Is the Minister aware that 39 per cent. of the population are at risk from respiratory diseases and that the treatment of asthma, now the most common disease, cost the national health service an estimated £344.4 million in 1988? Many studies have shown an association between asthma and residence in areas of high traffic volume. Will the Minister initiate a proper national survey of the relationship between asthma and traffic volume so that any future transport policy will take into account the health of the nation as well as the pressure from the road transport lobby?
The hon. Lady seems unaware that the Department of Health has an independent expert committee on the medical effects of air pollutants. The committee has looked at this issue and a sub-group is specifically looking at the relationship between traffic and asthma. Had the hon. Lady considered that, she would be aware that, while there is no doubt that asthmatics need to use their inhalors more when nitrogen dioxide levels are high, there is as yet no evidence from studies carried out in this country and America which relates traffic emissions to the cause of asthma or to its onset. It is too early to say what conclusions we can draw; we will have to wait for the working party to report.
Will the Government be more vigorous about building the Stockport north-south bypass? Would that not be a useful way of tackling the problem to which the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) refers?
I agree with my hon. Friend's general observation that in all this great talk about every road being somehow inherently evil it should be remembered that when bypasses are in place some tens of thousands of people who previously suffered from traffic volumes, noise and emissions are provided with welcome relief.
Would it not be better for all of us if the Government made serious attempts to transfer traffic from road to rail? The Minister should talk to his friends at the Ministry of Defence. In the past 12 years, the Ministry of Defence has closed down half the rail links from MOD depots to the main rail network, thereby—as a matter of deliberate Government policy—transferring freight from rail to road. One of the links that was closed was at the central ordnance depot Donnington in my constituency. Is that not one example of where one Government Department has not a clue what another Department is doing?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, a disproportionate amount of the Department's overall budget is already spent on public transport. In London, for example, some £3 is spent on public transport for every £1 spent on roads. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the announcement that my right hon. Friend made earlier this year, he would know that the Government have considerably enhanced the provision of freight facilities grant to allow the transfer of traffic from road to rail, to effect precisely the kind of change to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.