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Column 1137"Once a clear system of track charging is in place, the costs of running a network will become more transparent than they have ever been. Attention will therefore tend to focus on whether the external benefits of heavily loss-making lines are sufficiently large as to justify the costs of retaining them. In other words transparency will bring to the fore a question which was last highlighted by the Beeching Report more than 30 years ago. How large a rail network should Britain have ?"
That quotation is a pretty clear indication from a pretty authoritative source of exactly what the Government's game is. It shows the scorched earth policy that we are likely to get from them. We shall have a country littered with abandoned and overgrown railway lines, closed stations, redundant railway workers and abandoned passengers who, in consequence, will be forced to travel by road and in so doing add to the already severe problems of congestion and pollution from which we suffer. There can be few clearer examples of the nonsense of the current public transport policy, in which fragmentation is the order of the day and no one thinks long term about how to provide properly for the transport needs of the 21st century.
Only the incurably foolish could believe that there is any sense in concreting over acre after acre of green belt land around London to provide ever more lanes of the M25. I was pleased to see that the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie), and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) both made that point in speeches which were interestingly at variance with many of the other speeches by Conservative Members.
It is well known that the Government have been obsessed with road building for the past 15 years, despite mounting public outrage at the desecration of the countryside at Twyford Down and the threatened destruction of Oxleas wood, and despite ever more persuasive evidence of the damage being caused to the environment and to people's health by rising levels of toxic emissions. Yet still the Government cling to the discredited belief that traffic and transport problems can be solved by ever more road building. They are simply wrong. We shall begin to tackle effectively the acute problems of congestion only if we achieve a significant and sustained shift in the mode of transport from the private car to public transport. As we all know, car ownership is expected to continue to grow substantially in the years ahead. That is not in itself a bad thing if it extends the benefits of travel opportunity to people whose options have been restricted in the past, but it is a very bad thing indeed if it simply facilitates an ever-increasing volume of motor cars on already severely congested roads. The key has to be to discourage unnecessary car use and encourage the alternatives. Far-reaching changes in policy are required to achieve that.
We have to be more determined to give public transport priority and to ensure the necessary investment to improve the quality, attractiveness and reliability of public transport services. We have to be imaginative and develop new transport systems such as better use of the river, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) argued so effectively.
We have to ensure that projects such as crossrail, which are vital to London's future, proceed rather than being left in limbo by a Government who say that they support it but have never been prepared to put their money where their mouth is.
Column 1138We know only too well that the Government's policies are short-sighted and do not provide a solution to Britain's needs. Instead of vision, the Government offer only the stale old nostrums of the discredited right-wing think tanks. Instead of decisiveness, they offer only dither and delay. Instead of purpose, they offer us only the humiliating spectacle of Ministers being pushed, kicking and screaming, into projects that they should have advocated years before.
Instead of a transport strategy, the Government offer only fragmentation and chaos. They have failed lamentably, and it is time they went.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : About 20 Back-Bench Members have spoken during this long debate, and my ministerial colleagues listened carefully to some of the more detailed questions, which I will not have time to answer. I will ensure that I or my colleagues reply to the questions that I do not cover.
It would be helpful if I concentrated on answering some of the questions raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends and, especially, commented on the speeches of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. I have sat through virtually all the debate. It is fair to say that the contributions made by the hon. Members for Holborn and St.Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) were negative, ignorant of basic transport policies and, most important, very expensive.
First, why was the policy of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras negative ? The Opposition Front-Bench team have voted for the past 14 years against every sensible transport policy put before the House [Interruption.] Let us go through them [Hon. Members :-- "Name them."] I am going to.
Let us start with the abolition of the dock labour scheme. Every one of my hon. Friends will know of the great improvements in the efficiency of our port system and the investment in it. Those Opposition Members voted against abolition of the dock labour scheme. They are also the politicians who voted against the privatisation of British Airways and the British Airports Authority and against the deregulation of our long-distance coach industry. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) who pointed out the tremendous advances in that industry, which took place in the face of opposition from the Labour party, which is also the party that voted against improvements in our rail reforms.
The Labour party believes in the maintenance of state socialism and is totally opposed to change. The Government have persistently pursued a constructive policy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport dealt comprehensively in his opening speech with some of the new initiatives in our road programme. There have been no new ideas from the Opposition.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined our policy on motorway charging to help improve the motorway system, but we heard no such ideas from the Opposition. My right hon. Friend also outlined our ideas on congestion charging in our major cities, to apportion the true cost of motoring in urban areas. One option is to recycle the proceeds back into improving public transport--something that hon. Members on both sides of the House
Column 1139would welcome. My right hon. Friend also spoke about initiatives on road building to introduce the concept of design, build, maintain and operate roads.
By private sector road building, via either shadow tolling or real tolling of roads, we can add to the total road building programme that the public sector can afford. We also have advanced policies about the use of the private sector to finance specifically the second rail link to the channel tunnel. That will help commuters as much as it will help international passangers. I am glad to tell the House that already six consortia are interested in bidding for the construction of the second channel tunnel rail link.
I am grateful for the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) about the west coast main line. That represents a new idea to bring private sector finance into the construction of infrastructure. I can tell the House and the Opposition Members who mentioned the west coast main line, but are not in their places, that we expect a contract to be let, around the turn of the year, for the construction of the necessary infrastructure modernisation on the west coast main line, and work to start next summer. That is real progress.
We have also believed in the importance of introducing reforms to our railways. The franchising programme will commence in 1995. It is important that it is done properly. That is why it is being done in stages. I can tell the House-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) laughs, but I shall be happy to debate with him at the next general election, when he will notice some lower fares, new services and an improvement in the quality of our rail services.
Mr. Snape rose
Mr. Freeman : If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask me about fares, what about British Telecom charges, down 30 per cent ? What about gas prices ? I remember the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the privatisation of British Telecom and British Gas, but prices have come down.
Mr. Snape rose
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman asked me a question, and I will answer it now. He asked about procurement of new rolling stock and especially the work load of ABB and GEC. He is right to do so. I have met both companies in recent weeks. I encouraged them to come forward with propositions for building new rolling stock. They will have to be in the form of an operating lease. I am certain that there is need, especially on Network SouthEast, perhaps in Kent, and I look forward to those two companies bringing forward sensible propositions. I will work with them to ensure that such orders are placed.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East also asked me about the midland metro. We have made it plain that we will consider the financing of that scheme at the time of the unified Budget later this year. The Government, on behalf of the taxpayer, have provided the finance for the
Column 1140Manchester metro and the South Yorkshire supertram--not the local authorities ; the taxpayer. I look forward to considering the midland metro scheme in due course.
The second aspect of the contributions from hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench that I wish to criticise is their plain ignorance--their ignorance about what we have achieved in terms of public transportation. I heard no recognition of the fact that, in the past five years, we have changed the prioritisation in our expenditure so that 40 per cent. of our budget is now spent on public transportation, but public transportation only carries 10 per cent. of all domestic passenger and freight journeys. That is a clear demonstration of the importance that we place on public transport. When the hon. Member for Greenwich spoke about transport policies in London, especially public transport, he failed to mention, first, the Heathrow express, now under construction, and the Jubilee line, £1.9 billion-worth, now under construction. He failed to mention the Central line--£700 million of improvements on the London underground. He failed to mention the Northern line. His hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras did so, and I will say something about that in a moment.
As for crossrail, let me make it plain that the Government support it--I see my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), a member of the Select Committee, in his place--and we look forward to the House of Commons Select Committee reporting the crossrail Bill for further consideration.
Of course, the Jubilee line and crossrail cannot be built at the same time. We have made it plain that, once the Jubilee line is finished and the main part of the construction expenditure is over, we shall consider the timing of the construction of crossrail. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for his strong support for crossrail, because it will benefit his constituents.
The hon. Member for Greenwich did not mention the channel tunnel rail link, which will greatly benefit Londoners. He was supposed to be dealing with issues in London and the rail link will help domestic commuters into London as much as international passengers.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) for his comments about Networkers. That programme has cost some £800 million to improve the rail services on the Kent link.
Mr. Freeman : They will improve. Their reliability is the responsibility not of the Government but of the manufacturers. Once they work, those who use Network SouthEast will see a great improvement in the quality of service.
The hon. Member for Greenwich asked about travelcards. We have every intention of ensuring that the travelcard is retained. It is extremely important to all those who commute in London. A multi-modal card, not only for
Column 1141London but for other great cities, is of great benefit to the travelling public and we do not wish to undermine the travelcard in any way.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London, who I thought was going to take the debate at one stage--he made some effective interventions --will privatise London buses this year and we shall come to the deregulation of London buses in due course. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras laughs. Deregulation of the bus industry has brought about more bus mileage and a reduction in bus costs. That is a fact. Patronage has declined, but that is not a function of the availability of buses. It represents an understandable preference by the travelling public outside London to use the motor car.
We must ensure that the bus industry is profitable enough, and I welcome the privatisation of Greater Manchester buses, which will help provide a more efficient and effective service there. We cannot attract more people back on the buses as the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) suggested. I am glad that he has now been joined by the other representative of the Liberal Democratic party. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), I shall describe briefly in a moment the Liberal Democrats' polices. We learned tonight that one of them is to double bus patronage in 10 years. That is what the hon. Member for North Devon said. How will he do that ? It is no good setting targets unless he has a comprehensive policy to achieve them. On deregulation, the Conservative party does not fall into the trap of setting, in an integrated transport policy, targets that are pious hopes. We believe in providing flexibility of transport and freedom of choice.
The third aspect of Opposition Front-Bench Members' contributions to the debate was the expensive nature of their policies. We kept a check list. [ Hon. Members-- : "Oh."] Well, for the benefit of hon. Members, I shall run through the spending commitments made today. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that under a Labour Government the public sector would finance the west coast main line, the Avon metro, the Northern line and the channel tunnel rail link--a total of £4.1 billion. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) added to that list the docklands light railway extension, the east London line and Thameslink 2000--another £1 billion. That makes a total of £5.1 billion. Does the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras seek to correct me ? [Interruption.] No ?
Mr. Dobson : Yes. The Minister knows that I was suggesting that the £446 million that the Government are pouring into the process of privatisation--most of it into the City of London--would have been better spent on railway projects all over this country.
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. It is not £460 million-- [Interruption.]-- £446 million. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made it plain that the figure is £50 million--£50 million well spent--less than 2 per cent. of British Rail's total turnover. My right hon. Friend also said that British Rail had achieved a 7 per cent. improvement in efficiency in the past year. What one can get for spending 2 per cent. on reorganising British Rail leads one to the conclusion that those efficiency gains will continue.
Column 1142The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras did not answer my question. Commitments have been made from the Opposition Front-Bench team today totalling £4.1 billion over five years--I shall be generous to the hon. Gentleman--£800 million a year. From where is the money to come ? It will not come from savings on the roads programme, because the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) said that he did not want the M62 relief road and would spend the £360 million on improving Manchester metro. There would be no road scheme savings.
The money will come from the taxpayer or higher borrowing. Another source would be borrowing from the private sector. If a Labour Government borrow from the private sector in the name of British Rail, that scores as public expenditure. It is no use the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras suggesting that he will obtain money under the private finance initiative, because, given his attitude towards the private sector--during the debate he described some company directors as scum--I cannot imagine the private sector wishing to co-operate with a Labour Government.
I must, in all fairness, mention the Liberal Democrats. I shall explain to the only Liberal Democrat other than the hon. Member for North Devon who has turned up today, what that party's policies are. First, the Liberal Democrats are in favour of the privatisation of London buses. Secondly, the hon. Member for North Devon, setting policy for the Liberal Democrats, is in favour of stopping the widening of all our motorways. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman favours cutting the roads programme in general, but nowhere in particular. We have been given no examples of any road programme that the hon. Gentleman, as spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, would be prepared to cut.
The difference between the Conservative party and all the Opposition parties is that they--particularly the Labour party--have advocated the continuation of state socialism--state control of our public sector utilities. Opening the debate, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke for 43 minutes and mentioned the passenger not once. He mentioned the unions five times, but did not mention the passenger at all. [Interruption.] I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I am happy to acknowledge that he has now whispered the word "passenger". It is extremely important that the House understands the difference between freedom of choice for the passenger and state socialism as proposed by the Opposition. I commend the Government's amendment to the House.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :
The House divided : Ayes 243, Noes 292.
Division No. 217] [9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Column 1143Boyes, Roland
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Maddock, Mrs Diana
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley