Geraint Davies: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that the Deputy Prime Minister was a key player in the original protocol? Does he recognise that the fiscal incentives that we have introduced to encourage people to use smaller cars and the tax that we impose on petrol put us in a leading role
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman challenges me on several issues. I welcome the contribution that the Deputy Prime Minister has made, although I remind the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Gentleman's negotiating skills, especially with his French counterpart, could be called into question. We are perhaps sitting on our laurels in respect of our success in meeting the targets set by the Kyoto protocol. The results of an independent analysis of Government action suggest that we have much more to do, and that many of our successes so far have resulted from policies adopted, perhaps inadvertently, by the previous Government, especially in respect of the so-called dash for gas. Bearing in mind some of the plans that the Government have had to reduce growth in the use--and indeed to reduce the absolute use--of motor vehicles, I question whether the Government have been remotely as successful as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
That brings me neatly to the other topic for debate today: transport. Here, too, we have a new Government Department, with a new Secretary of State. On 18 June, the new Secretary of State said--again I quote from the Department's press release--
I suspect that all in the Chamber would agree that the public transport system is a shambles and that, even for those who rely on their cars, there is now increased congestion and delay. The one thing that we now know above all is that that congestion and delay is costing this country dear. The Confederation of British Industry estimates that congestion on our roads costs British businesses some £20 billion a year. Our doctors tell us that the resultant pollution brings forward thousands of deaths every year. Ridiculously, it was possible to get around a Victorian city more quickly in a horse and cart than it is to get around a modern city in a modern motor car.
Even for those who rely on their motor cars, as some, particularly in rural areas, sadly must, the situation is not good. We shall persuade more people out of their cars only if we have a better public transport system. Yet it is a Labour Government who, over the past four years, spent less Government money on public transport than even the previous Conservative Government were spending on it.
To take as an example the shambles on our railways, it is no wonder that passengers feel that the Strategic Rail Authority cannot work out a strategy, that Railtrack cannot run a railway and that even the Deputy Prime Minister could not work out who to blame next.
I believe that many, although not all, in the House would agree that the shambolic state of our railways was shaped by the Tories' disastrous rail privatisation, which led to an unwieldy, fragmented structure, with hundreds of different parts all competing with one another. It was
Sadly, the new Secretary of State has said that he has no plans for any structural changes within the railway, yet structural change is now urgently needed. I do not support the calls from many people for renationalisation because I recognise that bringing back Railtrack alone would cost billions of pounds--money that I truly believe should be used not to line shareholders' pockets but to invest in improving our railways.
Some changes could be made. Parts of Railtrack--those directly responsible for the running of the railways--are run as a monopoly. It is not right in a monopoly to have a conflict between shareholder profit and passenger safety. We should restructure those parts of Railtrack that relate to the running of the railways, as distinct from its property management portfolio activities, and turn them into a not-for-profit public interest company.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would leave Railtrack as a private company in charge of all the property side and leave the taxpayer to bear the burden of all the work that has to be done on maintenance and improving the railway?
Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, for whom I have great respect as Chairman of the Transport Sub-Committee. No, I am not saying that. She will be well aware that Railtrack has assets that have no direct connection with the railways, such as buildings in the centre of major cities and so on. I am referring to those properties and their management, as distinct from the properties and activities that directly relate to running the railways. [Interruption.] I am glad to see, from the movement of the hon. Lady's hand, that I am already beginning to bring her round a little.
The hon. Lady will be aware that her Committee has been critical of the way in which our railways operate. On other aspects of transport--National Air Traffic Services, for example--she and her Committee have advocated a model similar to my proposal for Railtrack.
On restructuring, the new Secretary of State could go even further. For example, to reduce the number of elements in our railway system, he could reduce the number of franchises. He could also allow more of the train operating companies to take responsibility for maintaining the track on which their trains run. Rather than the perverse system under which 300 people are employed to work out delay attribution, he could introduce a completely new system giving incentives to train operators. At any one time, 60 people are sat down working out who is to blame for any one train delay. That is nonsensical.
Mr. Foster: Again, the hon. Gentleman takes me down paths that I do not want to follow at great length. He will remember the lengthy debate about NATS and the plans for part privatisation, which were vigorously opposed from these Benches and by more than 100 Labour Members, airline pilots, trade unions and others. For those parts of Railtrack that are directly related to running the railways, I advocate a model similar to that proposed for NATS by the Select Committee.
Adopting such a model, which would involve a not-for-profit public interest company, would enable that company to raise money through bonds and there is now a much greater likelihood that that model would attract additional private sector finance. Many Members are well aware of the difficulties that Railtrack is experiencing. It is unable to attract private sector investment, its credit rating has plummeted and it is having problems bringing in additional private sector money, although the Government's 10-year transport plan depends on that significantly. Therefore, the model that I propose would help the Government to achieve their desire to have £60 billion invested in the railways, which is much needed, including the split that they propose.
The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) must be aware of the ludicrous situations that have arisen over the past couple of months. Railtrack has constantly come cap in hand to the Government to ask for yet more money and for payment of money that it would receive in due course to be brought forward. The sad truth is that money that taxpayers have handed over will be used to pay shareholders' profits and the golden goodbye to Gerald Corbett. That is not how I want taxpayers' money to be used.
The word has gone out that civil servants in the new Department are referring to it by the acronym DETOL. I simply say to the new Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that our transport system needs far more than sticking plaster and DETOL if we are to put it right. A lot more needs urgently to be done.
The creation of two new Departments and the appointment of two new Secretaries of State has already been mentioned. But that in itself will not do much to address the many concerns of people in our rural communities about the environment and the need to create a safe, reliable and affordable public transport system.