Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead, Conservative)
I refer the House to the declaration that I made on
There can be no doubt that the state of the transport system in this country, and of the railways in particular, is a matter of prime concern to everyone. Central to that is the performance of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. He has repeated this afternoon what he said to The Guardian on
"There can be no more excuses. It's now our responsibility . . . I am taking responsibility."
So said the Secretary of State. Of course, his responsibility is at the heart of today's debate, because the motion is about whether we think that he is doing a good job on the railways.
It will surprise no Member of the House to hear that I think the Secretary of State is doing a pretty bad job. [Hon. Members: "Oh!] I realise that that is a revelation to every Labour Back Bencher, but nobody who has read the press or listened to commuters in recent weeks can be in any doubt that that view is widely held outside the House. Indeed, if the silence on the Labour Benches on Monday when the Secretary of State made his statement on the Strategic Rail Authority's 10-year plan is anything to go by, he can take little comfort in thinking that his colleagues have a better opinion of his performance.
"Are you confident you're up to the job?"
"I've got no doubt. People will not take my word for it. They'll look to see what we deliver in practice. That's the acid test."
He is delivering in practice a 45 per cent. increase in train delays and what the Minister for Europe tells us is the worst railway in Europe.
We know that the Secretary of State has been undermined by the Prime Minister's appointment of Lord Birt to consider transport policy, and I am grateful to Mr. Foster for his reference to the fact that the Secretary of State thinks the Prime Minister has appointed Lord Birt in order to keep him occupied. The Secretary of State has been undermined elsewhere. He told readers of The Guardian that he might perform a U-turn on the London Underground public- private partnership, but the Prime Minister told us that the tube PPP is definitely going ahead.
"There is not a love affair with the private sector."
In fact, the Secretary of State cannot even rely on himself. I wonder whether he remembers telling The Guardian:
"I do believe in the Third Way".
On Monday, he told us that he is backtracking from the third way because it is becoming "flaky". All that would be an amusing farce were it not for the fact that underlying it is something that matters to the quality of life of everybody in this country—the state of the railways. Passengers' quality of life is not the only issue, because the impact on the economy of having a decent railway system, or one that is not working properly, is also involved. The problem is not just the state of the railways today, but their state in the future.