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Opposition Day

Volume 408: debated on Wednesday 2 July 2003

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Road And Rail Transport

We now come to the main business. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.40 pm

I beg to move,

That this House notes that since 1997 the fastest expansion in rail services, carriage of freight and passenger numbers in a century, huge forward orders for rolling stock, the fall of fares in real terms and the arrival on time of 90 per cent. of trains, have been replaced by cutbacks in train services, the axing of rail freight grants, abandonment of targets for growth in passenger numbers, a decision to increase fares in real terms and the arrival of 80 per cent. of trains on time; recognises that Network Rail has, to date, delivered a substantially worse performance at vastly higher cost to the taxpayer than Railtrack, and promises only to return to 2000 levels of train punctuality by 2010; condemns the fact that an increase since 1997 of over £10 billion per annum in taxes on the motorist has not been accompanied by any significant upgrading of the national road network; and calls for fair treatment for passengers, motorists and taxpayers alike.
I shall begin by setting out a good half dozen policies introduced by the Government or their agencies that we thoroughly support and happily endorse as commonsense measures that should continue. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] My hon. Friends should not get too concerned, as that is not the entire substance of my speech. However, let us start on a consensual note.

First, the Government were entirely right to establish the rail accident investigation branch in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill. During the Bill's passage through Parliament, we have made it clear that we would not seek to divide either House on a sensible measure that, I hope, will be a success.

Secondly, I very much welcome the Secretary of State's commitment in principle, as announced in recent days, to a national railcard. He will know that the Rail Passengers Council is particularly interested in a railcard that would encourage more people to turn up and go on trains, and use them at the last minute rather than for pre-planned journeys. It believes that such a card should aim to encourage people who travel infrequently by train to use the railway system more frequently, and—I hope that the Secretary of State and I agree about this—it should encourage more revenue for the rail system rather than cost it revenue.

The third welcome initiative, which has been introduced partly through Government intervention and partly by other means, steps up attempts to achieve the proper collection of fares. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may have had a similar experience to me: I have travelled on the west coast main line all the way from Oxenholme to Milton Keynes before a ticket collector has appeared. A recent development at Peterborough, where a couple of ticket collectors have been put on duty, has raised about £1.5 million of extra revenue in the past nine months. That is welcome, but I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that more needs to be done.

Fourthly, we welcome the decision by Network Rail to bring in-house some work hitherto undertaken by contractors. That is a sensible experimental measure, which will ensure that a proper comparison can be made between public and private sector provision. I also welcome the fact that Network Rail has stressed that that does not mean that it intends to bring all services in-house—it merely wishes to ensure that it is charged appropriate sums by contractors and is not being overcharged.

Fifthly, the Secretary of State will know that the Conservatives support the difficult decision to suspend some rail services for prolonged periods to accelerate the completion of engineering work. It is a difficult decision, because some people will undoubtedly lose out as a result, but, in some circumstances, it is the only means by which engineering work can be completed in a reasonable period.

We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has undertaken a partial U-turn on the policy pursued by his predecessors on new road construction. I shall deliberate on that a bit later, but he should be applauded for going as far as he has.

Finally, let me stress again that no one in the Opposition pretends for a moment that the problems with which the Secretary of State is wrestling are not long-term difficulties. They did not begin when he assumed his post in 2002, or when the Government came to office in 1997. We are dealing with problems that took many decades to build up and whose full resolution will no doubt take some considerable time.

But none of that, unfortunately, alters the fact that in many important respects the transport system of the United Kingdom is going backwards, rather than forwards. Things are getting worse, rather than better. In recent weeks there have been announcements of cuts in train services. The Secretary of State frequently quotes the figure of only 180 out of 18,000 services, so it will be helpful to hon. Members in all parts of the House if he can confirm in his remarks that that is the entirety of the cuts in train services that he anticipates will be announced in the coming months, as part of the efforts to improve the operation of the train timetable.

I will, if the hon. Lady will let me finish the point. I hope that she would agree that it is important that we should know whether that was a one-off reduction in train services, or whether more cuts are likely to be announced in the coming months and years.

The hon. Gentleman recognises the faults of the past. Does he accept his party's responsibility in creating Railtrack, which led to more than £200 million being paid in compensation to Virgin, because Railtrack failed to modernise the west coast main line, resulting in the fact that many services could not be run efficiently? Indeed, I believe the compensation figure may be more than £300 million.

The Opposition have made it clear that there cannot be any return to Railtrack, not least because, given what the Government whom the hon. Lady supports did to Railtrack shareholders, there is no prospect of the City underwriting any further flotation. If we are speaking of value for money in terms of decisions relating to which companies run the rail track, surely she must agree that it is astonishing that Network Rail has changed the accounting practices that it inherited from Railtrack, and that, had they been applied retrospectively, at the time when Railtrack was wound up as a loss-making company by the former Secretary of State, her right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), on Network Rail's current accounting practices Railtrack was making a profit of £1.5 billion a year.

Network Rail is spectacularly over budget and I will deal with that in greater detail in a moment. It is consuming huge sums of public money on a scale not even dreamt of by Railtrack, and as was established at Prime Minister's questions, the best the Government can tell us is that having spent all those tens of billions of pounds of public money, if we are lucky, by 2010 we might get back to the levels of train performance that Railtrack was delivering in 2000.

No, I will not give way to the hon. Lady again. She has had her chance, and we have seen what her interpretation of value for money is.

I was listing some examples of the significant backward steps that have been taken in recent weeks and months in relation to our rail industry. Not only have there been reductions in train services after years when, post-privatisation, there had been a substantial increase in train services, but there was the extraordinary saga of what happened to rail freight grants. That is admirably summarised in the report prepared by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which stated in a document published yesterday:
"The announcement of the award of £5.5 m of Freight Facility Grants in December, the suspension of the scheme in January and then, in May, resumption from 2004 further illustrates the stop-go approach that currently bedevils the rail industry."
How it is possible to plan sensibly for the future on such a basis escapes me.

The BBC has revealed that future orders for rolling stock in the coming eight years will be just 10 per cent. of the orders for rolling stock over the past eight years. At a time when more and more trains are running late, train services are being reduced and rolling stock orders are being cut, we are told by the Secretary of State that train fares are to rise faster than inflation, rather than according to the funding formula that the Government inherited from the last Conservative Government whereby train fares would increase by less than the rate of inflation. Under the Conservatives we had more trains, newer trains and better services, paid for by fares coming down in real terms; under the Labour Government we have fewer trains, older trains and later trains, paid for by fares going up in real terms.

I happily give way to the hon. Gentleman, who will no doubt explain why that is a wonderful bargain for the passenger.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that part of the reason why there are delays on the railways is the state of the rails themselves and the backlog of maintenance? While my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister acknowledged this lunchtime that there had been 30 years of under-maintenance, is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the year before privatisation, 1995, and the year after, 1996, track replacement was only at a fifth of the 1975 level? For 10 years prior to 2000, track replacement was less than half the previous rate. Is that not the reason why trains are running late now—

The problem for the hon. Gentleman is that after three years of Labour Government, 90 per cent. of trains were running on time, and after six years only 80 per cent are running on time, but the Government are saying that the best that they can hope to do is to get back by 2010 to the levels that they inherited from the previous Conservative Government. He may believe that that is progress, but I do not think most passengers or taxpayers will. It is extraordinary that, as we established in Prime Minister's questions, punctuality levels that this Government's own Deputy Prime Minister said were a national disgrace can be reached again only after spending £58 billion and a decade, while in all the interim, things will be worse than when they were at the level that he described as such.

Does the Secretary of State believe that that prediction, which was made by Network Rail this week, is (a) plausible and (b) acceptable? If he does not regard it as acceptable, what does he propose to do about it? Furthermore, does he have a view—he should have one, as he has gone on record as saying that Network Rail is now in the public sector—on the issuing of bonus payments to Network Rail senior management? Does he not think that it is a little unusual that such payments will be triggered not if management get train punctuality back to the 90 per cent. that this Government inherited or the 84 per cent. that was Network Rail's target at the start of this year, but if they get it back to 82 per cent.—a level that is substantially worse than that inherited both from the last Conservative Government and Railtrack? Does he have a view on that?

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the west country, the Great Western main line upgrade, which was in the SRA's 10-year plan, has been ditched and will not even start until after 2010? In some parts of the country, this is not a case of waiting until 2010 for everything to happen, as nothing will happen even in terms of starting the whole new programme?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Government are spending more and more public money, but delivering less and less for it. Her constituents are among the many who are suffering as a result.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems in terms of investment was the shambolic process that occurred at the time of privatisation? When companies were bidding for contracts, they completely underestimated the amount of capital investment that they needed to make in the rail network.

Again, the problem for the hon. Gentleman is this. If the situation was a shambles at that time, given that his Government have had six years in office, how come that on the basis of all the indicators, things are worse now? That is the question that he and his hon. Friends simply cannot answer.

I want to be fair to the Secretary of State in one respect, as the Government have set a clear target for Network Rail that has been met: they have said that it must be not-for-profit company. I must tell him that there is no danger of its coming up with a profit at the moment. There is no danger of that target not being met. Network Rail is losing £290 million on its own figures, which is the equivalent of £2 billion a year—the amount that would be lost if it accounted for its assets in the same way as Railtrack. I should have thought that that was not a huge achievement, as it involves losing public money hand over fist for years to come, but that was the target for Network Rail and I suppose that it has managed to keep to it.

I dare say the Secretary of State will again cite, as he often does, the fact that, under his watch, he is "investing" £73 million a week in tine rail system. He is certainly spending that amount, but with costs increasing, exploding levels of waste and rapid reductions in value for money, surely he should be ashamed of the fact that he is spending so much for so little return, not proud of it.

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is in the early stages of his speech. Before he gets much further, will he tell us whether a future Conservative Government would spend more or less than we are spending on the railways? If the answer is less, where would he not be spending the money?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that, of course, in common with all other Oppositions, including when he was shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the run-up to the 1997 general election, we cannot be expected to make spending pledges at this stage in the Parliament. However, in the second half of his question, he asked where it would be possible to make some reductions. Let me give him an example. The Strategic Rail Authority, the creation of this Government, is about to burst out of its office building in central London. It has become so overstaffed that it is going to need a second building in central London. Shortly, the Strategic Rail Authority, which does not run a single train or own a single inch of track, will have more employees in central London than British Rail had when it ran the whole system. That is an area where we could make some reductions and deliver a better service for everybody in doing so.

It is fascinating that the part-time Secretary of State for Transport has a problem in respect of his other part-time job in relation to the Scottish Parliament building, let alone the rail building.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that part of the problem is that there are now fewer trains stopping at essential stations on main line routes? That includes the west coast main line and services used by my constituents, whether the stations are situated in my constituency or immediately outside it. I suggest that that is one of the major contributory factors leading to a decline in services under this Government.

My hon. Friend is right, but one of his comments slightly reassures me. The substantial cuts in services that have occurred as a result of recent decisions have included a reduction in the number of services running through Oxenholme in my constituency, so I am pleased about one thing—at least he has confirmed that my constituents and I are not being singled out. People throughout the country simply do not recognise the Secretary of State's complacent statement that only 180 services out of 18,000 have been reduced. For many people using services out of many areas, the reduction is significantly more than 1 per cent.

Many of my constituents who travel back and forth from south Wales and west Wales will be very concerned to maintain the current investment and will be surprised that, on a day when the Opposition have called for a debate on this important subject, they are failing to guarantee that that investment will continue. Will the hon. Gentleman please give an answer that I can relay to my constituents?

The hon. Gentleman is treading on fairly dangerous ground. Is he saying that he or his Secretary of State can give an absolute pledge as to the levels of public spending currently set out in 10-year transport plan, let alone those now requested by Network Rail? Is he prepared to give an absolute pledge and undertaking that everything that Network Rail is asking for will be provided by the current Chancellor? If he gives such a pledge, he will face serious difficulties with the Treasury and his Whips, so he should be a little bit careful in asking others to provide guarantees that he cannot offer himself.

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman, but does he not recognise that, unless he knows how much he can spend, anything that he says about promises to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and other hon. Members will ring pretty hollow?

I find that comment extraordinary. Even in the Secretary of State's short time in office to date—barely more than a year—he has already had to come back on four separate occasions to revise the amount that he intends to spend in various aspects of his budget. For him to say, as I believe he just did, that the test of whether someone has a grip on transport policy is whether they can say specifically how much they want to spend when he has revised that sum four times in a year seems extraordinary even for him.

What did the right hon. Gentleman say when he came to the House a little while ago to make an announcement about the fact that he was scrapping the fare formula that he inherited, whereby fares would fall in real terms, and replacing it with a formula that involves their rising in real terms? He said that it was unreasonable for the taxpayers' share of money spent on rail to rise above 70 per cent. and that it was unfair for passengers to pay proportionately less. He will know that the Rail Passengers Council points out that in recent years the total amount of money being paid into the system by passengers has risen, not fallen, very sharply—by many hundreds of millions of pounds. There has been an explosion in costs. It is wrong for the Secretary of State to imply that a fixed sum is being spent on rail and that we should simply allocate that between taxpayers and passengers on the basis of fairness without taking into account whether that fixed sum is appropriate.

I want to challenge the Secretary of State on another matter; I shall be happy to give way to him on it, as he is so keen to intervene on me. This Sunday, The Observer had a front-page story saying that the Government were so dissatisfied with the present structure and operations of Network Rail—which, I remind Labour Members, was their own recent creation—that they were studying plans to break it up and replace it with regional alternatives. Was that story true or false?

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but would he like to come to the Dispatch Box to put it on record? [Interruption.] He says that he will address the point when he speaks, so we shall hold him to that pledge.

That is the situation on rail—increasing chaos and increasingly poor performance as a result of the Government's policies. Let us turn to the situation on roads. As the Select Committee on Transport has pointed out, roads, which are valued at about £62 billion, are the Government's principal asset. They require not only upgrading and expansion over time, but long-term maintenance. Yet in the years since 1997, although the taxes paid by the motorist have risen from £32 billion a year to £45 billion a year, investment in our roads has not remotely kept pace. Indeed, the proportion of those taxes spent on the road system has steadily fallen since 1997. No wonder that the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and many other organisations that speak on behalf of British industry have been deeply critical of what the Government have done on transport overall, and on the roads in particular.

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about road maintenance, will he confirm to the House that in the last four years of Conservative Government spending on road maintenance fell by 8 per cent. and that, according to the national travel survey, when the Conservative Government left office road maintenance standards were the worst they had been since records began?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman made that intervention, because he may come to regret it. In fact, the survey indicates that the quality of the local road network was at its highest in 1980 and deteriorated in the period thereafter. Who is responsible for the local road network? Local authorities. Who controlled almost every local authority in the country in 1980? The Conservative party. Who was in charge of large numbers of local authorities in the last four years of the Conservative Government? The Liberal Democrats. They were the No. 2 party in local government, as they kept telling us at the time. It was their failure: in the one instance where they had some responsibility, they underprovided. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; I should like a few more like it.

Does my hon. Friend remember a now-famous quote by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who said in Select Committee that we can all amend our opinions according to local circumstances?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Of course, that quote is transport-related, because the hon. Lady is in favour of a very large road project in her constituency, although we are always told that the Liberal Democrats are against any road projects pretty much anywhere.

The hon. Gentleman says, "No, we are not"—that is a very interesting comment to have on the record. I look forward to hearing him tell us that the Liberal Democrats have had a change of heart and are now in favour of some new roads.

I should be enormously grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell us whether the Conservative party is now opposed to the south-east Manchester multi-modal study proposals.

The funny thing about that is that the Conservative party is generally in favour of upgrading and expanding the road network; it follows that it is consistent for us to support roads in particular constituencies. The problem for the hon. Lady is that her party is generally opposed to new roads, yet she seeks to persuade her constituents that it would deliver a new road in her area. She has a problem; we do not.

While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of problems, can he tell us to what extent he expects putting up the speed limit on motorways to kill more people?

I am happy to deal with that point, since the hon. Gentleman raises it. As he will know, the RAC and the AA said today that it would be sensible to have a higher speed limit on motorways because nowadays the 70 mph limit is not widely observed, even by perfectly responsible drivers, nor is it enforced by the police. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) points out, it is certainly not adhered to by senior members of the Government. There is everything to be said for a rational review of speed limits, with the likelihood that some speed limits in some areas should come down—notably outside schools and through small villages—whereas other limits, especially on motorways, should reflect the nature of today's cars rather than that of the cars of 35 or 40 years ago, when the limit was introduced.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that one of the consequences of not-joined-up government is that county councils in particular have never had so little money to spend on the upkeep of rural roads, and are increasingly utilising the infrequency of the repainting of road markings and the prevalence of potholes as ways of making people go slower, neither of which is acceptable?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty fighter for common sense on such matters for many years. He highlights the severe difficulties created by the Government's scandalous rejigging of the local government grant system to pour money into their own areas at the expense of rural ones. That has had serious consequences, not least, as he rightly says, for road safety.

I have an embarrassment of riches. I shall give way once more to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies).

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's late recognition of a successful manifesto pledge made by the Labour party during the National Assembly for Wales elections, whereby 20 mph speed zones were to be introduced in built-up residential areas and around schools. It is good to see him supporting Welsh Labour policies.

The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I began my speech by saying that it is possible, however unlikely, for even the Labour party to come up with a series of sensible policies; and we, being a constructive, common-sense Opposition, will happily endorse such policies that come from anywhere. After all, today the Prime Minister, no less, adopted a policy suggested to him by the Leader of the Opposition.

I must make some progress; I have been speaking for 28 minutes and I wish to bring my remarks to a close shortly. The CBI this very day produced a report that is absolutely damning in its criticism of the Government's record on transport. It says,

"we believe the credibility of the government's approach is now at stake".
It calls for "swifter ministerial decisions". It says that the transport plan could be meaningless if it does not deliver transport benefits. It points out that only half of local transport plans are on target. It points out that Trafficmaster has produced figures showing that
"average journey times on key routes across the country have increased by 16 per cent. over the past four years".
On rail, it says, as was quoted at Prime Minister's Question Time:
"Performance levels have … yet to return to the levels of the late 1990s"—
a period that has significance for Members on both sides of the House.

This Government promise a great deal on transport and spend a huge amount of money, but deliver less and less, day in, day out.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would like to comment on the way in which the Government take decisions on strategic matters affecting roads. Yesterday, in Cambridge, a meeting involving four appointed members of a regional body—one from Luton, one from Bedford, one from Southend and one representing the Parish Councils Association—took the decision that there should be no timetable for improvements to the A47, which runs nowhere near any of their areas. If the Government are taking advice from bodies such as that, what hope is there for the strategic development of a road network?

As usual, my right hon. Friend makes a powerful and compelling point. The Government clearly use multi-modal studies not as a means of making decisions but as a means of avoiding them, and that needs to change.

I will not, because I want to ensure that others can contribute. I have given way generously to Members on both sides of the House, and I now want to set out some key elements of the fair deal for passengers, motorists and the taxpayer that the country desperately needs.

Network Rail needs to be properly accounted for and genuinely accountable. That would not only establish a better democratic remit for its work, but maximise its chances of raising capital in the City. At present it is neither properly accounted for in the shifty document that the Government dare to call a Red Book nor sufficiently grounded in reality in terms of its accounts, for the private sector to be interested in doing financial deals with it.

We want to slim down the Strategic Rail Authority. As we established earlier, it is over-bureaucratic and overstaffed, and is making too many interfering decisions. We would also require the rail system to live within cash limits. That principle seems to be applied to every other area of public expenditure; perhaps it should be applied to this as well. We would ensure that bonuses for Network Rail's senior management were tied to genuine improvements, not sleight of hand or simply a return to past levels.

For the passenger, we believe that the best way of ensuring higher-quality investment in stations, car parks, trains and staff is to establish longer train operating company franchises. The short franchises that are now being introduced make it impossible for companies to plan for the future and invest accordingly. We want much more information to be given to the travelling public, far more consistently; and we will permit fare rises only when they are linked to clear, understandable and demonstrable improvements in performance. Under us, the public pay more to get more; under them, the public pay more to get less.

For the motorist, under a Conservative Government there will never again be a year like 2001, when billions of pounds were raised in motoring taxes but not an inch of tarmac was added to the national road network. Indeed, 2001 was the first and only year in which that was true since the year when tarmac was invented. There will be a comprehensive review of speed limits to bring them in line with common sense and to maximise safety, and there will be an absolute commitment from the Conservatives to provide a Government who will be on the side of the motorist. There will be no more insults, no more hectoring and no more persecution—just a recognition that for millions of our fellow citizens the car is a necessity, not a luxury. Whitehall policy should recognise that driving is not a sin.

Six years of Labour Government have badly let down taxpayers, passengers and motorists alike. It is clear that the present Administration know everything about how to spend money and nothing about how to get value for it. We need a fair deal on transport, and Britain will only get it under the next Conservative Government.

I commend the motion to the House.

1.13 pm

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

"welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to investment of £180 billion through the Ten Year Transport Plan; applauds the decisive steps it has taken to set the country's railway system on the way to recovery following the shambles it inherited from the last Government's botched privatisation; recognises the balanced approach it has taken to maintaining and improving the trunk road network, taking account of wider environmental objectives; and notes achievements already evident in, for example, improved rolling stock for rail passengers, more reliable services for bus users, better maintenance of trunk roads for motorists and falling numbers of road accidents."
I welcome the opportunity to discuss transport policy. It is interesting, is it not, that this is the first time the Conservatives have called a debate on transport in 13 months. One might have thought that if they were so concerned about the subject they would have called a debate before now. I suspect that they were goaded into action after the Liberal Democrats beat them to it by about 10 days.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) for listing the six things with which he agreed. That is always useful to know. I think he will agree, however, that until he can say how much a Conservative Government would spend on transport everything else he says will lack credibility.

The hon. Gentleman ended by talking about road policy. Many of our problems with both road and rail—

I will give way to many Members, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to hold his horses for just one moment.

As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale acknowledged, many of our road and rail problems stem from the fact that for 30 or 40 years, unlike most other European countries, we have not experienced a consistently high level of spending. We are now establishing that level. Until the Tories can say what they would spend, their policies will lack credibility.

Is it not extraordinary that in a speech lasting 33 minutes—admittedly, he was generous in giving way—the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) did not once mention buses? What his speech did reveal was an obsession with railways. It seems that railways are important, but the Tories have no bus policy.

I hope my hon. Friend will not take it amiss when I say that I did not find that extraordinary. Given the Tories' record on buses during their 18 years in power, I think it was entirely par for the course that the hon. Gentleman had nothing to say on the subject—especially in the light of the difficulties caused by Tory policies in the mid-1980s, which we are slowly putting right.

The Secretary of State wants us to say what our spending plans will be when the next general election is called, in 2005 or 2006—perhaps he will tell us which! Will he also tell us what the inflation and rail inflation levels in those two years will be, which will enable us to obtain the necessary information?

If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would be very wary about lecturing the Government on inflation. Inflation is at its lowest for 30 years, and compares rather well with the double-digit inflation that we had to endure in the 1990s.

I will in a while, but I want to make some progress first.

Last year at the Conservative party conference, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said:
"We will earn public respect by the quality of our ideas, the strength of our convictions, and yes, the attractiveness of our policies."
Nearly a year later, the hon. Gentleman still has nothing to say about spending. His policies, announced yesterday in one or two newspapers, amount to support for the ability to travel on motorways at 80 mph, but only at night, and support for the removal of speed cameras.

Evidence shows that the number of deaths and serious injuries has fallen by a third in areas where speed cameras have operated. The Tories should be cautious before embarking on a policy of removing them. Surely all Members on both sides of the House agree that the reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries should continue, and, in particular, that we should stick to our target of halving the number of children killed or seriously injured in a 10-year period. If the law says that no one should travel faster than 30 mph in a built-up area, I should have thought that we would all support that policy. When people say that they are against speed cameras because motorists should not really be caught, I sometimes wonder whether they understand that speed can kill.

I recognise that some may be confused about what the speed limit is at different times of the day, but I think we all know that on occasion motorists exceed the speed limits on motorways. My guess is that if the limit were raised to 80 mph, people would be encouraged to think about driving at 90 mph.

It is, however, with spending that the hon. Gentleman seems to have substantial difficulties. I was surprised that both he and the leader of the Conservative party quoted the CBI report with such approval. I commend the report to all members. Page 2, for instance, says that there have been significant developments. It says that the Government are committed to widening the M1 and the M6. It commends the Government for setting up Network Rail. It refers to the introduction of congestion charges in London, which it supports. It mentions progress on urban transport, and comments that nine new roads have been opened since last summer and a further 10 are due to be opened this year. It also mentions that we are upgrading the A14 and are to construct a tunnel under Stonehenge, and refers to the progress we have made on the railways. It is all pretty good stuff, actually.

The one thing that I have not yet been able to find in the CBI report is a commitment to cutting public spending on transport. Indeed, it is rather the opposite. The report's main complaint is that we should be doing more, and doing it faster. When I spoke to the director general of the CBI yesterday, he expressed the hope that we would spend more. The leader or the Tory party said in December last year that the Tory Treasury team was
"looking at a target of 20 per cent. savings across the board in Government spending."
It will take more than reducing the head count in the SRA or anywhere else to get the sort of spending that most people would like to see in transport. Until the Conservatives tell us how much they are going to spend, their policy does not have any credibility. Perhaps when I give way to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, he will tell us, if the Tories are committed to a 20 per cent. cut in spending across the board, which they are because their leader has said it and their Treasury spokesman has said it, how on earth that will help transport spending.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has finally given way. I will nail yet again the total and complete fabrication that the Conservative party is committed to across-the-board 20 per cent. cuts in spending. It is not true. The hon. Gentleman would like it to be true but it is not. He should debate with the Conservative party as it is, not as he would like it to be. He quoted from page two of the CBI document but seemed suddenly to come to a halt half way down the second column on page 2. Could that be because it goes on to say,

"the multi-modal study process has continued to progress slowly and a number of significant problems have not been tackled"?
It continues:
"Even where the government has announced its recommendations, it has failed to reach conclusions on some key schemes."
The top of page 3, which he was about to quote, then read to himself and realised that perhaps he had better not, says on rail:
"Performance levels … have yet to return to the levels of the late 1990s",
and adds that the Strategic Rail Authority's strategic plan was "deeply disappointing." Perhaps he should quote the whole document, not just bits of it.

If we had time, I would happily read the whole thing into the record, but if I did that the length of my speech might rival even the hon. Gentleman's. I will come on to the railways shortly, but in relation to the 20 per cent., I am sorry but I recall hearing the Conservative party leader just before the new year saying on the radio that "they"—the Tory Treasury team—were

"looking at a target of 20 per cent. savings across the board in Government spending".
I believed him. Conservative Members may choose not to. After all, the hon. Gentleman accused him when he stood for the Tory leadership of being a member of a barmy army, so perhaps he still does not have any confidence in him.

To give Conservative Members some idea, the 20 per cent. cuts would mean cancelling the whole strategic road programme. That is the order of magnitude that they are talking about. Until they can tell us how much they will spend, their policies lack some credibility.

Is not the key to look at what the Conservative party did when it was in government? In 1989, it brought out the famous "Roads to Prosperity" White Paper, yet by 1996 every scheme in East Anglia included in the White Paper had been withdrawn from the programme. Today in East Anglia, no one could go at 80 mph, even if the speed limit were raised, because we do not have many motorways and there are hardly any dualled roads.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In 1990, the trunk road programme, which was entitled "Roads to Prosperity", announced no fewer than 500 schemes. By 1997, guess what the total was—it was 150. When Conservative Members give lectures about what we should have done and should be doing, they might remember that they had 18 years to look after the transport system and those 18 years are pretty pockmarked as far as their reputation is concerned.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale went on to say that not a square metre of road was built in 2001. Actually, in that year, 16 major schemes were under construction, so it is simply not true to say that no work was going on. Indeed, since the hon. Gentleman raised the subject of roads, I said earlier that one of the problems that we face is that successive Governments have not invested enough. They have not planned ahead.

Many of our motorways are 30 to 40 years old. The M6, for example, was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles a day. On some stretches, it carries more than 150,000. That is why I announced expansion of capacity on the Ml, M4, M5 and M6 last year. As I say, there are major road programmes under construction as well as a number of schemes designed to tackle bottlenecks in the system, which are now being completed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned rail.

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the roads, may I remind him that yesterday we met the Road Haulage Association, which is concerned about the position of the Rosyth ferry terminal being undermined by foreign drivers using our roads, driving the length and breadth of Britain using their fuel and reserve tanks? Rosyth ferry terminal provides a direct route to Europe, so there is no need to use the roads of Britain. Will he look at that issue?

That is why we are introducing the lorry road user charging scheme in 2006, with the complete support of the road haulage industry. It is unfair that hauliers from outside Britain can come and use the roads and not make a proper contribution. Everyone is agreed that the lorry road user charging scheme will be fairer. It will also be better, because as it develops it will enable differential charging to be applied, which will encourage lorries to use roads at off-peak times, rather than crowd on to them when they are very crowded.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale did not say something about that. I suspect that, at some stage on the Floor of the House we will have to engage on the question of road pricing generally. Clearly, there is not enough time for me to do it without being guilty of what the hon. Gentleman pleaded guilty to in speaking far too long. As we look at roads and at the pressures we face for the next 20 to 30 years, we will have to look at ways to manage demand. We will have something to say about that. I am surprised that when the hon. Gentleman set out his stall he had nothing to say about it, particularly as I know that a number of Conservative Back Benchers have views on the matter, which it would be interesting to hear.

Following up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan), has my right hon. Friend given any thought to the safety problems caused by overloaded lorries coming into this country from the continent, and the concern that the European Union is about to be enlarged and that the standards of driving required in some of the entering countries may not be the same as in this country? Will he take that on board and look into it?

Clearly, that is something that we need to look at. We are anxious to get the benefits of a wider single market and to encourage the movement of people and goods, but safety on roads is of paramount importance, which is why I say I would be nervous about sanctioning wholesale increases in speed limits without thinking through the consequences.

I want to make some progress but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.

I turn to the railways. I noticed that on what I take to be the Conservative party's website a press release with a picture of a charming young man beaming out at us—that is, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale—asks, "where are all the trains?" Let me answer that question. Since 1997, there are 1,300 more train services running every weekday—[Interruption.] That has been the increase since we have been in power. There has also been substantially more investment in the track.

The Conservative party implies—it comes through time and again, there is hint after hint—that it does not think that the spending is worth while. The problem we have, as I say, is that we have a backlog of 30 to 40 years' worth of investment. The west coast main line is the best example of that. That was last done up in the 1960s and early 1970s. It needs now to be virtually replaced. We are spending about £9 billion to do that. It will allow more services to run, cut journey times—an hour will come off the Glasgow run when it is completed, and it will take two hours to travel between London and Manchester. It will allow four trains an hour to run to Birmingham and more freight to run, but it is expensive. There is no getting away from that. If investment is left for 30 to 40 years, it is common sense that more has to be spent than if the line had been done up over the years, as it should have been. That is one of the reasons why we are spending so much money at the moment.

In the exchange at Prime Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend made the point that, after Hatfield, it became patently obvious that an awful lot more spending was required not just to make the railways safe but to make them reliable. That spending is beginning to bear fruit, in that there are now fewer temporary speed restrictions, the number of signals passed at danger has reduced and the train protection and warning system is on nearly 90 per cent. of track. That is all thanks to investment that we are putting in. So when people ask, "What do you get for your £73 million?", the answer is a railway system that is being steadily improved year on year.

I shall give another example. Is it not extraordinary that the 1930s power system for London commuter trains south of the River Thames did not begin to be replaced until last year? Railtrack never had that work on its books, and the Tories did nothing about it during their 18 years in power. We are now having to spend £1 billion to facilitate the new trains that are being introduced.

Talking of new trains, it really is extraordinary for the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale to claim that somehow the Tories replaced lots of trains. Yes, of course there were renewals, but what we are doing is replacing 40 per cent of rolling stock in five years, half of which will be for the London commuter system. For example, people who travel from London to Brighton can now use the new rolling stock. That is possible only because of the increased investment that we are putting in place.

When we bear in mind the fact that the railways are now carrying more people than at any time since 1947 and that there are more train services, people will realise that money is going in and that we are seeing improvements. But of course, the system is operating under quite substantial pressure, not least because the economy is growing. It must have been much easier in the 1980s, when there were 3 million unemployed and people could not go out because they did not have the money. Because we now have very low levels of unemployment and rising prosperity, there is more pressure on the system.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale also asked me about the structure. We set up Network Rail not quite a year ago, and I have made it clear that I have no intention of embarking on yet another structural reorganisation of the railways. That would simply result in people taking their eye off the ball, which cannot be in the interests of anyone. So if the hon. Gentleman wants to know about Network Rail, that is the answer.

On regional planning, it always has been the case that, where the passenger transport executive is involved, it makes sense for the national and local systems to operate together. If we can develop that, all well and good, but Network Rail is already getting to grips with the problems that it faces. Yes, that will take time, but it is taking action and we do not intend to distract it.

Are we not still reaping some of the disadvantages of the botched Tory privatisation, and is my right hon. Friend aware that MTL, the first holder of the privatised franchise in my area, actually began by shedding 80 drivers' jobs? Does he accept that that decimated services, and that MTL's successor is still grappling with that legacy? Was that not a raw deal for rail passengers, and is not that legacy still producing a raw deal?

My hon. Friend is right, in that privatisation resulted in a whole host of decisions for which passengers paid a heavy price. Several train companies thought that they could get by with fewer drivers and then discovered two things: first, they did not have enough drivers to provide services; secondly, they made the day of their remaining drivers, who secured very large pay increases to carry on running the trains. That is a curious situation to get into.

Returning to where we currently stand, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale implied that the Strategic Rail Authority interferes too much. It is clear to me that unless the railways are properly managed, and the SRA adopts a hands-on approach and demands better standards, we will go back to the days with which privatisation left us. For example, the SRA's decision of last week to remove the franchise from Connex South Eastern shows that it is not going to tolerate a company with £58 million of public money coming back and asking for more, and failing to put in place the financial arrangements that were supposed to have been made. The hon. Gentleman may want to return to a hands-off approach, but he—and more importantly, passengers—would pay a very heavy price indeed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the rail regulator condemned Railtrack for, among other things, neglecting its assets and being hostile to its customers? In the light of that background, does he welcome the SRA's proactive approach, and can he give us an assurance that we will not return to the bad old days of the regime set up by the Opposition?

I get the impression that the Opposition are hankering after the days of the privatised structure, but it would be a tragedy for the rail industry if we returned to them. What happened during Railtrack's stewardship is within very recent memory. It had no knowledge of the system or of what maintenance was being carried out, and checks were not made in every case. We do not want to go back to those days. I am glad that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale at least acknowledged that the days of Railtrack are over. It would be a tragedy if, as he seemed to be hinting, he tried to get it back in through the back door.

I want briefly to refer to local transport. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned the condition of local roads, and the point was well made. At least the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale had the courage to admit that between 1980 and 1997, the whole system declined. I seem to remember that the Conservatives were in power during that period, and could have done something about it. They were not above interfering in local government, and I am surprised that they did nothing here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) mentioned buses. Since we took office, the number of passengers being so carried is increasing substantially in certain parts of the country, particularly where there is a good bus operator and a determined local authority.

Does my hon. Friend agree that most of that growth has occurred in areas with bus regulation? Does he also agree that there is a growing feeling throughout the country that regulation could provide a far more effective and cost-effective bus service?

I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend. As I have mentioned before in this House, I used to chair the transport committee in Edinburgh when we had a regulated bus service. It was, and still is, a very good bus service, but in fact the route is more extensive and imaginative now than when the local authority ran the service, because regulations prevented it, for example, from running services out of the city. So I would be wary of saying that we should go back to the pre-1986 situation.

It is true that much of the increase in bus patronage has occurred in London, but there has also been a very substantial increase in places such as Brighton, York, Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In each case, a determined local authority has put in bus lanes and park-and-ride to encourage the use of buses, and the bus operator has shown a bit of imagination and flair. I have always said that we probably do need to see what more we can do to improve matters, but I do not subscribe to the view that we should go back to the old days. In fact, that would do nothing more than remove one set of problems and recreate another. We need to be a little more imaginative than that.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. In the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) has just said, is the Secretary of State not making a case for better regulation, rather than for returning to the old system? Would it not be easier for local authorities to provide an even better service if they owned and operated the public transport system themselves?

Not necessarily, but I agree with my hon. Friend that certain aspects of regulation do help. For example, one of the most irritating things is when bus timetables change regularly and without notice. If we want to encourage people to use a service, there has to be some predictability. We have been working with the industry and with local authorities to see what can be done about that.

No. I want to conclude my remarks, as the Front Benchers have spoken for long enough.

Until the Conservatives can tell us how much they would spend, everything that they say today will ring hollow. What transport needs more than anything else is sustained and adequate expenditure, which we have promised over a 10-year period. We are doubling the amount of money spent on the railways, and we have announced major improvements to the road network. We are planning for the future. But until the Conservatives tell us how much they would spend, and for as long as their leader sticks by his promise to cut spending by 20 per cent.—that is what he said—frankly, their transport policy completely lacks credibility.

I commend the amendment to the House.

1.39 pm

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I am grateful for the flattery from the Conservative party. The Liberal Democrats hold an Opposition day on tuition fees, and a few days later the Conservatives follow us by debating that subject; and, as the Secretary of State said, the Liberal Democrats hold an Opposition day on transport, and the Conservatives then do the same. The big difference is that, in the debate a few days ago, the Conservatives found our motion attractive enough to support it, but I have to tell the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) that I cannot reciprocate on this occasion, as we are unable to support the Conservative motion. Although it recognises the crisis in our transport system, it fails to acknowledge that many problems existed before 1997 and does not even begin to acknowledge the Conservative party's involvement in the creation of that crisis.

Sadly, the hon. Gentleman was unwilling to acknowledge that the Conservatives were one of the parties responsible for the under-investment, which the Secretary of State rightly says has existed over many years. As I pointed out in my intervention, investment in road maintenance over the last four years of the Conservative Government declined by 8 per cent., leaving road conditions in the worst state since records began. We have already heard other hon. Members refer to the Conservative party's guilt for the botched privatisation of our railways. That led to huge fragmentation and, because of the many organisations involved, many people spend every day working out who is responsible for each and every one of the far too many delays that occur.

The hon. Gentleman's speech seemed to imply continued support for all that was done during privatisation, but he must be aware that several of his hon. Friends are increasingly having doubts about the way in which it was conducted. For example, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), quoted in The Times on 20 October 2000, said:
"The system was made into too many different companies".
Yet the motion implies that the Conservatives would have preferred to continue with the lamentable and failed Railtrack. I remind the House that the Conservatives sold that body off for a sum £6 billion below its proper valuation, and that it caused huge conflicts between passenger safety and shareholder profit in a monopoly. The body did not have its own asset register.

Some Conservatives have been willing to acknowledge that the setting up of Railtrack was incorrect. For example, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
"Railtrack's licence at privatisation contained serious shortcomings because of the haste in privatising. As a result, passengers have seen poorer quality track, weak contracts between Railtrack and train operators and possibly unjustified performance bonuses to Railtrack".
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is keen to criticise Network Rail in that regard, but its predecessor, Railtrack, introduced them.

We have acknowledged that the system was too fragmented. The hon. Gentleman and I were involved in consideration of the Bill that became the Transport Act 2000, during which the Government had the opportunity, if they so wished, to change the structure of the rail industry. Apart from the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority, they left the system exactly as they had inherited it. It ill behoves them to criticise us now for the structure of the industry.

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair on the Government. I could point to other changes that have taken place, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has just acknowledged from the Front Bench the benefits of, for example, the introduction of the rail accident investigation branch. We have also seen the establishment of the Rail Safety and Standards Board and, through the work of the Strategic Rail Authority, a significant reduction in the number of franchises has been achieved. I would like them reduced even further, but it is unfair to suggest that no significant changes have occurred since the Government came to power.

There is no doubt that Railtrack needed to be changed. If the hon. Gentleman is so keen on Railtrack, perhaps he should listen to its former chief executive, Mr. Gerald Corbett, who, in October 2000, said:
"The Railway was ripped apart with privatisation. The structure that was put in place was a structure, let's be honest, to maximise the proceeds to the Treasury. There wasn't a structure designed to optimise safety, investment or to deal with the increase in passengers."
The Conservatives should certainly take some of the blame for the position of the railways.

The Conservatives also had disastrous planning policies, which led to a significant increase in the number of out-of-town shopping centres. They believed in the supremacy of the motor car, built on the famous quote of Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, that
"nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the great car economy".
The entire policy of predict and provide in road building, to which we hear the Conservatives are returning, led to the huge interest in the motor car to the exclusion of all forms of public transport.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) said that the Conservatives had no policy on buses, but that is hardly surprising in view of the most famous quote of all time about the buses, delivered by Margaret Thatcher when the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale was working in Conservative central office as her speech writer. This is what she said in 1986:
"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure".
Was the hon. Gentleman responsible for writing that?

The Conservatives not only have no policy on the buses, but continue to be the sole supporters of the car above everything else. Again, it is not surprising to hear that they have selected as their mayoral candidate someone who is going to rip out congestion charging—a move that many have accepted, if belatedly on the part of the Government, as a great success—and who said:
"The healthy smell of exhausts and kebabs, that's what I love."
If someone like that were responsible for transport in London, we should be deeply concerned.

I was perhaps a little unfair to suggest that the Tories did not have a policy on buses. In fact, they did have one—deregulation. It is worth reflecting that even before the Tory Government introduced deregulation, bus ridership fell by one third during their term of office, while fares increased in real terms by one third. Deregulation was then introduced, and—outside some notable examples of great success in London and some other major metropolitan areas—bus ridership has, sadly, continued to fall.

I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that all is not well under the current Administration, and I raised several concerns during the recent Liberal Democrat Opposition day debate on transport. The Government cannot always simply hark back to what the Conservatives did. It is worth reminding ourselves that the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) said:
"There can be no more excuses. It's now our responsibility. We can't blame the Tories any more."
We rightly have to examine what the Government have done and what responsibility they are prepared to take for it. In that regard, the House may like to know about a slip—a very interesting slip—made by the Secretary of State in a speech on rail fares on 19 June. The copy of the speech that was circulated to all hon. Members included a short sentence that the Secretary of State did not deliver at the Dispatch Box. It said:
"Government's responsibility is to make sure that the system is properly managed and properly financed."
It is odd that that sentence was left out, because it could be argued that he sought to distance himself from responsibility for some of those problems. As we have heard, cancellations on the railways have risen by 50 per cent. since the Government came to power, delays have doubled and we now have some of the slowest trains and highest fares in the world. Despite five years of the secure station initiative, only 140 out of 2,500 main line railway stations have signed up. Under the Labour Government, we have also seen for the first time in several years a decline in the amount of freight on rail. Especially worrying is the decision by the Royal Mail to remove packages and post from the railways.

Concerns also arise on all other aspects of the public transport system. Some parts of the country have problems with buses and congestion, which—as the Confederation of British Industry report says—costs British businesses £15 billion to £20 billion a year. However, the Secretary of State has acknowledged that the 10-year transport plan targets for reducing congestion will not be met. Indeed, the Government's motion shows a degree of optimism that is not always entirely warranted. For example, it refers to
"more reliable services for bus users".
Only last Thursday, the Government published a survey on passenger satisfaction that showed that customer satisfaction with bus reliability in non-London metropolitan areas has fallen two points in a year, and the overall rating across England has not improved, as the motion suggests, but remained static.

I have been critical of the Conservatives' record on roads, but the Transport Committee said last week that rural roads were in their worst shape for 25 years and that there was no chance of meeting the targets for overall road improvements by 2010. It is therefore no wonder that a recent survey showed 81 per cent. of the British public saying that the Government were failing on transport. That is why the CBI report accuses Ministers of inefficiency, indecision and an inability to deliver improvements.

The House will welcome the indication we received of the direction of Conservative transport policies. At last, they are beginning to develop—or are they? We heard much about the 80 mph speed limit proposal, which achieved much publicity for the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, but I checked the Conservative manifesto for the last general election and found that it contained that policy; so we are not, after all, hearing much new from the Conservatives. The hon. Gentleman did not mention his plan to scrap the bus lane on the M4 today. I do not know whether that is still his policy, but interestingly the Royal Automobile Club has said that he is barmy because all the research evidence shows that the bus lane has eased traffic flows on the M4.

The hon. Gentleman is desperately keen to be the motorist's friend, and I agree that we should not be anti-car, but he goes too far. In his speech to the Tory party conference in Bournemouth last year, he said:
"Motorists are the majority. We will speak up for them—and in doing so we'll be the true people's party."
He fails to remember that only 40 per cent. of journeys are made by motorists—they are not the majority. He also fails to recognise that the cost of motoring has steadily declined while the comparative true cost of public transport has rocketed. From 1974, the cost of travel by rail has increased by a staggering 85 per cent. and bus fares have increased by 66 per cent.

The situation is improving. In the past three years, the cost of fuel has fallen by 16 per cent. Before, we were at the top of the league table for the cost of fuel, but now we are mid-table. Even the price of cars has continued to fall and some studies show that we are now one of the cheapest places to buy cars.

The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for some 16 minutes. Will he now say something about Liberal Democrat policy on, for instance, car prices? Would they go up under a Liberal Democrat Government?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, I shall conclude my remarks with some positive proposals. The Conservatives may wish to be the friends of the motorist, but surely they must acknowledge that the vast majority of motorists—and businesses—do not want continued congestion on our roads. It therefore makes sense to the motorist, as well as to everybody else, to introduce measures that seek to reduce congestion. That is why the Liberal Democrats are prepared to support congestion charging and road pricing, if it can be demonstrated that they will reduce congestion and if the money raised will be ring-fenced and used to improve the public transport alternatives significantly. That is clear Liberal Democrat policy, and we are delighted that the Government—somewhat belatedly—will adopt a similar approach.

We could also make more progress by introducing soft measures to reduce congestion, such as giving greater support to companies for the introduction of green travel plans and to car share schemes and walking and cycling initiatives.

The hon. Gentleman is pursuing his anti-car agenda and perhaps he will illustrate that with a few examples from his own constituency. We can agree on road safety, but does he agree that the multi-modal study for Bristol, Bath and the south coast has done nothing for the A36—in which we share an interest—and its safety record? It is about time that that was sorted out.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and I entirely agree with his comments about the disappointment with the multi-modal study. As he will be aware, another study is now taking place that might lead to improvements. I also agree with him on road safety. I welcome the recent reductions in deaths on roads, especially in the number of young children killed, but much more needs to be done. The Government were wrong, for example, not to have followed through on their 1996 commitment to reduce the drink-drive limit. That would have helped to reduce the number of deaths, and other measures would also achieve that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is also essential to have a joined-up road and rail policy for the whole of the United Kingdom and that it would have been good to hear from the Secretary of State for Transport about the discussions that he is having with the Scottish Executive and the Secretary of State for Scotland on the issue?

Indeed. We might have heard more about what the Secretary of State says to himself in bed about the issue, because that is where he might find time for such discussions. The Minister will be able to address those issues when he sums up.

I believe that the whole House would agree with one other soft measure that I should like to propose, and on which I believe that more urgent action is desperately needed. In the mornings, 20 per cent. of congestion arises as a result of the school run. The latest figures demonstrate that, for the first time ever, fewer than 50 per cent. of all journeys to school are undertaken by children walking. The figures show a reduction in the numbers travelling by school bus, bicycle or other non-car modes, but there has been a huge increase in the numbers being driven to school. They now account for something like 30 per cent. of all journeys, 25 per cent. of which involve children being driven less than one mile to school.

I genuinely believe that urgent action could and should be taken to reduce the use of cars for short journeys, not least because there has been a significant increase in the number of young people classified as obese. If all the children being driven less than one mile to school walked there instead, the savings resulting from the improvement in the nation's health would be staggering. One analysis suggests that walking less than one mile to school would cause some 3 million pounds to be shed.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) was right to talk about the need to look at some new form of bus regulation. We do not want to go back to the old regulation regime, but I was delighted that the all-party transport executive of the Local Government Association voted on 25 June for some re-regulation. The Secretary of State was right to say that we cannot go back to where we were before, but we need to give local authorities more power. We also need a new framework to strengthen statutory quality partnerships, for example,

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that most passenger transport authorities support some form of regulation? They believe that the way that the system operates means that the private sector is ripping off the public purse.

Regulation in London has demonstrated that it can lead to a significant increase in bus ridership, and there have been similar improvements in areas that have PTAs. Their ability and power to develop local arrangements mean that they can commission public transport, much as the Strategic Rail Authority commissions our railways. I should like a move towards developing the PTA style of working in all regions of the country.

The Secretary of State was right to point to the number of areas in which there have been improvements on the railways. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale was good enough to acknowledge them. My list would be slightly different, as it would include the way that Railtrack was turned into Network Rail and the reduction in the number of franchises. However, he was right about the rail accident investigation branch and the Rail Safety and Standards Board. He was right too about the moves by Network Rail to bring some of the maintenance back in-house, and he was right to welcome the moves by the Secretary of State at least to consider the establishment of a national rail card.

The Secretary of State is right to say continually that the industry must address the issue of costs above all. He needs to work with the RSSB, which is reviewing the regulatory regime on the railways. I believe that the railways are now over-regulated, to the point where that is one of the factors adding to the extreme costs being incurred. We can argue about the number of contractors and subcontractors being used, and the Network Rail experiment is a move to resolve that. We can also point to the fact that heavier and more frequent trains add to the damage being caused, but there is no doubt that a key issue is to find ways to ensure better value for money.

I support the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale in his call for more to be done in respect of collecting the fares that are due. He did not say so, but studies show that between 10 and 15 per cent. of fares remain uncollected. Notwithstanding the scheme in Peterborough to which he referred, a lot more needs to be done to collect the money that is owed.

Finally, the Secretary of State is undertaking a major revision of the 10-year transport plan. Hon. Members from all parties accepted that a long-term plan was a good idea in theory, and they supported it. Sadly, the current plan has not worked. The Government have dropped so many of the targets that there is an urgent need to develop a new plan.

Any new plan must command everyone's total confidence, and we will need to know that the Government have confidence in it for the total planning period. Without that, we can be certain—given the stop go nature of funding for rail freight, for example—that the private sector investors on whose money we depend so heavily will not have confidence in the plan.

Moreover, the public deserve a transport plan in which they can have total confidence. I hope that we can all unite on the need for people on all sides to be willing to work with the Secretary of State to develop a revision of the existing plan in which the entire country can have total confidence for the future. In the absence of such a plan, it is not possible for us to support the Government's amendment, which is far too self-congratulatory. We shall certainly not support the Conservative motion, as it simply fails to admit and acknowledge that party's involvement in creating much of the present problem.

2.6 pm

I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate, as transport is the key to the future of the Lowestoft and Waveney areas that make up my constituency. Our main problem has long been unemployment in a weak local economy. Unemployment hit the heights of 14 per cent. under the previous Conservative Government, and it was at 11.7 per cent. when I was elected in 1997.

The success of the present Government can be measured by the fact that unemployment in the area has fallen to 4.5 per cent., but it is still at least double the level found in the rest of East Anglia. It shows that, although the figures may go up or down, my area still suffers from structural unemployment. The Government have recognised that by awarding us assisted-area status, European objective 2 funding and single regeneration budget funding. None of those aids was granted by the previous Conservative Government.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that we have lost traditional industries such as shipbuilding, fishing and food canning. A coach works that once employed thousands of people has also gone. Although other parts of the country have also lost traditional industries, we seem unable to attract new ones to take their place. In recent weeks, we have learned that unfortunately the oil and gas industry is to move from the area. Shell has announced that it is to close down its base in Lowestoft completely. That will leave a gaping hole in our local economy.

The question to which we return again and again is why we cannot attract new firms to our area. My constituents are very hard working, and labour costs are among the lowest in the country. Land is also cheap. The problem has to do with location. Location, location, location: that is where transport comes in. Companies are reluctant to locate in the more remote and peripheral parts of the country. As I have told the House many times, Lowestoft is the most easterly point in Britain.

The problem is rendered especially difficult by the fact that we are served by such poor transport links. I must tell Opposition Front-Bench Members that not many of my constituents are able to travel around at 80 mph, even during the night. There is hardly any dualled road in my area, and almost no motorway in the whole of East Anglia.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem—certainly in my all-urban constituency, but I suspect that it applies equally to my hon. Friend's area—is that some idiots want to drive around at 80 mph at night, even in areas where the limit is 30 mph? Despite that, the Opposition want to get rid of speed cameras.

The situation to which my hon. Friend refers is the same all over the country, but it is especially dangerous in my area because many of the roads are nothing more than winding country lanes. When people go along them at ridiculous speeds, they crash; our road accident figures are frightening. The answer is not just road safety measures; we must also modernise and upgrade those roads, especially when they provide key economic links to important towns such as Lowestoft.

The absence of good transport links only accentuates the peripherality of the area that I represent. By comparison, when industries close in what I describe as the "thoroughfare" of the country, other industries often move in quickly, so employment remains quite buoyant in those areas. However, that is not the case in the coastal regions.

Obviously, we cannot alter our geographical position—nor would we want to do so, because there are many beautiful features of life on the coast—but we must improve the road links. At one time, the roads to Lowestoft were as good as those anywhere in the country, but despite the investment that has occurred, although roads in many other areas have improved over the decades, there have been no improvements in northeast East Anglia.

Earlier, we heard from the Opposition about their new fair deal for the road user. What sort of deal has East Anglia received from the Conservatives in the past? In an intervention, I pointed out that the White Paper "Roads to Prosperity", which was published in May 1989, promised that the Al2, which serves my constituency, would be dualled to Lowestoft by 1999. The White Paper never really got off the drawing board and only a few schemes were prepared—a couple of village bypasses and the famous third crossing of the river in Lowestoft. Once the Conservatives had won the 1992 general election, those schemes were gradually given lower and lower priority. Then a special category called "longer term" was invented, and they were all placed there until, in the mid-1990s, they were abandoned completely. That caused my predecessor to ask the House, at the end of a debate with his Transport Minister:
"What can I take back to my constituents, who have been deeply affected by the change in the economic base in the past decade? With their great hopes of investment in the area's infrastructure from taxpayers wiped out—at least for now—what can I take back to my constituents?"—[Official Report, 17 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 717.]
He was able to take nothing back to his constituents from the party who were then in government—now the Opposition—because there was no fair deal from the Conservatives then, just as there would be no fair deal now, only continued neglect.

Is not my hon. Friend showing the inconsistency in the Conservative approach to motorists? The Conservatives are the motorist's falsest friend, not only for the reasons that he gave but also for their botched privatisation of buses and rail, which means, in effect, that people who want a public transport alternative have been forced into their cars, while those who choose to use their cars or are dependent on them face longer journeys, more pollution and accidents in their community.

My hon. Friend is right. The frequently stated policy of Margaret Thatcher's Government was to force people on to the roads. They built up people's hopes with the promise of new road schemes and then dashed those hopes by never being able to deliver.

Since 1997, this Government have acted in my area. We received £3 million for the northern spine road in Lowestoft, and in December 2000 we were awarded £25 million for the south Lowestoft relief road. I congratulate Suffolk county council on mounting that bid under the local transport plan, although three years on, its progress in developing the scheme could have been much quicker. Those schemes will make a real difference to transport in and around the main town in my constituency.

However, better transport links between my constituency and the rest of the country are essential if my area is to have a stronger economy and lower unemployment. Those whom I categorise as anything-but-roads people put ideology before practicality; they challenge the very idea that road improvement could lead to strengthening the economy. All too often, the famous SACTRA—Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment—report is quoted at me, or rather misquoted, because such people claim that it concludes that building roads does no good. SACTRA did not say that. It noted that in an area where roads are already well developed, further development might not bring massive benefits. However, the report comes down on the positive side: investment in road upgrading has economic benefits. It also pointed out that there can be no blanket rule; each area and its circumstances must be considered. The report does not make the statements which opponents of roads claim that it makes.

There is plenty of evidence from around the country that road improvement can bring economic benefits. Members who represent north Wales constituencies are pleased that the A55 was upgraded. A study from the Cardiff business school showed that there were economic benefits. A similar study of roads around Merthyr in south Wales came up with the same results. A study of the A40 to west Wales concluded that benefits would accrue if there were road improvements. I did some of my teacher training in Hull and can remember what a downtrodden place it was in those days. When I returned several decades later, its road links had been dramatically improved and the town was thriving. Although there cannot be universal certainty that investing in road upgrades will bring economic benefits, there is evidence that, in many circumstances, it can.

Who says that investment in upgrading the roads to Lowestoft would make a difference? Neither employers trying to run their business from a difficult position with poor links, nor the trade unions are in any doubt as to whether it would make a difference. Management and unions are at one on that issue.

Our area has one of the lowest business start-up rates in the country. Those figures tell a story. Why are people more reluctant to risk starting a business there? It is because they realise that they will be at a disadvantage because of the poor transport links. At Westminster, when I talk to national business leaders, I ask them whether they would consider locating in my area. The answer is that they might be interested if we had better transport links. Whenever Ministers visit my area, they are late; it always takes them longer than they expect to get there. Their first comment is that the roads or the railways are not too good.

In asking for better links and more investment, one needs to establish which route should have priority. I conducted an extensive survey of employers in my constituency: I asked 300 for their views and 200 replied. Overwhelmingly, they pointed to the need to improve the A12. So towards the end of the year, with the co-operation and support of the local newspaper, the Lowestoft Journal, I launched our "upgrade the A12" campaign. I pay tribute to the editor of that newspaper, Russell Cook, for his persistence with the campaign—week after week, we are going on with it in the local paper.

The campaign's aim is simply to get a faster, more reliable journey time up the A12 to Lowestoft, and there has been a fantastic and overwhelming public response in support of the campaign. We have had support from all sectors, not just business. Those in the health sector tell me that it is often difficult to recruit the people whom we need in the heath service because we are perceived as being a little remote and off the beaten track. We have had support from those in the education sector, who tell me that the aspirations of youngsters in schools are often less than they should be because people's horizons are limited. Upgrading the road is supported not just by people in the town of Lowestoft, but by those in villages on the route, who obviously want bypasses. That support is still growing, but our campaign has come across a major obstacle: Suffolk county council.

Suffolk county council's idea is not to upgrade the A12 to produce a faster, more reliable journey time, but, through its so-called route management strategy, to slow traffic down further—with more traffic lights, more speed limits, more bollards—in the hope that that will make the road safer. I fear that it will just make road users more frustrated because in this; century they expect a better quality road than we have now. I suspect that an anything-but-roads mentality lies at the heart of the county council's approach.

The A12 was detrunked about three years ago. Of course, detrunking does not preclude highway authorities from including road improvements in their local transport plans and sending them to the Government. Unfortunately, Suffolk county council's view is that Lowestoft's main link to the rest of country should involve going north, through Great Yarmouth, on to the A47. I am concerned that that idea seems to have taken root regionally, and I want to ensure today that my hon. Friend the Minister does not take up the idea nationally, because it is nonsense.

The idea that, if people in my town want to go south to London, they should start by going north to Great Yarmouth is crazy indeed, especially for people who live in the south of town, as they would have to cross the river on the only bridge, which lifts up about 10 times a day. The idea that people would go through all that to travel south beggars belief. I have measured the distance involved, and going to London via that so-called strategic, preferred route is 16 per cent. further, resulting in 16 per cent. more emissions. The survey that I carried out with local businesses showed that the A47 route was least favoured; it was of least use to those who form part of the local economy of my area.

As I have said, the SACTRA report indicated that local studies were needed to see whether improving the roads would bring the hoped-for economic benefits. A number of studies have been undertaken in the past few months in our area. Suffolk Development Agency commissioned consultants, Ecotec, to take a look at the A12 between Ipswich and Lowestoft. It estimated that the county council's route management strategy—the speed limit and bollard approach—would cost us 600 jobs, and it found that there would be a positive correlation between upgrading the road and creating more jobs.

Suffolk business link commissioned some consultants called Transitions to look into why we have a low level of business start-up. One of the findings was that transport improvements are essential to connect such businesses with national and international markets. A sub-regional study was carried out by consultants SQW, and its finding was unequivocal:
"The A12 southwards from Lowestoft to Ipswich, Felixstowe and London should provide another strategic link into the subregion even though it has been de-trunked between Lowestoft and Ispwich".
Clearly, the A12 is enormously important to our area.

Including improvements in the Suffolk local transport plan must be the way forward. Our campaign will force a rethink by Suffolk county council, because its so-called sustainable approach to road transport is unsustainable for my constituency. Local people know it, and they will find ways to demonstrate that. In preparation for the time when the local transport plan is submitted to Ministers for decision, I suggest that a new dimension to Government policy, particularly transport policy, is needed in relation to the towns around our coasts such as the one that I represent, and the more peripheral parts of our country.

We need to ensure that all those places are properly connected to the modern infrastructure. That will be more important than any development grant, or any other schemes that may come and go. That idea was a key theme in yesterday's seminar about seaside towns that took place in, and was led by, the Treasury. Nearly everyone who represented a seaside town came up with the same point: our towns would be helped most by better transport links. I hope that the Government will take the ideas from that seminar and work them up into a policy, under the revision of the 10-year plan, because we want to connect those parts of the country that risk being left out to the main infrastructure.

In April, during the week when we heard the bad news from Shell, I asked the Prime Minister to
"look at what can be done to help towns such as Lowestoft where there are many good, hard-working people but, because of the town's peripheral location, it is hard to attract new businesses when we lose the industries that have been there so long".—[Official Report, 2 April 2003; Vol. 402, c. 909.]
I hope that the Prime Minister takes that to heart and that the Government come up with an answer.

I have been saying that Lowestoft has three possible futures. I am sure that that could be said of other towns around the country. It could be a retirement town, a dormitory or a thriving, working town. Only one of those gives a future for young people: it has to be a thriving, working town.

Therefore, we need a new policy. We talk about inclusion, so let us adopt an inclusive approach to transport, and not leave places outside the main network. If the Government can make that a priority, we will truly have a fair deal for all parts of the country.

2.28 pm

I should like to declare my interests in road haulage and transport, as shown in the Register of Members' Interests.

I welcome the debate because transport is important to all Members and constituents. As we heard from the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), transport has a major impact on the prosperity and general well-being of towns. I grew up in Chippenham, which originally grew on the railway line west out of London—the Great Western Railway line. I can remember the M4 being built, and people did not quite know what impact it would have. However, if people go to that town today—or Swindon, or anywhere else on the M4—they see a vibrant, much-changed community, and jobs, homes and services have been built on the back of that infrastructure.

I can perfectly understand the hon. Gentleman's comments. It is vital that people consider how easy it is to get in and out of communities. Its takes years to build roads and infrastructure in this country, so if there is nothing on the stocks, people find it tremendously frustrating to try to sell the benefits of their community or town. We all know that those very important decisions can have a great impact on the way in which wealth is divided across our nation.

The debate is also interesting because the problems are long term, and it is probably true to say that all Governments have under-invested in transport. I have occasionally wished that we were rather more French in our single-mindedness towards large schemes, so that we got on with things.

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we ought to be more French. Would he suggest that we bring our railways back into public ownership in a state-owned integrated system, as the French have done, which works extremely well?

Many aspects of the French railway system work very well, but from my experience of travelling on it I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I was thinking more of the general attitude of people in France, which is a can-do, "Let's go and build something" attitude. Sometimes, the French do not consult people as much as we do, but I have always been struck by the fact that they see transport very much as part of regional policy, especially in northern France, in which unemployment is higher and where communities vie to have railways lines and roads built through them for their benefit. That is a little different from the attitude in our dear nation, which is a country of owner-occupiers who tend to judge every project on the basis of whether the value of their home will go up or down. I acknowledge that it would cost money, but if we offered more generous compensation we might find it easier to build such infrastructure projects.

We are six years into this Government, and inevitably there will be some reflection on their record. It is true that at the end of the last Conservative Government there was a reduction in the road programme—which I opposed—and the number of schemes was reduced to 150. Within a year of this Government coming to power, however, the Deputy Prime Minister made further reductions. A number of multi-modal studies followed, which, whatever their benefits, tended to put off public investment rather than speed it up, which is one reason for the lag in investment. I am pleased that the Government have started to realise that that was a mistake and that they must make provision for roads; they are now starting to put right some of the mistakes that they made in their first few years. There is no doubt, however, that because of the lags in investment they will take a while to catch up. The criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins)—that last year was not a great year for new road schemes—was perfectly right.

Other than taxing them, the Government have ignored motorists, from whom they have taken £9 billion or £10 billion in vehicle excise duty and VAT. It is sometimes presumed that motorists are rich and that those who use public transport are poor. I suspect, however, that those who commute to their jobs in the City may be better paid than many in rural communities, where a car is a necessity and where it may be difficult to afford a car.

Interestingly, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who is no longer in his place, talked about cheap fuel and cheap cars, the implication being that that was rather a bad thing. For many of our citizens, it is rather a good thing because it allows them to take their children to school, to go to the supermarket and to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. As democratic politicians, we should rejoice in that. It is no bad thing that people should enjoy the fruits of a prosperous economy.

We have also heard responses to the Deputy Prime Minister's comments about and commitment to reducing traffic on the roads. As the current Secretary of State for Transport has made plain in a number of comments since, fuller levels of employment and a fairly robust economy will inevitably mean that more people will travel on the roads. That proves how stupid it was for the Deputy Prime Minister to think that we could artificially stop people using cars when they need them for their everyday work and everyday lives. We need to put far more effort into provision for motorists and roads, because that is how the vast majority of people in this country travel. It is the method of choice, and we can understand perfectly why people prefer to use their cars when public transport costs are spiralling. More imaginative ways exist, however, of managing the current system.

Some comment has been made about the announcement that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale made about speed. I see nothing wrong with variable speed limits. I know that some who work for motoring organisations are concerned that people will be confused, but we have variable speed limits on the M25 that go up and down with traffic flow, and I see no reason why our whole motorway network should not have variable speed limits. Why have one speed limit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whatever the traffic and weather conditions? That seems nonsense. It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with driving at 80 mph down a motorway at night when there is virtually no traffic and conditions are good.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if we increase the limit to 80 mph many people will feel that they can exceed it by a further 10 mph? If a fox or something else crosses even an empty road it is very easy to have an accident at such speed. The danger with variable speed limits is that accidents will increase dramatically.

I do not see that there is a great problem with such speed limits. The general safety record on motorways is very good. We have a fairly good record for pedestrian accidents. Far too many children are killed in road accidents, but most of them occur at lower speeds where cars are parked on the road near estates and schools. A perfectly respectable argument exists for having a lower speed limit, and much higher levels of enforcement, in areas where young people leave school, jump on their bikes and try to get home. That is where they are at risk. We heard evidence at a meeting with the RAC that there are certain ages at which children are particularly at risk; usually, it is when young boys in their early teens get on their bike, rush home from school and perhaps do not pay attention to the highway code. We should target those children to reduce accidents. I welcome the Government's commitment to halve the number of deaths of children on the roads.

With traffic on only one side of a motorway and with modern cars, modern brakes and good conditions I do not see any problem with people travelling faster. Conversely, when there is a lot of traffic on a motorway network, and when weather conditions are not good, we ought to be able to reduce speed limits. In addition, on the M25, at times of the day when there is a high volume of traffic, bringing down the speed limit means that people get home quicker, because people do not have to brake as often. Management of speed limits on the network—not being afraid to put them up as well as down—is one way of addressing the problem.

I agree about reducing speeds around schools, but I understand that the Conservative party wants to get rid of speed cameras. How will he reduce speed in urban areas without more checking and enforcement of limits?

I am not the greatest reader of party publications—I say that as a vice-chairman of the Conservative party—but, as I understand it, speed cameras should be placed at accident blackspots. The objective of a speed camera is to save lives and deter motorists from speeding and thereby killing people. Cameras should not be used on safe stretches of road as a means of raising revenue. When I drive around the country I sometimes see speed cameras in areas where I think they are being used as revenue-raisers rather than what they should be used for—saving lives on the road. That must be the focus of what we are doing. Therefore, as a nation, in terms of road safety, we must be single-minded in concentrating on more vulnerable groups such as children.

In addition, we must not just concentrate on the motorist but educate pedestrians. I am amazed by the number of times that pedestrians walk off the pavement without looking, often when they are talking on a mobile phone or listening to a Walkman. When I see cyclists going through red lights in London and not obeying the highway code, I wonder why so many are not knocked over. There is a role, therefore, for better public education in these areas. Variable speed limits are a tool that can be used to improve the road network.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the facts do not support the assertion made in an intervention by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett)? In France, for example, motorway speed limits are 80 mph, and there is no evidence of more accidents occurring there. In Germany, I believe there is no upper limit on the major motorways.

That is true, but this country has a tradition of having speed limits. We should reconsider the whole issue of speed limits and perhaps consider variable speed limits.

Thinking on traffic lights is fixed. They often operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and one can often sit at a traffic light at 2 am while driving to one's constituency through Twickenham. We have a mania for putting traffic lights on roundabouts, which are supposed to keep traffic flowing. It might be appropriate for traffic lights to operate briefly at certain times of the rush hour if there is a need to allow people on to a roundabout, but I cannot understand why such traffic lights operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because that disrupts traffic.

The route from the motorway network to central London is one of the most congested because of all the traffic lights through which one must pass. Traffic lights should be audited to determine their impact on the system. The timing of traffic lights in London was changed before the Mayor introduced congestion charging, and such a measure can have a real impact on the speed of traffic.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and some powerful points, especially about the unnecessary waste of human time and increased pollution that are caused by vehicles being forced to stop at a red traffic light when no vehicles are coming in the other direction. That happens because the lights are on a timer. Does he agree that some states in America have the right idea, because during non-rush hour periods traffic lights flash amber in every direction, which means that motorists may cross them? The lights give a warning to take care.

I am not sure whether I would like to try that, but my right hon. Friend makes a good point. I know that motorists in America can sometimes turn left on a red light if the way is clear.

My essential point is that we must consider the management of our road network and roads much better. We should have a system to examine routes from A to Z and audit the number of traffic lights and roundabouts, the design of the road and speed levels all along the route to determine whether traffic could be allowed to move faster without the requirement for massive investment in more concrete and tarmac. That might require a review of bus lanes, because although they increase the speed of buses they knock back other traffic. We should look at everything and make an assessment of specific routes. On narrow sections of road, especially, there are occasions when a few cars parked on the side can knock traffic back, so we need more active management. I am not sure what the system should be, but I hope that Members on our Front Bench and the Government will consider it.

How would the hon. Gentleman's review reconcile faster flows of traffic with the need for pedestrians to cross the road?

Stakeholders, to use that terrible word, must be considered. There are always competing interests—pedestrians, cyclists, buses and cars—and a judgment must be made. We sometimes do things in an itty-bitty way. One may drive into London through three or four boroughs with different policies, and a more comprehensive view might result in better policies.

The Government have neglected the motorist for too long. I am glad that they are having a deathbed repentance and that they are taking the issue more seriously. I caution against hitting the motorist with higher taxes, not least because it is a rather regressive way of dealing with people. Anybody from the west country knows that many people who live there are on marginal incomes but need vehicles to support their employment and look after their families. The importance of motoring has been underestimated in recent years and it must be a central issue. We can do many things without building vast motorway networks and we need creative thinking. As I said, 24-hour and seven-day thinking on speed limits and traffic lights makes the situation worse. If we were a little more creative, we might improve the lot of our fellow motorists and passengers.

2.45 pm

The Conservatives are rather shooting themselves in the foot by initiating a debate on transport because most of our problems derive from the policies that they pursued when they were in office. I make no apology for reminding them about rail privatisation and bus privatisation and deregulation because the effect of those measures is to an extent still with us. I would go further than my colleagues on the Front Bench by reversing those policies, and I think that we shall do that one day.

I shall certainly support the Government's amendment and oppose the Tories' motion, but I think that I would delete the word "botched" from the amendment. There is constant reference to the privatisation being botched, which implies that the privatisation of such an industry as rail could be a good thing. That is not the case, and we would make more progress if we deleted the word "botched" from the Government's lexicon for the foreseeable future.

If the privatisation policies were so bad, why have the Government not reversed them?

I imagine that the Government have other priorities, although I am doing my best to persuade them to do such a thing. Indeed, I urge hon. Members of all parties to sign the early-day motion that I tabled this week calling for railways to be brought back into public ownership. The railway systems that work best are integrated state systems that are backed fully by government, such as those in France and elsewhere. As a member of the all-party rail group, and the former all-party rail freight group, I have made many visits abroad to see good railway systems in operation.

Tragically, our railways have received poor investment for many decades but the cost of replacing a mile of railway track has increased by four times since privatisation. That is a direct result of privatisation and the contracting rip-offs that continue to this day. The Government are gradually inching their way back toward common sense and I urge them to go further in that direction. The Strategic Rail Authority's decision this week not to give Connex back its franchise is another step in the right direction, and I look forward to the SRA garnering further franchises as a basis for pubic ownership and future reintegration.

In a sense, the privatisation was botched because it split track operations from train operations. I think that everyone realises that that was a big mistake. The idea was that there could be a degree of competition among train operators on the infrastructure provided, but there is plenty of evidence showing that that does not work. Clearly, we cannot have a situation in which trains race each other on parallel railway lines. Buses can race each other on the road, at least, but that is not possible on railways because there is one track and one train. It would be much better for the rail system to be planned and operated in the public interest with appropriate subsidies if necessary.

Surely my hon. Friend is aware of the racing that used to take place between Scotland and London to determine whether the east coast or west coast service was the fastest.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. My great-great-great-grandfather used to drive the Flying Scotsman. Sadly, he died in a railway accident—he was probably going too fast.

In general terms, with that notable exception, trains do not race or compete against each other on the same track. The service should be planned and run in the public interest and subsidised if appropriate. Everything that is done should be made accountable to the House and, through us, to the public. We had that system before but the problem with the days of British Rail was that we did not invest sufficiently, so our railways lagged behind those on the continent of Europe for a long time. We are starting to address that problem but we must go further.

There has been emphasis on roads, but they are often congested.

There are two reasons for that. The first is that there is too much traffic. The second is that roads, especially motorways, are constantly being repaired because of the damage caused not by cars but by heavy freight.

I am a great supporter of freight transport by both road and rail. However, the mathematical formula—the fourth power law of road damage—shows that damage to roads increases by the fourth power of the axle weight. So if one doubles axle weight, one multiplies road damage by 16 times, and so on. That is a problem. If we get significant amounts of freight off the roads and on to rail, we will make a difference not just to the environment but to road congestion and the massive expenditure that comes out of the Treasury' pocket—the public purse—to pay for repairs. There will also be a smoother flow of traffic in general. Freight would be more reliable, especially from more remote industrial areas to the channel tunnel, if we invested more in rail freight facilities.

I have long been a supporter of the Central Railway scheme to provide a direct dedicated freight link from the industrial north to the continent of Europe. A reliable roll-on-and-go service, operating every quarter of an hour, with full-scale trailers on trains, would be tremendously popular with road hauliers and the people who suffer from the problems caused by traffic. It would be a boon to Britain and could breathe new life into the economies of the north midlands and Scotland, and I am paying particular attention to the interests of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who represents a Scottish constituency. That scheme would make a difference to our economy.

We are peripheral to Europe. Unlike Germany and France, we are not in the golden triangle. We have to ensure that our transport freight links to the continent are effective. The channel tunnel is underused, and there is scope for it to carry more freight. That would transform the economics of channel tunnel operations. The passenger forecasts for the channel tunnel have been proven to be overblown. There is scope for more freight to go through the tunnel. A direct link between industrial areas of Britain to the tunnel, which would accommodate full-scale trailers on trains, would benefit everyone. There is a scheme to that effect and I hope that my hon. Friends back it. At the very least, I hope that they support the principles behind it.

I have always been concerned about road safety. I used to wear a seat belt before they were compulsory, much to the annoyance of some of my friends. They used to think that I did not trust their driving, but my response was, "I trust your driving. It's the person who's going to crash into us that I don't trust." They thought that was a smart answer. I used to wear a crash helmet when I rode my motorbike. I have always tried to be sensible about drinking and driving, even before the law was tightened. Those are sensible things to do, but not everyone is sensible. Unfortunately, we have to encourage people to be sensible by applying a law from time to time.

If we relax the laws on driving, a minority of drivers will be irresponsible and drive too fast, which will ruin our reputation as a nation of safe drivers, with a low accident rate. I hope that my hon. Friends will not listen to the siren voices that call for a relaxation of our sensibly strict controls on driving and safety.

2.54 pm

Transport is a key issue in my constituency and other parts of south-east Hampshire. Economic and housing developments put a great strain on existing infrastructure, leading to traffic jams and tailbacks in the area. Unfortunately, rather than problems being solved before they arise, there has been a pattern of solutions following the chaos that such development has caused.

We are at a defining moment. Traffic studies suggest that the chaos in south-east Hampshire will get worse if no action is taken. The Government need to take action if we are to shield our roads and economy from gridlock. It is well recognised that there are problems in the area. That has been confirmed by not one but two studies into integrated transport. The first study was on the M27 corridor, which runs from Southampton to Portsmouth. That was followed by the south Hampshire element of the south coast multi-modal study. There was little difference between the recommendations of those studies other than the decision in the multi-modal study to investigate the possibility of congestion charging, which I shall deal with in a moment.

Local people share the impression that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) identified: that multi-modal studies are often a delay rather than a spur to action. The current problems are clear, as the study indicated. The M27 is at capacity between junctions 9 and 12, and three of those junctions are in my constituency. Motorway intersections are congested. Heavy development in the Gosport peninsula has led to traffic build-up along the A32 almost from its start in Gosport through to junction 11 of the M27, with motorists experiencing long delays at almost every point on that road where there is a roundabout or traffic lights during both busy periods and the lull between the morning and evening rush hours.

The studies have identified that population, work force and employment will rise in south Hampshire between 1998, when the forecast started, and 2016. For example, it is estimated that between 1998 and 2016 the number of residents in the borough of Fareham will increase by 8 per cent., employment by 26 per cent. and the work force by 8 per cent. The increase in employment outstrips that of population and work force in both relative and absolute terms, so more people will travel into Fareham to work than perhaps live there at the moment.

Over the same period, it is predicted that in south Hampshire the number of car trips will increase by 25 per cent., vehicle kilometres travelled will increase by 26 per cent. and, interestingly, vehicle hours will increase by 61 per cent. The astute will notice that the increase in hours outstrips the increase in kilometres travelled. That is because vehicle speeds on the M27 are predicted to fall by 15 per cent. over the forecast period. On the M27 itself, journeys between junctions 9 and 10 will increase by 30 per cent. in the survey period and by 28 per cent. between junctions 10 and 11. Those three junctions fall within my constituency. That is a bleak picture for local people who are already frustrated by sitting in traffic on the M27 or the A32.

The traffic growth figures, which show a significant increase in delays and time spent on motorways, assume that a major public transport initiative will have taken place. The south Hampshire rapid transit system is to link Fareham to Portsmouth through Gosport. It is meant to relieve some of the existing and growing traffic problems on the Gosport peninsula and promote access to employment for those people who live along the route.

However, the Minister will know that the scheme is in doubt. There has been a significant increase in cost—about £100 million—owing to factors beyond the control of Hampshire county council and Portsmouth city council, the local government sponsors of the scheme. They and the Government need to reach an agreement on how the overrun is to be met. Hampshire county council has said that it will meet its share of some £17 million. Portsmouth city council, led by the Liberals who, as we heard, are interested in non-car alternatives to traffic problems, is equivocating. The Government are reviewing their options.

If the scheme does not go ahead, there will be more traffic on the roads, which will lead to slower journey times and greater congestion at junctions and on roads in general. But what are the alternatives? Traffic chaos can continue, and increase; we can consider tweaking existing public transport initiatives; we can put an end to housing development in the area; or we can simply build more roads.

If we are to improve the area's economic and environmental well-being, we cannot allow traffic chaos to continue to grow. Despite the work of Hampshire county council and FirstBus to improve bus links, particularly in the Fareham-Gosport corridor, I do not believe that public transport can play a major role in reducing congestion in the area if the south Hampshire rapid transit scheme does not go ahead. Based on current form, the Government will not allow Fareham and Gosport borough councils to stop building houses, so the pressure on the transport network will continue to increase. The fourth option, a new road-building programme, would involve a protracted planning process, and it would take years to resolve today's traffic problems let alone those of tomorrow.

The south coast multi-modal study described the rapid transit scheme as a "do minimum" scheme and advocated its extension to Southampton. The cancellation of that scheme would not only cause traffic chaos greatly to increase, but strike a blow at the economic development of south Hampshire, which has been designated a priority area for economic regeneration to tackle the deprivation along the coast.

The consequences of the Government's withdrawing their support for the scheme would be complex and include implications for economic development and housing development, a need for alternative schemes to relieve congestion and an environmental impact. That decision cannot be made lightly. However, motorists in south-east Hampshire want certainty about the future of the scheme. They would welcome a quick decision so that the county council, Portsmouth city council and the Government can consider alternative schemes to reduce traffic congestion.

As currently set out, the scheme will affect only the centre of my constituency. In the west there are traffic problems arising from housing development, particularly on brownfield sites, which is causing roads in residential areas to become more and more congested. In Whiteley, a major development in the north of my constituency which is shared by Fareham and Winchester councils, there is only one road in and out for residents and those who work in the area, and thousands of people use that road every day. There is a plan to build another road so that Whiteley can be accessed from other directions, but uncertainty caused by the rules on compulsory purchase and the method of valuing the land means that the road cannot yet be built. The county council is investing more money to improve bus routes, but people's work and lifestyle patterns militate against the use of public transport, so it is difficult to see how it can be the sole means of meeting the transport needs of the many people who live and work in Whiteley. We cannot continue to accommodate additional housing development without proper transport infrastructure.

Motorists in Fareham do not feel that they have a fair deal. There is too much traffic on our roads, and that problem will be exacerbated if the rapid transport system is not built. There will be more cars on the already overcrowded M27, with slower speeds, longer hold-ups and more pollution.

The multi-modal study suggested the use of tolls to reduce traffic in Portsmouth and Southampton. It is difficult for local people to see how that would work within the existing public transport infrastructure. There are few sensible alternative means for those who live outside Portsmouth and Southampton to get into the cities to work. Local business groups are concerned that a congestion charge would have an impact on trade and increase their costs. If we are to introduce road-pricing or congestion-charging schemes in urban areas smaller than London, we need to give a great deal of thought to how they would work.

Is not my hon. Friend saying, in essence, that there is only one effective solution to the problem of congestion, and that is to build more roads that are appropriate to the development in the area?

My right hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) referred to the need to improve transport infrastructure to help the economy in his constituency. Fareham and south-east Hampshire face another problem: many parts of the sub-region are economically successful but that has transport consequences that we need to tackle. The situation is exacerbated by the Government's direction that more houses be built in those areas. We cannot have more development without more infrastructure to meet people's needs. In many cases, roads, rather than fiddly, peripheral measures such as green bus routes, are the answer. The existing congestion problems in south-east Hampshire require more significant changes.

The public transport infrastructure in the area recently suffered a significant blow, with the decision of South Central to remove 30 trains a day from the Southampton to Bournemouth segment of the route from London to the south coast. Those trains stop in my constituency, and people in Fareham who want to travel to the New Forest, Christchurch or Bournemouth will now have to change trains in Southampton. If they have luggage or young children, or are elderly, they will be more reluctant to let the train take the strain, as the great advertising slogan of, I think, the '80s said. They will be looking to use their car to travel on the M57 to the New Forest.

The reduction in the train service on that key part of the route will make journey times uncertain and, because of the resulting inconvenience, persuade people not to use the train. In addition, many people in my constituency commute to London from Southampton Airport Parkway station, and of course they will be hit by the above-inflation increase in rail fares. It is not only motorists in Fareham who do not have a fair deal; the problem affects rail passengers too.

The south-east is the locomotive of the British economy. Economic, population and employment growth in the region is predicted to be faster than in the UK as a whole. As I said in response to the intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), that level of economic development brings its own problems. In south-east Hampshire that has shown itself in gridlock and slower speeds on the motorways, longer tailbacks and congested roads in residential areas. The Government cannot ignore those problems if they expect the south-east to continue to provide its 15 per cent. share of the nation's wealth. We need a fair deal for all those who have a stake in our transport system—motorists, rail passengers and, above all, taxpayers.

3.8 pm

We should not overlook the amount that has been done on the railways. This has been a thoughtful debate, but sometimes people overlook what has already been achieved while concentrating, understandably, on the problems. By 2005, the Government will be spending double what they spent in 2001—£4.3 billion as opposed to £2.1 billion. That is extremely important. Overall rail investment during the 10-year plan will be well over twice the amount that was spent in the 10 years up to 1997. We could bandy about similar figures for the amount of track being laid, and so on.

As a west midlands Member of Parliament, I am delighted that the west coast main line is being upgraded, but I have problems with some of the operators, particularly Virgin Trains, which may be well known to hon. Members. It is somewhat sad that although the Conservatives called for today's debate, only five of their Members are present in the Chamber. However, I appreciate that more of them were in the Chamber earlier.

I have ongoing problems with Virgin Trains, which has artificially reduced the number of complaints it receives—the reduction is taken into account in its franchise renewal—and does not stick to maintenance schedules for its rolling stock. I took that up with Chris Green, the chief executive, last September, and suggested that Virgin Trains should run longer but less frequent trains to achieve greater reliability, but he pooh-poohed the idea. Three months later, Virgin announced a policy to make such a change. I take no credit for that, but the company strikes me as one that is not well run. In public transport, whether railways, buses, aeroplanes or maritime transport, we need reliability. For most customers, reliability is more important than frequency. Having worked as a professional driver for several years—I am a former bus and truck driver—I know that when making a delivery or operating a public service vehicle it is frustrating to fall behind schedule because of congestion. That is one of the main things that puts passengers off.

Rail freight is a big success story that is often not talked about. There has been a 24 per cent. increase in the amount of freight moved by rail since 1997. I am sad that the freight subsidy has been cut this year, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can explain why in his reply, as that seems a strange decision. We need to look at the successes of buses in many of our towns and cities, and try to replicate the successes of a number of local initiatives and visions. Travel West Midlands is, as its name suggests, the major bus service provider in the west midlands. It is not perfect, but it does a very good job overall, and there are similar success stories in, for example, Leeds, as we have heard.

The success of trams or so-called light rail is not much heralded. Trams are expensive to build, but are well used. In the west midlands, surveys show that 15 per cent. of people using trams have a car which they would otherwise use, so the trams are taking cars off the road. Eighty-five per cent. of the west midlands tram network between my constituency and Birmingham is on dedicated track, so it does not create congestion on the roads, with the exception of the final two miles into my constituency. It is obvious—we need to state the obvious in public transport—but one reason why people take trams is because they know where they go. By contrast, as a bus user, I know that the majority of bus stops do not say where buses go, let alone display a timetable. How we are to encourage people out of cars on to buses when they do not know where they go is beyond me. As I said before, for people using public transport, whether bus or rail, reliability is generally more important that frequency.

As for the roads on which the buses run, I welcome the Government's decision to spend large amounts of money, for example, to get rid of 192 bottlenecks, and other creative schemes. We should be cautious for environmental reasons about major road schemes; otherwise we could risk degrading our environment even further. I welcome the Government's actions on enforcing PPG6 on out-of-town developments. Not only do we have to cope with current traffic levels but we must try to manage and reduce those levels. Patterns of urban development, as well as the rural and semi-rural developments mentioned by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) in his thoughtful speech, have an effect. We should not go back to the predict-and-provide approach which, for example, led to problems on the M25. That road quickly filled up with traffic, and created journeys. Those journeys may initially have improved people's quality of life, but they also caused congestion, which worsened it.

If they are not already doing so, the Government should examine whether, instead of building an extra lane on motorways, we should use the hard shoulder—perhaps the Minister could address that issue when he replies. Many people throw up their hands in horror at such an idea because of the safety implications. However, people use the hard shoulder all the time when motorways are being rebuilt and resurfaced, and most hon. Members will have seen a sign at the side of the motorway saying that free pick-up or towing is available at a certain point. One drives along the hard shoulder, and there is no emergency lane. We have to use the tarmac that we have.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) mentioned parking. We build roads, resurface them, but then people park on them and clog up arterial routes. Parking on side streets does not affect traffic movement very much, but parking on main roads does.

The hon. Gentleman is right that, before we build more roads, we need to make better use of those that we already have. However, does he not agree that instead of encouraging the dangerous practice of using the hard shoulder on motorways, it would be better to have a Government-led campaign to stop people hogging the central lane of the motorway, effectively reducing three lanes to two?

I agree entirely, and was going to come on to a personal bugbear—people driving in the second lane when the first is empty, or even in the third lane when the first two lanes are empty. However, on the issue of parked cars clogging up roads, the Stafford road in my constituency is being examined as a possible site for a pilot project for a red route outside London. That route would partly run through my constituency, but principally through that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). Both of us have major concerns about whether that is necessary and wonder whether anyone will obey that system in a year's time. Like most Members, I come down to London at least four days a week to fulfil my duties, and I see people parking on red routes, but nothing is done about that. However, the proposal is to spend £750,000 on a red route in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend. I suspect that, a year after that route is built, we will be back to where we were because there will be no enforcement.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are circumstances in which roadside parking has the advantage of inhibiting speeding, which is dangerous in built-up areas? If people are failing to obey the speed limit, roadside parking helps to calm traffic.

I agree entirely that that is true in some cases. That leads nicely into my next point about bicycles. One reason why bicycle lanes are painted on roads is to visually narrow the road for car drivers—on average, car speeds drop by 4 per cent. in those urban areas, even when there are no bicycles in the bicycle lane. The Government are making a good job of encouraging cycle use, and I urge them to continue expanding the Sustrans network and so on. However, I urge them to look more closely at segregated bike lines. Countries with a high level of bicycle usage often have segregated bicycle lanes in urban areas.

I urge the Government to reconsider the cycle helmet campaign. The advertising associated with that campaign suggests that riding a bicycle is dangerous. It can be, but not doing so and becoming unfit can lead to people of the average age of right hon. and hon. Members dropping dead of heart attacks. People should be encouraged to cycle safely, but the current advertising campaign on cycle helmets is shocking in nature, and will put people off cycling. If, as a society and a country, we wish to encourage people to use helmets, we should encourage people driving motor cars to wear helmets, as that would have much greater safety benefits.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned walking, buses and the school run, so I shall not talk about that. However, I would urge the Government—and this is not simply a matter for the Department for Transport—to examine the matter of school catchment areas. That is a particular problem for people in London, but it is also a problem for people in large urban areas such as the west midlands. As a society, we need to look at the question of whether we should have catchment areas for schools. Since we have had a geographical free-for-all, the so-called school run has increased in distance and volume.

To conclude, it bears repeating that we need to take a creative look at private transport—bicycles and cars—public transport and road usage. Society and the Government must be realistic when debating these things, or we will not solve the transport problems on our small island, particularly in England. However, as politicians, we can seek to work with our constituents to ameliorate the transport problems that we have inherited because of 40 years of underinvestment, a high population density and land usage patterns. We need to think creatively about the problems that will arise when we have electric cars—I urge the Minister to take note of that. One of the reasons why people like me have been suggesting for many years that it would be better to lessen the amount of miles driven in private motor cars is air pollution. Private motor cars are now much less air-polluting. When we get electric vehicles, many members of society and many constituents will think, "I can drive my car anywhere now. You've been telling me for years that I shouldn't drive it because of pollution. Well, I have an electric vehicle now and I'll drive it where I like." Congestion will worsen and the division of communities by roads will potentially get worse. There is a problem of motorist psychology that we will have to deal with.

Before my hon. Friend gets too enthusiastic for the electric car, he should remember that the electricity must be generated, and we have not solved the problem of ensuring that all our electricity generation is green.

I agree. I would not want my hon. Friend to misunderstand me. I was not getting enthusiastic about the electric car per se, but saying that when electric cars become more widely available, many people will think it is green to drive those cars, overlooking the point my hon. Friend raises and creating congestion problems.

3.20 pm

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I shall concentrate my remarks on the private motor car. Indeed, I shall celebrate the private motor car, if that is not too new Labour an expression. There is another new Labour expression. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) spoke, I had intended to comment that we have not heard the new Labour soundbite "integrated transport" mentioned once. I have always been intrigued to know what it meant. Now I do. What used to be called integrated transport is now called a multi-modal study. That clears that up.

Government must offer a realistic choice between public and private transport. Most people would choose to use both from time to time. Road traffic would then find its own level. There need be no coercion from this anti-car Government to get people on to public transport. The Government's policies are anti-car. The use of the private car is one of life's great freedoms. To travel from and to wherever one chooses, at a time that one chooses, in the company one chooses is an enormous freedom. Public transport can never match that, but there are occasions when we shall all need it. Indeed, some people need to use it all the time, so the need for a good public transport system is undoubted.

The Government are not happy with people having too much freedom and choice. They cannot control them, so they place as many obstacles, costs and difficulties in the way of motorists as they can. Still, the first major purchase of any young person when they have an income, the first thing that they save up for, their pride and joy, is their own motor car. It brings an independence incomparable with any other way of travelling. The challenge for any Government is to provide a road network to meet people's need, not to engineer people's needs to suit Government policy. We must have a road network that will allow vehicles to travel from A to B quickly and safely. There is growing demand, and it will not decrease.

The hon. Lady speaks about engineering demand to suit Government policy. It was the Government whom she supported who rightly introduced tax differentials to persuade people not to buy leaded petrol. That was the kind of social manipulation that she decries. I support it, and I think she would have supported it at the time. It was wonderfully successful.

Lead has an environmental implication, but the volume of traffic on the road is a different issue. We must allow everybody who needs to travel the choice of mode of travel, so that road traffic will find its own level. The largest increase in the use of the private motor car is among pensioners and older people, particularly older women—77 per cent. of older women hold driving licences and use cars. It would be a brave Government who took away or sought to curtail that new-found freedom and opportunity and the fundamental improvement it brings to lifestyle.

We have high road tax and proposed new motorway tolls, which I know are under consideration, although no decisions have been made. The persecuted motorist has become the milch-cow of the nation. We have the highest fuel taxes in Europe. The total tax take from motorists was £45 billion last year. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what it was spent on. It certainly was not spent on the national road network.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), who is no longer in his place, commented that even when we have new roads, the Government cannot resist interfering with them and putting traffic lights on roundabouts and junctions, which inhibit traffic flow. There is a case for traffic lights in those circumstances to be used only at peak times and to be switched off the rest of the time or adjusted according to traffic flow. Anyone who has worked for or served on local authorities, as I have, will know how much time and taxpayers' money are spent on what is euphemistically called traffic management.

Of course, road safety is paramount and local authorities have a serious responsibility for road safety, particularly in the vicinity of schools, residential areas, shops or anywhere where pedestrians want to cross the road and come into conflict with motor vehicles. A Labour Member—the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I think—mentioned the problem of traffic around schools and the changing habits of getting children to school. When my children went to school in the early 1960s, it was quite safe for me to see them across the road outside my house, and then they walked, probably up to three quarters of a mile, unsupervised and unaccompanied. I did not worry all day whether they had arrived and whether they would come home safely. Times have changed and parents are too worried to allow their children to do that now. In many families both parents work. The mother, as well as the father, needs to get to work, so that necessitates taking the children to school by car. The problem is not as simple as it sounds.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when one considers traffic management measures, it is increasingly becoming clear that speed humps are not the answer to the problem? In cases where speed humps have been put in place, almost 90 per cent. of the population who originally wanted the speed humps want them removed because of the increase in noise and pollution that they cause, as vehicles slow and then accelerate away after they have negotiated the humps.

My right hon. Friend is right. I was coming on to a range of traffic management devices, including speed humps, which are often counterproductive, although they seemed like a good idea at the time they were put in.

Another problem is inappropriate speed limits. If people cannot see the point of, for example, a 30 mph speed limit if there are no side roads from which traffic might join the main road, and if there is no housing and thus no pedestrians, they automatically want to speed. That is just the sort of location where cameras are being installed, and they are a tax-collecting device.

I make a plea to the Minister: will he ensure that, in special circumstances, local authorities can install repeater signs along 30 mph stretches of road? In my constituency, there is a road that has a very bad pedestrian accident record. It has a 30 mph speed limit that applies close to where it is joined by a stretch of road with a 60 mph limit. Motorists do not always observe the change and there have been several nasty accidents. I have already written to the Department about the issue, but will the Minister consider whether, in special circumstances or in the light of a bad accident record, repeater signs can be used in 30 mph zones? My local council said that if it introduced the policy on the road in question, it would have to introduce it throughout the borough, which would be impossible. However, if there were some way of designating difficult spots as eligible for repeater signs, I would be eternally grateful.

I also have grave reservations about cycle lanes. There are cycle lanes in my constituency that no cyclist who has any regard for his life would dare to use, as the lane is too narrow and there is scarcely room for two cars to pass each other in the remaining part of the carriageway. Some cycle lanes are so narrow that I can imagine cyclists who use them being knocked over or having their shoulders brushed by large vehicles. I think that we should be more circumspect about where cycle lanes are introduced.

Bus lanes often cause car users enormous frustration when they are empty but all the other vehicles are crowded into half the carriageway and there is not a bus in sight. When I was an Essex county councillor, on a road in Chelmsford that I used twice every day, I made a point of noting how many buses there were—very often there were none—and how many people were using any bus that I saw. The bus lane was not an efficient use of road space, because on the rare occasions when I saw a bus, it often contained only two or three people. We need to be more circumspect about the use of bus lanes. If a road is full of buses and the buses are full of passengers, bus lanes are justified, but the other side of the coin is the fact that introducing bus lanes for their own sake does not always represent an efficient use of road space.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ridiculous that some areas have 24-hour bus lanes, but not a 24-hour bus service?

My right hon. Friend adds to the point that I have been making. The issue needs to be considered and we need to bring common sense into making best use of road space.

When I was a Havering councillor, I chaired the local public transport committee. Its members were crusading public transport champions and anti-car in their attitudes, but when I asked how many of them around the table had used public transport to attend a meeting, I found that none of them had done so; they had all used their cars. There is an element of hypocrisy in championing public transport over the private motor car.

Many housing developments, especially in inner cities, are now being built without parking provision on the basis of the theory that people who live near enough to public transport access points such as stations or bus stops will not want to own a car. Even if people use public transport to travel to and from work, many of them want a private motor car for leisure. If housing developments do not include any parking provision, people park in neighbouring roads and annoy everyone else. Again, that is an issue on which the theory is not borne out in practice.

Policy must be realistic and must accommodate cars. They are here to stay and people like them. People who do not drive—the morally crusading and superior "I've never owned a car" brigade whom we have all met—like cars too, but those of other people. How many times have we heard somebody say, "Would you mind running me home as it's not safe to travel on a bus at this time of night and it's not far out of your way"? The hypocrisy is breathtaking. The answer is local policy making to suit local circumstances that is not driven by Government targets and directives on how to slow down the traffic.

That brings me to London congestion charging, which is just another tax on the hapless motorist. Nobody drives in central London merely to annoy the Mayor of London; they do so because they have to. The congestion charging scheme had so little to do with genuine congestion that the Mayor had to make the situation worse to justify it—and very inventive he was too. There were road closures, diversions, roadworks and—this was the real brainwave—all-red phases on traffic lights. That cannot be denied; too many people experienced it, including me. Nothing moved in any direction and no pedestrians wanted to cross. Everything would be at a standstill in all directions and the lights all at red, with the traffic piling up nicely in every direction. Drivers were exasperated, fuel was being wasted and emissions were building. Then came the killer punch: "The Mayor of London can cure all this, but you'll have to pay for it."

There we have it—roads for the rich. At a stroke, everyone who could not afford to pay £5 a day to travel in the London congestion zone had to make other arrangements, often at great inconvenience. In fact, the scheme has been too successful. The income is lower than expected, so the zone will have to be extended to recoup the huge setting-up costs, possibly as far as Heathrow. Imagine the large numbers of people approaching Heathrow every day: it will be a wonderful area for tax collection. I am particularly concerned about the Thames gateway area because a huge mixed development is on its way, with houses, businesses and leisure facilities, and that will generate a lot of additional traffic. The area will be a sitting duck for another congestion zone. Upminster, my constituency, which is famously at the end of the District line, has suffered from commuter parking for a long time. Now, it is a park-and-ride area for people who used to drive into London but now stop at Upminster and come the rest of the way in on the train to avoid the congestion charge.

For most of us, life would be impossible without the use of the private car for at least some of our journeys. For example, I would still be trying to complete last Saturday's schedule if I had tried to do it on public transport. Public transport needs to be safe, reliable, clean, affordable and, above all, convenient if people are to choose it in preference to their own cars for getting to work every day or for their leisure use.

We need to improve the roads that we have and to increase our motorway network in economically affordable and environmentally friendly ways in order to build a road system that is fit for the 21st century. Cars are liberating for work, family, leisure and business, and they generate prosperity. The next Conservative Government will recognise that. The persecution of the motorist will end, because Conservatives are not afraid to admit that they drive cars.

3.36 pm

This has been an excellent debate. My only regret is that it takes place on the day on which the Minister and I were both looking forward to being present in Christchurch for the opening of the coastguard training centre at Steamer Point.

On 17 June, a good backcloth for the debate appeared on the front page of The Independent, in the shape of a headline saying, "Derailed: how transport has become Labour's most spectacular failure". Shortly after that, we had corroboration of the fact that the message is getting quite close to home with the Prime Minister, when Lauren Booth, the half-sister of the Prime Minister's wife, wrote in The Mail on Sunday:
"The train services in most of the areas we looked into were touch and go at best. The motorways? Congested to a virtual standstill Monday to Friday."
No doubt that lady can afford to take the option that is not open to most other people in this country of moving to France.

We heard some excellent contributions, and I hope to be able to comment on most of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) regretted the cuts in the road programme during the Major Government, reminded us of the history of the new Labour Government, who started off with further such cuts in 1997, and welcomed what he rightly described as the Government's deathbed repentance in reversing some of those cuts.

My hon. Friend commented on road safety, a subject that came up a lot in the debate, largely as a result of yesterday's interview with my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). Conservative Members will take no lessons from Labour on road safety. In 18 years, we reduced the annual toll of fatalities by 3,233—from 6,831 in 1978 to 3,598 in 1996. That is a 45 per cent. reduction. By 1998, the total had fallen to 3,421. But what was the figure last year? It was 3,431—higher than in 1999, 2000 or 2001.

I shall in a minute, but I want to emphasise these figures.

When I was the Minister with responsibility for road safety from 1990 to 1992, fatalities fell from 5,373 in 1989 to 4,229 in 1992—a reduction of 1,144 road deaths in three years. By contrast, in the past three years, road deaths have increased. In my submission, that is because the Government are preoccupied with over-zealous enforcement of speed limits at the expense of education and engineering.

Any fall in the number of casualties on the road is of course welcome, whether it includes fatalities or not, but will the hon. Gentleman put the figures into the context of miles actually driven, which gives a very different picture? I am sure that he agrees that that is the sensible way to make the calculation.

That method reveals an even greater proportional reduction between 1978 and 1996 than has occurred more recently, as is borne out by House of Commons Library figures. The hon. Gentleman should ask what has changed during the period involved. The speed limits have not changed, but the present Government have invested far less in road infrastructure than the Conservative Government did. They have also taken a much more relaxed approach to education about road accidents and evaluation of the facts underlying them.

My hon. Friend and I served together in the Department of Transport for a while. Does he agree that one reason for the dramatic fall that he has described is the bypass building programme? Taking cars out of towns has helped to reduce the number of fatalities, which shows that a reduction can also be achieved through better roads.

My hon. Friend is right. It is estimated that the number of road casualties can be reduced by between 30 and 40 per cent. through increased investment in roads.

I will not give way now. I have only a short time to respond to some of the points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) was right to emphasise the importance of investment in roads. I thank him for saluting the work in his part of the country for which I was responsible as Roads Minister. He is not alone, however, in pointing out that road investment is related to external investment in our economy. He will have seen the report in last Sunday's Observer warning of a UK transport crisis deterring investors. The chief executive of the FTSE 100-listed company Exel said:
"unreliability of British road and rail systems … was a key factor deterring … companies from investing in Britain".

I would have dearly loved to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work that was done in my part of the country when he was a Minister, but unfortunately it did not happen. My point was that, although all those road schemes were promised by "Roads to Prosperity" in 1990, they were abandoned. Our area never benefited from them.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying, in a rather skilful way, that he is sorry that I lost my seat in 1992 and was no longer involved after that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) expressed concern about the prospect of increased congestion, delays and traffic chaos on the M27. As a Member with a south coast constituency, I share his concern. In an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) spoke of the need for more roads appropriate to the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) celebrated the motor car. I shall show her a copy of a book that is displayed prominently on my bookshelf—"The Boys' Book of Roads", a celebration of investment in our road infrastructure.

In an unreconstructed tribute to old socialism, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) called for renationalisation of the railways. He also asked a question that was echoed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris): why are the Government cutting the freight facilities grant? I hope that the Minister will answer that pertinent question.

We are increasingly familiar with signs saying "Queues ahead" and "Caution: queues for the next 10 miles". "Queues ahead", of course, has been a catchphrase of socialist regimes throughout the ages, but we must now face the prospect of queues—indeed, worsening queues—for the next 10 years.

The trust factor is very relevant to what we are discussing. At the end of last month, asked in a YouGov poll whether they believed that the Government had on balance been honest and trustworthy, 29 per cent. of respondents said that they had been honest and 62 per cent. said that they had not. That is borne out by the devious way in which the Secretary of State and others have misrepresented the policies of the Conservative party on getting 20 per cent. savings where there is inefficiency. If the Secretary of State reads the letter from the chairman of Network Rail, he will see that Network Rail has identified a 20 per cent. reduction in costs within three years, an annual saving of £1.3 billion. He describes that as challenging but realistic. If Network Rail can manage a 20 per cent. reduction in costs without damaging services, why cannot a lot of other organisations, too? That is the point that Conservative Members are making.

We have the highest rail fares in Europe, the highest motoring taxes in Europe and we have the Prime Minister's admission that transport is "probably" the worst of our public services. In a survey in The Mail on Sunday on 22 June, people were asked whether they thought that Britain's public services had improved under Labour. Fourteen per cent. said that they thought that they had improved, and 54 per cent. said that they thought that they had got worse. That is the indictment against the Government.

What do the Government promise in return? Yet more congestion on the roads, further delays on the railways and ever-escalating costs for travellers and taxpayers. The people have been taken for a ride by the Government's transport policy for six years. It has been a very expensive, inefficient and uncomfortable ride. We are proud to be the only party voting today in favour of fair treatment for passengers, motorists and taxpayers.

3.46 pm

I, too, was sorry not to visit the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in his constituency today but delighted to hear what he had to say in the debate. I think that he was a lawyer in a previous incarnation. If this had been a court of law and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had been the judge, we would have thrown his case out for lack of evidence, supposition, half-truth, innuendo, hearsay and fabrication. His speech and that of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) were long on rhetoric and very short on facts.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale talked about a fair deal for the motorist. He spoke at considerable length, probably because he had difficulty mustering his Back Benchers to come to support him today. There were very few, although two Opposition Whips intervened and spoke in the debate. It is a good job the Whips can get themselves here on his side.

I think that the hon. Gentleman used to scribble speeches for the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was a local government Minister. I dare say he penned something like, "Fair deal on the poll tax." I saw the hon. Member for Christchurch twitch then. I know that he was a great supporter of the poll tax. The country did not trust Conservative Members then and it does not trust them now.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Christchurch has seen this quote:
"We have gridlock. The rush hour begins at 6 a.m. and is still in full flow after three hours. In many parts of the south-east the traffic queue from one junction runs to the queue to the next."
That was the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) speaking in 1996, after 17 years of Conservative Government. So much for the nonsense that we have heard today about the wonderful golden age when the Conservatives were in office. I do not know whether he belonged to the swivel-eyed, barmy army from ward eight in Broadmoor at the time, but that was certainly his view.

We have had some interesting and thoughtful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) and for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms), for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson).

The hon. Member for Upminster made some interesting comments. She talked about using a car to travel to your destination when you want, where you want and how you want. I seem to remember someone else saying that once in another context but you cannot do it if the roads are congested and you cannot get through.

The hon. Member for Christchurch commended to the hon. Lady a book called, "The Boys' Book of Roads". I do not know whether that is the same document that he may have had a part in writing in 1993. The hon. Lady made some points about road charging and congestion charging. I have the document here, and strongly commend it. It is entitled, "Paying for Better Motorways: Issues for Decision". I think it was published just after the time when the hon. Member for Christchurch was the Minister for Roads and Traffic. It says in paragraph 3.8:
"There are two ways of relieving congestion: increasing road capacity or reducing demand … The second can best be achieved by imposing a price mechanism—by charging users for the congestion costs they impose on others."
I do not know whether that statement appeared in "The Boys' Book of Roads".

I have to hand another document, on urban congestion charging. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Christchurch can make any claim to it, but the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) might know something about it. It states:
"The Government will consider, in partnership with local authorities, the need for further local powers,"—
we should note the following—
"eg to introduce congestion charging, or to control vehicle access to sensitive areas."
I do not know how that fits with the ambition of the hon. Member for Upminster and her comments about the Conservative party today. That was the reality of the Conservatives when in government, but it is not what we have heard from them today.

This debate was almost as interesting for what was not said as for what was. The Conservatives said very little about buses, yet unlike the hon. Member for Upminster, about a quarter of people in this country do not have access to a motor car. In fact, 40 per cent. of my constituents have no such access, but we heard precious little from the Conservatives about that issue.

I will not give way at the moment. [Interruption.] We need to hear about one or two things that the Conservatives do not want to hear about. It is clear that they do not want to hear about buses, because ordinary people have to use them. There is widespread use—

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could wait until I have finished this point. There is widespread use of buses in London, but in many other places it is in fact the only available form of public transport. That is why we have introduced imaginative schemes such as that referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and that is why, notwithstanding the chuntering from Conservative Back Benchers, we have introduced rural and urban grants to assist in the development of bus routes—routes that were taken away under a Conservative Government.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he now move on from this unedifying knockabout and answer some of the questions that were asked? In particular, will he deal with the issue, raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), of opening up the hard shoulder on motorways during busy times? Will he pledge to the House today that he will look at the possibility of opening up the offside hard shoulder on the northern-bound carriageway of the M1, near the M25, where the biggest congestion occurs every day of the week?

If the right hon. Gentleman did not make long interventions, I would be able to deal with some of the points that were raised. Indeed, I intended to get to that particular one.

Interestingly, we gained a slight insight into Tory policy yesterday, when they briefly lifted the lid on it. For a moment, we were able to look into their secret box, but when challenged by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the actual cost of such ambitions, and whether a Conservative Government would provide the necessary funds, they said nothing. [Interruption.] Conservative. Members can complain and shake their heads, but their own leader said "They"—the shadow Treasury team—
"are looking at a target of 20 per cent. savings across the board in Government spending."
I cannot see how that relates to Conservative Members' ambitions for extra investment in transport.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale chided Liberal Democrat local authorities. At the time in question, I think most were Conservative-controlled, but history may tell a different story. I can give him some specific figures. For example, in 1996 the local transport settlement in Cumbria—which is not a million miles from his constituency—was some £3.75 million. Today, that figure is £16.69 million, but we heard no mention of that from him. That is a huge increase that local authorities can spend on their own local transport plans. The figure for Dorset in 1996 was a mere £1.186 million. That figure in 2002 was £7.75 million. Those are substantial increases in funding by a Labour Government for local authorities to use to provide improved transport in their areas. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is about to tell me about the substantial increases in funding for Devon.

On the question of credibility, is the Minister aware that the Devon and Cornwall business council last week described his remarks as "cloud-cuckoo" observations when, after travelling on the French rail system in 2001, he promised that his Government could deliver something comparable to what the rest of Europe has within 10 years? The business council went on to say:

"Many a jocular pint glass was raised to David in the pubs of Penzance, Truro and Plymouth that night!"

I am delighted that the Devon and Cornwall business council has over the last couple of years started showing some interest in public transport, particularly the railways. When I raised issues with the same people, then in different organisations, they used to say that the roads, not the railways, were important. It is interesting to note that, under the Labour Government, those people are expressing a much greater interest in public transport. We welcome their interest and their conversion.

Reference was made to road safety and the hon. Member for Christchurch referred to the improvements made over the years. Governments can be proud of our record on road safety, as we have substantially reduced casualties on the roads over a long period. The amount of traffic on the road and the number of miles travelled have substantially increased, but the rate of casualties has decreased. It is important to take account of the reduction in serious injuries as well as deaths on our roads and to note that the number of children injured on the roads has greatly diminished over recent years. Governments of all parties should be congratulated on that.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale spoke about the netting-off scheme and speed cameras, which I prefer to call safety cameras. There is symmetry in the fact that the safety cameras ensure that the money provided for those cameras comes not from the taxpayer, but from the speeding motorist who is breaking the law. At one time, the Tory party used to consider itself the party of law and order, so I would have thought that it would rather like that symmetry.

What has been the effect of the safety cameras on the schemes that we have introduced? On the eight sites, there has been a 35 per cent. reduction in the number of casualties. That means 280 people are either alive or have not been seriously injured because of the presence of safety cameras at those particular sites. If it is now Conservative policy to have more children and elderly people killed and injured on the road—[Interruption.] I would like to see how they phrase the policy in their documents. Conservative Members may not like it, but I have to say that although the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale does not strike me as much of a boy racer, he has created a charter for them.

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 proceeded to a Division.

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 151, Noes 382.

Division No. 272]

[3:59 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Burns, Simon
Amess, DavidBurnside, David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Burt, Alistair
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Butterfill, John
Bacon, RichardCameron, David
Baldry, TonyCampbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Barker, GregoryCash, William
Baron, John (Billericay)Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping
Bellingham, Henry


Bercow, JohnChope, Christopher
Beresford, Sir PaulClappison, James
Blunt, CrispinClarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Boswell, TimCollins, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Conway, Derek
Brady, GrahamCormack, Sir Patrick
Brazier, JulianCran, James (Beverley)
Browning, Mrs AngelaCurry, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham &May, Mrs Theresa


Mercer, Patrick
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton



Djanogly, JonathanMoss, Malcolm
Dodds, NigelMurrison, Dr. Andrew
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)Norman, Archie
Duncan Smith, rh lainO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Evans, NigelOsborne, George (Tatton)
Fabricant, MichaelOttaway, Richard
Fallon, MichaelPage, Richard
Flight, HowardPaterson, Owen
Flook, AdrianPortillo, rh Michael
Forth, rh EricPrisk, Mark (Hertford)
Fox, Dr. LiamRandall, John
Francois, MarkRedwood, rh John
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)Robathan, Andrew
Garnier, EdwardRobertson, Hugh (Faversham &
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)


Gillan, Mrs CherylRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Goodman, PaulRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gray, James (N Wilts)Roe, Mrs Marion
Grayling, ChrisRosindell, Andrew
Green, Damian (Ashford)Ruffley, David
Greenway, JohnSayeed, Jonathan
Grieve, DominicSelous, Andrew
Gummer, rh JohnShephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Hague, rh WilliamShepherd, Richard
Hammond, PhilipSimmonds, Mark
Hawkins, NickSimpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Hayes, John (S Holland)Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Heald, OliverSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Heathcoat-Amory, rh DavidSpicer, Sir Michael
Hendry, CharlesSpink, Bob (Castle Point)
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)Spring, Richard
Horam, John (Orpington)Stanley, rh Sir John
Howard, rh MichaelSteen, Anthony
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Streeter, Gary
Hunter, AndrewSwire, Hugo (E Devon)
Jack, rh MichaelSyms, Robert
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Jenkin, BernardTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Johnson, Boris (Henley)Taylor, John (Solihull)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTredinnick, David
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Laing, Mrs EleanorViggers, Peter
Lait, Mrs JacquiWalter, Robert
Lansley, AndrewWaterson, Nigel
Leigh, EdwardWhittingdale, John
Letwin, rh OliverWiddecombe, rh Miss Ann
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)Wiggin, Bill
Liddell-Grainger, IanWilletts, David
Lidington, DavidWilshire, David
Lilley, rh PeterWinterton, Ann (Congleton)
Loughton, TimWinterton, Sir Nicholas
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)


McIntosh, Miss AnneYeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Maclean, rh DavidYoung, rh Sir George
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey

Tellers for the Ayes:

Maples, John

Angela Watkinson and

Mates, Michael

Mr. Mark Field


Abbott, Ms DianeAtherton, Ms Candy
Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Atkins, Charlotte
Ainger, NickAustin, John
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Baker, Norman
Allan, RichardBanks, Tony
Allen, GrahamBarnes, Harry
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Barrett, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale &Battle, John


Bayley, Hugh
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryBeard, Nigel

Begg, Miss AnneDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Beith, rh A. J.Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Bell, StuartDawson, Hilton
Benn, HilaryDean, Mrs Janet
Bennett, AndrewDenham, rh John
Benton, Joe (Bootle)Dhanda, Parmjit
Berry, RogerDismore, Andrew
Best, HaroldDobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Betts, CliveDobson, rh Frank
Blears, Ms HazelDonohoe, Brian H.
Blizzard, BobDoughty, Sue
Borrow, DavidDowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Drew, David (Stroud)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradshaw, BenEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Brennan, KevinEdwards, Huw
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Efford, Clive
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle EEllman, Mrs Louise


Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Etherington, Bill
Browne, DesmondEwing, Annabelle
Bruce, MalcolmFarrelly, Paul
Buck, Ms KarenField, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Burden, RichardFisher, Mark
Burnham, AndyFlint, Caroline
Burstow, PaulFollett, Barbara
Byers, rh StephenFoster, Don (Bath)
Cable, Dr. VincentFoster, Michael (Worcester)
Calton, Mrs PatsyFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)

& Rye)

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Foulkes, rh George
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Francis, Dr. Hywel
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Caplin, IvorGardiner, Barry
Casale, RogerGeorge, Andrew (St. Ives)
Caton, MartinGeorge, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Challen, ColinGerrard, Neil
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gibson, Dr. Ian
Chidgey, DavidGidley, Sandra
Clapham, MichaelGilroy, Linda
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Godsiff, Roger
Clark, Dr. Lynda (EdinburghGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)


Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &Grogan, John


Hain, rh Peter
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clelland, DavidHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Coffey, Ms AnnHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cohen, HarryHanson, David
Coleman, IainHarman, rh Ms Harriet
Colman, TonyHarris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W &
Connarty, Michael


Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Cooper, YvetteHavard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &
Corbyn, Jeremy


Corston, JeanHealey, John
Cotter, BrianHeath, David
Cousins, JimHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cox, Tom (Tooting)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cranston, RossHendrick, Mark
Crausby, DavidHepburn, Stephen
Cruddas, JonHesford, Stephen
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Cummings, JohnHeyes, David
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)Hinchliffe, David
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)Holmes, Paul
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireHood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Dalyell, TamHoon, rh Geoffrey
Darling, rh AlistairHope, Phil (Corby)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Hopkins, Kelvin
David, WayneHowarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Davidson, IanHowarth, George (Knowsley N &
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)

Sefton E)

Howells, Dr. KimMarshall, David (Glasgow
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)


Humble, Mrs JoanMartlew, Eric
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)Meacher, rh Michael
Hutton, rh JohnMeale, Alan (Mansfield)
Iddon, Dr. BrianMerron, Gillian
Illsley, EricMichael, rh Alun
Ingram, rh AdamMiliband, David
Irranca-Davies, HuwMiller, Andrew
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)


Moffatt, Laura
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Mole, Chris
Jamieson, DavidMoore, Michael
Jenkins, BrianMoran, Margaret
Johnson, Miss Melanie (WelwynMorgan, Julie


Morris, rh Estelle
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Mountford, Kali
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Mudie, George
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)Mullin, Chris
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)MurPhy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Keeble, Ms SallyMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Keetch, PaulNorris, Dan (wansdyke)
Kemp, FraserOaten, Mark (Winchester)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &O'Brlen, Bill (Normanton)


O'Brien Mike (N Warks)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Olner, Bill
Khabra, Piara S.O'Neil, Martin
Kidney, DavidÖplk, Lenmbit
Kilfoyle, PeterOrgan, Diana
King, Andy (Rugby)Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal, Green &Owen, Albert


Palmer, Dr. Nick
Kirkwood, Sir ArchyPicking, Anne
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Pickthall, Colin
Kumar, Dr. AshokPike, Peter (Burnley)
Ladyman, Dr. StephenPlaskitt, James
Lamb, NormanPollard, Kerry
Lammy, DavidPond Chris (Gravesham)
Lawrence, Mrs JackiePope Greg (Hyndburn)
Laws, David (Yeovil)Pound, Stephen
Lepper, Davidprentice, Ms Bridgetd (Lewisham
Leslie, Christopher


Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)


Linton, MartinPrimarolo, rh Dawn
Llwyd, ElfynProsser Gwyn
Love, AndrewPugh, Dr. John
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)Purchase, Ken
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)Quinn Lawrie
McAvoy, ThomasRammell, Bill
McCabe, StephenRapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
McCafferty, ChrisReed Andy (Loughborough)
McDonagh, SiobhainReid Alan (Argyll & Bute)
MacDonald, CalumReid rn Dr. Jonn (Hamilton N &
McDonnell, John


McFall, JohnRendel, David
McGuire, Mrs AnneRobertson, Angus (Moray)
McIsaac, ShonaRobertson, John (Glasgow
McKechin, Ann


Mackinlay, AndrewRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry
McNulty, Tony


MacShane, DenisRoche, Mrs Barbara
Mactaggart, FionaRooney, Terry
McWalter, TonyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McWilliam, JohnRoy, Frank (Motherwell)
Mahmood, KhalidRuane, Chris
Mahon, Mrs AliceRuddock, Joan
Mallaber, JudyRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Mandelson, rh PeterRussell, Ms Christine (City of
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)


Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury &Salmond, Alex


Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad

Savidge, MalcolmTrickett, Jon
Sawford, PhilTruswell, Paul
Sedgemore, BrianTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Shaw, JonathanTurner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton
Sheerman, Barry


Sheridan, JimTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Shipley, Ms DebraTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Singh, MarshaTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Skinner, DennisTynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)Vis, Dr. Rudi
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &Walley, Ms Joan


Ward, Claire
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &Wareing, Robert N.


Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Watts, David
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns &White, Brian


Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Soley, CliveWicks, Malcolm
Southworth, HelenWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Spellar, rh JohnWilliams, Betty (Conwy)
Squire, RachelWilliams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Starkey, Dr. PhyllisWilliams, Roger (Brecon)
Steinberg, GerryWills, Michael
Stevenson, GeorgeWinnick, David
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster
Stinchcombe, Paul


Stoate, Dr. HowardWishart, Pete
Stringer, GrahamWood, Mike (Batley)
Stuart, Ms GiselaWoodward, Shaun
Stunell, AndrewWoolas, Phil
Sutcliffe, GerryWorthington, Tony
Tami, Mark (Alyn)Wray, James (Glasgow
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)


Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)


Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)Wright, David (Telford)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Thurso, JohnWyatt, Derek
Timms, StephenYounger-Ross, Richard
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)

Tellers for the Noes:

Tonge, Dr. Jenny

Vernon Coaker and

Touhig, Don (Islwyn)

Mr. John Heppell

Question accordingly negatived.

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

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


That this House welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to investment of £180 billion through the Ten Year Transport Plan; applauds the decisive steps it has taken to set the country's railway system on the way to recovery following the shambles it inherited from the last Government's botched privatisation; recognises the balanced approach it has taken to maintaining and improving the trunk road network, taking account of wider environmental objectives; and notes achievements already evident in, for example, improved rolling stock for rail passengers, more reliable services for bus users, better maintenance of trunk roads for motorists and falling numbers of road accidents.

Small Businesses

I must advise the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.16 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the impact of Government policy on small and medium-sized enterprises; condemns the Government for increasing the burden of regulation, taxation and bureaucracy, for blurring the economic and social agenda and for wasting money on Government branding and quangoes; and calls for fair treatment for small businesses to allow British enterprise to create jobs and wealth for the benefit of the whole community.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to her place in the House today—a place, as I read in The Daily Telegraph today, she intends to occupy not merely until the age of 60, but well beyond then. Of course, that date is many years hence. I wonder whether she has checked that ambition with the Prime Minister, because she rubbished his attachment to the cult of youth in terms that were so candid as to be worthy of the Leader of the House.

I also wonder whether the electors of Leicester may have a say in that matter. Perhaps they will be so grateful to her for the fact that she proposes to postpone not only her own retirement but that of all her constituents that they will regard that as a reason to go on electing her as long as she chooses to honour them with her candidacy—[Interruption.] I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to the debate. I welcome her decision to address the real issue of age discrimination, and I look forward to debating it with her on another occasion—since she did not choose to make a statement to the House when she published her consultation paper, I hope that there will be a proper opportunity to debate the issue on the Floor of the House at a later date.

I am, but I would be dismayed—I know that this is not your intention, Madam Deputy Speaker—if it were thought that age discrimination was not relevant to small businesses. I believe that it is absolutely relevant to them.

This is the first debate on small businesses on the Floor of the House since the Secretary of State took office, although some years ago we were promised an annual debate on the subject. The Opposition have chosen to remedy that omission by giving up half our time today for such a debate. The Government's reluctance to discuss small business is in marked contrast to their enthusiasm for debating hunting. As there has not been a whisper of protest about that extraordinarily distorted set of priorities from the Secretary of State, people involved in small business must conclude that she agrees with her colleagues in the Government that considering the needs of small business is less urgent than pursuing the vendetta against field sports.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing attention to an election pledge by the Labour Government—to hold an annual small business debate. Does he agree that when the Government came into office, the slogan was "Education, education, education", but as far as small businesses are now concerned, it is "Legislation, legislation, legislation". Is not that what is crippling small businesses?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I know how many times she has raised on the Floor of the House and privately her concerns about the plight of small businesses in her constituency. The Government's unwillingness to debate the needs of small business is perhaps not surprising, given that many of the difficulties faced by small business today are directly or indirectly the result of the Government's actions and inactions. Small businesses bear a disproportionately heavy share of the cost of the extra regulations to which my hon. Friend has just referred: regulations that this Government have introduced, which the British Chambers of Commerce estimates are costing a total of £20 billion. Small businesses are disproportionate victims of the extra taxes imposed on business by this Labour Government, estimated in total, by the CBI, to amount to £47 billion. According to this year's Budget submission from the BCC, the cost of complying with new employment regulations is 50 times higher for a small company than it is for the largest company. Against that background, it is no wonder that Labour does not want to debate small business.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that small businesses are suffering terrible stress—economically as well as psychologically, for very small businesses—with regard to insurance. Insurance companies can effectively drive out of business small businesses that are profitable in all other respects, because they cannot afford the incredible and often extortionate insurance premiums.

The hon. Gentleman anticipates a point to which I shall refer in a moment. He is right to raise it.

Against the background that I have described, it is no surprise that when I met the Forum of Private Business yesterday in Manchester, I was told that fewer of its members expect their businesses to grow now than at any time since Labour came to power. Whatever probusiness rhetoric Ministers like to deploy, their actions tell a different story: a story of neglect of the overriding need to protect the competitive position of British business; a story of increasing hostility to the aims and values of business and enterprise, which are now respected by Government only in so far as they create a milch-cow from which Labour can extract more and more taxation; and a story of ignorance and even disdain for the challenges faced by small business.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the vast majority of the estimated on-costs that he has just quoted relate, first, to the minimum wage, secondly, to the European working time directive and, thirdly, to holiday rights? Is he saying that he would try to repeal any of those, or is he simply uttering a lot of hot air? Does he not accept that measures such as the working families tax credit reduce real wage costs for small businesses and help to stimulate them in a stable economy?

The hon. Gentleman will regret making that intervention, as he has clearly exposed his ignorance of small businesses' concerns, which will not go unnoticed by his electors.

My point was that under this Labour Government, in the six years since 1997, the burdens on small business in terms of taxation and regulations have risen to levels that have never been seen in the whole of Britain's history.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that small businesses in Scotland have to pay a much higher burden than small businesses in England and Wales, with a business tax rate 9 per cent. higher than that south of the border? How does he think businesses in Scotland can compete in an environment that is clearly uncompetitive?

Businesses in Scotland are suffering under the particularly burdensome regime of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition: a warning to the rest of the United Kingdom if ever we were faced with a similar threat. They are also labouring with the problem of devolution, which has meant that no one is clear about which responsibilities lie on which side of the border in terms of policies that impact on business.

The harm that new Labour has done to small business is especially worrying, because more than a third of all employees work for enterprises that employ fewer than 20 people. Historically, small business has been the engine of job creation. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, six out of seven private-sector jobs created between 1995 and 1999 were created by small and medium-sized enterprises.

Exactly, because under this Government today, the only engine of job creation is the obsessive determination with which Ministers spend more and more taxpayers' money to expand the ranks of the already swollen army of bureaucrats who work in the public sector.

Despite a huge increase in Department of Trade and Industry spending, the Government do little to addresses the real concerns of small businesses. Those concerns focus first on cash, secondly on people, and thirdly on time. Cash is being drained out of business by huge rises in taxation. Employer national insurance contributions take £10 billion more from business today than they did in 1997, and business rates take £4.5 billion more from business today than they did in 1997. The new tax on pensions is draining away a further £5 billion a year and, from a standing start only two years ago, the wholly anomalous climate change levy is draining a further £1 billion a year from business.

The hon. Gentleman referred to our investment in public services. Does he realise that investment in school buildings, hospitals and public construction works provides much-needed business opportunities for the people about whom he is talking?

Had the hon. Gentleman been listening to what I said, he would know that I referred not to investment in public services but to the swollen army of bureaucrats who work in the public sector. If he took the trouble to go to a library to consult the recruitment pages in newspapers and magazines, he would see that the advertisements for public sector jobs are not for nurses or doctors—they take years to train; there is no tap that can be turned on and off—but for posts such as performance review analysts. Such people do not deliver public services to patients and pupils, but simply create more and more bureaucracy.

I suspect that the Secretary of State will try to claim that the Government have been sympathetic to business by cutting corporation tax. If she does, she will simply expose her ignorance of small businesses, which seldom find that corporation tax is a problem.

The hon. Gentleman must, like me, know of many small businesses that could not afford to employ the type of expert who would allow them to interact with bureaucracy, major fund providers, objective 1 requirements and European legislation. The public appointments advertised are for people who would provide that support and those services at little cost to those companies. Businesses were denied that under the previous Administration.

I hope that at some stage during the next two and a half hours a Labour Member's intervention will demonstrate that he or she has had some contact with small businesses during the past two years. The hon. Lady's point might well have been handed to her by the Government Whips Office, but it could not have been suggested by any small business person.

On the matter identified by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), surely the real challenge is the forthcoming temporary workers directive, which is yet to hit small businesses. Small businesses could buy in expertise for a specific project, but they will be penalised for doing that by yet more legislation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The temporary workers directive will have an especially damaging impact on the United Kingdom. It is a typical example of a piece of European legislation that will have an uneven impact on EU countries because it fails to take account of the unique characteristics of the British labour market.

In a moment.

Small businesses do not worry about corporation tax, especially in their start-up phase. Indeed, many would love to have a corporation tax liability. As soon as they start trading, however, all small businesses are hit by employer national insurance contributions, business rates and the climate change levy—taxes that apply before a penny of profit has been earned. By shifting the burden of business tax away from corporation tax on to those other taxes, Labour's policy is directly damaging small business.

If only Labour shared the Conservative goal of a fair deal for small business, in which no small business was held back or left behind, it might understand the damage that is done by draining cash out of a small business—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to say explicitly that Labour Members have no business experience? I have run businesses with a turnover of £1 million; all he has is a connection with cattle semen. I do not want to talk about cattle semen; that is for him to discuss. I want to talk about my business experience, but he will not allow me to intervene.

My hon. Friend is right. It might reassure my hon. Friends to know that I do not intend to give way to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) again.

If Labour Members shared our goals of aiming for a fair deal for small business, they might understand the damage done when cash is drained from a small business at its most vulnerable stage of development. I fear that Ministers in this Government do not understand that. People who have never been personally involved in small business seldom understand the importance of cash. People whose salaries have always been put into their bank account on the 28th of each month, regardless of what they have or have not done, do not know what it is like to wake up in the night sweating about whether one has the cash to pay the bills. They have never spent half their day chasing the payment of invoices to get a bit of cash. They do not realise the damage that the Government's tax policy is doing day in, day out to small businesses.

It is not only tax that drains cash from small businesses. Huge increases in employer liability insurance premiums are another heavy burden. The Federation of Small Businesses has reported on an Essex company that shreds confidential waste—probably a booming business in the light of the Government's difficulties. It faces a 400 per cent. increase in premiums on its latest renewal notice. That follows a 250 per cent. increase last year. Those premiums were demanded despite the company's having no machinery or factory premises, and despite the fact that it had not made a claim for 30 years. Given that the Treasury collects more than £2 billion a year in insurance premium tax, which is more than three times the amount of that tax that was paid in the last full year of the Conservative Government, we can be sure that the Chancellor is in no hurry to slow down the rate at which premiums are increasing.

Instead of the Secretary of State washing her hands of the problem, will she tell us whether the short-term measures proposed by the Government after the recent Department for Work and Pensions review will be implemented in the foreseeable future? Does she plan to provide immediate relief for businesses that may be threatened with closure because of escalating premiums while the more fundamental reforms are considered? In the light of the Office of Fair Trading finding that problems exist in respect of asbestos-related risks and professional indemnity insurance for independent financial advisers, how will she tackle those problems? Does she share my concern, and that of the CBI, about the compensateion culture? In addressing the problem of escalating insurance costs, does she agree that it would help if a greater share of the costs were apportioned to claimants who lose a case and if the cost burden were rebalanced, so that not only the claimant, but the claimant's lawyer, has to shoulder an element of the risk?

The second concern is people. Many employers find it hard to recruit employees with appropriate skills. The Government's obsession with churning out more and more graduates, regardless of whether their degrees equip them for work in the 21st century, does not address the problem. Our approach is to make sure that everyone who will gain from university education receives it, and that those who will gain from other forms of education and training receive those. Even when a small business can find a suitably qualified and trained recruit, it faces other difficulties in the form of employment regulations, which frequently act as a disincentive to offering jobs. Our fair deal for small business will be a fair deal for employees as well as employers, because we want a country in which no one is left behind and no one is held back.

What does the Secretary of State think will be the effect on some of the more vulnerable potential employees, who might be left behind, of her cherished work-life balance? Does she agree with the Institute of Directors, two thirds of whose employer members believe that her policy will reduce the chances of younger women finding jobs? If she does not agree with that bleak but entirely predictable conclusion, on what does she base her own view? Has she undertaken an assessment of the impact of work-life policies on the job prospects of young people?

Given that the European Union will soon admit new members such as Hungary and Poland, where wage costs are only a quarter of those in Britain, could there be a worse time to pursue the agenda that the Secretary of State favours? Is it not grossly irresponsible to do so, presumably to curry favour with trade union bosses, secure with their comfortable salaries and expense accounts, without regard to the damage that she is doing to the chances of the next generation of British workers?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the absence of, and the need for, a light-touch regulatory environment. Is it not a damning indictment of the Government that for six successive years they have refused to publish an annual statement of the cost of regulation, or indeed of their plans for a reduction in that cost?

It is, as my hon. Friend says in his usual elegant and eloquent way, a damning indictment. It is also a clear admission, first, that, whatever they may say, the Government are not concerned about how much damage they are doing to business and, secondly, that they are fully aware that if they did publish such a statement, it would be clear that they were undermining the competitive position of British business and, therefore, the future job prospects of the British people.

I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us whether she thinks that a small business will be more or less likely to take on new staff as a result of the Employment Act 2002. Does she consider that the 50 per cent. jump in employment tribunal claims shows that new Labour has created a more, or a less, harmonious relationship between employers and employees? Does she realise that if, in three or four years, private sector jobs are harder to find than they have been for the last two decades, the reason will be the policies of this Government, whose tunnel-visioned, old Labour passion for championing more and more employee rights may end up taking away the most fundamental employee right of all: the right of every woman and man to negotiate with a prospective employer the basis on which they are willing to work?

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the costs of employment tribunals in which the employer is found to be wholly innocent? Earlier this week, I met a man with a small business who told me that a tribunal had cost his firm £27,000. Even though his firm was completely exonerated, he had no chance of getting that money back. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a serious point, which needs to be looked at?

It is a very serious point. It is scandalous that many employers are burdened with huge costs as a result of tribunals, some of which involve frivolous claims. Indeed, I am told that there are examples of employees going from one firm to another, taking one case after another to a tribunal.

If the Secretary of State had any concern for the next generation of workers, and if she were as anxious as the Conservative party is to secure a fair deal for small business, in which no one is left behind or held back, particularly the most vulnerable and least skilled workers, she would argue, as we are doing, for more flexibility in labour markets—the flexibility that creates jobs, as we see in the United States, instead of the rigidity that destroys them, as we see in Germany, and which, sadly for Britain's future workers, appears to be the model that the Government favour.

The third concern for small business managers is time, far too much of which is spent by small business people filling in Government forms, trying to understand what new regulations mean for their businesses, and trying to comply with those regulations. Far too much time is spent administering the Government's tax and benefits systems. The handling of the Chancellor's increasingly chaotic attempts at social engineering and wealth redistribution has been forcibly sub-contracted to business, which now not only administers payrolls and the entire national insurance contribution regime, but has been compelled to take over some of the functions of the Benefits Agency.

As more employees become eligible for some form of tax credit, the Government need to consider the effect that that has on relations between employers and employees. Does it really promote good relationships at work if employees have to disclose intimate financial information to their employer? The time that all of that takes would be better spent talking to customers, improving products, controlling costs, and all the other things that small business people must do. Saving half an hour a week might even allow small business people to get home a little earlier on a Friday evening to spend a little more time with their families. Cutting a few regulations might allow small business people to enjoy a taste of the benefits that the Secretary of State claims to want to create through the work-life balance.

My hon. Friend has highlighted an essential issue for small businesses. Is he aware of the latest figures on the number of hours that small business men and women running family firms have to endure? I understand that more than 28 hours a month are spent filling in forms.

Some of the figures for the amount of time that small business people have to spend filling in forms and complying with regulations are alarming. That is unproductive time. On a future occasion, I hope to tell the House about some of the forms that small business people are required to complete. However, it is not just red tape that takes up their time—infrastructure problems do so as well. Britain's increasingly thirdworld transport system, which we heard about during the previous debate, wastes a huge amount of time and represents a vast burden for business. Ministers themselves have admitted that that costs billions of pounds.

Does my hon. Friend agree that another part of the infrastructure surprisingly neglected by the Government is broadband access for the very companies in rural areas that could most benefit from that new technology? That is proving to be a serious handicap in our competitiveness with other European countries. The Government could have done a lot more, for example, by allowing piggy-backing on their programmes for wiring up doctors' surgeries and schools in rural areas, but they simply have not bothered.

My hon. Friend is right, and highlights an area of infrastructure that is the direct responsibility of the DTI. The Government's failure to achieve the ambitious plans that they published for access to broadband is causing genuine problems for many small businesses, particularly in rural areas. Many of my hon. Friends have constituents who cannot get access to broadband now and cannot even get a date when they will have such access.

In the next few months, I shall set out in more detail what the Conservative fair deal for small business will include. This afternoon, in an attempt to promote constructive debate about these important issues, I invite the Secretary of State to agree that a fair deal for small business must start with the recognition of four fundamental principles. First, the most important thing that any Government can do for business, small or large, is create a stable macro-economic climate. No amount of ministerial intervention, new Government initiatives or grants to bail out failing businesses in the constituencies of ministerial colleagues can replace the need for policies that promote wealth creation and preserve the competitive position of British business. We live in times of exceptional uncertainty, when modern technology and communications have made investment and jobs more internationally mobile than ever before. Investment which, a decade ago, may have been made in Ipswich, is today just as likely to go to India. Whole industries in which western Europe led the world in the last century are migrating to China in the first quarter of this century.

That is why it is worrying that, under Labour, productivity is rising at only half the rate that it was under the Conservatives. That is why it is worrying that business investment last year suffered its biggest drop for over 10 years, and the second biggest on record since that series of data was started in 1966. That is why it is worrying that last year, strikes cost business more lost days than in any year for more than a decade. That is why it is so worrying for business that, for every week that the Labour Government have been in power, an average of 2,000 manufacturing jobs have been destroyed. That is why it is worrying that Britain's deficit in traded goods is the worst since records began 306 years ago. Those figures are a reminder of worrying trends in the British economy, and they reflect the accumulation of difficulties that small business faces and the gradual erosion of the competitive advantages that Britain fought so hard to win in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

The second principle to be recognised is that the effectiveness of Government intervention is extremely limited. Take the Small Business Service, on which spending has rocketed to £423 million. Is that sizeable chunk of taxpayers' money achieving added value for small business? It is hard to see that it is. It certainly has not established itself as a champion of small companies in the Government and it is not yet established as a widely used source of valued business advice. The Small Business Service business plan for 2003 states:
"Business Link is being enhanced to improve the support given to those starting a business."
It continues:
"Key to success will be repositioning and strengthening Business Link as a valued brand."
Those statements are shorthand for noting Business Link's continued shortcomings and the Government's desire to throw good money after bad.

The same document goes on to state that a key task for the Small Business Service will be the establishment and rolling evaluation of three regional development agency-led business support pilots in the north-west, the west midlands and the east midlands. It continues:
"A new challenge is to understand the relationship with factors such as company culture, ownership issues and sector-specific issues which can make many small businesses reluctant to grow."
The Small Business Service will
"map the interdependence of these factors and, by March 2004, publish a 'capabilities for growth' strategy."
Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us what all that jargon means and how it translates into any added value for small business.

The Department of Trade and Industry seems to have decided to exclude such private sector business support groups as the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the CBI, the Small Business Bureau and the Forum of Private Business. It has excluded those, as well as many more specialist bodies, from playing a leading role in small business development. More is the pity. The DTI will rue the day.

The third principle concerns tax. It is time to recognise that business is much more heavily taxed than when Labour came to power. No further increase in the tax burden on business can possibly take place. Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that tax would have to go up again next year. Most of us suspected that already. The Chancellor had already had to admit that he got his sums wrong twice, in the pre-Budget report last November and in the Budget in April. Most people believe that his forecasts for tax revenue will again be proved wrong in the next few months.

Since income tax is a sacred cow that cannot be touched—an extraordinary commitment, as national insurance contributions, which have precisely the same effect as income tax on employees, have already been raised—we must conclude that business taxes will bear the brunt again next year. If the Secretary of State wants to champion small business, I invite her to make a commitment here today to fight publicly against any proposal by the Chancellor to raise tax on business. She should make it clear that if tax on business is raised again while she is Secretary of State, she will resign her office.

The fourth and last principle concerns regulation. It is long overdue to recognise that regulation costs business more than ever before and is weakening the competitive position of British business. Regulation damages small business particularly badly. The burden cannot be increased any further. I invite the Secretary of State to introduce sunset clauses into many of the Government's regulations, such as the provisions of the Employment Act 2002, so that their effect on the job prospects of potential workers can be properly analysed. Those four principles—that small businesses are affected by the macro-economic climate more than anything else; that direct action by the Government without the full involvement of the private sector is of little benefit; that the tax burden on business must now be capped; and that the tide of regulation must be reversed—are the crucial pillars on which a fair deal for small business must rest, so that no small business is left behind. I invite the Secretary of State to commit herself to upholding each of those principles.


The futures of millions of people working in small businesses throughout Britain can be made more or less secure and their daily working lives easier or harder by the Secretary of State's decisions. I invite her now to break the mould of the past two years, abandon her Government's over-taxing, over-regulating and meddlesome ways and support our motion, which I commend to the House.

4.50 pm

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

"agrees that small and medium-sized businesses are crucial to the prosperity of the nation and will be responsible for many of the new jobs and much of the future innovation in the economy; welcomes the steps that the Government has taken to make it easier than ever before for people to start their own business; acknowledges that the Government has created the economic conditions of macro-economic stability and low and stable interest rates in which small business can grown and prosper; believes that the Government has created a pro-enterprise tax environment; and applauds the Government for improving access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, removing unnecessary regulations and providing world class business support."
May I begin by welcoming the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) to the Front Bench? My hon. Friends and I look forward to jousting with him during DTI questions. However, I regret the fact that, in contrast with the hon. Gentleman, who is always courteous in his questions, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) has developed a most unfortunate habit of opening every debate with rather churlish and, I have to say, rather silly remarks.

I particularly regret that, because this is a debate about small businesses. One of the best things about being Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce, as I was for two years previously, has been that I can get around the country and meet some of our wonderful entrepreneurs and owner-managers. I have met people such as Dave Stevens and his team at Cooke Optics in Leicestershire, who, with the help of a DTI grant, developed the high-definition film lenses that were used in that wonderful film "Chicago". It was one of those grants on which the hon. Member for South Suffolk pours scorn, a £140,000 SMART award—a small firms merit award for research. A few weeks ago, Dave Stevens told me in an e-mail:
"It is now our responsibility to return to the UK through 95 per cent. export some revenue from this investment."

While my right hon. Friend is extolling the virtues of Leicester, will she add another discovery made in Leicester? DNA fingerprinting is an amazing discovery funded by DTI money through the Office of Science and Technology.

My hon. Friend, who plays such a superb role in promoting science, is absolutely right. We in Leicester are particularly proud of that discovery, which has created benefits for our whole society and economy.

I should also like to mention Irene and Arthur Allen in rural Norfolk, who created a tiny company called Listawood 15 years ago. It was a family company that was started around the kitchen table with a £40-a-week enterprise allowance.

Yes. I visited the firm years ago when I was deputy chair of the Commission on Social Justice. It was a wonderful firm and is now a flourishing manufacturing company. It makes PC products and has a turnover of £8 million and 100 employees. I say to the hon. Member for South Suffolk that, from the outset, it built up the business by recruiting local staff and giving them family-friendly working because that was what they needed. As a result, it has built up a dedicated, loyal and flexible work force who are one of the main reasons for its success.

A few weeks ago, I visited another Leicestershire company and met Stefan Olsberg and his colleagues at Voice Connect in Groby. They have developed wonderful software that helps schools to cut truancy through text messaging, e-mails and voice mails to parents. People can use whatever system of communication they want. The company is now extending the product to GPs so that they can cut those wasted appointments. It is franchising the business, which it has already expanded to include more than 40 employees, throughout the country, giving other entrepreneurs a chance.

Let me mention, if I may, one of the many entrepreneurs in my own constituency, Atul Lakhani, whose new restaurant my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and I had the pleasure of opening last Friday. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) founded and grew an outstanding travel business that is promoting the environment and ecologically responsible tourism in Crete.