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Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2003

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What the estimated value was of the time lost due to congestion on the M6 in 2002. [112575]

The Highways Agency does not currently collect sufficient information on traffic speeds to answer that question. However, the installation of new technology and the opening of the traffic control centre next year should enable such data to be provided in the future.

If ever an answer illustrated complacency about the real need to get something moving on the M6 to convert it from its current car park status, that was it. The Minister knows that thousands of hours are wasted by businesses and individuals stuck in congestion on the M6. We welcome the publication of the multi-modal study and we look forward to the opening of the Birmingham relief road, but will he tell us when there will be some concerted action to speed up the labyrinthine processes that must be gone through to determine what is self-evident—that the M6 capacity needs expanding now? When will that happen?

In no way did I suggest that we were not aware of the considerable problems of congestion on the M6 and on a number of Britain's highways. That is precisely why we, like the right hon. Gentleman, welcome the opening shortly of the M6 toll road and why, fairly shortly, improvement work will be undertaken on the A500 south of Stoke. That is also why, as he drives up the M6, he will see the considerable number of message boards going up that will enable real-time running and management of the network. Those are real pluses. The point that he ought to address is why, during the Conservatives' considerable period in government, including two years during which he was Financial Secretary, no action was taken.

My right hon. Friend just mentioned the south of Stoke, which, of course, is consistent with the name of my constituency. Will he agree, however, that any consideration of measures to relieve congestion on the M6, particularly in relation to the MidMan study, would be conditional, in an important way, on the Strategic Rail Authority having the funds to ensure that any rail developments as a result of that study are undertaken? In relation to extending the M6 to four lanes, it is essential that road pricing is also considered because of its effect on traffic movements, as part of those important projects.

Probably the biggest expenditure in the railway sector is taking place in precisely that corridor in relation to the west coast main line. A huge amount of work is being undertaken, and a lot of work is being done by the Strategic Rail Authority to compress the time scales for improving the service on that line and to bring about the refurbishment of the line and substantial improvements in times and reliability.

If the Government are really so concerned about congestion, why did they sign up to the extension of the working time directive to heavy goods vehicle drivers and to the ludicrous restrictions in that directive, which will result in lorry drivers having to work during the day rather than at night, with lorries being transferred from travelling overnight to using the motorways during the day? Why have the Government not produced a regulatory impact assessment on this ludicrous measure? When that assessment is conducted, will it include the impact on congestion on the M6?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is speaking in favour of lorry drivers working excessive hours, given the impact that that can have on their safety and the safety of others. Beyond the rhetoric, if he looks at the details of both the working time directive, and of course the amending directive, what he must consider is the real impact on the road haulage industry, particularly with regard to times of availability or non-driving hours. He will find that that impact is much less than he claims, as a number of people in the industry are now saying. He must say whether he wants people working excessive hours driving heavy goods vehicles on our roads.