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Transport

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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Order. We now come to the next motion, which is on transport. I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.34 pm

I beg to move,

That this House believes that for the duration of the crisis in transport the country requires a full-time Secretary of State for Transport.
If there were no crisis in transport, I would be the first to argue the need for the role of the Secretary of State for Transport to be merged with another task: heading the Government's environmental policies. Transport and the environment should be inextricably linked, but linking transport with Scotland makes no sense. Given the current crisis in transport, however, we believe that we need a Secretary of State who is single-minded in seeking solutions to that crisis.

The Government's amendment simply tries to imply that there is no crisis—how wrong they are. It is no wonder that the latest opinion poll shows that 81 per cent. of the British public believe that the Government have failed to deliver on transport.

I would be the first to admit that there have been several improvements under this Government: the change of Railtrack to Network Rail, a not-for-profit public interest company; the reduction of the number of train operating franchises; and the introduction of congestion charging in London. Interestingly, the first two measures were Liberal Democrat policies and the third was a proposal from Ken Livingstone that the Government were prepared to support in any way only after it had been demonstrated to work. Despite those improvements, however, there is a real crisis in transport.

I looked today at the transport section of the BBC website. At 5.15 pm, it showed that there were 44 cancellations, delays and disruptions to services run by the 18 major train operating companies, 20 of which were to South West Trains services alone. Half the listed train operating companies reported incidents on their lines. Surely it is a bizarre irony that I criticised the Secretary of State in the Chamber last Thursday for his proposals to increase rail fares above the rate of inflation on the grounds that rail passengers were not getting the quality service that they deserved yet, that very afternoon, all trains out of Paddington had to be cancelled due to line-side disruption. When I rang national rail inquiries at 4 pm, I was given the times of trains that would supposedly run although they had been cancelled two hours earlier.

How can the hon. Gentleman say that Network Rail—or "Notwork Rail", as it should be known—is an improvement on what went before given that it costs the taxpayer much more money and is the cause of many of the increased delays about which he talks?

The right hon. Gentleman fails to take account of the fact that at the time of transfer the new body put forward its detailed business plan contained costings of intended expenditure to improve our railway lines. It is keeping more or less to that budget, so it is not overspending. It is certainly true that it proposes to spend more on our railways than the incompetent Railtrack did before. I shall argue later that the right hon. Gentleman would have made a fair point if he had said that Network Rail must do more to reduce its costs to ensure that we get better value for money from the increased expenditure. I shall return to that point in a moment.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and recall spending many happy hours considering the Bill that became the Transport Act 2000. Is it not the case that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) forgets that Railtrack was sold on a false prospectus and that we did not recognise the 18 years or more—some would argue 38 years—of underinvestment in such a key part of our transport infrastructure?

I would be the first to acknowledge that the two key reasons why we have the current problem are underinvestment for many decades, which is recognised by the Government's investment, and the botched privatisation of our railways under the previous Conservative Administration. The key issue relating to the need to change Railtrack into a not-for-profit public interest company was the fact that there was a huge conflict of interest under Railtrack between shareholder profits and passenger safety, which explains why I welcomed the move.

Given that the hon. Gentleman argues that the alleged crisis—as he puts it—goes back many decades, will he pinpoint when it started? My old dad, who is sadly no longer a train driver, would have pointed back to the time immediately after the second world war.

If I were to be absolutely honest, I would admit that I have studied the history books and can demonstrate that a previous Liberal Government at the turn of the previous century failed to invest properly in our railways. I am more than happy to acknowledge that the underinvestment is the fault of all political parties. However, the problem is that we have a crisis, whatever the cause, that this Government have failed to tackle. Having a Secretary of State who is distracted by other duties will not help to bring that crisis to an end.

In a moment.

I mentioned the crisis at Paddington last Thursday and want to pay tribute to the managing director of First Great Western, Chris Kinchin-Smith, and his staff for the excellent way in which they helped to defuse the situation caused by the incompetence of the national rail inquiries service. I also want to thank Denni Bernard, the manager of the train that I eventually caught from Reading. With her understanding and her humorous comments over the loudspeaker system she managed to defuse much of the tension.

There is a significant crisis, notwithstanding some of the improvements I mentioned. It would appear that the Secretary of State has tried to keep his head below the parapet and keep transport out of the news, but he has failed to do so. As he admitted in the House only a few weeks ago,
"if there were a policy of attempting to bury bad news on the railways, it has been singularly unsuccessful."—[Official Report, 13 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 154.]
It certainly has. The Secretary of State cannot afford to hide below the parapet. Were he to glimpse over the top of it he would see a transport system that is creaking at the seams. Congestion on our roads continues its remorseless rise. The Government have admitted that their 10-year transport plan targets for reducing congestion will not be met despite the fact that congestion is costing British businesses £20 billion a year and that there is a huge increase in the number of deaths brought forward because of the pollution from that congestion. So much for the Deputy Prime Minister's promise to cut the number of journeys travelled by car.

On the buses outside London, passenger numbers have fallen by 10 per cent. since the Labour Government came to power. In the same time, rail passengers have had to suffer train delays that have doubled and cancellations that are up by 50 per cent. No doubt the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) will give us the correct figures on that.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can correct me, but I do not recall him calling for an individual Secretary of State for Transport when we had a Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. At a time when transport has been devolved in London and Scotland and we are moving towards regional responsibilities, his position seems strange. Is it his policy, as he said, that we should have a new Secretary of State with responsibility for transport and the environment, or is he just confused?

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. At the time of the last general election, we made it clear that we would split up the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions into two Departments, one of which would predominantly have responsibility for transport and the environment. I still believe that that is the correct thing to do. Nevertheless, as I made clear in my introductory remarks, in light of the current devastating crisis, that is not the appropriate way forward in the short term. We need a Secretary of State who concentrates on that transport crisis and on putting matters right.

The transport crisis is real. As I said, train delays have increased by 100 per cent., cancellations are up by 50 per cent. and bus ridership outside London has decreased. Rail freight was increasing for a number of years, but last year it experienced the first decline since 1994. The guts of the multi-modal studies have been ripped out as the Government accepted most of the road building programme but refused to acknowledge the many sensible rail improvement measures contained within them and would not do anything about them.

As for aviation, the Government are basing their consultation on its future by using a deeply flawed document. They appear to have returned to the old failed "predict and provide" approach, using predictions that are extremely bizarre. For example, their predictions assume that after 2030 we will need to build a new Heathrow every three years, which is clearly nonsensical.

Even at that quick glance, the Secretary of State can see that there is a real crisis. If he looks in more detail, he will see that it is even worse than that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the prospect for proper development of aviation in the UK is through the regional air network? That does not necessarily require new runways. Instead, runways can be extended, such as the runway at Welshpool airport in my constituency.

My hon. Friend manages to get in a sensible constituency point, but he also makes a more general point. Surely the first step in deciding the future of aviation in this country is to ensure that we make better use of existing airports and develop regional airports. In that way, economies in the regions could grow and we would not have to rely constantly on the overheated economy in the south-east. My hon. Friend is right.

The crisis is worse, however, when it is looked at in more detail.

In terms of regional airport policy—Madam Deputy Speaker will be aware of this—does the hon. Gentleman support the expansion of Wolverhampton business airport at Halfpenny Green?

The hon. Gentleman must not tempt me too far. Unlike the Home Secretary, I wish to discuss the final document that we will submit to the Government with my colleagues before we make its details public. If he can wait just 48 hours, we should have an answer then.

If we look in more depth at the railways, we see not only problems with delays and cancellations, but that we have the most expensive railway in Europe. Fares here are four times more expensive than they are in Italy and seven times more ex pensive than Czech fares. As we heard only last Thursday, fares are to rise even further. As we learned over the weekend, we also have some of the slowest trains, slower even than trains in Morocco, China and even Iran.

Does my hon. Friend agree—I am sure he will—that airports in the south-east are so overcrowded and overburdened because our railways journeys are so appalling, so expensive and so slow? That is the key to better transport in this country.

I agree that rail substitution for some flights is an important part of the solution, but we also need to consider how we ensure that aviation bears the full costs of the industry. At the moment, it gets huge tax subsidies, which are greatly detrimental to the environment.

The railways are in a deep crisis. It is difficult to get information on how they are progressing. I recently wanted to know what criteria were used by the Strategic Rail Authority in deciding which train operating company should be awarded a franchise. The answer we got was remarkably unclear and not comprehensive. In a parliamentary written answer, we were simply told that the SRA uses "a variety of criteria" for assessing which companies are short-listed for passenger franchises. In other words, decisions are made but we are not told how. The Secretary of State has to admit that there is a real crisis in the railways and other modes of transport.

Let us consider what the Government say in their amendment. As I suggested, they seem to imply that there is no crisis. It is that old phrase, "Crisis. What crisis?" I hope that the House thinks about the words in the amendment. It tells us that we should note
"the additional pressures which economic growth since 1997 is putting on the transport networks".
That is a relatively new excuse by the Government. Yet if hon. Members look at the 10-year transport plan, they will see that economic growth is included in the plan. Since then, the Chancellor has told us that the figures for economic growth were wrong and that they have declined, so the rate of growth is less than predicted.

That excuse is therefore not nearly as good as it used to be. The Government amendment says that we should welcome
"the Government's continuing commitment to investment of £180 billion through the Ten Year Transport Plan".
However, if that sum was accounted for properly, we would discover that at current prices £180 billion is worth about £158 billion, much of which is used for public resource expenditure, so there is only £103 billion for new investment, of which nearly half—£48 billion—comes from the private sector—[Interruption.] I will deal with what is wrong with that in second.

Approximately £55 billion is committed to public investment. If we make a comparison between the six years of the Labour Government and the last six years of the Conservative Government, the present Government's own figures demonstrate that the Labour Government are spending less on public transport than the Conservatives did, even though they had cut expenditure on public transport significantly.

The Government amendment says that we should welcome the Government's
"policies of balanced improvements to all modes of transport consistent with wider environmental objectives".
Only recently, the Select Committee on Transport produced a report on multi-modal studies that says that there are many areas where environmental and sustainability criteria are lacking. It says:
"There are still no official estimates for the cost of congestion nor its impact on economic growth; current policies will fail to provide sufficient cuts in climate change emissions … The Department has already taken decisions on the outcome of the first eight multi-modal studies yet the impact of climate change has not been mentioned."
The Government's own figures on environmental pollution make the position very clear. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are set to continue to rise 16 per cent. on 2000 levels by 2010 and 30 per cent. by 2020. Again, that is hardly something that we should welcome.

The Government amendment says that we should recognise the Government's
"achievements in … improved rail rolling stock"
The reality, as we warned, is that because of the failure to address the problem of energy supply south of the Thames, 1,000 new carriages are set to be mothballed in a military base. The slam-door replacement programme will simply not be delivered on time.

The Government amendment says that we should welcome
"falling numbers of road accidents".
Only recently, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) said that
"the number of casualties on rural roads is disproportionately high"—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 11 March 2003; c. 602.]
The Government, however, have failed to meet their commitment to reduce drink-drive limits.

The Government amendment also urges us to recognise the Government's achievements in "increased bus patronage", but outside London, that patronage has fallen by 10 per cent. since they came to power. There is therefore very little in the amendment worth recognising. It is riddled with inaccuracies and exaggerations and is sadly typical of the spin to which we have grown accustomed.

As the Secretary of State knows, the Liberal Democrats, unlike the Conservatives, have a detailed transport policy. He has a copy, so he knows that we have policies on each of the areas that I have just mentioned.

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he is referring to his local or national transport policy, and would he comment on recent remarks by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who said

"We can all modify our opinions according to local circumstances"?—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 13 May 2003; c. 57.]
Would he confirm that such a position has no place in the creation of transport policy by his party or any other responsible party?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the words of wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton). Without seeing that remark in context—I understand that it did not even relate to transport—it is beyond my pay grade to comment on it.

A number of things could be done to resolve the current crisis, and the Secretary of State needs to give all his energies to that. It is crucial that we do what he has been saying we should do for a long time, although we have not yet seen any real action. We should start to address the problem of costs, particularly on our railways. There is no doubt whatsoever that those costs are over the top. There are a variety of reasons for that, including levels of regulation, safety issues and far too many contractors and sub-contractors doing the work and seeking a profit. However, there is an urgent need to take action to reduce costs. I welcome the fact that Network Rail has restated its commitment to that goal today, and said that it seeks to reduce the cost of renewal and repair by 20 per cent. over the next three years. However, if that can be done over a mere three years, it demonstrates that costs have been far too high, so we have not been getting value for money. I am delighted that Network Rail is at long last following another Liberal Democrat policy in the policy document of which the Secretary of State has a copy by bringing at least some repair and renewal work in-house. I am delighted that that work is starting in the Reading area today, and I hope that there is going to be far more.

However, there is one other area of costs that the Secretary of State has not mentioned, but which requires urgent action. Before we start to put up rail fares, surely we ought to ensure that we collect all the rail fares that are due. Recent research demonstrates that 10 to 15 per cent. of rail fares are not collected. There is also a conflict in bus travel where, as I said, ridership has gone down. On the one hand, the Transport Act 2000, to which the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) referred, allows for the establishment of quality contracts between a group of bus companies and their local authority. On the other, however, competition legislation prevents that. The time surely has come to resolve that conflict. I would go even further— the time has come for re-regulation of our buses.

There should also be much more innovation in the way in which we carry out funding of transport. For example, we should allow local authorities to raise bonds for local public transport improvements against the likely income streams from congestion charging. We could go even further and develop the model of land value taxation that has been proposed for the long-awaited Crossrail. The move to regionalisation has been mentioned, and the time has come to look at the way in which we could strengthen transport in the regions, building on the excellent work of regional transport authorities. Regional authorities should operate along the lines of the German Verbund scheme and should have the opportunity to commission public transport, whether bus, train or light transit, as the Strategic Rail Authority currently does for trains.

We need to do much more to promote what the trade calls "soft measures." We should provide more support for car clubs, green travel plans prepared by local businesses, and small measures on our railways, such as loop lines and passing lines, so that high-speed trains are not held up by slower freight trains and local trains. Much more action should be taken to resolve the scourge of congestion in the morning created by the school run.

My hon. Friend mentioned passing points, but he will be aware that Railtrack pulled out a lot of track for passing points, and has closed a lot of platforms. Passing points that were in existence 10 or 15 years ago are no longer there, but it would be simple to put them back in as a priority.

I am not sure that it would be as simple as my hon. Friend suggests, but it would make a great deal of sense to develop far more smaller-scale measures, which were recently cut by the programme of the SRA and Network Rail. In my own constituency, we have been waiting years for a simple solution to the problem of a large gap between track and train at Freshford station. That has recently been cut, despite many promises to solve the problem. We have proposed simpler and cheaper solutions, but even those have been rejected.

There are many soft measures that could be taken. On at least two issues the House must come together, despite the criticisms that we might make. First, we should persuade the Secretary of State that his review of the 10-year transport plan must lead to a radical overhaul of it. The current plan is already off the rails because targets have been missed or dropped, priorities have been changed and the public has lost confidence. Secondly, we need to work together to help the Secretary of State make his case to the Chancellor for the 2004 spending review, so that transport get its fair share of the expenditure that will be announced at that time.

A great deal more needs to be done to create the safe, reliable and affordable public transport system that the country deserves. Much could be done to tackle the present transport crisis, but it requires a full-time Secretary of State. That is why I commend the motion to the House.

8.1 pm

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

"recognises the importance of transport infrastructure to continued growth and prosperity; welcomes the Government's commitment to a sustained improvement in the transport system; acknowledges that it inherited a legacy of decades of under-investment which continues to have severe adverse consequences for transport performance; notes the additional pressures which economic growth since 1997 is putting on the transport networks; welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to investment of £180 billion through the Ten Year Transport Plan and to its policies of balanced improvements to all modes of transport consistent with wider environmental objectives; recognises achievements already evident in, for example, improved rail rolling stock, falling numbers of road accidents and increased bus patronage; and believes that the Government has put the appropriate ministerial arrangements in place for further improvement."
Most of us were intrigued by the way in which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) started his speech. He was at pains to say that the Scotland Office ought to go, but not yet. That was an example of the Liberal "On the one hand … on the other". I wondered for a moment why he had clone that, then I remembered that The Times of 2 December last year reported that one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, who is described in that paper as
"the party's highly regarded deputy economics spokesman",
had been given the job of finding about £2 billion worth of spending cuts. I shall come back to that in a moment. It seems that the char, was to look at
"symbolic moves such as abolishing the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Scottish and the Welsh Offices."
So, the hon. Gentleman's party policy is to get rid of the Scotland Office. We are not abolishing it—the Scotland Office is still there. The hon. Gentleman wants to abolish it completely, but not yet. How typically Liberal.

I will not give way at present, as I want to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bath.

In that press report, the hon. Gentleman's colleague said that he had been
"given the job of finding about £2 billion worth of spending cuts."
That is quite a lot of money, and the prospect is even more remarkable given the spending commitments that the hon. Gentleman entered into during his speech.

I see in The Times today that the Liberals are committed to getting rid of not just three but nine,Government Departments, so presumably there will be several Secretaries of State with several jobs. In addition, according to their brilliant economic spokesman, the Liberals have been given a brief to change the party's image as a spendthrift, high-tax party. It is interesting that in the same report, a party source is quoted as saying:
"To be credible it cannot be painless."
I was reminded of a letter that came into our possession, sent by the self-styled Liberal shadow Chancellor to all members of the Liberal party. This is what he wrote on 8 January this year:
"We have already agreed at Shadow Cabinet to start from the premise that as the Government are now putting in vast real-terms expenditure increases … simply proposing further spending and tax rises at this stage in the Parliament is unrealistic."
At about the same time as the Liberals' Treasury spokesman said that simply proposing further spending and tax rises at this stage was unrealistic, their transport spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath, issued a press release stating:
"The Chancellor cannot afford to wait for the next spending round in 2004 before making more money available for our railways."
It is astonishing that a party source for the Liberals can say—I quote again:
"To be credible it cannot be painless."
What the hon. Member for Bath said is interesting, but credible it is not.

I thank the Secretary of State for putting it on the record that the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they wish to reduce bureaucracy and waste in central Government to save money, that they want to ensure that we get better value for money, and that they have fully costed programmes. If the right hon. Gentleman read out the rest of that press release, it would show that all that money would come from existing Government spending proposals.

The hon. Gentleman will find that trying to fund everything from savings on bureaucracy simply does not work. In the course of his speech, he said that we had to control costs and he announced spending commitment after spending commitment. He was guilty of gross financial incontinence. It is unbelievable how the Liberals can pretend to be credible when their spokesmen say that they would spend more, but at the same time they are interested in controlling costs.

I remind the Liberals that at the same time as issuing statements about being financially responsible, the Liberal shadow Chancellor said that any spending pledge made by the Liberals had to meet five tests. First, it had to represent value for money. Who would quarrel with that? Secondly, the pledge had to be funded within current budgets. Yet here the hon. Gentleman was saying that rail fares should not go up—that is a spending commitment. He then said that he wanted some railway expenditure financed by bonds. Let me tell him that bonds also have to be financed. According to the third test, the proposal had to be consistent with consumer choice—very nice. Fourthly, it had to represent a priority for scarce resources. There is no evidence that that has focused the hon. Gentleman's mind. Fifthly, the Liberals would have to decide whether any spending pledge could not be better delivered by the private sector.

That is the party that criticised us for the public-private partnership for London Underground. It says that it is against the private finance initiative in many parts of the country, despite the fact that it is bringing in a lot of new projects for transport, health and education. The hon. Gentleman's problem is that his policy lacks credibility, it is opportunistic and it shows no evidence that the Liberals have woken up to the fact that if they offer to spend money, they first have to get the money. Throughout the time of this Government, from 1997 onwards, the Liberals opposed the very policies that made it possible for us to allocate so much money for transport spending in the 10-year period.

With reference to spending commitments by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), does my right hon. Friend find it surprising that in his intervention the hon. Gentleman spoke about cutting bureaucracy, yet the only example of cutting regulation that he gave in his speech referred to safety on the railways? I find that extraordinary. Furthermore, it seems that the whole of the Liberal Democrats' transport plan is to be funded by cutting safety on the railways.

One of the great pleasures of being a Liberal spokesman, I suppose, is that it must be within the hon. Gentleman's contemplation that at no time in the foreseeable future is he ever likely to have to take responsibility for decisions. It must be a great comfort.

I shall give another example of a curious position that the Liberals are adopting. When the hon. Member for Bath speaks about roads and the last series of multi-modal studies, he gives the distinct impression that the Liberals would not build any roads at all. I remember that just before Christmas I announced that I was not prepared to sanction a proposal to build a new off-line A556 upgraded to motorway standard in Cheshire because it would go through greenfield areas and would be environmentally damaging. I was surprised, as I am sure the House will be, that at a recent meeting of councils in the Greater Manchester area, they all agreed that there was an alternative, except for one council—Liberal-controlled Stockport, which wanted the A556 built off-line from the major roads. That shows—sadly, the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) is no longer with us—that what the Liberals say nationally and what they say locally is very different.

May I tell the Secretary of State, if he does not know, that there is a proposal for a major environmentally destructive dual carriageway throughout my constituency? I can assure him that I shall not support that proposal, and urge him not to build it.

We shall see. I know about the proposal to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As I have said on a number of occasions, I hope to be able to come before the House fairly shortly to deal not only with that study, but with a number of others.

When we look at transport, it is necessary to have a strong dose of realism. The hon. Member for Bath was good enough to say that what had happened was all the fault of Gladstone's Administration and that that was when the rot started. I am sure that we could look for transport deficiencies back to the time when the wheel was invented, but there is no doubt that one of the pressures on the transport system in this country—this is not a party political point, as Labour Governments have been guilty of the same thing—is that successive Governments were guilty of failing to maintain steady investment year on year, decade after decade. For example, that is why the west coast main line, which is one of the main arterial routes in our railway system, is now having to be upgraded and replaced, in many cases at huge cost. If it had been upgraded and improved regularly, year on year, the cost would easily have been accommodated as, like anyone else with a transport asset, we would have been looking after the line properly. The line was last upgraded in the 1960s and the investment is starting to go in only now.

On Friday I was in Stockport, where the actions of the Liberal Democrat council that I mentioned came to my attention. I visited a brand new signalling centre—a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled facility that will allow more capacity on the line and enable trains to be carried more safely. It can also detect problems on the line without somebody having to go out and check it; everything will be reported. That is an example of the fact that when money is spent, improvements begin to occur.

Of course, the condition not only of our railway but of our roads was allowed to deteriorate unacceptably. At the same time, the economy has continued to grow. The hon. Member for Bath asked how more pressures on the transport system could be a problem. Some 1.5 million more people are in work, although the Liberal Democrats opposed the new deal, which is one of the ways in which we have been getting more people into work. I must be accurate: they were in favour of the new deal, but against providing the money to pay for it. At that time, they were exercising severe financial restraint, as they did not want to upset the privatised utilities, I seem to recall. None the less, 1.5 million more people are in work, and they are better off and have more reasons to travel.

When we consider that three quarters of adults in this country drive, that rail use has increased by about a fifth since 1997—as I told the House the other day, more people are being carried on the railways now than at any time since nationalisation—and that half the population flew at least once last year, we can see that the pressures on the transport system are very clear. That is why we need to make up for lost time as a result of lack of investment and why we are spending about £250 million a week—an increase of some 65 per cent. in the past three years—on improving transport. The hon.

Gentleman said that we were not spending enough, but we are spending 45 per cent. more in real terms than was spent in the previous decade.

We are managing the problems that we face now to get more out of our transport infrastructure, making the long-term improvements that we need on road and rail and planning ahead for the future—something about which the hon. Gentleman had nothing to say, which is curious, as I thought that the Liberals had something to say in that area at least.

Does my right hon. Friend find it surprising that, during this period of tremendous crisis in transport, a new bypass has been built in my constituency that was first mooted 27 years ago, as well as two brand new roundabouts that were mooted 30 years ago and have been built for safety reasons? Does he not find that surprising?

One of the frustrations is that it takes a long time to build anything in this country. For example, I have made it clear that I think we need to replace and improve many of the motorways that were built 30 or 40 years ago. Two things hold up the development of transport infrastructure—one of them is planning. To some extent, we have to live with that, as people must be entitled to have their say in any planning inquiry. However, what has happened to successive Governments is that they make an announcement, there is a planning inquiry which takes several years, and by the time the inquiry is finished, there is no money to build the project as something has changed in the meantime. My hon. Friend is right that, if we are to build a transport system that will enable our economy to continue to grow, we need to invest in both road and rail. That is why I announced last year improvements to certain main arterial routes, why we announced a programme to tackle bottlenecks at more than 100 junctions and why 64 major road schemes are currently under way.

Similarly, I must deal with the point that the hon. Member for Bath made about congestion. What I have said about congestion is that I think that it will take longer to meet the targets than was originally thought, but let us put the issue in perspective. If we had done nothing and stuck to existing policies, congestion on our trunk roads would have increased by almost 60 per cent. As it is, it will increase by between 1 and 15 per cent. That is not the reduction for which we had hoped, but it shows that a difference can be made.

The hon. Gentleman said that we had ripped the heart out of the multi-modal studies. I wondered whether he was complaining about my decision that it was not a good idea to build a motorway through the Black Down hills. Perhaps that is one of the proposals that he would like to reinstate. At the same time as we are announcing the road building that is necessary, we are spending £9 billion on the west coast main line. The hon. Gentleman seems to be in the business of saying that, because the two policies were not announced on the same day, we cannot be carrying them both out. The truth is that we are investing in both.

For example, in the 1990s, British Rail reckoned that about 500 miles of track needed to be replaced or renewed each year. Just before privatisation, investment started to dry up under the Tories and that figure dropped to 300 miles. During privatisation, it was about 200 miles; indeed, I recollect that it was less in one year. This year, Network Rail is replacing more than 740 miles of track. We are spending £73 million a week and bringing in a similar sum from the private sector. By 2005, we will be spending double what we spent in 2001. That money is going into improving infrastructure such as the west coast main line, which will cut journey times and improve reliability.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned rolling stock. He is right that we should not be in a position in which rolling stock that was trundling around southern England when I was a boy and was built in the 1950s is still being used. It should have been replaced by now, but the Government will replace almost 40 per cent. of trains on British railway lines in a period of five years. That is a huge amount of investment; I think that it is the biggest investment that anyone has ever seen.

Not only is money going into the trains, but more train services are running daily than in 1996, 25 per cent. more freight is carried by rail and the new channel tunnel rail link—the first ever high-speed link in this country and the first major railway to be built for 100 years—will open at the end of the year. Yes, there is an awful lot more to do, but those are all examples showing that we are making progress. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have got to deal with improving reliability and getting up-to-date information. The point that he makes about the rail inquiry service was perfectly well made and we need to do far better on it. However, I appreciate his tribute to staff at Paddington. As he knows, the delays were caused for non-railway purposes. Given the circumstances, the staff did extremely well.

The Secretary of State will know that the proposal to which he referred earlier is not to build a motorway from Honiton to Ilminster—a route that goes through my constituency—but to dual an existing single carriageway road. The alternative, proposal that he is advancing, which would route traffic via Ilminster and the M5 at Taunton, would add more petrol to the fossil fuel bill, as people will travel that much further if it is implemented. The proposal had been the subject of a public inquiry and was ready to go out to tender when this Government came to office in 1997. It is supported unanimously by local residents and the wider economic community in the south-west. I take this opportunity to urge him seriously to reconsider that proposal and to dual that piece of road.

I am surprised that, if the proposal was so important and so urgent, the Tory Government did not build the road. The hon. Lady was a Minister in that Government for many years. For reasons that I have given, we are looking at alternatives, as we must think long and hard before building roads about whether we are absolutely sure that they are justified.

On local transport, I should like to make one point about buses. The long-term decline in bus use has now been reversed, and not only in London. Two conditions are necessary. First, a council is needed that is prepared to put in place measures such as bus lanes and sometimes take difficult decisions to allow buses to run effectively. Secondly, there is a need for a bus company that is committed to making improvements. For example, Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Edinburgh, Leeds and Bradford have councils that are encouraging bus use and bus operators that are prepared to do more as well.

Hon. Members often hanker after the re-regulation of buses. I understand that many parts of the system need to be improved, but it is a mistake for us to think that the time of regulated buses was a golden age—it most certainly was not.

The Liberal spokesman said four times that bus numbers have not increased outside London, but there has been a 10 per cent. increase in Edinburgh. I agree with him, however, that re-regulation is required for rural areas. That is a major problem for Labour-controlled, as well as Conservative, areas.

In relation to rural buses serving small towns and villages, of which there are many in my hon. Friend's constituency, in some cases scheduled bus services can provide a good service. There are several examples of that, although probably not that many in Midlothian, where there are very small communities and putting on an extra service of two or three buses a day is not the answer. That is why I would like more dedicated demand buses that people can phone up for. Those services can make a big difference. I saw one in Cornwall at the end of last year, and it was a far more realistic option. Many hon. Friends have told me that there are too many instances of buses carting fresh air around the country, and it would be better to spend that money more effectively.

I was hoping to say something a little later about dial-a-ride services. One of the problems that is being faced across the country is that those schemes are reaching the end of their three-year period of funding from the Countryside Agency and cannot get any further funding. The Countryside Agency will fund only new, innovative schemes, not the existing schemes that are working. Can the Secretary of the State address that problem?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. There have been many examples of pump priming, whereby money goes in to run a service for, say, three years. In most cases, the only way in which to ensure that such services last in the long term is if the local authority is willing to take them on and fund them properly. That is a far better option. We shall want to keep the situation under review.

I intended not quite to insult the hon. Gentleman, but to take up something that he said, towards the end of my speech. He can intervene then.

Having talked about money and investment, I want to mention an important point about the management of the system. I have said many times that we need both money and management. On the railways, although performance is improving it needs to improve much more. It is interesting that the performance of franchises in some parts of the country is up, at more than 90 per cent., yet others—such as the Virgin cross-country services—are down at about 67 per cent. That is why, as I said the other day—I make no bones about it—the Strategic Rail Authority was right to take decisions that resulted in a comparatively small number of services being taken out. It is early days yet, but reliability is increasing. Even after taking those services out, there are more cross-country services every day than there were a year ago.

I should mention road management, as I issued a written statement on that on Friday. The Highways Agency is changing its role to provide far better day-to-day management of the motorway system, with 24-hour motorway patrols. That is an example of how we can better manage matters and get more capacity from what we have.

I want to say a few words about airports. Again, the Liberals' position is full of contradictions. As I understand it, they are against any more expansion of airports anywhere and want to put up fares. Yet when it comes to their own local airports—the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has been trying to leap to his feet—it is a different kettle of fish altogether. That shows that if a party aspires to government—no wonder the hon. Gentleman's leader walked out, his head hung in shame—it is necessary to have a consistency of approach nationally, as well as locally.

My moment of glory has come. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be familiar with the consistency with which Liberal Democrats have argued the case for regional transport. In a place like Wales, aviation is absolutely vital. Surely he can confirm—just as the presumed Secretary of State for Wales agrees with my comments about the need for a hub-and-spoke approach to a regional air network for Wales—that that requires serious funding as well as strategic support from the Government.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was referring to Welshpool, and I was wondering what hub-and-spoke operation he proposes to build there. I am quite clear that air transport is an integral part of our transport system. Last year, half the population flew at least once. Low-cost airlines have grown from about 7 million to 34 million passengers. Of course, we have to plan ahead for the next 20 or 30 years. The hon. Gentleman is right at least to this extent: we have to plan in a way that is consistent with our environmental obligations. The point that I was making is that whatever policy a party has, it is a good idea if it is the same nationally as it is locally. One cannot have a national policy against air travel and a local policy of building an airport wherever possible.

I have given way to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. I am conscious of the fact that it is his party's Supply day, however, and I shall out of courtesy give way to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett).

The right hon. Gentleman is thinking about the long-term future—20 or 30 years ahead—and the air transportation consultation document is coming to its conclusion soon. However, rail substitution is important. Is he concerned about the proposed scaling down of the Waverley station development in his constituency?

It is common ground that Waverley station needs to be improved. There is a slight complication, because in March the Scottish Executive announced plans for a major rail interchange at Edinburgh airport. If that were to be built, it would have implications for the scale of what is necessary at Waverley. The other factor is that the costs at Waverley must be manageable. I saw a report in today's edition of The Herald that quoted absolutely astronomical costs—twice the cost of building the Scottish Parliament, which is saying something. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would say, we need to have a prudent look at what is required. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that since Waverley is, at least for the time being, in my constituency, I take a keen interest in it.

On rail substitution, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I mentioned the west coast main line. When that is completed, it will be possible to travel by train from Manchester to London in about two hours. That is a much more attractive deal than going out to Manchester airport, flying down to Heathrow, then coming into London. The Glasgow journey will be about four and a quarter hours. The Edinburgh journey, once two or three big improvements have been done, will he very competitive, in time terms, with what is currently on offer. Both Virgin and GNER are offering attractive deals: we want to encourage that.

Even having done all that, there comes a point where it is still necessary to plan for the future. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is sadly no longer with us, having asked the question that was required of her, which was about substitution. She will know that many of her constituents travel a wee bit further afield than Manchester and Edinburgh. When the hon. Member for Bath agreed with her proposition that we should have rail alternatives, I was intrigued as to which Liberal trains would run to New York or Singapore. Perhaps we would have the 8.22 to Auckland. The hon. Gentleman is certainly an ambitious politician: his transport policy knows no bounds.

Investment in transport has doubled since the last Tory Government, even after inflation, and railway investment is trebling. We are managing the railway network far more effectively than we have done in the past, although we clearly have a lot more to do. We are building additional capacity where it is needed, and the £180 billion over a 10-year period will make a significant difference. We are also planning for what is needed in the decades to come, although that is probably a matter for another debate. The Liberal motion has no merit whatsoever. It is opportunistic and full of political humbug, and it deserves to be thrown out.

8.29 pm

Let me begin by complimenting the hon. M ember for Bath (Mr. Foster) on the clarity, simplicity, brevity and common sense of his motion. I fear that I can not attach quite such complimentary terms to every aspect of his speech, but I shall certainly invite my colleagues to support his motion in the Division Lobby later tonight. His observation that the creation of Network Rail was Liberal Democrat policy was interesting—as was his criticism of the Government for not having created it earlier—given that Network Rail is currently £12 billion over budget for the period up to 2006. Presumably he thinks that we should have created it earlier and gone even more over budget. We shall see. I was able to agree with some of the things that he said, and I shall return to them later.

First, I want to consider the speech that the Secretary of State has just made. He said three things that exhibited robust common sense, if I may say so. First, I totally agree that it is wrong to pretend that there was a golden age for buses prior to deregulation. I also agree that it makes no sense for any of us to campaign, either locally or nationally, for buses to go on "carting fresh air around the country", as he put it. He was also right to pay tribute to the success of the dial-a-ride schemes, and to say that they must play an important part in future transport strategy.

The second aspect of his speech that I thought entirely fair and which showed robust common sense was his reference to the fact that the difficulties that the nation's transport is facing clearly did not begin when he became Transport Secretary last year, or when this Government took office in 1997. We are dealing with problems that were built up over many decades and which will no doubt take a considerable number of years to solve. I am not sure that he is right to say that the Liberals were blaming these problems on Gladstone. If my history is right, and they were saying that the problems started at the turn of the last century, they were probably blaming Messrs Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. Either way, we are talking about fairly long-term damage.

The third thing that the Secretary of State said with which I am happy to agree was that we need to consider, on a non-partisan basis, why it takes so long for any major transport project to be brought to fruition in this country. It is notable that things take a great deal longer here than in many other European countries. The Secretary of State correctly identified a number of the factors that lie behind that, but it is none the less a serious problem for the long-term business competitiveness of our nation, and we need to think seriously about how to address it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) pointed out earlier that there was a contrast between some public sector projects and private sector projects. He said that supermarkets were often put up in six months or so but, of course, transport projects are often rather larger than that. None the less, there are perhaps lessons to be learned from how both overseas companies and British companies are able to 'proceed more swiftly elsewhere than is sometimes the case in the UK.

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's very valid international comparisons. In the context of the German transport infrastructure— particularly the German railway industry—does he find it interesting that the chairman and the president of Deutsche Bahn recently came to this country to see how we were proceeding with partnerships in relation to many of the proposals mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many lessons to be learned from more than one direction in Europe. He is quite right to say that those aspects of the structure of the railways that were set up in the mid-1990s that do not always attract pleasurable comment from the Labour Benches are themselves sometimes subject to the interest of our European partners, many of whom are proceeding down the same routes, partly of their own volition and partly because of European directives. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: we can learn lessons from our European partners, and they can learn lessons from us. Such exchanges are fruitful and I am sure that, because of the hon. Gentleman's extremely long-standing and deep knowledge of railways, he is likely to continue to contribute to them. I very much welcome that.

I promise not to interfere any further in the debate, but would the hon. Gentleman accept that we do not get many visitors coming to see some of the other forms of transport funding in this country? For example, dial-a-ride might be a great scheme, and we all agree with it, but is he aware that the Newtown dial-a-ride scheme in mid-Wales has had to resort to getting 1,000 people to dress up as Santa Claus and run round the town, simply to maintain its funding stream? That is because, once the pump-priming has gone, the dial-a-ride schemes are often simply left to decline.

I have to confess that, when the hon. Gentleman rose to his feet, I thought that he was going to say that the problem was that not enough people were coming to Welshpool airport. None the less, I take his general point and I am sure that there are photographs of him in appropriate garb as one of the 1,000 Santa Clauses.

The hon. Gentleman indicates that that is the case.

The Secretary of State used a couple of intriguing phrases. He referred, as he has on many occasions and as Labour Members frequently do, to the welcome news—it is undoubtedly welcome—that there are 1.5 million more jobs in the UK economy than there were in 1997. That fact, which is frequently advanced as almost the entire explanation for why there are transport difficulties, is worth putting into context. The number of jobs has increased by 5 per cent. in the past six years. It can hardly be advanced as the reason for an increase of between 50 to 250 per cent. in congestion on our motorways. Five per cent. does not translate into 250 per cent. Other things are going on, or rather not going on, at the same time.

The Secretary of State used another intriguing phrase when he said—I think that I am quoting him correctly—that the Government were delivering a huge increase in the amount of rolling stock. It is true that the Government, through the taxpayer, are making a significant financial contribution to much of that new rolling stock. However, it is also true that it is the privatised train operating companies that are purchasing the rolling stock.

It is no coincidence—some Labour Members may remember that Marxist old phrase, so I will deploy it for them—that, in the Secretary of State's own phrase, more passengers are travelling on our trains now than at any time since nationalisation: more are travelling than in any nationalised year. A privatised train operating company system has returned passenger usage to levels not seen since before we had a nationalised British Rail. It is no coincidence either that we have seen the largest increase in orders for new rolling stock for at least half a century. That is because of the very arrangements that the Labour party is so accustomed to criticising.

It is important when assessing the wording of the motion to deal with the issue of whether there is any confusion in the wider world both about transport policy and about the role of the Secretary of State for Transport. In that context, I was intrigued, as I am sure you were, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by the comments at the end of last week of Mr. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who said:
"Business is extremely puzzled by the Government's vision for the railways. What is the system to be used for?"
He went on:
"There seems to be no coherence to proposals that come from the Government and we call on the Secretary of State to spell out to business the Government's transport strategy."
That intriguing comment from a senior figure in British business shows that there is serious confusion about the Government's transport strategy. I will return to that, but first let us deal with the heart of the motion: whether there is any confusion over the role of the Secretary of State himself.

First, I went to the various Government websites. The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that, on the No. 10 website, his biography appears and he is correctly identified as Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland, so that is terrific. The problem is that, on the Department for Transport website, exactly the same biography appears, word for word, but there is no mention of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is also Secretary of State for Scotland.

An article that was written for the Sunday Herald by its respected Westminster editor, James Cusick, explains some of the background to how the right hon. Gentleman ended up having two Secretary of Stateships. Apparently, it all transpired because the Prime Minister rang Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, at around 2.45 on the afternoon of the reshuffle to tell him that the Scotland Office was to be abolished. He was somewhat stunned when the First Minister said that there had to be a Scot inside the Cabinet with the specific role of speaking for Scotland because of specific legislative proposals.

"Only hours later did it emerge that Alistair Darling would retain the title of Scottish Secretary alongside his substantial transport secretary portfolio."
But the Secretary of State has had people speaking on his behalf, just to explain how it was possible for him to do two roles:
"A source close to Darling insisted that his transport job would 'barely be dented' by his Scottish role. She added: 'Alistair accepted this job bemuse he knew it could be easily accommodated. He has already contacted Helen Liddell, asked what is top of her in-tray and discovered it is a job he can manage."'
That is tremendous. 'That explains everything: it is a job that he can manage and it will not take up too much of his time.

Then, of course, the Prime Minister's official spokesman got in on the act. Some of us will remember the famous briefing in which he admitted under questioning that everything was "a little hazy", but before he made that comment he went into a little more detail. The Secretary of State will doubtless be delighted to know that the official spokesman was pressed quite hard on his roles. Apparently, he said that he
"couldn't give a precise breakdown of Alistair Darling's schedule and it would be wrong to do so",
but that it would be possible to combine both roles. Transport
"was obviously a very important issue and nobody was pretending otherwise, but it was important to remember that the Transport job has since 1997 been linked with other portfolios, so it was not unprecedented."
Well, that is precisely what some of us are worried about. Indeed, the history of this Government since 1997 shows that in all bar the last 12 months, the transport role has been linked with other roles. That is one reason why transport is, in the immortal words of the Prime Minister, probably the worst of our public services.

In a moment. First under the Deputy Prime Minister and then under the Secretary of State's predecessor, who has now resigned from the Government, transport has been spatchcocked in with other responsibilities and therefore downgraded and diminished in its status, unfortunately. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we shall now hear from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) why transport can afford to be downgraded in this way.

I should like the hon. Gentleman to say what his transport policies are, rather than simply recounting tittle-tattle from the Corridors. Has he any policies, or not?

I get the sense that the hon. Gentleman is a little defensive about the running of his Government and the clarity of the decision making emerging from No. 10. [Interruption.] I believe that I am speaking very closely to the motion, and through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Chair will doubtless supervise these matters, as it always does.

The key point is that many other people were very critical of the attempt to put the two jobs together. If the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) does not want to take my word for it, perhaps he will take that of his colleague, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), who said:
"The wheels came off the wagon … but the wagon kept rolling along, and now we have an absolute shambles."
Similarly, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) said that the plan had been worked out
"on the back of an envelope."
And the former energy Minister, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson said that the way in which the new arrangements were announced was
"a bit of a shambles".
But the good news is that none of that matters much, because Lord Falconer has addressed this issue. In his magisterial interview on "Breakfast with Frost", he said:
"You can make it sound fraught with difficulties, but it was something that very many people were calling for".
I cannot remember anybody calling for the job of Transport Secretary to be made a part-time one. However, the official line from the Secretary of State's friends—perhaps including his special adviser—was that he had checked in advance and discovered that being Scottish Secretary was not a very big job, so there was no problem there; this was not something that he needed to worry about.

It is therefore interesting to note that when the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, he said:
"I am pretty clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland has a very important job still to play".
He continued by saying that if things go wrong, he can be held to account in the House of Commons. That was all very admirable. He talked about the almost 100 civil servants in the Scotland Office who will be working directly for him and advising him. He was asked the following question:
"How on earth are you going to find time for doing Scottish work at all",
given his onerous transport responsibilities? He replied:
"I get up earlier in the morning and I go to bed later at night."
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman works extremely hard and extremely conscientiously, and as a result of this development he is probably working even harder and even more conscientiously. But one has to ask whether it is sensible for decisions of such importance to be taken in this way. Is this really that desirable an arrangement?

We also heard from the Secretary of State for Transport that, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Scotland, he would be meeting Scottish Executive Ministers "weekly". That sounds a rather time-consuming matter. As Secretary of State for Scotland he is taking over an allocation of 13 Cabinet Committee memberships—not exactly a de minimis role. When challenged, he said—and it puts matters into perspective—that some Cabinet Committees were more important than others. That may be true, but implies a downgrading even of Cabinet Committee memberships as not that important.

We heard that the Secretary of State would continue to have a separate Scottish Question Time. He also said, and it is particularly intriguing, that he would continue to be ultimately responsible for the implementation of the report of the boundary commission for Scotland—he rightly said that he had a personal interest in that matter. That, too, will be a time-consuming role. On the question of fishing he said:
"I will be extremely engaged in the thing".
How can the Secretary of State be extremely engaged in fishing policy, take decisions about the boundaries of Members of Parliament with constituencies north of the border, represent Scotland in the Cabinet, represent Scotland in the House and hold key and important discussions with the Chancellor about funding north of the border without reducing the amount of time available to him to perform and pay attention to his primary job as Secretary of State for Transport? It is quite clear that he cannot do both jobs adequately, which is precisely why we are worried.

The hon. Gentleman is speaking in favour of the Liberal Democrat motion, which refers to "the crisis in transport", so will he provide the House with five examples of transport crisis in this country and five solutions advanced by his party to deal with them?

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, if I were in full flow, I could confine myself to only five examples of transport crisis? How about a 250 per cent. increase in congestion on some motorways and the fact that trains are running later under Network Rail than under Railtrack and during the post-Hatfield arrangements? How about the fact that the Government's multi-modal studies have become an exercise in deferring and avoiding decisions rather than taking them? How about the fact that the British motorist faces the highest motoring taxes in the western world and receives in return the least amount of investment in roads spent by any major European Government? How about the fact that we have moved from a system in which decreasing public subsidy paid for more trains, to one in which greater public subsidy pays for fewer trains? There are five, just to start with, and there are many more.

I shall give way in a moment. I shall not repeat the technique of the hon. Member for Bath who kept saying that the Secretary of State signed his policy document. We have already established that the Secretary of State is very busy: the idea that he is spending his nights leafing through the Liberal Democrat transport policy document may or may not be entirely valid. Plenty of policy documents have already been produced and more will no doubt be produced shortly. As to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), he can rest assured that under a Conservative Government, there would never be a year, as there was in calendar year 2001, when not a single inch of tarmac was added to the national road network.

The hon. Gentleman will not share with us even a slight snapshot of what might appear in his future manifesto, but could he go back to the last manifesto and tell us whether the Conservative party is now going to tear up the manifesto pledge to link the job of the Secretary of State for Scotland with another Government role?

The hon. Gentleman's problem is that he will search high and low in the 2001 manifesto to find any commitment to split the job of the Secretary of State for Transport. There was no such commitment. However, if Labour Members believe that they should implement the Conservative policy of 2001, why did they not implement our policies to end Labour's war on the motorist and cut petrol tax? Such policies might well have been more popular and successful than those that the Government have advanced. The hon. Gentleman is not putting forward a sensible argument.

We gather from the evidence provided by the Secretary of State to the Select Committee that being the Secretary of State for Scotland is and continues to be "a very important job". He spoke about it being a job that had been around for 100 years and implied that it might continue to be around for another 100 years. We are not therefore talking about a temporary winding-up function or something that will consume his attention for only a few months.

It will clearly be a necessary role for a long time, and it is bound, therefore, to take time away from concentrating on the accelerating problems caused by the state of the nation's transport infrastructure.

The Secretary of State may well be a superhero. Perhaps it is the case that if he sits at his desk, discharging his functions as Transport Secretary, and a call comes through on the batphone to say that he needs to be doing something for Scotland, he can dash into a phone booth, rip aside his shirt—displaying a big "S" for Scotland—and whiz up north of the border and sort out all the problems there. However, even the Secretary of State cannot be in two places at once. When he was giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, he was not dealing with transport issues. When he is deciding how many officials should work at the Scotland Office, he is not dealing with transport matters. We have been told by the junior Minister that Scotland Office Ministers need to be briefed on virtually everything, because they might be asked questions on a variety of topics, but the time spent being briefed will be time spent not dealing with transport.

I am happy to give way to anybody who can explain why the transport system is in such a healthy state that it needs only a part-time, half-time Secretary of State to deal with it.

The hon. Gentleman is paying too much attention to the motion and should pay a little more attention to transport policy. Conservative party policy is that the congestion charge in London should be abolished. Even though it is not raising as much money as the Mayor had hoped, it is raising money that is being invested in London's public transport. Will the Conservatives make Londoners pay for the lost revenue if the congestion charge is abolished?

I have heard many accusations thrown across the Chamber, but that is the first time I have heard anyone be accused of spending too much time addressing their remarks to the motion. That is not normally a criticism, but I plead guilty anyway. The hon. Gentleman should not pretend that it is only the Conservatives who are opposed to the congestion charge. For example, the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) has been a consistent and passionate opponent of the congestion charge. She may wish to have a word with the hon. Gentleman later. The economic damage that is being done in London—

No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman already. He presumably wants to accuse me of spending too much time straying close to the motion. The congestion charge is not popular among Labour Members, and I suggest that he tries to persuade his colleagues before he starts trying to persuade us.

The motion rightly refers to the transport crisis that the country faces. Thanks to earlier interventions from Labour Members, I have managed to set out some aspects of it. However, the central aspect of the transport crisis is that—regrettably, unarguably and unavoidably—things are getting worse, whether one takes congestion on motorways, the abandonment by the Government of the targets in their own 10-year transport plan to increase rail usage by 50 per cent. over 10 years or the amount of public money that is being spent and the return gained for it. The Government no longer believe that they can achieve those targets. We are falling further behind in terms of competitiveness with our European neighbours, let alone our competitors in other countries around the world.

It is clear that what is needed above all, after six long years of Labour Government, is clear political grip from a single-minded, single-focused, determined and separate Secretary of State for Transport. That is something that we have had for only one year out of six, and it has just been changed. Apparently, the experiment of giving the right hon. Gentleman sole responsibility has been a failure. I regret that, but it appears to be the conclusion. The last thing the business leaders and others who are confused about the Government's transport policy need to know is that the man in charge is only part-time. The crisis cannot be addressed half-heartedly or by a part-timer. It requires a wholly different organisation and relationship than the one that has been put in place by this botched and incompetent reshuffle, and that is why we will support the motion tonight.

8.55 pm

Before I try to address the motion, remind the House that I worked as a professional in the railway industry for 19 years before I came here. As a chartered civil engineer, I have been able to formulate many views On how we should go about reinvigorating our transport infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) missed a tremendous opportunity to go into greater detail on some of the big challenges that the Government face on delivery. I did not hear him mention the skills shortages across engineering, or the skills shortages in the railway industry and in signalling. I am sure that 1,000 or more of my former colleagues would be delighted to spend a quiet moment or two on a station platform—at Crewe, let us say—to hear the hon. Gentleman explain how we can repair a railway such as the west coast main line, which has suffered underinvestment and been left to decay slowly since the 1960s. We cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. The amendment to the Liberal Democrat motion correctly identifies the fact that considerable thought needs to be given to such work if we are to reinvigorate our transport infrastructure. It was always envisaged in the 10-year plan that a long time would be spent building teams that would make a difference to the much-needed investment in that infrastructure.

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the change that has happened since the days of Railtrack. I was one of the first people employed by Railtrack way back in 1994, before the company was put in place. The company did not know its assets and did not know their condition. Above all, it was floated on the market on the basis of a totally false prospectus. We now have to deal with that legacy from the previous Administration. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words for and recognition of the former colleagues of mine who are working hard for Network Rail to put those matters right.

For me, good transport is essential not only to the quality of life, but to a successful economy. There can be no better example of that than my own constituency. Time and again, I hear calls from the local business community and local people for an upgrade for our transport infrastructure along the A64 corridor, and that involves not just roads but railways. We need plans to be put in place, and I believe that the Government, through their 10-year plan, have embarked on consideration of local concerns. That will respond to the agenda up the Yorkshire coast for improvements to the A64 corridor so that my constituents can have better access to the rest of the country and abroad. Our quality of life, with enjoyment of the coast, is far better than that of the cities, but we would like the economic advantage of being able to move our goods and services back and forward.

We have almost reached the stage at which the next phase of communications—the internet and broadband—may overtake the lack of investment in our transport infrastructure over the 18 failed years of Conservative Administration.

Since 1945, the country and certainly this Chamber have preferred to use transport as a political football, rather than taking the approach of the German Parliament. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) revealingly acknowledged that we have many lessons to learn from Europe. I referred earlier to the recent visit of the president of Deutsche Bahn. That organisation, too, is learning about partnership approaches, such as the one that is bringing investment to our infrastructure.

Following my intervention, the hon. Member for Bath accepted that the so-called crisis in transport that he currently perceives pre-dated not only the Labour Government and the 18 years of Conservative Government but wentright back to the beginning of the 20th century. He seemed to be arguing that it even pre-dated the invention of aviation and many of the technological advances of the 20th century. Perhaps he should go back to the dictionary and reappraise his definition of "crisis".

For those reasons, I shall be happy to support my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench and reject the Liberal Democrat proposals in the Division Lobby tonight. We heard nothing from the Liberal Democrats that would provide solutions to the decades of failure to invest in our transport infrastructure and systems. Equally, although I have great regard for the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I was staggered at his failure to give us five snappy policies after his analysis of the problems.

I like to think of myself as a transport professional. It is the easiest thing in the world for people to explain why things are wrong, but coming up with solutions to the problems needs full and proper analysis. We need planning for personnel and for innovation. We need to make sure that all the pieces fit and that systems are delivered to cost and on time.

We are turning a corner in the history of our transport policy. I commend the work undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during the past year or so. He has done a great job leading an effective team. He has listened to transport professionals to find solutions that will stand the country in good stead and deliver those key objectives—improvements in the quality of life and improvements to our economy.

In his concluding speech, I hope that there might be time for my hon. Friend the Minister to resolve one or two contradictions in relation to freight transportation that many Members have noted. It is deeply regrettable that the Liberal Democrat spokesman did not raise some of those important matters. My hon. Friend is new to the Transport brief, but he will know that I co-chair the all-party group on rail, which is one of the largest such groups. During recent weeks, great concern and consternation have been expressed at the decision of Royal Mail—with almost no reference to the House, the Department for Transport or the Department of Trade and Industry—to move mail services from rail to road. Members on both sides of the House who have advocated moving freight to rail are concerned about that decision. It gives the wrong signal at the wrong time.

The Minister will know that giving out the wrong signal on the railways can lead to great damage and great danger. The problem is that, if there is a modal shift away from railways and back on to the roads, it could take three to four years to try to reinstate such services. I wish Ministers in the Department for Transport well in any deliberations and discussions that they may have with their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to try, in the national logistical interest, to get Royal Mail to reconsider that decision. It

has been presented as having been taken on commercial grounds, but, in the big picture of transport, it looks as though Royal Mail is wagging the dog's tail and making the dog walk in a different direction, so I hope that the Minister can say something positive about that proposition.

I also want to mention the fact that in 2000 I was involved in the Standing Committee that considered the Transport Bill. It had about 14 sittings, and was a very good Committee. I see the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), my old colleague from that Committee, in his place tonight. We had a great time and there was great camaraderie, although we obviously disagreed about certain policy aspects. It was a good time for me personally. However, the fundamental fact was that we had to provide solutions to national problems, often with those solutions determined in a local context.

I had great hopes for the Strategic Rail Authority. I thought that it would bring Railtrack—my former employer—back to heel and provide the strategic rigour and vision that national transport policy needs, certainly on the railways, producing a clear way forward. I should like to thank the Government for supporting that measure and creating the SRA because in my part of the world, the Esk valley line, which runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby, is starting a new experiment to consider the standards and operational requirements, as well as—I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris)—the safety criteria on that lightly used but strategically important rural railway line.

Every day, that line carries children from the most remote parts of my constituency to schools in Whitby. It is an absolute lifeline, and there are many similar social railways throughout the country. The experiment on which the SRA is about to embark, through the Esk valley partnership, is very important to the national interest, and it is a clear local example of a solution to the type of problems that sit in the pending trays of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

In conclusion, I hope that we will hear more about the important issue of investment in the transport industry. People are the key. I hope that the Government will make good, solid progress with the rail academy and in trying to encourage more people to take up careers in engineering, so that we can have the key people—whether they are signal engineers, civil engineers or mechanical engineers—that we need to work not only in the SRA and the railway operating companies, but in the Highways Agency and throughout all our local government partners.

At the end of the day, my reason for supporting the Government tonight comes down to one thing: partnership. The Secretary of State is a member of a very successful team that is changing the direction and the destiny of transport policy in this country, and I commend the Government amendment to the House.

9.9 pm

It is a little strong to refer to changing the destiny of transport policy, but I agree with the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) about rail freight, and about Royal Mail in particular. It is a disgrace that Royal Mail proposes to cut mail trains and to transfer so much freight on to the roads. Mail is still a nationalised industry, and the Department of Trade and Industry should lean hard on Royal Mail to ensure that it has a proper environmental policy and promotes rail freight. If those train paths are lost, they will not come back. They will be replaced by overnight working, saving costs for the Strategic Rail Authority. That will be the end of rail mail. We must keep those freight trains going.

In 1997, when the Labour Government came to power, many of us had real hopes of a sensible transport policy. The Conservatives had neglected the environmental aspects, and had the biggest road-building programme since the Romans—that was how they described it. After years of the Conservatives, when the railways were falling apart and had been privatised, the Labour Government were committed to a transport policy. We had a Deputy Prime Minister who knew about transport from his previous occupation and his personal interests, and there was an understanding that we could not build our way out of problems for ever. We had tried for 100 years to build our way out of road congestion, and failed. There was an understanding that we had to aim for road traffic reduction, and a 10-year transport plan that had some sensible targets and philosophy.

Despite some useful steps that the Government have taken—my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) outlined some of them—I am sorry to say that they have now reverted to the default policy, which is not dissimilar to what we had when the Conservatives were in office. The default policy is to try to keep transport off the agenda, to build roads under pressure, to tinker with railways and not achieve much. I am sorry to put it in such stark terms, but I feel that that is where we have got to.

Gone are the days when environment and transport were under one Department, which could examine those two issues in unison, and which was headed by the Deputy Prime Minister. Gone are the days of multi-modal studies that were designed to deliver rail and road objectives, which was the intention when they were set up. We now have a botched union between Transport and Scotland. It is a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage of utility, which is what we would have had with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Multi-modal study schemes suggest road and rail improvements, but the road improvements get funded by the Treasury and go ahead and the rail improvements get shunted into the sidings.

The hon. Gentleman is speaking against his own motion. Does he not agree that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which had wide responsibilities far beyond transport, required a great deal more of the Secretary of State's time than the Department for Transport and Scotland will?

No, I do not agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath dealt with that point. Environment and transport are two sides of the same coin. Having someone dealing with those two issues together makes sense both for transport policy and for environment policy. There is no such marriage between Scotland and Transport, unless it is dealing with Waverley station to which the Secretary of State referred.

:I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for policy on the environment to be closely involved with transport. It is a pity that that link has now gone. However, does he not think that the major failure was not to involve the Chancellor of the Exchequer properly with transport policy?

I agree, and the Environmental Audit Committee, which the hon. Gentleman chairs and of which I was happy to be a member for some time, has consistently made that point since 1997. The Chancellor has to be involved in these decisions.

We are now told that rail fares will have to go up when the cost of motoring is going down. The figures from a parliamentary answer that I have received show that in real terms the cost of motoring decreased by 1.3 per cent. between 1974 and 2001; the cost of travelling by rail went up by 85 per cent. in real terms over that period; and the cost of travelling by bus increased by 66 per cent. in real terms. Instead of dealing with that disparity, which is widening under Labour, the Prime Minister caught a cold when the fuel protest took place. Labour went behind in the opinion polls for the only time in the last Parliament, and the Prime Minister clearly said to the Deputy Prime Minister, "Lay off the motorist. A radical transport policy is now off the agenda." and so it has proved ever since.

Unless the gap between the cost of motoring and the cost of travelling by public transport is narrowed—that should be one of the Government's objectives to deal with social exclusion—there will not be a renaissance of rail in this country. There will be continued congestion on our roads, with more and more vehicles and more and more people deciding that they will go by road if they possibly can.

That is not a sensible transport strategy in any way. My constituents in Lewes being told that they must pay higher rail fares to use clapped-out slam-door stock—which, notwithstanding the Government's deadline, will be here for at least two more years—is difficult to swallow. That is one aspect.

Another aspect is congestion. Road congestion, we are told, is dealt with by building more roads. That is the Government's new answer: using the hard shoulder of motorways and building more and more bypasses. We are told that congestion on the railways must be met by fewer trains, which is a curious transport policy to pursue. We are back in the realms of the Tories, with money spent on the railways being called subsidy, and money spent on the roads being called investment. I thought that we had got rid of that mindset when the Government came to power: it may have gone for a while, but now it is back with a vengeance.

In the short time remaining, I want to concentrate on one or two constituency issues, to give other Members a chance to contribute to the debate. It is a great shame that we have a system that enables road schemes to go through quickly and be funded properly, while rail schemes never seem to get funded. We may have investment in the west coast main line and some new rolling stock, but where are the myriad small schemes across the country that could make a real difference to individual constituencies? They would not cost a great deal, but they never actually happen. In my constituency, as the Secretary of State for Transport will know, there is a long-running campaign, now 24 years old, to reinstate the LewesUckfield railway line. We have the ridiculous situation in which a railway line comes down from London all the way to Uckfield—to a dead end. A six-mile gap exists between there and Lewes, which is still a major rail junction with trains to the south coast, Brighton, Eastbourne, up to London, across to Ashford and so on. That six-mile gap cannot be filled, despite all the county and district councillors being in favour, despite all Members of Parliament in the area being in favour—Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat—and despite the fact that we all went to the Strategic Rail Authority the other day to meet Richard Bowker. Everybody is on board, and the county council has presented a case that demonstrates that the railway line, once reinstated, will turn in an operational profit. We still cannot find a way of getting that railway reinstated. Why can the Government not find a way of dealing with those small-scale schemes up and down the country that would not cost much but would make a real difference?

There are other examples. There is a crying need in my constituency for one good railway station at Newhaven. At the moment, we have three, and they are an absolute disgrace. What on earth people must think when they come across on the ferry from Dieppe and see the railway stations at Newhaven God only knows. One of those, Newhaven Marine, has one train a week. Why? The reason is that the operator does not want to close the station because that will lead to a public inquiry, which will reveal the catastrophic way in which stations are managed down there. Consequently, we have the facade of one train a week to keep the station open. Such a scheme would not cost a great deal of money, and could be dealt with quickly by the Government, in conjunction with the district councils, which would contribute, as would the port owners. Yet nothing happens.

A proposal exists for a small stretch of line—it is called a cord—about 300 yd long, which would enable freight trains to run along the coast without the necessity of going into Eastbourne and back out again, which is a huge diversion in terms of the distance and journey time. Yet that cannot be funded either. It was recommended by the multi-modal study and is now not happening. The multi-modal study recommendation in relation to the Lewes-Uckfield line is now not happening. The electrification of the Ashford-Hastings line, which was recommended by the multi-modal study, is not happening. The electrification of the Uckfield-Oxted line, which was recommended, is not happening. Yet the road schemes will go ahead.

In my constituency, as I mentioned earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State, the road scheme is the proposed dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate. It is an environmentally destructive scheme that will cost millions of pounds and will go though an area of outstanding natural beauty—it is absolutely beautiful countryside— which has a railway line lying parallel to it. I do not know the result of the south coast multi-modal study but I will lay money now that the Government will give a green light to that scheme, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost. As for the comment that Liberal Democrats say one thing nationally and another locally, let me tell the Minister that we do not: nationally, we say that we must be careful about new road schemes, and locally, in my constituency, I am saying that I do not want that scheme.

If there is money going, I will have it for all the rail schemes that I mentioned because they could all be paid for out of the cost of the road and I would rather have those schemes. We have had road schemes galore over the years, while rail schemes have always been second best and have never been implemented. Let us start to turn that round once and for all and try to achieve something instead.

Let me leave the Minister with a final thought, although I shall have the chance to discuss it with him in greater detail on Wednesday, when I am grateful that he will meet me. On the parallel railway line—probably next to where the Government want to build a dual carriageway—I have persuaded the rail company, South Central, to reduce season ticket fares by a third. It is now cheaper to go from Eastbourne to Lewes because a season ticket used to cost £23.20 but now costs £16. A season ticket between Seaford and Lewes used to cost £15.50 but now costs £10. There has been a 35 per cent. increase in season ticket sales for those lines since the scheme was introduced—with little publicity. There has been a 13 per cent. increase in passengers using the line. The rail lines run parallel to the road yet the Government do not want to talk about that. They do not want to talk about cheaper fares because they say that that is a matter for the Strategic Rail Authority or the company—it is not their problem. However, building a road is their problem and they will no doubt do that.

We must have a better system of comparing road schemes with rail schemes for a specific area. There is a corridor where they co-exist. The Government had the theory exactly right by setting up multi-modal studies. The great tragedy is that following those studies the road schemes will go ahead and the rail schemes will not. We are back to the Conservative transport policy.

9.21 pm

What a rag-bag of rubbish we have heard from both the Liberals and the Tories. We heard that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) would tax, tax, tax the motorist and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) told us how much he would tax those who want to fly out of the country in order to fund his party's plans. Yet, we heard earlier from the Secretary of State that the Liberals' strategy is not to increase tax but to generate new schemes using existing resources. In sharp contrast, the Tories' only policy is to cut taxes for the motorist and then increase investment using money that they would not have. That was an incoherent suggestion—they have a monopoly on tittle-tattle without policy.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his Government's policy that aviation should cover all its externalities and, thus, the tax subsidy to airlines should be reduced?

The Government's policy is not to reduce tax. Obviously more tax would be generated by the natural increase of aviation at 6 per cent. a year. A European-level review of the environmental costs of aviation is required and, in the meantime, that may be proxied by the rate of increase of supply lagging behind the rate of increase of demand for airport delivery.

The simple fact is that we have heard tittle-tattle and incoherent rubbish. I note that the motion moved by the hon. Member for Bath does not call for a full-time Secretary of State for Transport but for a full-time Secretary of State for the time being. That is because the Liberals do not really know what they are doing, as has been revealed. They have not factored in the reality that regional assemblies might take control of aspects of transport policy in the way that has happened in Scotland and London. They are not looking to the future—we heard the usual opportunist rubbish. They also say that the Transport Secretary's scope should be widened to the environment. That does not really stack up.

The key issue of policy delivery is what we will do in the next 10 years to deliver an integrated transport plan. That is the challenge facing the Government and it is why they are spending £180 billion on a mixed package to balance development that respects the needs of the economy and the environment, and the requirement for social access to a networked system of transport.

The difficulty has been caused because 1.5 million more people are in jobs and there was chronic underinvestment for many years. The Conservative spokesperson, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), asked how a 5 per cent. increase in employment can lead to a larger increase in congestion—I shall speak slowly at this point.

If a network ran at a capacity of 95 per cent. and an extra 5 per cent. was added to it, it would become gridlocked and there could be an infinite increase in congestion. The basic knowledge of the science of transport is woefully inadequate, as we might expect.

What problem do we have to tackle and what have we done about it so far? Rail usage has increased by a fifth. Investment in rail in the 10 years up to 1997 was half that planned for the 10 years from 1997. Modern modes of transport have emerged in my town of Croydon. I was instrumental in creating the public-private partnership of Tramlink, a £200 million scheme that shifts 16 million people a year in an environmentally sensitive way. The PPP is making progress on the tube and will bring £16 billion to it to keep the capital moving.

Proper consultation on the aviation strategy of the future is also emerging. Aviation policy is difficult. We cannot simply have the plain approach of predict and provide, as the Conservatives did for roads. It is not sustainable in terms of environmental damage. There is not just the problem of noise and pollution, but the visual impairment of Britain's skies as planes criss-cross everywhere. We need a balance between that and the hair-shirt approach of no more aviation.

Hon. Members mentioned factoring in the environmental cost in a tax. I have sympathy with that. In the meantime, that can be proxied, as I said, by ensuring that the rate of increase in supply does not hurtle forward at the rate of increase in demand. It is important to balance the strategy for hubs and spokes for airports that serve the regions the capital and large cities with access, communication and pollution. We need to think about the extent to which the rail network needs to feed new or existing airports rather than having more airports and air travel, which is more polluting.

On the road and rail balance, predict and provide is discredited. We need to think about how to maximise the efficiency of the existing network. Sadly, for some people that will mean reducing the number of small rail routes, which are not used so frequently, that stop strategic rail routes. There are bottlenecks. We need to increase efficiency and prioritise. Ultimately, we need to advance the rationale behind congestion charging, which is the targeted rationing of road space through the marketplace. The bold step to provide the powers to do that was led by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Mayor of London put his foot in the water—half his leg, in fact—to show that we can work on that idea. I am glad that the new Secretary of State is considering ways to build on that rationale to use our network more effectively so that more people can move around with greater ease and without causing unnecessary congestion.

The hon. Member for Bath raised the idea of bonds for congestion charging. The revenue raised in London is less than predicted. One reason for that is the success of the congestion charging scheme, which underlines the risk involved in making predictions. If we went down the route advocated by the hon. Gentleman and gave bonds to cities and towns, they would have to bear the downside of the financial risk of those predictions being wrong and could come a cropper in terms of local taxation. The system is not completely thought out.

I want to draw to the Minister's attention the impact of e-commerce on the landscape of transport infrastructure. The reality is that if people in our communities spent one day in five working from home by e-mail and if one in five purchases were made by email, one in five offices and one in five shops would close down. The transport infrastructure and the renaissance of a town centre in terms of houses would be transformed.

We need to take a long-term view and think how behaviour will change over the next 10 years. People want to travel, but they do not want to do so if they do not have to. We therefore have to factor such revolutionary changes into our transport planning.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be a large increase in leisure travel across the globe? It is estimated, for example, that 100 million Chinese will soon be joining world travellers. That is the challenge that we need to prepare for in global transport policy, and are not Ministers and the Department doing so?

Indeed they are. My hon. Friend has underlined the challenge facing the global economy alongside the Kyoto targets. We need to establish a framework in which we think of everyone, not just one person. There is a parallel in the comments of the hon. Member for Lewes about the micro-logic of a postal service being taken off a train, but the macro-impact not being in the long-term public interest. In connection with that, a "Save Mail on Rail" campaign will be launched at a media conference at 11 o'clock on Tuesday, 24 June in Conference Room C, 1 Parliament street.

In conclusion, we face massive challenges, not just in e-commerce but in the global environmental and economic sphere, and the way in which we fit that in with social access. At a time when we face momentous challenges, it is sad that the Liberals and Tories should support a petty and opportunistic little motion about what people should have in their in-tray, rather than grasp strategic opportunities and lead people into a rosier future.

9.31 pm

The perfect preparation for tonight's debate on the crisis in transport was spending just over an hour on a train outside Stowmarket going absolutely nowhere this morning. At least we had the benefit of being able to contemplate the Suffolk countryside, which you know very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, that did not affect the frustration and anger that other passengers and I felt. Sadly, that is all too common an occurrence on that line. This morning, the excuse was that the train in front of us had broken down, but that is just one of a range of excuses, including leaves and the wrong type of snow. Last year, we even had a cow on the line near Colchester. The excuses are myriad, but the failure to improve the system and the network continues.

Interestingly, the Government amendment recognises the importance of an efficient transport system for economic growth and the economy in generally, thus highlighting the Government's failure to get to grips with the problem over the past six years. One of their big failures in economic policy is the failure to improve productivity, which is affected by a transport system that does not work efficiently. We have such a system in abundance in this country. As other hon. Members have said, the problem is getting worse. The SRA recently produced statistics for East Anglia showing that 20 per cent. of trains in the region are running late. Since last year, the number of such trains has been increasing, accompanied by falling passenger satisfaction, more complaints and more reasons for passengers to choose to go by car rather than take the risk of going by train. The problem, at least in part, is dire infrastructure and a failure, as many Members on both sides of the House have said, to invest in it over a long period. The Secretary of State made the point that both money and management are needed, and the management of Network Rail continue to leave a lot to be desired.

Insiders in East Anglia refer to the constant failed management in dealing with the problems of maintaining the network in a reasonably efficient way. Nevertheless, a number of good things have happened. In my constituency, on a branch line, we have new evening services and a new service from Norwich to Cambridge, but all too often journeys end in frustration and anger because of endless delays.

I want to go on to another issue, which I mentioned in an intervention: the future of community transport schemes. Throughout the country they are facing a funding crisis. In Norfolk some impressive schemes have been developed, such as dial-a-ride schemes, to which the Secretary of State referred, and hospital medi-bus schemes, which allow people to phone to arrange for a bus to take them from their door to the hospital or to their GP. Such rural transport partnerships have been funded by the Countryside Agency. Their remit has been
"to enhance rural people's access to jobs, services and social activities."
Various groups involved in community transport have written to Norfolk MPs and told us of the financial crisis that they face, as they are unable to obtain funding to operate in future. Their call is for sustainable funding that will ensure the survival of those services. The services get to the people most in need in some of the most remote villages, and as we heard earlier, avoid the problem of large empty buses, sometimes double-deckers, hurtling round country lanes with no passengers. They help to ensure that people in isolated and very rural communities can get to jobs and engage in the economy in a way that they were previously unable to do.

The North Walsham Area Community Transport Association in my constituency was mentioned in the social exclusion unit's report published in February this year. That association was used as a case study to show how the community transport sector exists to provide additional transport in order to reduce social exclusion, by getting people to work and to the services that they need.

What is the problem? The problem is that the association has come to the end of its three-year funding from the Countryside Agency. I accept that in an ideal world, it is best for the funding to come from local authorities, but the local authorities themselves are strapped for cash. In Norfolk, we had an increase in council tax of more than 15 per cent. From its precept the county council could not replace the funding from the Countryside Agency. The association is happy to work on the basis of a reduced subsidy, but it will need longer to get established so that the services will survive.

Community transport schemes are not commercial services. They meet a social need identified by the social exclusion unit. The Government have stumbled on an effective, flexible public transport system, which is ideally suited to sparsely populated rural areas. Please do not let us lose the good service that has been established.

It is clear from what we have heard tonight that the scale of the problems confronting the transport infrastructure and transport services cries out for a full-time Secretary of State for Transport and a competent one. When the story of the Government is told, I suspect it will identify four wasted years while transport was the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. There were no obvious achievements or progress during those four years. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman presided over increasing chaos. The public are paying the price. The Government must get on with their task urgently. The debacle over the reshuffle shows that they are still not serious about sorting the problem out.

9.39 pm

I congratulate the Secretary of State on setting out policy—rare in such a debate. However, it was Liberal Democrat policy that he set out. His knowledge of it was incomplete and he needs to study harder, but I am sure he will be able to fit that into his busy programme.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) gave us some good knockabout stuff. It was long on puns, but I am afraid that it was rather short on policy. In the 26 minutes for which he spoke, I could detect no Tory policy apart from a reference to a couple of unnamed policy papers that have apparently been published and to the fact that some more may be on their way; no doubt, three will arrive together. However, I welcome his support for the motion.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) referred to the shortage of engineers, which is a very significant point. He may be interested to know that I had discussions with GoAhead only a couple of days ago about whether it could play any role with regard to one of my local schools, Wallington high school for girls, which is considering applying for specialist school status in respect of engineering, and whether a link might be established. Getting women engineers to work in the industry would be a very positive development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) clearly demonstrated why he is widely recognised in Parliament as the most effective campaigner on environmental issues.

The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) does not know Liberal Democrat policy, for which I can forgive him. What is more worrying for him, however, is the fact that he does not know his own Government's policy. If he is seeking to make further progress up the greasy pole, it is important that he acquaint himself with that policy, otherwise, his progress will be limited. He trumpeted the £180 billion that has been mentioned, but yet again failed to recognise that it is not £180 billion in today's prices and that it is not all Government money. Most embarrassingly for him, the amount is less than the Conservatives spent in their last six years in government.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that the present value of the £180 billion was £158 billion. How much would the hon. Gentleman spend at today's prices, or does he not know?

I know exactly how much we would spend. We have said that we would stick to the Government's spending policies and also put in some additional funds to restore the rail passenger partnership fund, for instance. What the hon. Gentleman needs to do is ask the Secretary of State, who has a copy of our policy document, to circulate it to Labour Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) did a very good job of setting out the pain of his own travelling experiences, as well as some of the improvements that have occurred in his area.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, this Government's approach to the transport crisis is characterised by indecision, lack of leadership and the Treasury's initiative-sapping stranglehold over alternative means of funding transport improvements. Let us consider London and the tube public-private partnership, to which the hon. Member for Croydon, Central referred. Let us go back to 20 March 1998, when the policy was introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. He said that it would take two years to negotiate the contracts. It has now taken more than five years and we are still not there. He referred to the fact that only £100,000 had been spent on consultancy fees. How much has been spent on the PPP now? No less than £500 million. The Government's credit cards must be burning at this point. Who will pick up the bill for that unrestrained spending spree? It is Londoners who will do so over the 30 years for which those contracts will last.

My hon. Friend is right that Londoners will pick up the bill. Is he aware that the journey from Leicester Square to Covent Garden is the most expensive public transport journey in the world mile for mile, and is more expensive even than flying on Concorde?

I do not need to add anything to that very telling point.

One could forgive the Deputy Prime Minister for making a mistake about how much was going to be spent on the PPP if the Government had at least had an estimate of the cost, but, of course, no such estimate existed.

The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed as much. We do not have an estimate of how much the contracts will cost. The permanent secretary at the Department for Transport confirmed in a Select Committee inquiry that the Government had made no estimate whatsoever. It was not normal, apparently, for the Government to estimate the cost of such a project, even though it has ended up costing £500 million to date, and the handover is running three years late.

We already have the first evidence of the sort of dispute that will arise in such a contractual set-up. On 11 April, there was a dispute between Metronet and Tubelines about who was to blame for delayed trains when glue caught fire and generated smoke, causing a fire alert. I suspect that that is the first of many hundreds of disputes that will arise as a result of the policy of PPP and fragmentation.

Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for that pun.

Congestion charging is another great example of the lack of leadership that the Government have shown. Congestion is one of the single biggest transport problems in London, costing businesses billions of pounds, with many associated health problems. What leadership has the Secretary of State provided on that issue? A Library briefing says:
"The present Secretary of State has refused to comment on the scheme, saying that the congestion charge is wholly the mayor's responsibility."
In questions, the Secretary of State was repeatedly asked by different Members to confirm his view on congestion charges, but with the biggest congestion charge scheme anywhere in the country up and running under his nose, in London, he had no view on it whatsoever. His right hon. Friend the Prime Minister showed no more leadership. The Conservative leader, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), asked him in Prime Minister's Questions:
"Does the Prime Minister think that the London congestion charge is a good idea or a bad idea?"—[Official Report, 5 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 267.]
No answer was forthcoming—we were told that it is down to the Mayor.

I am afraid not, given the lack of time.

On Crossrail, a similar lack of leadership leaves that scheme in limbo, putting at risk London's Olympic bid. It is sad when the Evening Standard, which is running a campaign in support of Crossrail, has to trumpet the fact that we finally have a Minister with specific responsibility for Crossrail as a major transport development. Indeed, he is here today. Crossrail has been debated for 14 years, yet we are only at the stage of identifying a Minister who has specific responsibility for it.

Aviation policy is another example of lack of vision. The Secretary of State says time and again that the Government's policy is not one of predict and provide. Let us hear from the Minister in what respect it is not that. Will he announce some targets for rail substitution? I suspect not, because he is talking to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who knows that there are no such targets. Will he talk about the fiscal measures that the Government are going to introduce? Of course not.

The Secretary of State's performance lacks substance and has done nothing to reassure commuters, rail passengers or bus users that the crisis is over. His promises of improvements on the way and progress being made convince nobody. The fact is that the Government's transport policy is late and overpriced, like the trains; inches forwards, like the traffic on our roads; and stops without explanation, like a tube train in a tunnel. The Government's amendment reeks of complacency and deserves to be resoundingly defeated. I urge all Members to support our motion.

9.49 pm

The title of this debate is an expression of the unique sense of humour of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). It is humorous because he knows full well that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is tackling with great energy and skill the job of delivering a better transport system for this country. The hon. Gentleman's speech was humorous, too, although whether it was meant to be is another matter. It was very elegantly delivered, but it was a "Dear Santa" letter—a wish list of goodies with all the price tags conveniently torn off. Of course, that is what we always get from the Liberals; they are very good at that. I hope that that goes on the record, because I have never said anything good about the Liberals before. They are very good at tearing the price list off any proposals.

The hon. Gentleman is a bright and perceptive human being, and he knows that the transport networks in this country have been underfunded for decades. Modernisation and even basic maintenance have been put off, and their performance has been hampered by stop-go funding, short-term thinking and botched privatisations. We can all see the results. Road and rail networks are operating beyond their designed capacity. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) told us of his frustration this morning. The tenor of his speech left us without any sense of optimism about rail transport, but he also left his charisma on the train. I thought that he was going to fall asleep during his speech. It was a classic. First, he described this terrible, unmitigated disaster, then he went on to say, "But they've put on a few new train services. It's excellent, it's really good—we've got this scheme and we've got that scheme." Those schemes did not fall out of the air. They are the result of a Labour Government and Labour transportation policies and, as I shall explain, there is more to come.

The Government have decided to make the improvement of our transportation systems a top priority because we care about the quality of our public services and because we recognise that the deterioration cannot be allowed to continue. So, starting in 2001, we committed unprecedented levels of new funding under a 10-year programme of investment: a £180 billion modernisation programme to begin to turn around decades of underinvestment. There are no quick fixes. There are deep-rooted issues and long-term trends that need to be addressed here. We have made it clear that, in many cases, things would inevitably get worse before they got better. That is why a long-term strategy is essential. Only sustained investment, year on year, can begin to deliver the modern, high-quality transport system that this country needs.

When the 10-year plan was published, it was almost universally welcomed. Even the Opposition could only express their disbelief that we could deliver the levels of investment that were promised. Well, we are delivering those levels of investment. We are now spending more than £250 million each week to improve transportation in this country. That is an increase of some 65 per cent. over the past three years. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) did us a grave disservice when he alleged that that amounted to nothing more than tinkering with transportation policy. The £9 billion being spent on the upgrading of the west coast main line does not represent tinkering with policy.

Total investment in transportation infrastructure—public and private—has nearly doubled since the days of the last Tory Government, and that is allowing for inflation. Investment in the railways has trebled—that is not tinkering; it is real investment—and investment through local authorities has more than doubled. These increases in funding have been translated into real activity on the ground. Construction industry output in the road and rail sectors has seen the sharpest increases on record in the past two years and is now at an all-time high.

Of course, it takes more than two years to plan and deliver major new transport schemes.

As we have acknowledged, events have thrown up new problems and priorities for the railway network that have increased the scale of the task. All the while, our sustained economic success is producing ever-growing demand for travel on our railways, on our roads and in our skies. I am glad that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is back in her seat. She said that we should have concentrated on rail substitution, rather than air travel. She did not tell me about the 11.03 to Auckland, New Zealand, or the 12.15 to New York. It is nonsense. It is the kind of soundbite that the Liberals love. When we start to pick it apart, it is fatuous nonsense. The hon. Lady is a good exponent of it—a past master.

It is natural that people are impatient for change. So are we, but we are in it for the long haul and we have already made important progress in many areas, although we do not often read about those. In many parts of the country, travellers are already beginning to see benefits. Rail is a case in point. Following the instability caused by privatisation and the collapse of Railtrack, we put in place a new structure for the industry. Network Rail has been set up as a public interest company whose prime objective is to provide a safe and reliable rail network, rather than to generate profits for shareholders.

Rail use is at historically high levels. Since 1997, it has risen by over 23 per cent. In the 1990s, British Rail reckoned that 500 miles of track needed to be replaced each year just to stand still. That dropped to 300 miles per year in the run-up to privatisation under the Tories and to 200 miles per year immediately after privatisation. This year, Network Rail will replace more than 740 miles of track—more than has ever been replaced in the history of the railway industry in this country. That is a tremendous achievement. That is real investment, not the tinkering of the hon. Member for Lewes, who whinged for 20 minutes.

Across the network, performance and reliability are now steadily improving. The annual average performance measure at the end of March was 79.2 per cent., up 1.2 per cent. on the previous year. The latest passenger satisfaction survey, despite the descriptions of disaster, showed that 74 per cent. of all passengers were fairly or very satisfied with the journey just completed.

They certainly were not Liberals. They would not know a good journey if they sat on one.

On the roads, like the hon. Member for Lewes we recognise that building new roads is not in itself a sustainable long-term solution to growing congestion, but we make no bones about the importance of providing increased funding for targeted road improvements, increasing capacity on key routes and at bottlenecks. On the national network, 11 major new road schemes have already been completed, 64 further schemes are in construction or programmed, 21 of them bypasses, and further major announcements are planned. A similar number of major improvement schemes are being taken forward by local authorities across the country on the roads for which they are responsible.

At the same time, minimising impact on the environment remains a key consideration. All major road schemes are subject to strict environmental appraisal. Where schemes have failed that appraisal, we have rejected them. For those schemes that are built, funding is being made available to reduce the impact of schemes, as with the tunnelling schemes that we have announced at Stonehenge and at Hindhead. The Highways Agency will also spend around £3.3 billion on smaller-scale improvements, many involving the use of new technology, to improve safety and to reduce congestion.

I notice that road safety was not mentioned either in the Tory or the Liberal—

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 180, Noes 304.

Division No. 246]

[10:00 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Amess, DavidDavies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Ancram, rh Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Bacon, Richard
Baker, NormanDoughty, Sue
Baldry, TonyDuncan, Alan (Rutland)
Barker, GregoryDuncan, Peter (Galloway)
Baron, John (Billericay)Evans, Nigel
Barrett, JohnEwing, Annabelle
Bellingham, HenryFallon, Michael
Bercow, JohnField, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, CrispinFlight Howard
Boswell, TimFlook, Adrian
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Forth, rh Eric
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Brady, GrahamFrancois, Mark
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Brazier, JulianGeorge, Andrew (St. Ives)
Breed, ColinGibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Gidley, Sandra
Browning, Mrs AngelaGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Burnett, JohnGoodman, Paul
Burns, SimonGray, James (N Wilts)
Burstow, PaulGreen, Damian (Ashford)
Butterfill, JohnGreen, Matthew (Ludlow)
Cable, Dr. VincentGrieve, Dominic
Calton, Mrs PatsyGumrner, rh John
Cameron, DavidHague, rh William
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Cash, William
Chidgey, DavidHarvey, Nick
Chope, ChristopherHawkins, Nick
Clappison, JamesHeald, Oliver
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Heath, David
Collins, TimHeathcoat-Amory, rh David
Conway, DerekHendry, Charles
Cormack, Sir PatrickHoban, Mark (Fareham)
Cotter, BrianHolmes, Paul
Curry, rh DavidHoram, John (Orpington)

Howard, rh MichaelRobathan, Andrew
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Hunter, AndrewRobertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Jenkin, BernardRoe, Mrs Marion
Johnson, Boris (Henley)Rosindell, Andrew
Keetch, PaulRuffley, David
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & InvernessRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSayeed, Jonathan
Kirkwood, Sir ArchySelous, Andrew
Laing, Mrs EleanorShephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Lait, Mrs JacquiSimmonds, Mark
Lamb, NormanSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)Soames, Nicholas
Letwin, rh OliverSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)Spicer, Sir Michael
Liddell-Grainger, IanSpring, Richard
Lidington, DavidStanley, rh Sir John
Llwyd, ElfynSteen, Anthony
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)Stunell, Andrew
McIntosh, Miss AnneSwire, Hugo (E Devon)
Mackay, rh AndrewSyms, Robert
Maclean, rh DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
McLoughlin, PatrickTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Malins, HumfreyTaylor, John (Solihull)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maude, rh FrancisThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Mawhinney, rh Sir BrianThurso, John
May, Mrs TheresaTonge, Dr. Jenny
Mercer, PatrickTredinnick, David
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Moore, MichaelTyrie, Andrew
Moss, MalcolmViggers, Peter
Murrison, Dr. AndrewWatkinson, Angela
Norman, ArchieWebb, Steve (Northavon)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)Weir, Michael
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Whittingdale, John
Öpik, LembitWiggin, Bill
Osborne, George (Tatton)Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Ottaway, RichardWilliams, Roger (Brecon)
Page, RichardWillis, Phil
Paice, JamesWilshire, David
Paterson, OwenWinterton, Ann (Congleton)
Pickles, EricWinterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Portillo, rh Michael
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John

Tellers for the Ayes:

Redwood, rh John

Mr. Alan Reid and

Rendel, David

Richard Younger-Ross

NOES

Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Betts, Clive
Alexander, DouglasBlackman, Liz
Allen, GrahamBlears, Ms Hazel
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Boateng, rh Paul
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryBorrow, David
Atherton, Ms CandyBradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Atkins, CharlotteBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Austin, JohnBradshaw, Ben
Bailey, AdrianBrennan, Kevin
Barnes, HarryBrown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, NigelBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Beckett, rh MargaretBryant, Chris
Begg, Miss AnneBurden, Richard
Benn, HilaryBurgon, Colin
Bennett, AndrewBurnham, Andy
Benton, Joe (Bootle)Byers, rh Stephen
Berry, RogerCairns, David

Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Hain, rh Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Caplin, IvorHamilton, David (Midlothian)
Caton, MartinHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Hanson, David
Challen, ColinHarman, rh Ms Harriet
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, MichaelHealey, John
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Heppell, John
Clelland, DavidHermon, Lady
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Hesford, Stephen
Coaker, VernonHewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Coffey, Ms AnnHeyes, David
Cohen, HarryHill, Keith (Streatham)
Coleman, IainHinchliffe, David
Colman, TonyHoon, rh Geoffrey
Connarty, MichaelHope, Phil (Corby)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hopkins, Kelvin
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, JeanHowells, Dr. Kim
Cousins, JimHughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Crausby, David
Cruddas, JonHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)Ingram, rh Adam
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)Irranca-Davies, Huw
Dalyell, TamJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darling, rh AlistairJamieson, David
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jenkins, Brian
David, WayneJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Kevan (N Durham)
Denham, rh JohnJones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dobson, rh FrankJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Donohoe, Brian H.Jowell, rh Tessa
Doran, FrankJoyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Drew, David (Stroud)Kaufman, rh Gerald
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Keeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Edwards, HuwKemp, Fraser
Efford, CliveKhabra, Piara S.
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKidney, David
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)King, Andy (Rugby)
Farrelly, PaulKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, MarkKnight, Jim (S Dorset)
Fitzpatrick, JimKumar, Dr. Ashok
Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaLadyman, Dr. Stephen
Follett, BarbaraLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, rh DerekLazarowicz, Mark
Foster, Michael (Worcester)Lepper, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Francis, Dr. HywelLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)Linton, Martin
Gardiner, BarryLove, Andrew
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)McAvoy, Thomas
Gerrard, NeilMcCabe, Stephen
Gibson, Dr. IanMcCartney, rh Ian
Gilroy, LindaMcDonagh, Siobhain
Godsiff, RogerMacDonald, Calum
Goggins, PaulMcDonnell, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)MacDougall, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McFall, John
Grogan, JohnMcGuire, Mrs Anne

McIsaac, ShonaRoy, Frank (Motherwell)
McKechin, AnnRuane, Chris
Mackinlay, AndrewRuddock, Joan
McNulty, TonyRyan, Joan (Enfield N)
MacShane, DenisSalter, Martin
Mactaggart, FionaSarwar, Mohammad
McWalter, TonySavidge, Malcolm
McWilliam, JohnSawford, Phil
Mahon, Mrs AliceSedgemore, Brian
Mallaber, JudyShaw, Jonathan
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Sheerman, Barry
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Sheridan, Jim
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSingh, Marsha
Martlew, EricSmith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Meacher, rh MichaelSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michael, rh AlunSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Spellar, rh John
Moffatt, LauraStarkey, Dr. Phyllis
Mole, ChrisSteinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr. LewisStevenson, George
Moran, MargaretStewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, rh EstelleStoate, Dr. Howard
Mountford, KaliStringer, Graham
Mudie, GeorgeStuart, Ms Gisela
Mullin, ChrisSutcliffe, Gerry
Munn, Ms MegTami, Mark (Alyn)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Naysmith, Dr. DougTaylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Olner, BillTouhig, Don (Islwyn)
O'Neill, MartinTrickett, Jon
Organ, DianaTruswell, Paul
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Owen, AlbertTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Palmer, Dr. NickTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Perham, LindaTynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Picking, AnneVaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Pickthall, ColinWareing, Robert N.
Pike, Peter (Burnley)Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Plaskitt, JamesWhite, Brian
Pollard, KerryWhitehead, Dr. Alan
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)Wicks, Malcolm
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Pound, StephenWilliams, Betty (Conwy)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham EWills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, KenWood, Mike (Batley)
Purnell, JamesWoodward, Shaun
Quinn, LawrieWoolas, Phil
Rammell, BillWorthington, Tony
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)Wright, David (Telford)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)

Tellers for the Noes:

Rooney, Terry

Mr. Nick Ainger and

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Gillian Merron

Question accordingly negatived.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has notified me of a point of order, but will he please let me get the Divisions out of the way? Then I will take his point of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?] Because we are on Division business at the moment. I know that it will be a prolonged point of order, and I like things to be tidy. That is why.

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

The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 174.

Division No. 247]

[10:15 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Alexander, DouglasCorbyn, Jeremy
Allen, GrahamCorston, Jean
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Cousins, Jim
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryCrausby, David
Atherton, Ms CandyCruddas, Jon
Atkins, CharlotteCryer, Ann (Keighley)
Austin, JohnCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bailey, AdrianCunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Barnes, Harry
Bayley, HughCunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Beard, NigelCunningham, Tony (Workington)
Beckett, rh MargaretDalyell, Tam
Benn, HilaryDarling, rh Alistair
Bennett, AndrewDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Benton, Joe (Bootle)David, Wayne
Berry, RogerDavies rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Betts, CliveDavies Geraint (Croydon C)
Blackman, LizDawson, Hilton
Blears, Ms HazelDenham, rh John
Boateng, rh PaulDobson, rh Frank
Borrow, DavidDonohoe, Brian H.
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Doran, Frank
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Drew, David (Stroud)
Bradshaw, BenEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brennan, KevinEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Browne, DesmondEnnis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Bryant, ChrisFarrelly, Paul
Burden, RichardField, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Burgon, ColinFisher, Mark
Burnham, AndyFitzpatrick, Jim
Byers, rh StephenFitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Cairns, DavidFollett, Barbara
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foster, rh Derek
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, MartinFrancis, Dr. Hywel
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Challen, ColinGeorge, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gerrard, Neil
Chaytor, DavidGibson, Dr. Ian
Clapham, MichaelGilroy, Linda
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Godsiff, Roger
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Goggins, Paul
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Grogan, John
Clelland, DavidHain, rh Peter
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Coaker, VernonHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Coffey, Ms AnnHamilton, David (Midlothian)
Cohen, HarryHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coleman, IainHanson, David
Colman, TonyHarman, rh Ms Harriet
Connarty, MichaelHavard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Healey, JohnMahon, Mrs Alice
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Hendrick, MarkMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, StephenMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heppell, JohnMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Hermon, LadyMartlew, Eric
Hesford, StephenMeacher, rh Michael
Hewitt, rh Ms PatriciaMerron, Gillian
Heyes, DavidMichael, rh Alun
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Miller, Andrew
Hinchliffe, DavidMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hoon, rh GeoffreyMoffatt, Laura
Hope, Phil (Corby)Mole, Chris
Hopkins, KelvinMoonie, Dr. Lewis
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Howells, Dr. KimMorris, rh Estelle
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mullin, Chris
Humble, Mrs JoanMunn, Ms Meg
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Iddon, Dr. BrianMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Illsley, EricNaysmith, Dr. Doug
Ingram, rh AdamNorris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Irranca-Davies, HuwO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jamieson, DavidOlner, Bill
Jenkins, BrianO'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Owen, Albert
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)Palmer, Dr. Nick
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)Perham, Linda
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Picking, Anne
Jowell, rh TessaPickthall, Colin
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Kaufman, rh GeraldPlaskitt, James
Keeble, Ms SallyPollard, Kerry
Keen, Alan (Feltham)Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Kemp, FraserPope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Khabra, Piara S.Pound, Stephen
Kidney, DavidPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Purchase, Ken
Kumar, Dr. AshokPurnell, James
Ladyman, Dr. StephenQuinn, Lawrie
Lammy, DavidRammell, Bill
Lawrence, Mrs JackieRapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Lazarowicz, MarkRaynsford, rh Nick
Lepper, DavidReed, Andy (Loughborough)
Leslie, ChristopherRobertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Rooney, Terry
Linton, MartinRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Love, AndrewRoy, Frank (Motherwell)
McAvoy, ThomasRuane, Chris
McCabe, StephenRuddock, Joan
McCartney, rh IanSalter, Martin
McDonagh, SiobhainSarwar, Mohammad
MacDonald, CalumSavidge, Malcolm
McDonnell, JohnSawford, Phil
MacDougall, JohnSedgemore, Brian
McFall, JohnShaw, Jonathan
McGuire, Mrs AnneSheerman, Barry
McIsaac, ShonaSheridan, Jim
McKechin, AnnSingh, Marsha
Mackinlay, AndrewSmith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
McNulty, TonySmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
MacShane, DenisSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Mactaggart, FionaSpellar, rh John
McWalter, TonyStarkey, Dr. Phyllis
McWilliam, JohnSteinberg, Gerry

Stevenson, GeorgeWatson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Stoate, Dr. HowardWicks, Malcolm
Stringer, GrahamWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Stuart, Ms GiselaWilliams, Betty (Conwy)
Sutcliffe, GerryWills, Michael
Tami, Mark (Alyn)Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)Wood, Mike (Batley)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Woodward, Shaun
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)Woolas, Phil
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)Worthington, Tony
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, PaulWright, David (Telford)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)Wyatt, Derek
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)

Joan Ryan and

Wareing, Robert N.

Mr. Nick Ainger

NOES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Flook, Adrian
Amess, DavidForth, rh Eric
Ancram, rh MichaelFoster, Don (Bath)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Fox, Dr. Liam
Bacon, RichardFrancois, Mark
Baker, NormanGale, Roger (N Thanet)
Baldry, TonyGeorge, Andrew (St. Ives)
Barker, GregoryGibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Baron, John (Billericay)Gidley, Sandra
Barrett, JohnGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bellingham, HenryGoodman, Paul
Bercow, JohnGray, James (N Wilts)
Beresford, Sir PaulGreen, Damian (Ashford)
Blunt, CrispinGreen, Matthew (Ludlow)
Boswell, TimGrieve, Dominic
Brady, GrahamGummer, rh John
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Hague, rh William
Brazier, JulianHarris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Harvey, Nick
Browning, Mrs AngelaHawkins, Nick
Burnett, JohnHeald, Oliver
Burns, SimonHeath, David
Burstow, PaulHeathcoat-Amory, rh David
Butterfill, JohnHendry, Charles
Cable, Dr. VincentHoban, Mark (Fareham)
Calton, Mrs PatsyHolmes, Paul
Cameron, DavidHoram, John (Orpington)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Howard, rh Michael
Chidgey, DavidHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Chope, ChristopherHunter, Andrew
Clappison, JamesJack, rh Michael
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Collins, TimJenkin, Bernard
Conway, DerekJohnson, Boris (Henley)
Cotter, BrianKeetch, Paul
Curry, rh DavidKennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Doughty, SueLamb, Norman
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)Lansley, Andrew
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)Laws, David (Yeovil)
Evans, NigelLetwin, rh Oliver
Ewing, AnnabelleLewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Fallon, MichaelLiddell-Grainger, Ian
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)Lidington, David
Llwyd, Elfyn
Flight, HowardLuff, Peter (M-Worcs)

McIntosh, Miss AnneSelous, Andrew
Mackay, rh AndrewShephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Maclean, rh DavidSimmonds, Mark
McLoughlin, PatrickSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Malins, Humfrey
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Maude, rh FrancisSpring, Richard
Mawhinney, rh Sir BrianStanley, rh Sir John
May, Mrs TheresaSteen, Anthony
Mercer, PatrickStunell, Andrew
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Moore, MichaelTapsell, Sir Peter
Moss, MalcolmTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Murrison, Dr. AndrewTaylor, John (Solihull)
Norman, ArchieTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)Taylor, Sir Teddy
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Öpik, LembitThurso, John
Osborne, George (Tatton)Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Ottaway, RichardTredinnick, David
Page, RichardTurner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Paice, JamesTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Paterson, OwenTyrie, Andrew
Pickles, EricViggers, Peter
Portillo, rh MichaelWatkinson, Angela
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)Whittingdale, John
Pugh, Dr. JohnWiggin, Bill
Redwood, rh JohnWilliams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Rendel, DavidWilliams, Roger (Brecon)
Robathan, AndrewWillis, Phil
Robertson, Angus (Moray)Wilshire, David
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs MarionYeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Rosindell, AndrewYoung, rh Sir George
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)

Tellers for the Noes:

Sanders, Adrian

Richard Younger-Ross and

Sayeed, Jonathan

Mr. Alan Reid

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House recognises the importance of transport infrastructure to continued growth and prosperity; welcomes the Government's commitment to a sustained improvement in the transport system; acknowledges that it inherited a legacy of decades of under-investment which continues to have severe adverse consequences for transport performance; notes the additional pressures which economic growth since 1997 is putting on the transport networks; welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to investment of £180 billion through the Ten Year Transport Plan and to its policies of balanced improvements to all modes of transport consistent with wider environmental objectives; recognises achievements already evident in, for example, improved rail rolling stock, falling numbers of road accidents and increased bus patronage; and believes that the Government has put the appropriate ministerial arrangements in place for further improvement.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This morning, I expected that the Home Secretary would wish to make an immediate statement to the House on the intrusion into Windsor castle. [Interruption.]

Order. There now seems to be a habit of shouting down Members when they are addressing the House. It is wrong.

When it became apparent that the Home Secretary did not intend to do so, I submitted—as you know, Mr. Speaker—a request to you for an urgent question. When it became apparent that the request would not be granted, but that the Home Secretary would make a statement tomorrow, I did not demur, thinking that he wanted time, quite reasonably, to consider the reports he received before explaining them to the House.

I imagine that you, Mr. Speaker, will have been as surprised as I was to discover this evening that the Home Secretary had chosen instead to make his statement through a range of press, radio and television interviews. If the House of Commons is no longer to be the place in which the Home Secretary of the day answers for the safety of the monarch and the protection of the people, what is this House?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) describes is in direct contravention of your own rulings and directions from the Chair and that a Division on item 2 on the Order Paper is imminent, would you like to consider whether the period of that Division will give the Home Secretary time to come to the House and put right what is patently very wrong? The Home Secretary is persisting in doing what you have repeatedly said from the Chair must not be done: Ministers making statements outside the House before they come to the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For six years, you have been encouraging, instructing and making rulings from the Chair that Ministers should bring their business to the House first before they take it to the media. This is another example in which your rulings have been flouted. I wonder whether you would reflect on whether you need more authority from the House to ensure that Ministers take seriously the rulings that you make about the primacy of this place.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that when, some years ago, an intruder found his way into the Queen's bedroom in Buckingham palace, the Home Secretary of the day, William Whitelaw, came immediately to the Dispatch Box to make a full statement about that serious intrusion and breach of security. He took full personal responsibility, and it subsequently transpired that he had offered his resignation to the Prime Minister. Is not that in the most stark contrast to the behaviour of today's Home Secretary?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance, as a number of my constituents work at Windsor castle and have contacted me today to ask me to ask questions of the Home Secretary? What do I say to them when it becomes clear that you legitimately turned down a request for an urgent question because you believed that the first opportunity they would have to hear what the Home Secretary had to say was in the House answering questions from hon. Members? Instead, they hear him on radio and on television tonight, which is an abuse. What can I say to my constituents?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. First, can you rule whether the security of the institutions of the state—Parliament, Government, the monarchy or the courts—should be a matter for which the Home Secretary is accountable? Secondly, if the Home Secretary is making a statement when he is no longer the police authority for London, does that not have implications for the proper ability of the authorities in the Thames valley or London to discipline the police? The Home Secretary has clearly pre-empted matters by making statements to the public.

Order. Ministerial responsibility is nothing to do with the Speaker. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have raised points of order, and I know of their concern. Tomorrow is the day that these questions can be put to the Home Secretary. I know about the arguments that even I have had with Government Ministers regarding statements, but my deep concern is always about policy matters, which I prefer to be put before the House.

If it is a matter of gathering information, of course it is preferable for Ministers to come to the House, but that does not debar a Minister, such as the Home Secretary, from saying something outside the Chamber. The important thing is that I need not give a reason for refusing an urgent question. It is clear to all Members of the House that, had the Home Secretary come to the Dispatch Box at the usual time, the information might not have been available then as it is now.

There is no more I can say at the moment, except that I will take hon. Members' concerns to the Home Secretary. I ask the House for patience. Tomorrow is the day when hon. Members can put their concerns to the Home Secretary. [Interruption.] Well, if it is too late, I could always tell the Home Secretary not to come. [Laughter.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would share that view.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. Clearly, some extremely important issues are at stake, and you have on a number of occasions identified the importance of coming to the House with information. You have clarified that point now, but will you give consideration to whether it would be appropriate and helpful to you and to the Chair to have clarity on the circumstances in which you could require a Minister to come to the House and make a statement? My colleagues and I would be happy to put a proposition to the Select Committee on Modernisation so that this matter could be clarified, if that would be helpful to you.

Order. I think that these matters should be left as they are at the moment. The points are now on the record.