HC Deb 20 July 2000 vol 354 cc549-66

1.6 pm

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

Transport is a subject that has been close to my heart for all my working life in and out of Parliament. However, for decades it has been in decline—dogged by stop-go funding and a short-term approach.

On Tuesday, the Chancellor set out how we can now begin to invest properly in our public services. He was able to do that because we have dealt with debt and sorted out the public finances. That meant that we had to stick to the depressed Tory spending figures that we inherited. We continued the previous Government's fuel duty escalator, both to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to restore public finances. That was not easy. It was not popular, believe me; but it was the right thing to do. Now, we can build and invest for the future.

Decades of under-investment and the lack of strategic planning left us with a transport system in crisis. That is already changing. In three years, we have made real improvements—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen, they will be able to make a judgment. These are the facts: we have begun to tackle the road maintenance backlog; the overall decline in bus passengers has been halted, and in many areas passenger numbers are rising for the first time; the number of rail passengers has increased by 17 per cent. and rail freight by 22 per cent. since the general election. That is what has happened during the past three years.

Transport is now a growth industry, and many of the problems that it faces are of expansion—not of decline. We have laid the foundations for the long term. We needed to integrate the Departments of Environment and Transport—we have done that. We needed to set out a new strategy—we have done that. We needed to bring in radical new legislation—we have done that. We needed to introduce new forms of finance; we have done that. Today, I am announcing new resources to bring about a step change in transport.

These are new ideas, new powers and new resources—a new approach for a new century. It is on these foundations that we are building today's 10-year programme. It is based on long-term investment by Government and industry to modernise the country's transport system. That is vital for our economic success, and for the quality of our lives. It is excellent news for manufacturers and for the construction sector, which will be able to plan for the long term. Much of that sector had closed down because of the short-term approach to investment in industry.

On Tuesday, the Chancellor announced that, over the next three years, public spending on transport will rise from £5 billion to more than £9 billion. Real-terms capital investment will double. That has been widely welcomed. The Automobile Association said that it was a welcome change from decades of penny-pinching and under-investment … There's no doubt that this represents the most serious attempt to tackle our transport crisis in years.

The Rail Users Committee said that the announcement was good news for rail passengers and for the country. The Confederation of British Industry also welcomed it. And the CBI director-general, Digby Jones, said on the "Today" programme this morning that what is needed is a 10-year programme providing substantial public and private investment—he stated, up to £180 billion. My Department's modelling, analysis and consultation came to a similar conclusion. Our analysis is published in a document available in the Library.

There is now a broad consensus about what is needed to reduce congestion and to provide a bigger, better and safer railway and a real choice in public transport. With public investment keeping pace with economic growth after the year 2004, total spending over the 10 years—public and private—will now be £180 billion. One hundred and thirty-two billion pounds of that—almost three quarters—will come from the public purse. This is not all new money, but even if we maintained this year's spending as the norm, that means over £50 billion of extra public expenditure. Capital investment by Government and industry together will be 75 per cent. more in real terms than over the last decade.

The plan addresses the issue in a realistic and businesslike way. There are no frills, no promises of a rosy, traffic-free future: just our best judgments—based on a detailed analysis—of what the new resources will deliver.

We are securing long-term investment through long-term partnership contracts: new rail franchises lasting up to 20 years, 30-year contracts for roads and 30-year contracts for the London underground. But let me make it absolutely clear. If we put in public money, we expect rail and bus companies—and local authorities—to deliver the goods: more investment and better services for the travelling public, on budget and on time.

The policy that we inherited on the railways planned for decline and reduced public support. Our programme includes £60 billion for a bigger, better and safer railway—the biggest investment in railways for generations.

We shall deliver better quality for the travelling public, lower regulated fares, 50 per cent. more passengers and 80 per cent. more rail freight, and a new Strategic Rail Authority with a new rail modernisation fund of £7 billion to help deliver these goals. So we shall deliver a railway system that is better for the passengers, better for freight, better for the economy and better for the environment—win, win, win and win again.

Our programme includes £59 billion for modernising local transport in every region throughout the country. It will increase bus use by 10 per cent., with guided buses, priority routes, park and ride and a modern fleet, building on the £400 million of private investment that has already taken place.

Light rail can transform our cities. Manchester and other cities have shown what a difference it can make. So we are going to provide resources for up to 25 new light rail projects in our major cities. We shall create greater social justice with more accessible buses, trains and taxis for disabled people, and cut-price fares for pensioners and disabled people, and for the first time we are recognising the problems of people who live in poorly served, deprived urban areas, cut off from jobs and services. They can look to help from a new urban bus challenge fund to provide new links to their communities.

Our successful rural transport fund, which has already secured over 2,000 extra services in rural areas, will now rise from £60 million to £95 million a year, with rural transport partnerships established in every county.

Both urban and rural communities will benefit from an extension to the fuel duty rebate for community transport.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

That is our policy.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman is in opposition—has he not heard?

Small-scale local improvements can make a big difference to people's lives, such as schemes to make walking and cycling safer and easier, and 20 mph zones, especially where children are most at risk. We shall increase funding for those schemes.

In London, our great capital city, we inherited a creaking transport system, congested roads and overcrowded trains—I do not think that anyone disputes that. We have already made major investments in the capital, with the Jubilee line, docklands light railway extension and other projects. Over the next 10 years, our programme provides £25 billion to support the London transport strategy, with better buses, less crowded trains and less congestion on the roads. This will be enough to produce a real step change in bus services, town-centre improvements and safer walking and cycling. The public-private partnership will secure investment in the existing underground. We have made provision for new links; an orbital London railway and longer-term projects such as the new east-west rail link and east Thames crossings. We are determined to use refranchising to get better and more reliable rail services for commuters.

Those major improvements in public transport throughout the country will help to reduce congestion and pollution. Sensible land-use planning and new technology can make a difference. However, we need also to make better use of our existing road network. We have already set up studies into our busiest transport corridors to find solutions that will involve all types of transport in the multi-modal studies. The first conclusions will emerge over the next few months, and we are providing the resources to implement the results.

The programme includes £21 billion for the strategic road network. This is enough to widen 360 miles of the most congested roads, such as the Al and the M6, and to invest in "electronic motorways" to manage traffic better and to keep drivers better informed. There will be 100 new bypasses to take traffic out of hard-pressed villages and towns, schemes to tackle congestion and safety hotspots and low-noise surfaces on 60 per cent. of the trunk road network, including all concrete roads.

We have already dealt with the backlog of trunk road repairs. We will enable local authorities to get rid of the backlog on local roads with a £30 billion maintenance programme, which is covered under the heading "Local Transport".

Without the measures set out in the plan, congestion is forecast to grow by 28 per cent. on inter-urban trunk roads and by 15 per cent. in larger urban areas. With the plan, we shall not only eliminate this forecast growth but reduce congestion below current levels by 2010. Our proposals will produce savings in greenhouse gas emissions, helping us to achieve our Kyoto targets and more. We will improve air quality, with new resources to encourage cleaner fuels and vehicles.

Safety is fundamental to the plan and important to the House. The terrible accidents at Ladbroke Grove and Southall, and more than 3,000 deaths on our roads every year, are a vivid reminder that we can never afford to be complacent. We will ensure the installation of train protection systems, as recommended by Sir David Davies. I have stressed repeatedly that we will not pre-empt Lord Cullen's inquiry. I give a categoric assurance that the plan will deliver any further measures arising from Lord Cullen's inquiry. Safety will always be first in my priorities.

Under various Governments, our roads are already among the safest in Europe. Over the next decade, we are determined to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents by 40 per cent., and by 50 per cent. for children. We are providing the resources to enable government, the Highways Agency and local authorities to play their part in achieving these targets.

It has often been the role of Labour Governments to modernise this country's infrastructure, and that is what we are doing again with our 10-year plan. There will be long-term investment and public-private partnership to increase choice and cut congestion. The Opposition have plans only to cut public spending. They have no plans to cut congestion. The public will ask them to declare where they would make cuts in our programme.

A Labour Government are working with business to deliver the long-term investment that is needed to rebuild our infrastructure, cut congestion, improve public transport and give people greater choice. I hope that people will understand that modernising the transport system will take time and create inconvenience and problems. Making the necessary changes, will at least mean that people will be aware that we are making long-term decisions and dealing with the cause and not the symptoms of a congested system.

New roads and railways are not built overnight. However, with sustained government investment and the backing of industry, we shall make year-on-year improvements to get the job done. The plan will get Britain moving and give the people of this country a transport system on which they can rely. The British people have waited decades for a long-term approach such as this. It is what they deserve, and I commend it to the House.

Madam Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), may I point out that I noticed some Members leaving the Chamber during the statement, no doubt to go to the Vote Office to obtain the document? I regard it as a discourtesy to any Secretary of State for Members to walk out to obtain a document while a statement is being made. If Members want to be called, they should remain in the Chamber throughout and listen to the statement. The statement, not the document, is being questioned at this stage.

Mr. Jenkin

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of the statement. I give a broad endorsement to the comments that he made about safety and, in particular, about the Cullen inquiry.

As for the rest of the statement, the Deputy Prime Minister must think that the British people were all born yesterday. The travelling public will not be fooled. Labour has made promises before and people are still waiting. They are waiting in traffic jams, and they have done that; they are waiting for buses stuck in traffic, and they have done that; and they are waiting for overcrowded trains, and they have done that. They are fed up with the right hon. Gentleman's promises and they are fed up with being ripped off by the Government; they have done that.

After three wasted years, the Deputy Prime has the nerve to come to the House and say, "I've got a 10-year transport plan." How much tax will road users have to pay over that period? It is at least £423 billion. That is more than £18,000 per household. That will be his legacy. His only real policy is to try to tax hard-working people and hard-pressed pensioners off the road.

Petrol tax is a regressive tax. Under Labour, the poor pay the biggest increases. Where is the social justice in that? On top of the £423 billion in taxes, the congestion and parking taxes will hurt the poor most. Why are the Government simply reserving the roads for the rich and for Ministers in their Jaguars? Should cars be just for the privileged few?

What does the Deputy Prime Minister's big spending number really mean? How much is double counted or reannounced? How much relies on investment by the transport industries that we privatised? How much is just pious hope, empty promises and post-dated cheques?

As in every Government announcement, these figures are designed to mislead. How can we believe the Deputy Prime Minister's promise of 25 light rail schemes when he told the House of Commons that light rail systems are an extremely expensive way of dealing with congestion … ?—[Official Report, 20 October 1998; Vol. 317. c. 1072.] His former deputy, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), said in a press release that we will not be in a position to support similar light rail schemes for the foreseeable future. However desirable light rail systems may be, are these not just fantasyland promises from a Government desperate for votes? How many systems will actually be built within 10 years?

What about all the promises that the Deputy Prime Minister has made before? Does he remember the 1998 White Paper? In it, he said: We want to cut congestion … and avoid the urban sprawl that has lengthened journeys and consumed precious countryside. However, the Deputy Prime Minister is building more houses over the green fields of England. Britain now has the worst congestion in western Europe.

Labour Members all cheered two years ago when the M6 widening was cancelled, apparently to save the planet. Now they all cheer when it is going ahead. That is an admission that the Deputy Prime Minister was wrong. Will they all cheer again when it fails to materialise?

Does the Deputy Prime Minister recall saying that he would have failed if there were not far fewer journeys by car? This new 2010 target is an admission that he has already failed. Has he not read the dire warnings of his own congestion report, which showed that congestion will increase by 90 per cent? Why is his target on congestion any more relevant than all his other targets?

The Deputy Prime Minister has abandoned his other targets, such as that to treble rail freight or that to double cycling. What is the point of all the new rail investment if people keep missing their train because they are stuck in traffic jams created by the right hon. Gentleman? How dare he claim credit for announcing 100 new bypasses today, when he scrapped so many bypasses just two years ago? Can he explain why he has announced 100 bypasses, although his own publication says that there will be 50 new bypasses? Is that just another bit of spin? Is not the Secretary of State who murdered the roads programme now trying to change his plea to manslaughter? How is he going to stop the Mayor of London cancelling schemes such as the A23 Coulsdon bypass?

Is it not perfectly clear that, after three wasted years, nobody believes a word that the Secretary of State says? After all the White Papers and consultations, glossy brochures and photo opportunities, today is about nothing more than the sliding credibility of the Government and the looming date of the next election. Does the Secretary of State think that the endless spinning of larger and larger telephone-number figures for his plan conveys anything other than the whiff of panic about the Government's lamentable transport policy?

The Deputy Prime Minister has often attacked the spinning and lying of spin doctors and has said: We cannot win simply on image and presentation. However, is he not resorting to that and that alone? In March, he told the House: I regret and denounce the leaks … and I am doing all I can to prevent them.—[Official Report, 7 March 2000; Vol. 345, c. 863.] Who, therefore, has been briefing the press on the 10-year plan, week after week, for the past six months? The so-called enemy of spin is the king of spin.

This is not real money, but a 10-year plan from a one-term Government who cannot see further than the headlines in tomorrow's newspapers. The plan is a broken policy on the back of broken promises from a broken-backed Secretary of State.

Mr. Prescott

I am pleased that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) thanked me for giving him the report, but it is a pity that he did not read it. If he had, he would not have asked half the stupid questions that he did.

There has been some speculation on the number of leaks to which he referred. I treat leaks seriously. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The House can make a judgment on those matters. There has been a great deal of speculation, and different figures are given all the time. I have a document—which I shall not call a leaked memo, as it is a paper from the research department of the Conservative daily bulletin—which predicts that I would produce a £130 billion programme. I announced a £180 billion programme, but the research department had a chance to speculate, although it underestimated what I would do. Many other people made judgments about what the total amount would be, and I observed with interest all those different figures. I have brought my figures for the 10-year plan to the House at the proper time.

Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman thinks that that is fantasy. However, I did not notice him address himself to rejecting the idea that investment was needed. There was not one word from him to suggest that he rejected the fact that all that money was needed to modernise the transport system. If that sum is needed, on that considerable scale, representing the greatest investment in rail seen in generations, it is because investment had presumably declined in the past 20 years. I am prepared to concede that no Government have ever found sufficient resources to put into our transport system and I feel that that is because Treasury rules rather limited that investment.

Our plan talks about public-private partnership, which is something that the previous Administration started to do, but we have taken it much further, by getting private contracts guaranteeing investments for a longer period than the one year or three years that one is likely to get from the Treasury. As a public-private partnership will provide that money, I would have thought that the Opposition could at least agree with that.

Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Prescott

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is fantasy, I suggest that he talk to the director-general of the CBI, who is not necessarily known as one of our spokesmen and who announced today that the minimum amount needed for investment in our transport system was £180 billion. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the CBI is fantasising, I must tell him that it arrived at that view after proper consultation and having listened to its members, who explained what the country needs to improve the economy and the environment to and reduce congestion, which all involve considerable cost. That is the CBI's judgment. Talk of fantasy is just Opposition rhetoric.

On delivery, in three years we have seen, for the first time, a reverse in the decline of our industries. We have reduced the backlog and seen growth in freight and passenger traffic, both on buses and on rail. That was not evident during the 18 years of Tory Administration. As for all the talk about glossy documents, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that long-term solutions are necessary. I have been in the transport industry, and I am fed up with seeing Governments cut back on capital programmes, because those cuts eventually catch up with them. I have tried to introduce long-term planning.

If we want such planning. first we have to get the thinking right, so we issue a White Paper and then we debate it. Then we have to make sure that we have the powers to introduce the measures, and I have done that. This is the third step in three years to get substantial resources, which the Chancellor has been able to give us simply because we made difficult decisions in the first two years, so I am proud to bring this investment to the public—let them judge what is fantasy and what is reality. The election will surely give the hon. Gentleman his answer.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this first attempt to have a structured transport plan will be warmly welcomed throughout the country not only by all passengers, but by people who use all forms of transport, whether by road, rail, sea or air?

Will my right hon. Friend clarify one or two points? Does his undertaking on the train protection system mean that, if Lord Cullen makes a different recommendation, my right hon. Friend expects to update the equipment in all existing trains? Is he telling us that there will be new lines as well as enhancement on the London underground system? Can he assure us that, in the new round of franchising, the private companies involved in the transport system will not only give undertakings to enhance the bricks and mortar that they own, but make it clear that the passenger is their first commitment, and that, in future, we will have new trains and better services? We shall certainly examine carefully how much transport is financed by the fare box, to ensure that we achieve the right balance.

Above all, does my right hon. Friend accept that, because transport takes so long to bring into operation, it is essential that passengers immediately begin to see much better conditions? They want new systems; they have waited over 20 years and they want those systems to begin operating as soon as possible. This is the first serious attempt to provide that level of care.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that welcome. She is right to point out the concern about safety systems on our railways. I have already promised, and announced to the House, that we will implement the recommendations of Sir David Davies that the warning systems should be applied on all lines and that automatic train protection should be introduced for high-speed lines. If Lord Cullen makes further recommendations about the timetable, I will want to consider those seriously and I would be inclined to say that we should adopt them, but the House will understand that I must wait and see what those recommendations are.

I want us to have the safest railway system, and automatic train protection will give us that. Early warning systems will achieve that level of safety more quickly than I could implement automatic train protection, but I await the report of Lord Cullen, who is taking into account the Uff inquiry and Sir David Davies's report on these matters.

On new lines, the London transport plan to which I referred, and on which the Mayor will report in the autumn, considers the new cross-London line, as my hon. Friend knows, and the east London link, which will connect the underground and the surface railway system. I am glad that, through our negotiations, we were able to establish the new channel tunnel rail link, which is in its first phase and is now on budget and on time. We rescued that from collapse when we came into office. The second stage will provide us with a new line, and we are all looking forward to that. So there are new lines, as well as enhancements to the system.

With regard to public-private partnerships, we will lay down targets and keep the passenger in mind as we modernise the system. The passenger has priority in our considerations. We will set tough targets, and tough penalties if they are not achieved by the companies. I am sure that my hon. Friend's Committee will examine the contracts when they are issued.

On new investment, the decision to bring forward the date for removing slam-door stock was a good decision in the interests of safety, and means that the industry can concentrate on the long-term target of securing investment to provide the new kind of trains that we want on our railway system.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Unlike the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), may I on behalf of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches categorically welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's statement? After 18 years of a Conservative Government, public transport was left in crisis and there was massive congestion on our roads.

However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand the anger and frustration of many at the fact that, in the first three years of a Labour Government, there have been real-terms cuts in investment in public transport. The situation was not quite as the Deputy Prime Minister said—win, win, win, and win again. It was lose, lose, lose, and only now are we beginning to win, and we welcome that.

Can the right hon. Gentleman, first, assure the House that, after 10 years of the plan, he expects that there will be less traffic on our roads than at present? Secondly, given that he rightly said that we need early measures to prove his commitment and to improve people's environment, lives and road safety, such as safe routes to school and 20 mph limits, will the right hon. Gentleman give a clear assurance that the necessary money will urgently reach local government?

Thirdly, can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why he said in his statement that there would be additional money for the maintenance of local roads at local authority level, yet in the comprehensive spending review document issued two days ago, the amount of money for local authority road maintenance remained constant at the current level?

Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what assurances he has been given about the security of the important and welcome private finance that he is bringing in, and why, given the Select Committee reports on the PPP for the National Air Traffic Services and for the tube, both of which were rejected, he sees that as the only appropriate way of bringing in private finance?

Mr. Prescott

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm support of our document, but I cannot accept his criticism that we made no improvement in the past three years. I tried to highlight some of them. I do not want to repeat them, but they include more services available on the railways—4,500 of them—and 2,000 new bus services in the rural areas. Those are definite improvements, although I acknowledge that we undertook not to spend more than the programme that we inherited.

To be fair, the Tories' programme of expenditure in the first two years after we were elected anticipated a cut of £1.8 billion. We kept those resources instead of cutting them, but that was not sufficient to meet all the demands. We made a choice, which affected the road programme in particular, largely because we took the view that, if we could get the public finances into proper order, we could begin to enjoy the level of public investment that was needed. That decision was right, although it led to some criticism about whether we were doing enough.

The local government transport plans will be presented to me in the next month or so, and I will make a decision in December. The plans will include recommendations for by-passes, of which there are 100. The Opposition spokesman was confused about that. There are to be 50 rural and 50 urban by-passes, making a total of 100. The hon. Gentleman would have benefited from reading the report.

Local transport plans have been allocated £59 billion in the programme, and £30 billion of that is directed towards improving road maintenance. We have caught up with the backlog. After all, when we came to power, we were told clearly, and the view persists, that the condition of our roads was the worst since records were kept. We have cut the backlog on inter-urban roads, and £30 billion out of the £59 billion is for the towns, where great problems exist.

On the point about more cars and more roads, I have made it clear in several exchanges here that the growth in the number of cars and other vehicles on our roads has decreased from 8 to 2 per cent. There is therefore some decline. My job is to find a better public transport system so that people can begin to choose to use their cars less and public transport more. That is behind much of the programme; two thirds of the money that I have announced will go towards improving public transport.

I still maintain that public-private partnerships for the underground and NATS are the best way in which to proceed. I hope that I shall be able to demonstrate that.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

If anybody needed reminding of the reason for the parlous state of transport when we came to power in 1997, the statement of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) did that. He had nothing to say about public transport; he did not mention buses once. That demonstrates the Conservative party's attitude to transport and the reasons that we were in such a mess.

I worked in London's public transport service for 12 years. The £3.2 billion that my right hon. Friend has announced today will be most welcome. However, I draw his attention to plans for the East London line, which I also welcome, and the orbital route that is planned around London. That route does not turn eastward towards south-east London. As I never tire of reminding the House, south-east London does not benefit from the London underground. People who travel to central London rely on the rail network, which is overcrowded at peak times. We need alternatives to Network South-East for people who travel to central London. With the east London river crossing for the rail link of the East London line, can we also have a scheme for a link to the south-east?

Mr. Prescott

I have some sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend has made to me on several occasions, both publicly and privately. The Mayor now knows the resources that are likely to be available to him, and he can begin to take them into account in his transport plan. There is considerable investment in new lines and in modernising the existing system. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents will benefit from that. I tell my hon. Friend to keep pressing me, but also to get on to the Mayor.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

May I return the Deputy Prime Minister's focus to rural transport? He set up the Commission for Integrated Transport in July last year; why did not he insist that it held at least one meeting to discuss rural transport? That would have led to positive input in the 10-year transport plan.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, figures for road safety in North Yorkshire are the worst in the country, not because of the drivers who live there but because of the high proportion of transit traffic on those roads. I make a plea to the Deputy Prime Minister to recognise the rurality and sparsity factors and the additional miles of road that are covered by transit traffic in North Yorkshire.

I appreciate that the details may be in the document, but the Deputy Prime Minister said nothing about detrunking roads. If he is to proceed with his strategy of detrunking rural roads in North Yorkshire in particular, will he give the House a commitment today to give local authorities, in this case North Yorkshire county council, additional funds to maintain roads at a higher standard than currently applies?

Let me consider—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Lady has had her share of questions.

Mr. Prescott

The House is aware that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) has many interests in rural areas. I well understand that, knowing the beautiful part of the country that she represents. She will know that our increase in bus services in rural areas has benefited many parts of North Yorkshire. There was an initial difficulty when the North Yorkshire local authority refused the £1 million that was available to it. The local authority claimed that it did not know how to use it. It has subsequently found ways of doing that. It was a Tory local authority, and I do not understand why it found it difficult to provide good transport services for the people of North Yorkshire. However, I shall continue to make the case.

The roads and the priorities for the areas that we are discussing are under consideration in multi-modal studies and the regional reports. I expect to receive the reports in the autumn and the spring, and I hope to make statements about them later.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that we had serious discussions about improving the infrastructure in the old coalfield areas, where as many as 2,000 people would have been working down a hole in the ground? To provide a lot of work on the pit top, we needed to ensure that the infrastructure was correct. He might also recall the discussions and decisions regarding proposed junction 29A of the M1, which could provide about 9,000 jobs for three adjoining constituencies in north Derbyshire, where there is not a single pit left after the Tories got rid of them all. Can he give me an assurance that the Government still have that idea on board and that it will be pursued in the 10-year plan?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, I well remember junction 29A, which was greatly discussed in the coalfield communities. We have changed the regional planning guidance for those matters to take fully into account the difficulties that our coal communities experienced after the massive pit closures and the matter is still very much on board. We are reviewing the programmes and I hope to give an answer by the end of this year or the beginning of next.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Amid all the hype, why is the local authority road maintenance budget not increasing?

Mr. Prescott

The sum is £30 billion, which is the highest ever given to road maintenance—considerably higher than when the hon. Gentleman was a Transport Minister. He presided over a transport policy that led to the mess that we are trying correct.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that lack of adequate transport infrastructure is a major challenge that threatens the expansion of the economic regeneration of north-west Kent. How will his plans achieve adequate transport infrastructure for north-west Kent while safeguarding the environment and the quality of life of people in my constituency?

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend will know from his constituency that there is considerable call for investment, whether in road or in rail, to meet economic demand. His constituency is in an area of important economic development and we are looking closely at the infrastructure. Roads certainly have a part to play in assisting with the process, as does the new channel tunnel rail link. Our road review document, which we announced to the House about a year ago, made the criteria clear—not only economic factors, but environmental, safety and congestion issues have to be addressed. Those are being considered and we hope to make a statement on the regional reports at the beginning of next year.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

The chief executives of the Highways Agency and of the Government office of the east of England have both visited Dunstable to see the huge congestion there. Does the Dun stable bypass feature in the 100 bypasses that the right hon. Gentleman has announced? There is £60 billion for the railways. Will part of it be used to reopen the disused railway line between Dunstable and Luton? If so, that will also be welcomed in the town.

Mr. Prescott

I can well recall individual Members spending a lot of time asking about particular roads during my 30 years as a Member of the House. [Interruption.] I am saying that I am trying to take regional and local factors into account. Local transport plans are given to us each year and a five-year plan will be announced after full representations have been taken by December. Those plans will make recommendations for bypasses and roads and I shall consider them. Of course bypasses can play a part on some strategic routes in both rural and urban areas and I shall take representations from the strategic regional review bodies and the development agencies. All that will enable us to identify those roads over the next six months. The 40-odd roads in the preferred programme that I announced to the House are under way.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and the work that he does to try to improve this country's transport system. He referred to pedestrians and walkers. Sadly, the Opposition spokesman did not. May I impress on my right hon. Friend the importance of catering for pedestrians in town and city centres? Will he give an assurance that pedestrianisation schemes will be retained, maintained and extended wherever possible? Will he give a further assurance that he will listen carefully to meaningful consultation on his waterways document and develop still further the canal and waterways system throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that in the transport plans we are encouraging local authorities to undertake more and more pedestrianisation. There is no doubt about pedestrianisation any more although a few years ago a lot of hon. Members protested that it would be bad for business. Most now feel that pedestrianisation is good for cities, good for business and good for pedestrians. We shall have more to say about that in October in the urban White Paper which will deal with improving the quality of life in our cities, and in a separate White Paper on rural areas.

Having watched the development of waterways—I come from a part of the country where there are many—I am pleased that a week or so ago we announced a change in policy, which allows waterways to become part of the urban environment rather than leaving them to waste away. They should not be a liability on the taxpayer, requiring more and more taxpayers' money. In regenerating our urban areas, public and private partnerships have used waterways to open up many of our cities.

The waterways in Birmingham, Leeds and other cities used to be shunned. They were in parts of the city where nobody wanted to go, but they are now at the heart of urban redevelopment and contribute considerably to the quality of life there. It is noticeable that more people are returning to live in cities where that kind of facility has been turned from a liability to an asset. That is another major change that we have made in transport policy.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that the previous Government gave a starting date for the completion of the Manchester airport eastern link road, which would have helpfully linked the airport after which it is named. It also gave a starting date for the Poynton bypass to the east. The Deputy Prime Minister came along and cancelled both schemes, which are now subject to a multi-modal study in which we must rehearse the arguments of 20 years of public inquiries on those schemes. Will road schemes subject to such multi-modal studies remain in that position or will they now have some chance of being given the importance that the previous Government gave them?

Mr. Prescott

We decided to finish with the wish list that seemed to dominate an awful lot of discussions in this House, and we chose our priorities and the criteria according to which they would be judged. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are completing the Manchester motorway box—it will be finished by the autumn, I think—and the inner link road, bearing in mind the Commonwealth games that will take place in Manchester. We are also investing £500 million in the light rail system.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the multi-modal studies. Some of those are already beginning to report. The fact that schemes are in multi-modal studies gives them greater priority.

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

May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's long-standing commitment to improved transport for the long term? In light of today's announcement, does he plan to review his guidance to local authorities, which may be in the course of submitting their local transport plans based on the sums previously available, rather than the increased public spending that we now have? In terms of minor improvements to highways, can he shed any light on whether more money will be made available for street lighting?

Mr. Prescott

On the last point, I can assure my hon. Friend that extra money is being made available for street lighting. It is an important investment for safety and for crime reduction, both of which cause considerable concern.

My hon. Friend asked whether local authorities will be advised of the extra resources available. The point of today's statement is to give local authorities an idea of the moneys that will be available not only in the first three years, but in the longer term. That will help them with their local transport plans, which will be given to me in line with the White Paper. The plans are to be for five years, so local authorities have a longer-term perspective to meet their transport requirements. That will be good for areas that want to take long-term decisions and have a proper guarantee of investment.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I welcome the Secretary of State's reference to the Al and the study that he announced today. Can he assure me that safety factors, which present an overwhelming case for the dualling of that major road, neglected for so many years, will be fully taken into account? Will he bear in mind that his safety targets could be assisted by ending the head-on collisions that lead to deaths and serious injuries on that road?

Mr. Prescott

Yes. The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I was discussing that matter earlier in his region, and I have brought forward the multi-modal study that we set up and we hope that it will report by next year. His arguments about safety considerations on the southern part of the A1, north of Newcastle, are important, and we are dealing with those. Indeed, I believe that there is an argument for a strategic road for Scotland, although that matter would have to be discussed with the Scottish Executive. It would complete what I would consider to be a natural strategic road running from north to south.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

My right hon. Friend is a frequent visitor to my part of North Yorkshire, and he knows that the legacy of the Conservative party has left transport policy in a total mess. Will he explain to the House how the multi-modal studies on the A64 corridor relate to the regional dimension, and how we can ensure that the regions deliver this policy?

Mr. Prescott

Multi-modal studies take into account the criteria set out in the road programme, such as the economic requirement, environmental considerations, safety and relieving congestion. Safety is a major consideration, especially with regard to the A64. Provided that multi-modal projects meet those criteria and fit into the regional assessment, they will be built and will be given priority. Although road building may be the solution to some congestion problems using a multi-modal approach, some problems may be solved by public transport, and we want to provide both.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Given the read across into other integrated transport considerations, what are the Government's plans for new runway capacities in the south-east?

Mr. Prescott

That industry has been growing for a considerable time. The issue is very controversial to say the least. There is considerable capacity in the south-east. We are approaching airport authorities about this matter, which is complicated, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows. In my role as a planning Minister, I will consider the terminal 5 proposal. That has a major effect on the assessments of airports in the south-east. I cannot say more than that, except that the study has started.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

May I raise three issues of importance? If the answers cannot be given now, I would welcome an answer later. First, has the Portsmouth light rapid transport scheme been successful? Secondly, will the Department endorse the innovative private finance initiative scheme for roads maintenance, which is a real leader in its field? Finally, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and I would be interested to know whether there is any news on the possibility of a bypass in Hindhead.

Mr. Prescott

I have made it clear to those authorities considering their transport plans that we are including 100 bypasses in the programme—50 in urban areas and 50 in rural areas. Some of them are to deal with congestion in the town and some are strategic. My hon. Friend should press his local authority to ensure that a bypass is included in its transport plan. Local authorities have responsibility for improvements in towns and roads through their local transport plans, which include bypasses. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) knew that, but he does now.

We are well aware of Portsmouth's application for a light rail system. We are building 25 LRT schemes. The hon. Member for North Essex made a fair point when he said that I had been critical of light railways compared with buses. That is true, but I have since been converted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I am sorry, but I considered the facts and although they are more expensive—which was my criticism—more people would prefer to use a light railway rather than a bus. Light railways are more expensive, and make sense only in certain cities, but we have included 25 such schemes in our programme. I confess to a change of view. What is wrong with that? Is not that what analysis and the use of intelligence is about—qualities not too often shown by the hon. Member for North Essex.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

In view of the additional resources that the Deputy Prime Minister now claims to have available, will he reconsider the need to resurface the M20 between junctions 10 and 12 to alleviate the noise nuisance from which many of my constituents suffer? Will he also undertake to provide a permanent alternative to Operation Stack, which denies the use of the motorway to my constituents whenever there is a delay to cross-channel traffic?

Mr. Prescott

I shall write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about his last point. There are problems with managing traffic when it is backing up for one reason or another. I understand his point, and I shall look into the matter. Management schemes can make traffic flows much better, and they are almost inevitable in difficult circumstances. I do not have a firm answer at the moment, so I shall write to him.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned noisy roads, which clearly create a lot of problems. Even a new road that I opened quite recently turned out to be much noisier than expected. Therefore, we have made a commitment to resurfacing 60 per cent. of trunk roads where noise levels are far too high.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I warmly welcome the general thrust of my right hon. Friend's statement and the huge investment in railways and light rail structures throughout the country. As the money that is being invested in railway developments will end up in the ownership of Railtrack, which is not a publicly owned company, what will happen to the capital return that will benefit Railtrack shareholders? What control do the public have over the ultimate destiny of any land currently owned by Railtrack that may be disposed of in future for capital gain? Surely there is a democratic argument that if the public are putting a vast amount of money into the railways, we should have ultimate control over what happens to it.

Mr. Prescott

We have decided to keep the railways in their present privatised form. As I have said in the House, and even at party conferences, to take the alternative of nationalising the railway and finding some £12 billion is not our highest priority in present circumstances. In addition, I am bound to say that the current procedure allows public-private partnerships to discuss a 10-year plan, which could not be guaranteed by the Treasury. At least it is written into contracts—[Interruption.] If obligations are not met and the contract is broken, we can take back the resources. That seems quite a clever idea. We are not against good ideas and getting the best value for public money. It is a pity that the Conservatives did not take the same approach in a number of respects.

My hon. Friend referred to the money being put into Railtrack. It is going towards enhancement and new track. The Government sometimes have to provide money in order to encourage people to do certain things. As my hon. Friend well knows, we provide a subsidy—I used to refer to it as the PSO or public service obligation—to the operators, which also goes to Railtrack. We are bound to give Railtrack some public money and we have to make a judgment about whether it is accountable. Accountability is very important. We lay down the conditions and we have a pretty tough regulator now—much tougher than before—to make sure that the public interest is maintained. In addition to a certain amount of public money for borrowing and for public-private partnerships, the modernisation fund of £7 billion will allow us to expand the railway system with greater accountability than at present.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Many motorists who have contributed to the extra £135 billion of tax in the Government's coffers by sitting in traffic jams on the M6 will welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's commitment to widening parts of the motorway. However, can he clear up a confusion? I received a letter from his Department indicating that it will be some two years before the multi-modal study is completed and decisions are made, yet the Deputy Prime Minister seems to be committing to immediate action on the widening of the M6. Can he give us a timetable in respect of the M6? It needs action now.

Mr. Prescott

It is a pity that action was not taken 10 years ago. I do not recall the right hon. Gentleman asking for it then. Some multi-modal studies will be reporting in the next couple of months, but others—of which the M6 is a classic example—are more difficult to conclude. The right hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the previous Administration. They came up with the idea that the only way to reduce congestion on the M6 was to build the Birmingham northern relief road. They took that decision in 1988 and announced that it would be on the fast track. Twelve years later, the sod still has not been cut. That road would have helped to reduce congestion, but because there is such a lousy contract I am finding it difficult to force the private sector to face up to its obligations and invest in the Birmingham northern relief road. Hopefully, it will happen. I am doing my best to implement something that the previous Administration tried to do nearly 20 years ago. Hopefully, I shall conclude that shortly. The multi-modal studies will start reporting in the next few months and we will be able to get on with the job.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the proposal in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies for reopening the Leicester to Burton line to passenger traffic? Currently, a bid for the project is being deterred by the framework for public finance that is available to support it. Will he meet local representatives to explore a potentially successful bid in the light of his new statement, which promises extra resources?

Mr. Prescott

I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to the Ivanhoe line. An agreement was arrived at between the local authorities, the Government and the people involved in the project. I am well aware that they are asking for more money to be provided. My noble Friend the Minister for Transport will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter, although I am more interested at this stage in the expansion of the railway system than in arguing about the contract.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

As we have appalling congestion problems in Southend, and as the newly elected council is wholly in support of a ring road, can the Secretary of State say whether there are any new procedures for the consideration of cases under the new programme? What is the best way for an authority to urge its special problems for consideration for the additional funding?

Mr. Prescott

I do not think that there are new procedures in that sense, except that local authorities and regional bodies are considering local and regional roads and will make recommendations in the next six to eight months. We will then make a judgment on the priorities for roads and what resources we will provide. My announcement today is that more resources are available to meet some of the requirements, but the criteria laid out in our roads programme will have to be met.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

As a member of the RAC's public policy committee, may I assure my right hon. Friend that the RAC, as well as the AA, has warmly welcomed today's announcement, and especially the extra resources for road maintenance, bypasses and motorway widening? Will he assure me that he will continue to consult those organisations, so that motorists' views and priorities can be taken into account in the implementation of the plans?

Mr. Prescott

I welcome what the RAC and the AA said. In my three years in office, I have not always had such favourable responses, so I welcome a genuine response from the motorist organisations to what I think is a very good plan.

On consultation, we set out in the White Paper the motorists charter and what we thought could be done to improve things for the motorist, which involved roads as well as vehicles and safety matters, because motorists are pedestrians as much as they are motorists and an overall approach is needed. We certainly intend to consult those organisations. As my hon. Friend will know, a body has been set up in the Department to discuss matters with them, so their views are fed into our transport priorities.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have no doubt that we will return to these matters in the future, but we must now move on.