I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his well-earned promotion and welcome him to the Dispatch Box. I also welcome the initiative already taken by his Department to take heavy freight off the roads and put it on the railways. Is he aware that there is considerable concern in my constituency about the volume of traffic on the A6? Would he consider using the A6 corridor as a pilot for an integrated programme for improvement of the road structure and for traffic calming measures, encouraging the use of public transport?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind and generous words. I am aware of the concern that he has expressed, not least because, as a conscientious constituency Member, he has brought it to our attention on a number of occasions. I should like to study his suggestion carefully, and if he would like to speak to the Minister for Railways and Roads, I am sure that he would be happy to have such discussions.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Does he accept that if the Government are serious about reducing the environmental impact of traffic and wish to move passenger and freight traffic from road to rail, a prerequisite is an improvement in the infrastructure of the railways and co-ordination of transport methods, such as park and ride, traffic calming and the reopening of some lines? Are the Government committed to such a course of action?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. He mentions a number of matters, all of which we are pursuing. I think that he is premature in suggesting that the existing railway infrastructure could not take a good deal more traffic before serious additional investment in infrastructure would be required. All those issues are actively on the current agenda.
I should like to add my congratulations to those that have been offered to my right hon. Friend on his appointment to his new post. Does he agree that integrated transport needs good consultation and good information, and that the proposal to close the M4 immediately after Christmas for four days has caused major concern throughout the affected area? I am delighted that the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State took action and that the closure has been postponed. Who authorised the closure of that road and were the local authorities consulted?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I could not agree with him more about the importance of good consultation. The matter that he mentions has only recently been brought to my attention.
I have already asked that it be fully investigated and I assure my hon. Friend that no such proposal will be implemented after Christmas.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the structure proposed by the Government, which is based on privatisation, deregulation and fragmentation, makes it impossible to achieve a genuinely integrated transport policy? Does he appreciate that bus deregulation and rail privatisation destroyed interchange and network benefits, and that Britain is now the only country in the European Union without a rail development programme? When will he accept that slashing the road building programme in the coming Budget is no substitute for increased investment in new and better public transport systems, especially for the third of all households which do not own a car?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I look forward to debating transport matters with him across the Floor of the House, especially if he continues to pursue the sort of line that he took today. It was not so long ago that, during a transport debate, he called for a moratorium on road building. He is now trying to generate space so that he can change to being pro-road building if, as he suspects but cannot prove—I have no comment to make—the Budget turns out the way that some newspaper speculators think that it will.
When the hon. Gentleman defines his version of an integrated transport policy, I shall be happy to respond to him in detail. He needs to understand that sloganising from the Dispatch Box is no substitute for thought.
Will my right hon. Friend take the time to travel a little further down the A6 corridor, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), and consider the case of Kibworth, a village in my constituency which lies on that road? It is sorely in need of a new railway station so that commuters can go into Leicester by train rather than clogging up the A6. Will he encourage the Liberal-Labour-dominated county council to reopen the station?
I am not sure what judgment my predecessor made, but I am sure that the House will understand that I have no plans to memorise every road or rail project in the country, however large or small, simply so that I can respond instantaneously to any comment in the House. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend made a good point and I shall consider it in the spirit in which he raised it. I note again the ambivalence of opposition parties in power in local authorities towards doing what their spokesmen in the House keep talking about.