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Licensed Motor Vehicles

Volume 163: debated on Monday 4 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the number of licensed motor vehicles on the roads today; and what was the number in 1979.

A census taken at the end of September showed 24 million licensed vehicles of all classes on the roads in Great Britain. The comparable figure for 1979 was 18·6 million. This substantial increase can be attributed to the improvement in personal prosperity caused by the success of Government policies.

If there is such prosperity, why are extra motorway miles not being built to accommodate the increased traffic? Is the Minister aware that it now takes an hour longer to drive here from Bassetlaw, or Yorkshire, than it did 10 years ago? Is he further aware that some of the horrendous accidents that took place in the fog recently, were caused by dangerous overcrowding on the motorways? When will we have the kind of motorway standards and systems that are operated in France and Germany?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman supports our policy of improving and extending existing roads and building new ones. That is the policy which we intend to implement. As the hon. Gentleman will know from the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, there is to be a substantial increase in the moneys available to do the very things that he wishes. The present Government are doing that, but the Labour Government supported by the hon. Gentleman were unable to provide that sort of resource.

Given the enormous increase in traffic levels, especially in central London, will my hon. Friend examine seriously the so-called traffic management schemes which in many places—for example, the Aldwych and south of Westminster bridge—are unnecessary, counter-productive and extremely expensive? Will my hon. Friend reconsider whether the Government should not reallocate responsibility for the overall control of London's traffic to the Department of Transport?

My right hon. Friend is extremely knowledgeable in these matters and I am grateful to him for his constructive approach. I assure him that I will consider the matters that he has raised as quickly as possible.

Despite the Minister's main answer, and despite his interest in the A 19 problem, there are persistent problems which need urgently to be resolved. Will the Minister tell us, perhaps not today but later, the cost of the flyover on the A1 at Middlesbrough and the number of months of work already attributed to it? How long will that project take to complete?

Secondly, will the Minister—

I am delighted to tell the House that my Department is committed to improving a number of roads, one of which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I will write to the hon. Gentleman in response to his detailed question.

My right hon. and hon. Friends must be congratulated on the enormous amount of work being undertaken, but is it not true that most of the roads in the south-west and south-east of this island are jammed most of the time, especially during peak hours? Has not the time come for a comprehensive statement on strategy, perhaps in a White Paper, setting out exactly how we are to develop high-speed links, dedicated transport, inner city restrictions, a vast increase in tunnelling and sub-service provision, and new car designs to make life possible in the next 10 years?

In a very short question, my right hon. Friend has raised enough matters of substance for a major debate. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I—indeed, all the Ministers in the Department—are spending a great deal of time and money trying to address the problems to which he refers. I hope that in due course he will be able to accord us the plaudits which his experience will allow us to receive with considerable gratitude.

Does the Minister accept that, whatever the size of the programme, his Department's projections of an increase in road traffic of between 83 and 142 per cent. in the next 25 years will result in a massive increase in emissions of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide? Will he tell us today whether he accepts the advice of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who said that

"such growth would wreck any attempt to control pollution"?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I are entirely in agreement with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the problem of emissions must be addressed. We have already taken a number of steps, not least through our support for the Commission directive which aims to do something about catalytic converters by 1992.

I remind the hon. Lady that the figures to which she has referred are forecasts and not the Department's targets. I for one am not prepared to be a member of a Government who would not allow individuals to be free to buy the cars that they want, but apparently that does not apply to the hon. Lady.