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Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): My hon. Friend mentioned passing points, but he will be aware that Railtrack pulled out a lot of track for passing points, and has closed a lot of platforms. Passing points that were in existence 10 or 15 years ago are no longer there, but it would be simple to put them back in as a priority.

Mr. Foster: I am not sure that it would be as simple as my hon. Friend suggests, but it would make a great deal of sense to develop far more smaller-scale measures, which were recently cut by the programme of the SRA and Network Rail. In my own constituency, we have been waiting years for a simple solution to the problem

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of a large gap between track and train at Freshford station. That has recently been cut, despite many promises to solve the problem. We have proposed simpler and cheaper solutions, but even those have been rejected.

There are many soft measures that could be taken. On at least two issues the House must come together, despite the criticisms that we might make. First, we should persuade the Secretary of State that his review of the 10-year transport plan must lead to a radical overhaul of it. The current plan is already off the rails because targets have been missed or dropped, priorities have been changed and the public has lost confidence. Secondly, we need to work together to help the Secretary of State make his case to the Chancellor for the 2004 spending review, so that transport get its fair share of the expenditure that will be announced at that time.

A great deal more needs to be done to create the safe, reliable and affordable public transport system that the country deserves. Much could be done to tackle the present transport crisis, but it requires a full-time Secretary of State. That is why I commend the motion to the House.

8.1 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Most of us were intrigued by the way in which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) started his speech. He was at pains to say that the Scotland Office ought to go, but not yet. That was an example of the Liberal "On the one hand . . . on the other". I wondered for a moment why he had done that, then I remembered that The Times of 2 December last year reported that one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, who is described in that paper as

had been given the job of finding about £2 billion worth of spending cuts. I shall come back to that in a moment. It seems that the chap was to look at

So, the hon. Gentleman's party policy is to get rid of the Scotland Office. We are not abolishing it—the Scotland Office is still there. The hon. Gentleman wants to abolish it completely, but not yet. How typically Liberal.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Mr. Darling: I will not give way at present, as I want to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bath.

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In that press report, the hon. Gentleman's colleague said that he had been

That is quite a lot of money, and the prospect is even more remarkable given the spending commitments that the hon. Gentleman entered into during his speech.

I see in The Times today that the Liberals are committed to getting rid of not just three but nine Government Departments, so presumably there will be several Secretaries of State with several jobs. In addition, according to their brilliant economic spokesman, the Liberals have been given a brief to change the party's image as a spendthrift, high-tax party. It is interesting that in the same report, a party source is quoted as saying:

I was reminded of a letter that came into our possession, sent by the self-styled Liberal shadow Chancellor to all members of the Liberal party. This is what he wrote on 8 January this year:

At about the same time as the Liberals' Treasury spokesman said that simply proposing further spending and tax rises at this stage was unrealistic, their transport spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath, issued a press release stating:

It is astonishing that a party source for the Liberals can say—I quote again:

What the hon. Member for Bath said is interesting, but credible it is not.

Mr. Don Foster: I thank the Secretary of State for putting it on the record that the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they wish to reduce bureaucracy and waste in central Government to save money, that they want to ensure that we get better value for money, and that they have fully costed programmes. If the right hon. Gentleman read out the rest of that press release, it would show that all that money would come from existing Government spending proposals.

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman will find that trying to fund everything from savings on bureaucracy simply does not work. In the course of his speech, he said that we had to control costs and he announced spending commitment after spending commitment. He was guilty of gross financial incontinence. It is unbelievable how the Liberals can pretend to be credible when their spokesmen say that they would spend more, but at the same time they are interested in controlling costs.

I remind the Liberals that at the same time as issuing statements about being financially responsible, the Liberal shadow Chancellor said that any spending pledge made by the Liberals had to meet five tests. First, it had to represent value for money. Who would quarrel

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with that? Secondly, the pledge had to be funded within current budgets. Yet here the hon. Gentleman was saying that rail fares should not go up—that is a spending commitment. He then said that he wanted some railway expenditure financed by bonds. Let me tell him that bonds also have to be financed. According to the third test, the proposal had to be consistent with consumer choice—very nice. Fourthly, it had to represent a priority for scarce resources. There is no evidence that that has focused the hon. Gentleman's mind. Fifthly, the Liberals would have to decide whether any spending pledge could not be better delivered by the private sector.

That is the party that criticised us for the public-private partnership for London Underground. It says that it is against the private finance initiative in many parts of the country, despite the fact that it is bringing in a lot of new projects for transport, health and education. The hon. Gentleman's problem is that his policy lacks credibility, it is opportunistic and it shows no evidence that the Liberals have woken up to the fact that if they offer to spend money, they first have to get the money. Throughout the time of this Government, from 1997 onwards, the Liberals opposed the very policies that made it possible for us to allocate so much money for transport spending in the 10-year period.

Rob Marris: With reference to spending commitments by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), does my right hon. Friend find it surprising that in his intervention the hon. Gentleman spoke about cutting bureaucracy, yet the only example of cutting regulation that he gave in his speech referred to safety on the railways? I find that extraordinary. Furthermore, it seems that the whole of the Liberal Democrats' transport plan is to be funded by cutting safety on the railways.

Mr. Darling: One of the great pleasures of being a Liberal spokesman, I suppose, is that it must be within the hon. Gentleman's contemplation that at no time in the foreseeable future is he ever likely to have to take responsibility for decisions. It must be a great comfort.

I shall give another example of a curious position that the Liberals are adopting. When the hon. Member for Bath speaks about roads and the last series of multi-modal studies, he gives the distinct impression that the Liberals would not build any roads at all. I remember that just before Christmas I announced that I was not prepared to sanction a proposal to build a new off-line A556 upgraded to motorway standard in Cheshire because it would go through greenfield areas and would be environmentally damaging. I was surprised, as I am sure the House will be, that at a recent meeting of councils in the Greater Manchester area, they all agreed that there was an alternative, except for one council—Liberal-controlled Stockport, which wanted the A556 built off-line from the major roads. That shows—sadly, the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) is no longer with us—that what the Liberals say nationally and what they say locally is very different.

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