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Volume 720: debated on Monday 5 July 2010

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of the case for safe and sustainable transport and its role in generating future economic growth and prosperity.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the usual channels for giving us the opportunity to have a full debate on transport matters, and in prime time. The provisions of the Companion apply but we have no overall limit on time, and that is a pleasant change from our normal ration. We have an excellent list of speakers who have much experience and knowledge in the field. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has spoken on transport from the Front Bench for many years, and I am delighted that he will continue to do so. I am sure that he will give me not only a run for my money but the benefit of his wise counsel.

Transport is, and always has been, an integral part of a strong economy and a free society in the UK. It was 250 years ago this month, 180 miles to our north on the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate, that excavation work began on the central section of a groundbreaking canal linking the coal mines at Worsley Mill to factories in the heart of Manchester. The Bridgewater Canal revolutionised transport in this country, and the boom in canal building that followed its construction unleashed a wave of industrialisation that transformed Britain into the richest nation on earth.

This country’s history has long borne witness to the importance of transport in supporting its economic and social development. As a proud maritime power, for centuries our ships have carried goods to and from the furthest-flung corners of the globe. In the decades following George Stephenson’s pioneering trial of his Rocket locomotive in 1829, we became the first country to develop a comprehensive railway network, carrying our citizens and commerce between towns and cities the length and breadth of our island. In the 20th century, the motor car brought unprecedented personal freedom to millions, while air travel shrunk space and time and, in doing so, opened markets, spread trade, connected countries and brought people and communities closer together than ever before. We now live in a globalised world. We are interconnected and interdependent—socially and culturally, economically and environmentally. What binds, links and supports us is transport. So, as we stand here in 2010, our duty is to build on the successes of the past and continue with the task of delivering a transport system that is safe and accessible; that supports communities and spreads opportunity; and that sustains the economy and safeguards the environment.

Noble Lords will note that safety was deliberately the first issue I listed. I did so because safety will always be paramount in this country’s transport systems. We have a duty to ensure that our citizens are conveyed on the safest aircraft, the safest ships, the safest trains and the safest road vehicles. We are fortunate that the UK is already a world leader on safety. The latest figures show that the number of people killed in road accidents fell by 12 per cent, from 2,538 in 2008 to 2,222 in 2009, but this still leaves us facing a toll of more than six deaths per day—a cost in life and suffering that, of course, remains far too high. We need to switch to more effective ways of making our roads safer while ensuring that we do not curtail Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness through an obsession with new fixed cameras and “spy in the sky” technology. Fatal drink-drive accidents and fatalities are now at their lowest-ever level after falling by three-quarters since breath testing was launched 40 years ago. We need to continue to tackle drink and drug driving in the most effective way possible to protect law-abiding motorists, and we are committed to introducing a drug-testing kit for drivers as soon as possible. We hope to have it in police stations as soon as next year.

Driving is an important life skill and calls for continued and lifelong learning, and I say this as an out-of-date qualified Army driving instructor. The Government are therefore considering what improvements could be delivered to the traditional driving test as well as steps beyond to ensure that we are helping people to become, and stay, safe and responsible drivers. We will be looking closely at the availability and delivery of products that help qualified drivers to maintain and develop their driving skills, including Pass Plus, additional training with the possibility of an assessment aimed at newly qualified drivers, advanced training and remedial training offered to drivers responsible for collisions or infringements of motoring law.

It is not just essential that we take the right steps to protect those who use transport; it is vital that we take the right steps to protect the planet from our transport system’s damaging side-effects as well. Climate change imperils our planet—that is scientific fact. We cannot side-step this challenge and we cannot ignore it in the hope that it will go away. We have to face it head on and transport has to be front and centre of our efforts. Transport accounted for more than a fifth of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2009, so we must be prepared to deploy a wide range of levers to cut carbon emissions and decarbonise the economy. While this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity, and transport has a central role to play in the creation of new green jobs and technologies. A cleaner tomorrow demands a cleaner transport sector—a transport sector that is more sustainable, with tougher emissions standards and support for new transport technologies. We are determined to protect our environment as well as strengthen our economy. That is why we regard a low-carbon future as the only viable future for Britain.

The vast majority of transport’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport. That is precisely why it is so crucial that sustainable alternatives to the internal combustion engine are developed and given the appropriate support. Currently, half of all car journeys are between one and five miles in length while close to half of all car journeys for education purposes are less than two miles. If we could replace as many of these car trips as possible with the cleaner and greener travel alternatives of walking, cycling and public transport, we could see significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—and that is in addition to the improvements in health, air quality and traffic congestion that would result. These benefits to our shared environment, our individual well-being and our collective quality of life mean that this Government are committed to sustainable travel initiatives as well as to the encouragement of joint working between bus operators and local authorities.

It is also vital that a new generation of low-emission vehicles emerges to take the place of the UK’s current fleet. I can tell your Lordships that the Government are committed to fostering the development of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles with plans to mandate a national vehicle charging infrastructure on top of a smart grid and smart metering for electricity. As well as the obvious environmental benefits, the shift to ultra-low-carbon technologies is an opportunity to reinvigorate the UK automotive industry. The sector already employs 180,000 people in manufacturing and adds £11 billion to the economy each year, and this Government are continuing to work with industry to realise the business opportunities from the global transition to low-carbon technologies.

Beyond any question, rail will have a central role to play in building a greener future for our country. The Government support a truly national high-speed network connecting key cities across the country. We also support Crossrail and the further electrification of the rail network. Taken together, these railway projects have the very real potential not only to generate economic growth but to encourage a modal shift of people and freight from long road journeys and short-haul flights.

The fact that we are pro-environment does not mean that we are anti-aviation. Yes, we recognise the environmental impact of aviation and believe that we must seek to reduce that impact, but we are also a Government who understand fully and appreciate absolutely the positive social and economic contribution that aviation makes. To strike that balance between aviation’s environmental impact and its socio-economic benefits, the Government are working for a better, rather than a bigger, Heathrow by shelving plans for a third runway there. We will also explore changes to the aviation tax system, including switching from a per-passenger to a per-plane duty, which would encourage a switch to fuller and cleaner planes.

If there is to be no expansion of Heathrow, will other airports be available? If so, where? It is incumbent on the present Government to identify this important issue of regulation.

My Lords, one of the reasons why I have looked forward to this debate is the opportunity it will provide to listen to the noble Lord’s full contribution—which I know he is looking forward to making. When I wind up the debate, I will be in a position to give him a full answer.

More broadly, we are also committed to reforming the way that decisions are made on which transport projects to prioritise, so that the benefits of low-carbon proposals, including light rail schemes, are fully recognised.

Transport matters. It matters because it fosters economic growth, and it matters because it connects companies to markets and customers. Transport matters because it increases competition, spreads innovation and produces economies of scale. It matters because it improves labour market flexibility at home and opens up business opportunities abroad. Above all, transport matters because, when it is safe and sustainable and when it works at its best as the great connector, it can improve beyond measure our economy, our society, our communities and our environment. An investment now in transport is an investment in recovery, renewed growth and our children’s prosperity.

I am convinced that, just as canals shaped our national life in the late 18th century, our transport networks can transform Britain for the better in the 21st century. Modern transport in a modern Britain means a country equipped to compete in a globalised world—a country with an economy that is strong and stable, an environment that is clean and green, and a society that is free and fair. That is what safe and sustainable transport can achieve. That is its potential for progress—a potential that this country's ports, airports, railways, motorways, bus lanes, cycle lanes and paths all have a part in delivering. Few in this House would underestimate the role that safe and sustainable transport has in building a better Britain, and I look forward to all your Lordships' contributions in the debate to come. I beg to move.

My Lords, first I apologise to the noble Earl for missing the first three minutes of his speech. I am afraid that I was running late, as was the Virgin train that I came down to London on this morning. However, it is about time that those of us who participate regularly in these debates in your Lordships' House paid tribute to those in the transport industries generally, and certainly in the railway industry, for the high level of passenger satisfaction that has been demonstrated in recent months. The PPM for our railways is running at about 94 per cent, which reflects enormous credit on those who work in the railway industry. We ought to give credit where credit is due and pay tribute to railway men and women at all grades for the efforts that they are making and for the high levels of passenger satisfaction that have been demonstrated throughout the country.

Having apologised to the Minister, I now thank him. He sent me a handwritten note last week thanking me for participating in this debate. Whether he will send me another one when I sit down remains to be seen. However, it is the first time that I have received such a note from a Minister, and I am grateful for it.

A very short time is available to all of us who are participating in this debate. The Minister is right that good and efficient transport is essential for a civilised society. I start with a warning to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and to the Government, about the so-called draconian cuts that are planned—if the media are to be believed—across our transport industries. The new Secretary of State did not make a particularly good start when he talked about the new Government’s policies ending the war on motorists. It is a pretty phoney war, because the cost of motoring has fallen in real terms since 1997 compared with the cost of travelling by both rail and bus, which has increased in real terms. I hope that his future pronouncements on government policy, and his actions, will be based on reality rather than prejudice.

The Government are seeking to make many savings in the transport budget. I will presume to make some suggestions to the Minister, which I hope he will accept in the spirit in which they are offered. Certainly, there is a problem with Network Rail. I probably carry both sides of the House with me when I say that various obvious savings can be made in the Network Rail budget. There are three things wrong with Network Rail: its governance, its performance and its prices. There is a lot wrong with its governance. I have had the privilege of serving on a couple of boards in my career. Any board that has more than 100 members is a recipe for chaos. I am not sure why Network Rail’s governance is as chaotic as it is, or why it has so many people on what is not a board of directors but merely an advisory group. Perhaps the best size of a board is five or six; it is certainly a lot less than 100.

We all know why Network Rail was created in the way that it was; it was an attempt by the previous Government to keep their expenditure off the PSBR. Laudable though that may be, it is no way to run a business to have an advisory board of the size that Network Rail has. I hope that the Government will look again at this. At the moment, Network Rail appears to be neither fowl nor good red herring. If it is to be run properly, the Government have to look again at its overall governance.

The Government should also look at Network Rail’s performance. All too often, these debates become a series of “All Our Yesterdays” stories, but from my time in the railway industry I seem to remember the much maligned British Rail being far more efficient than Network Rail is at present. As an 18 year-old newly qualified signalman in 1960—that rather gives my age away—the old BR managed to resignal Manchester London Road, as it then was, in a weekend. The semaphore signals dating from 1908 were swept away and scores of colour light signals were put into what became Manchester Piccadilly. Actually, it did not work out quite as well as BR had hoped, as I think it was about Wednesday before we were able to run a comprehensive service. However, for all that to be done in four days, although the target was two, far surpasses anything that Network Rail can do at the moment. I live very close to Yardley Wood station in Birmingham. Only last year, Network Rail decided to resignal the Stratford line, which passes my home. It was necessary to close the line on successive weekends and then for the line to be completely closed for 10 or 12 days in order to install a dozen signals and a new junction at Tyseley. BR could do things far better than that. Network Rail has to toughen up its performance if it is going to match what BR managed to do quite easily in the past.

The other aspect of Network Rail’s performance is price. I was at a recent meeting of the All-Party Group on Rail at which officers of the Office of Rail Regulation were present. They talked about benchmarking Network Rail. How do you benchmark a monopoly? Perhaps the Minister can tell us how that can be done. Is it necessary to have a monopoly such as Network Rail? After all, rail companies such as ScotRail run an organisation that is largely separate from the rest of Network Rail. Why not allow ScotRail to maintain its own track and infrastructure? There could then be a proper comparison between the costs there and those of the rest of the railway network. Why not let Merseyrail, for example—again, an organisation that is virtually completely separate from the rest of the network—operate and maintain its own track on Merseyside? Surely that would be the best way to benchmark Network Rail, where the simplest job appears to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. If the Government genuinely want to save money—I understand their reasons for wanting to do so—why not have proper cost comparators such as that? As long as Network Rail is allowed to maintain its own monopoly, we will never really know the true cost of major railway works, and we have to accept the costings before, during and after as laid down by Network Rail.

There are other areas that I hope Her Majesty’s Government will look at. In the West Midlands, for example, close to my former constituency of West Bromwich is a company called Parry People Movers, which operates about 700 or 800 yards of line between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge. It has achieved a 99 per cent reliability rate on that stretch of line. Why—this is not a political point; it happens under all Governments—do we find it so difficult to innovate within the railway industry? Why are we so hidebound and traditional as to insist on rolling stock being made to the highest possible standard and with the tracks being maintained as though Pendolino trains will run at 125 miles per hour throughout the network? Why cannot we have a cheap and cheerful branch line perhaps run by Parry People Movers? I hasten to add that I have no direct connection with the business. Some years ago, John Parry, the chairman, asked whether I would be interested in joining his board. At that time, I was working for a rather bigger organisation called National Express, so, probably to his relief, I had to turn him down.

This is an area in which genuine savings could be made. We could operate a cheap, or cheaper, railway system on some of our threatened branch lines. Indeed, we should consider reopening some of them, but that cannot happen at present because of the costs of operating the current railway system.

I hope that the Government will look not at slashing front-line services or cutting railway infrastructure but on making the present system work more cheaply and efficiently. I hope in the 10 minutes or so available to me that I have been able to give the Minister some food for thought and that the Government will see that we depend on the railway industry economically as we do on other forms of transport.

I wish that I had time to talk about buses and aviation, but I know that other noble Lords want to participate in the debate and I do not want to take up too much time. The transport industry can do a lot to boost the economy of the United Kingdom, so please let us not slash infrastructure or front-line services.

Going back to my BR days, all too often when cuts had to be made it was the night-turn shunter who lost his premium payments on Saturday and Sunday nights. The problem with the present railway industry is that it is overmanaged and undersupervised. All too often when things go wrong, managers are far away and not in a position to put things right and no one on the spot has the ability, knowledge or authority to do what is necessary to combat either delays or dislocations. The Government could genuinely save money in those areas while preserving the best of our railway industry.

I wish the Minister all the best in his new post and hope that he can convince the Secretary of State that clichés such as “Ending the war on motorists” are not the right way forward. I also hope that he can find some time to write me another letter saying that not only are the Government taking some of my strictures on board but that they are prepared to act on them.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Earl on his appointment. In the short time with his brief he has already shown himself to be an assiduous Minister and I look forward to working with him on transport issues in the coming months and years.

In his opening remarks he talked about the fundamental role that transport plays in the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community. My interest in transport developed in a much less dramatic way as a councillor in Suffolk when I realised fairly quickly that probably nine out of 10 pieces of casework related to transport in some way or another, whether it was home-to-school transport, a dangerous crossing, an inability to access some sort of public service, or the state of the roads. I have always been interested in the enabling role that transport plays, and the fact that many good policy interventions made by government and local authorities failed to work because nobody properly thought through the transport dimension.

I have never made a pretence of having any great technical expertise on transport but I have a great admiration for those who do. The UK transport industry is a major employer throughout the country. In the past 20 years huge structural changes in the industry mean that transport is much less the preserve of the public service than it used to be and there is huge variation in the size of the organisations concerned, from large multinationals to small specialist companies—indeed, Parry People Movers.

The Brunel report published in November 2008 reported a supply of 87,400 people working in engineering, the technical field and planning across the transport industry. That compared to a demand of 96,900. While I acknowledge that the cancellation or postponement of some projects may have reduced the skills gap, it still exists. The challenge on how to mix economic growth with a low-carbon economy is set to increase the skills shortage in coming years. If we do not meet that challenge our future prosperity will be jeopardised.

Currently, the average age of a chartered engineer is 57. That may be young compared to the membership of this House, but the reality is that over the next decade a huge part of the current knowledge and experience in the transport engineering industry will be retiring. While there are many young people graduating into engineering, many of them then do not go on to work in engineering—they go off and do other things, which are usually better paid.

Young people are required to make a choice about their subject options about 12 years before they would expect to become a chartered engineer or transport planner, so a choice made about topics and subjects this year will affect a young person qualifying in 2022, or thereabouts. Operating on these timescales does not sit comfortably with short-term planning and stop/go investment. Advanced apprenticeships, support for 14 to 19 diplomas and supporting STEM subjects all need funding, and what is more they need employers who have the security of knowing that they will have predictable income streams to pay for the training. Statutory regulations on apprenticeships should be looked at to ensure that they are cost-effective, accessible and manageable, especially for small businesses.

Furthermore, it does not stop with young people. At all levels, changing skill requirements, new and safer working practices, green technologies and other developments mean that the need for training and development is continuous. The costs of that always fall to the industry, which is another reason why industry needs stable investment flows.

The need for skilled, specialised personnel in the transport sector is crucial and will remain so. The supply cannot be turned on and off at will. It takes a considerable time to develop such people, and the timescale goes way beyond our current financial challenges.

At this time, we have to consider a simple economic case: stop/go work flows will make it difficult for even the most enlightened employers to go on investing in good training and development. A lack of short-term prospects could drive skilled people to other sectors or abroad. The result of those two things could exacerbate the skills shortage, driving up costs, when the upturn comes. If the skills base is too far eroded, there will be a real lack of capacity to provide the transport infrastructure needed to sustain growth. The transport industry needs a long-term vision and strategy so that it can resource the skills needed for a low-carbon economy in the future.

I want to say a few words about transport spending in the current environment. In roads, focusing on maintaining the existing asset and using it more effectively should be a priority. It is usually easier to commission and has more immediately visible results. Reactive maintenance—in other words, response to damage—is an inefficient way of dealing with the highway. Planned preventive maintenance offers better value for money and is more efficient.

Road safety is not just a matter of quality of life —often literally—although that is clearly uppermost in our minds. It is also a question of value for money —savings for the NHS in dealing with the injuries caused by road traffic accidents, but also the long-term care required by people with the most severe injuries. Yet there are very few training requirements for people in road safety specialisms, and what little there is is provided by local authorities on a discretionary basis. Of course, when money is tight, discretionary services, especially training, tend to be high on the cuts list.

It is possible to build incentives for training into our procurement processes. For example, the East Midlands Highways Alliance is a collaboration of a number of companies and local authorities whose aim is to improve highways services in the region, and includes the development of a skills academy. The savings to its partners have been huge over recent years.

I have always used trains and, since becoming president of my party, have spent an inordinate amount of time on the railways. I have seen them at their best, and I have seen them at their worst. My overwhelming feeling is that the current franchising scheme, and the highly complex regulatory regime within which the rail industry has to operate, has completely lost sight of the needs of the passengers. I hope that the very welcome review of the franchising system will at last begin to put the passenger first. The fares system is in chaos and there is a widespread lack of understanding of how it works, even among the staff who operate the system. Queues for tickets are at unacceptable levels and should be dealt with as a priority. There are far too many bus substitutions and too few visible staff to help when things go wrong. When passengers complain to train operators, they are often told that their freedom to respond to passengers is hampered by franchises which are overregulated and micromanaged by the Department for Transport. Surely departmental oversight should be focused on the things that really matter: punctuality, reliability, cost and, above all, passenger satisfaction.

It is surely no coincidence that the three train operating companies with the highest performance and passenger satisfaction are those with the longest franchises. Can the Minister tell us the Government's thinking on longer franchises? Does he agree that the decision to award a franchise should not be on cost alone; it should be on improving service quality and how much the operator is prepared to put in? With refranchising of the west coast main line due in 2012 and of the east coast main line next year, and with the whole question of my local, rather benighted, rail franchise, National Express East Anglia, can he tell us whether they will come under the new regime which is currently under consultation, and what will be the timetable? Furthermore, will he say something about rolling stock? There is clearly a need for new rolling stock, but at the moment there seems to be a huge amount of unnecessary government intervention between train operators and the roscos.

I am very pleased that this House has had the opportunity to debate transport matters at this early stage in the life of the new Government. I look forward to contributions from other noble Lords. The importance of transport in all areas of our lives is not always recognised, and it is good that it has been today.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for moving the Motion and enabling this debate. I have a long-standing interest in transport questions. My dad was a railway clerk for most of his life and a member of my noble friend Lord Rosser’s trade union. My first job in national politics was working for the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, as a special adviser in the Callaghan Government when he was Secretary of State for Transport.

Today, I shall talk about transport issues from a regional perspective, and specifically from a Cumbrian perspective. I declare an interest here as chairman of Cumbria Vision, which is the sub-regional economic development body for the county of Cumbria.

The question of transport connectivity is crucial to the future of the north of England at this time. Like many parts of the north, Cumbria is heavily dependent on the public sector. The county council undertook an analysis which shows that of all types of different public expenditure, we in Cumbria get £2 for every £1 we contribute in tax, so we are very vulnerable to the cuts in public expenditure now in prospect.

That also means that the economic priority for the north of England has to be to grow the private sector. The private sector can grow—we can attract new businesses to the north—only if some key facilitators of growth are in place. Some of those are skills and some of them are adequate industrial sites. Digital connectivity is important, but crucial is transport. Investment in safe and sustainable transport is vital. I hope that the Government recognise at this time of public spending restraint and cuts that if they want private sector growth and inward investment in places such as the north of England, they must continue to provide favourable public investment, especially in transport, to support it.

We have seen in recent years a great improvement in rail services. When I was a boy, if you wanted to go from Carlisle to London, there was a train that left Carlisle at 8.40 and it got in at four o’clock in the afternoon. Most people who wanted to go to London from Carlisle went overnight, and the station was busiest as people were getting on overnight trains. Nowadays, with the west coast main line modernisation, the journey takes about three hours and 20 minutes, so there has been a great improvement. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Snape said about the need to make sure that Network Rail stays up to the mark in delivering this high-quality service. I was involved in the Grayrigg train crash, in which a Pendolino came off the track on the way to Carlisle, and I think that any detriment to the safety of the system is a great concern.

Despite the investment, the situation is still not satisfactory. If noble Lords will bear with me, I shall make some particular points of general relevance. First, you can get to Carlisle very fast, but if you want to go to the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry at Sellafield, you face another 40 or 50 miles on a very slow train that rarely connects efficiently with the mainline service at Carlisle. Connections are vital for our area if we are to attract the potentially huge investment from American and French firms that could come to Cumbria if we get the conditions right for a revival of our nuclear power industry. There is a huge opportunity here, but we need to have investment in transport to make it possible. Some of the questions I have for the Minister are, “Do we have the regulatory system right?”, and, “Is the franchise system right to encourage the different train operators to work together effectively so that we have a seamless network rather than lots of different services?”.

Secondly, I do not believe that at present transport is serving the needs of sustainable tourism in the future. The Lake District is one of our greatest tourist assets and one of our greatest areas of natural beauty. However, more than 95 per cent of people who come to the Lake District come by car. If we are going to get more sustainability in our tourism, we have to see a modal shift away from the car to public transport. I believe that there is enormous potential for expanding the role of the private sector in providing sustainable transport, but we have to put in place the right regulatory and economic framework. I know that in my county this is not a popular view, but I think we have to question whether free and unrestricted access for private cars to national parks is consistent with a sustainable long-term future. We have to look at different methods of road pricing and congestion charging and at banning cars from particularly sensitive parts of our national parks. There is potential for the kind of electric carbon-neutral buses that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, spoke about, but we need to have the right economic framework in place for that to happen. Further, if the framework is in place, we can explore the potential for opening up some of our closed railway links like the line into the heart of the Lake District that ran from Penrith to Keswick.

One of the things I applaud about the present Government’s transport policy is their commitment to high-speed rail and investment in a modern, European-style fast rail system. I hope that this is not going to be a victim of the Government’s cuts, but I know that the Treasury, which is always suspicious of any sort of rail investment, will try to sharpen its knives. I hope that Ministers in the Government are strong enough to make sure that the high-speed rail links go ahead—and if they do, let me make one special plea. Great Britain does not stop at Birmingham and it certainly does not stop at Manchester; it goes much further north. If we are to have fast trains on the European model in Britain, they have to go to Scotland, and I say that they also have to stop at Carlisle. There is a bit of special pleading for you, but I hope in a good cause. I believe that if we get the economic framework right, we can see a growth in sustainable transport in this country and we can secure a sustainable future for one of the most special parts of England.

My Lords, the reason I am taking part in this debate is not because I have been in the transport industry, although I was involved in road freight, but because one of the great things about life in the 20th and 21st century is real freedom of movement. As individuals it allows us to travel more or less where we want, and the freedom of movement of goods means that we can purchase or acquire more or less whatever we want from any part of the world. That is a fantastic privilege. After I left university in 1973, I travelled to eastern Europe, which was not often done in those days. I had an old Morris 1100 and with colleagues we drove around East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We came across other students and young people who at the time were not allowed to move out of the communist bloc. They did not have freedom of movement, so it is a great privilege that we can enjoy today.

The big difference between the 20th and the 21st centuries is, of course, that we have to feel guilty about that freedom of movement because of our carbon footprint and all that is caused by carbon emissions produced through the movement of ourselves or our goods. Something like a quarter of all carbon emissions within the United Kingdom are the result of transport, while beyond that to the global environment, aircraft emissions account for 2 per cent rising to 3 per cent of total emissions. Again, that is something we are concerned about and will have to solve if we are going to have sustainable economies.

What I really want to do in this debate is agree with the premise of the Motion, which is that through transport we can be sustainable while enjoying those freedoms and creating jobs that will renew our economy, and I want to encourage the Government in that process. I have one or two questions which have not been raised. The Committee on Climate Change looked at a number of things to do with sustainability in transport and came up with a series of questions. It pointed out that over the past few years we have had quite high profile negotiations at the EU level with car manufacturers about bringing down the emissions of the cars we drive. That has been relatively successful. But we have not had a similar hard negotiation with the manufacturers of trucks and vans, so those emissions have not come down on average. Are we going to press the Commission to take on the industry at truck and van level, as we have done with cars, to ensure that emissions come down?

When I first came into the House four years ago, one of the areas of salvation for sustainability of transport and travel was biofuels, which were going to be the future. We all then had visions of the rainforests in Indonesia and South America being cut down—that we were feeding cars rather than people and that food prices were going to go up—and, all of sudden, it became a dodgy subject to talk about rather than a good one. I think it is time the pendulum started to swing back the other way, partly because it is possible to develop sustainable biofuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol, and I would like to know what progress there has been on the guarantee and certification of sustainability. With biogas we have a fantastic opportunity to ensure that biofuels work properly, and in a big way, for sustainable transport through anaerobic digestion and other techniques that do not necessarily substitute road energy for food. What are the Government’s plans in that area?

The Committee on Climate Change drew attention to the staggering statistic that, by 2020—which is only a decade away, obviously—we can expect to have 2 million electric cars on the roads of Britain. When are we going to start the process of setting up the infrastructure to ensure that charging points are delivered across the nation and we can really start to move into that technology? I do not understand how that is going to happen practically.

For me, one of the great moments in the coalition Government so far was the announcement in the other place from the Ministry of Justice that we are going to reform prison policy; it is fantastic that we are going to look at prisons in a different way. However, in road transport we have an equal kind of hostage to fortune—road pricing. We all know that the only way we will effectively and economically control cars and their usage is through road pricing. Is it likely that there might be a revolution in this area as well over the next five years?

I congratulate the Government on moving forward with the good work that the previous Government have done in this area, particularly in relation to the high-speed rail network. I encourage them to reach the goal of substituting rail transport for all internal air transport as quickly as possible. However, I have a difficult tale to tell about my experience over the last weekend when I went to Amsterdam to see my daughter, who is working there. I decided to go by high-speed train to Brussels and then, beyond that, to Amsterdam. It was a great travel experience but it was not a great experience for my wallet; it cost me something like double the amount it would have cost me to fly. Affordability, therefore, provides a real challenge and, while I commend the Government on their job creation through sustainable transport and for maintaining our individual freedoms through sustainable travel—Amsterdam was a fantastic example because people there move about the city by bicycle, trams and walking—I urge them to keep to their targets for sustainable transport through high-speed rail, electrification and a sustainable road network.

I congratulate the coalition Government. I look forward to the Minister’s answers and to progress in the industry and in this area of operations.