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Mr. Ian Bruce: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as I am a little worried about his last sentence. Only yesterday, I presented him with a document from Weymouth and Portland borough council backing the Liberal Democrat county council's bid for a new road in Weymouth. Is he saying that the Liberal Democrats do not want that road? It is certainly the first priority of Liberal Democrat-controlled Dorset county council.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If he examines the record, he will see that, for example, I supported the building of a bypass that was much needed to improve the living environment of many of my constituents. I am not aware that the Deputy Prime Minister has suggested that there should be no further road building; the question is whether the main policy for solving the current crisis on our roads is one of continually building more roads or one of a much more selective programme of road building backed by more effective investment in public transport.

In a sense, I was generous to the Deputy Prime Minister when I compared his speech with that of the right hon. Member for Wokingham but I hope that that will not lead him to believe that we consider all that he is offering as sweetness and light. Increasingly, we have come to the view that his grand vision of an efficient, integrated transport system is a mirage. Many people have growing concerns about whether the Labour Government really will be capable of delivering. An opinion poll carried out by NOP was published today, showing that only 13 per cent. of respondents believe that public transport has improved under the Labour Government. Although a further 7 per cent. believe that things may improve in the near future, 51 per cent. believe that, under the Government's current policies, things will never improve.

The problem is that the Government have oversold their policies. Like so many other Departments, DETR has been guilty of over-hyping. The Deputy Prime Minister is not the only one at fault. The Department for Education and Employment promised to reduce class sizes, but it has delivered only for the few; for the many, class sizes are rising.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Labour Government have created 700,000 new jobs, so 700,000 more people are on the move every day? The Government's success in that respect may be ahead of their transport policy, so people's perceptions are wrong. Investment in transport is for the long term and we have every confidence that we shall succeed.

Mr. Foster: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman referred to investment in public transport. In just a few moments I shall return to that subject and link it to the point that he raised.

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Many Departments--from the Department of Health making promises about waiting lists, to the Treasury attempting to persuade people that taxes are falling when in fact they are rising, to the Home Office promising 5,000 additional police officers that are unlikely to materialise--have been guilty of over-hyping, and that is leading to significant problems. It is certainly true in respect of DETR. We need only a few specific examples to illustrate that. In terms of rail funding, for example, almost every commentator now accepts that there needs to be a significant increase in investment in our railways if we are to meet the expected rise in the number of passengers and bring about general improvements, particularly in safety. Yet, under their current proposals, the Government's subsidies to our railways are set to fall significantly--by somewhere in the region of£900 million. Given the Deputy Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm for hypothecation, the real question is what will now happen to that £900 million saving. Can we at least have an assurance that the money will go into improving at least some other aspect of public transport, or will it simply end up in Treasury coffers?

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The hon. Gentleman seems to forget about the other moneys going into the railways. Does he accept that Virgin is putting in £1 billion for 55 new tilting trains for the west coast main line? My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said that Railtrack had signed up for £800 million already, and will have to spend billions more. The commitment is there to upgrade the west coast main line.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman misses the key point that the Deputy Prime Minister made earlier. The right hon. Gentleman sought to take credit for the fact that, when road pricing is introduced, there would be "additionality"--additional money coming into the overall system. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there will be increased investment from the private sector. No one could deny that, or say that it is not welcome. However, the figures in the Red Book from the Government's own comprehensive spending review say that, while private sector investment will be increasing, the Government's contribution to public transport is falling--despite what the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's questions today.

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman refers to subsidies in contracts that are presently being renegotiated. He knows that the seven-year franchises were too short to guarantee investment--that has been the complaint by the industry. We are renegotiating the franchises. Companies will receive a great deal more income from a 15 per cent. increase in traffic, and will take a longer view of rail investment. The question of how much the state gives--or of the savings achieved--is a matters for the negotiations.

Mr. Foster: I am glad to hear what the Deputy Prime Minister says. There is considerable confusion over how much money the Government will put in as a result of the outcome of the renegotiations of the franchises. If the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that there is a real possibility that Government investment will significantly increase, to be matched by increased investment from the private

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sector, at least we will begin to see light at the end of the tunnel, with the possibility that the huge gap in funding that every commentator has identified may be filled.

Mr. Prescott: The subsidy to which the hon. Gentleman refers is a revenue subsidy, not a capital subsidy. The fact that we will get more investment does not mean that the Government have to give any more money. The gap may be made up by the growth in the numbers of passengers on the railways. That is an issue for negotiation--it is not to do with investment.

Mr. Foster: The Deputy Prime Minister has seen the figures. Certainly, he will have seen that all of the indications from the BBC programmes last week--[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman laughs, yet he was seen on television accepting that, in orders of magnitude, the figures were of the right order. That is crucial. There is a huge gap, and there is considerable confusion in the Government over where we are going with this.

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): Is my hon. Friend aware that, under an early privatisation, ferries within England--and certainly those to the Isle of Wight--did not receive any subsidy? If a franchise is long enough, investments can be made and an efficient service provided. However, that results in having probably the most expensive ferry crossing in the world in distance travelled for each pound in charges. Is there not a fear that, if the Government adopt a hands-off approach on rail travel, we may have an efficient railway system that no one will be able to afford to use?

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend makes his point in his own eloquent way. However, to suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister will adopt a hands-off approach is perhaps taking matters a little far.

I was suggesting that there has been an element of over-hype by the Government, and I sought to give one example. Another example--in a smaller, but important, area--is pensioner bus passes. In July 1998, we were told by the Government that pensioners could expect Government-funded subsidies for travel. Despite all the credit the Government have sought to claim for that, they made it clear in a parliamentary written answer I received today that that money will not be forthcoming until 2001-02. That is another example of over-hyping.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Deputy Prime Minister once again illustrated how wrong he is when he suggested that increased revenue would come from increased passenger usage? He fails to understand that increased passenger usage will not materialise until there is a service that people want to use. That will happen only when the Government are prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

Mr. Prescott: That is happening now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Sedentary comments, even from Government Front Benchers, do not help.

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend makes his point well. Other areas of concern include the direction of the Labour

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party. Before the general election, Labour made it clear that our airspace was not for sale, but now it has made a U-turn and proposed the privatisation of NATS. On road traffic reduction, we all remember the Deputy Prime Minister saying that he would have failed if, in five years, there were not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. He urged us to hold him to that, but only last week, at the motoring summit, he said:


    "I have never thought that a national year on year reduction in traffic is possible in the real world."


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