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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Robert Ainsworth): The Government's road safety strategy, "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone", sets out our strategy to make cycling safer. It embraces measures that cyclists can take to protect themselves, including wearing cycle helmets, training and making it safer to cycle on the road through engineering measures. Further measures to educate drivers will also be of benefit.
Mrs. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he commend Cambridge university for its innovative park and cycle scheme that is due to open on Thursday? It offers not only secure cycle parking, but a safe and easy route to cycle into the centre of Cambridge. Does he agree that that is a commendable scheme that should be copied by others?
Mr. Ainsworth: A great deal of good work on cycling has been done in Cambridge because it has a far higher proportion of cyclists than elsewhere in the country. Much of the town's work over the years is to be commended. Many of its initiatives have improved cycling safety in the city and set good examples for others to follow.
Apparently, flashing lights on cycles are illegal, and one is supposed to have a steady light. However, a flashing light is much more readily seen by motorists, particularly in wet conditions. May I urge the Minister to change the regulations in that respect?
Mr. Ainsworth: I congratulate anybody who tries to encourage more people to cycle. I am not sure how the 10-minute journey cycled by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) contributes to that cause, but I am sure that it is having an effect. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) chose not to mention his bowler-hatted cyclist colleague on the Back Benches.
There are minimum standards for cycle lights, and there is nothing to stop cyclists having flashing lights in addition to steady lights that meet those minimum requirements. I shall look into the matter, and if we believe that a change would improve safety, we will consider it.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): All Tory cyclists are well known flashers, as the Minister knows. Is it not safest to cycle in a dedicated cycle lane, instead of using the little yellow lines that simply attract motorists to try to knock down cyclists such as me as I come to Parliament? Will the Minister talk to Westminster city council about having dedicated cycle lanes in the centre of London? We are the worst city in the world for cycling and it is a disgrace that that Tory council will not give London cyclists lanes to ensure that they can travel round the centre in safety.
Mr. Ainsworth: As part of local transport plans we now expect local authorities to produce and update, a cycling strategy, which will include measures to make cycling safer. My hon. Friend knows that we have provided £8.4 billion in the local transport settlement, so there is no excuse for local authorities such as Westminster to continue to neglect that matter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): Through the charging development partnership, my Department is engaged in continuing discussions with a number of English local authorities about the role that congestion charges may have in relieving local traffic problems and promoting wider travel choice through improved public transport services and facilities. As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, his county council of Hampshire, which I was pleased recently to designate a centre of excellence for integrated transport planning, is a member of the charging development partnership, and last
Mr. Swayne: The Minister will be aware that not all local authorities can match the standards achieved by Hampshire county council. Will he assure the House that he will refuse any application to implement such a charge unless the local authority can demonstrate a clear and appreciable improvement in public transport prior to the application?
Mr. Hill: I am happy, if slightly surprised, on this occasion to agree with the hon. Gentleman on both points. Any proposal for a charging regime is subject to the final approval of the Secretary of State, and one of the criteria that he will examine is whether there are already clear commitments to, and achievements in, improving local transport.
Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): As chairman of the all-party motorcycling group, I am delighted that the Government, through the motor cycle advisory committee, have acknowledged the significant contribution that motor bikes and powered two-wheelers can make to reducing congestion and pollution. I appreciate that this is a matter for local authorities, but will the Minister encourage local authorities to consider exempting motor bikes and powered two-wheelers from congestion charges?
Mr. Hill: I am grateful for that characteristic intervention from my hon. Friend, Blears the bike. The Government appreciate warmly the contribution that motor bikes and powered two-wheelers can and do make to the reduction of congestion and pollution on our roads. I am sure that local authorities contemplating charging regimes will want to bear in mind those important considerations.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Is this not another example of the Government's vendetta against the motorist? Not only do we have the highest petrol price in Europe as a result of the Government's policies but, in the London scheme, a motorist who has to travel in every day could end up paying £1,250 a year. Residents, including many who are council tenants, could end up paying a charge of £130 for owning a car, whether or not they use it. Is not the Minister ashamed that, yet again, Labour has broken its pledge of no new taxes?
Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman does his best to make his point. In all seriousness, not only is congestion a cause of immense frustration to the travelling public, but it costs the economy billions of pounds every year. Every study has concluded that congestion charging is the most effective way to cut congestion, but essentially it will be for local authorities to make their own decisions. As I have indicated, the Secretary of State will have the final say and will look for evidence of local consensus and robust plans for local transport improvements. We have stipulated that, at least for the first 10 years, all proceeds of congestion charging must be ploughed back into local transport improvements.
Mr. Prescott: The Government are fully committed to the public-private partnership, which will produce £13 billion over the next 15 years to refurbish and modernise the London underground--more long-term investment than ever before. The PPP will mean better safety and better value for money; it will guarantee that London Underground stays in the public sector.
In that context, I regret the fact that Transport for London has initiated legal proceedings against London Underground. I understand that the board of London Transport expects to meet on 2 May to consider its decisions on preferred bidders, with which it plans to conclude negotiations for the two deep tube contracts once legal proceedings have been resolved.
Mr. Gapes: Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and my constituents, who are increasingly frustrated by delays, which have continued for many years, in getting an adequate level of investment for our public transport in London? Is it not time that we just got on with the job of investing the resources that are needed in London instead of engaging in petty posturing, which is happening in some quarters?
Mr. Prescott: The essential issue for the underground, as everyone who has looked at the problem knows, is long-term investment. Previous Governments, both Labour and Tory, have all been involved in giving inadequate resources to the London underground; those resources were even cut every two or three years. One cannot plan long-term investment in the underground by having an uncertain safety and investment programme. Our Government are addressing themselves to long-term investment which will bring in that £13 billion and will not be subjected to the cuts that Governments tend to impose on capital programmes once they are in office and face economic difficulties.
Mr. Prescott: First, voting Labour is a good proposal, as Londoners will shortly do in increasing numbers. In the past four years, we have averaged £500 million of investment in the underground each year, while the record of the previous Administration was £360 million. We shall point out that comparison to Londoners when talking about our major and substantial contribution to long-term investment in London Underground.
Mr. Prescott: I hope that the battle will be fought on the substance and the facts, rather than on public relations, although I agree that taking advertisements at £15,000 a time in the Evening Standard is one way of going about it. If I suggested doing that on Parliament's budget, the Mayor and his team would be the first to say that it was wrong. I have no intention whatever of doing that, but I have published a statement of the facts and made it available to the Evening Standard, which refused to print it. That is one of the difficulties, but I shall continue to make my case.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): When will the Deputy Prime Minister admit that the PPP represents four wasted years of failure? What does he have to say to Peter Bishop of the London chamber of commerce, who yesterday said:
How many major transport projects has the right hon. Gentleman's Department initiated in London since Labour came to office? Has he the courage and honesty to admit that the answer is not one? Are not Labour's four wasted years on the wretched tube PPP the crowning failure of the Government's record on transport in London?
Mr. Prescott: To be fair, I would have to include the investments started by the previous Administration. It takes a considerable time for the effects of those to be felt. That is an answer to those who say that we are not getting an improvement in London transport: it is a long-term process. The extension of the docklands light railway--[Interruption.] I am not saying that that did not take place, but the fact that such investments have been made belies the statement that nothing is being done for transport in London--
Mr. Prescott: The charge is made that nothing is being done for London transport. An awful lot of money has been poured into London transport for such projects as the docklands light railway and the Jubilee line, which we had to continue to finance. We must now make sure that London Underground gets guaranteed long-term investment--not the sort of policy promoted by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), which would mean that the subsidy for the underground would have been reduced to £161 million, and by this year to zero. That is the priority that the Conservatives give to London Underground. We are looking to a £13 billion investment.