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The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): Does the hon. Gentleman not approve of integrated transport?

Mr. Heath: Yes, I would, if a railway element were included; currently, however, none is.

On Monday, the Secretary of State told us that

We agree—enough is enough. However, the amnesia that has afflicted members of the previous Government—as evidenced by the speech of the former Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)—has spread to the current Government. When Ministers talk about decades of underinvestment in the railways, they forget that we have had half a decade of underinvestment under a Labour Government.

Where did all the promises made by the Deputy Prime Minister during his period of responsibility for the railway get us? How did they improve the system? Instead of improvements, the right hon. Gentleman bequeathed a system in chaos to the current Transport Secretary, who now wants to start with a blank sheet. It is a nice trick—if it can be pulled off—to start with a blank sheet half way through a Government, but I doubt that the travelling public will accept that, or that they will judge the Government's performance by any yardstick other than whether their travelling experience improves or continues to deteriorate.

Malcolm Bruce: My hon. Friend is rightly highlighting the growing cynicism of a public who were faced with the fuel escalator, which gave huge revenues to the Exchequer but did not result in any investment in the public transport to which they were asked to switch. Now, they have no confidence in the future of the plan. Not only the short-term objective of a decent transport and communications policy, but confidence in our ability to

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get people off the roads and reduce emissions in accordance with our long-term Kyoto commitments, are being undermined by a Government who have failed to inspire confidence in the future of public transport as a viable alternative to the roads.

Mr. Heath: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the crux of the matter. If we are to attract people back to public transport and the railway system and get them to leave their cars at home, we must first reverse the disintegration of the railway system that resulted from privatisation and has been continued by the current Government. Secondly, we must create a fair fares structure to encourage people to believe that they can afford to use the railways.

Thirdly, we must secure the infrastructure investment and development that are needed. I have a modest request to make on behalf of my constituency. We have been trying to use the Great Western line to Penzance as a means of providing local services by reopening stations at Somerton, Langport and Witham Friary. Although that reached "feasibility" stage under Railtrack, the plan has now disappeared from the map, which is regrettable.

We need a safe system. I was alarmed by the Secretary of State's comments on the Cullen recommendations for Paddington. Those of us who use the station want to know that Paddington is safe to use, but it appears that the right hon. Gentleman himself does not yet know whether the recommendations that emerged from Cullen have been implemented. That is a disastrous omission on the part of the Secretary of State and his advisers.

Mr. Don Foster: My hon. Friend might be even more alarmed to learn that when purportedly giving information about signalling improvements in the Paddington area, the Secretary of State assured the House that the required TPWS—train protection warning system—improvements had been made. My hon. Friend is aware, although the Secretary of State clearly is not, that Lord Cullen made two wholly separate recommendations. We still have not heard about the recommendations on signalling.

Mr. Heath: That is precisely the case. The Secretary of State does not know whether signalling improvements have been made. He is waiting for the Health and Safety Executive to report—three months late. He is apparently not curious about whether that critically important safety improvement has been made—an improvement that would allow passengers to travel safely into Paddington. That speaks volumes about the Government's priorities.

Privatisation was a terrible adventure for the rail industry. Coupled with underinvestment over a long period, it has had disastrous consequences. The fact remains that the Government were elected five years ago to do better. They have failed to improve the system over that period, and for the public it is now time for delivery or removal.

6 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): This is the fourth occasion in recent months when Opposition parties have initiated a debate on aspects of the railways. The Conservatives have secured three

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debates, and the Liberal Democrats have selected the topic for today's debate. I do not think for one minute that anyone in the House would criticise Opposition parties for raising the subject of the railways, because it is clearly an important issue that concerns the public. Many Members experience rail travel in their daily lives.

I suspect, however, that members of the public who have followed the debates in the past few months would not have been impressed by what we have heard from the Opposition parties, such as the Conservative party spokesperson's staggering refusal to explain its policy on the railways. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies), and she failed to answer his question about what the Conservatives would do and how much money they would put into the railways. If a member of the Conservative Front-Bench team replies to the debate, perhaps they could at least give us an inkling of Conservative party policy on the railways—how much money it would put in, what it would do about Railtrack as it now stands and whether it supports or opposes the Strategic Rail Authority's 10-year plan. I do not think it too much to ask for the House to be given an inkling of Conservative party policy on the railways.

I listened carefully to the opening speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I was genuinely interested to find out about his party's constructive policies on the rail network, but I did not hear too much about that.

Mr. Don Foster: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that on 14 February we published our detailed proposals for the future of the railways. We are delighted that the Secretary of State has now adopted some of those proposals on the future of Railtrack. We are hopeful that he will shortly adopt our proposals for the future of the London underground too.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It seems that the Liberal Democrats support the Government's proposals on Railtrack and the 10-year plan, which makes me wonder why the motion was tabled in such terms. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats should support the Government amendment.

I am sure that the public welcome the fact that the SRA has a 10-year plan, which, together with the Government's 10-year plan, provides a real strategy for improving rail services. Some of the improvements in the rail network that have already been made since the election of a Labour Government have been possible despite the lack of investment in safety and the fragmentation of the network that we inherited.

In a few months, for the first time in 40 years, rail services will return to a line in south-east Edinburgh, where two new stations have been provided with funding from the Scottish Executive and the SRA. Those improvements can be built on under the SRA's plan, and I welcome that strategic plan and the Government's response to it.

Of course many of us would like to expand on the SRA's proposals. We have our own ideas. Because of the nature of the transport sector, it is almost impossible to please everyone all the time, because people have their own strongly held views on this area of policy.

Even in a sector that tends to be critical of initiatives from Governments of whatever colour, there has been a guarded but positive response to the SRA's plan from the

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industry and from industry commentators. That suggests to me that the SRA is acting on the right lines, at least in broad terms.

Having raised in parliamentary questions and in correspondence my concerns about the future of rail services in and around Edinburgh, I want to put on record my acknowledgement of the response from the SRA and from Ministers to concerns expressed by me, by other hon. Members and by many outside bodies. I welcome the decision announced today on the two-year franchise for GNER. Unlike the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), who has now left the Chamber and has been the only member of the Scottish National party present during the debate, I recognise the benefits that travellers in Scotland and in the rest of the country will enjoy as a result of that two-year extension of the franchise.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State listed some of the improvements that have been made. I refer also to the improvements to the diesel train sets, which provide the train service to north-east Scotland and which the hon. Member for North Tayside did not acknowledge in his criticism of the Government.

I particularly welcome the decision to give the go-ahead to the rebuilding of Edinburgh Waverley station, which is essential for the east coast main line upgrade. It is also essential for the planned improvement to local services in the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland area, and is vital for the better development of Edinburgh city centre.

I also welcome the confirmation that the east coast main line upgrade is to be included in the medium-term programme. I note that the SRA will be bringing forward detailed proposals in the near future. That upgrade is vital not just for Edinburgh but for cities and communities along the line from Edinburgh to London. It is vital for tourism, business, leisure travel and freight.

I note that the SRA makes it clear that it will take the lead in the joint venture set up to take forward the east coast main line upgrade. I strongly urge the SRA to ensure that it provides strong leadership, because none of us wants the east coast main line upgrade to be bedevilled by the problems that affected the west coast main line upgrade because of the complexity of the contractual relationships that were necessary to take that project forward.

I welcome many other aspects of the SRA plan. They bring benefits to my constituency and to Scotland as a whole. Even the improvements in the east coast main line outside Scotland will bring benefits to people in Scotland. They travel to London and use trains that start in London. Their trains are affected by delays in the south-east commuter network. Benefits from the upgrade further south will also be felt in Scotland.

There are always more things that can be done and further improvements that can be made. The SRA is right to give a high priority to achievable objectives in the short term, but what I find particularly exciting about its proposals is that it identifies a list of longer-term projects that should be investigated for possible future development. Those projects would revolutionise rail travel in many parts of the country. From my constituency perspective, and as a Member from Scotland, I am excited about the vision of a new north-south, high-speed line, which would offer immense possibilities for leisure,

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tourism and business travel, would take pressure off the road network and air services, and would also help to bind the United Kingdom together as a concrete embodiment of the benefits to Scotland of our links with England.

I hope that the Minister will favourably consider the proposals for a new high-speed line from the south of England to the north. Such projects require costings and value-for-money analysis, but they also require a leap of faith. I urge the Government to take that leap of faith, and to take the SRA's lead in developing that idea. What better monument could there be to the Government's commitment to modernising the rail network than to open such a line? It would mean that people in this country would no longer look to the continent for its high-speed, modern services and look in despair at the largely 19th century railway network in this country. I urge the Government to do what they can to take that proposal for a high-speed line further forward at the earliest opportunity.

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