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Commons Chamber

Volume 408: debated on Wednesday 2 July 2003

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 2 July 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Borders

1.

What plans he has to visit Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain and Knockin to discuss (a) the impact of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill and (b) the funding of higher education as they affect communities near the border of England and Wales. [122060]

Although I have no such plans to visit at present, the Wales Office is working closely to ensure that cross-border issues in health and education are fully considered.

I am sure that the people of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain and Knockin would be pleased to see my right hon. Friend, but if foundation hospitals go ahead in England, can he guarantee equality of access for treatment for patients in Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, or any other part of Wales, if they have to have treatment in England?

Conversely, can my right hon. Friend guarantee for students from Knockin, or any other part of England, the prospect of the same financial treatment as students from Wales if they go to Welsh universities?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Bill that is now going through the House has guaranteed that Welsh patients being treated in English hospitals and English patients being treated in Welsh hospitals will have their rights protected. As it happens, the numbers of English residents being treated in Welsh hospitals and the number of Welsh patients being treated in English hospitals appear to be rising, especially in such border areas. That is because more people are being treated under the NHS in Wales than ever before; the same is true of the NHS in England.

So far as students are concerned, of course their rights will continue to be the same. They will have the right to study in Wales, as many choose to, and as many Welsh students will continue to have the right to study in England.

Does the Minister accept that the many positive differences between Wales and England in relation to higher education and health, including Assembly learning grants for students, the retention of community health councils and the extension of free dental checks and free prescriptions were thanks to the Liberal Democrats when they were in government in Wales? Does he agree with the obvious conclusion that if the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) opposes top-up fees and foundation hospitals, which could poach nurses from the Welsh health system, he should vote for the Liberal Democrats?

The hon. Gentleman is never afraid to exaggerate. Indeed, I quote from the Lib Dems' campaign guide to the last elections:

"Be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly, and embarrass the Administration. Don't be afraid to exaggerate."
He is at it again. In truth, a Labour-led Government in Wales has delivered all these excellent policies, and will continue to do so over the next four years.

The Secretary of State needs to re-read the Bill on the bringing in of foundation hospitals, because it does not offer a guarantee that Welsh patients will have the same legal rights as English patients. As regards the good folk of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, their nearest acute hospital is the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, and they get their services there. What is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure that they get a guarantee of services equal to those on the other side of the border?

As my hon. Friend knows, cross-border flows have been going on for many years, sometimes because people want specialised care, sometimes for geographical reasons and sometimes for traditional reasons. In the end, the issue comes down to who wishes to commission those particular services—the GP or the other relevant authority. Welsh and English patients alike will get the extra opportunities afforded by the massive investment that is going into our health service under Labour.

European Constitution

2.

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the proposed new European constitution on the National Assembly for Wales. [122062]

In line with the United Kingdom proposals to the European Convention on the Future of Europe, the draft constitutional treaty will, for the first time, formally recognise the involvement of the regions of member states such as Wales in European Union business.

The part-time Secretary of State is an honest man—the Government's licensed conscience, one might almost say. He knows that the Convention is much more than just a tidying up. Do not the people of Wales deserve a referendum on the constitution, just as they did on the National Assembly?

No—just as the Conservatives never gave the people of Wales a referendum on the Single European Act in 1986, whereby far more British vetoes were surrendered by Mrs. Thatcher than in the entire 30 years of British membership of the European Union, and just as they were not given a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Indeed, as I remember, the hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

Well, there you are. The fact is that the new constitutional treaty, when it is finally negotiated, will be a good deal for Britain, advancing our democratic rights and for the first time giving our national Parliaments—and, indeed, the National Assembly for Wales—consultative rights in vetting any new legislative proposal from Brussels. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

Is the Secretary of State telling my hon. Friend that because he is worried about losing the new constitution, or because he is worried about a pathetic turnout like the 38 per cent. that we saw for the Welsh Assembly elections?

I think we should start looking at the turnouts in all elections over recent years—including, probably, the turnout in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Turnouts have fallen during that time, which is or should be of concern to us all.

As for the issue of whether there should or should not be a referendum, the Conservatives have sought to frighten people into believing that this means the end of English and British civilisation. The truth is that the new constitutional treaty will mean more democratic rights for British citizens and, for the first time, more rights for the House of Commons: for the first time, the House will be able to vet any new Brussels proposals. That is a democratic advance. Instead of spreading fear and dishonestly peddling all sorts of misapprehensions about the treaty, its critics should look at the facts.

Manufacturing Investment

3.

If he will make a statement on prospects for manufacturing investment in Wales. [122063]

9.

What discussions he has had with the First Secretary regarding investment in manufacturing in North Wales. [122069]

There is evidence of increasing confidence in manufacturing investment in Wales, our high-technology industry and its highly skilled work force, symbolised by the massive Airbus investment at Broughton.

The Secretary of State paints a rather rosy picture, which contradicts the reality. The number of manufacturing jobs in Wales has been falling consistently since June 2000, and between that date and December 2000 it fell by more than 25,000. Manufacturing output has also declined consistently in recent years. CBI Wales blames Government policies such as the climate change levy, the packaging regulations and—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a supplementary question. The Secretary of State will now try to answer it.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: there have been manufacturing job losses in Wales. However, 25,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created over a similar period. As an expert on manufacturing, the hon. Gentleman will know that a churning process is going on throughout the modern industrialised world. Higher-value-added manufacturing jobs are coming into Wales, while some at the lower end are leaving. According to Manpower Services

"There is now increasing stability and confidence amongst Welsh employers, which is good news for both employers and job seekers in Wales".

My right hon. Friend said that he had recently visited Airbus at Broughton. As I am sure he will agree, it demonstrates that Wales can be a world leader in value-added manufacturing. Does he also agree that we should do more to help supplier companies to site themselves around such facilities?

Yes, I do agree. Airbus at Broughton, which is indeed a world-class centre, ought to be an increasing magnet for supplier companies. Evidence shows that when such a cluster of excellence is created it is good for the host manufacturer—in this case, Airbus—good for the supplier companies and good for the whole region.

A few moments ago the Secretary of State said that there was confidence in the high-tech manufacturing sector in Wales. How does that square with the fact that 200 jobs are to go at Hoya Lens in Wrexham this week?

When will the research and development tax credit be fleshed out? Despite the headline-grabbing of a few months ago, nothing has happened so far. Moreover, there is not a word about manufacturing on the Wales Office website. Why?

Yes, Hoya in Wrexham is to lose 200 jobs, although its sister company—which, I think, employs 220 people—is staying. It is moving jobs to Thailand, but it is keeping its UK base in Wrexham, where there is an excellent base for economic activity.

I think that there should be more recognition from Plaid Cymru that the Welsh economy outperformed the British economy as a whole last year. There was an estimated growth of 2.2 per cent., compared with the 1.8 per cent. forecast by British Strategies a few months ago.

Thanks to its loyal Wrexham work force, Hoya Lens—that is the correct name— made a profit in the United Kingdom of £l¾ million last year. It paid its Wrexham work force back by making 240 of them redundant on Monday this week. Will the Secretary of State meet urgently with me to make representations to that company about the disgraceful way in which it has treated its work force, about the general rights of workers in the United Kingdom, about the road transport infrastructure in north-east Wales and about the future of manufacturing in the proud manufacturing base of Wrexham and the rest of Wales?

Having gone to Wrexham on a number of occasions, including with my hon. Friend, to visit the manufacturing centre of excellence there, I confirm my own concern and criticism about the decision. I will certainly work with him to see what we can do and make it my business to ensure that the First Minister works with the other agencies concerned to ensure that those workers are provided with a good future.

The part-time Secretary of State for Wales is complacent about the job losses at Hoya in Wrexham. It is not churn—it is burn as far as manufacturing jobs are concerned. The general secretary of the union Amicus has stated that 20 jobs are lost in manufacturing every hour of the day, and at that rate all manufacturing jobs will be gone within the next 25 years, so what action plan do the Government have to stop the rot and to expand the manufacturing base in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman makes jibes about part-time but it was his party's policy at the last election to merge the Secretary of State for Wales's job with another post. In fact, according to the BBC website, it wanted to merge the position with that of the Leader of the House of Commons. As for part-timers, they are a bunch of moonlighters on the Conservative Benches. He should acknowledge that business confidence in Wales is now greater than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and that our record on employment is better than that in the rest of Europe and the United States. He should start to support the economic powerhouses generating more jobs in Wales instead of continually attacking them.

I think that the part-time Secretary of State protests too much. He knows that manufacturing is a greater percentage of gross domestic product in Wales than it is in the rest of Britain, yet the Government are doing nothing to stop the rot. Instead, the Welsh Assembly is squandering vital objective 1 money, missing its own targets, and it may even have to give some of the money back, yet as manufacturing jobs disappear the number of people who work at the Assembly has gone up from 2,275 in 1999 to 3,451 today. The number of spin doctors is being doubled from three to six and £8,000 has been spent on advertising those useless £150,000 jobs for spin doctors. How many manufacturing jobs need to be exported abroad before the Minister fights as hard for their jobs as he did to get two jobs for himself?

That comes from a party that saw more manufacturing bombed out than under the Luftwaffe in Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Yes I shall. I shall answer with facts instead of Tory myths. Unemployment is down 46 per cent. in Wales since April 1997. Wales has seen the biggest fall in unemployment over the past year of any of the UK regions. Employment in Wales has risen by 69,000 over the past year. There have been manufacturing losses but more manufacturing jobs have been created in parallel. The picture is of a buoyant Welsh economy meeting the challenges of the future and doing much better than many economies across Europe.

The part-time Secretary of State for Wales knows that there has been a net loss in manufacturing jobs. If it were the manufacturing of greasy poles that was in decline, I am sure that it would get the full attention of the part-time Secretary of State for Wales. He knows that there has been a net overall loss in manufacturing jobs—[Interruption.]

The part-time Secretary of State for Wales knows that there has been a net loss—the unions are saying it and those who have lost their jobs have felt it. Will the part-time Secretary of State now urgently set up a taskforce involving representatives from manufacturing, business and the Welsh Development Agency to look at matters such as red tape, European directives, the climate change levy, national insurance business rates and the landfill tax? Why is business profitability in manufacturing the lowest since 1993, or is he so busy with his other part-time job that he simply does not have the time?

The facts are that employment in Wales is at record levels, there are more business start-ups in Wales than anywhere else in Britain and business confidence there is rising. What the hon. Gentleman should do is to start supporting the Welsh economy, instead of continually attacking it.

Broadband

4.

What recent discussions he has had with (a) ministerial colleagues and (b) National Assembly Secretaries on progress in rolling out broadband services in West Wales. [122064]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet ministerial colleagues and we have regular bilateral meetings with National Assembly Ministers; we have discussed broadband, among other subjects. I have invited British Telecom to make a presentation on broadband at the Wales Office, and I have invited all Members of Parliament representing Welsh seats, including the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), to join us on that occasion, when colleagues may learn more about broadband in Wales.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Milford Haven, which is the largest town in my constituency, is due to go live with broadband on 24 September. That is an important economic development for my constituency, but bearing in mind the £100 million that the Assembly has provided for roll-out of broadband in Wales, will he have discussions with Ministers in the Assembly and with his colleagues here to try to get the roll-out extended to smaller towns such as Fishguard, given the economic development potential?

I certainly welcome the roll-out of broadband in Milford Haven. I am advised that Fishguard has in fact hit its target for broadband and can expect the broadband exchange to be rolled out within the next three months.

The IT revolution was meant to be the means of ensuring that rural Wales could take part in the economic growth that the rest of the nation enjoys, but rural parts of west Wales and mid-Wales have still yet to receive broadband. [Interruption.] Will the Minister consider the use of satellite technology to get broadband to rural areas, and particularly to Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, which is in the Liberal Democrat-held constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik)? [Interruption.]

Order. Before the Minister replies, I should point out that the Chamber is getting far too noisy. That always seems to happen at this time on a Wednesday.

I think that it is the attraction of Welsh questions, Mr. Speaker.

My colleagues in the Assembly are looking at maximising the use of objective 1 funding for two major projects. The first is aimed at supporting a range of innovative local and regional projects, and the second at increasing broadband availability in areas that are unlikely to be enabled, such as the rural community to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If he joins us at the Wales Office for the British Telecom presentation, he can pursue the matter further and perhaps we will have some good news for him.

My hon. Friend will be aware that approximately 44 per cent. of the population of Wales are now covered by the asymmetric digital subscriber line service, but is he also aware that certain pockets in my constituency, for example, do not receive this service? Will he use his good offices to try to improve this service in the near future?

Yes, indeed. Sixty-one of Wales's 440 telephone exchanges are now ADSL-enabled, and a further 26 exchanges will reach the trigger level shortly. I shall certainly take up my hon. Friend's point, but I invite her, too, to join us at the presentation at the Wales Office, when these matters can be put directly to British Telecom.

Common Agricultural Policy

5.

If he will make a statement on discussions with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the common agricultural policy in Wales. [122065]

My right hon. Friend and I are kept abreast of developments by Cabinet colleagues, and I will be discussing the matter with Assembly Ministers next week.

In view of the fact that the common agricultural policy is now a schizophrenic document—in other words, France and Germany are favoured over the UK—what will the Minister do to try to bolster Welsh agriculture, given that it is in such a state under a Secretary of State who is double-hatted at the best of times?

I am not clear about the hon. Gentleman's view of the recent discussions on CAP reform, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for her work on delivering a very good deal. I certainly welcome the package as a significant step towards supporting and sustaining agriculture in Wales. My colleagues in the Assembly and the National Farmers Union of Wales have welcomed it, and the Farmers Union of Wales wants further discussions on those developments. It is a good news story for Wales, which will benefit Welsh agriculture.

May I echo the sentiments of farmers in my constituency, who have expressed their satisfaction that CAP reforms will lead to the freedoms that they need to develop their own businesses? However, there is immediate concern at the roll-out of biosecurity measures on 1 August and their effects on the blackmill grass-based market. Will the Minister join me in making representations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Assembly to ensure that small indigenous markets do not lose out from those essential biosecurity measures?

My hon. Friend has made several representations to me and other colleagues on biosecurity measures. We all recognise that they are essential if we are to avoid a repeat of foot and mouth problems that the country experienced a little while ago. I will certainly take account of my hon. Friend's point and bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Has the Minister had an opportunity to reflect on two votes taken last week by the European Parliament? One relates to the labelling of genetically modified crops and food, the other to the liabilities arising from the planting of such crops, and they will both impact on the CAP and planting policy in Wales. The Minister will know that the National Assembly for Wales has stated clearly that it wants Wales to remain free of GM crops. Will he give an undertaking today that, if the Assembly maintains that view, Wales will remain a genetically modified commercial crop-free area?

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Although I have not read the documents to which he referred, I will make it my business to acquaint myself with them and take account of what they say. I cannot give the assurance that he asks for on GM crops in Wales. I think that we have to be very careful. We must continue with the discussions and studies that are currently going on and ensure that they are properly evaluated. I urge a further word of caution. I can remember a time when Wales had nuclear-free zones, but such things are often little more than gesture politics. We have to discover what is best for agriculture in Wales and make a proper assessment before making our judgment—[Interruption.]

Inward Investment

6.

What plans he has for overseas visits to promote inward investment in Wales in the next six months. [122066]

In line with the Government's objective that Britain should be fully engaged in the European Union, the Secretary of State and I are considering a programme of contacts and possible visits to as many EU accession countries as possible. We will use those opportunities to promote Welsh business and Welsh industry.

I am pleased to hear that, and I am sure that the whole House knows that the Minister and the Secretary of State want to do their best for Wales. However, is it not the case that, in his position as Leader of the House, the Secretary of State has to chair three Cabinet Committees and be here in London every Thursday to take business questions? Once a month he has to be here in London in order to answer questions to the Leader of the House, so where will he find the time to go abroad and promote Wales?

I do not think that anyone can doubt the time and commitment that my right hon. Friend gives to Wales. It is absolutely first class, and he will not let up in his determination to do his best for Wales. He constantly promotes a world-class Wales. The hon. Gentleman talks about other jobs and other responsibilities, so why does he not ask the shadow Secretary of State for Wales how he had time to walk up and down Whitehall with a "for sale" placard on the day of the reshuffle? Clearly, he had nothing to do, and I thought that he was a newsagent, not an estate agent.

Under devolution we have a First Minister and a National Assembly. The First Minister recently visited Barcelona, where he met with the bosses of Celsa, which is reopening the steel plant in Cardiff, thanks to the partnership between the Government in Westminster and the National Assembly in Cardiff. Is not that an example of the way in which devolution can work to bring inward investment to Wales?

My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I was in the Czech Republic last year with seven companies and Wales Trade International, to promote Welsh jobs and business and to forge links. We have a good and effective partnership between the Labour Governments in the Assembly and in Westminster. It is working well in the interests of the people of Wales. They certainly appreciated that when they gave us a sound vote of confidence on 1 May, by returning a Labour majority in the Assembly.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked

Engagements

Q1. [122849]

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 2 July.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

What progress is being made in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

The search for weapons of mass destruction, and evidence of the programmes, is being carried out by the Iraq survey group. It is some 1,200 strong and began its work a short time ago. It will be able to investigate all the sites, and interview all the witnesses and experts. We have already made it clear that the findings of the Iraq survey group should, of course, be publicly available.

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to consider the report published by the Institution of Civil Engineers on future energy production and supply in this country? In that report, criticism is made of the Department of Trade and Industry White Paper on energy supply, which would see the demise of the coal industry by 2016. By 2020, we would need to rely on imported fuels to the tune of 90 per cent. and that is obviously causing great concern in mining areas. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet several Members who represent mining areas to discuss that important report?

Of course I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and other Members from mining constituencies. I understand the concern that my hon. Friend mentions, but we have put substantial additional support into the mining industry in the past few years. It is important that we also maintain an energy supply that is fully competitive. That is under discussion with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members at the present time.

In 1998, the Deputy Prime Minister said that it was a "national disgrace" that one in 10 trains ran late. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many trains run late now?

The punctuality figures are worse since the Hatfield rail accident. Punctuality figures until Hatfield were stable for several years. After Hatfield, it was recognised that the state of the rail infrastructure required a massive amount of additional investment. That is why, over the next 10 years, we will roughly double the amount of public and private investment in the railways.

They have not just got worse: they are twice as bad as when the Deputy Prime Minister said that they were a "national disgrace". One in five trains now run late—twice as bad. No wonder the CBI said today that

"performance on the railways has yet to return to the levels of the late 1990s".
Exactly how long will it take to get back to those levels?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that rail punctuality has not returned to the levels of the late 1990s. That is for the very reason that the CBI give and that I have just given—after the Hatfield rail disaster it was recognised that the state of the rail infrastructure was infinitely worse than we supposed. That was as a result of years of underinvestment in our rail infrastructure, which we are now putting right. We are set virtually to double the amount of public and private investment in our railways. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now say whether he agrees with the commitment that we have given to the extra spending, because the only way to achieve a better performance on the railways is for that investment to be made. We are committed to it. Is he?

As ever, the Prime Minister blames everybody else when the Government fail. Network Rail has said that it will take until 2010—that is seven more years—just to get back to what the Government inherited. It is going to cost £58 billion just to get things back to where they were when the Government came to office. That is another example of taxpayers paying more and getting less. The part-time Transport Secretary now seems to think that things have to get worse before they can get better. I do not recall the British people being aware of the campaign song that said, "Things can only get worse." Is that not another reason why nobody believes a word that the Prime Minister says anymore?

Railway punctuality has got worse post-Hatfield for the very simple reason that I have given, which is also the reason that the CBI gave. The combination of underinvestment over many years and a catastrophic privatisation implemented by the previous Conservative Government have given us this situation. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it will take billions of pounds of extra investment over the next few years to put matters right. Everybody agrees about that, but that is investment that we are committed to and he is opposed to. I gave him an opportunity a moment or two ago to say categorically whether he was in favour of this extra investment. He quoted the CBI, which says that it supports the 10-year plan and wants that investment to go in. That is our position, and the CBI position. Is it his? [Interruption.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware that a short while ago Alstom announced that it had secured a multi-million pound order for tube trains in London. It followed that announcement by saying that it was going to bring to an end 150 years of train production at its Birmingham factory, threatening more than 1,000 jobs. On the day that workers from Alsthom are going to France to say that they are not prepared to have their jobs go down the tube in this way, I ask my right hon. Friend to back them.

First of all, I understand my hon. Friend's concern and anxiety for his constituents. He will understand that the Department of Trade and Industry is willing to meet representatives of the company and of the unions at the plant, and of course my hon. Friend, to see what we can do. In the end, these are decisions that have to be taken by the company, but we will give whatever help we possibly can to my hon. Friend's constituents. At the present time, we are in discussions with the company about its restructuring plans. I hope that we can get a positive outcome.

In his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Foreign Secretary said that the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was not in the original draft of the dossier released by the Government. However, the very next day, Alastair Campbell contradicted that, and said that it was in "the very first draft". Will the Prime Minister please clarify once and for all which version of events is correct?

In fact, the matter was clarified. The clarification is this: in the first draft presented by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the 45 minutes claim was there. The allegation that the claim was inserted by anyone in No. 10 Downing street or any Minister is completely and totally incorrect. The right hon. Gentleman has been backing that claim. If he has evidence to support the claim that we inserted intelligence into the dossier, let him now state the basis for that allegation.

The Prime Minister is aware that the Foreign Secretary—elected and accountable to this House—gave one version of events, and that an unelected member of staff in his No. 10 office gave a different version of events. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the best way to clarify the matter, once and for all, would be for him to go to that Committee and spell out exactly what happened?

It actually has been clarified. The Foreign Affairs Committee will make its report and the Intelligence and Security Committee will make its report. They have been given the fullest possible co-operation by the Government. I repeat, as I have from the very beginning, that the claim—it is a perfectly simple claim—that, contrary to the advice and insistence of the security services, the 45-minute claim was inserted in the dossier last September is completely untrue. Let me repeat once again: if anyone actually has any evidence, let them produce it. I think that before a claim of that seriousness is made, at least some evidence should be produced.

May I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said? I heard my right hon. Friend's answer that he is willing to meet a delegation of mining MPs, but in the meantime, will he consider whether he should declare the deep coal industry a strategic reserve and that there should be no future colliery closures, including that proposed for Selby?

I am afraid I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance or guarantee. It is important, especially now that the industry is in private hands, that we balance its interests as a whole with those of the energy supply of the country. As I said, over the past few years we have put a large sum of money into supporting the coal industry. We are working with the industry to see that it has a viable future. I shall be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and other representatives from mining constituencies, but we have to be careful about giving completely open-ended commitments to any industry.

Q2. [122850]

Last Monday's vote on hunting could have a very bad effect on the rural economy. Will the Prime Minister at least clarify his own position? Will the Government use the Parliament Act if the House of Lords amends the Hunting Bill so as to reject a total ban?

On the Parliament Act, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality has already said. I supported the compromise proposals that he put forward; it is now for the other House to consider the Hunting Bill.

I welcome the progress that is being made on the road map to peace in the middle east. Does the Prime Minister agree that if real peace is to be achieved, the Palestinians and other Arabs must stop preaching hatred of Jews in Israel and around the world? What representations has the Prime Minister made to the current Defence Minister of Syria who has written:

"The Jew can kill you and take your blood in order to make your Zionist bread"?

In general terms, my hon. Friend's point is right. It is a point that we make to Arab countries and, indeed, to representatives of the Palestinian Authority. It is important that we get the peace process under way. There was a lot of scepticism about whether we could make progress in the middle east, but I think that people now understand that there is that real and genuine possibility and that we must have a reduction of hatred and tension on all sides. That certainly includes the abolition of sources of incitement to racial hatred, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend.

With the World Trade Organisation meeting fast approaching, does the Prime Minister agree that the best way to raise living standards in the developing world is to reduce tariff barriers and to promote free trade?

Yes, of course I do; that is precisely the position of the Government.

Does the Prime Minister also agree that the negotiations to achieve that must be balanced? Many of the poorest countries feel that they are outgunned by richer countries in those negotiations, and as a result they have not been able to benefit from the growth in free trade. At the last WTO round, the EU had more than 500 experts on their side, whereas many of the poorest countries had literally nobody to represent them. Will the Prime Minister consider establishing a specific advocacy fund to make sure that the poorest countries can make their voice heard?

First of all, of course, I entirely agree that the reduction of tariffs is immensely important. I actually welcomed the deal that was done in the Agriculture Council; I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in negotiating it. It is important that Europe plays its part, with other countries, in making sure that tariffs are reduced. It is also important, incidentally, that we put that alongside a series of measures, such as increased aid and development, and this country, under this Government, has reversed the policy of the previous Government and has been putting investment into aid and development.

Of course it is important that we give developing countries whatever help we can. I am perfectly happy to look at the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but many of the countries that are going to the WTO would regard it as their position to ensure for themselves that they have the right advocacy.

That is exactly the point. The reality is that, as I said last time, more than 500 EU advisers swamped all the poorer countries. I understand from what the Prime Minister has just said that he has now agreed to look at the policy that the Conservative party has been promoting for some time—[Interruption.] Oh yes, the Prime Minister has now undertaken to try to adopt our policy because, last week, his own DFID Minister dismissed—[Interruption.]

The Prime Minister is not aware that, last week, his own DFID Minister dismissed the whole idea, so I am glad that he has done a U-turn to accept our policy. Real trade and real justice mean access to free trade, and I hope that the Prime Minister accepts that.

Let us be clear: over the years that the Conservative party was in office, the aid and development budget of this country fell, as a proportion of our national income; it is now rising every year under this Government. It is this Government who have been leading the way on third-world debt, and it is this Government who secured at the Agriculture Council, by qualified majority voting, the ability to make sure that we can give a decent offer from Europe at the WTO in September. When the right hon. Gentleman goes on about the 500 EU advocates, why is it that I sort of think that he is more interested in making a point about the EU than about the developing world?

As a scientist at heart, may I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in paying tribute to scientists in the House and, indeed, across the country—people involved in engineering and technology—and the role that they play in our economy? What measures will he take to enhance the science, technology and innovation base?

The point that my hon. Friend makes is absolutely vital for the future of this country. We have increased science investment from the Government and with the private sector up to £2 billion, rising to £3 billion, over the next few years. That will play an absolutely vital part in making sure that our industry is competitive for the future. I pay tribute to the work that British scientists do. I can tell my hon. Friend that, with 1 per cent. of the world's population, we now fund 5 per cent. of the science, and that is a good omen for the future of industry and science in this country.

Q3. [122851]

Does the Prime Minister think it appropriate that a senior Minister should insult our armed forces by saying that all soldiers are boneheads; have a benefit in kind worth £12,000 a year, contrary to the ministerial code, and unregistered, contrary to the advice of the Standards and Privileges Committee; assault members of the general public; use foul language in front of House of Commons staff, while breaking the rules of the House; and all because he arrogantly believes that the rules only apply to the little people? When will the Prime Minister sack the Deputy Prime Minister? Or does he believe that, at 65, he should be the first beneficiary of the new policy on ageism?

I will tell the House what I believe. I believe that the best commitment from a Government to our armed forces is not visiting 20 per cent. cuts, which is what was implemented by the previous Government—[Interruption]—yes—but delivering the first real-terms increase in defence spending for more than 10 years: this side's record; that side's shame.

Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the Tory discovery of world poverty, which is only fair because they caused much of it? Is he aware of the events that took place last weekend in my constituency and others, sponsored and organised by those in the trade justice movement—Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and other organisations—who called for the Government to do more to assist the third world, even though they recognise that this Government have taken the lead in many of those matters? I have here a petition, signed by thousands of my constituents. Will the Prime Minister undertake to give me a reply, explaining what more the Government are doing?

We will continue to try to get the best possible offer, not just from Europe but from other developed countries, at the World Trade Organisation in September. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's point about the importance of free trade for the developing world. We believe that a good WTO round could add something in the region of $150 billion to wealth in the world as a whole. Of course, it is extremely important to recognise that we will only get a decent deal out of Europe by being constructively engaged in Europe. It is as a result of being engaged, forming the right alliances and having, at the Agriculture Council, qualified majority voting, that we managed to get the deal that we did.

Q4. [122852]

In view of the White inquiry into Islington child abuse scandals of the 1980s and 1990s, which described Islington council as a chaotic organisation that breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent practices in relation to child care, does the Prime Minister really think that his appointment as Minister for Children is well advised?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Children was, of course, the Minister with responsibility for early years from 1998 to 2001. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what she accomplished: free education for all four-year-olds—[Interruption.]

Order. I tell the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) that he has a habit of shouting, particularly at Prime Minister's Question Time. He will not do it.

Those accomplishments were free education for all four-year olds—now 88 per cent. of three-year-olds—647,000 new child care places, and the development of the sure start programme, which, in constituencies across this country, is doing an immense amount for young people. That is a record of which she and we can be proud.

Q5. [122853]

Last summer, my constituent David Holloway was knocked down and killed by a coach while making his way from one of Ibiza's popular clubs to his hotel. He was one of many British victims to die on Spanish roads. The road from San Antonio to Ibiza town has no pavements and is poorly lit, and has a speed limit of 75 mph. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will do all in his power to approach the Spanish authorities to improve road safety in Spain so that young British lives are not lost?

First, I take this opportunity to offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to Mr. Holloway's family. I understand that this matter has been investigated by the Spanish police and considered by a Spanish court. I can tell my hon. Friend that we have made representations about this particular road, and in 2001, local authorities introduced certain changes as a result of the matters that we raised. I will undertake to look at the matter again, however, in the light of what my hon. Friend has said.

Q6. [122854]

Pensioners who want to have their pensions paid through a Post Office account have to go through a long and complicated process. One of the steps is to phone the rather sinisterly named customer conversion centre. When pensioners phone, the first thing that they are told is, "Yes, I know you want to open a Post Office card account, but …" Is not the whole process designed to drive pensioners away from the post office? Will the Prime Minister intervene to simplify the process and start publicising the Post Office account positively? Otherwise, many small rural post offices will be forced to close.

We do publicise the account positively. The hon. Gentleman will also understand, however, that many pensioners and many people nowadays prefer to receive the money in their bank account. Precisely for that reason, however, we have invested a very large sum of money in working with post offices to ensure that those who still want to get their money at the post office can do so. In the end, however, it is right to say that over a long period there has been a trend towards people receiving the money in their bank account, and it would be wrong to force people to receive it at the post office. We must enable them to do it, and we are doing so.

Q7. [122855]

Last week, this House passed a Bill to address various aspects of antisocial behaviour, including fly tipping and, through a late amendment, illegal camping—a particular bane of the South Derbyshire constituency. Did my right hon. Friend share my puzzlement that the Bill did not receive a wider welcome in the House, and will he share the welcome that it has been given by my constituents?

First, since I was previously asked a question by a Liberal Democrat, I think that it is extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats opposed many of the measures in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. The whole purpose of the Bill is to give the police the power to deal with antisocial behaviour quickly and effectively through the use of fixed penalty notices and limitations on airguns and spray paints, for example. It is absolutely vital that that range of measures is put into place because it will make a significant difference to dealing with antisocial behaviour on our streets.

Q8. [122856]

Does the Prime Minister share my concern that figures given to me today by Worcestershire county council show that because of the growing revenue funding gap between Worcestershire and the national average, bringing our schools' staffing ratios in line with the national average would require 30 more teachers and 400 more support staff? Does that sound as if Worcestershire schools are getting a fair deal?

Surely the hon. Gentleman would also want to point out that since we came to office, there are in fact about 200 more teachers, 500 more support staff and 250 more teaching assistants. Indeed, Worcestershire local education authority has allocated an extra £500 per pupil in real terms compared with 1997–98. I agree that we can always do more, but surely the policy that he proposes, which opposes such extra investment and would make 20 per cent. cuts across the board, is not going to help.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the report by Sheffield Hallam university on the seaside economy? Is he aware of the all-party seminar that was held at the Treasury yesterday? What contribution can he make to be a champion for seaside communities such as Scarborough and Whitby to ensure that every part of this country benefits from the policies that this Government promote, which are in stark contrast to the years of decline under the previous Government?

My hon. Friend's point about seaside towns is obviously true because many parts of seaside towns suffer from high levels of unemployment and poor housing. That is why it is important that through elements such as the new deal, the working families tax credit and the new children's tax credit, we continue to invest in those communities and others. As a result of that additional investment, we have at least managed to reduce unemployment in his constituency and many others, which is why it would be so unfortunate if the Conservative party were able to scrap those measures.

Q9. [122858]

Following the Sally Clark and Trupti Patel cases, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Crown Prosecution Service will review all cases in which the evidence of Professor Roy Meadow helped to secure a conviction? Will he instigate a broader inquiry on the way in which the criminal justice system deals with mothers who are accused of murdering their infant children?

I understand from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the procedures are being reviewed. Perhaps I could investigate exactly what the review entails and write to the hon. Gentleman rather than giving him an answer off the top of my head. Of course, I understand the concern that has been voiced as a result of the case, and we plainly need to ensure that procedures are in line with what the public would expect. My right hon. Friend says that such a review is being undertaken, and I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman with details of it.

Q11. [122860]

My right hon. Friend will be aware of major problems caused by youths who recklessly ride their scrambler bikes on parks and open spaces. May I advise him that in the Northwich part of my constituency last week, the police were able to apprehend the leader of a gang of bike riders? They arrested him, confiscated his bike and drove it around the estate so that everybody could see it. That was an excellent operation by the police in Northwich and Halton. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that we will give the necessary resources and power to the police and local authorities so that we may continue to bear down on antisocial behaviour?

I know that my hon. Friend raises a matter of deep concern to many hon. Members, especially Labour Members. There is now the ability to confiscate bikes, which will form an important part of the new measures that come into place. Talking to police officers shows that they believe that the combination of powers to close down crack houses and take action against juveniles in respect of airguns, spray paints and bicycles, and the ability to use fixed penalty notices without the whole hassle of having to go to court, will make a significant difference to our local communities. Along with the much simpler procedures for antisocial behaviour orders, they amount to a substantial package. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I tell Conservative Members that there is no bigger issue in our communities than dealing with this problem.

Q12. [122861]

The Prime Minister is aware of the dramatic drop in the number of beds in Hereford hospital, but if I send him the letter that I have before me, will he look into the case of my constituent, Donald Jaques, whose ECG test was stopped when it became clear that he had a serious coronary problem, only to return to his GP to be told that he had to wait 10 months for a proper coronary angiogram? Will the Prime Minister please look into that real problem?

I will certainly look into the individual case and will correspond with the hon. Gentleman on it. But before we leave the subject of cardiac care in the health service, I know he would want to acknowledge the dramatic increase in the number of heart operations performed in this country and the huge amount being done in cardiac and, indeed, cancer care. For that reason, there has been a significant drop in the number of deaths from heart disease in this country over the past few years. If what the hon. Gentleman describes is correct, it is obviously a serious situation, but it should not be taken as a general comment on the health service. The fact is that the vast majority of people get extremely good treatment within our national service today.

Aviation Health

12.31 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place a responsibility on airlines for the health, welfare and well-being of their passengers; in that connection, to amend the Carriage by Air Act 1961; and for connected purposes.
Hon. Members may be surprised that such a Bill is being proposed at all. It would place a duty of care on airlines that use British airports and are registered in the United Kingdom for the health and welfare of their passengers. Surely airlines, just like any other business that provides a service for its customers, including other passenger carriers—coach companies or trains—have an automatic duty of care in common law for the health and welfare of their customers and passengers. But you might be surprised to hear, Mr. Speaker, that that is not the case. Uniquely, the world's airlines have no responsibility whatsoever for the health of their passengers. The airlines' liability is governed by a 75-year-old convention, the Warsaw convention of 1929, article 17 of which limits the liability of airlines purely to the safety of their passengers; they are in no way responsible for their health.

At the time, the reason for that was understandable. In 1929, flying was a novel and pretty dangerous activity. Not many people did it and there certainly were not many paying passengers. Indeed, we were still flying biplanes and there was no such thing as pressurised cabins. The international community reached an agreement—a settlement—in which they decided, on the one hand, to limit the liability in damages for the death or injury of passengers and, on the other, to have no-fault compensation. That was perfectly rational, perfectly logical and perfectly reasonable in 1929. In 2003—in the 21st century—it is ludicrous that airlines have a responsibility for the safety of their passengers, but not for their health.

Air travel is the fastest growing mode of public transport in the world. It happens to be, believe it or not, one of the safest modes of transport in the world. Unfortunately, there is now a wide body of evidence to suggest that it is an extremely dangerous and unhealthy mode of travel, but the airlines have no responsibility for our health.

I am sure that the general public, including those on the 60 million flights abroad that Britons take in any one year, are not aware that when they step on an aeroplane their health is not protected in any way. But can one imagine a more controlled environment than an aircraft cabin? Where and how we sit is controlled; what we can do is, quite rightly, controlled; what we eat and drink is controlled; and even the very air that we breathe is controlled. But the airlines have no responsibility whatsoever for our health. That is an absurd and outrageous anomaly, and it is about time that the House addressed it.

At this moment, the victims of deep vein thrombosis and their families are fighting a case in the Court of Appeal. I have taken advice on this matter, Mr. Speaker. Those poor people are trying to argue that a thrombosis caused by long-haul travel is an accident, as defined by the 1929 convention. They cannot go into court and simply argue that their relatives, who include my 29-year-old constituent, John Anthony Thomas, were killed by the airlines. Because of that limited liability, they will not have their day in court. Many people will be extremely surprised to hear that.

Last month, in Cardiff county court, Judge Graham Jones ruled that the victims of the Girona air crash, who have suffered considerable psychological damage, can sue the holiday company, Thomson, precisely because he knew that, under the antiquated convention, they cannot sue the carriers, Britannia Airways. The situation is absurd and it needs to change. The travelling public have a right to be protected, and the House should lead the world in giving airline passengers that right by supporting the Bill.

The Bill will place a duty on airlines to protect the health of their passengers. One could still have to go to court and prove that one's life had been endangered. We in the DVT campaign believe that at least one in 40 of all passengers travelling for over four hours develops a clot in a deep vein which can seriously damage their health and may even be fatal. If we are right, a huge number of people are affected. We wait for science to prove how many people are being killed by that dreadful condition and to identify the exact causal relationship between air travel and DVT, but there is not a serious clinician in the world who does not agree that there is a link between long-haul air travel and the incidence of DVT.

This is an important Bill, and it is an honour for me to present it to the House. I do it in the name of my constituent, John Anthony Thomas, and all those who have died in the past two years from DVT as a direct result of an international long-haul flight. I do it for the families who are suffering terribly—the Christoffersons, the Browns, the Thomases and the Lambs. I could go on. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Smith, Mr. Paul Tyler, Bob Spink, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. David Kidney, Dr. Richard Taylor, Dr. Ian Gibson, Dr. Ashok Kumar, Mr. David Hinchliffe and Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody.

Aviation Health

Mr. John Smith accordingly presented a Bill to place a responsibility on airlines for the health, welfare and well-being of their passengers; in that connection, to amend the Carriage by Air Act 1961; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 136].

Opposition Day

[12TH ALLOTTED DAY]

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.