I must tell the House that the Prime Minister’s amendment has been selected for debate.
I beg to move,
That this House notes that severe congestion on the roads and railways is now very widespread and is significantly worse than it was a decade ago; further notes that the Eddington Report is the eighth major transport strategy document published by this Government since 1997; further notes that in its 10 Year Plan the Government made a series of specific commitments to improve the transport system by 2010 which will not now be fulfilled; further notes that the remit of the Eddington Report was to look at the UK’s transport needs after 2015 but that many of its recommendations mirror the Government’s now abandoned commitments in the 10 Year Plan; and believes that the UK cannot wait any longer for the Government to keep its promises to ease congestion and improve the transport system.
Almost 10 years have now passed since this Government came to power. During that time they have promised us an integrated transport strategy, to reduce congestion on our roads—
Order. I ask those Members who wish to leave the Chamber to do so now quickly and quietly, so that we can get on with the debate.
The Government also promised to make our public transport system safer and that we would have a huge expansion of modern, urban public transport systems in our cities and our towns, but, in the end, they have broken promise after promise.
They started by cancelling road schemes, but then they changed their mind and reannounced them—and then, in many cases, they cancelled them again. They announced a raft of improvements to our rail network and then cancelled most of them as well, or kicked them into the long grass. They unveiled plans for25 new tram and light rail schemes and then cancelled most of them, too.
There is, however, one thing that they must have done more of in the transport sector than any of their predecessors: commissioned plan after plan, study after study and consultancy project after consultancy project, all in the classic “Yes, Minister” tradition of being seen to be doing something without actually doing anything at all.
I hope that by the time we have the opportunity to take office the Government will have started some of the rail investments that they promised five years ago. It is a bit of a cheek for a Member sitting on the Labour Benches to lecture and question us about rail investment when the Government have made so many promises that they have failed to deliver.
That is the big problem with the latest in a long line of grand strategy documents on transport. The Eddington report is the eighth major transport report that we have had from this Government since they came to power nine years ago. We have had multi-modal studies, a 10-year plan and White Papers on roads, rail and aviation. We have had Lord Birt’s “blue skies” thinking, “The Future of Transport” and “Delivering Better Transport”, and we now have the Eddington report on transport.
The trouble is that Eddington just seems to tell us things we already knew, such as:
“Even after accounting for environmental impacts, well-targeted infrastructure options are able to offer very high welfare and GDP returns per £1 of government expenditure with big gains for businesses, freight and commuters.”
It would not have taken my shadow Transport team18 months, a team of civil servants and a seven-figure sum in expenses and staff costs to work that out.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is always very courteous—and I am glad that he has his telephone under control today, unlike in a recent debate.
The hon. Gentleman goes on about policies. The Government’s policy on the west coast main line has been successful, but how would his policy of breaking it up and integrating it vertically succeed? There are12 rail companies that run on the west coast main line; how would the policy that he advocates be of benefit to that line?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the benefits of the west coast main line project—I use that route regularly and the service is much improved—but he would do better to spare a moment’s thought for Members with constituencies along the Great Western and Great North Eastern routes. Both routes were due to be upgraded as part of the Government’s 10-year plan, and both upgrades have been kicked into the long grass.
When the question of a Maglev line was raised, the hon. Gentleman came up with some rather bizarre figures. He claimed that it would cost £100 million per mile to build such a line, which is of course complete poppycock; he really should check his figures more carefully. Anybody who has travelled on the Maglev line in Shanghai could not come away with anything but the impression that we should look at such a project with great interest. We certainly should not automatically reject new ideas without looking at them carefully.
The Eddington report does not just tell us things that we already know; some parts of it you simply could not make up, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let us try this one, on page 179, to which Labour Members should listen:
“Walking and cycling options have the potential for very high welfare returns relative to their cost but may not be enough alone to tackle the true scale of the further challenges facing the UK.”
Whoever wrote that deserves some form of prize and clearly has a bright future as a comedy writer. Of course, there is some good research in the report, but the truth is that after nine years of a Labour Government, Ministers really should be able to do better than producing yet another detailed strategy document, at a time when Britain needs action, not more research.
I turn to the other major problem with the Eddington report. He is absolutely right to talk about the need for incremental projects, which are the best and quickest way to make a difference—I have been saying that for the past year—but his brief was to look at our transport needs post-2015. Are he and our Ministers seriously saying that we should wait 10 more years before getting the improvements that we so desperately need to ease congestion?
What about the bigger, long-term vision that so many people in the transport world were expecting, such as a detailed analysis of the high-speed rail option. Of course, the one big idea that Eddington did put forward for Britain post-2015 was road pricing, but as that is already the Government’s policy, it is hardly a great breakthrough in thinking. I know that the Secretary of State has been desperately keen to hear the Conservative party’s position on this issue and to get some political consensus, so let me finally give him what he has been waiting for, although I fear that I am going to disappoint him.
I do think that an element of road pricing and the increased use of road charges will be a part of the strategy of any future Government, including a Conservative one, but the Secretary of State and I differ significantly over the scale and pace of any move toward road pricing. Some road-pricing schemes will emerge locally as a result of decision making within an individual town or city; the key is whether they have local consent. It is not the job of central Government to impose them, as this Government are trying to do by threatening to withdraw funding for towns and cities that do not obey their instructions by introducing road pricing. That is happening to cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, which have been left in no doubt whatsoever that if they do not pursue road-pricing strategies, they will lose funding for other transport schemes.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Birmingham. If we are to give local authorities the autonomy to take such decisions, would he not expect them to show at least some leadership? Essentially, Birmingham is saying nothing, and if local authorities cannot make up their minds, the Government are absolutely right to take this approach. Consultation is not simply sitting there saying, “I don’t know what to do”; it is telling the people in what way they should proceed. What would the hon. Gentleman tell Birmingham that it should do?
I am sure that Birmingham councillors of all parties will be very interested to learn that the hon. Lady believes that the Government should instruct them to introduce road pricing. It is my and my colleagues’ view that such measures must emerge locally; they cannot be imposed by central Government.
The truth is that the only proper role of a Government in such projects should be to ensure proper technological interoperability between schemes in different parts of the country; it would be daft to have a different box on the dashboard for each town or city that one happens to drive into. So if such interoperability forms part of the Government’s draft transport Bill, which they will publish shortly, we will support them in achieving that goal.
I want to press the hon. Gentleman a little further on the question of Birmingham, which is a large urban area and part of a very large conurbation. I understand what he is saying about not imposing measures nationally. Does he believe that an element of road pricing is likely to be part of the solution to Birmingham’s transport needs? Does he think that Birmingham should go down that route, or not?
The hon. Gentleman is missing my point. Decisions about Birmingham should be taken in Birmingham by Birmingham’s elected representatives and its business community; they should not be the subject of debate by national politicians in this place. If we believe in localism, we should stand by that principle and accept that such decisions will be taken locally, and that it is not for national politicians such as me or the Secretary of State to express views on the matter and to seek to impose solutions. We should accept that individual cities know what is in their best interests, and we should not move away from that principle.
I understand from reading in the press, so I will be corrected if I am wrong, that the Conservatives are suggesting that we have not gone far enough in setting our greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2050. Is the hon. Gentleman saying to the House that if he were Secretary of State for Transport, he would tell a Cabinet meeting, “I cannot deliver on my targets because local authorities, which are responsible for dealing with congestion, are not playing ball and not delivering any strategies to deal with congestion”? Will that be his position?
When I am Secretary of State for Transport, I intend to pursue a policy of transforming the technology in our cars by incentivising the purchase of “green” cars, instead of doing what this Government have done, which is to scrap the incentives to purchase such cars. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that road-pricing schemes are primarily about managing congestion. The truth is that the real challenge in meeting our climate change goals, given that we are not, I assume, moving within the next few years to the kind of national scheme that the Government have talked about—they appear to be backing away from that, although I shall be interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say later—is the technology in our cars. People are not going to give up driving their cars, even with some form of road pricing; we have to change the nature of the technology in our cars.
In the light of the comments of Labour Members, does my hon. Friend agree that the real question on road pricing is one for the Government? They need to explain what the£28 billion that the Eddington report identifies could be raised by this mechanism will be used for. So far, they have been entirely silent on whether this is an extra way of raising money, or whether the resources will be channelled into other transport improvements.
I give my right hon. Friend a third option—that the money could be put into the general kitty. When the previous Secretary of State first announced the Government’s intention to move toward a road-pricing scheme, he talked about one that was fiscally neutral. Since then, both he and the current Secretary of State appear to have backed away from that position. So it is clear that the Government are thinking about road pricing as a revenue-raising measure; what we do not know is whether that money will simply be invested in transport, or whether road pricing is actually a vehicle to generate additional funds for the Treasury.
We also support the use of road charging to fund transport improvement schemes. The M6 toll road and the Queen Elizabeth bridge over the River Thames at Dartford both offer clear examples of how major projects can be funded, and we will see similar projects in future.
Thirdly, I want road-user charging for lorries to be put firmly back on the agenda. Such a scheme is essential in order to level the playing field between British and overseas hauliers. Too many of our family-run haulage firms are facing bankruptcy because of a steady loss of business to their counterparts from other parts of Europe, who arrive with a cheap tank of diesel from Calais—often in a vehicle that is not roadworthy—and stay here for a week or two, taking local business. That has got to change. The Government gave a clear commitment to introduce such a scheme, and then went back on their word. This issue cannot be allowed to fester.
A moment ago the hon. Gentleman spoke about investment in the road network. The Leader of the Opposition said:
“Britain now needs a concerted programme of road building.”
However, the head of the Conservative policy commission said that
“there is no doubt about it—there must be an assumption against road building.”
Who does the hon. Gentleman agree with?
We have just heard yet another example from the Whips’ brief. We believe in debating the issues. Labour Members appear to believe in following the diktat of the Whips Office rather than having a proper policy debate about what is in the interests of this country.
I want to make one more thing absolutely clear. Road pricing and road charging cannot and must not become yet another stealth tax on the motorists of Britain. Our view is that they should be about congestion management and improving transport, but we will not support the Government in their plan for an early move to a national road-pricing scheme. Indeed, the Secretary of State himself may be back-tracking on the plan. At the past two Transport questions he used the word “if” about a national scheme rather than “when”. Perhaps he has realised the risks in taking such a step.
Apart from the civil rights debates that would have to accompany the introduction of any such scheme, it would probably be the biggest IT project this country has ever seen: tracking every car on every road for24 hours a day; collecting the data, processing it, issuing a bill and collecting the money. As we have noticed, the Government have not had triumphant success in running major IT projects, so for them in particular that one would certainly be a bridge too far.
The Government are also missing another essential element of any road-pricing strategy. They cannot take steps to price people off the roads without giving them better choices and alternatives. It is simply not good enough to say that people need to change their working patterns to avoid paying more. Are schools to start late or at different times so that teachers can go to work later? Are hospitals to open late so that nurses and porters can avoid the rush hour? If there is to be increased use of road pricing as a means of managing congestion, public transport improvements must come first. That is where the Government seem all at sea in their plans for the future, and where Sir Rod’s focus on incremental improvements, in a report about 2015 and beyond, seem so misplaced.
The problems are today, not in 10 years’ time. The country needs action now to deliver the changes that are needed.
In the light of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, will he tell us what Conservative policy is on buses, particularly with regard to deregulation. They deregulated the buses and bus use dropped, so what will they do to get more people using buses?
As we are about to hear the Government’s proposals, I shall wait for them and react to them. Sadly, unless something dramatic happens, we will have to wait another three years for a chance of getting into government, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will have detailed plans beforehand. In the meantime, I am waiting, with a degree of bated breath, to hear what the Government plan to do. They have been raising the expectations of the bus industry and, indeed, of local authorities, so it will be interesting to hear what they come up with. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will prove rather disappointing to those who expect something substantial from this Administration.
We were supposed to have those public transport improvements. The Government had great intentions. Their 10-year plan was supposed to be a blueprint for improvement. It said:
“Transforming our transport networks and tackling the legacy of under-investment is vital for this country’s economic prosperity. It requires a ten-year approach. Major transport projects take time to develop and implement. With some problems, notably congestion, current trends will take time to reverse. And major investment in infrastructure will inevitably cause disruption while work is being done to achieve our targets for 2010.
Our aim is ambitious: it is to benchmark our performance against the best in Europe and, through greatly increased investment, to transform our transport infrastructure over the next ten years.”
If the plan had been seen through, it really would have made a difference. There would have been major improvements to our suburban rail networks. Both Thameslink and Crossrail would have been delivered by 2010. There would have been upgrades of most of our major inter-city rail routes and a step change in urban public transport, with new light rail systems in most major cities, yet we are almost in 2007, with most of the plans on the shelf, in the long grass or forgotten.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that there were no public transport improvements in London before road charging. Perhaps he should visit Chelsea road bridge in my constituency, which two years ago was used by only one bus route, but because the congestion charge zone will be extended in February there are now four bus routes—an increase of one to four before the congestion charge.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware, first, that bus ridership in London is falling significantly, and secondly, that the subsidy required to run London’s buses has risen fivefold, to a total in excess of £500 million a year? Many Members who represent other cities would love to have access to that sort of finance for their bus networks.
I am intrigued by the fact that although the subsidy has risen, passenger ridership is falling in London. I realise that the hon. Gentleman is very excited at the prospect of seeing the next Government’s transport policies, but he will have to wait a little longer for the details.
My hon. Friend was talking about the impact of congestion. Even before the introduction of the zone system or any improvements in the service, my constituents who travel on the Hayes line will have to pay a fare increase of between 50 and 75 per cent. What effect does my hon. Friend think that will have on road congestion?
My hon. Friend is right. Her constituents are not alone in experiencing substantial fare rises. Last week, the Association of Train Operating Companies announced wide-ranging fare increases that will undoubtedly decide some people to drive to work rather than taking the train. That is happening as a result of the way that the Government are managing the franchise system. Ministers have taken back such close control of the day-to-day operation of the railways that they cannot deny responsibility for the current fare increases.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I want to make some progress. I have taken up a lot of time and other Members want to speak.
In the document we published last week, we setout a number of areas where we think transport improvements must be a priority. We will need to improve transport capacity for commuters into and around the City of London and Canary Wharf. The future of London as a major financial centre is of paramount importance to our economy. The capacity challenges on our rail networks, in particular, represent a brake on the future growth of London, and must be addressed.
We need to address the question of transport provision in designated growth areas in the south-east, such as the Thames Gateway, if the major development plans for those areas are to go ahead. It would be utterly untenable to pursue development on the scale envisaged without adequate provision of transport infrastructure. As a Kent MP, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), must understand that. I continue to be amazed that the Government have completely failed to understand the inability of the infrastructure in the south-east to cope with the scale of development they are planning.
At the same time, we need a renewed focus onthe trans-Pennine links between Liverpool, Greater Manchester and west Yorkshire. Congestion on key arteries in the north-west and west Yorkshire is one of the key transport challenges we face. Failure to address the problem will act as a brake on the economy of the two areas, and will also have an adverse effect on quality of life.
There is inadequate capacity on transport links to the west of England and the economy of the west country is clearly affected by the limitations of the infrastructure in and out of the region. The Labour Government have not focused sufficiently on measures to improve the situation.
We also need to address congestion in and around Birmingham—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) knows well what a problem it is. As well as being one of our biggest urban and business centres, Birmingham suffers from being a major junction point on both our road and our rail networks. There is an urgent need to deal with the problems that combination presents.
We must not forget access to public transport in rural areas, where it is extremely limited in too many places. The Government seem set on reducing, or even closing, rail services in the areas that escaped the Beeching cuts.
In the past few weeks, and during this debate, Labour Members have been leaping to their feet to demand detailed information about future Conservative plans. I can tell them that those regional priorities are issues for today—not for the next general election, in perhaps three and a half years time, but today. I hope the Government will get on with the job now. If they do not, my colleagues and I will be delighted to pass on a message about government in action to the electorate in those areas.
Transport has been a model case study of the failures of the Government. There have been good intentions and high sounding words about the need for improvement, there has been seemingly endless planning and strategising, and there have been big increases in budgets, but the reality on the ground, out in the country, is that promised improvements are simply not coming to pass. It is not that nothing has got better. After the amount of money that the Government have spent, I would have been horrified if nothing had changed. There have been some improvements. The west coast main line is an example. However, the things that have happened are only a small part of the long list of promises that have been made and have not been turned into reality. Britain is becoming more and more congested by the day. Let us make Eddington the last report about our transport needs. Let us stop chewing over all the things that need to be done. It is time that Ministers actually got on with the job.
I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
“welcomes Sir Rod Eddington’s independent report on the impact of transport decisions on economic productivity and growth; accepts his findings that the UK transport network provides the right connections, in the right places, to support the journeys that matter to economic performance, but also that the current unprecedented period of sustained economic growth will continue to place increasing pressures on key sections of that network, and that this needs to be addressed with a wide-ranging strategy encompassing better-use and investment solutions; supports the Government’s commitment to taking the decisions which will be required to meet these pressures and put UK transport on a sustainable footing, including tackling the environmental impacts of transport, piloting road-pricing and building on the improvements in rail performance; acknowledges the progress already made through sustained long-term investment and forward planning through the Future of Transport White Paper; and recognises the substantial increases in capacity which this approach has brought, and the continuing programme of investment to provide further increases in capacity and reliability in future.”
I will deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), but let me begin by expressing my gratitude to him for giving us yet another opportunity to debate transport strategy and giving me the opportunity to point out to the House the difference between the Government and the Opposition. The difference, as was transparent from his contribution to the debate, is that we have a strategy. Indeed, he admitted in an interview published on9 March this year that the Tories have not had a transport strategy since 1997—although it is rather generous to suggest that they had one before that.
The hon. Gentleman told Local Transport Today—no doubt a publication with which all Members of the House are familiar—that he and his colleagues have adopted a series of “tactical positions”, rather than a strategy. And my, what a variety of tactics they have used! If it is the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the answer to congestion is a presumption against road building. That is what he said in January to the Daily Mail. If it is the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—speaking only a few months earlier, on 8 November, to the Centre for Policy Studies—it is a concerted programme of road building. If it is the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), it is notjust road building, but building double-decker carriageways—according to his 10-point plan for the Conservative party’s competitiveness commission. That is before the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell gets a word in edgeways.
I welcome my right hon. Friend. He has highlighted the commentsof the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but he has forgotten to inform the House of the jewel from the right hon. Gentleman, whose answer to climate change—I do not know how this fits into the new green policy—is to build higher sea walls. Does my right hon. Friend share that approach to climate change?
If I start describing the jewels in the crown of the right hon. Member for Wokingham, I fear that I will make little progress, so let me continue.
Last Friday, Sir Rod Eddington published 400 pages of closely argued analysis of our transport network and the capacity and congestion challenges that we face. In response, the Conservatives published what they call a transport strategy document, which amounts to a whole 17 pages. Five of the pages are dedicated to what they describe as
“illustrative examples of the kind of people who are affected by the Government’s failings on transport and are not real case studies”.
[Interruption.] They were quite literally made up. That is not a real strategy from the Conservative party. I am tempted to say that the Opposition could not make it up, but they have had to make it up because, as has been transparent in the debate, they do not have any policies.
The Opposition can table as many motions as they like and seek as many debates as they wish, but they will never develop credible plans for transport unless they commit to the means as well as the ends, by committing themselves to a programme of sustained investment. That is the first fundamental difference between us and the Opposition. A commitment to sustained investment is the foundation of the Government’s approach to the transport challenges that we face.
May I apologise to the Secretary of State? For the past few months, we have been referring to him as a part-time Secretary of State for Scotland, but that is clearly not true any more. He is a part-time Secretary of State for Transport. As our railways and roads descend into chaos, he has, in effect, taken a sabbatical to run the desperate and hysterical Scottish campaign for the Holyrood election. Surely with the problems and issues that we have in our transport system, we need a full-time Secretary of State for Transport here.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it does not take much time, or share of mind, to come up with arguments against nationalism.
The decisions that we have taken on macro-economic policy since 1997 mean that the UK economy has been stronger and more stable than any other major economy in the world. That has allowed us to invest more in our transport system. All that stands in stark contrast to the Conservatives’ 18 years in government, which saw two of the deepest recessions of the last century and therefore a policy of stop-go funding in relation to transport, with year-on-year budgets and arbitrary cuts to transport spending. By contrast, by next year transport spending will have increased by more than 50 per cent. in real terms above its level in the last year the Conservatives were in office.
I understand that one of the ways in which some of that expenditure will be used is to allow for a national programme of local bus concessionary fares. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Department for Transport has not costed extending that scheme to ferries?
I know that that issue is of particular concern to the hon. Gentleman. In terms of the allocation of resource that has been made available in relation to the extension of the concessionaryfare scheme, originally we committed £350 millionto the local concessionary fare scheme. The national concessionary fare scheme involves an extra£250 million of resource, which has been allocated. I am certainly aware—not least in the light of the earlier contribution—that there are other parts of the United Kingdom where concessionary fare schemes apply to ferries. If that in an example of an area where he is now convinced of the merits of devolution, that is an example of a sinner repenting. Spending on localbus services has gone up by 75 per cent., or more than £800 million a year, in real terms.
I will make a little progress and then I will be happy to take interventions.
Local transport investment has doubled, increasing by £700 million in real terms. Let us not forget that the Opposition have voted against every single Budget since 1997. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell might plead for action—that was a central theme of his speech—but he knows, as I know and as the country knows, that, for all his empty pledges, his party’s policy on transport is the same as it is for health, education, and law and order, and in every area of government. It is not “something needs to be done,” which is what he sought to advocate this evening, but “£21 billion of cuts need to take place.”
It is not, actually. I will come on to the best that I can do, and the comments of the hon. Gentleman’s deputy, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), in a moment.
In case there is any doubt about the Opposition’s position on £21 billion of spending cuts, the endorsement of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, should dispel them. The shadow Chancellor said, at the launch of the Conservative’s tax commission report on 18 October:
“The framework for our tax policy is now set”.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell urged me to give further evidence as to the line of argument that I was pursuing. It therefore seems appropriate to turn to the contribution of his deputy, made only today on a Conservative website.
No, I am keen to make a little progress, because I think that all Opposition Members will be interested in this point. Where do the transport spokesmen on the Conservative Front Bench stand on the issue of investment for transport? Only today, no doubt in anticipation of this evening’s debate, the shadow Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Wimbledon, called for corporation taxes to be cut to15 per cent., at a cost of more than £20 billion, and small business taxes to be cut to 10 per cent. I can understand why, after years of underinvestment, a botched privatisation, neglect of the bus network and cuts in the roads budget, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell had so little to say about his party’s record in government. However, on reflection, perhaps the reason why he said so little about his present transport policy is that he has so little money to spend. He cannot, with any credibility, will the end on transport, but not commit the means.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State is being uncharacteristically mean-spirited towards the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who had an impressive list of aspirations for transport policy. Has the Secretary of State costed those aspirations?
May I ask the Secretary of State a question about his policy? In many of the rural partsof my constituency, access to public transport for vulnerable and elderly people is becoming increasingly difficult. I know that he is enjoying a bit of political knockabout, but this is a serious opportunity for him to answer a serious question. What policy is he going to pursue to make sure that elderly, vulnerable, isolated and alienated people in my constituency have better access to public transport? It is no good giving them concessionary fares. There are not enough buses for them to get on.
Earlier this year, we heard an apology from the Conservative party for rail privatisation. Was my right hon. Friend as surprised as me that the speech madeby the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) included not one reference of regret for the Transport Act 1985, which stripped passenger transport authorities of the powers to regulate bus services and decimated services in places such as Greater Manchester?
Yes and no. I was not surprised that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell chose to sit on the fence. However, it might be a long time before we get an apology. The Conservative spokesman has asked the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire(Sir George Young) to advise him on restructuring the Department for Transport. In case hon. Members have forgotten, the right hon. Gentleman was, of course, the Secretary of State for Transport who rushed through the sale of Railtrack and cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. Despite the public protestations and apologies that we have heard from Conservative Members, I am not sure that they have learned many lessons, as I shall make clear when I speak about rail.
We are strengthening the performance and reliability of rail. We will provide extra capacity for a now growing railway and we will meet the environmental challenge.
If I am not able to give such a pledge this evening, let me at least offer some words of encouragement. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), visited Birmingham New Street station last month with Network Rail and saw the need for improved facilities. In the months to come, in the context of the high-level output statement that we will be making next summer, we should be able to make a specific announcement on the facilities in Birmingham.
Under Labour, we now have the fastest growing railway in Europe. More than 1 billion rail journeys are made every year. Just last Monday, Network Rail published its interim results, which show that punctuality is at a seven-year high, that more than£1 billion has been slashed from the costs of running the railway, and that continued high levels of investment are making a difference. Passenger numbers are up by 40 per cent., and freight has grown by 60 per cent. over the past 10 years, while safety is improving. As a result of the sustained investment that we are putting into the industry—we are spending some£88 million a week—we have already replaced over40 per cent. of rolling stock since 1997, which has made our fleet one of the youngest in Europe.
Will the Secretary of State tell me how the number of rail passengers will increase, given that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), has instructed that fares on the Hayes line should go up by between 50 and 75 per cent. and that that should start in January—before any service improvements have been made and before the introduction of the zonal system in London?
I assure the hon. Lady that we support the zonal fares system. I think that the system has won widespread support throughout the capital because of the simplification that it offers. If any Conservative Front-Bench spokesman wishes to take this opportunity to put on the record their opposition to zonal faring, I will be very interested to hear them, as will many commuters in London.
It is against the backdrop of sustained investment that, for the first time, the Government will next year publish fully costed and independently agreed proposals for rail for the next five years. Those proposals will be set in the context of an even longer-term framework. In contrast, we are now beginning to discover just how little the official Opposition have learned from the botched privatisation that they inflicted on the railways. Far from apologising for rail privatisation, the Conservative party has in fact learned nothing from it, as we can see from its latest so-called strategy document that was published last week, which includes plenty of warm words about integrated organisations. Just as the Tories botched rail privatisation in the 1980s by fragmenting the network, they are now apparently proposing a further fragmentation by breaking up Network Rail. The party that broke up the rail network now proposes new plans to fragment the railways further. Its message to the public seems clear: “Sorry we took a mallet to the railways. Do you like our new mallet?”
I am grateful for the help that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport is giving to secure the direct rail link between Shrewsbury and London. However, there are still a lot of problems relating to the maintenance of the railway. Network Rail and the train operators each blame the other for not taking responsibility for maintaining our station. Will the Secretary of State give clearer guidance on who should do what regarding the maintenance of railway stations?
Of course, joint control centres between train operating companies and Network Rail have been established in recent years. The hon. Gentleman makes a genuine and heartfelt plea for improvements to his constituents’ service, but I struggle to see how the scale of expenditure cuts proposedby his Front-Bench colleagues would help the Conservative party’s endeavour to solve such problems at any point in the future.
It is for that exact reason that joint control centres are being established to ensure that Network Rail can work effectively with the train operating companies. The hon. Gentleman should keep pace with the changes that have taken place, rather than reading speeches made by former Secretaries of State.
A characteristically costed view from the Liberal Democrats. Mr. Eddington—[Hon. Members: “Sir Rod.”] Sir Rod Eddington struck an appropriate balance by recognising that when one considers the strategic view of Britain’s transport needs in the decades to come, one should not start with a modal solution, but say, “Where are the networks and what are the opportunities for improving them?” That is the context in which we will take forward our analysis of the case for a high-speed rail line in the months ahead.
Will the Secretary of State give a commitment to invest in our railways to deal with increased demand? Does he accept that the problem has been caused by the Government’s success in growing our economy and turning round the disaster of Tory rail privatisation?
I concur absolutely, as does Sir Rod Eddington when he recognises that we are dealing with the symptoms of success. We have brought stability not only to the rail industry, following the Conservative’s botched privatisation, but to the economy. The stability of the economy is the basis on which we are able to secure investment. The fundamental difficulty for Conservative Members is that they cannot will the ends without willing the means. They are ideologically determined to impose tax cuts and massive public spending cuts, yet their record of economic stewardship suggests that they would not be able to run the economy, even if they were minded to put in place the kind of investment that we have seen in recent years.
On the roads, our approach is to provide better real-time information for road users, to strengthen the management of the existing road network, to target investment where it is warranted, and to work with local authorities on road pricing pilots to tackle congestion in local areas. In a recent debate in the House, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary responded to his shadow by declaring:
“consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 708.]
That phrase came to mind during a single paragraph of my opposite number’s speech when he said not only that we needed decisive action, but that he wanted slower action on road pricing. That does not sound like the most consistent policy that I have ever heard from the Conservative party.
More than 1,100 traffic officers are now deployed across the motorway network to help to assist traffic flow after accidents and incidents, and the national traffic control centre and the seven regional control centres monitor our motorways to keep traffic moving and congestion to a minimum. However, with nearly33 million vehicles now on our roads, compared with 26 million in 1996, and given that the number of cars has gone up by about 60 per cent. in the past 20 years, a position of simply building more roads is not tenable.
After decades of neglect and underinvestment, the Government have tried not just to right the wrongs of the past, but to build a transport system that is fit for the challenges that lie ahead in the 21st century.
Again, the hon. Gentleman should keep up to date. Not only did I give the go-ahead for £450 million of investment for the Manchester Metrolink, but we have taken forward proposals on the extension of the Nottingham trams. It would be probably be helpful if he would keep up to date with the announcements that come out of the Department.
Our policy is to build on the firm foundations of the greatest period of macro-economic stability this country has enjoyed for generations, by contrast with the shifting sands of the slash-and-burn economicsof the Conservatives. Now, our challenge, in the words of Sir Rod Eddington, is to deal with the symptoms of success—the symptoms caused by the longest sustained period of economic growth in our history. We shall introduce plans to pilot road pricing, to give us the evidence that we need on the role of road pricing in tackling congestion. We shall continue the sustained investment that has turned our railways from being the sick man of Europe under the Conservatives into the fastest growing railway in Europe. We shall work to ensure that every part of the country has the ability to deliver public transport services, including bus services, that are right for their communities.
I am grateful for the Opposition’s tactical decision to give me the opportunity to outline the Government’s approach to sustained investment, effective management and planning for the future. I commend the Government amendment to the House.
The main thrust of my comments will relate to the Eddington report, which is an interesting piece of work, and to the Government’s record on transport after some nine and a half years in power. However, it would be remiss of me not to make some reference to the motion that stands in the name of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) andhis right hon. and hon. Friends, which is a quite remarkable piece of work.
The kindest thing that I can say about the motion is that it is long on analysis, but rather short on solutions. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are right to identify road congestion as a major problem for our transport network, and they are right to identify the capacity problems experienced by our railways. They would have been right to identify the problems of declining bus use outside London, and it is remarkable in every sense of the word that they did not do so. It is quite remarkable that the party of Polly Toynbee has nothing to say about the mode of transport that is most widely used by the poorest in society.
It is also remarkable that the born-again environmentalists on the Conservative Front Bench do not make a single reference in their motion to the Stern report. I have to tell the Secretary of State that the same fault can be seen in the Government amendment. The Liberal Democrats recognise the contribution that transport makes to carbon emissions, and we believe that to attempt to read Eddington on its own, without some reference to Stern, is a sterile effort.
Although the Conservatives do not have much to say about what they will do or would do in government, they could say an awful lot more about what they did. If our trains are failing, it surely has more than a little to do with the way in which our train system was privatised. If our bus services are failing, it has more than a little to do with the way in which they were deregulated in the 1980s. If our roads are congested, that is surely a result of the Conservative Government’s view that we could build our way out of congestion. The Conservative position on road user pricing as outlined tonight is quite the most remarkable piece of work of all. It reminded me of the maiden’s prayer, “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.”
I take it that the hon. Gentleman has carefully read the Eddington report. He might have touched on the section about bus services and deregulation, where Sir Rod notes that there has been a 50 per cent. decrease in operating costs and
“considerable innovation in the bus market following deregulation, including improvements in bus fleet, variable bus sizes, out-sourcing of maintenance, smart ticketing and the introduction of parttime working arrangements for employees in the sector.”
I think that that is a fairly good commendation of the deregulation of bus services.
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that since bus deregulation, bus use, which is highest among the poorest in our society, has consistently decreased. There was something almost distasteful about the glee with which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell spoke about bus use now beginning to decrease in London.
The hon. Gentleman points tothe crux of the matter. I am not advocating a return to the pre-1986 position and I doubt that anyone in this House is. However, the way in which deregulation was carried out by the Conservative Government left no scope for local accountability. The passenger transport executives and the passenger transport authorities have been stripped of any meaningful power, which has had a severe impact on their standing within their communities. It is to that level of local accountability that we wish to return.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my summary of the intervention by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), which is that the operation was successful but the patient died? As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) says, buses account forthe vast majority of passenger journeys, yet the Conservative spokesman did not mention them. In west Yorkshire, seen passenger journeys have decreased by a third—100 million passenger journeys—and fares have increased by 50 per cent. Routes have been chopped and changed and pared down to suit the interests of shareholders, rather than the needs of communities.
What we are seeing is the different attitudes to bus services. I see tremendous value in terms of economic regeneration, the environment and social inclusion in investing in bus services and giving meaningful support and accountability to local communities in their provision. Let us not forget that Baroness Thatcher said that any man over the age of30 who used a bus to get to work should consider himself a failure. She has been silent on her view of men over the age of 30 who go to work on a bicycle.
I made it clear that we are not saying that the position pre-1986 was perfect. We are saying, however, that there has been a removal of investment and of local accountability. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be preaching that people in Birmingham should be the ones who decide on road user pricing. Why should bus services not be treated in the same way?
The one point of agreement between us and the Conservatives is on the starting point of Rod Eddington’s report: 2015. There is a need for immediate action to tackle the crisis in our transport system. We accept that the Government have invested in our transport infrastructure, and that is welcome. We acknowledge the improvements that have been made, such as on the west coast main line. However, their record after nine and a half years is less than impressive. Rail delays have doubled since 1997, people feel less secure on our transport system—only 7 per cent. of stations were awarded secure status—and under the Labour Government the real cost of motoring has actually decreased while the cost of travelling by train or by bus has increased.
In our view, the problem at the heart of the Government’s approach has been the overweening centralisation, with micro-management from the centre. Because of that, they are bound to fail. I had an interesting meeting last week with a representative of one of the rolling stock companies, who gave me an insight into the way in which the Government now approach the provision of rolling stock. He told me that the north-west franchise currently operates with 10-carriage trains; predicted growth is such that the ROSCO wants to provide 12-carriage trains, but the Government are blocking that and insisting on an increase to only 11-carriage trains. It seems bizarre. The ROSCO wants to provide the rolling stock and the train operating company wants the ROSCO to provide the rolling stock. Surely, the role for Government should be to get out of the picture and let them get on with it.
In other franchise areas we see the nonsense of train operating companies removing seats to cram in more passengers, which the Evening Standard recently called, rightly, the “cattle truck policy”. We have the most expensive train services in Europe, but Government policy seems to be just to keep cramming in passengers. The Secretary of State will never achieve the necessary shift to public transport if we continue to provide a second class service at a first class price.
It is our view that there is much in the Eddington report that is good and useful. In particular, the analysis of the case for road user pricing as “an economic no-brainer” is exceptionally welcome. I hope that it serves as a stimulus to the Government to act, and to act early. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making Sir Rod Eddington available to meet me and my colleagues yesterday afternoon. It was an interesting and instructive session.
In the course of that meeting I was struck by the fact that Sir Rod said repeatedly—he is on the record as saying this—that his report is the start of the process, not an end point. I cannot help but wonder whether the report has been misshapen by the terms of its remit, commissioned as it was by the Treasury, with the emphasis on the economic contribution of transport.
I was not particularly surprised, but I was rather disappointed. I shall say a little more about that later. In fairness to Sir Rod, it should be said that the expansion that was envisaged was not even to British airports. It was to Heathrow, particularly the construction of a further runway there.
On the remit, before the Stern report, the Eddington report would have been unexceptional. Post-Stern, the emphasis and reliance on economic benefits is an exercise in looking at the matter through the wrong end of the telescope. There should have been a much stronger focus on the environment, especially on the reduction of carbon emissions. When one finishes reading the report, it is not clear what effect transport would have on carbon emissions if everything that is proposed in the report were acted on.
I welcome the placing of a cost on carbon. Sir Rod settles on the figure of £70 per tonne. On reading the report, it strikes me that that figure is chosen because it is the mid point in a Treasury estimate. A great deal more work needs to be done in this area, and I hope the Secretary of State will view it as unfinished business—part of the process, as Sir Rod said, rather than the end point.
I also welcome the acceptance by Sir Rod that aviation should pay its way in terms of its carbon cost. I do not see how we can regard the present taxation regime in aviation as being in any way sustainable. It is bizarre that we tax passengers through air passenger duty, but not freight. Surely the plane pollutes just as much, whether it is carrying freight or people. Indeed, freight probably pollutes more, because it tends to use older, more polluting aircraft. The Eddington report contains much good analysis of that sort, but still ends up with the conclusion that we need an extra runway at Heathrow.
We touched briefly on the question of Crossrail, which I know is a matter near and dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, who struggles on the Crossrail Committee. Whatever is stated in the report about Crossrail is fairly supportive of the concept—that is, Sir Rod Eddington is supportive of the concept, but again, he recognises that there is a substantial financial commitment to be made by the Government. There is not much point in getting too excited about Crossrail unless and until that commitment is made. The report was, perhaps, a missed opportunity in that respect, as it was commissioned by the Chancellor. Something more trenchant on the subject of Crossrail might have elicited a rather more detailed and meaningful response from the Treasury than we have had to date. However, we have the pre-Budget report tomorrow, and who knows what we might learn then.
In relation to the conclusion about the extra runway for Heathrow, I much prefer the view of Stephen Joseph of Transport 2000, who said:
“Eddington’s insistence, with Nicholas Stern, that aviation should pay its full environmental, social and economic costs make the Government’s ‘predict and provide’ approach outdated. By 2050, aviation will account for 46 per cent. of UK carbon emissions.”
It is not lost on me, at least, that Eddington’s starting point in relation to aviation is an acceptance of the Government’s White Paper. I do not share that acceptance. I think that the aviation White Paper is deeply flawed. It is remarkable that Eddington was prepared to take it as his starting point, when the Secretary of State is currently engaged in what purports to be a review of that White Paper. I wonder whether Sir Rod Eddington had some steer as to the likely outcome of the Secretary of State’s review.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the light of the Stern report, it is impossible to accept the Government White Paper as the way forward for aviation, which we know will become one of the biggest emitters of carbon gases? Does he share my view that the Government must reflect again on that, in the light of Stern’s comments?
Can the hon. Gentleman reconcile that argument with the position of his own constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament—the Transport Minister in the Scottish Executive—who is on record as celebrating the additional air routes out of Scotland, using public money to achieve that?
That is a good example of the way that devolved government in Scotland has used a bit of imaginative and lateral thinking in order to take some of the pressure off Heathrow. By growing routes between Glasgow and Dubai, for example, the necessity of bringing traffic through Heathrow is obviated. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman’s difficulty with that. It is a policy that is supported—or perhaps it is not supported—by his colleagues in the Scottish Executive. Does the right hon. Gentleman have a different view? If he wishes to highlight that, I shall be pleased to hear it.
I shall say a little about high speed rail and place on the record my disappointment with the conclusion reached by Sir Rod in that regard. In the report, he presents comparison between air and rail on emissions as a straight choice between the two. I see no evidence of that comparison taking account of the modal shift that could be achieved by freeing pathways for more freight on local train services. Equally, I see no convincing attempt to quantify the effect of taxing pollution by aircraft in the way that I mentioned earlier, and the impact that that could have in achieving modal shift.
Sir Rod is right. Transport is crucial to the economic performance of the United Kingdom. That much is also a no-brainer. Congestion from any mode of transport costs British business dear every year. I had a meeting last week with representatives of the British Chambers of Commerce. They said that, overwhelmingly, transport was the main subject of concern to their members. That that should be so after nine and a half years of Labour government is a mark of the failure of Government policy. It is a mark of the challenge that faces us all. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be up to meeting that challenge.
I do not often put in to speak in Opposition day debates, but I was particularly inspired to do so on this occasion,partly because of the staggering hypocrisy of the Conservatives over transport policy and partly because I wish to highlight several local issues to do with roads and railways in my constituency and in the Reading area.
In my experience, the broader issue of transport strategy is an area full of pitfalls for politicians. Spending commitments on transport schemes tumble from our lips with consummate ease. That is enough to cause serious problems of credibility if one happens, as does the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), to represent a party committed to cutting tax and to cutting public expenditure. Let us not be in any doubt about that. At the last general election, just 18 months ago, the Tories were committed to making savage cuts in public expenditure. Their James review would have slashed £35 billion from local government, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, from Home Office programmes and, most significantly in the context of this debate, from transport budgets—the very same transport budgets that fund improvements to our road and rail networks to provide the increased capacity referred to in the motion before the House. If the Opposition are serious about having an honest debate on transport capacity, they should publish a full list, region by region, of the transport schemes that would face the axe had they been elected to form a Government on 5 May last year.
Let us also be clear that the bright, new, clean, green, hoodie-hugging Tories are still committed to cutting back on Labour’s investment in public services. The shadow Chancellor wants to take revenues generated by the proceeds of economic growth away from public investment in order to fund tax cuts. That means spending a minimum of £16 billion less—less money for roads, for buses, and for our railways. In fact, the shadow Transport Secretary is on record as saying that he is
“not convinced the issue is about overall spending levels—there is a lot of money being spent today”.
Yet if we listen to the wish lists from the lips of Conservative Members, they say that not enough money is being spent on their constituents, but have no vision at all of how those revenues will be raised and how that investment will be put in place. Serious transport policy requires serious public investment. Of course there is a role for private investment, but it can never be a replacement for the funding of an affordable public transport strategy. After years of cutbacks and botched privatisations under the Tories, we are at last seeing the benefits of increased public investment under this Government. By next year, transport spending will be 60 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1997, when we came to office.
The privatised railways that the Government, my party and the nation inherited gave us a fragmented network, the shambles of Railtrack, dreadful reliability, appalling rolling stock, a bad safety record, and profiteering and management buyouts.
That is now on the record and I proudly add it to my list.
I have no hesitation in stating that a measure of responsibility for the appalling Paddington train crash in 1999, which cost 31 lives, with many more injured, including some of my constituents, does not lie just at the door of Thames Trains. The finger of blames also points directly at those who privatised our railways and introduced a culture of greed, cuts in staff training and cuts in safety standards.
The Tories are the last people to lecture anyone on rail policy. In fact, they have admitted as much themselves, as we have heard today with apologies for the privatisation of the railways. The shadow Transport Secretary has previously made it perfectly clear that the Conservatives have not had a clear transport policy, but only tactical positions. I will return shortly to tactical positions that they have adopted on transport issues.
I want to talk about a transport vision for the Thames valley. I think that it is fair to say that I have always been prepared to work on a cross-party basis on issues where a consensus can be achieved. As such, I have been pleased to work with hon. Members from Berkshire and with Thames Valley Economic Partnership in drawing up a six-point plan for investment in the Thames valley transport infrastructure. That plan, entitled “Thames Valley—Sustaining our Success”, was presented to Transport Ministers this morning by a delegation including representatives of major Thames Valley companies such as Dell, Oracle, Prudential, Siemens, Microsoft and Vodafone, together with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and myself—but, sadly, not the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), who has now left the Chamber. The plan states that
“the thriving Thames Valley provides the thrust of Britain’s economic success. Its businesses and the people who work here generate a larger slice of revenue for the government than anywhere outside central London. Europe’s leading financial centre is dependent on support from the global companies based in the Thames Valley for the operation of their systems.
A modern, well-ordered road system coupled with highly efficient public transport is also a pre-requisite for success. People need to be able to get to and from work quickly, safely, cheaply, and with a minimum of stress. Those buying or selling goods and services need to have access to fast, reliable transport. Since the Thames Valley is a location of choice as European or global headquarters for many businesses, travellers need to be able to make fast, seamless connections to London Heathrow Airport. Unfortunately the present infrastructure is failing the economy of the Thames Valley.”
I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), for the patient way in which she listened to that comprehensive presentation from members of all political parties and from some very powerful players in the Thames valley economy.
The six priorities identified for investment, totalling between £1.5 billion and £2 billion, are as follows. First, and most importantly, there is the proposed Reading station upgrade to remove the bottlenecks on the Great Western main line. Secondly, there is the proposed AirTrack scheme, which BAA has announced that it intends to promote and which will provide rail access to Heathrow airport. Thirdly, there is the proposal for a direct link to Heathrow from the west via the Great Western main line. It is an utter disgrace that although we have the driving force of the Thames valley economy and companies that deliberately located there because of the proximity to the M4, to London and to Heathrow airport, we have no direct rail access to the major airport covering not only this capital but this country. Fourthly, there is the proposal to upgrade the north-south linkages in the Thames valley, particularly the M3 to M4 to M40 road connections. Fifthly, and more controversially, there is the proposal to widen the M4 on a phased basis—luckily not around Reading but around Slough and Maidenhead. Sixthly, there is the proposal to provide a Thames valley rapid transport system. All those schemes require significant public investment, and it is highly unlikely that any of them would see the light of day under a Conservative spending regime, past or present. However, as I said, I am pleased with the positive reception that the Minister gave us, even if she did not get her cheque book out this morning.
I want to highlight the Conservatives’ political positioning on three of those six schemes—political positioning to which they have already owned up. The first of the schemes is the upgrading of the north-south M4-M40 road connections. In Reading, that would mean the construction of the long-awaited third Thames bridge, a proposal that is promoted by Wokingham and Reading councils, but blocked by the Oxfordshire Tories. In fact, the Tory tactical positioning is so complex that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will not even sit in the same room as the right hon. Members for Maidenhead, and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), and the hon. Member for Reading, East, and myself to discuss the third Thames bridge, which we all support, and which our constituents desperately need. There comes a point when seeking refuge in the argument of localism cuts no ice, because there are major strategic schemes that need to happen, and parish-pump politics cannot be allowed to get in the way.
Secondly, I want to mention the scheme for rail access to Heathrow airport. That, at least, is an issue on which we can all agree, but it is far from clear how such rail access will be achieved. In my evidence to the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill, I argued strongly for the inclusion of a western rail link to Heathrow. Although that is not part of the original Crossrail scheme, it will be an opportunity lost if we do not use Crossrail to resolve one of the major bugbears facing business travellers and commuters in the region. Figures presented to the Minister today by theThames Valley Economic Partnership show that the major companies in the region spend no less than£8.25 million a year on taxis to run customers and clients to London’s Heathrow airport from places such as Vodafone’s premises in Newbury, and Microsoft and Oracle’s premises in Reading, all because we do not have proper rail access. Those cabs pour out carbon emissions and clog up the roads. I doubt whether Crossrail will ever provide the immediate solution that we seek, which is why I support the AirTrack proposals from BAA, and I encourage hon. Members to do likewise. That will deliver rail access from Reading via Bracknell, Wokingham and Staines.
Finally, I turn to the upgrade of Reading station. Reading is the second busiest station outside London, providing direct train services to more than 360 towns and cities across Britain, as well as coach services to three of the four terminals at Heathrow airport. More than 20 million passengers use the station interchange each year, some of whom connect to it by one of more than 200 buses and coaches that serve it during peak hours. The station does not have enough platforms or track capacity to accommodate the frequency of services, especially at peak times. That is coupled with a busy junction at Reading West, which is heavily used by south-north freight services. The result is that passenger services are held up by congestion. That bottleneck affects the reliability of rail services across a vast region, from Paddington as far north as Birmingham, and from south Wales to the extreme south-west.
A core scheme addressing some of the issues has already been developed. It would cost £68 million and could deliver substantial benefits to the region. The core scheme has been worked up by the Reading Station Partnership Board, which is led by Reading borough council and which comprises representatives from the Government office for the south-east, Network Rail, the South East England Development Agency, SERA and the Department for Transport. A formal bid was submitted in March this year. Ministers have acknowledged, in the House, the need to upgrade Reading station, for all the reasons that I have given. We await the final assessment of the Reading Station Partnership Board with some confidence and much hope.
Unfortunately, that is the point at which consensus breaks down and good old Tory tactical positioning rears its ugly head again. There was an excellent degree of cross-party support for the Thames Valley Economic Partnership submission, but by stark contrast, the submission on the Reading station upgrade was the subject of silly party political games by the hon. Member for Reading, East, to whom I gave notice of the fact that I would refer to him in this debate. He has been utterly shameless in trying to claim credit for the hard work of others—so shameless, in fact, that his conduct is worthy of the Liberal Democrats. That should surprise no one; after all, he once stood for election as part of the Alliance between the Social Democratic party and the Liberals, before he discovered his undying allegiance to the Conservative party.
Instead of working in partnership with Reading borough council and the members of the Reading Station Partnership Board, which was formed in 2001—well before the hon. Gentleman became an MP—he has tried to undermine the work of the board by seeking to set up his own stakeholder group, to which no other elected representatives in Reading are invited. He tries to drum up support for early-day motions that imply that the Government are blocking progress on Reading station, when in fact Ministers have been most encouraging and supportive. However, all his spin and blustering have been to no avail—he is well and truly rumbled. Only 11 MPs have signed early-day motion 2810, and the long-suffering stakeholders have recently asked him to operate on a cross-party basis and in a less partisan manner.
Only last week, the hon. Gentleman pleaded with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), to grant his alternative Reading station partnership board a meeting in December. That meeting may take place next year, but the hon. Member for Reading, East will be overtaken by events, because it is with great pleasure that I can announce that the Secretary of State has kindly agreed to my request to meet the real Reading Station Partnership Board on 19 December to receive a full presentation of its excellent bid, which makes a powerful case for upgrading the capacity of Reading station, improving services on the Great Western main line and providing better facilities for passengers at Reading. The Tory transport hypocrisy continues. The hon. Member for Reading, East plays his pathetic partisan games but, in the end, it will be a Labour Government who deliver the Reading station upgrade and, hopefully, many more transport schemes that are badly needed in the Thames valley.
The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) is a Jekyll and Hyde character. He began with a 10-minute rant against the Tory party, before changing tack and providing a shopping list of six major schemes in the Thames valley that he wants the Government to fund. He finished with another rant, making an intemperate attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson). His speech was as disappointing as the speech given by the Secretary of State—I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is here, incidentally, so at least I can be rude to his face.
It was deeply disappointing that, only a few days after the report by Sir Rod Eddington was published, the Secretary of State had so little to say about it. He was more interested in scoring petty party political points, rather as one would do in a school debating society, which is a great pity, because there is a great deal of cross-party compliance on the issues. We all know the problems of the transport system, including congestion on the roads and railways, and the subject deserves a more mature and sensible approach than it received from him tonight.
It is amazing that the hon. Gentleman should eat into his time to discuss angling and hunting. I do not know of any angler who would catch a prize specimen fish, throw it to a pack of dogs, watch it being ripped to pieces before smearing the blood on their forehead and calling it a sport. Anglers are not like that.
With respect to the Chair, who may not wish us to continue to debate the subject, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that I, too, am a keen fisherman, but I support hunting?
It is a pity that the Secretary of State did not deal more fully with the Eddington report, which is an indictment of Government inaction over the past nine and a half years. It applies just as much to 2000 as to 2007, because it identifies critical problems that were in evidence then and that have resulted in seven years of virtual inactivity by the Government. It contains much that is good, but it also has some serious flaws. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), for example, pointed out that Sir Rod detracted from the abilities of locally elected democracies to determine big transport infrastructure problems. Today’s report by Kate Barker seeks to establish an independent planning commission to take over from local government the role of dealing with large infrastructure problems, which is regrettable.
I hope that when my hon. Friends write their manifestos on transport and other issues, they will sweep away the regional structure set up by the Deputy Prime Minister, including regional spatial strategy, regional transport planning boards and, of course,the grand panjandrum of the regional assemblies. If they went along with the independent planning commission, it would do a great deal to damage local democracy. Large-scale transport infrastructure planning in localised and regional areas should be undertaken by a combination of locally elected councillors, who, knowing the circumstances better, are better able to take those decisions.
I agree with certain points raised by the Eddington report. In his well titled report, “The Case for Action”—the Government should have taken note of that—under the heading of “Key economic challenge”, he says that
“the Government should prioritise action on those parts of the system where the networks are critical in supporting economic growth and there are clear signals that those networks are not performing.”
There could be no better local example of an under-performing key route than the A1 Newcastle western bypass—the busiest stretch of dual carriageway in the entire UK. It is jammed in the morning, jammed at the weekends when people go shopping at the Metro centre, one of the largest in Europe, and jammed again in the rush hour at night. That road is causing a serious economic drag on the north-east of England.
Car ownership is increasing faster in the north-east than in any other region—admittedly from a low base— but there are no plans to improve the A1. A few months ago, a plan was promised to try to manage the traffic better and increase capacity. I understand that the report was promised for about this time, but I am now told that it will not be published until winter 2007. Meanwhile, the economic problems get worse.
This is not just a matter, incidentally, of Christmas special pleading in the manner of the hon. Member for Reading, West. It is a much more serious matter. What has happened in the north-east is the result of the road structures of the A1 and the A19. Proposed new industrial and commercial developments have been frozen by the Highways Agency’s serving what are called article 14 orders on the development plan. Those orders effectively put a stop to development for up to six months and can then be renewed.
I know that the Minister of State is aware ofthe particular problem with article 14 orders and the damage that they have caused to the economy of the north-east. I am pleased to say that most of them have now been lifted, but the abiding legacy of the threat of article 14 orders is that quite a lot of developers who would have developed regional projects have been frightened off. To delay a development for six, 12 or in some cases 18 months—as has happened—means that a developer incurs losses of many millions of pounds, particularly on large developments. They do not want to take that risk, which means we have lost the opportunity to create a large number of new jobs in the region.
The deadening impact of those orders and of the poor infrastructure relating to the two crucial routes in the north-east has been the subject of an excellent campaign by the North East chamber of commerce, well supported by the local media, particularly The Journal and the Evening Chronicle. The campaign is called “Go for Jobs” and I know that the Minister is aware of it. Last month, it won the North East chamber of commerce an award for being the best campaigning chamber.
Sir Rod Eddington specifies the importance of good transport links in the growing economy of a region such as the north-east. As he states in recommendation 10, to which I hope the Government will pay attention:
“Government should focus on these areas”—
he is talking about the inter-urban corridors and congested urban areas—
“because they are heavily used, of growing economic importance, and showing signs of congestion and unreliability—and these problems are set to get significantly worse.”
That illustrates precisely the problem facing the north-east because of the failure to invest in new and crucial road systems. So I ask the Minister, please may we have some grown-up, joined-up government when dealing with transport in the region?
The region’s budget for transport has been settled at £457 million for the next 10 years. That is a trivial amount for a region where there is a shortage of decent transport infrastructure. If we compare that with Scotland, just across the border—I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here—it is interesting to note that £3.5 billion has been allocated for transport infrastructure there in the next decade. I admit that the country has a population of about three times the size of that of the north-east, but one can see how disproportionate spending in Scotland is compared with that in the north-east of England.
I add my support to a high-speed link between London and the north and Scotland. It is wrong ofSir Ron to dismiss it so simplistically—it is capable of improving the economy and we should support it.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). I am intrigued about whether he takes the train back to his constituency—I am sure that he does and I presume that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) does, too. If the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) wishes to intervene to clarify whether he takes the train back every week, I should be delighted to let him.
I am sure that Liberal Democrat proposals for that will prove interesting.
Each hon. Member probably has a travelling tale to tell since such a large part of the job involves being in two places at once. I can speak only from my experiences but I think that the story is telling. My predecessor, Peter Pike, who was a Member of Parliament during the years when the Conservative party was in power, often flew between London and Manchester because the trains were so unreliable. Thanks to the recent improvements to the west coast main line under the Government—I am delightedthat the Conservative party acknowledges the improvements, although it opposed the funding for them—it is now far more time efficient to take the train. I travel to Manchester or Stockport in around two hours, which is fantastic. From there, it is less than an hour’s drive to the constituency.
That was a simple example with which to begin my contribution, but it proves the point. When, as consumers, we are faced with several options, we choose the easiest one. Thanks to the improvements to the railways under the Government, the easiest is often to travel by train. Our constituents are doing that, so I do not recognise the picture that Conservative Members paint.
Let me present some facts that I do recognise. Investment in Britain’s transport infrastructure will be 60 per cent. higher next year than it was 10 years ago. It needs more investment in the future, which we are providing, yet Conservative Members were unable to say this evening whether they would prioritise that investment over tax cuts. That was revealing.
The Tories botched privatisation and starved the railways of the investment that they needed. They brought the railways to their knees; we have brought them the stability from which they can grow. Forty per cent. of trains have been replaced in the past five years; passenger numbers are growing at the fastest rate since the 1960s; passengers miles are growing at the fastest rate since the 1940s; and rail freight has increased by40 per cent. since 1997.
When the Conservative party was in charge, Railtrack was laying as little as 250 miles of track a year. In 2003-04, Labour’s replacement for Railtrack, Network Rail, was laying well over three times that, replacing 870 miles of track that year. That leads to this evening’s all important question: why is the Conservative party implying that the improvements are long overdue when the work is being done and we have a sustained strategy for them? I can conclude only that it is up to its old tricks. In the words, which areworth repeating, of the Conservative Transport spokesperson, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) about his party,
“we've not had a clear transport strategy...we’ve had tactical positions”.
Tonight’s debate is about another tactical position adopted by the Opposition. The country is getting used to this, and it is responding by asking, “Where isthe policy?” The answer is that the policy is all overthe place. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said a year ago that Britain needed a concerted programme of road building, yet the chair of his policy commission on quality of life—that title amuses me all by itself—has said that there is no doubt that there must be an assumption against road building. The only thing that I am left in no doubt about is that the only way to get a coherent policy on railways is to stick to the one that we have.
That is not to say that action does not need to be taken, but let us be clear about what is going on. We have economic growth, better trains, and greater reliability leading to trains becoming more popular. That creates more demand, which is creating the greater need for investment. I agree with the Conservatives when they say that if they were in power, we would not be in this situation. When they were in power, we did not have the sustained economic growth, quarter on quarter, year on year, that we have seen for the past 10 years. Nor did we get the necessary investment in the trains or the track. So it is no wonder that people did not want to travel on the railways. Does that count as success, in the Conservatives’ book? The overcrowding on some parts of the railway network, which we are addressing, is a symptom of our success. The question for the public out there is whether they would rather have a party that is committed to the long-term sustainable future of the network or one that is unable to say whether rail investment ranks as more or less important than tax cuts for the well-off.
I shall give the House a local example. Manchester is experiencing a renaissance; it is booming. Obviously, the combined effect of a Labour council and a Labour Government has worked well. Of course, there are good jobs to be had, and my constituents up the road in east Lancashire want to have them. So the trains and buses into Manchester from my part of the world are crowded. The Conservatives try to make political capital out of this symptom of our success. Would they prefer it if there were no opportunities in our great northern cities that people wanted to travel to take advantage of? Sometimes that seems to be the case.
Yes, success has led to issues that need addressing, and they are being addressed as part of the routine policy of this Government. In the north-west, it is timely that Network Rail is currently out to consultation on its rail utilisation study. As Members will know, this contains proposals as to where future passenger demand is likely to come from, and what changes will be required to the necessary infrastructure. Network Rail, created by this Government, is adapting to the challenges faced by the network over time. I welcome this study, and also the opportunity to explain how it can be used to improve the job opportunities available to my constituents.
Burnley is a mere 30 miles from Manchester, but there is no direct train line between them. My constituents either get the bus—which offers a decent service, but is not always reliable at peak rush hour times—or they have to change trains at Blackburn or Hebden Bridge or, I am sorry to say, they give up their jobs in the city. I do not think that people should have to choose between their careers and their communities in that way—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I hope that Network Rail will use the opportunity of the rail utilisation study to correct this anomaly, particularly as I am told by Northern Rail, which holds the franchise in my area, that the projections of passenger numbers into the next decade that form part of the report have already been surpassed due to high economic growth in the region.
There are various ways in which a direct line could be established. One would be to have a direct train via Blackburn, which could be done fairly easily. However, establishing a regular service would require serious investment to upgrade the heavily congested single track between Blackburn and Manchester. Or we could go round the other side of the hill and reinstate a few metres of track known as the Todmorden curve, which would allow a direct train service between Burnley and Manchester using a bit of the Calder line. Either would do, and both would be supported not only by my constituency but by the neighbouring constituencies, which would also reap economic benefits. We must remember that investing in transport infrastructure is necessary not only to relieve bottlenecks, but as a tool for regeneration. People often get bogged down in the terminology of travel-to-work areas without realising that, by investing in the right infrastructure, we can enable those geographical areas to change quite substantially.
The industrial revolution, which took place a long time ago in my part of the world, is a case in point. People often presume that the canals that criss-cross my constituency were built to take the textiles to market. In fact, it was the other way round. It was because of the existence of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, which was originally built to transport more basic commodities, that the cotton mills were built in Burnley. The same is true today: better rail links into the booming cities are a tool to regenerate towns such as mine. They will enable my constituents to commute to higher-paid jobs and make it easier for city folk to come and relax in a bit of Pennine Lancashire. The links between economic and transport policy need to be made more explicit. I am hopeful that the Government’s response to the Eddington report will accept that.
I welcome the increased investment in our railways under the Government. I welcome the greater prosperity and opportunity that economic stability has brought. I believe that the public do, too, and are voting with their feet and choosing to travel by train. That leads to capacity issues, which we are sorting out. As part of that, I hope that my plea for better transport links between my constituency and Manchester in particular will be heard. As this is an Opposition day debate, my question to the Conservative party is simple: is it simply positioning itself once more, or will it put its so-called commitment to the railways above its commitment to cut taxes for the better-off?
I welcome this Opposition day debate, as it is on an important subject close to the heart of many people who live in Norfolk.
I have raised with the Minister on many occasions the urgent need for the Government to address the roads infrastructure in Norfolk, particularly the A11, which is one of the most important links between the county and the rest of the United Kingdom. In particular, he knows that an eight-mile stretch of single carriageway remains between Thetford and the Fiveways corner roundabout, which leaves Norfolk as the only county, and Norwich as the largest settlement, not connected to the national, dual carriageway trunk road network. The road cannot cope with the existing weight of traffic, let alone that which the proposed 72,000 new homes in the county, and the welcome regeneration of Thetford, will bring.
Norfolk county council has provided me with a copy of the East of England Development Agency’s policy document for economic growth in the county. It is optimistically entitled, “Norfolk on the Move”. I tell the Minister that Norfolk’s drivers know that they are likely to grind to a halt through the sheer weight of traffic on the county’s roads. The problems of the A11 are stifling the economy of the area. The business community, utterly frustrated by unfulfilled promises and ever-growing delays on that stretch of road, has rolled in behind our local authorities. A compelling case was submitted to the regional assembly. The scheme is, at least for now, scheduled for the second regional funding allocation funding period starting in 2010.
The Minister has acknowledged, however, in an interview with the Eastern Daily Press, that the operation of the regional allocation arrangements is problematic, and leads to mistakes and skewed priorities. He identified the “whale in the pond” syndrome, which tends to de-prioritise very large schemes that eat up a substantial proportion of a region’s funding. He also acknowledged that areas on the geographical edge of a region could be overlooked in the decision-making process. To my constituents in South-West Norfolk, and to those in the surrounding area, it seems that they are constantly overlooked in the decision-making process. If evidence were needed, they cite the number of times that the dualling project has been promised and then delayed. Will the Minister accept that what he has called a “good and popular scheme” has suffered from both those factors? Will he seek to re-designate it as being of national importance, just as economic development in Norfolk should be of national importance?
Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will take responsibility for the scheme, and dispel the concern in Norfolk that it may yet be put on the back burner, leaving us isolated and frustrated by a roads infrastructure that is not fit for purpose? Will he also acknowledge his support for the dualling of the A11 and join me in calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to approve it, so that a timetable can be drawn up and work can start immediately?
At Attleborough in my constituency, there is yet another example of the Government washing their hands of the A11. Thankfully, that stretch of the road is about to be dualled. However, the Government have turned down a simple scheme to upgrade the nearest junction on the A11 at Besthorpe, which would route traffic away from an ever-congested Attleborough town. If carried out at the same time as dualling work, the project would have offered an economical and simple solution.
The Government have refused an application for funding under the demonstration scheme, passing the scheme back to the county council, which does not have the funds to finance it. It will have to be carried out as a separate and therefore more expensive project, offering poor value to the taxpayer and yet more years of misery for the local community. Yet again, the Government’s transport strategy fails to recognise the need for sensible investment in our roads, and best value for the taxpayer once again goes out the window.
In a debate last November, I raised concerns about the state of the A47 in Norfolk and called for it to be dualled as well. The road is, in many places, unsafe and unfit for the weight of traffic that it carries. Accidents are frequent and often serious, and can have a catastrophic impact on travel across the area. It is one of the most dangerous routes in the country, yet improvements on the A47 are also considered of regional, not national importance. I say again to the Minister that the responsibility lies with the Government.
The Minister has told me that his Department is not revisiting the method of defining road projects, but is reviewing how it works in practice. He has made time to visit Norfolk before, and I ask him to make time to come up again. Then he will see for himself how the regional allocation method works in practice and how Norfolk faces ever increasing difficulties while the method remains in place.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. We should highlight the Government’s commitment to rail transport. More rail journeys are being undertaken in Britain than at any time since the 1940s. Rail freight is up by 46 per cent. since 1997. More trains in England and Wales arrive on time compared with 2001, mainly as a result of the increased investment after many years of neglect under the Conservative Government. I have worked in the rail industry and know from first-hand experience about the challenges of clearing up the mess left by that Government. The need to push forward an integrated transport agenda has been key within the industry.
Unfortunately, the performance of First Great Western—the mainline operator to my constituency—has not been so effective or matched the Government’s commitment to improve rail transport. It has been named as one of the worst performing franchises in Britain, with a 79.4 per cent. reliability record. It has also recently announced changes to services to Swansea, which has caused great concern to my constituents. In particular, they are worried about the termination of the 15.15 London Paddington to Swansea service at Cardiff. The changes will have a serious effect on Swansea’s status as a mainline station on an important inter-city route. The proposals are a retrograde step and are being interpreted locally as downgrading the second city of Wales. Swansea is an important rail city and a key business and tourism destination; it is also the gateway to west Wales. The proposals appear to make passengers from Swansea and west Wales less important than those in other parts of the country.
I support my hon. Friend’s remarks about First Great Western. If the service beyond Cardiff is going to stop, the service to Cardiff may soon stop as well. It shows a lack of interest in Wales on the part of First Great Western. Is she aware of the proposal to cut the buffet service between Cardiff and Paddington, about which I have received a complaint? Does she think that that is a strange way of improving the rail service?
I certainly do. It highlights the factthat a company that was recently engaged in a refranchising process, when it made many promises, is now making cuts at will and making changes that suit it, not the people that it is supposed to be serving.
The passenger flows between Swansea and Cardiff are vital to a number of local communities and businesses, and for economic development. Not everyone needs or has to travel to London on a regular basis. The daily commuter journeys between Swansea, stations along the south Wales main line and Cardiff are equally important. The commitment of First Great Western to those services is essential. As I said, it actively pursued the franchise and I am disappointed that the fine words and promises contained in its bid now appear to be nothing more than window dressing. It has ignored all representations about the 15.15 service. I believe that that service is being killed off by First Great Western’s failure to consult properly. The consultation period has been little more than a sham. There has been a poor response from First Great Western, which has refused to publish any submissions and has not made its decisions public before the point of implementation, thus in effect allowing no appeal.
Following closely on the heels of the refranchise bid, there has been much confusion. It is understandable that the public, who believed that the franchise proposals submitted by First Great Western would be in place for a credible period, have been left feeling confused and let down by yet more inadequate consultation.
The company apparently has no interest in serving evening commuters. Between 5 am and 8.30 am, there is a half-hourly service between Swansea and London. Eight trains, each carrying up to 360 seated passengers, travel the Swansea-to-Paddington route. During that period Arriva Trains Wales runs two services which can carry a combined total of 300. Several thousand are carried by First Great Western; a few hundred are carried by Arriva Trains Wales. But how do those people make their return journey in the evening? First Great Western is happy to take their business in the morning, but feels no responsibility for getting them home at night. What kind of strategy and what kind of franchise commitment is that?
Poor Arriva Trains Wales will now be expected to fill the gap left by the removal of the 15.15 from the timetable. Commuters anxious to get home after a hard day’s work will have to try to obtain seats on an already popular service. It is the proverbial attempt to fit a pint into a half-pint pot, and can only mean more inconvenience and discomfort for the loyal passengers whom First Great Western are happily abandoning. I fear that many will switch to their cars and that we will see more congestion and pollution—problems that we should be working to decrease, not increase.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do his utmost to ensure that the people of Swansea and west Wales continue to benefit from increased investment, reliable trains and improving services.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James). I know her area well. It seems that we share the problem of overcrowded trains, although our constituencies are many miles apart. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) is still present. I was interested by her speech, in which she said that she did not recognise the situation described earlier by many of my hon. Friends. I hope that I shall be able to give her some more specific examples of problems that my constituents face daily.
In my constituency, as well as those of many other Members, a huge expansion in house building is taking place. About 800 houses a year are being built in Basingstoke, but—I fear—without the investment in infrastructure that would enable more people to settle in our part of Hampshire without any negative effect on the current population. Transport links are a particularly good example of the problems of investment in infrastructure, but there are many other examples, including essential utilities and services. Energy, water supply and other important elements of infrastructure are not being planned well enough, or receiving enough investment, to match the level of house building required by the Government.
Last week saw the publication of the Eddington report, to which many Members have referred today. It is the latest in a long line of transport documents published since 1997. Sir Rod Eddington made three important points. He called on the Government to “focus policy and sustained investment on improving the performance of existing transport networks in those places that are important to the UK’s economic success”.
He went on to say:
“Government, together with the private sector, should deliver sustained and targeted infrastructure investment in those schemes which deliver high returns”.
He emphasised that
“the policy process needs to be rigorous and systematic”.
Those are fine-sounding words, but this is the eighth major document on transport from the Government in nine years. There have been two White Papers, a 10-year plan, and now the Eddington report.
Given that this is the eighth such document in nine years, is my hon. Friend confident that its recommendations will be carried through, or does she think that it is just more time-filling by a Government who are very short of ideas about what to do to ease current problems?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but he is, I think, being rather fair-minded to the Government by suggesting that that is their intention. My Basingstoke constituents might have a slightly different spin on that when they look at the amount of house building that is required in north Hampshire and then look at the dearth of funding that follows that centrally driven Government target. The amount of reports, White Papers and documentation that has been produced on the sector under discussion seems to mask a confusion, inconsistency and short-sightedness in transport planning; that is certainly the case in my area of the country.
My constituency of Basingstoke is just the sort of place that Eddington highlighted in his report as requiring a focused policy of investment in transport. It is home to 69,000 jobs. It has one of the largest concentrations of employment in the entire south-east of England, and it is therefore an integral part of the future of this country. The Government have called it one of their diamonds for growth; others have called it part of the string of pearls. They are fine words, but fine words cannot mask the disconnect between house building targets and the lack of investment in infrastructure. The Government need places like Basingstoke to generate the wealth to fund their spending plans, so they need to be prepared to invest in areas such as Basingstoke to ensure that its success is sustainable in the future.
We cannot have commuters spending hours in traffic jams on the M3 motorway. There has also recently been a significant increase in the number of accidents on our section of the motorway, some of which, tragically, have resulted in fatalities. We in north Hampshire have not had sufficient investment, particularly in our motorways and roads.
There are other local examples of lack of investment. There is a major business park in my constituency: the Chineham business park is a highly successful area of economic activity, and it is home to many blue-chip companies and major names that Members will be aware of. A part of the plans for that business park was to build a railway station—Ministers might be aware of that—but since those plans were put forward there has been a complete lack of funding, which means that it has not been possible to deliver that railway station. The result of that is being borne by my constituents, who are now having to deal with major problems to do with traffic cutting through residential areas, because people do not have the option of travelling to their place of work by train rather than car.
Local employers tell me that there are two reasons why they want to locate in Basingstoke. In some cases it is their first choice to locate, rather than Reading, because of the congestion problems in that town that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) highlighted. They choose Basingstoke because they have access to well qualified and highly experienced staff, but also because of accessibility. I am concerned that the large-scale house building projects that are being foisted on the local council—with very little ability to resist them—combined with lack of investment in transport will simply be no good at all for residents or business.
There are many estimates of how much money is required to fill the yawning infrastructure gap that there is not only in Basingstoke but throughout what is now designated by the South East England Development Agency as a western corridor area. Hampshire county council has told the South East England regional assembly that investment of some £4.5 billion is needed to improve transport infrastructure in the western corridor and Blackwater valley growth area, which, as the hon. Member for Reading, West said, is one of the most important areas of economic development in the country. In my bit of that area—Basingstoke—we need no less than a£250 million investment in transport alone to fill the gap created by the lack of investment in recent years.
I ran off a list of the projects that the western corridor and Blackwater valley area needs in terms of investment in infrastructure—the document has been submitted to the Government—and no fewer than 10 of the 34 projects on that list directly relate to my constituency. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity when he responds to give me some thoughts on how he will help Hampshire county council and SEEDA to plug some of those gaps. The Government are happy to set targets, but they are not prepared to ensure that the plans are in place to enable such targets to be properly thought through. That is a million miles away from the integrated transport policy that they originally promised us; nearly 10 years on from their taking office, we are still waiting.
I want to consider a couple of other examples of how the transport infrastructure gap in my constituency is not just opening up but increasing in magnitude. We have already heard a great deal about the train networks in various parts of the country. I will not dwell on that issue, except to say that my constituents not only have to endure overcrowded trains, they often have to spend an hour travelling into London, unable to sit down for the entire journey—or for the journey back. The train operator promised increases in capacity, but that has yet to become a reality. I welcome the fact that my Front-Bench colleagues have given a commitment to regarding that as an urgent problem as we develop our policies.
There are other pressing issues in my constituency relating to the M3 motorway, which runs directly through its centre. It is an important access route and an important part of why Basingstoke is the success that it is, but a tremendous increase in traffic on that route has not been matched by investment in measures to alleviate the problems associated with congestion and noise. I have recently tabled a number of parliamentary questions on this issue because of an increase in the number of letters that I receive from constituents on it. Government calculations indicate that the level of traffic noise on the M3 between junctions 5 and 7 has increased by about 4.5 dB in the past 20 years. To many a lay person, that might not sound like an enormous increase, but I remind Members that the decibel is a logarithmic unit, and that a 3 dB increase, as the Minister doubtless knows, equates to a doubling in sound level. If Members were to stand by the side of the M3 in Mapledurwell, a beautiful village in my constituency that is completely unshielded from the motorway by any form of physical sound barrier, they would understand why many residents are deeply concerned at the fact that the increase in traffic has not been matched by the provision of sound-avoidance measures.
We thought that we had come some way on this issue under the careful guidance of my predecessor, who obtained an assurance that a noise-retardant surface would be used on the section of the M3 that passes through the centre of my constituency. Indeed, we were very pleased with the outcome of the negotiations with the Government. Only last week, however, I heard that a very firm promise might be overturned; despite a promise to resurface the M3 completely with noise-retardant material only one lane is to be treated. That is a great disappointment to residents of the villages of Mapledurwell, Up Nateley, Nateley Scures and Old Basing, for whom that measure represented their only hope that the Government would try to alleviate a growing problem.
The other result of increased traffic flow on the M3 that has not been coupled with a measure to try to alleviate the problem is congestion at junction 6, especially the Black Dam roundabout. All my constituents who use the M3 are very aware of that problem. The roundabout was built to accommodate a maximum peak flow of about 5,500 vehicles an hour, yet a survey last September found that it was already operating well above capacity, and the Government have no plans to try to improve the situation in the near future, despite significant amounts of house building.
There is a pressing need to upgrade that key section of the motorway, yet when I asked the Minister of State what assessment had been made of the need to increase capacity, he merely replied:
“Agreement was reached in principle on the need to accommodate traffic resulting from the Local Plan…The Highways Agency will review the situation when the Local Plan…becomes clearer.”—[Official Report, 11 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 782W.]
The answer is simple. We need a more co-ordinated approach to dealing with increased traffic volume. At present, there are ad hoc measures in my constituency to try to shield the various communities that abut the motorway. Some of them are evenbeing given planning consent to build alongside the motorway, but there is no plan for a co-ordinated approach to noise abatement. Such plans need to be developed and I have already raised the issue with the Highways Agency.
A final result of increased congestion on the motorway is greater use of another local road—the A3—which over the last 12 months has, tragically, come to be known as a black spot. It is used as a relief road by motorists wanting to avoid congestion on the M3 and there has been a significant increase in traffic, which has resulted in more accidents, and the county council has had to make considerable changes in the layout of the road network. It has not, however, got to grips with the fundamental problem, which requires significant investment.
Amid all that procrastination, confusion and buck passing, my constituents are suffering, and I hope that Ministers will take that point very seriously indeed. The consequences of the lack of planning are borne by residents, and there is no better example than my constituents who live in the beautiful, historic village of Old Basing. The area has narrow lanes and few footpaths. At Old Basing infants school, which is beautiful and well respected, traffic volume is so high that even parents who live nearby are forced to use their cars to take their children to school.
I could give many such examples from my constituency, but time is short so I will conclude my contribution to this important debate. My constituents do not want forests of policy papers and a maze of funding streams; they want the Government to understand that Basingstoke has a transport infrastructure gap. The Government cannot ignore the problem any longer. They cannot simply hand on housing targets without providing proper plans and proper funding for increased infrastructure. If they do not feel that they are well placed to develop such plans, they should leave it to local people, who understand what is needed for our community, to draw up the plans and see them to fruition.
I am certainly not one to dwell on the negative, but it has to be said that the appalling fragmentation of the rail services under the Tories has left us with a nightmare scenario in west Wales. Not only do we have track problems, which have to be sorted out by one company, and then other companies charging huge sums of money to the rail operators for relatively old rolling stock, but we have a complicated situation that involves using two rail companies to get from Llanelli to London. Yes, indeed: I have to travel with two companies—Arriva and First Great Western—every week.
Unfortunately, as only 74 per cent. of the First Great Western trains arrive on time, that can lead to all sorts of difficulties in Swansea, where Arriva has to pick up the tab. When I travel home from Parliament on a Thursday evening, I quite often find myself travelling by bus or taxi as Arriva desperately tries to get passengers to their destinations—and, in particular, tries to get passengers who want to get the ferry to Ireland to Fishguard on time.
Absolutely. I am just about to come to that. We have already made a good start. The issue is that there has been such fragmentation that it is taking a long time to put all the bits back together again. We started with that disadvantage. The Independent got it wrong yesterday and had me as Mr. and my age as 60, but, given that the hon. Gentleman is facing me, perhaps he could notice the difference.
It is heartening to see how many people in west Wales use the trains now, but they deserve a much better deal than they are getting. Unfortunately, the huge charges that the ROSCOs are demanding for rolling stock mean that we are still short of carriages on some trains, with people standing for considerable distances. We have some spectacular views along the coast in my constituency, but coastal erosion is causing considerable concern west of Llanelli. Since privatisation, we have yet another company that is responsible for the track. With that Tory legacy of so many different companies, it is all too easy to shift the blame around and infinitely more difficult to improve the services.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) about the First Great Western service from Cardiff to Swansea that currently leaves at 17.18, but is threatened. The new timetable comes in on Monday. Only the week before last, when my hon. Friend and I went to see for ourselves what was happening on the 17.18 train from Cardiff, we saw that the preceding train was absolutely full and that the platform immediately filled up again with a new crowd of people. When we got on the 17.18 train it, too, was full. It just does not seem to make any commercial sense to remove that train, leaving a huge number of people to try to squash into the next train. It is a real exercise in alienating one’s loyal customers. I urge the Minister to do whatever he can to influence First Great Western to retain that service.
We also need to completely rethink our attitude to Sunday services. Our attitude to Sunday timetables assumes that no one wants to travel on Sunday, but, with increased leisure opportunities, many people would like to make greater use of the trains on Sundays for days out, weekends away, visiting friends and family, or getting to an airport to go on holiday. Current Sunday timetables make that difficult. The first train eastwards from Llanelli does not leave until after 11 o’clock in the morning, and we all know how crowded the few trains that run on a Sunday evening can be, as people try to come home from weekends away.
Inevitably, all too often that means that people turn to their cars, with the subsequent environmental consequences. We need some enterprising thinking about providing a much better service and promoting the use of rail travel on Sundays. One excellent example of encouraging the use of the train for an enjoyable day out is the work done by the Heart of Wales Line Travellers Association, which recently celebrated its 25th birthday. Its excellent work in promoting day and weekend excursions is an example to all and we would like to see a lot more of that type of approach. People really do want to use the trains and we therefore need to continue to pull together the fragmented serviceand use a Government hands-on approach to ensure improvements in the provision.
We have had a most interesting debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who said that there are no direct links to her constituency. She should try getting to Shropshire, as I said to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), last week.
Our debate began with a fine performance by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the shadow Secretary of State. We then heard a less scintillating performance by thegenuine Secretary of State, who failed to give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) a commitment on the Birmingham gateway. When he responded to an intervention made by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), he completely failed to understand that he was talking about an open access agreement that required no public subsidy whatever.
We heard a characteristically narcoleptic performance from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), before we moved on to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who gave us a glorious dinosaur attack on rail privatisation that wholly ignored Rod Eddington’s praise for the private sector’s vital involvement in transport. The hon. Gentleman also made an intemperate attack on my absent hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), which was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who made a powerful case for transport decisions to be taken locally by elected councillors. He gave telling examples of the way in which poor infrastructure has held back economic growth.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) began her speech with an amazing question. She asked the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland whether he took the train back to his constituency. Perhaps the Government Whips Office should give the hon. Lady a map. For her information, Stavanger has the nearest railway station to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—perhaps he would be more interested in the location of airports. The hon. Lady then descended into a rant against rail privatisation. Labour Members must make up their minds about this: they cannot take credit for the 50 per cent. increase in passengers—spectacular growth—yet keep knocking privatisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) certainly won the award for shirt of the debate. He put forward a powerful case for the duelling of the A11 and described small junction improvements that can have a disproportionatelylarge impact. Such improvements are exactly as recommended in Eddington. We then heard from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James), who made interesting comments about the difficulties regarding local rail services. She criticised the franchise and the consultation process. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) made a clear and thorough speech in which she set out very clearly and well the grievous problems that are caused when there is increased house building without any increase in infrastructure capacity to match the huge demands for various modes of transport.
My hon. Friend ended her speech by attacking the procrastination, confusion and buck passing of the Government—but, of course, that goes back a long way. The Labour party manifesto in 1997 promised to
“develop an integrated transport policy to fight congestion and pollution.”
However, there was no transport Bill in the new Labour Government’s first Queen’s Speech.
On 6 June 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“I will have failed if in five years time there are not … far fewer journeys by car. It’s a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it.”
In October 1998, he said:
“I agree to keep to that commitment”.
That was confirmed again by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), who, when asked,
“Will traffic be reduced in overall terms across the UK”,
“Yes, because all local authorities … will have to abide by the legislation that is in place which has to do with precisely that, the reduction of road traffic.”
When questioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in December 1999, the Deputy Prime Minister stuck to his guns and said:
“I said that there would be fewer car journeys.”—[Official Report, 20 December 1999; Vol. 341, c. 532.]
What happened? By June 2002, car traffic was up by7 per cent.
In 1998, “A new deal for transport: better for everyone” was published. That White Paper promised an “integrated transport policy” and a shift in road investment from building new roads to maintaining and managing the existing road networks. It proposed to address the perceived fragmentation of rail by creating the Strategic Rail Authority to provide
“a unified vision and promote the interests of passengers and freight customers”.
So, what happened to the Strategic Rail Authority? The shadow authority was established in 1999 and the SRA itself was put on a formal legal basis by the Transport Act 2000. The authority ended its shadow existence in February 2001. However, after the Railways Act 2005 had been passed, the authority was wound up and its functions were transferred to the Department for Transport rail group. So much for the unified vision.
Next, in December 1999, the Government launched a 10-year investment plan to improve Britain’s transport systems. The plan, which was intended to provide a framework for large-scale capital investment in the UK’s network, was to cost £8 billion to 2010. The Deputy Prime Minister said at that time:
“It will be a 10-year route map for a transport system fit for the next century, with milestones along the way.”
What did we have next but the 10-year plan launched two years later in July 2000. The Deputy Prime Minister—still at it—said that
“The plan will get Britain moving and give the people of this country a transport system on which they can rely.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 552.]
He promised 360 miles of strategic road network improvements to remove bottlenecks, 80 major trunk road schemes, 100 new bypasses, 130 other major local road improvement schemes, and completion of 40 road schemes in the Highways Agency targeted programme of improvements. On the railways, he promised a 50 per cent. increase in use measured by passenger kilometres, an 80 per cent. increase in rail freight, improvements in service quality, more punctual and reliable trains, and less overcrowding.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting yet another broken promise. We have heard a catalogue of them throughout the debate.
There is no question who is to blame. In June 2001, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) took over as Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. On 15 January 2002, in an interview with The Guardian, he said—I urge Ministers to listen to this:
“It’s now our responsibility. There can be no more excuses, I want to draw a line in the sand. It’s our responsibility. We can’t blame the Tories any more.”
In the very same month, much to the chagrin of the new Secretary of State, the noble Lord Birt was brought in to advise No. 10 with blue-sky thinking on transport, but he angered the Transport Sub-Committee by refusing to appear before it to reveal his thinking. Meanwhile, the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions published its assessment of the 10-year plan—a crushing assessment. The Committee said that the report was “mistaken”, “wrong”, “ill balanced”, “incomprehensible” and “over-optimistic”.
On we went, and in May 2002 the right hon. Member for North Tyneside resigned, to be replaced by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling). In December, the new Secretary of State unveiled a new £5.5 billion package of transport improvements, but revealed that the Government had spectacularly miscalculated the amount of traffic in Britain’s roads. He warned that motorists were likely to spend up to 20 per cent. more time in traffic jams by 2010 and admitted that the targets originally set by the Deputy Prime Minister would not be met. The Government thundered on with another White Paper, “The Future of Transport”, which was published in July 2004. It stated:
“We need a transport network that can meet the challenges of a growing economy and the increasing demand for travel”,
and the subsequent Labour party manifesto spoke of road pricing.
The Government have failed—they have failed miserably. Let me cite three outside organisations in support of my case. The Confederation of British Industry has found that 86 per cent. of businesses regard UK road links as important, and 94 per cent. of those companies say that congestion is a problem. This afternoon, I met representatives of the Road Users Alliance, which says that congestion is costing business £15 billion to £20 billion a year. Tim Green, the alliance’s director, said that
“Traffic has grown by 29 per cent. in the last 10 years and road capacity has increased by less than 2 per cent. The Government has totally underestimated the network that is required despite having taken £400 billion in taxes from road users but having spent only £7 billion per year on roads.”
In September 2006, the survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents 100,000 UK companies of all sizes, showed that 80 per cent. feel that there is a problem with road congestion that affects their business locally, regionally and nationally. The British Chambers of Commerce says that we are rapidly approaching “Gridlock Britain” unless a determined effort is made to improve our roads, removing pinch points and managing the network better to facilitate smooth flow and reliability of journey time.
Now, we come to the Eddington report, which is400 pages long in the Vote Office, but covers more than 1,000 pages if one includes the annexes on the internet. There are elements of the report that we strongly support. We have consistently supported the disproportionate gains of small schemes. Paragraph 199 on page 38 of the smaller volume entitled “Advice to Government” points out that small junction improvements often cost below £20 million, but show wider benefit:cost ratios well in excess of 4 and some going up to between 8 and 10. That was a point picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk. Many smaller road and rail schemes have been supported by Members throughout the House. Will the Government clarify tonight whether it is their intention to reinstate those schemes before 2015?
Eddington explores at length the difficulties of our current planning system and makes radical proposals to introduce an inquisitorial system and what would effectively be guillotines on time. There is an extraordinary graph showing that the inquiry on the M6 toll took 150 days, and the terminal 5 inquiry took several years and cost £60 million. These are significant delays and costs. Do the Government intend to pursue the proposal?
At the centre of the report is road pricing. Eddington enthusiastically supports the creation of a national road pricing scheme, on the ground that if it were introduced it would reduce the need for infrastructure capacity increases. The Opposition are convinced that the travelling public will react to the price mechanism and change their behaviour. In order to manage demand effectively, the price must vary. We do not support simplistic congestion charge schemes. A good example of the benefits of a variable road pricing scheme is the one that I saw this summer on the SR91 in southern California.
There is a road connecting Riverside, where many people live, and Orange county. The four lanes were jammed solid morning and evening. High occupancy vehicle lanes, which the Government are keen on, were added. Sadly, those were a waste of time. They were also jammed solid morning and evening. The four HOV lanes were converted to high occupancy toll lanes, with a varying toll. The number of vehicles doubled and the speed trebled.
We are convinced that the public will tolerate road pricing if it is variable and if it delivers improved reliability. It is also vital that revenues are ploughed back into infrastructure to maintain public confidence. But it is a huge jump from that to a national scheme. We have serious concerns. It is one thing accepting the principle of price as a tool, but it is quite another thing to bank everything on establishing the first national road pricing scheme. We heard about the huge projects that have gone wrong in the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database holds records of 36 million vehicles and 47 million drivers, of which 68 per cent. are correct in every detail, but 10 per cent. are not. I do not underestimate the task for the DVLA, but when do the Government think there will be a watertight database? There are serious civil liberties issues involved. When TollCollect set up its scheme in Germany, the diffusion of information to any Government Department was banned.
European directive 2004/52 deals with the interoperability of electronic toll collection systems. The crucial issue is the European electronic tolling service, which is intended to allow vehicle operators to subscribe to access any electronic charging scheme in Europe. The technology is immature. It is intimately connected to the progress of the EU’s Galileo GNSS. As it was originally anticipated that EETS would not come into force for cars until 2012 and the system is already subject to delay on that timetable, do the Government consider that the regulatory and technical framework will be in place to meet the 2015 timetable?
To summarise, the Government came to office almost 10 years ago with simplistic and dogmatic ideas that the travelling public could be forced off the roads and on to public transport. They totally underestimated the growth in traffic demand for both road and rail. They have not increased capacity to keep up with demand and have failed to achieve their targets, letting down the travelling public in a spectacular manner. Under a succession of incompetent Ministers, the Department for Transport has been excessively timid and cautious. That is compounded by the fact that we are now “Waiting for Gordot”. We know that the Chancellor is floundering in his search for tax revenues, and my fear is that the Treasury, which was the chief sponsor of the Eddington report, sees road pricing as a future gold mine. The Chancellor already has his man in the Department for Transport, for the Secretary of State is effectively a sleeper waiting to be woken by the great clunking fist.
On page 175 of the main report, Eddington specifically warns of the dangers of delay. He points out that
“pricing of this scale is not to be found anywhere else in the world”
“there is currently insufficient evidence to be able to identify what the ‘right’ option should be.”
“This uncertainty is not an excuse for doing nothing. Indeed, one of the most serious risks is that government and the private sector scale down their plans for investment on the basis that pricing will reduce the need for additional capacity, but for road pricing not to be delivered. This could result in a severe shortage of transport capacity, resulting in worsening congestion for road users and billions of pounds of cost to the economy.”
We fear that the Government will use Eddington as a shield—an excuse for another nine years of inactivity and tax increases that will be catastrophic for Britain’s travelling public. Conservative Members remember that in Samuel Beckett’s play the protagonist never arrived. We understand the needs of the travelling public, we understand the misery that the Government are putting them through, we understand what needs to be done, and I urge the House to support our motion.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said that it would be catastrophic if we delayed any further, yet he refuses to commit to a single transport project. The document that the Conservatives have just produced detailing their plans for transport says, in effect: “We commit to nothing. We promise nothing.” Yet they have the cheek to give us a shopping list of schemes that they wish to imply will be built, having committed to nothing.
On rail, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) completely overlooked the facts. This Government have invested £8 billion in the west coast main line. We have delivered 44 per cent. more train services on the east coast main line. We have overseen a rise of up to 1 billion passenger journeys a year. We have presided over the fastest growing railway in Europe—the railway with the youngest rolling stock fleet in Europe. We have achieved 90 per cent. reliability. We have opened the first phase of the channel tunnel rail link, with the second phase soon to be opened. We have seen a 46 per cent. increase in railway freight since 1997. We have delivered train protection warning systems on the whole network. We have even seen Network Rail delivering a profit—a profit that goes not into the pockets of the City, but back into railway investment. That is what this Government have delivered—yet the Conservatives, who delivered us Railtrack and privatisation, made the channel tunnel rail link a basket case that we had to rescue, and introduced rail policies that led directly to tragedy and the disaster at Paddington have the cheek to criticise us.
On buses, we now have £2 billion-worth of funding invested in bus services; 400 bus projects supported by the bus challenge competitions; rural bus subsidy grants supporting more than 2,200 rural services, with more than 29 million annual journeys made on them; bus and light railway use up by 8.1 per cent. since 2000-01; 50 per cent. of the bus fleet now accessible to people with disabilities; and some 11 million older and disabled people due to get concessionary fares. All that from this Government, while the Conservatives, who delivered us deregulation, dare to criticise us.
On roads, we have 39 major trunk roads and motorways completed, with 17 under construction; the M25 being widened to four lanes; active traffic management being delivered to make the best use of the network; regional control centres being built to keep the traffic moving; 1,000 highway officers; real-time traffic information delivered to motorists; road fatalities down; road injuries down; and vehicle excise duty evasion down. All this, and the Conservatives, who gave us the cones hotline, dare to criticise us.
Did Conservative Members mention that otherkey transport modality—ships—in their motion? No—strangely, ships have not even been mentioned, despite the fact that the shadow Minister concerned has been sat on the Front Bench for most of the debate. That is hardly surprising, as it is Conservative party that destroyed British shipping and left us without it. The Government have quadrupled the number of ships under the red ensign. Under the Government, the amount of shipping has risen, providing £10 billion in net earnings. Shipping is now the third biggest export earner in the country’s economy, thanks to the Government, yet the party that destroyed the red ensign and left the British fleet flagged-out dares to criticise us.
The shadow Secretary of State says that he wants action, but he will not put his name to anything. His big plan on aviation, according to a document published just a few days ago, is as follows:
“We are studying the different issues carefully and intend to make full use of the time available to us in Opposition to address these issues.”
As he told us just today, his big plan on buses is to wait and see what the Government propose. What is his big plan on trains? That is a good question, because the document hardly mentions trains, except to give the revelation that
“Rail, for example, is essential to carrying commuters into…cities.”
Well, we needed a Conservative think-tank to give us that information. As for his big plan on his big plan, it is to make no specific commitments to any individual transport project until nearer the general election. He promises us nothing, but he demands a great deal.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) did at least admit that Eddington had provided a good analysis, and I agree with him that the Eddington report should be considered in the context of the Stern report. However, he overlooked the fact that the Government have been responsible for major innovations on climate change and transport. The renewable transport fuel obligation, for example, leads the world. He seemed to distinguish between the effects on climate change that result from flights between Scotland and Dubai, which, according to him, are not carbon-emitting, and the effects resulting from flights from London, which seem to be a danger to the environment.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I must make a little progress; when I have done so, I will give way.
The contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) was characteristically understated. Yet again, he refused to tell us what he really thinks about people. He reminded us that the Tories promise big, but deliver very little.He reminded us of the James report and the£30 billion-plus cuts in public expenditure that the Conservatives planned to make if they got into power. He reminded us that the shadow Chancellor wants£16 billion-worth of growth to be delivered through tax cuts, instead of through investment in public services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State added to that list the fact that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has said, in the past day or so, that he wants £20 billion-worth of business tax cuts. How will the Conservatives deliver on any of those so-called commitments? How will they deliver on any one of their promises?
The Government have made 60 per cent. extra investment in transport since 1997, but that is completely overlooked by the Opposition. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Tories want the ends, but they do not have the will to provide the means. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, told the House about the presentation delivered today on a transport vision for the Thames valley. I assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will study that carefully. We are happy to engage with it, and to consider how the objectives can be delivered.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) wants the regional transport structure abolished. He said that he wants decisions on the north-east to be taken not in the north-east, but in my office. That is completely foolish. It is people in the north-east who can best prioritise schemes for the north-east, and that is the system that we have put in place. The leader of the Conservatives himself has said that he wants fewer decisions to be taken in Westminster, and he wants what he calls real devolution, yet every time that a local, devolved decision is made in the regions or local councils, Conservative Members come to the House and demand that we do not let local people make the decisions, but instead make them in Westminster.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) pointed out that she can now use the west coast main line, which means that she no longer needs to fly. She pointed out, too, that when the Tories were in power there was no sustained investment. I agree with her that better transport links lead to regeneration and greater economic prosperity, which is why we commissioned the Eddington report and why we take competitiveness and transport seriously.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) repeated his frequent plea for the final stage of the A11 to be dualled. He is passionate about the issue, having made many representations to me, but he needs to work in the local region to ensure that it gives the scheme the highest possible priority. [Interruption.] It was the local region that decided not to make it its top priority, and while I entirely accept that it is my responsibility to review the regional funding allocation system and make sure that we learn the lessons of the first round of RFAs, it is his duty to make sure that he continues to fight his corner in the local area so that the scheme receives the highest possible priority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) made a powerful case, based on problems that she has experienced in her local railway system. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who is responsible for railways, listened carefully to those problems, and he is happy to discuss the way in which the issue can be progressed. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) discussed housing expansion and growth. The Conservatives frequently call for transport improvements ahead of growth, but I am afraid that that is not the way in which it works in the real world. We have to provide infrastructure investment in parallel with growth. Those things have to be planned, because they go hand in hand. Her party has said in the past few days that it will not make any promises or commitments, and it does not have any investment to offer in her constituency or any other Conservative constituency. Her call for us to invest more heavily in advance of growth is therefore pure foolishness. She provided a shopping list of requirements, including noise treatment. Under her party’s investment plans, there will be only one noise treatment for the roads in her constituency—the issuing of ear plugs to her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) made a powerful case for improvements to her local system. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South, is happy to engage in discussions.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) overlooked the fact that throughout the Tories 18 years in power his party pursued a policy of underinvestment and boom and bust economics. When there is no growth in the economy and people’s earnings do not go up, transport demand does not go up, which is why transport demand was contained throughout the Opposition’s period in office. Since the Government have been in power, there has not been a single quarter in which the economy has failed to grow. We have the fastest growing incomes in Europe, so we have the fastest growing transport problems. During our term in office, 6 million extra vehicles have come on to the roads. There are more people in work, so more people are driving to work or are driving as part of their job, which inevitably puts pressure on the transport system. Despite the huge investments that we have made, including the billions of pounds that we have put into the west coast main line, the railway system and roads, and despite the effort that we have put into all transport modalities, the simple fact of the matter—this is the conclusion that Eddington reached—is that unless we are prepared to face the hard questions, including the challenge of road pricing, it will get worse. Tonight, one Tory spokesman said that the Opposition were in favour of that policy, but the other one completely contradicted him.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House welcomes Sir Rod Eddington’s independent report on the impact of transport decisions on economic productivity and growth; accepts his findings that the UK transport network provides the right connections, in the right places, to support the journeys that matter to economic performance, but also that the current unprecedented period of sustained economic growth will continue to place increasing pressures on key sections of that network, and that this needs to be addressed with a wide-ranging strategy encompassing better-use and investment solutions; supports the Government’s commitment to taking the decisions which will be required to meet these pressures and put UK transport on a sustainable footing, including tackling the environmental impacts of transport, piloting road-pricing and building on the improvements in rail performance; acknowledges the progress already made through sustained long-term investment and forward planning through the Future of Transport White Paper; and recognises the substantial increases in capacity which this approach has brought, and the continuing programme of investment to provide further increases in capacity and reliability in future.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are well aware of the disgraceful treatment by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) of the former Labour Member for Reading, East. In this evening’s debate, however, the hon. Gentleman launched a highly personal attack on me while I was not present in the Chamber and unavoidably detained elsewhere. I was not notified before the debate that he would be making remarks about me. When I went to the Hansard office to see what the attack consisted of, I was informed that I could not look at what another Member had said during the debate. That meant that I could not challenge the version of events set out in the House this evening. Please will you advise me, Mr. Speaker, on what can be done to stop this happening again?
I have not read Hansard and therefore do not know what was said, but if an hon. Member is going to attack another hon. Member, it is a courtesy and convention of this House that adequate notice is given to allow the hon. Member concerned to come into the Chamber. I would consider adequate notice to be sending a note. I do not wish to get involved in the argument until I see Hansard, but I give that as a general piece of advice to all hon. Members.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on how I can receive an answer from a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I wrote to the Department on 7 November, but did not receive a reply. I then tabled a written parliamentary question, but I have not received a reply to that either. Today I contacted the permanent secretary at the Department.
The matter relates to a visit by a Minister in the Department to discuss housing and planning in my constituency, which I strongly believe should not be made in a ministerial capacity. Given that I have written to the Department, tabled a parliamentary written question and raised the matter with the permanent secretary, will you advise me, Mr. Speaker, how I can take this forward?
Perseverance is most important in the House. The hon. Gentleman must keep going to the Table Office to put down parliamentary questions. When it is the day for oral questions, he must ensure that he tables an oral question on the matter that concerns him.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),
That the draft Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 19th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—[Steve McCabe.]
Question agreed to.