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Mr. Brake indicated dissent.

Mr. Snape: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that is exactly what his hon. Friend advocated in his speech, which was far too long, although it was reasonably interesting.

Mr. Ian Bruce: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that it is not for you to remind colleagues about when they should make a declaration of interest but, on a general point, if an hon. Member has clearly declared that he is the director of a transport company, is it appropriate that he should remind the House of his pecuniary interest in that industry at the beginning of his speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that all hon. Members will remember their obligations in that regard.

Mr. Snape: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have declared an interest at the beginning of my speech. I am of course a chairman of Britain's biggest urban bus company, which is part of the National Express Group, and I am a member of the RMT. I chose to start my speech by referring to the speech made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South, but I should perhaps have declared my interest first.

That point of order, however, is the usual cheap shot from the Conservative party. I would have got round to declaring my interest eventually, as I always do, for the simple reason that it is far too easy to point the finger. If the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is ever clever enough to be appointed to a similar post, I will be the first to congratulate him but, given his usual performance in the Chamber, that is pretty unlikely, and let me make it plain that I myself would not give him a job.

I return to the 20 years of Toryism. During that period, the proportion of freight carried on our congested roads grew by 66 per cent. I am not blaming anybody for that; it happens to be a fact. Yet, in two and a half years, there has already been a substantial increase in rail freight carried by English, Welsh and Scottish Railway. I think--I hope that I carry the House on this point--that the increase is largely due to the encouragement that the rail freight industry is getting from the Government.

I hope that my Front-Bench colleagues will bear it in mind that the road haulage industry will continue to press for bigger, heavier lorries in the United Kingdom, and that those lorries impact directly on rail freight. Incidentally, I do not have any interest in rail freight to declare, other than my membership of a railway union, but I hope that most of us who care about such matters are pleased about the increase in rail freight and want the trend to continue in the near future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned bus deregulation and the patchy service in the Manchester area. That is true of some parts of the country, but in other parts a great deal of investment is going into

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the bus industry. In arranging the bus summit a couple of weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister did his best to encourage the bus industry generally to invest money in new vehicles so that we can make bus travel more attractive than it is at present. Of course, that needs extra support from local authorities. I hasten to tell the Liberals that that is not financial support. It involves not a greater subsidy from local authorities but the provision of bus priority measures and the enforcement of those measures to prevent, for example, lorries being loaded and unloaded in bus lanes, or drivers taking short cuts in bus lanes when the rest of us--I drive a car--are waiting at traffic lights.

In London, the Evening Standard has been extraordinarily supportive of public transport, for example by running a campaign against those who block bus lanes. Alas, the reverse is true in the west midlands, where the main regional morning newspaper, The Birmingham Post carries out what I can only describe as an hysterical campaign against any sort of bus priority provision. It regularly carries articles attacking the company of which I am chairman and other bus companies in the west midlands. At least there has been a change of editor. The previous editor left to be the Conservative candidate at Edgbaston. Given his far-right views, he would be quite at home in the present-day Conservative party. I wish that The Birmingham Post would emulate the Evening Standard and be rather more supportive of what those who work in the bus industry are trying to do to attract passengers back to buses.

Make no mistake about it, the bus will be the major people mover outside London. The west midlands are not fortunate enough to have a tube system. However, we have a fairly short metro system, which runs from Wolverhampton to Birmingham through my constituency. Before the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) consults the "Register of Members' Interests" again, let me tell the House that the company of which I am chair has the operating contract to run the system. It is not a publicly owned system. Travel Midland Metro, a subsidiary of a company of which I am chair, operates it.

We would like to see the system extended. One of the problems with light railway systems is that they are chronically expensive when compared to alternative systems. Where there are steel wheels on steel rails, every safety precaution must be built in. No one, not even ex-railway men, felt the consequences of the Paddington accident more than I did. However, there are three Paddingtons on our roads every week, and people apparently accept that. We have a drive-on-sight tram system for much of the Midland metro route between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. As there is a short stretch of single line into Snow Hill station, all the trams are equipped with automatic train protection. That makes them even more expensive than they are to start with.

If we are to have belt-and-braces safety procedures whenever we try to open a light rail line, our friends in the Treasury, under any Government, will say that, on the basis of straight comparisons, that is not an economic way of moving people around. Our friends in the Treasury, regardless of a Government's political hue, have watched transport expenditure with enormous care and diligence over the years. Some of us might feel that they have exercised too much care and diligence. However, getting money for public transport projects, particularly railway projects when the railway was in the public sector, was never an easy task.

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I have bored the House with this before but I shall bore it again by pointing out to hon. Members that they can still see Edgeley junction No. 2 signal box just outside Stockport when they take a train to Manchester. Although many promises have been made by various Governments, the Treasury has never found the money to modernise signalling along that stretch of line. There are still Victorian signal boxes from Cheadle Hulme to Heaton Norris junction. That is great for the guys who work in them because they are labour intensive. However, signal boxes built in the 1880s surely do not have any part to play in signalling trains in the last few weeks of the 20th century.

I am told that modernisation will take place in July next year. I will believe that when I see it. As was once said, we used to have a press conference every other week under the Conservative Government to announce the modernisation of the west coast main line. At last, however, investment cash is going into that line, including the stretch through Birmingham and the west midlands and that towards Manchester.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who intervened earlier, that Virgin trains is very good at talking up what it is doing. I must correct my hon. Friend because it is not spending £1 billion on tilting trains. The trains are worth £1 billion, but Mr. Branson is leasing them.

Mr. Martlew: Angel Trains.

Mr. Snape: That is slightly different. I am not being pedantic, but claims are made about the amount of money that is being spent on railway modernisation that are not always justified. The trains in question are extremely expensive. We have been to see them, and very good they are, too. They will be leased by Virgin trains and it is to be hoped that they will provide a better service for my hon. Friend's constituents and for mine. Many years have passed and it is still taking a great deal of time to bring the line up to the standard that we expect and would demand. It was regarded as the premier line.

I have detained the House long enough. However, if we are to have a grown-up debate on transport, the Conservative party must move part of the way. We cannot have an Opposition Front-Bench team who say, "We shall sweep away the paraphernalia of traffic cameras, road safety procedures and traffic lights", as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said. One of his predecessors, Nicholas Ridley, used to say the same. I had a great deal of time for him. We secondary modern boys and old Etonians always get on well because we all had deprived childhoods. However, I did not agree with him on sweeping away controls. I certainly cannot agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham, the Opposition transport spokesman, that switching off traffic lights and removing street furniture will suddenly lead to traffic flowing far more quickly. The Conservative party must grow up. It can start by changing its transport spokesman.

Mr. Paterson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape: I will not give way because I am about to resume my place.

If the Conservative party changed its transport spokesman, and perhaps gave the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) a job, it would at least do no worse than at present.

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