Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
This debate is important, and I am delighted to see in the Chamber so many hon. Members from Birmingham, the west midlands and Greater Manchester. It is unusual for an hon. Member from one urban conurbation to secure a debate relating to another, but I hope that why I have done so will become clear.
At present, Manchester and Birmingham, and Greater Manchester and the west midlands, are going through a competitive process for transport innovation funds to improve public transport in their areas. Competition between major cities in this country is not unusual, but that process is worthy of further examination through open debate and discussion. I am grateful for the opportunity this morning.
Both conurbations are bidding for the transport funds. If it all goes ahead, one area will win and the other will lose. In all probability, that will mean road pricing and a better form of bus regulation for one of the areas. That is my interpretation of yesterday’s consultation document on buses and all my discussions about the process with officials in Greater Manchester and elsewhere. However, when I have asked the previous and current Secretaries of State for Transport, they have said that road pricing and congestion charging will not be forced on the areas as a condition for funding tram schemes and other public investments. That is not what officials in Greater Manchester understand; they believe that if they do not bring in some form of road pricing, they will not get the funds.
The background is that, on an annual basis for the foreseeable future, the public transport funding allocated to the north-west is £115 million a year. All the officials in Merseyside and Greater Manchester tell me that that is not enough for the individual sub-regions, so there is terrific pressure on Greater Manchester to bid for the funding.
It will be helpful to consider what is happening to the national spatial distribution of funding for transport and other services. It is very difficult to have debates such as this without bringing London into the equation. London always gets more per head of population, and we can argue about whether that is right or wrong, or whether it is disproportionate. However, it is clear that as the economy grows under this Government, education and health funding in London and all around the country grow proportionately—but not transport funding. In transport, the difference has increased.
The other great cities of this country have gone from getting roughly 50 to roughly 40 per cent. per capita of what is spent on London. During a sitting of the Transport Committee on 29 November, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport why that was. His answer—and I paraphrase—was that London is different. Indeed it is, but it was different five, 10 and 15 years ago. It is important to the whole economy, but that does not explain the different ratios. That is one point.
All the great cities of this country—Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle—not only look for resources from central Government, but are in serious competition with other European cities and cities around the world. Let us compare Munich and Manchester. The funding of public transport per capita in Munich is eight times that of Manchester. The basis of what I am saying this morning is that if our cities are to be successful and economically viable, we have to look at how money is spent in this country and how it is spent in comparison with other areas.
The populations of the west midlands and Greater Manchester almost equal that of London—if we throw in West Yorkshire, the population is equivalent to London’s. It is vital that London gets the transport system that it deserves, but it is just as vital, both for the cities that I am talking about and the country, that we maximise the economic potential in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and the other great cities. That requires looking at our national priorities, which I do not think we have right.
We should also consider some of the investment that goes into London. Although it seems perverse, I think that some of that cash subsidises congestion and reduces the economic impact of other serious investment. There are simply not enough public sector jobs being moved out of London. That is not happening as quickly as it should. That is the background. That is why public transport in Birmingham, Manchester and other cities needs funding.
I have another question. Are we really saying that if Birmingham wins, Manchester should not get the investment that it needs, or that if Manchester wins, Birmingham should not get the investment that it needs? That would be a dereliction of duty. The process that the Government are bringing forward is to set up road pricing or congestion charging in the victorious city; they say that that will produce revenue and stop the damage that congestion does to the economy.
Why do we start by looking at road pricing and congestion charging in urban areas? What really differentiates this country from our European competitors is inter-urban congestion. I should have thought that the Government could lead by starting a national road pricing scheme rather than considering one for our urban areas and relating it to a lack of investment in public funding.
There are many difficulties in respect of congestion and economic development and its impact on the economy. In the Transport Committee, I have asked professor after professor about the relationship between those two effects, but they say that there are no direct studies that will show us. They can measure the extra time that people spend in cars, but it is difficult to determine the impact that that has on the economy.
We get estimates from the CBI on the impact of congestion. In one of the transport publications, Ben Webster of The Times recently showed that its estimate of £20 billion was complete fiction. The original estimate came from Deidre King, who said that it was £5 billion. The CBI rang up and asked whether they could treble it. She said, “Do what you like with it, but don’t quote me”, and it went up to £20 billion.
In 2004, the Department for Transport commissioned an independent study on congestion charging and road pricing. It concluded that cordon systems did not work in complex conurbations, and there is no more complex conurbation than Birmingham or Greater Manchester. It is obvious, really, that putting a line around an area and saying that people going into it will pay more will disadvantage that area. In the centre of Manchester, some of the poorest populations would be taxed. The Institute for Public Policy Research looked at the issue and said that if such measures are revenue-neutral, they increase the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants because people avoid the cordons. They are not good economically nor are they good for the environment.
I come back to my original point: why do the Government not give a lead and consider where we are at a disadvantage with competitors on the inter-urban roads and put satellite-based systems there? The only advantage of barrier systems in urban conurbations that I know of is that they are easier to install than satellite systems, which offer a road-pricing system that is time and distance dependent. If we got the system right, it would probably relate more directly to congestion than would just taking one area of an urban conurbation and putting it at a disadvantage.
Another leg of this discussion is bus re-regulation. I shall not tire the Minister and other hon. Members by repeating the many debates that we have had about it, except to say that I do not think that the Greater Manchester or the South and West Yorkshire conurbations can wait until there is a congestion charge or real change to re-regulate the buses. It is an outrage that senior managers of Stagecoach in Greater Manchester turn up to meetings and say, “If UK Bus does not stop competing with us, we will bring your city to a halt.” They have done that on several occasions. A democratic, civilised country does not allow narrow-minded, selfish bus operators to bring cities to a halt for the sake of their bottom line. We need re-regulation as soon as possible.
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend that we need re-regulation of the bus services, but it has been found that bus journey times in Birmingham are twice as long during the rush hours, which are ever-lengthening, than in off-peak hours. Even if the buses are re-regulated, there will still be the problem of journey times, which can be tackled only by measures to deal with the amount of car and other traffic on the roads.
I hope that my hon. Friend is not misunderstanding me. I am not opposed to improving traffic flows, nor do I have a religious opposition to road pricing or congestion charging. I believe that the solution to the problems in Manchester and Birmingham is investment in public transport, and that what we are being offered is not a solution to the problems, whether in terms of resources or methods of tackling them.
I looked up the traffic speeds during the past six or seven years for the west midlands and Greater Manchester in the 2005 Department for Transport study. The situations in the cities are not satisfactory—clearly, traffic is slower during the rush hour than at other times—but the report showed, rather surprisingly, that speeds had increased. In Greater Manchester, that was clearly because of the M60. I make that point not to say that we do not need to restrain traffic, but that we must do it carefully so that we do not do more damage to the economy, and we must address the present problems. In fact, according to the statistics, traffic speeds in both conurbations are improving.
The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities responded to the proposal. The authorities are in a difficult situation. If Birmingham, for example, is offered £1.5 billion or £2 billion, can it say, “No, Secretary of State”? The association said that authorities want investment in public transport first, that they want to know that their competitiveness will not be affected, that they want public acceptance of the system—I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether he agrees in principle that there should be a referendum before such a scheme is introduced, as there was in Edinburgh—and that any scheme must be relevant to congestion.
Congestion occurs in surprising parts of Greater Manchester, which I know better than I know the west midlands. When I visited Wigan during the by-election some years ago, it took me an hour and a quarter to travel through Wigan to get back into Manchester. In many ways, it is much more congested than the city centre. It is a complicated situation.
There are some background issues to be considered. The real problem that we have in the whole country, not just in urban conurbations, is that car travel is getting cheaper and public transport is getting more expensive. The Government need to reverse that and thereby dramatically affect what is happening at present. I may be in a minority, but I thought that it was a mistake to take off the fuel duty escalator at the first whiff of grapeshot from some extraordinarily reactionary farmers and lorry drivers, and I am pleased that there is an attempt to put it on again. It meets the polluter pays criterion, and it does not impoverish and attack some of the poorer people in the country.
In conclusion, every study has shown that to deal with the economic problems and assets of cities, investment in public transport is likely to give greater rewards immediately than a road pricing or congestion scheme. At the back of that, of course, is the fact that the Government said that the Greater Manchester tram system would be funded from 2000 onwards, but it has not been. Some of the problems with price increases have been beyond anybody’s control. My hon. Friend the Minister and I had an interesting debate about that when the Transport Committee discussed its report on transport. However, the Government are responsible for other issues because they slowed down and micro-managed the work and chose the wrong systems. The decision in principle to wait from 2000 to 2007 for the second phase of the big bang to come through was wrong. The process has been inadequate.
The Government have always had difficulties with road pricing. I do not underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is politically. The previous Secretary of State waited for the Mayor of London to introduce congestion charging. It is wrong for the Government to tell Manchester and London, both of which need the resources, to have a go at congestion charging in urban areas. If we are concerned about congestion in this country, we should be looking at the inter-urban roads.
The Secretary of State said that the real choice for our cities is between growth and gridlock. I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) some information about current traffic speeds. The real choice for the country and for our great urban conurbations is investment in public transport or gridlock. It is bus re-regulation or gridlock. They will make a much greater impact. Studies of people going into city centres show that trams get the most people into a city centre the most quickly. Buses simply cannot offer the same capacity. Even if they ran end to end, their speed would be determined by the road space available.
There is no evidence or analysis to show that leaders of the Greater Manchester districts—I cannot speak for the west midlands—consider what is on offer through road pricing and congestion charging to be a solution. The situation has been turned around: when I asked the Secretary of State why he is going for cities first, he said that the leaders of the cities were considering the schemes, but they are considering them because they have been put first. I do not want officers and leaders in Greater Manchester and the west midlands to fiddle figures in the way that the CBI did in order to justify something that will not solve the economic and transport problems of Greater Manchester. I want a real focus on the problems. When the Secretary of State is saying that there is that desire, he is quoting his own echo, if that is not a mixed metaphor.
I shall finish on that point. I am grateful that so many hon. Members have turned up. Such issues are vital not only for our cities but for the whole economy. If our cities do not work economically, the country cannot do as well as it should.
Order. I intend to try to start the winding-up speeches at half past 10, unless those speaking for the Opposition indicate that they need less than the normal time allocated. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to bear that in mind.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing this important debate on a subject about which I know he is very knowledgeable, which makes a welcome change from his early-day motion earlier this week on cancer services in Greater Manchester.
I confirm my support for the principle of national road user pricing. If we are serious about tackling climate change and congestion on our roads, we need to discourage people from making unnecessary car journeys. We must also provide public transport that is good enough to persuade people out of their cars.
My constituency of Manchester, Withington will be one of the greatest beneficiaries of a successful transport innovation fund bid by the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority. People in Manchester were understandably angry when the Labour Government cancelled Metrolink money, and it was only a concerted all-party campaign, with tremendous support from businesses and the local newspapers, that forced the Government into a U-turn. The possibility of further money for Metrolink is great news for my constituents as not only would it ensure that the link to Chorlton would go all the way to the airport, but it would result in the Didsbury spur being built through my constituency.
The airport link and the Didsbury spur would have a dramatic impact on congestion in south Manchester and would also massively improve air quality. Thousands of people work at the airport, and the Metrolink would provide a vital quick route to work for them. In recent years a large number of people have moved to south Manchester because they thought that the Metrolink was coming and wanted a quick, reliable service to get them to and from the city centre where they work. A lot of those people are forced to drive to work, because the Metrolink has not been forthcoming, so it would have a real impact on the number of car journeys through the constituency into the city centre.
It is still a great disappointment to me that there has to be some element of local congestion charging—I stress the reference to local—or road user pricing to gain access to the transport innovation fund money.
The hon. Gentleman has stressed his support for national road user charging, which is of course the normal Liberal Democrat mantra. Can he tell me anywhere where the Liberal Democrats support local road user charging, particularly if they have to face the public in a referendum on the subject?
If the hon. Gentleman had waited until I had developed my argument, he would have realised that my concern about a local scheme is that a national scheme is far more sensible than introducing local schemes that do not tackle the main problem of congestion.
Do not we need both? We have congestion in our city centres and urban areas and on our motorways.
I accept that we need a scheme that includes both local and national road user pricing. I am not personally in favour of a congestion zone in the centre of Manchester, because that would be counter-productive. I believe that a national road user pricing scheme that includes national roads as well as local roads is the way to proceed.
I am trying to understand. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to introduce some market mechanism that will introduce a cost to the use of roads? If his answer is yes, then clearly such a scheme must be national and local.
I am not specifying what sort of scheme I would like to see, other than a national road pricing scheme that would involve all roads rather than merely major routes between major conurbations.
The Government’s failure to allow transport innovation fund money to be released to either Manchester or Birmingham for improvements in public transport without an element of road user pricing or congestion charging is an unwelcome reminder of the Government’s lukewarm and half-hearted support of light rail and better bus services. The Department is forcing pilot schemes on PTAs when they try to access transport innovation fund money. That has never been stated explicitly by the Department, although the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley pointed out that it has been made fairly clear to the Greater Manchester PTA that without an element of road user pricing or congestion charging the bid will be unsuccessful.
Given that the Government have taken that position, we need some assurances from the Minister that improvements to public transport—I include better regulated buses as well as extensions to Metrolink—will be in place before any scheme of congestion charging or road user pricing is introduced. So far we have received no guarantee of that, so I hope that the Minister will give us that guarantee this morning. If the badly needed improvements to public transport are not implemented first, drivers will continue to use their cars and take the extra hit from the financial consequences.
I hope that the Minister will answer another question, which is: what does the Department expect to achieve from the pilot schemes? There would seem to be little merit in a basic congestion zone in Manchester, given that that has been tried and tested in London. In the centre of Manchester, such a zone could have a detrimental economic impact on the area covered, especially if it was restricted to the city centre, because the shops in the city centre would lose out to the Trafford centre. A small, focused congestion zone would not deal with the parts of Greater Manchester that have the most congested roads.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley mentioned a Wigan by-election some years ago. When I was involved with the regional assembly for a short while, travelling to Wigan was incredibly difficult. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that traffic between Manchester and Wigan is a major problem.
A road user pricing pilot scheme in Manchester and Birmingham will hardly prove that a national scheme will work. The majority of our congested roads are the inter-urban routes between Manchester and Birmingham and between other conurbations, which will be unaffected by the pilots. That prompts the question what the Department hopes to achieve through the pilots when it comes to rolling them out as a national road user pricing scheme. I hope that the Minister will address those points.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing today’s debate. I agree completely with him about the urgent need to boost investment in transport infrastructure in both of our cities, other conurbations and regions.
I do not think that anybody present would deny the needs of London; it has big needs, too. my hon. Friend was right to point out that more could be done to ease some of those needs by decentralising jobs and activities and taking them outside the capital. Whatever the capital’s needs, however, they in no way diminish the fact that the scale of the problem outside the capital means that investment in transport, particularly public transport, must undergo a step change. If we get to a stage where conurbations are competing for investment, that will not make for good policy making and we will not necessarily get the benefits that we all need to get from any changes. If the transport system in Birmingham and the west midlands does not work properly and there are clog-ups, that will affect not only Birmingham and the west midlands, but the north-west and the south-east. One could say the same about other conurbations.
My view of road user charging is not identical to my hon. Friend’s. I am sure that he, as a member of the Select Committee, has gone into the statistics in a lot more depth than I have. However, it is projected that congestion in the west midlands conurbation will increase by a further quarter by 2021, and the Confederation of British Industry estimates the cost of that congestion to be about £250 million a year. My hon. Friend said that the statistics are questionable, but having talked to business people in the west midlands, I do not get the impression that they are dreaming up figures; they are genuinely worried about the costs of congestion.
One of my biggest concerns, which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) mentioned, is the lack of consideration that is being given to improving bus usage and deregulating buses. Such measures would contribute to improving the figures, but they have been taken out of the calculations because investment in local bus services is not sufficient to reduce some of the congestion on the streets.
I guess that the answer is yes and no. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is a need for greater investment in buses, and I will say something about that in a little while. However, I am not sure that such investment affects the figures strongly either way; it is probably a separate issue.
We need to look seriously at road user charging, and I say that as somebody who is known as bit of a petrol-head—I chair the all-party motor group and, in many ways, the motor industry is in my blood. Nevertheless, I think that we need to consider road user charging, so I am pleased that local authorities and others in the west midlands have produced the document “Gridlock or Growth?”, which looks at some of the options that can be adopted there.
Whatever position we take on road user charging—my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and I are at one on one issue—we still need investment up front in our transport infrastructure. That includes buses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) said, and I am sure that he is right about that. We should have a much greater expansion of measures such as real-time signing. We should have more customer-friendly buses, and we should, to put it bluntly, make sure that buses go where they are needed, when people need them and at prices that people can afford. Re-regulation must be part of that. I went to a conference in Manchester just a few months ago and I know that in Birmingham we do not have bus wars like those that I saw up and down the Wilmslow road in Manchester. Nevertheless, ensuring some democratic control over where buses go and how they operate must be a matter of importance for both our cities.
The same is true of our local railway infrastructure. Let me give an example from my own area of the crucial need for buses and rail to network together. Never does a speech go by without my mentioning Longbridge, but let me mention it again. We are trying to regenerate the former MG Rover site, and it is vital that we establish the necessary transport links to that regeneration area. At the moment, no one can park their car at the train station, which is built on top of a humpback bridge. However, there is an opportunity to create a new transport interchange, which will regenerate and revitalise the area and could link up marginal communities on the outskirts of the city of Birmingham in a way that we have not been able to achieve so far. That involves using the existing cross-city line as well as expanding bus numbers, and there may even be the option of using guided buses. That could make a real difference economically and could relieve congestion in south-west Birmingham. However, there is no way round the fact that it will cost a great deal.
We are right to say that some projects are nationally and regionally important, such as the renovation and rebuilding of New Street station, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) has done so much work and which has the support of all Birmingham Members of Parliament.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the extension of the Metro, particularly to the black country, is also vital? An early decision on that is key to the regeneration of the black country.
I was going to make just that point about the Metro.
No, my hon. Friend was right to intervene. One thing that has bedevilled that project for many years is that, because we have never quite known how far it will get—literally—down the line or where the lines would go, the choice of lines has often ended up as a compromise, and the first lines have not necessarily been built where, objectively, they should have been built. A light-rail system could, for example, be extended through the centre of Birmingham, and it is great to go to Manchester and see the tram, which is vital to the local transport system there. However, these things cost. If we half do things, with a project in one place taking money from one in another place, we will not tackle congestion or achieve the important step change in attitudes that we need. That is why local authorities in the west midlands have clearly said that they will need an extra £2 billion up front and a further £2 billion thereafter to tackle such problems.
Before I finish, let me say something about congestion charging and road user charging. They probably must be part of the solution, which is why I welcome the study that is being done in the west midlands. I have some concern about opting for camera-based systems as the best approach. The west midlands is not London and its economic profile is entirely different. The geography is also different, and the west midlands conurbation is not one centre, but a number of interlocking centres. The question of how we design and run the zones is therefore highly complex.
In a way, cameras are old technology. Satellite-based systems are generally regarded as having far more potential and can enable better and fairer charging. Of course, there are real issues around privacy, and we need to log and acknowledge those. It is also often said that satellite-based systems are too off in the future for us to move to them, but having talked to some of the companies involved, I am not sure that they are, or have to be, as far away as we sometimes assume. I therefore urge Ministers and local authorities to explore what will be possible in the near future, before we invest millions in camera-based technologies, which could be obsolete sooner than we think and which rely on zonal systems, that may not work in the way that satellite-based systems could. I am worried about that, because if we go down one route prematurely, when we all know that the other route is the right option, in a few years’ time we could be stuck with something just because it is then too difficult and expensive to do anything else.
We need to get a form of black boxes in cars, but we need to incentivise them in a way that makes them attractive to people. We also need to look at ways of incentivising the use of in-car technology, which could provide passports through to the extra use of public transport. Incentives in the road fund licence could be piloted in particular areas. There could even be discussions with the oil and petrol companies about the possibility of incentives connected with fuel, to encourage the use of such technology.
This is a key issue and there are many ways to deal with it. If any of us were in any doubt about that, the Stern report and the Eddington review have given emphasis to it, for all of us. We must all face up to it. Competition between cities is not the way to achieve our ends. Investment is the way. Thinking big and creatively and being ambitious must be part of the package. The west midlands has been in the forefront of innovation for decades—centuries—and when we develop these systems we need to consider whether we can secure the technological and industrial benefit, getting into the design and production game as well as piloting and using the systems in the relevant areas. The best system in the long term will be a national one—there is little doubt about that—but such a system will be highly complex, which is why it needs to be trialled. The time to do that is now, and we need to ensure that our big cities can carry out the trials a way that is imaginative and which will boost the economy and cut congestion—not the reverse.
I remind hon. Members that just 19 minutes are left of the debate before I call the Front-Bench speakers to wind up.
I take your point, Sir Nicholas, and in deference to other hon. Members, I shall be brief and cut some of my remarks.
I shall get to the nub of the issue straight away: road pricing is a tax. It is quite proper in Government to use tax to modify behaviour, but I want to consider the impact of the tax. My first question is whether it will be an additional tax. Motorists already pay £24 billion in fuel duty. We have, and already had even before the recent increase, the highest fuel duty rate in Europe, particularly for diesel users. I want to know whether there will be any offset on that, and more particularly who will pay for the very considerable costs of setting up and running the system. Going by the west midlands study, it does not get to break-even point until year 17, so there is huge public expenditure in set-up costs at the start, let alone the cost to individuals.
My next question is who will pay. By definition the people who will pay at the highest level—according to the Department’s own study—will be those who use the busiest roads at the busiest times. That, certainly in the west midlands, means those in the urban conurbation. Therefore the people who pay will be the people using the roads at peak hours, which are the travel-to-work times. We are therefore targeting a tax at urban workers on their way to work—people who used to be called hard-working families. If we have a national scheme, who will benefit? It will be those who live in rural areas. I do not, as a Labour Member, find it intrinsically attractive to tax my constituents in urban areas when they go to work, for the benefit of people who live in Herefordshire. Incidentally, collecting fuel duty is an extremely cheap and efficient way to collect tax; some 99 per cent. of that £24 billion is collected from some 20 companies.
Is there a problem? Of course there is. We have a dynamic economy; there are 2 million more people in work. We also have internet shopping, with a massive delivery economy. What can we do to mitigate the problem? I should have more confidence in the Department for Transport’s proposals if at the same time it was making progress with mitigating existing problems. Let us consider lorry bans, for example. In this instance I give credit to the Minister—it is a shame that he is answering, because he is a real can-do Minister in Government—who is considering the matter of delivery bans. Often there is an insistence that delivery vehicles for supermarkets turn up in peak hours; they are not allowed to deliver in the early hours of the morning, even though the supermarkets are often open then.
Other relevant matters are hard shoulder running and active traffic management. Again, all credit is due to the Minister, who gave the Highways Agency a real shove when it had been ducking and dithering about the issue for years. When I asked him about it early in the year, the date was supposed to be March 2007. When I asked him in the summer about progress with the equipment needed for active traffic management on the M42 to the east side of the midlands conurbation, he said that it was all in place, and got the Highways Agency to get on with it. In September, it was introduced. What happened? There were no problems, and a 13 per cent. increase in capacity. By the way, about a 15 per cent. reduction in traffic is needed to do away with most congestion. That is why school holidays have such an impact.
Is traffic information accurate enough, and are the signs put up by the Highways Agency making enough use of the technology? Are we using the national traffic control centre?
As to street works, we have been putting legislation through, but we are still miles behind New York, Sydney and many other places which manage the system day by day. Departments are very good at 20-year plans and long-term projects, but they are not good—and nor are the police, frankly, although they try to guard their powers—at running the system in real time.
My final point, because I am mindful of the time, is about demand. Why do schools in many areas all start at the same time? That adds considerably to congestion on the school run. Why do many firms that are not on flow-line production not have flexible working? Why do Government Departments, for example, not encourage people to work at home for one day? That, incidentally, happens in Washington, precisely to deal with traffic congestion there. Several issues need to be addressed, but the Minister needs in particular to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) about whether there is conditionality in properly evaluating transport schemes in the west midlands and Manchester. Will they be assessed on their merits rather than on whether we are going along with the current fad?
Ever since I became an MP 15 years ago, transport has been an item on the agenda of the annual meetings that take place with local business leaders. Even when the Tories were in government, business leaders were pressing for a bigger budget on transport. It was the one area of public spending in which they wanted an increase. Although we have increased transport investment, that has not, outside London, been on the scale that is needed. My right hon. and hon. Friends have already touched on this issue, but I understand that spending on London is three times that on Birmingham and Manchester—or five times if one includes the £3 billion prudential borrowing that Transport for London is able to put in. We are, I think, united in this Chamber on the need for greater public investment. It should not be a matter of competition between conurbations. We need greater investment, which, overall, would pay for itself.
We must, however, also tackle congestion. I accept that there are measures that could be taken, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) has mentioned, but if we get the economic growth that we want, a 25 per cent. increase in congestion is predicted over the 20 years to 2021. I do not believe that that can be tackled without some road pricing. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) that it would be better if we could introduce the more sophisticated satellite system, and I hope that he is right to say that we might be able to bring forward the date of 2020, which has been given by the transport experts from Birmingham whom we have met. If that does not prove possible, we cannot wait until 2020. We need to do something more quickly, because of the scale of congestion.
An hon. Member who represents Manchester said that we should have a referendum before any road pricing was introduced. Had there been a referendum in London, it would have gone against congestion charging. Sometimes, politicians have to put their heads above the parapet and do the right thing even though it is unpopular. I know that Liberal Democrats are not fond of doing that.
I did not suggest having a referendum before charging was introduced.
I did not say that it was the hon. Gentleman. It was a Manchester Member, but I cannot remember which part of the city my hon. Friend represents.
Generally speaking, as many decisions as possible should be taken locally, but in this case we need to follow the Government’s lead. We need a national scheme. In the west midlands, we have considerable congestion on the M6, and some argue that charging should be introduced on motorways, but we also need action in our conurbations.
In London, the Mayor can take decisions for the entire conurbation, but that cannot be done in Birmingham or Manchester. I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) that it would be difficult to impose congestion charging in Manchester without doing the same in Trafford. We have a similar situation in Birmingham; traders in the city centre would be adversely affected by congestion charging in the city but not, for example, around the Merry Hill centre in Dudley. We need a regionally based system, and the Government are right to encourage council leaders, often from different political parties, to get their act together.
I finish by introducing a subject that no other speaker has mentioned. That is cycling. We need to encourage far more cycling in our urban areas. I cycle in London and in Birmingham. I feel safer in London—although I do not feel entirely safe—as it has a more extensive use of feeder lanes and advanced stops for cyclists. In London, I am frequently accompanied by dozens of other cyclists, but in Birmingham I cycle alone; there are no other cyclists on the roads. The investment in cycling in places such as Birmingham is minuscule in relation to the sums invested in our roads. The traffic engineers still do not think of cycling when investing in road schemes, although they sometimes paint a few white lines to give cyclists feeder lanes and advanced stops.
We need to do far more to encourage cycling. People need to believe that it is safer than they perceive. Not only would that help relieve congestion, but it would make us fitter. As a cyclist myself, I recommend it: it is good for health and good for congestion, and it is about the quickest way of getting around in London—and in Birmingham during the rush hour, although not necessarily at off-peak times. I urge the Government to do more to encourage investment in cycling.
I am not sure how many more Members want to speak. I hope to call another two.
I shall be brief, Sir Nicholas, as I would be happy to put my name to all that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) said.
I have some thoughts on subjects that have not yet been mentioned. Today’s debate is easy for the Minister; he has only to stand up and say yes. We all agree that we need massive investment in the transport system, but the question is where to start. We have not quite reached that stage in our debate.
We need to be much more rigorous when considering the nature of the journeys that we are talking about, some of which may impact on the economy and some of which we can do without. We need to know the reasons for the journeys and to decide on the most appropriate ways to travel. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) that when I lived in Holland, I saw massive traffic jams being caused by bicycles, so it should not be thought that they cannot cause congestion. However, she is right that that we need to do more in Birmingham.
A crucial factor is the cost of journeys. How should we price them? The Department for Transport has to be extremely careful. If it wants a pricing mechanism—ultimately, that is what we will have to do—it will have to provide alternatives that are not based only on the ability to pay. Those alternatives will require a decent infrastructure for our buses, cycles, trams, trains—and even our waterways.
Goods should be taken off the roads. One of the most bizarre conversations I have had on the subject was with a manager at Hams Hall. I asked him how he would get the car engines from Cowley to Hams Hall, and he said that it would be done by road. I said, “Why on earth are you doing it by road? You have the railway.” He said that the roads were even more reliable than the railways. There is something wrong.
I agree with my colleagues that competition between cities can be rather unpleasant. I spent 10 years of my life in Manchester, and along with Birmingham, it is a city for which I have the greatest affection. However, when the Department for Transport is faced with limited funds, it will have to give the money to those places that already have got their acts together—places that can more effectively implement Government policy. Indeed, all Governments expect local authorities to implement their policies.
As the Minister gets ready to go home with his red box, I recommend that he takes two documents with him. The first is “Gridlock or Growth”, a west midlands metropolitan area congestion management study. In the final paragraph, it considers the options and spells out the blunt conclusion:
“This package would require expenditure of £2 billion to be committed or spent before implementation which would be provided largely through new TIF money and a further £2 billion expenditure over 8 years to be funded directly through road use charges.”
The second document is Birmingham city council’s prospectus of November 2006. It shows that if the Minister has limited funds, he might insist on road pricing as one of the conditions for allocating transport innovation fund money. I hope that he will tell us whether that is likely. I hope that he is confident that the west midlands, and particularly Birmingham, is ready to start that long and necessary debate.
I associate myself with most of what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I want to draw attention to the findings of the west midlands “Gridlock or Growth” study on congestion, particularly as it affects the black country. It is often said that one can get to the black country but that one cannot get through it. That is very true, particularly on Fridays. Indeed, because of the way in which our diaries work, that is when I do most of my travelling in the black country. The traffic is almost like rush hour all day long. It is horrific.
Congestion is a serious and growing problem in the west midlands metropolitan area. The road network regularly reaches the point when everything could all stop; we are never far from gridlock. There are several congestion black spots. The Birmingham study shows that congestion in the area will grow 22 per cent. by 2021 and that an extra 300,000 hours of travel delay should be expected every day. That is the equivalent of an extra 469,000 car journeys. That will continue to damage the competitive position of the west midlands.
In my part of the black country, we have managed to reduce unemployment, and new investment is starting to come in, but congestion will stop that growth. It is vital for the black country that the problem is addressed and that city regions are not left to compete with each other. I hate to be boring on the issue, but it vital that early decisions are made, particularly on the extension to the metro and on the plans for Birmingham New Street station, which affects the wider west midlands area.
I thank hon. Members for their co-operation. We now start the winding-up speeches. I call Paul Rowen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Nicholas. I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) for initiating this debate and other hon. Members who have made a valuable contribution to what is an increasingly important issue.
Although the debate is about Birmingham and Manchester, I would like to set out some clear principles of the Liberal Democrats with regards to road pricing. There are several reasons why we are talking about road-user pricing and an obvious reason has been mentioned already. It relates to reducing congestion because a punitive charge shifts behaviour. That shift presupposes that there is another route people can drive their car down or that people will use public transport. Therefore, there has to be investment in public transport. A reduction in congestion is not just needed in towns and cities, but as other hon. Members have said, if we are serious about tackling the problem, it is needed in the inter-modal routes— whether those are the national motorways or the routes between places such as Manchester and Wigan.
Road-user pricing is about raising revenue. We know that this Chancellor often raises huge sums of money that disappear elsewhere. I hope that some of the money raised will be used to fund public transport investment, but this issue is also about reducing CO2 emissions and doing something for climate change. Road-user pricing probably relates to all three points I have mentioned: reducing congestion, raising revenue and reducing CO2 emissions.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he considers the road-user charge as additional to fuel duty or whether he thinks it will be compensated by reductions in fuel duty?
I was about to answer part of that. The charge relates to a mixture of both. If we are serious about wanting people to use more user-friendly and environmentally friendly cars, the present fuel duty and road tax system should be replaced with a system that rewards people who have such vehicles. However, there also has to be a balance with raising additional resources.
On the tension between local and national concerns that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) raised, we are all agreed that, in the long term, there must be a national road-user pricing policy. The problem is how to get that and when to concentrate solely on the urban areas. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, there are problems with that.
The Government have missed a trick. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, road-user pricing is being introduced for HGVs. In this country, our road haulage industry is rightly complaining that it is subsidising cheap, foreign transport, which is taking away some of our jobs. A major step would be for HGVs to have satellite systems installed. We should insist on that as it would ensure that foreign hauliers begin to pay some of the costs. While it should be revenue-neutral for British HGVs, the extra resources should be used to obtain some of the national systems that need to be introduced.
Birmingham and Manchester have been given transport innovation fund pump-priming and are in direct competition with each other. I agree with other hon. Members who have questioned whether that is fair when the investment has been found in other great cities on the continent to ensure those cities can grow and develop. Economically, it is absolutely vital that Birmingham and Manchester get the additional resources. We have already heard the cost of that: for Birmingham it is £2 billion now and £2 billion later. In the next few months, we will no doubt have an indication from Manchester about just how much its funding will cost. In terms of operation, any system that is adopted must be fair and be seen to be fair to the people who use it and to the people who may want to invest in those great cities.
A lot has been said about the use of barrier systems. Like other hon. Members, I have huge concerns about the effects of a barrier or camera system on economic development. We know what will happen and where people will go if, for example, the towns in Greater Manchester have a system and the Trafford centre is excluded. As the hon. Gentleman said, congestion will shift on to the M60 and town and city centres will die.
The report on Birmingham, “Gridlock or Growth”, has been mentioned. I have spoken to colleagues in Greater Manchester and they have serious concerns about some of the proposals. Those concerns relate to the way the proposals dissect Birmingham in two, and avoid some urban conurbations, and to the fact that that its recommendations are unfair.
A crude camera system, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield said, is not fair. We need to develop satellite systems. I know that local authorities want the resources and that many of them are willing to play the Government’s game, but what will happen if and when they get the money? That is not the right way to proceed. We need to invest, to cut CO2 emissions, and to tackle traffic congestion—not just in urban areas, but in our cities. In order to do that we need a system that uses satellite technology. Such a system needs to be rolled out so that it starts in certain areas. However, people should not have to go along with the system as a prerequisite to getting the funding needed to improve public transport. We must all accept that climate change and our way of life mean that we must take action, but we first need a clear system that is based on the national road network and on the motorways and trunk roads that already exist. That will do far more to tackle congestion than drawing lines on maps and saying, “If you are in that area, you are paying and if you are outside it, you are not.” That is not a fair and equitable system and it will not bring about fair economic growth.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Nicholas. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on bringing this interesting subject to our attention.
There has been a genuine national debate on this issue. Our party is convinced that a price mechanism can change people’s behaviour and manage demand. I have seen several projects in the past year and the one that most clearly proves that point is the SR 91 road in southern California, which joins a residential area to an area where many people work. As there were four lanes of freeway—or motorway—jammed solid morning and evening, the central median was ripped out and a four lane high-occupancy vehicle lane was built with free access for people with more than two passengers. That was a complete waste of time as it was jammed morning and evening. The HOV lane was then converted to a high-occupancy toll lane with a varying charge. The intention was that a maximum of 3,200 vehicles would travel every hour and, in simple terms, the number of vehicles was doubled and the speed of those vehicles trebled. The lesson is that those prepared to change their behaviour in the morning and go to work at 5 or 11 o’clock paid a modest charge of around $4 for a 10-mile run. In the afternoon, when there are strong incentives to arrive home on time, such as a $10 per minute charge for being late at the nursery to pick up a child, people wanted reliability and they bought it. In the afternoon, people were prepared to pay a much steeper fee of up to $8.50 at 4 o’clock on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
As the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) said, the lesson is that people will pay more on top of what are huge charges for vehicle excise and fuel duty in this country if there is a genuine product. As with the M6 toll, we have seen that people will pay because they are buying the certainty that they will arrive at the other end—29 or 31 miles away— on time. That is an absolutely key lesson.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, can he clarify whether he sees the road-user charging as additional to fuel duty or whether he sees there being an offset?
If it was national, it would almost certainly have to be an offset, but the point I am making is that there would be public support for delivering a product that involved reliability and certainty of arrival.
The Government have a real job on their hands, as perhaps we all do, to differentiate between congestion charging and road pricing. They are two completely different animals. The congestion charge in London is, bluntly, a brutal socialist club designed to discriminate against people who have the temerity to enter Ken’s kingdom in a private motor car. There is a single charge and no incentive once one has entered the kingdom not to use the car as much as possible. There are some extraordinary anomalies with the congestion charge and the scheme is a real lesson of what not to do in London. It is heroically inefficient: 49 per cent. of the revenues go on administration, as opposed to 19 per cent. in Singapore. Also, the product has not been delivered because, as the right hon. Member for Warley said, enormous changes have been made to the road space. Some 1,000 extra traffic lights have been imposed, and the infamous bendy buses have come along. The situation is admitted in Transport for London’s own “Transport vision for a growing world city”, published last month. It states:
“Effective road space for motor vehicles has been reduced due to the reallocation of road space to bus passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, and to improve road safety and the public realm.”
We have seen that very expensive scheme set up. Speeds before charging were 8.9 mph. After charging, they were 10.4 mph, but they are now back down to 10 mph. What is extraordinary is that there has been a decrease of 11 per cent. in the number of vehicles, but the total vehicle kilometres driven in the zone have gone up. This is my point: there must be varied charging and it must take account of the fact that people, once they have paid a charge, will maximise what they have paid for and drive around as much as possible.
There has also been quite a severe commercial impact. The chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, which has done a lot of research on the matter, told me that the turnover of its store in Oxford street is significantly less now on a seven-day week than it was before on a six-day week. That has been confirmed by the Greater London authority’s own economics unit, which says that small retailers, which represent—
Order. May I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is making a most interesting contribution to the debate, that the discussion is directed specifically at Manchester and Birmingham, not London?
I am most grateful for your guidance, Sir Nicholas, but there are clear lessons from the experience in London about the commercial impact. I have some interesting comments from west midlands business men, which I will come to in a second.
One of the other key lessons from London concerns evasions. Last year, 5,500 people received penalty notices on a daily basis, 25 per cent. of which were not paid. The Minister must address this point, which I raised in a debate last week. We all give credit to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, given the titanically difficult problem that it has of tracking 47 million drivers and 36 million vehicles, but its database is only 68 per cent. dead accurate. It is 10 per cent. so inaccurate that people cannot be traced, so that involves 3.6 million vehicles and 4.7 million drivers. That will create a huge sense of unfairness. Even in the Stockholm trial, accuracy became an issue. Even the good, law-abiding Swedes found that a substantial number of people did not pay. I just do not see how we can get off base one on road pricing until we have a cast-iron accurate database.
Let me turn to the Greater Manchester project. There is a clear link in this respect: those who are in favour of the scheme in Manchester seek a large increase in investment in Metrolink. The way in which the Government are behaving is quite clear. They are offering substantial extra sums of public money to the authorities around the country in the provincial zones being targeted for congestion charging or road pricing, if they will introduce a road pricing or congestion scheme. That will enable them to pick up an extra large slug of money. The danger is that they might get it the wrong way round.
There were comments last week in Manchester showing that the Metrolink is already extremely clogged up. There was one very interesting comment in the Manchester Evening News only a few days ago that
“the trams regularly arrive full”.
An unnamed commuter described how the buses and trains were full and commuters had to squash on and how, on at least two occasions, they had not been able to get on the train at all.
The Government have a problem in this regard. We are talking about a chicken-and-egg situation. If an aggressive road pricing scheme is introduced, where will such commuters go? In London, they had an option. Edmund King of the RAC said:
“The difference between Manchester and London is before congestion charging, 86 per cent. of people in London used public transport anyway. The figure is not as high as that in Manchester.”
There was substantial investment in extra buses in London; there was an alternative. The situation was the same in Stockholm, where 200 extra buses were bought.
What will happen in Manchester if the main aim of the exercise is to get a huge slug of extra money to extend Metrolink? Obviously, there will be interim monster disruption while Metrolink is extended, but where will people go? I agree with the right hon. Member for Warley that there will be a penalty on what he called hard-working families who are trying to get in and out of Manchester on a daily basis at times when they simply have to travel.
I also entirely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on deliveries to shops by heavy goods vehicles. If we are to have road pricing, we have to address the question of evening curfews. I walk to this place every morning past a Tesco truck delivering to the Tesco mini-store by the Home Office. Presumably, that truck can deliver only at that time of the morning. It seems crazy to have an articulated lorry driving into Westminster at 9 o’clock in the morning when, if the delivery was made at another time, the only people who would, I suggest, be disturbed would be MPs getting up early preparing for a debate, civil servants or possibly cleaners in the Home Office building itself. The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is pointless to introduce a road-charging scheme on the Californian model that will encourage people to get up earlier in the morning and arrive home later at night if the planning regulations prevent rational decisions from being made and deliveries from being made at different times.
I detect in Manchester some scepticism about charging. Roger Jones, chairman of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority, said:
“Congestion is going to become an increasing problem but we have always maintained that we need to improve public transport and then look at congestion. It has to be in that order.
Charging is one possibility. We will have to learn from London and other places. Manchester will ask why should we charge people to come and shop in Manchester when other towns don’t charge and the Trafford Centre offers free parking?”
That is a very pertinent point. Where does one draw the boundaries? What is Manchester? What is Greater Manchester? Those inside the net and those outside it will feel aggrieved for different reasons.
It was interesting that the island of Lidingo in Stockholm had to be excluded from the scheme there, and people had to be given access through the congestion zone as long as they did not stay for more than 40 minutes. The main north-south Swedish motorway was also excluded, because that was thought to penalise people from outside.
We then have a huge technical problem: how will people be picked up? The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) mentioned that he is in favour of a national scheme and he did not seem to like tag and beacon, but what will be done about itinerant people coming from Yorkshire or people from Cumbria passing through Manchester? The complications technically will be very difficult to overcome. I think that it was as a result of that that, in a poll last week in Manchester, 74 per cent. of the people said no to congestion charging and 26 per cent. said yes. The Government have a major public relations problem in trying to win this argument.
The situation is similar in the west midlands. “Gridlock or Growth—Choices and Challenges for the future” has horrific figures on the costs of congestion: £2.2 billion, according to the CBI. In a poll of 5,000 people, 79 per cent. said that congestion was a key priority. However, the report is emphatic that the west midlands requires £2 billion of investment and improvement in transport ahead of any road-pricing scheme in order to provide choice and alternatives to the car, with a further £2 billion afterwards. Again, some 70 per cent. of people in Birmingham get to work by car. We cannot just put an extra charge on those people if there is no alternative. I think that that was the point made by the right hon. Member for Warley. I believe that people would go by bus, as they did in London and as they did possibly in Stockholm, as an alternative, but people must have those alternatives; otherwise, there is a real penalty on the hard-working people referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.
Might those people also cycle, which is very cheap?
Briefly, please, Mr. Paterson.
Those people may well cycle, but I suspect that some of them travel rather too long a distance to cycle. Cycling is certainly a possibility, but I do not think that it will answer the substantial problems of congestion in the west midlands.
We hope that the Minister will have time to reply.
I am about to conclude my comments, Sir Nicholas. Those who will make the decisions—I talked to a cabinet member for transport only yesterday in the west midlands—say that they have a healthy scepticism about congestion charging, as they do not want the west midlands to be put at a competitive disadvantage by isolated regional trials. Now I come to the macro point, which we raised in a debate last week. I do not quite understand what these trials will teach us for a national scheme. A national scheme, I suggest, will probably be satellite based—the hon. Member for Rochdale referred to that—but we will have these small isolated trials built around the peculiarities of congestion in the big conurbations. Can the Minister tell us what we will learn for a national scheme, and can he then mention the big elephant in the room, which we did not get an answer to last week, which is the European directive, not yet finalised, on the technology?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing the debate. He and I have differences of opinion on several aspects of this issue, but at least I know that he is keen to debate the issue and to bring matters out into the open. That is exactly what I want to happen. In our manifesto, we said that we would launch a major national debate on road pricing and we have honoured that. We are moving the issue forward, but we will win people over only if we have debates such as this to discuss the issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) struck exactly the right note—I hope that this does not do his career too much damage—and is in exactly the position that I would like Members of Parliament and local councillors to be at this stage. I want them to acknowledge that road pricing has to be part of the mix, but be a bit sceptical and ask questions about exactly how it will work and how it will be made fair. I want them to understand that we have to face up to these issues and answer these questions because road pricing is inevitable. I see no alternative to it in the long term.
There will be national road pricing. We have said that that will happen around the middle of the next decade, although I shall not have a sweepstake on exactly which year it will be. It might be a little later than that; circumstances and the Government of the day will determine when it is. In no discussion with any transport expert, academic or other person who has studied traffic issues around the country have I heard any dispute that road pricing is coming to the roads near us at some time in the future.
I shall give way to my right hon. Friend in a moment; I want to make some progress first. The questions that we should be asking are about how road pricing should be done and in what order. How can we test it? How can we make it work? How fast should we do it? What alternatives need to be put in place?
It is clear from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley that he believes there is an alternative to road pricing in Manchester: massive investment in public transport. We have made massive investments in transport around the country and we will continue to do so and to make big investments in public transport, but one has only to take a cursory look at the Eddington report to realise that if we do not do something else as well, those massive investments will fail.
My hon. Friend knows as well as I that when our constituents say, “If only the public transport system was better, I would use it,” they mean, “If only the public transport system was better, everybody else could use it and I could carry on driving my car down a nice, clear road.” If we are to provide the carrot of increased investment in public transport, we must also use the stick of road pricing to make people use it. That is the only way in which we can make sense of those massive investments.
A 25 per cent. increase in congestion is coming soon, according to the Eddington report—all the facts and figures are there—unless we start to manage demand. That has to be through road pricing. It is going to be difficult, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said. There are many questions to be answered and we have to work out how to do it, but we must answer those questions and do those things because we cannot avoid that.
I was not in Manchester or Birmingham yesterday; I was in Brussels. I do not know if they were simply having a bad day there, but if hon. Members want to see what congestion might look like in 15 years if we do not do something about it, they should go to Brussels on a bad day and see the utter chaos. People there even ignore red lights because there is no other way of making progress in the traffic system. That will be the story everywhere if we do not face up to these difficult questions.
May I take the Minister back to the academics who are all applauding road-user charging? How many of them are involved with consultancies that advise on road-user charging and can see themselves having very lucrative careers for a long time to come?
I am sure that many of them are so doing, but, equally, I have met many experts who are not making that sort of link between the future and the policies that they propose. My right hon. Friend should consider the journey that the British Chambers of Commerce has made. When I was appointed to this position and had to start going out and trying to sell road pricing, the BCC said, “Over our dead body.” Six months later, it had changed its position to saying, “Oh, yes, we must do road pricing, but it must be revenue-neutral.” Now it has published a report saying, “We have to get on with road pricing and it should be revenue raising with the money being spent on transport systems.” It has made the journey that I would like everyone in the country to make. If the BCC is prepared to see the benefits of road pricing, including those to public transport and transport investment, we can all come to that position.
I want to correct a few inaccuracies in what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said. He began by talking about a competitive process but it is a competition only in the sense that our colleagues in Manchester and Birmingham have decided in their heads that it is a competition between those cities. It is true that if we were to give all the money to one of them, there would be nothing left for the other, but we have never said that that is our intention. I know that the west midlands has produced a document that basically says, “You need to give us £2 billion and then another £2 billion a few years later,” and it is true that if we gave £2 billion to the west midlands in that time scale, there would be little left for anyone else, so perhaps people in Manchester have interpreted that to mean, “It’s us or them,” but it could quite easily be both of them. If we get the right plans, we will consider how we can support both.
It will be key to the whole process that the pilots are able to teach us something because the innovation fund is meant to help us move towards introducing a national road-pricing scheme. We are therefore unlikely, as both the hon. Members for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and for North Shropshire said, to make major investments to learn about another barrier scheme because we know what a barrier scheme looks like and what we can learn from it. We have the London congestion charge. We are more likely to support a scheme that uses a distance-based approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said that people were being forced into the transport innovation fund partnership, but there are no pressed men in the partnership. We may have attracted them with the prospect of a good dose of honey, but if the political leaders in Manchester do not want to proceed down that path, and if the political leaders in Birmingham and the west midlands do not want to continue to explore these issues with us, by all means let them say so and step aside now.
Obviously, there is a great deal more to debate on that point later, but if Manchester were to withdraw from a congestion-based road-pricing scheme, would the Government still be willing to fund the second phase of the Metrolink extension?
Manchester would have to make a business case for that funding along with everyone else. We have made it quite clear that we expect our partners in the TIF pilot scheme areas to look seriously at demand management, the business issues that they are trying to address, local congestion problems and alternative solutions to them. I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) that that includes cycling and walking. Those partners need to consider bus and tram scheduling, regulation and provision in their local areas. All that we ask at this stage is that they consider all those issues sensibly and take into account the potential of demand management and road pricing.
We are not asking anyone to sign up to road pricing. Neither are we specifying any particular technologies at this stage. I know that some people have started to speculate about camera-based systems, but I have been pressing on all our partners that at this stage they should focus on the business case and the problem that they are trying to solve. I have stressed that that must be identified before we start considering technological solutions or other ways of moving forward. I very much hope that they will do that and that local politicians in Birmingham and Manchester will take forward the debate with local people and ask them what they want to see—
Order. I am afraid that I must tell the Minister that time is up. I believe that we had 10 speakers in this most interesting debate of an hour and a half.