Transport

– in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 15th June 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:59 pm, 15th June 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
notes that the Government has failed to meet its target of reducing congestion on Britain's roads by 5 per cent., that congestion is set to rise by up to 20 per cent. by 2010 and that, according to the CBI, traffic congestion costs British industry £15 billion to £20 billion a year;
recognises that the Government is failing to meet its targets for increased passenger and freight use of the railways and that rail freight declined by 0.3 billion net tonne kilometres in 2002; regrets the fact that one in five trains is still running late and that reliability on the railways has not even returned to the levels achieved before the Hatfield crash;
condemns the Government's failure to decide the future of Crossrail, the East London Line Extension and Thameslink 2000 and the delay of improvements such as the upgrading of the East Coast Main Line;
further notes that the Transport Committee stated that the Government has had 'years to address the problems of the railway but failed to take effective action';
calls on the Government to acknowledge that its Ten Year Transport Plan has failed in all its key objectives;
deplores the Government's failure to develop a coherent planning strategy for Britain's ports;
further condemns the Government for the confusion and blight caused by the Aviation White Paper to many communities near airports;
and further calls, in the light of these failures, for a re-evaluation of transport policy which properly recognises the needs of both drivers and users of public transport.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to debate these important issues one day into my new job.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that I am not enthusiastic about this. No one is more concerned than I, who have talked to many of my constituents in recent months about their transport problems, and no one is more enthusiastic about addressing the issues. I will, however, start on the rational and grown-up note that I intend to adopt in dealing with this issue during the next few months, by acknowledging that some of the problems of transport are, indeed, long term. The origins of some of today's difficulties lie far in the past.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In a moment. It is precisely because of that that many of the difficulties need to be addressed more urgently than they are being addressed by the Government.

Let me thank the Secretary of State and his predecessors, however, and most notably the Deputy Prime Minister, who predictably is absent from the House today, for creating a background in relation to transport that is so familiar to someone who has just spent seven and a half months shadowing health and education.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I shall give way in a moment. Health and education are two areas in which Labour has spent much of the past seven years setting targets in Whitehall, very few of which are ever achieved, establishing expensive new quangos that, after a few years of consuming huge sums of taxpayers' money, none of which reaches front-line services, are then abolished, and making claims that waiting times are getting shorter. In fact, whether someone is waiting for a hospital bed, for a consultant's appointment or for a train to arrive, they know in many cases that waiting times are getting longer.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I know that the hon. Gentleman's Chief Whip is desperately trying to protect him from my intervention, but the hon. Gentleman said that many of the problems that our Government face go back a long way into the past. Surely the main problem on the railways is the botched privatisation of the previous Tory Government.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I wondered how many minutes it would be before a Labour Member tried to address today's problems by referring to issues that were decided many years ago in the past. If Labour Members are so concerned about privatisation, have they asked the Secretary of State why he has not renationalised the train operating companies? What is the answer to that? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be a renationalisation programme, and how does he propose that that should be financed? Which taxes on his constituents does he want to see raised to repurchase the train operating companies, many of which have done a successful job?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I said, and to what many others on this side of the House have said. The problem was the particular way in which the privatisation was carried out. It could have been done sensibly, although I should not necessarily have supported it, but to set up all the different organisations—train operating companies, leasing companies and the predecessor of Network Rail, Railtrack—clearly created chaos and confusion. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are the architects of that chaos and confusion.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I note that the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that he would raise the tax on whisky to pay for the renationalisation of the railway industry.

The similarities in the ways in which Labour has let people down on health, education and transport are depressing, with the same combination of over-hyped policies, endless centrally set bureaucratic targets, broken promises and frustrated consumers. Britain's transport system is used by almost every family in the country almost every day of the lives and, equally importantly, by almost every business. Families, businesses and the whole economy are damaged by the Government's failures on roads, railways and airports. That damage is not confined to the endless delays experienced by travellers in cars, trains and aircraft every day, but extends to businesses, whose competitive position is undermined at a time when competition from abroad is more intense than ever before.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is new to the job, and he is setting out his concerns on transport policy. I think that he was today quoted as saying that Tory transport policies were at a fairly undeveloped stage. If that is so, when will he start to develop them? Will he be arguing with the shadow Chancellor that the Tories should increase transport spending by more than inflation?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of Conservative transport policy. My colleagues have set out a 10-point plan to deal with one aspect of policy, about half of which has already been adopted by the Government. We will gradually set out further policies, and the electors will have the choice of either persuading the Government to do the sensible thing and adopt them or, before too long, electing a Conservative Government who will implement them wholeheartedly. After the results of the elections last week, it seems that that day is not far off.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main problem is a shortage of transport capacity of all kinds? We are short of rail capacity and road capacity. Will a Conservative Government start to produce the kind of infrastructure that we need, preferably using private finance?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend goes to the heart of the matter, and I shall deal with our approach and the Government's shortcomings and failures to increase capacity in the way in which he has suggested in a moment. Looking at business, it is perfectly true that our competitive position worldwide is now threatened by capacity shortages, particularly in roads, railways and airports.

Only this week, the CBI has concluded that Labour's 10-year transport plan has failed. The director general, Digby Jones, pointed out that even after £50 billion of spending in four years, the lack of improvement in road congestion and train performance is "exhausting tolerance" among the public and employers. He went on:

"We have a first-class economy which deserves a first-rate transport system, not the substandard infrastructure that is letting down the country."

Earlier this year, the British Chambers of Commerce reported that only one company in 10 believed that the transport system met its business needs. Only one company in 50 believes that the Government's proposals will provide an effective solution to the transport problems that are holding its business back. The BCC estimates that the costs of meeting the problems caused by the transport infrastructure now amount to £15 billion. One business in three states that the resulting higher operating costs have a significant impact on its business.

Labour's failures on transport, therefore, not only let down millions of frustrated motorists, rail travellers and airport users every day, but are costing the country dear and undermining our international competitive position.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is giving an insightful analysis into the failings of the policy. Does he also accept that much of the policy was a work of fiction? If we read the transport plan, we find that project after project that the Government committed themselves to having open by 2010—modernising the east coast main line, upgrading the Great Western main line—has now been scrapped. The document is not worth the paper that it is written on.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend anticipates some of the points that I intend to make. He is quite right to say that the Department has an almost unbeatable record for setting targets through a variety of documents, then failing to achieve them. I should mention that we support the idea of having a long-term transport plan. The nature of the issues and the industries involved requires long-term planning, and our criticism of Labour's approach is not the existence of the plan but the execution of it.

Let us consider the Government's record in relation to the motion. The 10-year transport plan promised to cut road congestion by 5 per cent. by 2010, with bigger reductions in major cities. Last year, however, the CBI reported that congestion on key parts of the road network was worse than it was before the plan. Perhaps that is not surprising because under Labour, Britain spends the lowest proportion of motoring taxes on transport of any advanced country. Throughout the period of the 10-year plan, Labour plans to spend less every single year on new roads than Baroness Thatcher's Government spent every single year for which she was in power. Under Labour, in 2001 not a single inch of new bypass was built anywhere in the United Kingdom.

The £6 billion road-building programme that was left behind by the outgoing Conservative Government in 1997, including a commitment to building 150 new roads, was scrapped. Only 37 of those roads were completed. I welcome the fact that belatedly, Labour has restarted the road-building programme. In just the past few days, I have heard that a small project, involving less than £1 million, is to go ahead in my constituency, and I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson, for listening to the representations that I and my constituents made about the Old London road link road in Capel St. Mary. I hope that that is the harbinger of further roads to be built in Suffolk. They are certainly badly needed, most notably the Sudbury western bypass. I shall take that up with the Under-Secretary in due course.

Changes of mind in the Government's approach to the roads have not been confined to decisions about building. Road pricing has suffered a similar fate. In the 2002 Budget, the Government said that they would introduce a UK-wide, distance-based road user charge for lorries to ensure that all lorry operators, including those from continental Europe, pay their fair share towards the cost of using British roads and of financing further investment. Since that time, the Department says that it

"has been working closely with HM Customs and Excise to establish the framework for the lorry road-user charge."

It has produced no fewer than three progress reports on the proposed framework, the most recent being issued this March. It announced that the implementation date has been moved back to 2007–08 to

"leave more time for trials of the final equipment and a phased introduction", so that

"the Government is now in a position to begin the procurement process".

This is another example of the dithering for which the Department for Transport has become famous.

On the third anniversary of the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement of the 10-year plan, figures from Trafficmaster showed that average journey times had risen by 16 per cent. since 1998, and that motorway congestion was up by 40 per cent. The Freight Transport Association pointed out earlier this year that the condition of local roads is 6 per cent. worse than a decade ago.

It is not just the state of the roads but the cost of driving that causes concern. Labour remains addicted to raising fuel duty, but we have long opposed the 2p increase planned for this autumn. I remind the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his 2003 Budget that high and volatile fuel prices provide no basis for raising duty, and that he was therefore deferring duty rises until this autumn. It is clear that if ever there has been a time of high and volatile fuel prices, it is now. All we get from the Chancellor is a commitment to review the decision, despite the fact that because of the fuel price increase, the revenue that he is raising from petroleum revenue tax already greatly exceeds the amount that would be produced by a 2p increase in duty.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Does my hon. Friend accept that the 2p extra per litre on petrol, which will be introduced later this year, will hit disproportionately those who live in rural areas? They do not have a choice between public transport or the car; they have only the car, which they rely on to do their daily business. It is therefore vital that the 2p increase is not imposed in September, so that rural people can at least buy their fuel—the most expensive anywhere in Europe—without that extra tax.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is right: no group of people suffers more from the Government's war on the motorist than those living in rural communities. He knows from his constituency experience—as I know from mine, and from the visits that I pay to rural areas throughout the country—that the Government have systematically discriminated against people in rural communities. The 2p increase in fuel duty is yet another example of that. As long as the conditions of high and volatile fuel prices remain, the Conservative party will fight tooth and nail against this duty increase. The question now is whether the Secretary of State will join in that fight. We know how close he is to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; motorists will look to him to use his influence on their behalf.

On the railways, the picture is really no better. The 10-year plan promised a 50 per cent. increase in passenger use by 2010, but the Department for Transport's own annual report reveals a growth figure of only 6 per cent. so far. When Labour's own Commission for Integrated Transport advised that the 50 per cent. target be reconsidered, the Government were forced into a U-turn on this issue as well. One way to encourage greater use of the railways might be to make the comparative cost of rail travel more attractive. The 10-year plan promised real reductions in rail fares, but the Government subsequently removed the cap on rail fares, resulting in larger fare increases, with double-figure percentage rises becoming commonplace.

Regular users of the trains, such as me, are painfully aware of how out of date much of our rolling stock remains. The 10-year plan promised that by 2010, new and faster tilting trains would be travelling at speeds of up to 140 mph. There is no longer any possibility of that happening by 2010 on the west coast main line, and there is no definite date thereafter on which this pledge will be honoured. The Deputy Prime Minister's promise that the old mark 1 slam-door trains would be replaced by the end of 2004 has also been broken.

We were promised that under Labour trains would be more punctual, but more than one train in five continues to arrive late. Meanwhile, confusion reigns. The Office of the Rail Regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and Network Rail—all creations of this Labour Government—are vying with each other to be the organisation that runs the railways. Re-franchising agreements struck by the SRA have resulted in station cuts and longer journey times for London commuters—who, incidentally, account for 70 per cent. of all rail journeys in the United Kingdom.

In the period after privatisation, services were increased in response to demand and passenger railway use grew. Now, as uncertainty prevails, the number of complaints from passengers is rising sharply. The Transport Committee pointed out that

"overcrowding on public transport is bad and is likely to get worse . . . The current chronic overcrowding in all the major conurbations that gave evidence is unacceptable".

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington

On commuters and London commuters in particular, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the Government's major failings is that they simply have not taken decisions on the railway infrastructure spending that is necessary—I am thinking, for example, of Thameslink 2000—if we are to have the capacity to which he has referred?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I shall deal with Thameslink in a moment. May I tell my hon. Friend how much I enjoyed the journey that he and I took by railway to his constituency only a few weeks ago—in only moderate discomfort—in rolling stock that dated from the 1950s and certainly no later than the 1960s?

Whether the taxpayer is now seeing value for money for rail subsidies running at £14 million a day is extremely doubtful. As for future projects, as more than one of my hon. Friends has said, delay and dither continue to be the order of the day. Labour claims that it is committed to Crossrail, yet we still have no confirmation that this project is to go ahead. Such delay now means that it will not be built in time for the Olympic games, should they be held in this country in 2012.

In 2001, Labour's general election manifesto stated:

"We support plans to extend the East London line".

Despite that commitment and the fact that only three miles of new track are needed to join up the existing railways that form part of the project, the scheme has been delayed until 2010 at the earliest, and there is doubt as to whether it will ever be completed. Of course, this scheme is part of our Olympic bid; failure to complete it may well jeopardise London's chances of success. Indeed, if our bid fails it is extremely likely that transport failures will be one of the main reasons why.

We should not overlook the fact that our financial services industry—an industry in which Britain remains a world leader, and which is heavily dependent on London—itself requires an up-to-date infrastructure to maintain that position, to meet its needs, and to ensure that London remains a city in which people can move around easily, that is pleasant to live in and which can meet the demands of a 21st-century industry.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State (The Regions)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend intends to address the future of the Strategic Rail Authority. He is doubtless aware of the rumour that it will be abolished, which has come about because the prediction that we made during the legislative passage of the Transport Bill 2000—that the SRA would be a bottleneck for investment and would slow down decision making—has come true. Indeed, even the Government regret setting it up. Is he aware that more people in London are now employed by the SRA than were originally employed by British Rail? Is this not an area in which we could cut waste and improve transport?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I certainly look forward to the Government's announcing their decision on the future of the SRA. I am afraid that this is typical of Labour's approach in so many areas. They establish large new quangos and employ large numbers of people, none of whom do anything to improve services to customers. What is true for the railways is also true for education and for health. Huge sums of taxpayers' money are then spent, and in the end, the Government see the folly of their ways and close down such organisations. The SRA was a creation entirely of this Labour Government, and my hon. Friend has raised a most important point.

On airport capacity, a similar method of ducking or delaying decisions has characterised the Government's approach. The Secretary of State lacks any coherent plan or vision to address the environmental concerns associated with the future of Heathrow. Given that it is very likely that extra airport capacity will be needed—and given that this problem will not only not go away, but will get harder to solve the longer decisions are put off—it is time that we had some answers. Many thousands of people are now suffering blight as a result of the Government's inability to reach decisions.

My own constituency of South Suffolk is affected by developments at Stansted. The expansion of activity there has already caused considerable disturbance in some of the most tranquil areas of East Anglia. There is widespread and justified dissatisfaction with the consultation process, whose shortcomings mean that the first thing that many people in rural communities know about changes in flight paths and increased aircraft movements is the sound of jet planes droning over their homes.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

What would the hon. Gentleman say to people who are concerned about the dangers of pollution and night noise from the new Finningley airport?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would say that they need a clear decision from the Government on how they will tackle those problems—a decision that the Government have wholly failed to take. A proposed further expansion of Stansted now seems to be being advanced without proper environmental or health impact studies or a convincing business case.

We have seen the same head-in-the-sand approach in relation to ports with the refusal of the container port at Dibden bay. There may have been very sound environmental reasons for refusing the application. That is all very well, but at the same time, no one disputes the fact that, within a few years, the UK will run out of container port capacity. Where is the Government's ports strategy? Where is the leadership on that vital issue, which is so crucial to Britain's trading future? We cannot escape the view that, as with airports, the Government are stoking up a bonfire that someone else will have to dampen down.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I wanted to intervene before he altogether leaves the question of airports. What would he say to constituents such as mine who are blighted by the possibility of having a second runway at Birmingham airport, with no idea whatever of what sort of compensation scheme will apply? So far, they have had no consultation either.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am afraid that my hon. Friend's constituents have suffered not only from the Government's dither and delay, but from the failure of the consultation process. I sympathise greatly with his constituents, some of whom will be in a similar position to those in East Anglia who have similar anxieties. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that, when the happy day dawns and a Conservative Government are elected, those issues will be addressed urgently and responsibly.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, does he agree that there is a role for smaller airports—I mean very small airports—to provide something of a regional link? The remote areas of Wales are an obvious example. That can be done without undue disturbance to local residents and there are considerable economic benefits to the communities that such airports serve.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy for local communities, if they want to exercise that choice, to have the opportunity to be served with additional local airport capacity.

Transport is an area of policy whose impact is wider than almost any other. Decisions are in their nature very long term. Delay and uncertainty therefore have particularly harmful effects. A joined-up approach is needed to link planning decisions more logically to transport policy, which provides maximum choice to users and ensures that investment grows on a steady basis. That process should involve a greater element of private finance as a way of promoting that very steadiness.

The country is running out of patience with this Labour Government. After last week's excellent election results, the Conservative party looks forward to presenting its alternative prescription. Meanwhile, I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport 1:23 pm, 15th June 2004

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"recognises that the problems with the transport system stem from decades of under-investment;
welcomes the Government's commitment to long-term funding for transport through the Ten Year Plan;
acknowledges that one of the main reasons for the continuing pressure on transport networks is that the United Kingdom is enjoying the longest period of sustained economic growth for more than 200 years;
supports the Government's determination to face the tough decisions which will be required to meet these pressures and put UK transport on a sustainable footing, including runway capacity at UK airports, management of road space and re-organising Britain's railways following a failed privatisation;
and welcomes the early signs of success, including the halt in the decline in bus use, the biggest replacement programme for railway rolling stock ever seen in this country, the major programme of investment in the West Coast Main Line and the 22 per cent. decline in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on the roads since the mid-1990s."

Mr. Speaker, some of us must have seen a different set of election results last Thursday from the one that Mr. Yeo saw.

I should first acknowledge the departure of Mrs. May, who had the shadow transport job for what seems a comparatively short time. We did not see her very much the second time in that role, but I see from the Conservative website that her new job as shadow Secretary of State with responsibility for the family includes the task of having

"a campaigning role highlighting the success of Conservatives in delivering better local services at lower cost", so I think that it will be some time before we see the right hon. Lady again.

I also noticed, as my hon. Friend Richard Burden said, that on the appointment of the hon. Member for South Suffolk yesterday, which we are told was a total surprise to him, he thought that the Tory transport policy was "fairly undeveloped". That seems a rather damning indictment of his predecessors, but I would say that he is absolutely right in that analysis. I have waited the last two years to see just a glimmer of Tory party transport policy. They have now had seven years to develop one, but we still have not seen it. There must come a point at which we debate some of the big transport issues that we face—the hon. Gentleman is right that there are some, on which the electorate are entitled to make choices between the two main parties likely to form a Government—and I hope that that day will come.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State (The Regions)

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I introduced the policy of the Brit disc—charging foreign lorries for the use of British roads—to this House some time ago. The difference between a Labour Government and a Conservative Government is that we would have gone on and done it, while the right hon. Gentleman is dithering and wasting money.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I shall come on to the lorry road user charging point in just a moment, but I hardly think that a single suggestion or a quote in a newspaper amounts to a coherent transport policy. The Conservatives do not have one and, arguably, they did not have one when they were in government either.

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

Talking of coherent policies, did the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Dr. Howells, when he said that he wanted to tax motorists out of their cars? Does he agree with that coherent policy?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

He did not say that, and the hon. Gentleman would do well to read what my hon. Friend actually said.

Let me start by acknowledging that Mr. Green, who has managed to hold his place in the transport team, made an interesting speech in Portugal this year.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Member for South Suffolk must find it interesting, because he used the same words at the tail end of his speech—perhaps the hon. Member for Ashford acts as his speech writer. He made three points, which were absolutely right. He said that there were three principles that were essential to transport. First, the Government should give people genuine choice about the mode of transport that they choose. That is absolutely right, and I have long said that. Secondly, he made the important point that long-term transport success will come from steady and predictable investment policies, sheltered from incessant political interference. Thirdly, he went on to say that investment would require substantial private sector money, which is also absolutely right.

In respect of the second point, the hon. Member for South Suffolk started off by referring to it—at that stage I thought that he might be offering a thoughtful tour around transport policy—when he said that many of the problems that we face now have grown up over many years and many decades. That is absolutely true. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have failed to spend enough on a consistent and sustained basis. Whether we are talking about the railways or the roads, the problem is that, despite the fact that we are the fourth largest economy in the world and the fact that there have been times over the last 30 or 40 years when we should have been spending money to improve capacity, successive Governments did not do so. Mr. Redwood, who is no longer in his place, was absolutely right about that.

If we are to improve transport, several things need to be done in respect of management and policy, which I will develop in a moment, but the one thing that is absolutely essential is to continue with sustained and increased investment.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I will give way in a moment.

That is what the CBI called for the other day. The one policy that the Conservative party—though not, curiously, the hon. Member for South Suffolk—has is a commitment to freezing public spending. That is what the shadow Chancellor has set out. Doing that in transport terms would mean a cut of nearly £600 million. Whatever the problems with transport, it can never be the answer to cut from the budget an amount roughly equivalent to what the Highways Agency spends on motorways and trunk roads, or to the amount spent on concessionary bus travel.

When the hon. Member for South Suffolk was speaking and taking interventions, he gave a number of nods and winks that he would back Crossrail, the East London line, Thameslink 2000—you name it, he would back it. Where is the money going to come from to pay for that?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

In a moment. For six months, the hon. Member for South Suffolk dealt with health and education, and he was not afraid to make spending commitments. He attended the National Union of Teachers conference—and I suppose that he deserves a medal for that—and said that he was determined that the next Conservative Government would not only match Labour's spending commitments on schools but surpass them. Interestingly, he had the opportunity to say something on transport spending, but he did not. Perhaps he saw an interesting extract from Andrew Neil's BBC interview with the shadow Chancellor. Andrew Neil asked whether a Conservative Government would match Labour's spending on education, and the shadow Chancellor said, "No, we'll stick to our plan." When Mr. Neil noted that in his famous lecture—he was being funny—the shadow Chancellor had said that he would match whatever Labour spent on health and education, the right hon. Gentleman said, "No, I didn't. You can read my entire text. You will never read any words like that."

Whatever he turns his mind to over the next few weeks, the hon. Member for South Suffolk will find that he is stymied—if I can use that transport term—by the fact that his shadow Chancellor is not prepared to give him the money that he will need. Indeed, the shadow Chancellor actually proposes to cut the money that would go to transport.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Yes, in a moment. I cannot wait to give way to the hon. Gentleman. All the things that the hon. Member for South Suffolk has said today, and all the hints that he has made, will come to nothing if the means to make them happen are not available.

The Government are increasing the amount of money going to transport by about 50 per cent. in real terms. The Conservatives want to cut that transport budget. It is therefore very difficult, if not impossible, to take seriously any protestations by the hon. Member for South Suffolk—or whoever the next Conservative spokesman happens to be, or the one after that, given that the average tenure under the new Opposition leadership seems to be rather shorter even than under the previous leadership.

At least two former Conservative Transport Secretaries are present today. They will know that transport needs consistent and sustained levels of spending beyond all else. All the grand plans for road building, for example, set out by the Conservatives at the beginning of the 1990s had collapsed by the time the former Government left office. The reason was that their boom-and-bust philosophy and the cuts that they had to make meant that they could not pay for those plans.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Given what he has just said, why do the figures on page 99 of the 10-year plan show that public investment in the railways in 2010–11 will be less than what it was 15 years previously, under the Conservatives?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

We have just been listening to the Opposition belief that private finance must be brought into transport. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that. Over the period, £33 billion in public sector investment will be made, and that will bring in a similar amount from the private sector. I make no bones about that, and I thought that there was some agreement on it across the Chamber—although I know that the Liberals have changed their policy as well. However, it must be right to bring in money from both the public and the private sectors. I certainly do not apologise for that. It does not matter to the railways whether the money comes from the public sector or the private sector. What matters is that it gets there in the first place.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I shall move on to considering some of the elements in the motion before the House, but before that I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. From his answer to my hon. Friend Chris Grayling, it appears that the right hon. Gentleman is proud of the amount of private sector finance going into transport. When they go to the rest of the UK, my constituents can only use transport financed by the private sector. There is no public sector subsidy for services from my constituency to any other part of the UK. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that private sector finance is more stable, when it comes to investment, than public sector finance?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

No, I think that we need both, frankly. We shall discuss the railways shortly, but I cannot see how any railway system in the world would not need money from both the public and private sector. The Conservatives privatised the railways, and they believed that they could move rail transport substantially into the private sector, rather as happened with aviation. That is not going to happen. It is impossible, as the sums of money involved are just too large. That is why I think that both forms of investment are needed.

I want to deal with a number of matters, the first of which—the role of speed cameras in road safety—is topical today. However, it is curious that the Conservative spokesman did not mention it, as the matter has been raised at every Transport Question Time since January. Today, the Government have published an independent report showing that the number of people killed or seriously injured at camera sites has fallen by almost 40 per cent., and I have published data in connection with every speed camera in the country. Those data show why each camera position was selected, and what has happened since. It is therefore curious that the Opposition have said not a word on the matter.

Mr. Green said at the beginning of the year that the Opposition wanted a national audit of all the camera sites. At the time, all the controversy—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the figures are wrong?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman says that the figures are old. He has spent most of the year giving the impression that all speed cameras are wrong and in the wrong place, but when confronted with the evidence, he has absolutely nothing to say.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The Secretary of State has completely traduced what I said. I never said that all speed cameras were in the wrong place, although I did say that some of them were. The roads Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson, has said constantly that no speed camera was in the wrong place. On the radio this morning, however, the Secretary of State said that some speed cameras were in the wrong place. I am delighted that he agrees with me, and not with his own junior Minister.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

We should not get into a slanging match. However, I remember that the hon. Gentleman left the House with a clear impression, after the first Transport Question Time of the year, that he was against speed cameras, and that he thought that most of them were in the wrong place.

In light of all the controversy at the beginning of the year, I asked my officials at the Department to produce data for each and every camera site. In that way, anyone who has a question about any particular camera—why it was situated where it was, and what difference it has made—can now find out, as the information has been collected. That information is backed up by an independent study produced by University college London, which shows that the cameras save lives.

The hon. Member for Ashford has said that some cameras need to be looked at more closely, and he is right—indeed, I think I said the same thing at the most recent Question Time. The vast majority of cameras appear to be having the right effect, and the number of accidents in which people are killed or injured has fallen. A small number of cameras—about 200-odd—were installed in the early 1990s. Mr. Chope introduced the policy, and so will know something about this matter. In those days, it was not necessary, as it is now, to show that cameras led to a significant reduction in the numbers of people killed or injured. Therefore we will have to consider whether those cameras are justified. I suspect that people will say that many of them are justified, but some may not be.

About 200 other cameras do not appear to be having the effect that was intended, and I have asked that the local partnerships and the police consider their placement. However, there are something like 5,000 camera sites in the country. Most people believe that the use of cameras should be considered rationally. We hear a lot from people who do not like speed cameras, but a lot of others are campaigning actively for more.

Moreover, we must never forget that today, and every day of the year, nearly 10 people will be killed or seriously injured on this country's roads. We owe it to them to do all we can to improve road safety. That goes beyond concentrating on speed cameras, which are just one element of an overall strategy. The information published by the Government today is a major step towards ensuring that the debate has a rational basis. People do not need to believe any of us: they can look at the figures, and decide for themselves.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

No driver likes speed cameras, but that does not mean that we do not recognise that they are important. Last year, seven people died on the A631 in my constituency. This year, no one has died since speed cameras were introduced. My right hon. Friend said he was reviewing the siting of 200 cameras. Will he also look at roads such as the A638? The number of people killed at one place on that road has not been sufficient to warrant a speed camera, but should not there be more flexible criteria in relation to siting cameras? The number of people killed on a longer stretch of that road than can be taken into account for the purpose of siting a camera shows that the road is a killer, and that it needs speed cameras.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend illustrates the problem that we face. All Members of Parliament and local councillors will know that for everybody who says that a camera should not be in a certain place, there is someone else who says that we should do something about that dangerous road. The decision on the siting of individual cameras is a matter for police and local authorities, and my hon. Friend should pursue the matter with them.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Secretary of State will be aware that Durham and North Yorkshire do not have fixed camera sites, so his letter to me was silent on that point. The Under-Secretary with responsibility for roads has admitted that the child pedestrian casualty figures are unacceptably high, but what do the Government propose to do about that?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Durham and North Yorkshire are not in the netting-off scheme, and that is why they were not included. If they are not in the scheme, they are not obliged to provide figures and that is why they were not mentioned. It is for those areas to decide whether they want to have speed cameras. Child casualty numbers are falling, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was right to highlight our concern. We need to keep up the pressure to reduce casualties among children and motorcyclists, and the Department has a number of strategies to address that. No doubt we will return to the issue in future debates.

It is necessary to recognise that we have an inherited problem, built up over many years in which the country did not spend enough on road capacity. The solution has three strands. First, we need to increase capacity where necessary, and over the past few years I have announced plans to widen the major motorways and improve other roads and junctions. Secondly, we need to ensure that we put money into public transport so that people can have the choice to which the hon. Member for South Suffolk referred. Thirdly, we need to improve the way in which our roads are managed, because they are not managed particularly well. That is why we set up the traffic area officers, starting in the west midlands, to assist in keeping traffic flowing after an incident or accident.

All three aspects of our approach require investment, and so I come back to the issue of Tory policy. We have just received a lecture on the shortcomings of our policy, and that is fine. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to criticise, because that is what Oppositions do. However, at some point, the Tories will need some sort of policy if they do not think that our policy is right.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Those three strategies are fair enough, but what would the Secretary of State say to rural motorists in constituencies such as mine, who have little public transport and are completely dependent on their cars but who face the highest fuel prices in Europe? What words of comfort does he have for them?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

It is true that many people living in rural areas do no have the same access to public transport. That applies throughout the country, and transport policy has to recognise that cars are essential for many people. However, the real problem with fuel prices in the past few weeks has not been caused by tax, because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor deferred the increase in tax this year. The problem was caused by the dramatic rise in international oil prices over a very short period. The answer to that problem is to try to bring influence to bear on the OPEC countries to increase production, and that is precisely what the Government have done. Oil production has increased and we have seen a modest reduction in prices. However, the opportunism of the Conservatives in trying to suggest that international oil price changes would not have happened if they were in government beggars belief.

Mr. Jenkin, who used to be a transport spokesman, asked me about road user charging for lorries. Sadly, it seems that he could not wait for the answer, as he is no longer in his place. However, the Government remain determined on that issue. There has been some slippage in the timetable, but that is primarily because we want to ensure that the scheme works when it is introduced. Our experience of big IT projects and the experience of a similar scheme in Germany lead me to believe that we should take the time to get the scheme right, and not rush into something that then fails.

The Tories have also indicated that in the longer term they would consider whether road pricing for cars was a possibility, including distance-based charging. That will not happen in the near future, because it is a long way off technically, but the Government will shortly publish the feasibility study that we set up. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for South Suffolk has the courage to look ahead 30 or 40 years instead of concentrating on the 30 to 40-minute time horizon that has appeared to occupy some of his predecessors.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe Labour, Cunninghame South

My right hon. Friend mentioned road management. What, if any, work has his Department done on variable speeds on motorways?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

There are two separate issues there. The first is whether we intend to change the motorway speed limit, and I can confirm that we do not have any plans to do that. The second is variable speed limits on, for example, the M25 and other motorways to manage traffic flow, and we intend to develop those because they work.

On the subject of our railways, the legacy of a lack of investment is clear. We are putting money into the railways. The hon. Member for South Suffolk was critical of how much money we are putting in, but we are putting more money in because we are getting more out of it. British Rail used to reckon on replacing 500 miles of track each year. In the lead up to privatisation, that fell to 300 miles. After privatisation, it dropped to 200. However, this year, Network Rail will replace some 850 miles of track. If we want a reliable railway, the track and the signalling must be maintained just like the rolling stock itself.

In what could prove to be an expensive speech when the great day of judgment comes, the hon. Gentleman hinted that he would provide 140-mile an hour running on the west coast main line. However, he knows that the Tories' friends in Railtrack—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead only had one policy, and that was to bring back Railtrack—hopelessly underestimated the cost of doing up the west coast main line. Under Railtrack the cost soared to more than £13 billion. Now it will cost some £7 billion, but when it is finished it will cut the London to Manchester—and indeed to Glasgow—journey times by half an hour; and when it is finished in four years' time, it will cut the journey to Glasgow by an hour.

The channel tunnel rail link is open, and it has already cut the journey time. Its reliability is good and it is due to be completed in 2007. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would think that no rolling stock was ever replaced. In fact, nearly 40 per cent. of rolling stock has been replaced over a five-year period, and nearly half of that has been done on London commuter routes. We are also improving the power supply south of the Thames, something that Railtrack never got round to doing, because of its incompetence. Last year saw 1 billion passengers travel on the railways for the first time since the early 1960s. I do not deny that much remains to do, but on roads, railways and the tube—which now has £1 billion a year invested in it—we are putting money into the system, which successive Governments failed to do, and that will lead to improvements.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

The Secretary of State will accept that the Government have made various promises over the years. He will remember the Strategic Rail Authority plan that specifically set out projects, with timetabled starting dates, for this decade, but most of them have now been abandoned. The Government have made commitments and promises that they have failed to keep.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Many of the things that we said we would do are being done. As I have said before, it is true that costs in the industry are far higher than they should be, primarily because Railtrack completely lost control of its spending. Bringing maintenance back in house has saved substantial sums. Last year, Network Rail spent £1 billion less than it thought it would, through efficiency savings, and that demonstrates the problems that were stored up by the policies that the hon. Gentleman supported.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

I certainly acknowledge the investment that has been made. In my constituency, for instance, the Northfield relief road was on the stocks for about 30 years because there was no money, but work should start on the site at the end of this year or early next year, purely owing to the investment that is being put in.

In the west midlands, there is still a huge need for increased transport infrastructure investment over and above what is going in at present. The region not only needs to be able to move its manufactured goods around but, strategically, it is slap-bang in the middle of the route between the south-east and the north-west and beyond. My right hon. Friend will know that that is a real issue for businesses and others, as well as for commuters, in the west midlands, so although I acknowledge what has been done, will he revisit the need for extra investment in the west midlands?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. The west coast main line will help the west midlands, in particular, and the M6 toll, which is of course privately financed, has relieved much of the pressure on the existing M6 and freed up much capacity. Last year, I announced that quite substantial sums of investment were available to the Birmingham area and the west midlands to improve local transport. However, I fully understand my hon. Friend's point. Across the country, the argument about investing and capacity is powerful, but I come back to the point that if policy is to cut spending rather than to increase it, there is an inevitable consequence—we do not have to speculate about what it is because this country has been there before.

I want to say a few words about aviation. The hon. Member for South Suffolk has held his appointment only for a few hours so I forgive him for not having read the air transport White Paper that we published in December. For the first time in a long time, it set out a framework for policy for airport development for the next 20 to 30 years, and has been widely welcomed outside. Of course, there is controversy at individual sites about runway development and so on, but as I listened to the hon. Gentleman, he gave me the clear impression that he was against development at Stansted, against development at Heathrow, against development at Birmingham and, I dare say, if a few other Members had stood up he would have been against development in their areas, too. Perhaps I should have asked him about his plans for Edinburgh airport, although he might want to check out local opinion before he gives his view.

The matter is difficult. The number of people flying has increased dramatically over the past few years; nearly half the population flies at least once a year, so if we are to avoid the problems we currently experience on our roads and railways we need sensible capacity increases in aviation. We have set out our stall. I used to ask the right hon. Member for Maidenhead what her policy was, but sadly, she never got around to telling me. Before the hon. Member for South Suffolk leaves his post, in six and a half months' time, I hope that he at least will come up with a policy.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does the Secretary of State accept that small, regional airports have an important role to play for a relatively small number of passengers who need to get from one place to another fast? As long as development is carried out sensitively, with attention to planning and noise considerations, such airports can be an important aid to economic development, especially in rural and outlying areas. The Government should think about making small investments that deliver big returns of that sort.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. With the Welsh Assembly, we are looking at the Welsh airport network. He is right to say that small airports have an important role. But we must be realistic; we cannot put small airports everywhere. There has to be a balance. He would no doubt find that opinion among his constituents was sharply divided as soon as they thought that a runway would be built nearby.

Before I turn to abusing the Liberals, as I said I would, I shall give way to Mr. Francois.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I am reluctant to delay any initiative that leads to abuse of the Liberal Democrats, so I thank the Secretary of State for giving way.

On Stansted, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that current capacity for the existing runway is approximately 20 million passenger movements a year, and that, with full utilisation of that runway, it would be possible to increase the number to about 40 million. Given the tremendous environmental damage that would be created in the county of Essex by the large expansion of the footprint of Stansted that will be required for the second runway, is not the logical compromise to increase capacity on the existing runway to 40 million? That would give some of the expansion in capacity that the right hon. Gentleman wants without causing tremendous environmental damage in Essex.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

We looked hard at that matter and I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, when considering Stansted and the south-east, we took the view that we needed additional capacity, although the hon. Gentleman should remember that it will not happen next year or the year after, given the length of time that it takes to do such things. We are talking about a second runway at Stansted in the first part of the next decade and the Heathrow development will take place even later than that. At present, capacity at Stansted is almost fully taken up at peak hours, so we need to plan ahead. Our starting point was that we should make maximum use of what we already had and we considered that, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, we came to the conclusion that a second runway was necessary.

The Liberals have been very quiet, so I shall not say too much about them. However, I am curious about two things. When I looked at their rebuttal of our paper about their spending commitments, one of which was almost £2 billion more for the railways, they responded that that was no longer a commitment, owing to changed circumstances. Have the circumstances changed again? Secondly, their plan was to double investment in local transport schemes, but their response was that that, too, was no longer a commitment, owing to changed circumstances. Have those circumstances changed? I make those points only because occasionally the Liberals suggest that many things could be done, without always mentioning that the money has to be provided, too.

I conclude on this point: there is a lot more to do on transport. We face huge problems that have built up over many years, but the central point and, I suspect, the dividing line between the parties over the next period of time, is that we are prepared to sustain the amount of money that we are spending on transport, where we have already seen a steady increase, but the Conservatives are committed to a dramatic cut. For as long as that remains the case, whatever they say about transport will lack credibility. For that reason, I suspect that the House will reject their motion.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland) 1:57 pm, 15th June 2004

I begin by welcoming Mr. Yeo to his new post. It is nice to see him at the Dispatch Box, as his predecessor was rarely in the Chamber when we debated transport. I look forward to debating the subject with him on many future occasions. He will probably find that transport is one of the most fertile policy areas for his party, as it is currently entirely policy-free.

No one can doubt that transport is central to our future prosperity and we must pay great attention to it. However, we need to address a paradox at the centre of transport policy; it is a key part of transport policy, but I have not heard much about it this afternoon. On the one hand, transport is critical to the economy. The ability to move freight and passengers efficiently is vital to productivity; it is both a driver of, and is driven by, the economy. Equally important, people need good transport links to give them access to facilities and services—shops, education, culture and many other things. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, the lack of transport is a major cause of social exclusion.

On the other hand, however, in our modern, highly fossil-fuel-consuming, mobile society, transport has major environmental costs that we ignore at our peril. In March, for example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a report on air emission estimates, which revealed that carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic were 31.9 million tonnes in 2002—the highest since 1970—while nitrous oxide emissions had increased to 14,800 tonnes, a rise of 55 per cent. over five years.

Aviation produces an even gloomier picture. Consumption rose by 21 per cent. between 1997 and 2003. London's three busiest airports alone produce a staggering 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 13,000 tonnes of nitrous oxide each year. The aviation industry's emissions are projected to double between 1990 and 2010.

Clearly, such emission levels are wholly unsustainable. We are long past the time when we can stick our heads in the sand and hope that global warming will go away. Climate change is clearly a reality. We simply cannot go on like this if we want to avoid what the film "The Day After Tomorrow" shows us.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. He mentioned one Select Committee report. He may be aware that the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I serve, has produced a number of reports on the environmental effects of aviation. Given the effect of so-called "radiative forcing", aircraft emissions can have four times the effect on the ozone layer when they are made at altitude—when aircraft are in flight—than they have when those chemicals are released into the atmosphere at ground level. That very important environmental point is not lost on people who live in north Essex.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes a valid point. It is extremely valid when one considers that projections suggest that aviation emissions will constitute 50 per cent. of emissions in this country by about 2020.

The objective of our transport policy, therefore, must be to reconcile the need for an efficient and effective transport system with the imperative of reducing emissions. Such an objective can be achieved only if the Government, providers and consumers change their attitudes considerably, but the Government must set out the vision—the long-term plan—and provide the leadership. Currently, plans are laid on a 10-year basis. I suggest that 10 years is far too short. It is obvious that we need to deal in a much longer time scale for all modes of transport—something like 25 to 30 years. Indeed, the Secretary of State has recognised that, and I pay tribute to the Government for the aviation White Paper, which takes a much more long-term view. I may not agree with all its conclusions, but I absolutely agree that considering modes of transport in the long term is vital if we are to have sustainable policies and a clear vision that the public can sign up to. The same is needed for the railways.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether imposing an additional environmental duty on aviation fuel is Liberal Democrat policy?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Our current policy is to seek to ensure that the external costs of aviation are properly reflected. There have been suggestions that that should be done by means of an aviation fuel tax, which I believe has considerable merit. The problem is that aviation fuel tax would be extremely difficult to put it in place without treaties at the very least in Europe, if not throughout the world. So I rather prefer—this is what I am arguing for within my party, and I hope that it may become our policy—a tax based on the aircraft that take off from this country, rather than air passenger duty, which has absolutely no green benefit whatever and was introduced by a Conservative Government simply to balance the books. I would get rid of air passenger duty and tax aeroplanes instead. That would not only encourage the aviation industry to start to produce more fuel-efficient aeroplanes and airlines to ensure that they operate more effectively, but direct the taxation at the bad. It would be a much better way to externalise the taxation. I sincerely hope that, when that policy has been adopted through our party channels, I shall be able to present it.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for diverting for a moment to clarify that interesting point. He is talking about scrapping air passenger duty and replacing it with a levy on planes. Presumably, the airlines would pass on the cost to passengers. How would that change anything?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman misses an obvious point: air passenger duty is levied on each passenger, so it is easy to put on each ticket whatever the cost is. A duty levied on the aeroplane could not be passed on to passengers by adding it to the ticket price for the simple reason that the airline never knows how many people will fly on it. If the aeroplane itself were taxed, the amount would have to be included in the airline industry's costs. It would be passed on in the total cost of the tickets for all passengers, which is precisely what we seek to achieve, so the true costs would be externalised. The airlines would not be able to show £9 to fly somewhere in Europe and then add on tax and all the other bits in brackets.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire

May I tell the hon. Gentleman that I very much hope that that becomes Liberal Democrat policy?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am confident that it will.

We must also consider managing demand, and we have already started to talk about doing so. It is important that we consider the true cost of each mode of travel as well as managing demand, which is a vital tool in resolving the paradox. We can no longer accept that everyone has a free and unfettered right to travel wherever they wish, whenever they wish, by whatever mode of travel they wish. Transport is a limited resource, so it must be managed wisely. It is for the Government to influence how people and goods are transported by the policies that favour those modes with the least environmental cost. Our citizens have a right to efficient transport, but not by every mode, everywhere. Our resources must be managed. Against that background and given the resources available, it is clear that we have not begun to maximise our potential.

Take freight, for example, which is vital to commerce and industry. More than 90 per cent. of freight arrives at and departs from our shores by sea, but it is largely transported by road thereafter. Yet, all along our coasts, many medium and small ports are underused. Surely, transporting some of our freight onwards by coastal shipping would be an important addition to our armoury. After all, sea travel is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to move freight. The infrastructure exists, so why do the Government do nothing to promote that form of transport?

The railways offer a considerable opportunity for further freight movement, but freight trains need access to the rail network to maximise it. We also need to promote the concept of freight villages and the related logistics. That, too, will require Government support. Getting our railways right is the keystone for transport in the future. The industry needs sound structures for the future, and the outcome of the current rail review must settle the questions about the current arrangements.

The objective of rail policy should be, first, to provide a safe, reliable and affordable system of public transport and, secondly, to invest in the network's future to provide a modern and efficient railway for the 21st century. If we are to have a successful rail network, three functions need to be undertaken in considering the structure, which is the objective of the rail review: first, strategic direction; secondly, service delivery; and, thirdly, regulation.

On strategic direction, the Department for Transport should provide a long-term, strategic vision for our railways. The Government, in partnership with the private sector, provide much of the funding, and it is their responsibility to ensure that an inefficient transport infrastructure exists to support the economy. The Government must therefore provide the leadership and vision, which, as I have said, should be over 25 to 30 years, in the Department for Transport. That would effectively remove the need for the Strategic Rail Authority.

The management of service delivery should remain with Network Rail for the infrastructure and with the train operating companies for the franchises. The Department for Transport should be responsible both for funding arrangements and for defining the strategy for Network Rail, working in a new, simplified regulatory framework. Network Rail is best placed to be responsible for the day-to-day management and running of the network, together with the day-to-day co-ordination of services. I saw a leak in the weekend press that suggested that Ministers would be responsible for some of the day-to-day management of the railways. I sincerely hope that we never arrive at that unhappy state of affairs.

On regulation, it is essential that there is an independent regulator. The current arrangements are clearly over-bureaucratic and complicated, particularly with regard to safety. The regulation model best suited to the railways must follow that of the Civil Aviation Authority for air transport, whereby economic, environmental and safety regulation come under one body. The new regulator would include the new rail accident investigation branch as well as consumer representation. That would mean removing all safety functions from the Health and Safety Executive and giving them to the new body, which should also take responsibility for organising the franchising process. It might also be worth looking at the duties of the Office of Fair Trading relating to the railways and considering whether they might more suitably be placed under the auspices of the new regulator.

There is, however, one leftover from the awful privatisation that is a complete waste of time, wholly unnecessary and adds un-needed cost. I refer to the monopolistic rolling stock companies, which add very little. If anyone wants proof that they are simply a cash cow, the fact that they are all owned by banks does it for me.

If franchises were longer, it would be possible to envisage a system whereby the train operating companies could become owners of rolling stock and therefore be able to have control over their assets and costs in much the same way as happens in other areas, such as lifeline ferry links, where expensive assets are passed on from one franchisee to another, having been amortised for their life over the balance sheet of the first company. Examining the rolling stock companies is a critical part of taking forward the reduction of costs on our railways.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I am amazed by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is describing a wish to move from one leasing arrangement to another. Leasing companies, regardless of who they are and what they do, will make a margin. Surely he agrees that the rolling stock side is the one demonstrable and tangible success of privatisation: the substantial new investments in rolling stock are visible and can be found on the rail network all the time. Does he want to go back to a situation in which the companies buy their own stock, or is he talking simply about moving from one kind of leasing company to another?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman's comment that the ROSCOs are the one successful part of privatisation is very revealing. That is at the heart of Conservative thinking. Those companies are the one part that makes a great deal of money for the City, which is the only thing that they seem to add to the equation. It would be perfectly possible for the train operating companies to have access to capital, and their capital cost is considerably smaller than the lease cost that they currently pay. I believe that their average cost of capital is around 7 or 8 per cent., so if they are paying 7 or 8 per cent. using capital from the equity market or from the borrowing to which they have access, they will be very able to acquire stock. What is needed is a mechanism by which the stock can be transferred at the end of the franchise. Above all, in the longer term, we need to commit to expanding the network to permit more capacity, particularly for fast trains and freight.

The Secretary of State asked me to say a word about our spending plans, and I am happy to confirm that our current policies for the next Parliament envisage nothing that involves an increase in transport spending. We are quite happy to live within the sums that are currently available. I agree with him that there has been considerable waste in the rail system, and Network Rail, through the policy that I agreed with of bringing maintenance back in-house, has been able to make savings. In the shorter term, all that is required to be done can be achieved within the existing budget.

I do not seek the same expenditure on each area. I would certainly seek a shift in policies that might lead to more being spent on public transport than on other things, but I am happy to confirm that the global figure for the Department would remain the same. However, before the Secretary of State announces on a website that a new commitment has been made—it is not a new commitment—I hasten to add that I believe that whoever is in government has a duty to look 25 to 30 years into the long term and decide about the infrastructure that needs to be put in place over that time to meet our goals. There is a serious and mature debate to be had about that, and I would be happy to enter into it.

I believe that there should be an assumption against expanding the road network. There will certainly be areas in which new schemes present the best cost-benefit overall and sometimes the best environmental option. We should certainly invest in those cases. However, I do not believe that simply building more roads provides an answer to the problems that we face. It is well documented that new roads create traffic.

We also need to consider how roads are charged for. The Secretary of State mentioned road charging, and it is worth mentioning in parenthesis that the actual cost of motoring in 2001 was lower in real terms than it was in 1974. An answer that one of my hon. Friends received from the Secretary of State's Department helpfully used a base of 100 for the cost of motoring in 1974. In 2001, the figure had reduced to 98.7. Interestingly, on the same time scale the costs of rail travel had increased from 100 to 185.3 and of bus travel from 100 to 166.1. Since 1997, the cost of rail travel has gone up by 8 per cent. and that of bus travel by 5 per cent., but despite what the Conservatives say, motoring costs have gone down by 1 per cent.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House on Liberal Democrat policy on this issue? Is it to get the cost of motoring up to 100 or perhaps a bit beyond, and the cost of rail travel to below its current figure?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

We would like the true cost of motoring to be apparent. I note from the table that the previous Conservative Government had the highest figure, having got it up to 104 in 1979. Our policy, as I shall show in a moment, is to make sure that the real costs of motoring are seen. That is best done by removing vehicle excise duty and fuel duty and replacing them with road user charging. As the Secretary of State said, the technology for that is by no means proven, although there is one scheme that believes that it could be implemented immediately. It will take time to develop and implement the technology but, over a five to 10-year period, I see no reason why road charging should not prove the best way forward. If I heard him right, he invited us to discuss that matter, and I an certainly happy to do so.

I shall not go into detail on aviation. We had a very good debate on it last week, but my points about emissions make it clear that restraining the uncontrolled growth of aviation must be part of the longer-term strategy. In part, that can be done by providing real and competitive alternatives. It is mad that, in an island as small as ours, the most effective way of getting from London to Edinburgh is by air. There should be a rail alternative. A rail alternative was timetabled some years ago that would have done the journey in four hours, which is almost exactly the same as the time of a door-to-door journey by air. If we could promote that alternative, we might be able to remove some of the short-haul requirements for domestic aviation. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Korea and, on the day that I was there, a headline in the International Herald Tribune highlighted the collapse of domestic aviation demand there because of the opening of a new high-speed rail link from the south of the country to Seoul. It achieved the exact objective of reducing demand, so we should consider such schemes.

My colleagues and I will support the Conservative motion, albeit with some reluctance. It is pretty high on complaint yet, as the speech made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk showed, low on alternatives. When the Conservatives were in government, they did little for roads—the facts do not back up their rhetoric. They completely rodgered the railways and hid from just about everything else. The answer to the problem that Conservative Members have given in recent Westminster Hall debates and other debates in which I have participated has seemed to be, "Just build more roads." We had a long discussion about port capacity during one debate, and the Conservative spokesman's answer to the problem was, "Build more roads everywhere." Up until today, their answer seemed to be, "Build more roads and speed. You can go as fast as you like."

Although the Conservatives have little to offer, their criticism of the Government is justified. There are alternatives. In the longer term, we need a clear strategy and, above all, a commitment to an integrated transport policy that uses all available modes of transport. It is up to the Government to provide and deliver that vision.

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office 2:21 pm, 15th June 2004

I feel the same way that I felt on Sunday night when we got to the 90th minute. I thought that John Thurso was going to support the Government amendment, so I feel very disappointed. I regret that because I have a considerable amount of time for the hon. Gentleman. His constituency is similar to mine, although it is on the other side of the border. I applaud his attempts to talk and listen to people from the transport industry. I hope that he will reconfigure his approach on the amendment during the debate. It is sad that Mr. Yeo has left the Chamber because I thought that the official Opposition might be making a visionary attempt to hold a timely and appropriate debate on this day—I shall come to that in a moment.

I had especially hoped that Mrs. May would be in the Chamber so that I could take up an outstanding matter that arose during her recent visit to my constituency during the election campaign. It was a whistlestop visit with quick photographs by the quayside before she left, but that is not easy to do in a constituency such as Scarborough and Whitby. The right hon. Lady failed to listen or respond to any of the many questions asked by my constituents—albeit local journalists—about Conservative party transport policy. Indeed, the only reference made to transport policy as a result of her brief visit to the quayside in Whitby was a photograph in the local paper of her famous shoes—I do not think that that had anything to do with pedestrian strategy. The visit showed how the right hon. Lady, who is in charge of an official Opposition policy, failed to recognise a key priority in my constituency and many others throughout the country, despite the fact that her party wishes to become the Government.

As I said earlier, the debate is timely because today is the day on which the Institution of Civil Engineers publishes its report "The State of the Nation"—I declare an interest because I am a chartered civil engineer. The report is an independent assessment of the nation's logistics, key elements of the economy and everyday life, that is written by people such as me who are involved in the delivery of renewal and maintenance for our infrastructure. I pay tribute to the institution for commissioning the work. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have received invitations from fellow civil engineers to the Institution of Civil Engineers parliamentary reception this evening. I hope that the hon. Member for South Suffolk will go along and listen to practitioners who are trying to maintain this country's transport network because they do not feel that Conservative prescriptions thus far match their assessment on the country's transport policy.

During my 19 years in the transport industry, I reckon that about 60 per cent. of my design and assessment work behind my prognosis of what needed to happen to our transport infrastructure, and especially the rail infrastructure, was done to no effect. It was consigned to drawers and the archives—I guess that some might have ended up in the national railway museum by now. The Conservative Government of the time failed to deliver a transport policy. They failed to deliver on railways and certainly on this country's road network. The hon. Member for South Suffolk said that when the Conservative party left government in 1997, it left a wish list of road schemes at the Department for Transport. However, the wish list could not be delivered, so many of my constituents were disappointed that the much-needed revitalisation of the A64 corridor did not happen, despite the fact that my predecessor in my constituency, the Conservative Member John Sykes, had long promised it. Such a situation was a consequence of the boom-bust economy and the stop-go approach on policy delivery during the 18 sad and backward-looking years when the Conservatives failed to listen to the many communities that wanted investment in transport.

The Institution of Civil Engineers has rightly framed a national debate in much the same way that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross suggested. We need a debate from which politics is removed and a long-term strategic approach. As we try to reach conclusions on what needs to be put right, we need not only to assess what must be put in place, but to ensure that appropriate finance is available. I hope that as many Conservative Members as possible will go to listen to my colleagues in Great George street.

I pay tribute to the current president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Douglas Oakervee, who has a worldwide reputation for producing transport schemes. He was one of the people behind the provision and delivery of the Hong Kong mass rapid transit system and Hong Kong airport. He is a world-class engineer. The possibility of earning real revenue for the country through exporting his and my colleagues' skills and their ability to deliver such major projects must be based on a coherent and strategic domestic approach. We need a flow of work so that we may not only renew, build and maintain this country's infrastructure—especially our transport infrastructure—but ensure that we introduce new technologies and techniques.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross talked about his experiences in Korea. I remind him that one of the results of the Channel tunnel rail link was a modal switch affecting journeys from London to Paris and Brussels. The switch occurred because the high-speed railway was delivered on time and on budget. Many civil engineers thought that that deserved much celebration, but sadly, as ever, the national press failed to recognise the tremendous achievement of the team that put the project together. Such achievements can be delivered if there is continuity of approach.

I agree with Douglas Oakervee, who says in "The State of the Nation", the report that was published today:

"It is up to government, in partnership with other stakeholders, to educate public opinion and thereby gain support to take the important but unpalatable decisions that will protect our standard of living and keep this nation prosperous.

Our report this year does not therefore simply challenge government to take action. It challenges everyone to become part of the solution, not part of the problem."

I expressed a similar sentiment to great effect, I believe, when I stood for election in 1997. As an engineer who is also a Member of Parliament, I believe that if Members focused on listening to practitioners our debates would be better informed and there would be an opportunity, well received by our constituents, to achieve the right transport solutions for the nation.

As well as making an assessment of the nation's transport infrastructure, ICE looked at regional questions this year. Many Members will have received correspondence from it during the past few days indicating the nature of progress in their own region. I pay tribute to Mr. Colin Clinton, who chaired ICE's work on transport in "The State of the Nation" and examined the Government's performance in Yorkshire and the Humber, a region that I represent. Like any school report, it assesses performance with an A, B or C. I was pleased that ICE, an unbiased, independent body, believed that there was an improvement in the delivery of transport policy in Yorkshire and the Humber, and gave it a B/C grade. I do not know whether that is a B-minus or a C-plus, but it is a distinct improvement on the position in my region and many other parts of the country in 1997.

We obviously face challenges in rail, the area of transport that I know most about. The east coast main line gives cause for concern as it has almost reached capacity. The frustrations of business people and other passengers are sometimes recorded in the regional press. Urgent progress should be made on tackling delays in upgrades on the route because there is a strong indication that that is starting to have an effect on the growth of the economy in the region. The TransPennine service is vital to my Scarborough constituency, and the new franchise has produced some of the best improvements in the country in recent years. I pay tribute to the TransPennine team for the delivery of the new service. New rolling stock is promised and rapid services link the Pennines to the north-west and connect my constituency to the east coast main line and thence to the capital.

Some improvements on the TransPennine route could be translated into developments on the east coast main line, including longer passenger trains and the provision of passing loops. Above all, more capacity should be built into the system to allow for freight services, which are vital to the manufacturers on the Yorkshire coast and in the rest of the region. I welcome the fact that the franchises are being renegotiated. The northern franchise is important to communities in the Whitby area, which is serviced by the Esk Valley line, and I urge the Minister to do all that he can to encourage speedy announcements on that route.

I pay tribute to the Strategic Rail Authority for its work with the community rail partnerships to revitalise and reinvigorate the crucial relationship between local communities, particularly rural communities, and the railways. I urge the Minister to consider the outputs of the Esk Valley line, which has been identified as a suitable pilot by the SRA, as we need to make sure that the public get value for money on rural railways and that we achieve efficiency and effectiveness in our transport network.

Since 1997, the Yorkshire box, which consists of the M1, the M62, the A1 and the M18, has improved and reinvigorated local transport systems in the heart of the region. Promised improvements to upgrade the A1 corridor to motorway standard are in stark contrast to the state of affairs under the right hon. Member for Maidenhead. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr. Jamieson, took considerable time and effort to meet my constituents, including members of the business community, and learn about the importance of the upgrade of the A64 corridor to the area. I pay tribute to the work that has been done to redefine strategic priorities in Yorkshire. The Government's regional transport policy has enabled us to have a dialogue and consider appropriate improvements and upgrades to the A64 corridor.

Scarborough and Whitby are important tourism destinations in the summer and early autumn—in fact, almost all year round now—and local transport plans have been introduced in partnership with local authorities, North Yorkshire county council and Scarborough borough council. Park and ride schemes are about to come on stream and there is better handling and management of traffic systems in the area. Those vital schemes would not have been introduced by a Conservative Government. My constituents know that if such a Government were elected before those plans are fully delivered they would go into the wish list bin that was clearly utilised in the mid-1990s.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and his comments about Conservative policy. He talked about the Yorkshire box and the work that began in 1997. Will he not pay tribute to the last Conservative Government for making it possible to create that box?

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

I pay tribute to any Government who respond to the agenda of the region. That is why I have made great play of all political parties listening to practitioners. Regrettably, for a vital scheme of regional and national significance, there were many schemes that were not delivered by the Administration that the hon. Gentleman supported. Many schemes were consigned to the dustbin of history—the wish list of transport policy, as I would call it.

It behoves all Members to make a proper assessment of the requirements of transport policy. We must not just propose schemes—we must ensure that the resources are available to support them. The central failure of the economic policy of the previous Administration prevented transport policy from moving forward. If the hon. Member for South Suffolk had been allowed to develop his argument further, he would also have come to the conclusion that the main problems for the development of transport policy, as I experienced during my professional career, arose from the boom-bust, stop-go approach. We need a national settlement, a strategic view and a long-term agenda, as proposed by members of my institution over at Great George street. I hope to see Mr. Tredinnick there and I will gladly introduce him to his constituents there, who support the proposition that I am advancing. The ideas proposed by the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer do not come close to responding to a national agenda, which is extremely important.

I shall deal briefly with airport strategy in the region of Yorkshire and the Humber. Earlier in the debate reference was made to Finningley. Regrettably, the spokesperson for the Conservative party did not seem to know much about Finningley or what it was. Air journey possibilities from outside the region need to be developed. Partly because of the excellent TransPennine railway connection from Scarborough to Manchester airport, 85 per cent. of air journeys undertaken by my constituents probably start from Manchester airport, rather than from an airport in the Yorkshire region that is a shorter trip away. Finningley offers great possibilities not only for business and leisure travellers, but for air freight services. I look forward to a rail link into that airport near Doncaster.

Finally, I was pleased to hear the comments about coastal traffic, coming as I do from an area with a long maritime tradition. I say that with no humility, because my constituents would never forgive me if I did, given the art of navigation, the legacy of Captain Cook and the legacy of maritime skills that originated and developed in Whitby, which has a long naval heritage. The potential for that small port to make an effective contribution in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is tremendous, but to bring that about investment would be needed in the land links into the port.

I should be delighted to speak to my hon. Friend the Minister, probably at some length, about the possibility of supplying an eight-mile missing link between Pickering and Rillington junction near Malton, which would afford access par excellence from the port of Whitby to the east coast main line and avoid the long journey around. That would be particularly useful for freight traffic and would revitalise the port of Whitby and make a major contribution to the strategy mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to reinvigorate coastal traffic. That would be a worthwhile project and my colleagues from the Institution of Civil Engineers would undoubtedly support it.

On road and transport safety, it is well known to the House that one of the challenges of representing a part of the country containing a national park is that there is a higher than average number of accidents caused by motorcyclists. The so-called boy racer has moved on, and people of my age or even older who have a large disposable income power through the North Yorkshire countryside on a Harley-Davidson or whatever. Regrettably, there is a higher proportion of accidents in my constituency than elsewhere in the countryside.

I was interested to note that the Yorkshire Post today highlights the fact that the roads of the Yorkshire region are a blackspot for motorcycle accidents. That is based on a new report from the AA Motoring Trust, which found that four roads in the region are blackspots for motorcycle accidents. I raised the issue earlier this month with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hutton.

It is incumbent on my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us about the work that is going on between the Department for Transport and health bodies to improve rider behaviour on our roads. That has a great impact on accident and emergency services and on transport and leads to loss of life. I urge him to tell the House what work is in progress to improve the behaviour of motorcyclists not only in my constituency, but throughout the country. A better information service is needed, because prevention is better than cure. The fatalities that unfortunately occur on our roads are a price too high to pay.

In conclusion, I commend the Government on what has been achieved so far to provide continuity in transport policy and a long-term approach, not a short-term fix. It is part of the Government's overall approach to use the benefits of a stronger economy to deliver. I know that my constituents and the people who work in the construction industry, some of whom hon. Members might have the opportunity to speak to later today, will tell them that bridge builders believe in building bridges and setting foundations for the future. I believe that the Government's policy does that, and that is the way forward for transport in this country.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire 2:48 pm, 15th June 2004

The Institution of Civil Engineers is an historic, estimable and professional organisation, and it is fortunate to have Lawrie Quinn as its Member. The ICE will be well pleased with his contribution to the debate, although given the rosy picture that he painted on its behalf, it may be confused by the fact that he represents 50 per cent. of the total Labour Back-Bench force. Two Labour Members came to defend and commend the Government. If, on the other hand, he had claimed to represent one of the best purveyors of fish and chips in the country, he would have carried both sides of the House.

If one looks across the range of Government policy, transport is the best example of where old Labour and new Labour collide. The Government have lost the plot on transport, but they did so primarily in their first Parliament. I well remember the days when it was my privilege to stand at the Government Dispatch Box and Mr. Prescott, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, frothed at me from the Opposition Dispatch Box, shouting that privatisation of the railways was wrong. When I told him that I believed that, after 40 years of annual decreases in the number of people using the railways, privatisation would mean significant increases in passenger numbers and more investment that would lead to new trains, he frothed and fumed and vehemently denied it; but of course that is exactly what happened. He made the big mistake of being so emotionally antagonistic to the developing railway system that he could not form objective judgments, so he focused the debate on punctuality, which, although important to passengers, is not as important if it is the exclusive focus, as it was in his case. As a result, issues relating to safety and maintenance got set to one side.

The right hon. Gentleman also fulminated against roads. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby was right to say that it is traditional for Governments—not just the last Conservative Government, for his information—to have a long list of roads that it would be good to build. I can lay claim to being the first Secretary of State to decide to inject a degree of rationality into that list, which was so long under both Governments that some people would have had to wait 30 or 40 years to see their particular road. That did not seem sensible, and I tried to reduce the list to a size that would be deliverable within a reasonable time frame. In describing it as a wish list, the hon. Gentleman condemns his own Ministers. We initiated a change of policy that said, "It would be good to build all these roads, but let's at least have a list that is likely to be deliverable in the foreseeable future."

As the Government's first Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hull, East brought to Government the antagonism to roads that he had honed on me and my right hon. Friends and, as it says in the eighth report of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, slashed all the road building programmes. On 6 June 1997, he said:

"I will have failed if in five years' time there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order, but I urge you to hold me to it."

That is like everything else that Ministers say: it is all spin. He did not mean it, he did not deliver it, he never could deliver it, he was not capable of forming a coherent policy that might be the basis for delivering it and he still rides around in his two Jaguars having failed by his own account, but not in the least embarrassed by it.

Although it is never a good career move for an Opposition Back Bencher to be mildly supportive of and sorry for the current incumbent of any Cabinet job, the blame for the fact that the Government's transport policy is a mess lies primarily not with the current Secretary of State, but with his two predecessors. I commend him—again, not a good career move—for having talked about reinstating a road-building programme. That takes him back, as the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby will note, precisely to where we left off in 1997: we have lost seven years in the process. I am pleased to see the Secretary of State in his place. His two predecessors—I shall come to the other one in a moment—did their best to screw up transport policy because they were not comfortable with trying to bring it into the 21st century and he now has to make decisions that are driven less by their political ideology, and in some cases emotional distaste, than by the need to realign Government policy with the realities of today.

One problem that the Secretary of State faces—I hope that his successor, whom I believe will be my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo, will address it—is the need radically to speed up the roads programme. I was the Secretary of State who made the decision to widen the M25 between the M4 and the M3 as part of the Government's submission to the fifth terminal inquiry. That work is only just starting. I was the Secretary of State who made the decision, in the context of speeding the cross-Channel rail link, to put the terminal at St. Pancras. That work is only just starting.

I say to the Secretary of State that if we are to modernise the roads programme—he has said that he wants to do so, as would any sensible person, particularly a former Transport Minister—we need to have a radical look at the public inquiry arrangements and decision-making processes that relate to road building because they are so antiquated that nobody could even put a date on them. I have some ideas of my own about how that might be achieved while still defending the democratic process and I am happy to share them with anybody who is interested, though not in today's debate.

I want to say a few words about rail. Mr. Foulkes characteristically made his early comment and dashed for the door. In this case, it was: "Wasn't the rail privatisation process awful?" or words to that effect. I was not the Secretary of State who devised that policy or carried it through the House, but I moved it forward to completion and the increased passenger numbers and investment that we see today. It tends to be forgotten that other countries looked at how we privatised our railways and followed our example.

I find it sad that these days we spend too much time talking about the process instead of the passengers whom the process was designed to benefit. I chide the Secretary of State ever so slightly for his recent decision on fares. One of my most cherished memories of government is the Cabinet sub-committee meeting in which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and I debated my proposal to move to a retail prices index minus 1 regime for 70 per cent. of fares. Hon. Members who know the previous Chancellor will understand when I say that it was a robust conversation. However, we agreed the policy. We did that because, as I said at the time, it ought to be made clear that passengers should get and be seen to get some benefit from privatisation. It was a signal that we were in favour of the railways. It was also, given that we had an RPI plus policy on roads, an indication of how we wished people to behave. I regret that that signal has been removed and that fares will increase, perhaps sharply, when the Government's rhetoric is about trying to get more people to use the railways.

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the architecture of and preparation for rail privatisation, were not the previous Government trying to manage a decline in expectation of the railways, especially for freight, rather than cater for the expansion that subsequently occurred as a result of an economy that has done well? The previous Government sought to establish a system to manage a decline rather than to provide for expansion.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire

On the contrary. For once, I do not have to bore the hon. Gentleman with many facts and figures. Indeed, I condemn him to a worse fate: he should read all the speeches that I made when I was Secretary of State for Transport. He will then know precisely what we were doing.

On reflection, we made one mistake in the privatisation process. The train operators were all new business men, who were keen to run businesses that would benefit passengers and customers but also their shareholders. It is possible to do that simultaneously. Our mistake was to allow old British Rail management to become the management of Railtrack. The consequences were not good and change had to be introduced.

At that point, let us consider the contribution of the Secretary of State's other predecessor, Mr. Byers. In a statement to the House, he announced that he intended to put Railtrack into a special vehicle. In response to that, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and I got to our feet and warned the Government that it was one of the most damaging decisions that they had ever made in the context of the public sector. We said that it would seriously undermine confidence in the private finance initiative and make public-private partnerships much more expensive. All that happened.

I remind Labour Members that the private holders of Railtrack shares will take the Government to court later in the year. We will then see precisely the effect of the former Secretary of State's judgment. If there is evidence that Her Majesty's Treasury leaned on the Secretary of State about the decision—as a former Secretary of State, I would be amazed if the Treasury had not leaned on him—the consequences for the Government's transport policy will be catastrophic.

We gave operating companies 15-year leases because we understood that they needed certainty to invest. The Government give them two-year leases and the companies will not invest. In one sense, that is not a party political point but a reflection of the marketplace. If companies do not believe that they have time to recoup their investment, they will not invest. The Government must make up their mind quickly about whether they wish to sustain and develop the investment and the passenger attraction of the railways through the contracts that they are willing to give the operators.

It has become clear beyond peradventure that the Strategic Rail Authority and Network Rail do not have money to invest in stations. The operating companies are the only ones that have money to improve our stations. They will not invest if they are given only two-year contracts. They need long contracts if they are to have the confidence to invest not only in developing services but in stations.

Let me make a constituency point. I am greatly privileged to be in my 26th year of representing some part of the city of Peterborough. For years, we have been promised badly needed redevelopment of our railway station. Peterborough is the first stop on the east coast main line but the promise of redevelopment was made circa 1975 or 1980. Railtrack promised that we would have it and the SRA said that it would happen. Now the SRA will not even promise.

Indeed, in Peterborough, we do not know whether we shall have a new station and, if we do, whether it will face in the same direction as the current station or whether the plan will be reversed and the buildings constructed on the other side of the track. We have a plan to develop our station 25 years after the end of the development corporation and we do not even know the direction that it is likely to face and what will be built in its environs, despite its position at the heart of the master plan to redevelop the city. Ministers will understand that such long-standing constituency problems cause hon. Members from all parties to get agitated when we consider transport policy.

My last point concerns aviation. Again, I believe that I have the privilege of being the last Secretary of State to review airport policy. At that time, I made it possible to have a second parallel runway at Gatwick, although legal constraints meant that that could not happen before the middle of the next decade. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk was right to say that, because aviation policy is so sensitive, decision making must be exceptionally sharp. Our difficulty is not in acknowledging the need for greater capacity—I agree with the Government that greater capacity is required. However, decision making to reduce blight, uncertainty and unhappiness is not commensurate with that understanding.

The Government have a wonderful opportunity to site the third major hub in the United Kingdom not in the south-east but in the midlands or the north-east, where an increasing number of people go for their transport needs. I pay special tribute to those who run Manchester airport because, from my days as Transport Secretary, I was impressed with the service that they provided.

This Government made a decision that they will live to regret when they decided, after we had robustly resisted the proposal, to pass responsibility for landing rights from our control to Europe. We all know how difficult it is to put in place new treaties. I hope that I will not bore the House when I say that I was the last Secretary of State to conclude an agreement on this issue with the Americans. We have not had one for eight years, or even longer. Now the future of Heathrow, Gatwick and the third hub, wherever that is, will be determined in Brussels and not in this country. Hon. Members must ask themselves why Brussels should look after our interests when Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt airports are there. I worry about the long-term health of our aviation industry. That issue would be a good one to repatriate to the competence of the British Government and I shall commend that proposal to my right hon. Friends when we return to power.

I started by saying that this Government had lost the plot, but we made some mistakes in our transport policy as well. I want to admit to one today, to try to head off the present Secretary of State from making things worse. He said that he was considering extending variable speed technology after the M25 experiment. I have to tell the House that, on one of the few occasions in my ministerial career when I was conned by civil servants, I agreed to that variable speed limit being put in place. It is a waste of public money. I drive down the M25, crawling at 10 mph while looking at a sign telling me that I am allowed to drive at 40. Or sometimes I crawl at 20 mph past a sign saying that I can actually go to 50. The reality of the road controls the speed, not a number on a gantry. I put my hands up in this regard. With hindsight, which is always 20:20, I realise that I wasted some taxpayers' money, and I urge the present Secretary of State to learn from my example and not do the same.

The Government's transport policy is a mess, but it is not primarily a mess of this Secretary of State's making. Like a duck, he is serene on the surface but paddling like crazy underneath to reposition the policy in an attempt to make it palatable to the public at next year's general election. The best indicator of the fact that the policy is a mess is that Labour Members insist on making speeches about things that happened pre-1997 rather than post-1997. At the next election, the public will want to talk about the future, and the future will not include a Labour Government.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Minister of State), Home Office 3:13 pm, 15th June 2004

I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate. I am going to focus not on things that happened pre-1997 but on the many things that have happened subsequently, and on policies for which the Government deserve praise. I have certain constituency concerns, however, that I also want to raise.

The Conservatives seem to suggest that nothing has been done since 1997, but that is a caricature of the Government's transport policy, particularly in regard to roads. The Opposition give the impression that virtually no road schemes have been completed since 1997, but that is simply not the case. Many major and minor road schemes and road safety schemes have been completed since then. In my area, the Newark to Lincoln dual carriageway was completed last year, which has added to the speeding up of traffic in that area and got rid of a notorious bottleneck on one of the major link roads to the A1 from places such as Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

The Conservatives have caricatured the Government's transport policy as a failed one, which is simply not the case. That is not to say, however, that everything is perfect, because it is not. The Secretary of State admitted that there were great difficulties involved in dealing with the major infrastructure projects. I am sorry that Mrs. May is not present today. My hon. Friend Lawrie Quinn alluded to her whistlestop tour of the Yorkshire and Humber region, during which she also visited Immingham in my constituency to drum up support for her party. The Conservatives topped the polls in Immingham a year ago, but the effect of her recent visit was that they came last in that electoral ward, with their vote collapsing by about a third. She is therefore more than welcome to visit my constituency any time she likes, if that is the effect that she is going to have on the Conservative vote there.

The words of the motion on the Order Paper, and the comments of Conservative Members today, are simply whinge, whinge, whinge. There does not seem to be any policy behind them for us to get our teeth into, so that we can see what the Conservatives are offering. It is not sufficient simply to criticise; they must offer credible alternatives. From what I have heard today, however, they did not seem to have any credible policies. The only certainty was that, according to the shadow Chancellor, there would be cuts in their transport budget. That would be particularly worrying to my constituents, because one of the major projects to be affected by such cuts would be the Government's commitment in the 10-year transport plan to resurface all concrete trunk roads with low-noise material.

The A180 in northern Lincolnshire is a concrete trunk road and a major link between the ports of Grimsby and Immingham. Immingham is a rapidly expanding port that deals with most of the freight coming into Britain from the Netherlands. That road is therefore heavily used; it also has many residents living alongside it. When the Government's resurfacing policy was announced in July 2000, my constituents were therefore very pleased. However, projects such as that would be put in jeopardy if the Conservatives' proposals for cuts—or a freeze; let them call it what they will—went ahead. Such a freeze would mean that my constituents would have no chance of getting that low-noise material on a road that carries a lot of freight traffic.

That is not to say that freight does not also go by rail. I want to point out to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr. McNulty, that much of the freight that comes into Immingham goes on from there by rail—it is one of Britain's major rail freight depots—but there are capacity issues in regard to the track leading from Immingham that feeds into the east coast main line. Much of that track is also in poor condition, and those issues need to be looked at.

Today, when we have talked about rail, we have mainly referred to passenger transport. In my constituency, freight transport is the big issue. Most of the rail jobs are related to that, and it generates economic growth in the area. We must consider the freight infrastructure as much as we do other aspects of the transport infrastructure.

I referred to the A180 resurfacing programme, and my hon. Friend the Minister knows that subject well, as I have raised it in the Adjournment debate and with other Transport Ministers. I hope that Ministers can get to grips with the Highways Agency, because its timetabling of some of these projects seems at times to get a little woolly, to put it politely. It commits to one day, then to another. Last year, I received a letter from the agency telling me that the project was due to go ahead in 2001, and my constituents were certainly a little confused that a project that was going to go ahead two years earlier had not yet started. Let us get to grips with the Highways Agency, make sure that it spells towns' names correctly—every time that I write to it about the Habrough to Stallingborough section, I get a response connected to Harborough. I have not yet taken over the Harborough constituency, but I am sure that that leads to some of the woolly thought in this area.

The other subject on which I wanted to touch briefly—not many other people have alluded to it—is the place of bridges within our transport network. I will refer particularly to the Humber bridge connecting my constituency with Hull on the north bank of the river. Ever since the bridge was built, there has been concern about the level of debt, and the money that must be paid to the Treasury to finance it. I praise the Government, who in 1998 wrote off £62 million of that debt, and rescheduled the remaining debt to make the interest repayments more manageable. However, those tolls can still be a barrier. Because of the reorganisation of health care in the area, many more people must travel over to the north bank of the river for treatment, and must therefore incur tolls. Responsibility for giving concessions lies with the strategic health authority and other partners.

As I have also raised this issue in Adjournment debates, could the Government re-examine the remaining debt on the bridge? They have written off debt previously, rescheduled the remaining debt and reduced the interest rates, and for us to remove the barrier to further economic growth in what is one of Britain's major industrial manufacturing heartlands, we need to consider that. If my hon. Friend the Minister could assist the bridge board with removing that barrier to economic growth, we would appreciate it. If he will not do that, may I suggest that some of the £15 million that toll payers in my area pay into the Treasury each year could go towards finishing off the A180 resurfacing project?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 3:23 pm, 15th June 2004

I know that other Members want to speak in the debate, so I shall speak for only four minutes.

Clearly, transport policy is one of those areas in which people feel let down by Labour. First, we have seen petrol taxation go up again and again. Deferring the tax on fuel and pretending that it is okay as long as it is announced in a Budget and introduced in December or October is simply not acceptable. It is a stealth tax. Sneaking it in a few months after a Budget does not make it any easier for people living in rural areas or hauliers, who rely on their cars or vehicles either to pursue their social life or to make a living. All that I have been able to detect from the debate so far is that the Liberal Democrats want to push up the cost of motoring—that is the only thing that I have been able to glean about their policy. Will the Minister please ensure that he influences the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a speedy announcement that he will not introduce that stealth tax in September?

People also feel cheated by speed cameras, which they also feel are a way of taxing by stealth. The money goes partly to some of the police forces but also to the Exchequer. According to one figure that I have heard, the Chancellor received £20 million from speed cameras. We should use that money to introduce other imaginative traffic calming measures. In my constituency, we have asked for a roundabout to be built where the A59 leads down from Sabden into Clitheroe. All sorts of reasons have been given for why that could not happen. The main reason, I believe, is cost. Therefore a cheaper version was suggested, whereby people cannot turn right off the A59 towards Clitheroe but must go further along the road to another roundabout that already exists. Let us use the money so that that part of the A59 can be made safer. There have been so many accidents around that area, and if we use the money that has been raised legitimately by cameras in the right places to introduce other traffic calming measures, that would be welcome.

Three cheers for the 71-year-old Hampshire man, whose name escapes me, who held up a sign saying that there was a speed trap around a corner. I assume that the mobile speed camera was in an area that was a black spot, so he was doing a public service by warning motorists that a speed camera was there, that it was a black spot, and that they should slow down. That is what motorists did, but he ended up losing his licence for it, which is an utter shame.

Finally, on regional airports, as my right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney said, Manchester airport is superb. It has 90 airlines flying to 180 destinations. Let us ensure that a lot more support is given to those regional airports. One clear example might be to allow fifth rights—I believe that that is what they are called—whereby a plane originating from one area, landing at, say, Manchester, could be allowed to fly on to another airport in another country. Let us consider boosting the number of airlines that could come into a regional airport such as Manchester by giving them those extra, special rights.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee) 3:27 pm, 15th June 2004

As time is so short, I will just cover some local issues affecting my Bosworth constituency.

In particular, we are concerned about the proposed discontinuation of the Nottingham-Hinckley-Coventry line. Will the Minister consider Railfuture's proposal to reinstate a tunnel at Nuneaton, with what is called a dive-under tunnel on the main track? That would be a cost-effective way of preserving this important link, which concerns many of my constituents.

Secondly, will the Minister consider that Hinckley station still has many features of the 1920s, not of the 1990s or 2000 and beyond? It is important that we get passenger screens there telling passengers about the arrival of trains.

I am also worried about the 254 bus route; it is to be discontinued, which will cause great hardship to residents in Botcheston, particularly at the Kirby Grange retirement village, and for that I see no justification. My hauliers, such as Crowfoots, are deeply concerned about the Government's failure to tackle fuel price increases, as trucks flood into the continent with cheap diesel, threatening their business.

Let me deal with one or two national issues, as I find that I have time to do so. My hon. Friend Mr. Horam spoke of the importance of Thameslink 2000 in London, and the problems caused by failure to widen the Borough Market junction. I remind the Minister that it was under a Conservative Government that the Snowhill tunnel was finally reopened, and that that made the Thames link possible. I remember arguing the case in the House in the late 1980s. It was a Conservative policy, and it was implemented.

My right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney, a former Secretary of State for Transport, referred to privatisation. Privatisation was of course hugely successful in several respects. It increased passenger use of trains, increased the quality of services—certainly on the midland main line—and increased frequency. To rubbish privatisation is to try and rewrite history.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:29 pm, 15th June 2004

Many eloquent contributions have been made over the past few hours, but perhaps the most eloquence is represented by the fact that, despite having at least 419 MPs, including hundreds of Back Benchers, the governing party could persuade only two of them to come and defend it.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I was about to say—if the Minister could contain himself for the first few seconds of my speech—that regrettably some of my hon. Friends who wanted to speak could not do so, because of the length and eloquence of other contributions. That tells its own story about attitudes to the Government's transport policy.

As ever, we have been given a varied diet. I thought it noteworthy that both Labour speakers—the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn)—not only said the loyal things that are expected on such occasions, but managed to slip in some cogent comments on the effect of transport problems in their constituencies.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present yet, but I am delighted to learn that he is spending his time reading my speeches. I commend that to him as a helpful and constructive activity, and hope he will continue to engage in it. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. McNulty, does the same. During last week's aviation debate he complained that he had been reading my speeches on the subject, and that what I had said last week was consistent with what I had said the previous month. I make no apologies for that: if I thought something last month I am quite likely to think it this month, particularly when it comes to the Government's failures in regard to transport policy. The Under-Secretary of State, however, seemed to find that surprising.

What the Secretary of State said—not just that he had been spending his time usefully in reading my speeches, but that he agreed with the three principles I had mentioned in them and with points made by my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo—was genuinely constructive. I believe that those three principles—consistency, the use of private finance and the provision of real choice between different modes of transport—constitute the basis on which a sensible policy should be introduced. The question that the Government need to consider today is whether the long-term problems and failures identified by the Secretary of State and by my right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney, who spoke from his experience as a former Secretary of State, have been addressed. That is the key question: have the Government, with their 10-year plan, provided steady, consistent investment and the planning structures that allow for it?

Like other Labour Members, the Secretary of State made great play of spending. That is simple to address, and we will address it directly by means of two policies. The first is to try and ensure, much better than the Government, that money is spent in the most effective way and in a way that is most sensitive to the needs of local people. In an early intervention on the Secretary of State, Richard Burden referred to spending in the west midlands. I am sure the Minister knows that a serious and crucial debate is under way in the west midlands about whether the extra money will be spent in the right way, because of restrictions that the Government are imposing on the way in which it can be spent. For instance, it cannot be spent on the motorway network; and yet many people to whom I talk in the west midlands, particularly those involved professionally in the road haulage industry, say that relieving congestion on the network is by far the most important step that could be taken to improve transport in and around Birmingham and the rest of the area. Another important aspect of efficient spending—as I think the Secretary of State, whom I now welcome to the Chamber, would agree—is the use of private as well as public finance, which we would wish to extend. The Government are setting up an Aunt Sally when they talk simply about spending levels.

While I am on spending, it is important to note the contribution of John Thurso, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats. As I understood the thrust of his economic analysis, he said that he wanted to stick to the Government's spending plans, so there would be no spending increase, but that despite that, he wanted a number of tax rises. He suggested that he would tax drivers and air travellers more. That was a great burst of clarity from the Liberal Democrats. They are not going down the Labour route of taxing and spending; they are not going to spend any more, they are just going to tax for the fun of it. They like taxing, even if they do not want to spend the money after they have raised it.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am terribly sorry to prick the hon. Gentleman's balloon. I did not say that the taxes would be increased, but explained at some length that the method of raising them would be changed. In road user charging, the overall burden on the taxpayer would remain the same, but the method by which it would be collected would be different. Air passenger duty would be abolished and replaced by an aeroplane tax. The actual quantum of tax would remain the same.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman spent a significant time explaining to the House that the cost of motoring was too low, particular when compared with other modes of transport. It seems to me not unreasonable for the House therefore to divine that what he wants to do is to make the cost of motoring higher. He can do that only by putting up costs for tens of millions of drivers in this country. I think that he is nodding his head, so we now have that confirmed. Everyone who drives a car in this country will know that the Liberal Democrats would like to tax them even more.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire

John Thurso is trying to dig himself out of a hole. We all remember hearing him say that the freedom to fly had to be constrained, which reminded me of those good old communist days, and that he would introduce a new tax on aeroplanes to constrain that freedom. For him now to say that there would be no increase in the total cost simply will not wash. Will my hon. Friend reinforce that message for the benefit of the House?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I cannot reinforce that message any more strongly than my right hon. Friend has just done. He is absolutely right, and I am sure that the House has taken on board the Liberal Democrats' desire to tax for taxation's sake. I can pledge to my right hon. Friend and to the House that I will certainly take that message around the country between now and the next general election.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire was exactly right in his contribution about the problems bequeathed to current Ministers by the Deputy Prime Minister. He expressed a sensible degree of sympathy with the current Secretary of State, much of whose work involves undoing the bad work of the Deputy Prime Minister. Inasmuch as he can do that, my party wishes him well. I just hope that other Ministers will be able to reverse the Deputy Prime Minister's other disastrous policies in such fields as planning and regionalism.

My hon. Friend Mr. Evans made a particularly cogent point about petrol taxes, especially for the road haulage industry, for which there is no sense in which petrol is a luxury. It is vital for the industry itself and, of course, for everyone in this country who depends on an efficient road haulage industry to deliver the essential goods that we use every day. My hon. Friend Mr. Tredinnick made a key point about hauliers in his constituency.

Let me turn to the substance of what the Secretary of State said, particularly on speed cameras. It was a fascinating juggling act that, although he and others on the Government Bench complained that they would prefer to discuss our transport policy rather than the subject of the debate—the Government's transport policy—they had to admit at the same time that we do in fact have a 10-point plan for safer driving, published in April. The Government are now up to about point three and a half in terms of stealing those ideas. I welcome that theft, which is extremely sensible. The more Conservative transport policies are introduced, the better it will be for this country. The quickest way in which people can achieve that is to elect a Conservative Government, which they will no doubt do next year. Inasmuch as the Government want to use these ideas between now and then, I am happy to provide them. I was glad to discover that in today's document, the Government talk about moving to variable penalty points—an idea that is number four in our list. I welcome the fact that they are keen to extend driver education programmes to those caught speeding—idea number five in our list—and that they want to encourage lower speed limits near schools.

Of course everyone in this House wants safer roads, but there is one point on which I take issue with the Secretary of State. He talked about striking the proper balance and said that cameras cannot provide the full solution. I completely agree, but that is not what the Government are doing. In the past three or four years in particular, we have witnessed the introduction of thousands of new cameras and a reduction of several thousand in the number of traffic police. So we are relying increasingly on static technology, and less and less on active policing. The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that the most dangerous drivers in this country are often those who drive without insurance or tax. Such people are far more likely to drive while drunk or to drive unroadworthy vehicles. Cameras do not catch them, which is why the policy is so severely out of balance.

The Secretary of State talked about private sector finance coming into the railways and I completely agree with him. I am happy to support him against many of his own Back Benchers who do not believe that there should be private finance in the railways, and who think that they would be better off under complete state control. He will be aware that there are two things that will deter private investment, the first of which is constantly changing the regulatory system, so that none of the private sector operators knows what the regime will be from year to year. I am aware that his predecessor left him a complete dog's breakfast—the Strategic Rail Authority, the current rail regulator set-up and so on—and that he will be undoing that in the coming weeks. So I have sympathy in that regard, but he must recognise that that is a deterrent to private investment.

The second big deterrent to private sector investment is the constant rumbling of calls from Labour Members for complete re-nationalisation. The Secretary of State has so far been robust in fighting off those calls, and I very much hope that he remains robust in opposing what is clearly the spirit of the age in his own party. As panic increases on the Government Benches, it is clear that demands for old Labour policies are likely to increase. They provide some amusement for the Opposition, but the extremely sad fact is that they are doing real damage to the future of our rail industry.

Several Members from all parts of the House raised the subject of aviation, on which we had a very good debate last week. All that remains for me to do is to point out that in the intervening few days, we have witnessed a successful High Court application for action to be taken against the Government. I am afraid that the Secretary of State brought a slight degree of complacency to this debate when he said that everything is wonderful and that the Government have produced a White Paper on the issue. We said when the White Paper was published that because of the failure of the consultation exercise, court action was very likely. Since last week's debate, such court action has indeed arrived.

Most people who use Britain's transport networks ask themselves two basic questions: are the roads less congested under this Government, and is the railway more reliable? To both questions they answer no, and as the Government limp into their eighth year in office, their attempts to blame anyone and everyone else become less convincing by the day. Their attitude to roads and drivers has switched. They have gone from hostility on first taking office, when they cancelled dozens of road schemes, to neutrality, when they restored some of those schemes. Now, it seems that they have reverted to hostility. In a now notorious interview, Dr. Howells equated driving a car with smoking.

I remind Ministers that driving is a necessity for millions of people. I know that the Government are a little ambivalent about smoking at the moment, but even the Secretary of State for Health does not regard it as a necessity, whereas driving is a necessity. It is time that the Government ended their war on drivers. Forcing people out of their cars by making driving miserable is a rotten policy, but it comes perilously close to the Government's current policy.

On rail, the Secretary of State has set up a review to dismantle the system set up by the Deputy Prime Minister. Good for him. However, I warn him that, if he goes down the route of having more day-to-day interference by Ministers, he could yet make things even worse.

If Ministers ever look back at the 10-year plan, they will be deeply embarrassed to read the Deputy Prime Minister's foreword, in which he says that

"the Plan will bring greater certainty and coherence in decision-making. It will provide a stable framework against which planning and investment decisions can be made."

That is what the Government hoped for. Instead, they have provided uncertainty, incoherence and instability. The travelling public have been badly let down by the Government. I commend our motion to the House.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 3:45 pm, 15th June 2004

We have had a useful enough debate, I suppose. We have heard useful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). The local issues that they raised can be pursued outside the context of this particular debate.

We had a nice journey down memory lane from Sir Brian Mawhinney. As I understand it, his speech consisted of saying that everything good that has happened since his departure from being Secretary of State for Transport was down to his tenure of that office at some stage or other, and that everything bad was down to successive Labour Ministers since 1997.

I suppose that the hon. Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) made some reasonable comments, as did the Liberal Democrat spokesman, but we have not had a serious exposition or analysis of where we are and where we want to get to. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said that we needed to talk much more about where we go from 2004 towards the future, rather than hark back on what prevailed before 1997 or between 1997 and 2004. That is absolutely right, but any honest assessment of the two Conservative Front Benchers' contributions would suggest that they are not listening to, or are ignoring, his advice.

I welcome Mr. Yeo to his new position. However, with the best will in the world, what we heard from him and his Front-Bench colleague offered nothing to the British travelling public for the future and no vision of any alternative to the Government's position. Happily, Mr. Green has made only one speech—he presented the same speech twice—on aviation, which is preferable to having more.

Underneath all the hot air and rhetoric, dated though much of it was, is a kernel of where the debate should be. We should be debating how best to utilise our capacity. As Mr. Redwood said, we should be debating whether we need more capacity across the piece. We should be debating road pricing and the balance between public and private funding. Just about the only thing that the hon. Member for Ashford got right was his point about presenting people with real choices. A real public policy debate is needed, but it is not one to which Conservative Front Benchers have made any able contribution.

I can, in part, understand the embarrassment of Conservative Front Benchers. A shadow Cabinet member apparently said, regarding the appointment of the hon. Member for South Suffolk:

"Yeo has been told to get a grip on transport policy. We haven't really got one at the moment."

That was made more than clear by the Conservative Front Benchers' contributions. Apparently, according to another newspaper today:

"A new package of policies put together under Mr. Yeo's direction has been approved by Mr. Howard, who let it be known that he was 'delighted' with the work carried out" by the hon. Member for South Suffolk in the area of health and education. Indeed, his leader was so delighted that he

"wanted Mr. Yeo to apply his skills to transport and the environment."

It is reported that one MP said:

"We've neglected transport yet it affects every family in the country. It's a vital area for us. Tim is a problem-solver and a salesman, which is what Michael Howard needs in that brief."

I am afraid that, given the paucity of substantial policy offerings today by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, he is clearly more of a salesman of second-hand cars or snake oil than one of any repute. After six years in opposition, it is bad enough that the Conservatives have offered almost no substantive transport policy, but it is completely irresponsible of them to fill the policy vacuum with opportunism, as they have done over the past two or three years.

I come now to some of the substantive issues in the motion. It states that the Government have failed to meet their target of reducing congestion on Britain's roads by 5 per cent. There was no such target in the 10-year plan.The motion states that the decline of 0.3 billion net tonne kilometres in rail freight in 2002 is a matter of serious concern, but it says nothing about the increase of more than 25 per cent. in rail freight since 1997, nor about the fact that rail passenger journeys have grown by more than 25 per cent. since 1997.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister is going on about percentages and targets. Will he confirm that he stands by the target in the 10-year plan for an increase in passenger kilometres on the railways, and the 80 per cent. target for rail freight?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I had the great pleasure, around the time of Christmas, of frightening the hell out of a passenger down at Liverpool Street station. I presented that person with a bouquet for being the billionth passenger on the rail system, and that had not happened since the 1940s.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham was right in what he said about capacity, but mirror images of another party's policy are no substitute for proper policy. It is not sufficient for a party to suggest that it knows where people are coming from, even though it neither opposes nor supports a particular approach.

Some gentle green shoots of policy were evident among Opposition Front-Bench contributions, however, and that has been clear even before today. For example, there was an understanding of the debate that we have to hold in respect of transport. That was outlined for the Liberal Democrats by John Thurso.

Another example can be found in the speeches of the predecessor but two—I think that that is right—of Mr. Collins said last year that the Conservatives supported the difficult decision to suspend some rail services for long periods in order to accelerate the completion of engineering work.

"It is a difficult decision . . . but, in some circumstances, it is the only means by which engineering work can be completed in a reasonable time."—[Hansard, 2 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 388.]

That is evidence of a real understanding of what is required in transport. In another speech, the hon. Gentleman said that he was happy to agree with the Secretary of State that we needed

"to consider, on a non-partisan basis, why it took so long for any major transport project to be brought to fruition in this country."—[Hansard, 23 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 793.]

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire made the same point today.

We agree that that should be looked at actively. Such an examination should cover the Department's processes, the wider planning process and the TWA process. Sadly, however, any recognition of the substantive elements needed for the mature debate that the country deserves on transport was missing from Conservative Front-Bench contributions today. We are back to the snake oil salesman.

We heard much about the CBI report, whose conclusion stated:

"Government policy will need to promote a coherent package of measures, but at the heart of its approach must be a programme of sustained public and private investment."

That programme is at the heart of our policy. Whatever the protestations of the Tory Front-Bench transport team, they need only to travel to the office of the shadow Chancellor to see that nothing that he has said will give the CBI what it requires—

"a programme of sustained public and private investment"— in respect of transport. Such a programme cannot be achieved through a freeze on public spending on transport, or the severe real-terms cut in transport spending proposed by Mr. Letwin. Nowhere does the CBI report say that there are difficulties and problems but that everything will be OK if public spending on transport is frozen—or, indeed, cut, as the shadow Chancellor has suggested.

The Opposition have given us smoke and mirrors all over again. They agree with the CBI report but are not allowed by the shadow Cabinet to promise to put in the money and funding necessary for the task. That is typical.

The motion goes into detail on the delay to Crossrail, the East London line extension and other projects, with the clear implication that if only the Conservatives were in government, they would all be achieved overnight. That is not what the shadow Chancellor says. He will not let the hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his new capacity, anywhere near the necessary pot of money. However, that did not stop Mr. Field and his colleagues bobbing up and down like Bill and Ben in a recent Adjournment debate on London's transport needs in Westminster Hall. By the time they had finished, they had spent the best part of £15 billion to £20 billion on transport in London alone. That is more smoke and mirrors, because none of it would happen if they ever got near power. But they say that it would anyway.

The same is true on aviation. However eloquent the little speech by the hon. Member for Ashford—and it was not so good that we needed to hear it twice—there would be no more money. It appears that the Conservatives are not against flights, but against airports. They are back to a nod and wink and more smoke and mirrors. The hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his first day as shadow Secretary of State for Transport, came out against Birmingham, Stansted and Heathrow. He is also against noise levels at Doncaster Finningley, which is not even open yet. What is the Tories' substantive aviation policy? Well, they have not got one.

The Tories have shown naked opportunism on the issue of safety cameras. We have scotched that today, given the publication of the report on their use, although the hon. Member for Ribble Valley tried his best—as usual, he was not up to it—as did the hon. Member for Ashford. They say that they are not against safety cameras. They say that they are not in favour of vandalising or destroying safety cameras, but they say to the protestors, "We know where you are coming from and we broadly support you." The Tories cannot be against Chope cameras, because they were introduced by Mr. Chope. They dice with road safety considerations, taking their lead from the Leader of the Opposition, who is not against illegal fuel protests.

There was one glaring omission from the contributions from Tory Front Benchers in this debate. Some 70 per cent. of passenger journeys in this country are by bus. The hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his new position, and the hon. Member for Ashford said not one word about buses, which serve—among others—our most deprived communities. Perhaps that is because they take the same view as Baroness Thatcher, who once said:

"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."

As for their second-hand car salesman, who was reduced to a feeble second place in the campaign to be Mayor of London, he likes the healthy smell of exhaust and kebabs and he could care less about buses. However, buses are an essential and vital part of our transport policy and they must feature in it. They did not feature at all in the contributions from the Conservatives.

This country needs the Opposition to understand fully the difficulties with transport. It does not need them to offer the techniques of the snake oil salesman or smoke and mirrors. It needs them to work with us and to commit to match—at least—our investment plans for Europe. The Opposition should confirm to the CBI that they understand the points it has made about sustained investment and that they will match our spending plans. The Opposition cannot say that because the shadow Chancellor has locked them in a box and thrown away the key. If the Conservatives ever get close to power, there will be substantive cuts in transport.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 281.

Division number 197 Transport

Aye: 177 MPs

No: 281 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House recognises that the problems with the transport system stem from decades of under-investment; welcomes the Government's commitment to long-term funding for transport through the Ten Year Plan; acknowledges that one of the main reasons for the continuing pressure on transport networks is that the United Kingdom is enjoying the longest period of sustained economic growth for more than 200 years; supports the Government's determination to face the tough decisions which will be required to meet these pressures and put UK transport on a sustainable footing, including runway capacity at UK airports, management of road space and re-organising Britain's railways following a failed privatisation; and welcomes the early signs of success, including the halt in the decline in bus use, the biggest replacement programme for railway rolling stock ever seen in this country, the major programme of investment in the West Coast Main Line and the 22 per cent. decline in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on the roads since the mid-1990s.