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I do not want to be unnecessarily partisan, because that is not my way, but I can say only that the hon. Lady has either misread the Bill or misunderstood the Government’s intention. After my explanation of that aspect of the Bill, I hope the hon. Lady will leave the Chamber if not convinced, at least with many of her worst fears assuaged. If I am imperfect in making the argument, so be it, but I will give it my best shot. I will say no more than that.
The hon. Lady and others know that, because of our commitment to long-term delivery, unemployment has dropped below 2 million for the first time since 2008 and we have produced the first ever road investment strategy, which has been warmly welcomed not only by
Members of this House, but by the RAC Foundation director, Professor Stephen Glaister, by Richard Threlfall, the head of infrastructure at consultants KPMG, and by many others. I will not tire the House by listing the many supporters of the Government’s approach. That would not be entirely fair to the Opposition, either. I do not want them to start with such a profound disadvantage; I want to give them a fair shot on what is, after all, an extremely sticky wicket for them.
I genuinely believe that our impressive commitment to the long term, which stands in sharp contrast to the record of the previous Government, is one of the hallmarks of this Administration. According to the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness survey, under the Labour party—as I have said, I do not want to dwell on this for too long—our roads and railways plummeted from seventh in the world to 33rd.
We know that if Labour had been re-elected in 2010, things would have only got worse. Mr Miliband admitted to the BBC after the election that Labour had planned to cut investment in rail and road by 50%, telling Radio 5 Live that
“we’re going to halve the share of national income going to capital spending.”
That was, of course, Mr David Miliband, Mr Speaker, as you probably remember.
“In a progressive country, change is constant;…change…is inevitable.”
The role of Government is to prepare for change, and to plan for the long term. The various measures in the Bill will help to bring about such changes and make a real difference to people’s lives and livelihoods. Let us look at the changes in turn.
First, on roads reform, the Government have announced hundreds of extra lane miles on motorways and trunk roads, and action to improve some of the most important arteries in our country, such as the A303 to the south-west and the A1 Newcastle-Gateshead western bypass. It is fair to say that our work at Stonehenge—the bold engineering work to be done—is probably the most ambitious scheme there since the stone age. It is totemic, as it were, or emblematic of this Government’s willingness to tackle matters that have been neglected for a long time by successive Governments.
Major roads run by the new strategic highways company will create better connectivity and minimise environmental impact. The new name for our strategic highways company will be Highways England. I intend to set it up as soon as possible. The Government have already committed more than £24 billion to upgrade England’s strategic road network through to 2021.