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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does my hon. Friend agree that the prospect for proper development of aviation in the UK is through the regional air network? That does not necessarily require new runways. Instead, runways can be extended, such as the runway at Welshpool airport in my constituency.

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend manages to get in a sensible constituency point, but he also makes a more general point. Surely the first step in deciding the future of aviation in this country is to ensure that we make better use of existing airports and develop regional airports. In that way, economies in the regions could grow and we would not have to rely constantly on the overheated economy in the south-east. My hon. Friend is right.

The crisis is worse, however, when it is looked at in more detail.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): In terms of regional airport policy—Madam Deputy Speaker will be aware of this—does the hon. Gentleman support the expansion of Wolverhampton business airport at Halfpenny Green?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman must not tempt me too far. Unlike the Home Secretary, I wish to discuss the final document that we will submit to the Government with my colleagues before we make its details public. If he can wait just 48 hours, we should have an answer then.

If we look in more depth at the railways, we see not only problems with delays and cancellations, but that we have the most expensive railway in Europe. Fares here are four times more expensive than they are in Italy and seven times more expensive than Czech fares. As we heard only last Thursday, fares are to rise even further. As we learned over the weekend, we also have some of the slowest trains, slower even than trains in Morocco, China and even Iran.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does my hon. Friend agree—I am sure he will—that airports in the south-east are so overcrowded and overburdened because our railways journeys are so appalling, so expensive and so slow? That is the key to better transport in this country.

Mr. Foster: I agree that rail substitution for some flights is an important part of the solution, but we also need to consider how we ensure that aviation bears the full costs of the industry. At the moment, it gets huge tax subsidies, which are greatly detrimental to the environment.

The railways are in a deep crisis. It is difficult to get information on how they are progressing. I recently wanted to know what criteria were used by the Strategic

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Rail Authority in deciding which train operating company should be awarded a franchise. The answer we got was remarkably unclear and not comprehensive. In a parliamentary written answer, we were simply told that the SRA uses "a variety of criteria" for assessing which companies are short-listed for passenger franchises. In other words, decisions are made but we are not told how. The Secretary of State has to admit that there is a real crisis in the railways and other modes of transport.

Let us consider what the Government say in their amendment. As I suggested, they seem to imply that there is no crisis. It is that old phrase, "Crisis. What crisis?" I hope that the House thinks about the words in the amendment. It tells us that we should note

That is a relatively new excuse by the Government. Yet if hon. Members look at the 10-year transport plan, they will see that economic growth is included in the plan. Since then, the Chancellor has told us that the figures for economic growth were wrong and that they have declined, so the rate of growth is less than predicted.

That excuse is therefore not nearly as good as it used to be. The Government amendment says that we should welcome

However, if that sum was accounted for properly, we would discover that at current prices £180 billion is worth about £158 billion, much of which is used for public resource expenditure, so there is only £103 billion for new investment, of which nearly half—£48 billion—comes from the private sector—[Interruption.] I will deal with what is wrong with that in second.

Approximately £55 billion is committed to public investment. If we make a comparison between the six years of the Labour Government and the last six years of the Conservative Government, the present Government's own figures demonstrate that the Labour Government are spending less on public transport than the Conservatives did, even though they had cut expenditure on public transport significantly.

The Government amendment says that we should welcome the Government's

Only recently, the Select Committee on Transport produced a report on multi-modal studies that says that there are many areas where environmental and sustainability criteria are lacking. It says:

The Government's own figures on environmental pollution make the position very clear. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are set to continue to rise 16 per cent. on 2000 levels by 2010 and 30 per cent. by 2020. Again, that is hardly something that we should welcome.

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The Government amendment says that we should recognise the Government's

The reality, as we warned, is that because of the failure to address the problem of energy supply south of the Thames, 1,000 new carriages are set to be mothballed in a military base. The slam-door replacement programme will simply not be delivered on time.

The Government amendment says that we should welcome

Only recently, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) said that

The Government, however, have failed to meet their commitment to reduce drink-drive limits.

The Government amendment also urges us to recognise the Government's achievements in "increased bus patronage", but outside London, that patronage has fallen by 10 per cent. since they came to power. There is therefore very little in the amendment worth recognising. It is riddled with inaccuracies and exaggerations and is sadly typical of the spin to which we have grown accustomed.

As the Secretary of State knows, the Liberal Democrats, unlike the Conservatives, have a detailed transport policy. He has a copy, so he knows that we have policies on each of the areas that I have just mentioned.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Could the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he is referring to his local or national transport policy, and would he comment on recent remarks by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who said

Would he confirm that such a position has no place in the creation of transport policy by his party or any other responsible party?

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the words of wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton). Without seeing that remark in context—I understand that it did not even relate to transport—it is beyond my pay grade to comment on it.

A number of things could be done to resolve the current crisis, and the Secretary of State needs to give all his energies to that. It is crucial that we do what he has been saying we should do for a long time, although we have not yet seen any real action. We should start to address the problem of costs, particularly on our railways. There is no doubt whatsoever that those costs are over the top. There are a variety of reasons for that, including levels of regulation, safety issues and far too many contractors and sub-contractors doing the work and seeking a profit. However, there is an urgent need to take action to reduce costs. I welcome the fact that Network Rail has restated its commitment to that goal

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today, and said that it seeks to reduce the cost of renewal and repair by 20 per cent. over the next three years. However, if that can be done over a mere three years, it demonstrates that costs have been far too high, so we have not been getting value for money. I am delighted that Network Rail is at long last following another Liberal Democrat policy in the policy document of which the Secretary of State has a copy by bringing at least some repair and renewal work in-house. I am delighted that that work is starting in the Reading area today, and I hope that there is going to be far more.

However, there is one other area of costs that the Secretary of State has not mentioned, but which requires urgent action. Before we start to put up rail fares, surely we ought to ensure that we collect all the rail fares that are due. Recent research demonstrates that 10 to 15 per cent. of rail fares are not collected. There is also a conflict in bus travel where, as I said, ridership has gone down. On the one hand, the Transport Act 2000, to which the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) referred, allows for the establishment of quality contracts between a group of bus companies and their local authority. On the other, however, competition legislation prevents that. The time surely has come to resolve that conflict. I would go even further—the time has come for re-regulation of our buses.

There should also be much more innovation in the way in which we carry out funding of transport. For example, we should allow local authorities to raise bonds for local public transport improvements against the likely income streams from congestion charging. We could go even further and develop the model of land value taxation that has been proposed for the long-awaited Crossrail. The move to regionalisation has been mentioned, and the time has come to look at the way in which we could strengthen transport in the regions, building on the excellent work of regional transport authorities. Regional authorities should operate along the lines of the German Verbund scheme and should have the opportunity to commission public transport, whether bus, train or light transit, as the Strategic Rail Authority currently does for trains.

We need to do much more to promote what the trade calls "soft measures." We should provide more support for car clubs, green travel plans prepared by local businesses, and small measures on our railways, such as loop lines and passing lines, so that high-speed trains are not held up by slower freight trains and local trains. Much more action should be taken to resolve the scourge of congestion in the morning created by the school run.

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