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Mr. Jenkin: Would the hon. Gentleman, as a director of National Express, welcome a strategic bus authority and a bus regulator with power to fine bus companies for late-running buses?

Mr. Snape: The hon. Gentleman smirks as though he has made a debating point. He might get a laugh at the Cambridge or Oxford debating society for that question, but he is comparing apples with lemons. [Interruption.] Oh yes, he is. The previous Government did not privatise the two industries in exactly the same way. Indeed, they made an equal mess of bus privatisation, which the industry, somewhat belatedly, is doing something to put right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is not in his place, trotted out the old story about bus use declining outside London and increasing in London. Bus usage outside London has been declining for some 40 years and only recently has that decline been stemmed. In the west midlands, there is an increase in bus passengers for the first time in four decades, although I take no credit for that.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North in his absence that at the time that the franchising system--because that is basically what it is--was introduced in London, the first to suffer were London bus

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drivers, who went from the top of the wages tree to the bottom. If my hon. Friend is advocating that principle in the short term, he should talk to people who work in the bus industry, rather than making speeches in the House.

The Bill contains provisions for quality contracts, which most people in the bus industry are not mad about. We accept that they are enabling provisions only. Ministers--at least in the run-up period to the Bill--made it clear that contracts could be used, but as a safety net only if quality partnerships were not successful. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), replies to the debate will he tell us how he thinks such quality partnerships are operating at present and how he sees them working in future?

No one would claim that bus privatisation has been particularly successful, because it has not. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must take his seat. He must also stop that musical box.

Mr. Snape: I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House. I thought that my pager was switched off, and I am very sorry.

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman is off-message on buses.

Mr. Snape: That is another witty comment from the Cambridge debating society. I may well be.

In the two minutes left to me, let me say that there are a couple of matters that should be considered. In Birmingham, for example, we run many bus services. We do not have a monopoly, nor does the company that I chair seek one. We have a problem, however, with certain operators who do not consider starting new routes--which we would welcome--but cherry-pick on certain routes that are operated by Travel West Midlands, the major company. I need hardly add that we pay top wages, provide uniforms, canteens, and so on. Many of the smaller operators do not recognise trade unions--we are fully unionised--and operate only one shift to drivers. When such companies do so on the busier routes they are, in our view, guilty of cherry-picking. For example, on one route, an operator registered in November of this year and will deregister those same services in January. That is no way to ensure continuity and a sensible bus operation. Such operators use vehicles which leave a lot to be desired, to say the least.

There is work for traffic commissioners and local authorities. I hope that Ministers will, under the Bill, correct some of the anomalies and problems that have cropped up over the years. Overall, I think that the Bill is eminently sensible and will be widely welcomed by railway workers and bus operators. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel sincerely about the future of the air traffic control industry will reflect on the fact that it could not be in better hands than those of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister.

6 pm

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk): I begin by declaring an interest; as listed in the register, I am a non-executive director of Unigate, which has a transport subsidiary. However, my real interest in the debate is as

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a former Secretary of State for Transport. I always thought that the present Secretary of State--I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber--would not be up to the job, but I thought it reasonable to give him some time to prove himself. During the two years when I served as Secretary of State, we saw the greatest national and local road-building programme of this decade. We implemented rail privatisation, whence have come all the improvements about which the Secretary of State now boasts. We introduced a host of other initiatives and actions to achieve results, including the Jubilee line extension. I introduced local authority transport plans that put much greater emphasis on park and ride, road safety schemes and comprehensive local plans.

The Secretary of State has held that office for longer than I did; but, during two and a half years, he has been a blustering, dithering disaster. There has been little action on roads, except for the closure of one lane of the M4 for all except the Prime Minister's car. There has been much waffle about integrated transport policy with a series of consultation documents, Green Papers and White Papers; that is no substitute for action. In July, one of the conclusions of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs was that:

We can say that again.

The Secretary of State is still at it. In his speech of 13 December, he announced that he would publish a comprehensive programme for change in the investment programme next summer. Good heavens--that will be more than three years since the right hon. Gentleman took office, only then will he get round to doing that. During the two and three quarter years since Labour came to power, four Transport Ministers have served under the Secretary of State. They are all Scots. Three of them have Scottish constituencies and their interest in transportis now only inasmuch as it concerns their own constituencies. All Scottish transport issues are settled in the Scottish Parliament and those Members have no interest in transport and road programmes in England--and it shows. Recently, The Sunday Telegraph quoted an aide at No. 10, who said:

Too true--what an admission--but whose fault is it?

To the Secretary of State, an integrated transport policy is a slogan; it is a soundbite to be trotted out on every occasion, but it is no substitute for action. We have had a period of indecision and inaction followed by substantial U-turns, because the right hon. Gentleman's earlier policies have not worked, and will not work. No wonder that four fifths of people disagree with his transport policies, and that many in the media and--it seems--the Prime Minister are calling for him to give up his responsibility for transport policy.

I have examined carefully the right hon. Gentleman's much vaunted speech of 13 December. The comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the speech were absolutely correct; the amount of money that we put into public transport, during the years for which the Secretary of State derides us, was much greater than the amount he

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proposes for the next 10 years. Every achievement listed by the Secretary of State in his speech resulted from Conservative policies and decisions: in particular, that private rail investment had gone up by a third;that passenger journeys had increased by 25 per cent.; that there were 1,000 extra rail services every day; and that freight had increased by 20 per cent. over the past two years. That compares to a steady decline in every year before privatisation. Rail privatisation brought about a change in culture, putting the focus on the customer and ensuring that services were directed to improvements for the customer.

Meanwhile, investment in National Air Traffic Services and the Scottish control centre at Prestwick has been delayed by the right hon. Gentleman's dithering over the privatisation of the service.

Ms Osborne: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor: No, I shall not give way, as we do not have a long time for our speeches.

Government investment in the London underground--excluding the Jubilee line--will be much less during the coming year than when I was Secretary of State for Transport. The Government's future plans for the underground are now in disarray because of their U-turn over Railtrack.

The new local transport plans, about which the Secretary of State has huffed and puffed for two and a half years, differ little from our transport polices and programmes--the TPP. Park and ride and local safety schemes were included in those programmes. The difference was that the amount of money that we were giving local authorities for those programmes was much greater even than that which the Government have announced for the coming year, which they boasted was an improvement. If we compare the figures, we see that it is a good deal less than we gave local authorities every year.

I welcome the U-turn on bypass schemes, for which I have long argued. During the Conservative Government, 13 bypasses were built in my constituency; I am glad that we have finally been granted one by the Labour Government. However, it could have been started two years ago. Other bypasses and road improvement programmes in Norfolk are ready to be started, but all have been delayed because of the Government's decisions on road expenditure during the past two years. The country needs money, investment and action--not boasting from the Secretary of State about what he plans to do.

I am not talking about new roads, but--as I did when I was Secretary of State--about bypasses and improvements to the existing road infrastructure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has already referred to the Secretary of State's remarks when he took office. The Secretary of State said that, in five years' time, he would have failed if there were not far fewer journeys by car. As he showed in his speech of 13 December, and in his comments today, he now agrees that there should not be a national road traffic reduction target. However, far fewer journeys by car means a reduction in road traffic. The right hon. Gentleman

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claimed that there would be far fewer journeys by car by the time that he left office, but by abandoning the reduction target, he knows that he has failed.

Lord Macdonald, now appointed as Transport Minister, said recently that improving the efficiency of engines is a more realistic way than traffic reduction of tackling pollution. We have been telling Labour that for years. The improvements that have taken place since 1992 in car technology have produced a substantial reduction in pollution--as the Automobile Association has demonstrated. That offers the Government lessons not only for the road programme but for the fuel duty escalator. The reduction in pollution resulting from technology took place after the Conservative Government introduced the escalator. The escalator is now irrelevant to tackling pollution.

We all know that the Secretary of State has been opposed to road building throughout his time in office. Because of that, there has been a complete lack of investment in road schemes, and traffic delays have increased by more than 10 per cent. over two years--as is shown by recent evidence from the AA--another example of failure. No doubt, that is why the Government are coming round to the view that they need to spend a bit more on roads. They should have realised that two years ago. Meanwhile, we have suffered the enormous inconvenience and problems caused by two years of delay and dithering.

What does the Bill add up to? I agree with the Secretary of State that the measures dealing with NATS are by far the most important. On 11 November, a letter was sent to all Conservative colleagues on this subject, containing one of the most devastating criticisms of NATS. It was written by one of my colleagues and made three major criticisms. The first was that

As a result of that and the

    "special voting arrangements . . . to protect the interest of the private sector partner"

there was confusion as to who would control NATS. The letter asked:

    "Who will take ultimate responsibility? Will a minority stake give majority voting rights?"

The second criticism was about possible foreign ownership. The third was that

    "in opting for their scheme and abandoning ours"--

that is the Conservative approach--

    "Labour have delayed badly-needed investment."

How true that is; as I pointed out earlier, investment has been delayed. The writer of the letter continued:

    "In direct contrast to Labour's position, we favour a straightforward privatisation of NATS. Shares would be issued to the public and to staff. We would establish an independent regulator to police the highest safety standards. Significant funds for badly-needed investment in air traffic control would be raised."

At the time, I nearly wrote to the writer to congratulate him on producing one of the best brief pieces that I had read on the Government's proposals. The letter concluded:

    "They appear to allow a foreign-owned investor to control Britain's airways by holding a minority of the shares. They will not generate as much investment as a simple privatisation. They continue to delay investment . . . Labour's plans are complicated

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    and opaque. The commonsense Conservative alternative would deliver the highest levels of safety and investment through a simple and transparent privatisation."

The letter described Labour's U-turn since coming to office. It was written by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward). Last week, I had intended to read it out and compliment him on the succinct way in which he put the case. I have to say to him--no longer as my hon. Friend--that I hope that he will stick to his guns, and that he will support our policies as he did two weeks ago.

The workplace levy will impose a further burden on businesses at precisely the time that they do not want such burdens. I notice from information provided by the Local Government Association that only a fifth of local authorities are willing even to pilot such a scheme, given suitable guidance, which they do not believe that they have received yet. I believe that, given the formidable opposition that there will be locally, very few of those local authorities will ever put forward schemes.

If that is true of the workplace levy, it is even more true of the road congestion tax. There are very many powerful arguments against introducing such a tax; let me outline a few. I understand that £1 in every £3 of revenue raised will be spent on administration. That must make it one of the costliest administrative schemes in terms of the relationship between administrative costs and revenue raised. Traffic will avoid the areas where there is congestion charging, thereby causing huge congestion just outside those areas. There will be problems about arbitrary boundaries. There will also be tremendous difficulties about deciding who will be exempted from the road congestion tax--for example, the disabled and those whose journeys are necessary.

Perhaps the most formidable criticism is that, as the LGA has shown in its survey, only 6 per cent. of local authorities are willing even to pilot a road congestion charge scheme, given suitable guidance. No wonder the Secretary of State is saying that congestion charges will not be introduced until the year 2005. I venture to predict that very few local authorities will introduce such a scheme in the year 2005. As that date will be well beyond the next general election, it is a complete waste of time to include that proposal in the Bill.

I take a different view about motorway tolling, for which I remain a strong advocate. As I pointed out in the Queen's Speech debate, I had obtained agreement from the Treasury for the hypothecation of motorway tolling, as was made clear in the consultation document that we published. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to that. Therefore, motorway tolling is not a new concept. It is a sensible way of getting extra resources into transport, because the money that is paid by those who use the motorways will be used to improve the motorway system. As every hon. Member knows, so many motorways still need major improvement but are not getting it.

Motorway tolling is a sensible proposal, and would be workable once the required technology was available. I strongly criticise the Government for running down the relevant technology programme, not pushing it forward. In fact, they are taking up the wrong type of congestion charging. They should have gone for motorway tolling, instead of going for something that poses many more formidable difficulties, which will not work and which will not be introduced any way.

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While I am on the subject of hypothecation, I want to say something about the Secretary of State's proposals on fuel duty escalators and the hypothecation of those revenues. As so many hon. Members have pointed out, the crucial issue is whether those funds will amount to genuine additionality. I have a shrewd suspicion that the Treasury knows perfectly well that the funds will be a replacement for money that it would otherwise claw back. In other words, there will be no additionality.

The other problem is that such money as goes to transport from the fuel duty escalator will not necessarily benefit the people who have to carry the burden of the extra fuel duty. That is especially true in rural areas. Rural motorists, very often of modest means, will suffer most from that fuel duty increase, and yet they will see no substantial benefits from the revenue. Unlike motorway tolling, this hypothecation does not work; it will not benefit those who have to pay.

I should have liked to refer to Strategic Rail Authority, but I will conclude. I always recognised that rail privatisation would need development and change as it moved along. I especially support the idea of longer franchises. That is sensible because it enables the franchisees to invest. I had hoped to extend the franchises myself. However, the Bill poses the real risk of too much interference by the Government and too much of a return to public sector interference. I hope that that threat will be probed hard in Committee.

The Bill simply does not measure up to the claims that the Secretary of State has made for it. Of its four measures, one is badly thought through, two are irrelevant because they will not be implemented, and on rail many questions must be asked to ensure that the legislation will not reverse many of the benefits that we have achieved from railway privatisation.

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