes under which an unimproved stretch of road prevents full realisation of the true value of earlier road investment? There is an example of that in my constituency on the A106, which is the south Thames development road that runs between Greenwich and the M25. It is the main access to the Thames gateway, which presents an important economic opportunity for south-east London and north Kent. Traffic on the road has increased by 50 per cent. in the past five years. Thames road, Crayford, which is a short stretch of road, is the only part of the main artery that has not been dualled. It is creating a bottleneck and substantial difficulty in the area. Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to look again at proposals for widening it?

Dr. Reid

May I, at this stage, respond just to my hon. Friend's general point? Perhaps we could correspond on the specifics. I very much agree with him, which is why we place such stress on maintenance of roads and better use of the existing network. Such priorities must rank alongside consideration of building new roads.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Minister has announced plans to build on eight sites of special scientific interest, yet it was a Labour commitment not to build on any. Can he explain that?

Dr. Reid

Yes, I can explain. We did not say that we would not build on any SSSIs; we said that we would be reluctant to build on them. The fact that we have reduced their number in this context from 49 to eight must, even to the most churlish Conservative, be an indication that we have carried out what we said we would.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Minister will be aware that the House has twice passed road traffic reduction measures and has signed up to the Kyoto summit targets on reduction of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Is he prepared to undertake a study of expected traffic growth in the light of today's statement and its long-term pollutive effect?

Dr. Reid

Such matters of course rank in importance. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Deputy Prime Minister not only attended the Kyoto summit but played a major part in it. These matters are already under consideration, and a document on sustainable development will be published in the autumn.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I have stood up many times in the hope of catching your eye, Madam Speaker; it was certainly wonderful exercise. Does the Minister realise that, as a consequence of his decision to widen the M25 between junctions 12 and 15, the champagne will be flowing in the BAA boardroom this lunchtime? Is he serious about reducing congestion and the number of cars on that stretch of motorway? Has any consideration been given to designating a lane of the existing motorway for buses, other public transport and laden cars?

Dr. Reid

I think that the people who will be celebrating are those who now have to deal with the rat-running alongside the M25 that makes their lives a misery. That is one of the factors that we had to take into consideration in reaching the decision. As for the hon. Lady's more general points, the answer is yes. I will clarify further details for her if she wishes to communicate with me.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Many of my constituents will be extremely pleased with his comments about the Bingley relief road, and they will also wish to join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) on his well-organised and forceful campaign. In the long term, although the relief road is welcome and I am pleased about it, it cannot be a solution in itself. The Aire valley is narrow, and we need to consider improving bus services and rail services on the Aire valley railway. We could even consider using the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

The statement tells us that the A650 Hard Ings road improvement will be replaced by a scaled-down solution. That is a narrow stretch of road between two lots of dual carriageway, and it forms a dreadful bottleneck right in the middle of my constituency. How scaled down will the solution be?

Dr. Reid

I can write to my hon. Friend about her last question. As for her second point, she will know that transport provision other than the roadways is already being considered. I have already paid tribute to the campaign for the Bingley relief road, but, at the end of the day, like all the other schemes, the plan met the new criteria that we have outlined; that is why it is there.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

In what respect will the widening of the M25 be good for the environment; and in what respect is it integrated?

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman will understand that those factors need to be balanced, and none of them can be taken in isolation. Even the strongest opponent of motorway building and widening would accept that there is a particular problem with that stretch of road. If he is asking me about the pollution effects, he will know about those as well as I do. Thousands of cars parked together belching smoke into the air present what is probably the most obvious example.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend, and welcome in particular what he said about the help with combating noise pollution. I pay tribute to the previous Minister responsible for roads, Baroness Hayman, who was interested in and concerned about that matter. I urge my right hon. Friend to deal with the problem facing my constituents who live at Upton St. Leonards alongside the M5. Their houses are far too close to the motorway, and have no protection against the noise. I am sure that that situation is replicated throughout the length and breadth of this country.

Dr. Reid

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He will have noted that we are emphasising for the first time a commitment not only to examine noise pollution but to do something about it.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

I welcome the Minister's statement that he plans to ring-fence investment funds for safety measures and target them on small-scale improvements. Will he review the criteria now used to prioritise safety improvement schemes, because to some of us they seem both byzantine and counter-intuitive? When he has done that, and based those criteria on common sense, will he take another look at the case for safety barriers on the Kingston A3 bypass?

Dr. Reid

I think that it would test the patience of the House if I spontaneously announced yet another review of the criteria used to review safety elements, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the scheme to spend up to £50 million on safety measures, with a maximum, I think, of £5 million for any one scheme over a number of years. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me I shall take his comments into consideration, but I would not like to promise another review ad hoc.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and welcome his roads statement today. I welcome especially his decision to withdraw from the roads programme the widening of the M1 between junctions 10 and 14 where it passes through my constituency. I am sure that the Minister realises that that is one of the few places along its route where the M1 passes very close to dwellings. As a result of the uncertainty generated by the previous Government, a deal of blight has been created and many residents are very upset. The correct decision has been made today; but will my right hon. Friend give sympathetic and urgent consideration to dealing with that blight in the near future?

Dr. Reid

Yes. My hon. Friend makes the point and gives the reasons for our decision as well as, if not better than, I could.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his impressive performance at the Dispatch Box on a tricky subject so soon after his appointment. While the widening of the M6 motorway through Staffordshire is on hold pending studies, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether three things will happen? First, will the trunk roads that are possible alternative routes be maintained and improved? Secondly, will the west coast main line be upgraded to attract more passengers and freight? Thirdly, I know that my right hon. Friend's Department has studied the genuine bottleneck on the M6 between junctions 10 and 6. Will there be action as a result of that study?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend threw three questions at me. I think that the answers are: yes, yes and yes. There will be action when we have completed the study.

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon)

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, his performance today and his statement. I welcome particularly the Government's decision to launch a study of traffic problems in Blunsdon, in my constituency. A bypass scheme there was cancelled by the previous Government, much to the horror of my constituents. The results of that cancellation have been growing traffic congestion in the area, a choke point on the strategic trunk road between the M4 and M5, the bisection of a village and pollution.

We welcome the fact that the scheme is no longer dead and buried. However, I seek my right hon. Friend's assurances on two points. First, will there be an early start to the study? Secondly, will the bypass option enable Swindon borough council and the Highways Agency to retain the land that they own and which is needed for the bypass? If they have to sell that land, we would be denied the possibility of a bypass for at least 25 years.

Dr. Reid

On the first point, I assure my hon. Friend that we will begin as soon as possible. On his second point, I do not think that he would expect me to give a firm assurance on what appears to be a very complicated land ownership and planning development matter that also involves my portfolio. I am afraid that it will be another few days before I have mastered that brief.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have heard reports this morning about the closure of a brand new Siemens micro-chip factory on Tyneside, with the probable loss of up to 1,000 jobs. That is the first big strike at British manufacturing industry as a consequence of the collapse of prices and markets in the far east. The shock and anger on Tyneside will be very great—indeed, more than I can express properly now. I appreciate the present circumstances of both the House and the Government, but have you, Madam Speaker, been informed that the Government intend to make a statement about the matter today?

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to support the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) for a statement by a Minister. This could be the worst piece of news for the north-east of the past decade or so, and it demands an urgent ministerial statement.

Madam Speaker

I must inform the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) that I have not been advised that a Minister is seeking to make a statement about that matter.

Mr. Prescott

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have only just heard the news, which, if it is correct, would be a terrible development. I visited the Siemens plant quite recently and it is a wonderful facility. I am sure that the people in that region will be very concerned. I shall take it upon myself to communicate with the Departments involved, including the Department of Trade and Industry and my own, to see what we can do in the circumstances.

Madam Speaker

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Forward to