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Why does the Minister not simply answer the questions? What specific widening schemes and by-passes are outlined in the transport plan? When will they commence and when will they be completed? The Government cannot say because they have so few firm plans, even after four years in government.
The chaos in policy on the roads is all the more obvious on the railways. The Government allowed public support for the railways to decline from £2 billion in 1996-97 to a mere £1.5 billion last year. At the start of the last Parliament, it was reported that the Prime Minister told his colleagues, just days after the 1997 election:
The Government inherited a railway industry that had reversed the decline in passenger numbers and rail freight, and doubled annual investment. Moreover, the figures show that punctuality and reliability had improved. The industry was poised for what Ministers themselves claimed would be a "railway renaissance". Today, the industry's morale and financial confidence is in a state of collapse, and it is crying out for additional Government support. The solution is that the Government be positive about what has every potential to be a dynamic, exciting and growing industry.
Let us hope that we have seen the last of a Secretary of State behaving like a spoilt child, stamping all over his train set in a tantrum every time something goes wrong. What industry could possibly function under the constant political barrage from Ministers and regulators to which the railway industry has been subjected? The last thing that the industry needs is for Labour to start giving in to its left-wing friends in the unions and the Liberal Democrats who long for renationalisation of the railways.
It is all about the politics of blame. In the comments of the hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the old left's insatiable appetite for the politics of blame lives on. What has all that blame achieved? The Government should end the policy of blaming and shaming the rail industry. They should promote a positive and favourable climate for the rail industry. They should help it make the changes that are needed instead of criticising from the sidelines, and should promote the financial confidence of the industry instead of gloating over its demise.
The Government have made a grave and irresponsible error in allowing the debate about rail safety to become a vehicle for political point scoring. I commend the first part of the Cullen inquiry into Paddington to the House. It is brutal in its analysis. It pulls no punches and provides no comfort for those who want to blame safety failures on privatisation. Lord Cullen's criticisms go far wider than Railtrack. He lists failures of procedures, training, communication and culture. That includes the railway inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive, and goes back far beyond the date of privatisation.
Mr. Jenkin: I am happy to quote the words of the former Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Streatham, who talked about dramatic improvements in customer focus, an explosion of innovation and the growth of investment, and I am very happy to quote the former Secretary of State, who made it absolutely clear that he was not going to turn the clock back. I suggest that the Minister start explaining that to his Back Benchers and to the trade unions; otherwise, the industry will continue to go down the plughole and he will have to take responsibility for that.
Only when this debate is free from political prejudice can Labour hope that the money allocated for the railway in the 10-year plan will be well spent. Can the Minister otherwise explain, if he is listening, how it will be possible to raise the £35 billion of private money outlined in the 10-year plan while Railtrack's share price dives out of the FTSE 100?
I have just one central question for the Minister about railways. What are the Government going to do? It is no longer a string and sealing-wax operation to get them through the general election; the rail recovery plan was just that. We can no longer have a Minister sitting in Railtrack house once a week, trying to keep the trains running on time. It is time for the Government to have a strategy for rail, and that is obviously what they do not have.
Let us consider tonight's Evening Standard: "New crisis on railways as industry chief says he will quit". That headline refers to the Government's own appointed director of the Strategic Rail Authority. The article says:
But nothing more dramatically demonstrates Labour's transport failure than the failure of transport in London. The Conservatives completed the Victoria line and the docklands light railway. We initiated the Jubilee line extension, the docklands light railway extension, the Heathrow express, Thameslink 2000 and the Croydon tramlink, but what has Labour done in its first four years?
What will happen in this Parliament? Perhaps the Minister would like to tell the House. Four years were wasted on the failed public-private partnership. It was due originally in March 1999, and then it was meant to be signed in April 2000, and then in April 2001, and now in September 2001, but industry sources now say that it will not be completed until April 2002. So when, if ever, will the PPP be completed?
The future of Mr. Bob Kiley is now at stake. First he was denigrated by the Government in a briefing war. Then he was appointed and put in charge of the negotiations with the contractors for the PPP. Now he is the victim of off-the-record briefings from the Government about his failure to complete those negotiations. What is his future, and what was the outcome of his meeting with Ministers last week?
Does the Minister accept that the PPP that he has inherited is widely regarded across academic circles, business, industry and the transport industries as botched, and will he work with Transport for London to deliver a sensible plan for a modern underground, instead of against the elected representatives of Londoners, whom the Government themselves put in place to carry out the function of running the underground? What will the Government do about the rising level of strikes, not just on the underground, but on public transport as a whole? Will the Minister take a tougher line with the militants than his RMT-sponsored forebears?
We do not shrink from congratulating the Government on their fresh majority. I congratulate them--[Interruption.] Show some grace. I congratulate them all the more on the silent contrition with which they greeted their victory. Their embarrassed silence spoke volumes. Labour knows that it failed to deliver. Its first term was blessed with opportunities rarely, if ever, enjoyed by a new Administration, not least a golden economic inheritance, a massive mandate from the electorate and the continuing good will of the electors.
The Government wasted their first term, however, squandering the opportunities that they were given four years ago. Though they have been given a second chance, they have a lesser mandate and the public are less trustful than before. All politicians must be concerned at the low turnout at the election. The ruthless raising of expectations followed by an abject failure to deliver has created a new despair about the process of politics in our nation. Transport is one of Labour's great failures. The Government have promised to make it a great success; we shall hold them to that promise.
The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): Rather than make ungracious comments such as those of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), I wish to convey to the House the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural
The hon. Member for North Essex kindly referred to my previous incarnation as a Defence Minister. Indeed, I was an Opposition defence spokesman for two years, so I spent six years with the brief. As I said to the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen conference, I am coming to terms with meeting people in uniform who do not salute me. There are other differences. One is that I am never short of free advice on how to handle the portfolio.
The debate has been interesting, not just in terms of the subject, but because we have heard some excellent contributions from almost a tide of new Members. However, new Members should always be cautious about those who offer them congratulations on their speeches. No doubt they will have notes of various shades of effusiveness put in their pigeonholes, including, "The greatest speech since Bevan, Lloyd George or Churchill." Delete where necessary.
Indeed, in the current climate, Conservative Members who make maiden speeches will definitely receive a flood of such notes. Given the track record of the hon. Member for North Essex, he probably sends notes before Members have made their speeches, so that they receive them on time.
We heard a good range of contributions and I took a slight hint from the hon. Gentleman regarding the future of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), who made an excellent contribution about his constituency. He may be promoted to shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, a post for which he is almost uniquely qualified on the Tory Benches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) referred to her predecessor, Bill Michie, who is well remembered by those of us in the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union group as the chairman. Inevitably, the combination of his name and the trade meant that he was known as Metal Michie. Another welcome addition to the AEEU ranks--my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann)--was head of research for the engineers when I was with the electricians. He drew attention to the unique qualities of his predecessor and provided many interesting details of his constituency. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) drew us into the subject of the debate by mentioning rural transport, which was also welcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen) also contributed to the debate. Although it is extremely good to have that constituency back in the Labour column, it is with a touch of sadness that we must acknowledge that our long-standing colleague, Cledwyn Hughes, did not live long enough to see that.
Then we had the retreads. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) followed the great tradition of Sutton Coldfield MPs by denying that he has anything to do with Birmingham. He was equally in denial about the fact that a Conservative Government put them there in the first place when they tried to gerrymander the boundaries to win control of Birmingham and other cities in the metropolitan authorities. The hon. Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) rightly referred to his predecessor,
The hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) and for South Antrim (David Burnside) spoke strongly and passionately on the interests of their constituents. Although I was not present, my colleagues told me about the fine and well-judged maiden speech by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). She was the first woman to be elected from Northern Ireland in 30 years and will bring a rational and considered contribution to the problems of Northern Ireland and to our debates.
I do not have enough time to go into detail on the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) mentioned several capital investment programmes. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy was uncertain whether that was a bid for Government funds or an announcement of how Shetland district council will be spending the great pot of money that it has in its own right.
Some hon. Members in this combined debate on the environment and rural affairs dealt with rural matters. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) talked at considerable length about foot and mouth problems. He made some valid points and my colleagues at the relevant Department will want to take them up. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) also made observations on foot and mouth.
The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) mentioned footpaths and drew our attention to the success of her campaign on the basis of her local pledges, which highlighted the difference between that and the success--or otherwise--of the Conservatives' national pledges. Her colleagues are in her debt.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) gave the usual talk about the relevance of Westminster, which will be enormously improved when he and his colleagues turn up on a more regular basis.
There were limited speeches on transport. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) rightly drew attention to the considerable worries of commuters in his constituency, where I began my political career as a local councillor.
I was worried to hear about the difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) encountered in arranging meetings with Railtrack. He and other hon. Members will know that in my previous incarnation as Defence Minister, I operated an open-door policy. Subject to the constraints imposed by the legalities of planning matters, I am more than keen to continue that arrangement, and I want relevant agencies and officials to do the same. I hope that he will provide me with details so that we can improve matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) mentioned school transport. We have invested money to draw up plans for schools, hospitals and industry so that we improve transport patterns. We look forward to working with hon. Members and local authorities to achieve that. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) rightly drew attention to safety on public transport and the need to protect people from anti-social behaviour so that they feel safe. No matter what the
Last but not least, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) rightly stressed that passengers must be at the centre of policy and come first. That has to be the focus of all travel authorities when they provide a service. They must bear in mind the expectations of the average person waiting for a train, bus, light railway or tram.
I come now to the broader transport issues. The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) will not want to hear this, but I want to remind him of our inheritance. It has been said many times, but it bears repeating, that many of the transport problems that we are experiencing today are the result of decades of under-investment and 18 Tory years of a boom-bust economy, and the impact of that on public investment.
We are now suffering from the results of an ill-thought-out, rushed privatisation of the railways, which split the industry into a hundred separate parts with no sense of direction or co-ordination. I understood that, to try to clear the ground, the hon. Gentleman had conceded that the privatisation had not been particularly well handled, but I notice that he did not take the opportunity to do so tonight. No one will trust the Opposition on the railways until they can see that, in order to put money into their coffers before the 1997 general election, they botched the privatisation, for which the industry and passengers are suffering.
We are also still living with a legacy of bus deregulation and privatisation, which again led to fragmentation and ignored the need for investment and partnership to provide quality public transport. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) demonstrated yet again that the Opposition have selective and convenient amnesia in that regard.