Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hill : That is a perfectly reasonable question for the Minister to put to me, and to other Opposition Members. Given that we want to increase spending on public transport, it is entirely reasonable to ask how we would pay for it. I rather think that I am reflecting the views of those on my Front Bench when I say that, under a Labour Government, spending on the roads programme must be subjected to greater scrutiny than has been applied over the past 15 years. The truth is that, notwithstanding the trunk roads review announced by the Secretary of State on 30 March, road- building expenditure will remain at £2 billion over the next three years. There is still £20 billion in the overall roads programme. Indeed, the Secretary of State was rather proud of that : I very much hope that he squared it with the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Government justify their road-building programme

Column 1102

on the basis that it is a way of cutting industry's costs ; yet road building is extremely poor value for money. Transit costs typically amount to only 2 per cent. of industry's output costs. The lack of importance of road building to British business was reflected in a 1992 survey carried out by the British Institute of Management, which found that only 15 per cent. of managers in this country supported extra public expenditure on the building of new motorways. As a job creator, road building is certainly poor value for money : pound for pound, it creates far fewer jobs than spending on, for instance, housing and public transport. The Government may make wide-ranging claims for the economic benefits of road building, but in reality they make no effort to discover whether such benefits exist.

Dr. Jeremy Vanke, author of a major study on the road-building programme, wrote to the Department of Transport asking about the economic implications of the completion of the M25, apart from the number of construction jobs created. His letter attracted the following illuminating response from the Department :

"The statement made by the Secretary of State referred only to jobs created in construction work. I regret that I cannot answer the other questions you raise as the Department does not keep any information of this type. I am sorry that I cannot be of more help." That is scarcely the most persuasive case in favour of the economic benefits of the road-building programme. The programme is enormously costly in its own right

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Time is up.

7.18 pm

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) : It is evident from every Opposition speech, not least that of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), that the Opposition are all about spending money. It is no coincidence that the debate was inspired by the Opposition shortly before local government elections. Even the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) pleaded for greater expenditure, but no clear impression was given of where the money is to come from, unless from an attack on the roads programme.

Listening to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), we were even more baffled about alternative policies. The hon. Gentleman demonstrated that the Liberal Democrats do not know what they want or to which audience they are playing. In 1991, a Liberal Democrat policy document stated that they wanted to reduce the need for transport. By 1993, the Liberal Democrats called, in another policy document, for substantial investment in local public transport, additional electrification of various rail routes and more transport in rural areas.

Today, we heard from the hon. Member for North Devon that for a mere pittance, to use his expression, every town with a population of more than 23,000 could be connected to the rail network. I should like that spelled out in detail. The hon. Gentleman suggested additional taxes, such as more business rates and a payroll tax. I suspect that the Liberal Democrats face every which way. They are suspicious of road projects in general, but in favour of every one that is put to them.

Recently, a Liberal Democrat luminary in my constituency wrote to me that it was time that the Department of Transport stopped acting as a lobby for the road construction and haulage industries and put a halt on further road construction. Not far from where that gentleman lives, local Liberal Democrats are agitating for

Column 1103

road expenditure on the new A120 to be speeded up. Liberal Democrats hold totally different views within the same constituency and local authority area.

Much nonsense has been talked about road and rail. The contradiction that I described exemplifies the ghastly

over-simplification that one can simply halt expenditure on roads and spend it all on the railways. The rail network does not present a choice in many parts of the country, whether in terms of industry wanting to move freight or the private individual's personal travel. That was true even before Dr. Beeching. The idea that one can have an alternative rail network throughout the country to match the road network is absolute moonshine. Neither Opposition party can demonstrate how that could be achieved.

There is no evidence that the public would be enthusiastic about new rail routes and connections, because they have shown that they are as often disturbed about the environmental impact of new railways as about new roads. There are serious questions to be asked about car usage and its growth, but we must face the fact that few of the people we represent are yet aware of grave difficulties in future. They are strongly in favour of the freedom to use their motor cars, and they cherish that most.

It is not a question of no public transport alternative being available. The public prize highly the freedom that car ownership brings. There are no circumstances in which Essex or East Anglia are likely to be criss-crossed with railway lines that would make car or long road journeys unnecessary. It would require the most improbable number of bus routes and frequency of services for the public to abandon their cars.

Goodness knows what would have to be spent to achieve the utopian society described by the hon. Member for North Devon. Perhaps he wants to revive the scheme abandoned in Cambridge for providing free bicycles. Perhaps that is the Liberal Democrat vision of the future. Opposition Members must get real and understand that it is all about freedom of choice, which is why the Government's approach is infinitely more sensible. Many people, as citizens rather than as car owners, want more roads, where they would bypass towns and villages. Letters that I receive from constituents vilifying over-emphasis on road construction are far outnumbered by those demanding new and better roads.

In some parts of the country, however, there is a sensible choice and, in those circumstances, it is right to influence the situation in favour of public transport. If it becomes more expensive to use the roads and the railway appears more efficient and reliable, the public will make decisions accordingly. But they will do so for themselves. That is the better approach, rather than Labour's proposal to ram public transport down people's throats as the only form of transport that they should have.

I conclude by concentrating on the last two words in the Government amendment, "and elsewhere", in the context of air transport policy. The Government have given a positive lead towards achieving liberalisation of air services in Europe--even Opposition Members might acknowledge that. Outside Europe, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has played a good hand

Column 1104

in trying to improve the liberalisation of air services with the United States, in the current bilateral talks. It is not his fault that they have become stuck for the moment.

Part of the problem overshadowing those negotiations is our airports policy, which does not fit with the Government's desire for greater liberalisation and competition in the provision of air services. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement on the trunk road programme review on 30 March, he said : "It is no part of the Government's policies to tell people when and how to travel."--[ Official Report , 30 March 1994 ; Vol. 240, c. 929.]

When it comes to providing airport capacity, the Government are dangerously close to contradicting that admirable sentiment. There is no doubt from any analysis, such as that made recently by the Select Committee on Transport, that a heavy preponderance of people travelling to and from London by air want to use Heathrow. Equally, there is no doubt that people in East Anglia, albeit in smaller numbers, would like to travel to the United States from Stansted, and that there is undoubtedly a market for more transatlantic business based on Manchester and Birmingham.

The key to liberalisation of air services with the United States and, I suspect, with other countries that want more rights in the UK, is to find the answer to the Heathrow conundrum. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) in commending to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the Northolt option. It is right to explore the opportunities for extending the capacity of Heathrow using Northolt. I do not believe that it is part of the answer to expect the three existing London airports to accept more and more night flights. I cannot believe that that is the right approach.

It is hard to get that part of our air transport system ready for the 21st century and it is small wonder that the Liberal Democrats are ducking that issue. Their official policy is to expand airports outside the south-east while freezing further development at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. That has not percolated down to Thaxted, where Liberal Democrats stated in a recent issue of Focus that, if another runway is required, it should certainly be located at Heathrow or Gatwick.

Official Liberal Democrat policy flies in the face of both the Civil Aviation Authority and the RUCATSE group, which concluded "the scale and location of demand are such that regional airports cannot be an effective substitute for more south-eastern capacity." We must face the problem of Heathrow and how it might be extended in a way that does not offend the people who live nearby.

Neither the Labour party nor the Liberal Democrats offer an effective substitute for Government transport policies, and the absurd Opposition motion should be defeated.

7.28 pm

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : Because transport has such a major effect on people's lives, the Government should do more than merely hand everything over to the private sector. Their philosophy is based on the mistaken belief that competition will automatically result in efficiency.

Transport policy should ensure that the various forms of transport complement each other rather than compete. That

Column 1105

would be real efficiency. Planning policy should ensure that the transport implications of development are also fully considered. A classic example is the development of the Metro shopping centre in Gateshead. Although it is undoubtedly a huge commercial success and popular with the public, it has brought massive transport problems for the nearby community. The Department of Transport's answer to that is to propose a bypass to a bypass, cutting a huge swathe through some of the finest greenbelt land in the area, demolishing homes and condemning thousands of people to live on a traffic island. This is the simplest-- although suprisingly for this Government, not the cheapest--option, and a classic example of the Government's failure to look at the total situation.

As Gateshead council has suggested, the way to deal with the congestion problem on the A1 western bypass caused principally by the Metro shopping centre is to introduce a combination of improvements to the existing road network and various traffic management initiatives. One longer-term measure to assist with this problem would be to link the Metro centre up to the metro light rail system serving the Tyneside conurbation.

The efficient and popular metro transport system provided by local Labour councils was opened in 1980 and was an immediate success--so much so that, within a year of its opening, the pressure on car parks at various stations meant that they had to be enlarged and, in at least one case, doubled in capacity, proving the theory that people will get out of their cars and use public transport if it is right. The system was recently extended to Newcastle airport and a few weeks ago, a ceremony took place to mark the beginning of plans to extend it to the city of Sunderland. The region would benefit enormously from further extensions to the system.

The biggest blow to the efficiency of the system came with the deregulation and privatisation of local bus services. That separated the operation of bus services from the operation of metro services. At a stroke, the integrated system that had been initiated when the service opened, and for which it was designed, was brought to an end. Buses now run alongside metro trains, duplicating services, competing with the metro and competing with each other. There is little evidence of any huge benefit to passengers as a result. What we have is hugely increased congestion and the consequential deterioration in the environment.

Queues of buses line our high streets, holding up traffic and belching out fumes from diesel engines. It is now recognised that they are much more harmful to health and the environment than traditional petrol engines which are fitted with catalytic converters.

When the late Lord Ridley was Secretary of State for Transport, he told me in an exchange in the Chamber that, as a result of deregulation, buses were queueing for people, rather than people queueing for buses. That is the sort of flippant remark for which he was noted, but it is hardly an example of efficient transport policy where co-ordination, rather than competition, is surely the key to efficiency.

The people who have clearly benefited from privatisation are senior company executives whose salaries escalated while the wages of workers were cut and fares were increased. Now, the Go-Ahead Group, which was bought from the public sector for £2.9 million, is to be floated on the stock market for an estimated £40 million.

Column 1106

After the payment of debt, that will leave the tidy sum of about £20 million almost entirely in the control of only three men. For weeks now, the local press has speculated that the three directors who were part of the original management buy-out would become millionaires overnight as a result, thus repeating the pattern that we have become used to with privatisations, where the most obvious change is that a few people are made richer. It is little wonder that the managing director was one of those who wrote to local newspapers during the general election campaign advising people to vote Tory.

In a gesture of generosity, we have been told that the three directors have set up charitable trusts, the details of which they would prefer to keep secret. We have also been told that a new bonus system will be introduced for staff, the details of which have yet to emerge. However, the pressure that has been put on the three directors by local newspapers, trade unions and politicians may have brought about a change in thinking, as hints of sweeteners have begun to emerge recently.

Some benefit to the community certainly could be possible if the directors are genuinely looking for transport-related, useful ways to invest moneys generated from the flotation in the region. Perhaps they might talk to the Tyne and Wear passenger transport authority, which is looking for private support for financing the metro extension to Sunderland. That important line will cost about £46 million and under current conditions will have to be funded by a combination of the private and public sectors.

Public sector funding, including European funds, will be heavily influenced by the Government. I hope that the Minister can tell us that, even though it is early days yet, at least the Government have sympathy with the scheme and will co-operate in trying to find financing. That in itself would be an enormous encouragement to the private sector.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) asked the Prime Minister what his Government have against pensioners. Of course, her question arose from the rationing of health services on an age basis, but it also applies in transport. The Labour-controlled authorities in Tyne and Wear were among the last in the country to be forced by the Government's restrictive policies to abandon free fares for pensioners--a policy which helped to fill empty buses during off-peak periods. More importantly, it brought a new freedom of movement to thousands of people. Even though the standard 15p fare which has been introduced could be considered small, for every journey there is a return journey, so the standard in reality is 30p. Once a charge is levied, we know that the pressure will be on to increase it. I look forward to the day when we might seriously consider reinstating the free service to our senior citizens.

As has been said, transport includes our regional airports. I draw the Minister's attention to early-day motion 662 which calls for the urgent granting of rights for additional United States airline services to regional airports. Newcastle international airport in particular is an example of successful local enterprise through public ownership and investment. The airport was built from virtually nothing to a thriving international terminal by north-east local authorities. It has overtaken Luton in passenger throughput, having passed the 2 million mark,

Column 1107

and recent independent forecasts see that number rising to 3.5 million by the year 2002 and 4.5 million five years later. Extensions to the passenger terminal are currently under way, but much more needs to be done to meet the forecast demand. However, Government borrowing restrictions mean that all major capital works must be financed from reserves. That is yet another example of how the dead hand of Whitehall and Government dogma restrict the ability of public services to meet the demands placed on them.

The policies and priorities of any Government, especially this one, are not always the same as those that are aspired to in the regions. That is why I am a believer in regional government and the devolution of powers from the centre. Transport is one of the key areas that would be most appropriately devolved to regional and local levels. A regional government for the north would give priority to improving the A1 north of Newcastle to Scotland and coast-to-coast routes by the A66 and the A69, which would open up links between east and west ports. It would be a powerful lobby for accelerating the provision of a direct rail route around London to the channel tunnel, improving the regional rail network and promoting and improving our regional airports.

There is a great deal of good will and co-operation across the region and a determination to work together in the interests of the region and its people. Our manufacturers are working hard to improve performance. The manufacturing challenge, as part of the drive to double the productive base of the regional economy, aims to treble manufacturing exports over the next 10 years. It was observed in a feature on regional exports in the Newcastle Journal this week : "Without the best (transport) links, manufacturers will suffer a disadvantage over other regions of Europe because of our geographical peripherality."

Under this Government, we are peripheral not only to Europe but to Whitehall as well.

Our transport priorities are different from those of the Government, yet we must live with the consequences of their decisions. That is not good enough. There should be more flexibility and more variety within our democratic system. That is why a Labour Government would introduce elected regional government into the English regions, an elected authority for Greater London and national governments in Scotland and Wales. One of the areas of public policy which would be an immediate beneficiary of such a change in our constitution is transport.

7.38 pm

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) : I shall comment briefly on the speech of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). I would have thought that the last thing the north-west needed was another layer of government. I can think of no time in my seven years as a Member of Parliament--I am honoured and privileged to serve the Cheadle constituency--that I have ever been approached by anyone asking me for another layer of government ; if anything, quite the reverse. First, I shall mention something that relates specifically to my constituency. I see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is on the Front Bench ; the matter relates to his brief. Within my constituency, there is a road

Column 1108

scheme which has been awaited for some 20 or 30 years. It has massive public support. Initial work has just started on the central section.

The road to which I refer is the M56 to A6 link, known locally as the Manchester airport eastern link road, or MAELR. The central section of the road has been built in advance of the rest, and the whole scheme is not being built together. In Woodford road in my constituency, there is a junction where no junction was supposed to be, and a road that was supposed to be of benefit to my constituents will initially cause problems, particularly for the villages of Bramhall and Woodford.

My question to my hon. Friend is, when can we except a firm date for completion of that road ? I appreciate that it may be linked with the A6(M), but if he could comment now I would welcome his intervention.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : I can reassure my hon. Friend that only yesterday I discussed MAELR with the chief executive of Manchester airport and the chief executive of the Highways Agency. I shall be in Manchester next week looking at transport in that part of the country, and I can assure him that the road has a high priority and my close attention. I cannot at this stage give him a definite date, but I hope that it will not be long.

Mr. Day : I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), but, as usual, I shall ignore him.

I raise my other point in my capacity as co-chair of the west coast main line group. Hon. Members of all parties have a keen interest in the west coast main line. It is vital throughout the west of country, the west of Scotland, the north-west, the midlands and elsewhere. The Government recognise its priority, and I would like to pay my compliments and give thanks to the Minister for Public Transport for the way in which he has always responded to requests from the group to meet us. He has been co- operative in that regard.

A problem has been drawn to my attention which I have been asked to bring into the debate, particularly by those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. I am told that, on 31 March, a contract was lost by Railfreight to carry 100,000 tonnes of steel per year, which was to be distributed for the whole of Ireland via the west coast main line and through Stranraer.

I understand that that contract has now gone to road hauliers, and the steel will be shipped through Heysham. I appreciate that it is a commercial decision, and I would not wish the Minister to intervene directly--indeed, he does not have the power to intervene. I will just make the point to my hon. Friend that it emphasises the importance of the west coast main line.

If we lose contracts such as that, obviously the whole viability of that important line could be put in doubt. I hope that my hon. Friend will make himself aware of the situation, and will find out the reasons why that came about. I also hope that he will make sure that it has nothing to do with the viability of the west coast main line itself. It will be of great concern to many hon. Members if it has. I regret the tone of the speech by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr.Dobson), and his comments

Column 1109

about the west coast main line. The hon. Gentleman had nothing constructive to say. The Government have made great strides on the matter, and it is their top priority.

Government Back Benchers wish the Government well in their efforts to secure finance from the private sector. I believe that the private sector will come forward with the necessary finance for that line. I do not believe that it helps the Government if doubt is cast upon the scheme by somebody who would wish to be a Minister one day. God forbid that the hon. Gentleman is ever in that position.

I would like to point out to the hon. Gentleman that I have never heard anybody in the all-party group question the need for the scheme to succeed in the way in which the Government have proposed it. Most hon. Members who have an interest in the west coast main line do not much care where the money comes from, as long as we get it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has found it necessary to make the issue a political football--for the first time, in my experience.

It serves nobody's interests whatsoever, and the west coast main line group has never dealt with it in that way. We have no intention of allowing the hon. Gentleman to make it a political issue, which would destroy the unity of the all-party group. If anybody will bring pressure to get success for the west coast main line, it will be the all-party group and not the Opposition Front Bench.

The hon. Gentleman seemed unclear what he was telling the House about the Opposition's approach to transport. I could not make out whether he was in favour of private investment or not. The Labour party recently boasted that it thought that there was a role for private investment in roads and in rail. However, the hon. Gentleman seemed to carp at every proposal which the Government made to achieve objectives which I would have thought we all shared.

That also suggests to me that, as usual, the Labour party has only one solution to the problems of transport--to throw more money at them. That is the same solution as it has for every issue. It never tells us where the money is coming from, but it is easy--it is other people's money, so it does not matter. I find incredible the idea that the Labour party has changed its spots since the election. There were tax increases in the Budget. However, if the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was in charge of the finances of this nation, people would be facing not only tax increases to pay for the Budget deficit, but the £35 billion of extra spending which the Labour party promised before the last election. In addition, they would have to pay for all the other promises which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has made on transport.

The Labour party must get its act together on what it is telling the country. Of course, that is the last thing that the Labour party will do. The Government's policies on transport are quite clear, and they will have my support in the Lobby tonight.

7.46 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : The west coast main line is having money spent on it. Of course, it is not being spent on improving the line. Of course, it is not being spent on re-signalling. It is certainly not being spent on improving facilities for the passengers.

Column 1110

It is being spent on the setting up of a competition for people to look at ways of introducing private finance into one of the most vital railways in the United Kingdom.

It is becoming clear that the Government have a clear transport policy, and it is in effect one of double taxation. When they are asked whether they understand the economic implications of providing a first-class infrastructure for both the economic and political life of this country, they say, "Of course, but it is vital that we should have a partnership between private industry and the state." Their definition of a partnership is similar to that of the medical profession many years ago, when the senior partner got all the money and the junior partner did all the work.

It is quite revealing that today we have been given, in addition to a number of questions about rail privatisation, very little clear idea of what the three-day chairmen of the various quangos will do to bring in this great new surge of investment into the railway system. Mr. Robert Horton, when giving evidence to the Select Committee on Transport, said that he saw his role as generating interest among opinion-formers. He said that he wanted to convince people like me that investment was needed in the west coast main line.

I must say that, while I do not have an overweening idea of my own importance, I would have thought that even Mr. Horton would have noted that one or two Opposition Members were asking for investment in the west coast main line when Mr. Horton was still trying to make money out of fossil fuels. I find that difficult to understand, but I find it particularly difficult to understand when I look at some of the answers we get from the Secretary of State for Transport and his Ministers.

I asked if he would list

"the percentage of public funding to British Rail that has been used for restructuring of British Rail in preparation for privatisation".

I also asked what was his estimate for next year and what funds were made available to British Rail for reorganisation. The Minister answered :

"In 1992-93 British Rail reported that around £10 million was spent on reorganisation. In 1993-94, we understand that British Rail expects to spend around £56 million. In 1994-95 British Rail and Railtrack have estimated that they will require an additional £50 million for running costs and up to £30 million for expenditure on new equipment and systems in support of reorganisation."--[ Official Report , 21 March 1994 ; Vol.240, c. 100 .]

The Minister says that it is because of the Government and reorganisation that not only greater efficiency but new information systems and an improvement in management techniques have come about. I do not know where the Minister has been.

The reorganisation of British Rail has happened not once but consistently, long before any suggestion that Railtrack would be created. The improvement in the use of information technology has been led by people in British Rail, whose only fault was that they did not have enough common sense to tell the United Kingdom what a marvellous job the men and women in that industry were doing. In case anyone has any concern, yes, I am a sponsored Member. I am proud to be a member sponsored by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. I want to make that clear.

The Government are seeking to isolate expenditure on transport in a particular way. Interestingly enough, they are doing so not only for railways. It is clear from what has been said today that Railtrack will see as its function not only to apply what the Secretary of State said was a proper

Column 1111

overhead sum to its economics. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted transparency, and wanted people to understand how much their services cost.

Let us have no doubt what that means. The Government will put in place a sophisticated game. First, they will put up the cost. Then they will say that everyone should know what a particular rail service costs. Then they will say that it is too expensive, and it would be much cheaper to run alternative services such as privatised coaches.

In case anyone has any doubt about the efficiency of privatised coaches, let us consider what is happening with the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. The Government are removing restrictions which protect health and safety in road transport. The Minister does not seem to know. Let me help him.

When the legislation was being debated, local authorities expressed anxiety about the removal of the right of traffic commissioners to prevent the use of operating centres with planning permission. They pointed out that ordinary people would have considerable difficulty in the future. Everyone in the industry pointed out that, if there were continuous licensing, members of the public would find it difficult to question those who ran public service vehicles. It is not a small problem. Once there is continuing licensing, how will we monitor those who drive school buses and coaches, who have many lives in their hands ?

It is clear that, in many traffic areas, public service vehicles do not reach the required standards. Let us take the traffic commissioner's annual report for the north-eastern traffic area. Some 30 per cent. of all public service vehicles failed the initial MOT test. In the west midlands, the number of PSV cases brought for public inquiry for disciplinary matters, which include maintenance and a wide range of points that would affect any woman using a bus driven, perhaps, by someone who was not 100 per cent. in control, increased by 500 per cent. between 1991-92 and 1992-93.

In south Wales, the number of PSV companies called to inquiry increased by 90 per cent. The overall total of operators of PSVs called for disciplinary action increased from 362 to 412--an overall increase of 14 per cent. The public do not realise that deregulation means that they face a deteriorating service, and certainly deteriorating controls on those involved.

I asked a series of questions about what the Ministry did about checking whether people who were granted PSV licences had any convictions. I was told that, because of the lack of resources, Department of Transport staff did not check the declarations given by applicants. If an applicant ticks a box stating that he or she has no criminal convictions, no check is made. A total of 17,922 objections were received to goods vehicle operator licences.

The Transport Select Committee highlighted in its report the dangers of privatisation of the Department of Transport agency work. The Department is doing two things. It is setting up independent quangos that will use the taxpayers' money supposedly to attract investment from private funds outside. In order to do that, they will use the taxpayers' money again to hand over considerable sweeteners. There will be no control over those people or over the quality of the transport provided. Increasingly, there will be no real investment in the infrastructure that is not in the form of double taxation.

Column 1112

Not one Conservative Member today has said that it is the intention of the Government to go for road pricing in the form of either shadow tolls or more direct forms of tolling on motorways, and perhaps even on urban roads. The Government know how to make money out of the transport infrastructure, but they are not prepared to put it back. They are happy to commit the taxpayers' money at every level, preferably twice, but they are not prepared to come to the House and announce that they will put money into creating a first-class transport system.

We need the west coast main line. We shall have an emergency by the end of the year, because we know that the machinery and infrastructure will cease

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I call Mr. John Carlisle.

7.56 pm

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : I am grateful to be called in what has been a strange and mixed debate. Listening to some of the whinges and whines from the Opposition Benches, one would think that we ground to a halt every time that we left this place and that we did not have motorways which were relatively unclogged most of the time and did not have an excellent rail and air system within Britain.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)--probably hinting at what I might say to him--made an extraordinary speech in what should be a serious debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) said, the debate should be on a wide range of subjects, but inevitably comes down to constituency interests. So I promise the House that I shall speed through my remarks, as a Vauxhall Cavalier would through the highways and byways of this country, so that other hon. Members can participate in the debate.

It is inevitable that transport policy in Britain, as the Government's amendment suggests, should be market led. It is nonsense for Opposition parties to try to force people on to forms of transport that they do not want and which, by their own volition and choice, they have avoided. I become extremely cross at the anti-car policies pursued by hon. Members from both major Opposition parties. As I represent Luton, I have a constituency interest in ensuring that that great town continues to thrive and boom. Its greatest industry, Vauxhall Motors, is very much part of that.

I remember being asked by one or two people when I was first elected what constituency I represented. I must admit that when I said that I represented Luton, some people's faces fell. Some said, "I have been through it." I suppose that, to an extent, that is what Luton is all about. We can boast probably some of the best systems and examples of what the Government have done in terms of transport facilities and structures in the 15 years since they were returned to office.

The country's major motorway runs through the middle of my constituency. We also have a thriving airport. Although it has recently been surpassed by Newcastle--the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) gave the numbers- -once it gets into private hands it will continue to expand. I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I would support legislation that forced Luton borough council to sell the airport into private hands to ensure that it continues to expand and is better used.

Luton airport has a great future and might go some way to relieving the problems that my hon. Friend the Member

Column 1113

for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) mentioned in connection with Heathrow, when he discussed Northolt and Stansted.

Luton also has excellent rail links, with passenger trains to London every 10 minutes at peak times and in some cases even more frequently. The old British Rail invested money in much better facilities, and we are proud of our facilities in Luton.

Good transport is one reason why the town is beginning to boom again and why people are coming to our part of the world. Obviously, links to London are good and, as our closest large centre of population, London was always familiar territory, but links are also good to the north and to other parts of the country. If Opposition Members want to visit a place where transport is working and which epitomises the best of Government transport policy they should come 30 miles up the M1 to see us.

It ill befits the Opposition to continue their extraordinary anti-car policy and it exasperates many car manufacturers and people in the motor trade. Significantly, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned the constituency of Eastleigh several times, but he did not mention that of Dagenham. I wonder whether he would have made quite the same speech if he had visited Dagenham or Luton and described his policies to Vauxhall workers.

Next Section

  Home Page