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Eddington Report

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

5. What plans he has to take forward recommendations of the report by Sir Rod Eddington on transport; and if he will make a statement. (131454)

The Government set out in the December 2006 pre-Budget report how we intend to take forward the recommendations of the Eddington study, taking account of transport's wider economic, social and environmental objectives. In the coming months, the Government will review their strategy, processes and delivery on transport in the light of the Eddington and Stern reports. We will provide a detailed response to the Eddington study alongside the comprehensive spending review later this year.

Eddington states that two priorities for transport policy should be expanding airports and relieving congested and growing city catchments. The Government are quite keen on the former, but less so on the latter. Can the Secretary of State confirm when a decision is going to be taken on what must be the best example of a project to relieve a congested and growing city catchment area—Crossrail?

I would not entirely accept that characterisation of the Eddington study. Eddington had three principal concerns: first, the challenge of growth cities; secondly, inter-urban connections; and, thirdly, global gateways, which include our ports as well as our airports. On the substantive point that the hon. Gentleman made, we continue our support for Crossrail. There has been real progress with the Bill and we have made it clear that a decision about Crossrail will be made in the context of the spending review.

Yesterday, Sir Rod Eddington indicated at the Select Committee hearing that by 2014 the west coast main line would be running to full capacity and that there is a business case for a high-speed line, but the fact is that there is a lead time of 10 years. When will the Minister announce that there is going to be a new high-speed line on the west coast?

With due respect to my hon. Friend, one of the intriguing features of the discussion about the high-speed train line is the number of hon. Members who presume that it will stop in their constituency. In fact, Sir Rod Eddington gave a searching critique of the case for a high-speed rail line in the course of his report. We have a separate manifesto commitment that we will give consideration to a high-speed rail line and we are reflecting on the recommendations and the insights in relation to the high-speed rail line in the Eddington report at the moment.

Is not our distance from getting anywhere near Eddington’s recommendations on dealing with commuter congestion demonstrated by the fact that Southeastern trains is reported in last night’s Evening Standard to be proposing to weigh commuters as they get on to the trains serving my constituency, to see just how overcrowded the trains are? Will the Minister come to my suffering and physically challenged constituents’ aid with an announcement of significant capacity enhancements on the London commuter network?

I note with civility that the hon. Gentleman did not note any interest before making the observation. He really should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers. As hon. Members can imagine, I took some interest in that story in the Evening Standard. The suggestion was that one of the train operating companies is weighing carriages—rather than individual passengers. Perhaps he will be relieved to hear that. It is, however, fair to say that there is a real challenge in relation to capacity in the south-east and across the network. That is why we have announced the 1,000 extra carriages and why it will be one of the key priorities for the high-level output specification. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) suggests that there will be no new carriages until 2014. That is simply untrue. The first of the carriages will be available on the network by the end of next year.

One of the central parts of the Eddington report was the importance of supermarkets and their distribution networks. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend shares my concern about the behaviour of Tesco in my constituency. On the day that it announced £2.5 billion of profits, it is cutting the terms and conditions of staff, threatening derecognition of the union and telling staff that unless they sign a new contract they will be sacked. Will he tell Tesco to go back to the negotiating table and resolve the dispute?

Sir Rod Eddington said that unless national road pricing was in place by 2015 there would have to be a substantial increase in inter-urban road building. Are the Government going to have national road pricing up and running by 2015? If not, what are they going to do?

As I have stated many times at the Dispatch Box, the position remains that we believe that the right way forward is first to have local pilots, developing local solutions to the congestion challenges in local communities. On the basis of the facts that emerge from those local congestion charging experiences, we will be able as a country to make a judgment on the merits of a national system of road pricing.