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Mr. Barry Field: I should just like to point out that Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight has launched, in conjunction with, and with a grant from, the Department of Transport, a bus, train and coach timetable service. It is a national dialling service which people can phone from any part of the country to learn how to plan their routes.

Ms Short: That sounds enormously attractive. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not tell us about it during his speech--perhaps because he was so busy telling us about subjects not covered by the Queen's Speech. We should like such a system for the whole country, giving people access to public transport options wherever they live. They need to be able to travel by rail or bus on reliable services with reliable information.

Given the necessity to make these changes, and the growing consensus that they need to be effected, it is fairly amazing that the Government are taking no action to create a national transport strategy. The truth, I fear, is that they have fallen into the hands of right-wing zealots who believe fanatically in deregulation and privatisation even when they damage the national interest. It is a sign of how strong those forces in the Tory party are that someone like the Secretary of State for Transport can be captured by their ideas. The right hon. Gentleman is aware of my respect for him; it is my conviction that he does not believe in the policies that he has to defend to the House and the nation--that is my compliment to him.

The Government's strategy is against the national interest and goes against the views of all who are concerned for the future of our transport system. What this country needs is a general election that will bring in a new Government dedicated to mobilising greater investment throughout our economy and our infrastructure, so as to bring about a halt to their continuing decline. Instead, we have had this mouse of a Queen's Speech, designed for cheap political advantage. The Government have nothing to say to the people throughout this country who are desperately worried that Britain is in continuing decline and that nothing is being done to stop it.

9.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Sir George Young): Much of the debate has been about competition. Rising to speak at nearly 9.40 pm, as "Panorama" is about to be beamed into the nation's homes is real competition.

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It has been a reflective debate. There has been a contrast between the rather bleak picture of the nation's economy painted by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) and that painted by my hon. Friends. The right hon. Lady and the hon. Lady have ignored the impact of inward investment over the past few years. We have attracted mobile international capital not into Disneyland and service industries but into industries with good productivity and growth prospects, such as the pharmaceutical industry, information technology, motor car manufacture and telecommunications.

The United Kingdom is competing in a competitive world for capital from overseas. Companies from other countries want to locate here because the conditions are right: low inflation, low interest rates, good industrial relations and low corporation taxes. That is good news for those we all care about--the people who are looking for work.

The prescription of the right hon. Member for Derby, South did not meet the analysis. It amounted to enhanced business links--building on something that we have successfully pioneered--and a national on-line database. That was her solution. She called for a national appraisal and national renewal based on a new consensus. That is typical of the bland generalities that we get from new Labour. It sounds good, but when we analyse what is said and ask what it means, we find that it means nothing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) injected a philosophical note into what has been an industrial debate by talking about divorce law and family law reforms. It was like suddenly coming across "Thought for the Day" in a rather turbulent "Today" programme, but it was a welcome contribution. I shall forward my right hon. Friend's comments to the Lord Chancellor.

I hope that I do not embarrass the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) if I say that he made an honest, provocative and thoughtful speech. I cannot think who he was talking about when he criticised politicians who made generous use of the word "tough". Could it have been the Leader of the Opposition? The right hon. Member for Llanelli spoke with great derision about those who set up think tanks, which are then asked to think the unthinkable about social welfare reform. What, I ask myself, was the purpose of the Social Justice Commission, which the Leader of the Opposition set up?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) spoke rightly about the importance of regional strength and its impact on technology. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage what my right hon. Friend said about technology and the proposed Bill on media ownership.

My right hon. Friend the Member of Conwy also spoke of Welsh devolution. If there is one subject on which an English Secretary of State for Transport knows he should not talk, it is Welsh devolution. That is a road with no-entry signs all along it.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) knows that, with the reform of the homeless persons legislation, the safety net will remain. We believe genuinely that reform will lead to fairer allocation. It seems that the Liberal Democrats believe that housing is a priority. We know that they regard education as a

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priority. They have been honest enough to say that they would consider increasing income tax by 1p in the pound to fund education. If housing is a priority, how will they fund it? Will we have another 1p on income tax for housing? Would the hon. Lady fund it in another way? How many priorities can the Liberal Democrats have? If they have more than one priority, we are entitled to ask how they will fund them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) rightly reminded us of the success of Felixstowe under the regime introduced by the Government. He made an impassioned plea for road investment. He will understand that he may have to wait until next week for the position to become clearer.

At one point in his speech, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) uttered the words, "if manufacturing industry continued to fail". If he had listened to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, he would have heard that investment in manufacturing has increased by 11 per cent. this year, is forecast to go on increasing and that output is at an all-time high. That does not sound like failure to me.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Surrey (Sir M. Grylls) rightly reminded us of the importance of small businesses, and I pay tribute to his work in promoting an unfashionable subject and making it one that is now almost politically correct. He rightly pointed out that success in attracting multinational investment is of interest to small businesses, because the investment filters through and helps small businesses in the areas where they are established.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) spoke about the railways, and I hope to return to that in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) rightly pointed out that large-scale voluntary transfer is in effect the injection of private finance into housing, which has been pioneered by Conservative local authorities. Indeed, the Isle of Wight was one of the first to pursue that approach. He always campaigns on behalf of his constituents, and did so today. On direct payments to landlords, I remember from my time as Housing Minister that local authorities have discretion to make direct payments to landlords where that is the right thing to do, and I hope that that discretion will be exercised sensibly by his local authority.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) invited me to travel on the west coast main line. I do so regularly. He will be pleased to hear that I travelled in the cab of a train from Birmingham to Coventry only last week. I visited a signal box where the technology was more modern than the one that he mentioned. I was allowed to make a station announcement at the signal box, and I understand that it was widely commended for its clarity, but the absence of a Birmingham accent may have confused some of the passengers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) rightly reminded the House what can be done for a declining industry such as steel. With good partnership between local government and central Government, and with help from an enterprise zone, his area was turned around, and as a bonus it has returned a Conservative Member of Parliament, whereas previously one might not have expected that.

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The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) rightly spoke about environmental pollution, in which transport has a key role to play. We have set challenging targets on exhaust emissions and have introduced a number of measures to reduce vehicle pollution; more such measures are on the way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) referred to the Royal Automobile Club report. I was at the report's launch and commend the way in which the RAC and the Automobile Association are making broad-based realistic proposals that do not simply focus on the need of motorists but recognise that motorists need access to good public transport and that there is a role for alternative forms in the transport strategy of the future.

I now return to the theme of transport, about which a number of hon. Members have spoken. It is not true that investment in transport has been neglected by the Government. More than 700 miles of railway have been electrified. Electric trains now run on more than 30 per cent. of the network. Some 224 stations have been opened or reopened. More than a quarter of the rolling stock has been replaced in the past 10 years. Almost 90 per cent. of the former regional railways stock is less than 10 years old. More than £3 billion has been invested in continuing track renewal.

In recent years, we have funded projects such as the east coast main line modernisation, where £550 million has been spent on resignalling and electrification and on new rolling stock. In 1978, the fastest journey time between London and Newcastle on that line was three hours and four minutes. Between London and Edinburgh, the fastest timetable journey was four hours and 52 minutes. Today, those journeys would take two hours and 40 minutes and four hours and five minutes--savings of 24 and 47 minutes respectively.

I can give no better illustration--


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