Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.17 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): The debate has certainly brought the Chamber to life in a way that the Government frequently find uncomfortable. I have listened to many interesting contributions.

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

Mr. Jenkin: If I may, I shall make a little progress. The hon. Gentleman is rapidly becoming the jack-in- the-box of the House. He frequently makes interventions from where he sits, and that is where I shall leave him for the moment.

There have been many interesting contributions; I regret that I was absent for some and shall study Hansard carefully. Interestingly, there have been pleas from both sides of the House for road schemes, bypasses and traffic relief schemes. That speaks volumes about the state of the Government's transport policy, but the collapse of their so-called public-private partnership for the London underground prompted us to initiate the debate. The events of the past week are symptomatic of much wider failure: if their transport policy had been an outstanding success, I doubt that we would have had to initiate the debate, nor would the Deputy Prime Minister have had to cut short his visit to India and fly back home amidst an atmosphere of crisis.

The Deputy Prime Minister finds himself floundering because his transport policy is fundamentally misconceived. An increase in state control at the expense of the ordinary citizen in general and increased

8 Dec 1999 : Column 921

restrictions and taxation on the motorist in particular are the essence of Government policy and the root cause of their failure.

Mr. Geraint Davies: How can the hon. Gentleman reconcile his comments about extra bypasses--the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) mentioned 100 bypasses and new road developments that we have cut--with cuts in taxation for the motorist? How can he square that circle given the comments in "The Common Sense Revolution" on reducing tax?

Mr. Jenkin: How does the hon. Gentleman square the rapid increase of taxation on the motorist and the £40 billion of tax increases that the Government have inflicted on the British people with the cuts in transport spending and roads investment? The hon. Gentleman has more explaining to do than I do.

Transport is about freedom and prosperity. The freedom for individuals and families to travel is one of the most fundamental rights of a free society. That is why the car is just about the most successful and sought-after of all modern inventions. The car has become an icon of personal and family freedom and independence, yet the Government have launched the most astonishing attack on millions of ordinary people for whom the car is not a luxury but a necessity.

I do not know why the Deputy Prime Minister much of the time looks so bewildered by people's reaction. [Interruption.] Before the election, the Prime Minister promised that there would be no need to increase taxes. Under Labour, after three tax-raising Budgets, Britain now has by far the highest petrol taxes in Europe: more than 85p in the pound is tax. Although the Chancellor says that he has stopped the automatic Budget increases in petrol and diesel tax, those taxes will still go up. Table B9 in the pre-Budget statement shows an increase in fuel duties well above the rate of inflation. All the Chancellor has done is to replace the fuel duty escalator with a new stealth tax escalator. [Interruption.] His spin last month was just another chapter in the great Labour lie.

Mr. Paterson: The Deputy Prime Minister has just made a sedentary comment about it being a Tory tax. Will my hon. Friend ask him to look at the Government's figures, which clearly show that fuel duties will increase from £21.6 billion to £23.5 billion? [Interruption.]

Mr. Jenkin: I have asked the Deputy Prime Minister written questions about this issue, but he passes them to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and we do not get an answer. The Government will not say how much of that increase will be for the DETR, and there will be further increases in fuel taxes at the next Budget.

The Transport Bill imposes yet more taxes on car drives--car-parking and congestion taxes. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Could we please have an end to interventions from a sedentary position by Back Benchers and Front Benchers?

Mr. Jenkin: What is the point of these tax increases? Before the election, Labour's election website promised

8 Dec 1999 : Column 922

    That was just another part of the great Labour lie to satisfy the green lobby. If the Deputy Prime Minister really wanted to do something positive to slow down traffic growth, he would stop new housing developments sprawling across the green fields of England and concentrate development near, and within, towns where people can choose to use public transport, cycle or walk instead of taking the car. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn).

The truth is that taxes do not stop pollution or reduce congestion, except by forcing the very poorest drivers off the road. The latest traffic figures published by the DETR early in November show that congestion and traffic are growing as fast as ever.

The freedom for business and industry to transport their goods and to provide services to a wide range of customers is essential to the well-being of the economy. That is why the Government's stealth tax assault on the road haulage industry, which employs more than 1 million people, is such a disaster. The highest haulage taxes in Europe do not mean fewer lorries on the road: just fewer British lorries. Foreign-registered trucks on UK roads increased by 31 per cent. last year. My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) pointed out the disastrous effects.

People and businesses make millions of individual transport choices every day. A successful transport policy must provide for those choices. Freedom of choice is not just another new Labour slogan to be wheeled out to placate public opinion. The only transport policies that will succeed are those that meet the genuine needs and aspirations of consumers.

That is why privatisation is the common-sense solution--[Interruption.] I have enjoyed hearing the litany of propaganda that has issued from Labour Members during the debate. However, the fact is, that, after 50 years of decline in passenger miles on the railway when it was owned and operated by the state, it is privatisation that has finally reversed that decline. In only three years--the three years that have elapsed since the release of the railway from the shackles of state control--passenger volumes have increased by 25 per cent. That is because it is the job of managers and staff on the privatised railway not to please the politicians, but to put more bums on seats in order to turn an honest profit for the shareholders.

The railway still has many failings, but it is privatisation and the profit motive that the Deputy Prime Minister still so despises that is delivering what the right hon. Gentleman actually wants. It is producing huge new investment, and causing people to get out of their cars and on to trains according to their own free choice.

We are in favour of integration, but not as part of another slick Labour slogan that pretends to offer easy answers. No one should deny that transport is an easy challenge, but it was the Labour party that promised before the last election that it would fix everything quickly. The only integration that will work is integration that is customer-led. For instance, Anglia Railways in my constituency offers single bus and train tickets enabling people to get on a bus, get on a train and go to Stansted airport. Those tickets were not invented by some Minister or civil servant in Whitehall.

The state can never hope to provide for such a huge, complex and diverse market, whether by direct provision or by way of some kind of master plan for transport.

8 Dec 1999 : Column 923

If too many decisions are made in town halls and Whitehall, choices are removed from ordinary people, and that is why Britain under Labour is grinding to a halt.

The Deputy Prime Minister glibly promised an integrated transport policy; he has delivered a standstill Britain. Before the election, Labour policy documents promised to deliver what they called immediate benefits for the travelling public, but the most fundamental weakness in the right hon. Gentleman's strategy is his neglect of roads. The latest national roads maintenance conditions survey shows that our roads are in the worst condition in which they have been since the last Labour Government, and that the United Kingdom is now investing less in roads than any of our major European competitors. Britain is at the bottom of the roads spending league.

What really takes the breath away is the right hon. Gentleman's hapless public- private partnerships for public transport. Before the election, the present Prime Minister attacked the Conservative party thus:

That notion was described as crazy, but, last week, the Deputy Prime Minister introduced a Bill including provision for the privatisation of air traffic control. There could never be a more glaring example of Labour saying one thing and doing precisely the opposite.

This is no ordinary privatisation. It is not at all clear how, in this privatisation, the management of NATS will not live in permanent fear of Ministers if the Government remain much the biggest shareholder. It is far from clear how issues of national security can be resolved if control is sold to a foreign bidder. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how he manages to raise so little for investment from the sale? I note that his antics on the railway have helped to halve Railtrack's share price, but to raise only £15 million in net proceeds from the sale of a business that is valued at £800 million suggests an unparalleled degree of commercial incompetence. It is quite simple: the figures relating to the financial and manpower effects of the Bill are given in the notes on clauses. I do not know whether the Secretary of State had the chance to read them on the aeroplane.

Next Section

IndexHome Page