Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gray: Is it not odd that the Minister for Transport is the fourth Scot to fulfil that role? Scottish transport matters are decided in Edinburgh, and decisions on English roads are being made by a Scotsman.

Miss McIntosh: As my hon. Friend will realise, I have no hesitation in welcoming the fact that Scots are being promoted.

20 Dec 1999 : Column 613

I want to place on record that I am about to make a robust attack on the Government policies set out in the Bill. To those who are interested in the current hotbed of attacks and counter-attacks, I say that this lady is not for turning, and I am not about to cross the Floor of the House. I hope to make many more, similar speeches from these Benches.

I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with National Air Traffic Services, establishing a public-private partnership with a strategic private sector partner. Why did the Government feel incapable of a simple flotation, with a remaining golden-share issue to secure permanent United Kingdom control? The proposal amounts to semi- privatisation, which is regrettable and, for that reason, unacceptable. It is a halfway house: a semi-detached NATS rather than a privatised one with a golden share.

I have the privilege to serve on the Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, under the capable and amiable chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She has placed on record in this debate her personal opposition to the proposed PPP for NATS. I note the omission of her name among the 50 Members supporting the amendment, headed by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). She finds herself in excellent and assorted company. Her opposition is undoubtedly a source of deep embarrassment for the Government. We look to the Minister to respond to that embarrassment.

I turn to part II on local transport plans and buses. The Government have said on a number of occasions in this Chamber that the number of bus routes has increased this year. That is simply not true. In Vale of York, we are at least one bus route short from the beginning of the year. It was a crucial route: it was the first to be withdrawn, initially in February. Following complaints from several constituents, which I supported, it was reinstated, only to be taken away again at the end of the summer. The route was from Haxby Wiggington to the city of York, stopping at the hospital, the station and the theatre. I plead with the Government to ensure that, under them, one's first bus is not one's last.

Continuing with the transport analogy, the Government must not put the cart before the horse. If they are to be truly ambitious about greater passenger use of public transport, investment in improved public transport services must precede congestion charging or workplace parking levies. We await the winding-up speech to hear whether the Government will announce such a commitment and honour that obligation.

Government policies in practice, and current local transport plans in particular, do not inspire confidence. Let us take another example from Vale of York. The latest park and ride scheme is to be removed from its existing site on Clifton Moor business park, which is ideal. Drivers are currently invited to park their cars and visit shops on the business park, which many do, before taking the bus into York and therefore ease congestion. Many pedestrians also take the bus for convenience.

Let us contrast the present site with the newly constructed park and ride scheme on greenbelt land--yes, greenbelt land in Vale of York, confirming the Deputy Prime Minister's promise that Labour created the green belt and now wants to build on it--at Rawcliffe on the A19. The site is close to the most congested roundabout

20 Dec 1999 : Column 614

on the outskirts of York. Those living in Rawcliffe do not welcome the scheme, and those living in Clifton Moor regret the impending loss of their park and ride site, as they now have to start their cars in order to take the bus. Those living in Skelton and Shipton are horrified to learn that the congestion and tailbacks on to the A19 from the Rawcliffe roundabout in their direction are likely hugely to increase.

Rather than relieving congestion and increasing the scope and use of public transport, the park and ride scheme will increase congestion and result in fewer people using public transport in Vale of York. That ingenious yet somewhat surprising policy was the brainchild of Labour's flagship council--none less than City of York unitary authority. What does that tell us about Labour's public transport policy?

I shall address briefly part III, which deals with road charges and the workplace parking levy. As I mentioned, I have the honour to work with the RAC on its public policy committee. It has raised fundamental points, which I invite the Government to take on board.

In the RAC's view, the motorist must be convinced that road pricing is a charge, not a tax; otherwise, the concept will be unacceptable and unviable. For the Government to make that distinction between charges and taxes, motorists must be persuaded that there are publicly endorsed objectives and convinced of the transparency of the operation, spending hypothecation and the additionality of revenues raised.

If trunk road charging is introduced, charges must not be set at such a level as to encourage diversion from the most used or preferred route. Public transport in many towns and cities--including York, part of which falls in my constituency--cannot cope with the existing number of peak-time commuters, so it would be unfair to charge motorists before improving public transport. We await a decision early next year from the European Court of Justice on the question of imposing VAT on congestion charging and tolls. Do Ministers accept that revenues derived from those VAT charges should be fully hypothecated into local transport?

The Secretary of State has said that safety is and will remain of paramount importance. One can only assume that safety is of equal importance in all sectors, including rail transport. However, in their response to the Select Committee report on the Railways Bill, the Government state:

Only when it is completed will the Government address

    "the case for unified, independent arrangements for safety regulation and accident investigation."

The Government are non-committal as to which functions will fall to a new authority. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that a single body will assume overall responsibility for transport safety in the rail sector. We do not want safety in the industry to become fragmented between a plethora of organisations, including the Strategic Rail Authority, the railways regulator, Railtrack, the Health and Safety Executive and the new safety authority. The public want to know which body is to have ultimate responsibility for rail safety.

The Bill must ensure the independence of the British Transport police from Railtrack and the train operating companies: the independence of BTP officers must be

20 Dec 1999 : Column 615

beyond doubt. Finally, I ask that the promised regional Eurostar services from York, Newcastle and Edinburgh direct to Paris and Brussels be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. Because of the Government's actions or omissions, and because four full Bills have been crammed into one, I am unable to support the Bill and will oppose it this evening.

9.3 pm

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak, and glad to follow the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), with whom I work on the RAC public policy committee. I do that in a voluntary capacity.

This is a landmark Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, it is the first major transport Bill for 30 years. It will put right years of Tory neglect of Britain's transport system. It follows and builds on the details set out in the integrated transport White Paper, which has now been put in the context of a 10-year transport strategy. The policies it contains contrast sharply with the predict-and-provide policies of the previous Administration.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who pointed out Opposition Members' lack of reference to the environment. It is staggering that Conservative Members barely mentioned the importance of transport in improving our environment. Hon. Members know that that greatly concerns our constituents, especially young people. We cannot do anything about the environment without considering our transport system, which is what the Bill tries to do.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party's suggestions about motorway tolling would severely damage the environment by driving traffic through villages and areas of natural beauty?

Ms Winterton: I agree, although it was surprising to hear any proposals from the Conservatives: on the whole, they merely attacked ours without making any constructive ones of their own.

The Bill contains radical forms of financing, including public-private partnership. Many comments were made about that by Government and Opposition Members and I am sure that the discussions will continue in Committee. Another radical form of financing is hypothecation from congestion and workplace parking charges. The direct expenditure of money from those charges on improving public transport in local areas is welcome. That comes on top of the announcement on fuel duty, whereby money raised over and above inflation will go directly into a fund for transport. That is good news for Britain's transport system.

As I said, I serve in a voluntary capacity as a member of the RAC's public policy committee. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) talked about some of what the AA has been saying. The RAC surveys many thousands of motorists every year. Those surveys show clearly that there is a consensus among motorists that the real anti-car policy is to do nothing about congestion.

Next Section

IndexHome Page