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10 Dec 2002 : Column 158continued
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I thank the Secretary of State for his customary courtesy in providing an advance copy of his statement. His announcement of the widening of some roads will be widely welcomed. Businesses, motorists and communities in the midlands, the north and the north-west will undoubtedly welcome the widening of the M1 and the M6, and the south-west has desperately needed the full dualling of the A303 for a long time. His words about light rail, buses and trams will also be welcomed by many.
Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that given the warnings last week from the Strategic Rail Authority that the 10-year transport plan is now effectively in tatters, few will believe that such projects are certain to happen? Does he accept that even after this announcement, his Government plan to spend less
Four times on this morning's XToday" programme, the Secretary of State refused to say that reducing traffic is still Government policy, so will he state clearly that Ministers have definitively abandoned that target? Does he also realise that other parts of his statement provoke a strong sense of deja vu? He boasts of the amount to be spent. In 1998, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House:
Does the Secretary of State accept that we have had five and a half shamefully wasted years in which motorists have been lectured, penalised and massively taxed; the highest fuel duties in the western world have paid for the smallest road building programme since the second world war; and the average motorist has endured a 16 per cent. rise in journey times and a 50 per cent. rise in motorway congestion while Ministers and their chauffeurs sail past in the bus lanes that other people are penalised for using?
Does the Secretary of State expect the public to believe that he will build the roads that he has promised today when last week the Government had to admit that they could not deliver the rail improvements that he promised only a few months ago? Has he not proven today that, with Labour, all we ever get is the promise of jam tomorrow and the reality of jams today?
Mr. Darling: I do feel sorry for the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, one of his biggest problems is that he does not have a transport policy. He said at the Tory party conference that he would announce that policy before the end of the year, but I note that there are only 10 more announcing days till Christmas, so time is running out.
The hon. Gentleman has another problem. The general thrust of his rant is, I think, that we ought to be spending more, yet I note that the leader of the Conservative partyI know that the hon. Gentleman has difficulties with him, or at least did in the pastsaid as recently as 8 December:
The hon. Gentleman raised two points that are worthy of reply. First, he complained that there were more people travelling around than there were five years ago. In many ways that is a good thing, is it not? There are 1.5 million fewer unemployed people now. People are moving around: they are better off because of the strong economy. Our job must be to ensure that the transport system enables people and goods to move around. Ours must be a measured and balanced approach. That is why we are investing in both road and rail.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Strategic Rail Authority and rail expenditure. Richard Bowker, the SRA's chairman, made the obvious point that the industry needs to get a grip on its projects and costs. It never did that under Railtrack. It did not do it under privatisation, when the whole system virtually fell to pieces. Richard Bowker was absolutely right: we must keep a tight control on expenditure to ensure that money is spent properly.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for giving notice of his statement. Although it has already been announced, may I begin by welcoming the money provided for local transport plans? My local authority will be delighted.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that local plans often provide the most balanced and measured solutions to the scourge of congestion and pollution on our roads, not least by focusing on improving public transport? If so, why has he not applied the same
Why, when we are about to hear more news of train delays and cancellations, has the Secretary of State not reconsidered the balance of Government funding between road building and public transport? What exactly did he mean when he said back in June:
Mr. Darling: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for our proposals, but he says that we should be spending more on rail. Indeed, I saw him on television earlier saying exactly the same. Perhaps he should have a word with the Liberal Democrats' finance spokesman, who has given a warning about Liberal Democrat spending plans. He said that his colleagues could no longer assume that spending pledges could be funded unless they satisfied five tests. Where have we heard that before? The tests include the following: the pledges must be value for money, they must be funded within current budgets, they must be a priority for scarce resources, andwait for itthe Liberal Democrats must decide whether the pledges could not be better delivered by the private sector. My word! I look forward to that being debated at next year's Liberal Democrat conference.
The hon. Gentleman made a fair point in saying that investment must be balanced and must be measured. That is why we are spending far more on the railways. As I told the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) a moment ago, Richard Bowker's point last week was not that there was a lack of substantial sums. The point is that we cannot return to the situation that was arising with Railtrack, which simply thought of a number and doubled it, which had no control over its costs and which did not get a grip on its projects. Of course we must ensure that money is spent properly, whether it has come from the private or the public sector; but a substantial amount is being invested. The west coast main line is a case in point.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say, basically, that he was opposed to everything I announced today about road improvements. Is he really saying to his colleagues with constituencies in south-west England that the A303 should not be dualled, or to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that he should not argue for upgrading the A1, as he did at a recent Question Time? Does he not want the M4-M5 around Bristol to be improved? He knows in his heart of hearts that Liberal policy on transport can be a trifle muddled at times.