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Part of Supplementary Estimates 2009-10 — Department of Health – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, South West Norfolk 6:04 pm, 10th March 2010

The first thing that my constituents want is fairness in pricing when using the road, which includes fairness in the provision of fuel. In places such as Norwich, fuel is a lot cheaper than it is in rural areas and so elderly people on fixed incomes are disproportionately penalised. In a debate in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago, in which I participated, we considered fuel pricing differentials. I am afraid that the Government did not walk up to that problem, and the road pricing issue might well be another such case. I am not going to hold it against the Minister, who is a decent man, and I hope that he will consider this issue with sincerity and will take action.

The villages in my constituency are dying on their feet as local service provision is taken away. People do not use their cars as a luxury but as a necessity, so roads are all the more important. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering pointed out, the roads are in an incredibly bad condition-we have had a bad winter-but no one seems to be walking up to the fact that a lot of money needs to be put into their maintenance.

The nub of what I would like to say in my short speech is that in Norfolk, as in many counties, the people who use the roads are not just local people or British nationals but people coming from abroad. We have a thriving haulage industry in Norfolk because of the requirement to move goods from port to the public and from farms to the shops. An awful lot of the hauliers that use the roads in my constituency come from abroad. They often put in the fuel in France, deliver in this country and depart without having spent a penny. They do not necessarily get penalised on the price of fuel as my constituents do. I feel that there is a need to walk up to this important issue.

I want to ask the Minister a quite specific question. I was going to table it as a written question, but as I have the opportunity to look at him directly and ask it this afternoon, I shall do so. Will he tell us at the end of the debate what the true figures are annually for foreign road users? How many foreign cars and how many foreign trucks and lorries use the roads of this country each year? It is my contention that a contribution should be made by the foreign vehicles that use UK roads to pay for some of the upkeep, the need for which has been so well articulated in this debate.

After all, if someone goes to France on holiday with their family, they arrive in Calais or another port and before they have got terribly far along the motorway, they are stopped and charged quite a price for the privilege. When they arrive at their destination, they have paid for that privilege. I would suggest that if a family are going abroad, they will not stop going to France because they have to pay that cost. It is an accepted part of the travelling process. In Switzerland and other European countries, one is stopped at the border, they look at one's passport and, without hesitation, they stick a vignette on the windscreen. If one wishes to use their roads, it costs approximately £60 for the year. I hope that the Minister will tell us either this afternoon or very shortly afterwards the true figures for how many people use our roads, and how much money could be raised to maintain our road infrastructure from foreign vehicles visiting our country. I humbly suggest that if a family from France, Germany or Switzerland is spending £1,000 or £2,000 on a holiday in the United Kingdom, they would not be put off by having to pay a small contribution to use our roads for a year.