HC Deb 11 May 1999 vol 331 cc98-100
2. Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

What assessment he has made of the role for the car in the integrated transport strategy; and if he will make a statement. [82781]

The Minister of Transport (Dr. John Reid)

The integrated transport White Paper sets out our assessment of the role of the car in our integrated transport strategy and the ways in which the Government will tackle the legacy of congestion, deteriorating road infrastructure and pollution left by the previous Government.

Mrs. Winterton

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that motoring remains the most popular form of transport; and that, for many in both rural and suburban areas, a car is essential to daily life? How best can he ensure that the car is taken into consideration within the wider transport system, so as not to deny the freedom and personal mobility it brings? Will he ensure that car access is not restricted in any way until a meaningful alternative in the form of a public transport system is in place?

Dr. Reid

We accept fully that the car remains a necessity for many people. It would be entirely unrealistic to envisage that the car will not remain the dominant method of private transport in rural and urban areas over the next three decades. However, unlike the previous Government, we want to present real transport choices that people want. We aim to develop public forms of transportation. That is why we have allocated an extra £150 million for buses in rural areas, why we spend nearly £300 million a year on the bus fuel duty rebate, and why we increased the rural challenge in the last Budget. In transport, as in so many other fields, the Government are the champion of rural areas.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while we recognise the value of the car for journeys appropriate to that mode of transport, it is important to discourage the use of private cars for inappropriate journeys? Does he agree also that we should welcome the European motor manufacturers' voluntary agreement to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 per cent? They should be encouraged in that endeavour and asked to do more.

Dr. Reid

As my hon. Friend says, the car has brought to generations of people increased mobility, social experience and convenience. That is beyond doubt. It is also beyond doubt that, if we do nothing, future generations will not reap the benefits of car ownership that were extended to previous generations. That is why, while protecting the right to car ownership, we are attempting to persuade people to use their cars differently. We realise that we can do that effectively only if we give people a real choice. That is why the Government strongly support public forms of transportation.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

The Minister will agree that the Government must sort out their catastrophic inheritance as a result of the Conservatives' privatisation of the railways. Do we not require legislation for the Strategic Rail Authority? Will the Minister confirm that it is realistically too late to hope to see such legislation in this parliamentary Session? Can he confirm further that the Government do not intend to legislate for the Strategic Rail Authority until the next parliamentary year?

Dr. Reid

No, I will not confirm that. We obviously want to introduce transport legislation as soon as possible, including legislation for the Strategic Rail Authority. If the hon. Gentleman and others on the Opposition Benches can encourage those in the other place to accept the working time directive that we are extending to them, in order to give them a rest after 600 years of making decisions while being elected by no one, we shall be able to introduce legislation for the Strategic Rail Authority in this session.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to encourage the privatised rail companies to provide good access not only to car parking, but to a regulated taxi service? When the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), visits my constituency—which she will do in the next few weeks—will he ensure that she takes the time to observe the problems that passengers experience when arriving at Cambridge railway station, which does not have good access to a regulated taxi service?

Dr. Reid

I certainly hope that the points my hon. Friend makes will be noted not only by the new head of the Strategic Rail Authority, but by the companies themselves. Access to safe and secure car parking at railway stations is part of an integrated transport policy. That is why I am glad that, following the last Budget, we were able to announce considerable investment in closed circuit television for car parks, including those at railway stations. As to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) will understand if I refrain from dictating her hour-to-hour programme on any visit. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has heard my hon. Friend's comments.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

Hon. Members will have listened with some incredulity to the right hon. Gentleman's claims for his integrated transport policy. It is true that he has come fairly late to his post, but will he not admit that all his Government have to show for two years of talking about an integrated transport policy are cuts in road improvements, cuts in investment in public transport, a failure to legislate and 100 glossy publications about transport? The Government's actual transport policy has taxed off the road working people—particularly the elderly and those in rural areas—and all those not fortunate enough to have access to helicopters and two Jaguars.

Dr. Reid

I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say how much we regret the fact that the right hon. Lady's friendly face will not be seen on the Opposition Front Bench for much longer. Considering the companions with whom she has to share breakfast round the kitchen table, it is understandable that she wishes to join the real world outside.

We have made it clear that the worst and most anti-car policy would be that adopted by the Conservative Government—to do nothing. We outlined a range of measures in the White Paper to assist motorists. For example, we intend to make it easier for people to buy the new car of their choice, including those not type-approved by the European Union, by removing the current numerical limit on commercial imports of cars. Many people feel that it is a disgrace that our motorists have to pay so much more than those on the continent for cars.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

My right hon. Friend is aware of the misery that is caused to thousands of car owners by the activities of cowboy wheel-clampers. He is also aware of the welcome given by motoring organisations to the Home Office's promise to do something about regulating the industry. Is he aware that there is concern that the current proposals may not be strong enough? Will he agree to convene discussions with the Home Office, the police, motoring organisations and the respectable arm of the wheel-clamping industry so that we can take tough measures to put an end to the preying on unsuspecting motorists by those modern day highway robbers?

Dr. Reid

There will be considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's points. My colleagues in the Home Office are already taking action on the issue. I do not want to usurp their prerogative by convening a meeting, but I shall discuss the issue with them.

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