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6.58 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) made a brave speech. It will be interesting to see how Ministers respond to his pleas. He clearly conveyed to Opposition Members that good old-fashioned Labour, with its great distrust of the private sector, is alive and well. If the Government allow that mood to spread, where will that leave Labour?

I do not intend to debate NATS, but to examine the Bill in terms of its relevance to my Lancashire constituency and to the wider transport issues that face the United Kingdom. As I sat on a Virgin train that was an hour and three quarters late getting into London, I thought about what I would say in this debate--other than to vent my anger at the delay in that particular form of public transport getting me from A to B. That journey reminded me that the purpose of a transport system is to enable people to get from A to B as quickly as possible, with minimum environmental impact, at good value for money.

I have searched the Bill and the preceding White Paper to find a mission statement or definition that reflects most people's expectations of a transport system, but none have I found. Instead, I find that the Bill is an odd ragbag of measures. The Bill shows that, in many of Labour's activities, the Government and the Deputy Prime Minister are still following the Pontius Pilate approach: they wash their hands of the difficult issues and hand them on to someone else.

As Conservative Members have said, many local authorities will be reluctant to go down the unpopular route of workplace parking or local congestion charges. If nothing else, in competing for business and enterprise, they will suddenly find the town next door saying that it is a charge-free zone. It will be interesting to see how Labour authority will be set against Labour authority by the measure.

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Much of what the Deputy Prime Minister said was an attempt to denigrate the previous Government, as if they had had no transport policy. Our developments of the national motorway network, our opening of the door to more investment in rail, our financing and helping of metrolink in Manchester, the Tyneside light rail system and the developments in Croydon, and so on, show that we nailed our colours to the mast. We believed in public transport and put our money where our mouth was.

In contrast, the background to this Bill is that the motorist has become the Government's milch cow for cash. As for the logic of their policies, one has only to consider the Deputy Prime Minister's bizarre decision not to continue the treble carriageway route out to the M40. Within weeks of coming into office, despite the public expense undertaken to increase the size of that corridor, one of the Government's first contributions to improving transport was to maintain congestion to the west of London.

I want to consider the Bill as it affects my constituents. Their problem is getting from north to south on the motorway network. The M6 has become a nightmare. Anyone attempting the journey from Birmingham to Preston on a Friday would have to allow nearly the whole day. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said, the Government have lost two years in dealing with that. My constituents are anxious for developments on the west coast main line and are glad that our privatisations opened the door to more capital for that. The Bill and the accompanying White Paper offer no encouragement for developing a light rail system on the Fylde coast to link Fleetwood, Blackpool, Lytham St. Anne's and Preston. Such a system could revolutionise our area.

A briefing from the Institution of Civil Engineers brings home some facts. In a country where motor vehicles dominate movements of both passengers and freight, the cost of congestion is estimated at £20 billion. The British road system is the most congested in western Europe. In relation to land area, the British motorway network is one of the smallest in Europe. The state of maintenance of our roads is worse than when the Government came into office. The Bill does nothing to address those problems.

That is hardly surprising when one considers the research by W.S. Atkins on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in assessing whether anything in the Bill would have a measurable, meaningful effect on traffic growth, particularly in the urban environment. This recently published research suggests that even implementing the most radical White Paper policies, such as congestion charging using the powers in the Bill, would result only in arresting the rate of traffic growth nationally. That means that even if the rate of traffic growth is arrested, we will still face an undercapacity problem in our transport system. The Government suggest no solution to that.

Going back to the M6, there is nothing in the Bill or the White Paper--apart from the Birmingham northern relief road--that offers one ounce of extra capacity on that vital north-south link. There is no suggestion of additional lanes. I recognise that building a duplicate M6 is off the agenda, but we face serious constraints. The Government should reconsider because their own research shows that we have a serious undercapacity problem in our transport system.

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In a document deposited in the Library at the beginning of the month, the publication, "Local Transport Today" states that the Commission for Integrated Transport, which was set up by the Government to consider the impact of charging on congestion, said that the

Whichever way we look at it, independent and objective assessment of the measures put forward in the Bill as the solution to our transport problems shows that they have already been found wanting.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Institution of Civil Engineers. Is he aware that it states:

There is evidence on the other side.

Mr. Jack: The people who make up that institution have a vested interest. Most are representatives of, and paid by, local authorities. They are hardly likely to bite the hand that feeds them. It may well be that they are not yet aware of the independent work to which I referred.

Motorists will resile from the truth about the Government's much professed interest in investing in transport infrastructure. It emerges from paragraph 236 of the explanatory memorandum, which states:

That is another £40 per motorist of additional taxation. Is it not remarkable that when the Government talk about investment, they mean, yet again, attacking the motorist? As my right hon. Friends the Members for Kensington and Chelsea and for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) noted, rural motorists and low-income families are the people most affected by the proposals.

As for all the guff about the Strategic Rail Authority bringing new investment, paragraph 4.31 of the White Paper says that the franchising director, who will come under the new authority, will have new money to invest in the railway system. However, paragraph 2.37 of the explanatory memorandum states:

There we have it in black and white in the Government's own material. There will be no new money from public sources to inject cash into the rail system. The Government are fond of their own rhetoric but the reality tells a different story.

I am interested in some of the details in the Bill about how the proposals will work. Clause 92 deals with local transport plans, which are a key part of the Government's

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approach, especially in respect of road traffic congestion charges, because the money from that and workplace parking is supposed to sustain the plans. It states:

    "Each local transport authority must develop and implement plans for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport."

What a wonderful sentence, but what is the definition of all that? How will we judge the effectiveness of those plans, when the Government refuse to supply any kind of national benchmark so that we can measure whether their policies are improving the nation's transport?

Mr. Gordon Prentice: On that point--

Mr. Jack: No, I am afraid that time forbids me. I have taken one intervention already.

The Government are fond of league tables of performance in education and just about every other area, to show that their judgment is getting better, but on transport, they are remarkably silent. The only thing that they want is an intermodal change, so that people move from one mode to another, but we do not know whether the fundamentals of the transport system will be improved.

We find in clause 140, on road user charging, that

I love the word "indirectly". It moves us a long way from measurable gains resulting from those charges.

Clause 145, which deals with charging schemes, reveals that the Deputy Prime Minister will eventually approve such schemes. The clause refers to them being

I wonder what British Aerospace in my constituency, which employs 6,000 people and has a couple of thousand workplace parking places for skilled aerospace engineers from all over Lancashire, will think of that? It will be a huge additional cost on BAe's highly competitive business. There is not a prayer of a public transport system bringing those skilled workers from all over the north-west of England to work at that location. I do not see how there will be any gain from that proposal.

The Government speak of diminishing out-of-town shopping, and the renaissance of the city centre, but then propose a mechanism to impose a charge on people who will invest in the city centre and build shoppers' car parks. Wait till customers suddenly twig that the cost of goods in Tesco and Sainsbury's will rise because the Government plan to tax the supermarket car park space. It is the politics of the madhouse, but such are the Government's policies.

In a rational world, peer group pressure exists. Drinking and driving has effectively been eliminated through being perceived as anti-social, because people were convinced by the arguments. The Government must convince people of the benefits of public transport. I believe in it, but it needs up-front investment.

The capacity of the public transport system must be expanded, if people are to be persuaded to shift from their motor cars. There is nothing in the manana world of the Bill to achieve that. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk spoke of the measures taking

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effect in 2005, he pointed exactly to the Government's problem--long on promises, long on rhetoric and short on delivery.

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