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Norman Baker (Lewes): May I tell the Secretary of State, if he does not know, that there is a proposal for a major environmentally destructive dual carriageway

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throughout my constituency? I can assure him that I shall not support that proposal, and urge him not to build it.

Mr. Darling: We shall see. I know about the proposal to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As I have said on a number of occasions, I hope to be able to come before the House fairly shortly to deal not only with that study, but with a number of others.

When we look at transport, it is necessary to have a strong dose of realism. The hon. Member for Bath was good enough to say that what had happened was all the fault of Gladstone's Administration and that that was when the rot started. I am sure that we could look for transport deficiencies back to the time when the wheel was invented, but there is no doubt that one of the pressures on the transport system in this country—this is not a party political point, as Labour Governments have been guilty of the same thing—is that successive Governments were guilty of failing to maintain steady investment year on year, decade after decade. For example, that is why the west coast main line, which is one of the main arterial routes in our railway system, is now having to be upgraded and replaced, in many cases at huge cost. If it had been upgraded and improved regularly, year on year, the cost would easily have been accommodated as, like anyone else with a transport asset, we would have been looking after the line properly. The line was last upgraded in the 1960s and the investment is starting to go in only now.

On Friday I was in Stockport, where the actions of the Liberal Democrat council that I mentioned came to my attention. I visited a brand new signalling centre—a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled facility that will allow more capacity on the line and enable trains to be carried more safely. It can also detect problems on the line without somebody having to go out and check it; everything will be reported. That is an example of the fact that when money is spent, improvements begin to occur.

Of course, the condition not only of our railway but of our roads was allowed to deteriorate unacceptably. At the same time, the economy has continued to grow. The hon. Member for Bath asked how more pressures on the transport system could be a problem. Some 1.5 million more people are in work, although the Liberal Democrats opposed the new deal, which is one of the ways in which we have been getting more people into work. I must be accurate: they were in favour of the new deal, but against providing the money to pay for it. At that time, they were exercising severe financial restraint, as they did not want to upset the privatised utilities, I seem to recall. None the less, 1.5 million more people are in work, and they are better off and have more reasons to travel.

When we consider that three quarters of adults in this country drive, that rail use has increased by about a fifth since 1997—as I told the House the other day, more people are being carried on the railways now than at any time since nationalisation—and that half the population flew at least once last year, we can see that the pressures on the transport system are very clear. That is why we need to make up for lost time as a result of lack of investment and why we are spending about £250 million a week—an increase of some 65 per cent. in the past three years—on improving transport. The hon.

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Gentleman said that we were not spending enough, but we are spending 45 per cent. more in real terms than was spent in the previous decade.

We are managing the problems that we face now to get more out of our transport infrastructure, making the long-term improvements that we need on road and rail and planning ahead for the future—something about which the hon. Gentleman had nothing to say, which is curious, as I thought that the Liberals had something to say in that area at least.

Tony Cunningham (Workington): Does my right hon. Friend find it surprising that, during this period of tremendous crisis in transport, a new bypass has been built in my constituency that was first mooted 27 years ago, as well as two brand new roundabouts that were mooted 30 years ago and have been built for safety reasons? Does he not find that surprising?

Mr. Darling: One of the frustrations is that it takes a long time to build anything in this country. For example, I have made it clear that I think we need to replace and improve many of the motorways that were built 30 or 40 years ago. Two things hold up the development of transport infrastructure—one of them is planning. To some extent, we have to live with that, as people must be entitled to have their say in any planning inquiry. However, what has happened to successive Governments is that they make an announcement, there is a planning inquiry which takes several years, and by the time the inquiry is finished, there is no money to build the project as something has changed in the meantime. My hon. Friend is right that, if we are to build a transport system that will enable our economy to continue to grow, we need to invest in both road and rail. That is why I announced last year improvements to certain main arterial routes, why we announced a programme to tackle bottlenecks at more than 100 junctions and why 64 major road schemes are currently under way.

Similarly, I must deal with the point that the hon. Member for Bath made about congestion. What I have said about congestion is that I think that it will take longer to meet the targets than was originally thought, but let us put the issue in perspective. If we had done nothing and stuck to existing policies, congestion on our trunk roads would have increased by almost 60 per cent. As it is, it will increase by between 1 and 15 per cent. That is not the reduction for which we had hoped, but it shows that a difference can be made.

The hon. Gentleman said that we had ripped the heart out of the multi-modal studies. I wondered whether he was complaining about my decision that it was not a good idea to build a motorway through the Black Down hills. Perhaps that is one of the proposals that he would like to reinstate. At the same time as we are announcing the road building that is necessary, we are spending £9 billion on the west coast main line. The hon. Gentleman seems to be in the business of saying that, because the two policies were not announced on the same day, we cannot be carrying them both out. The truth is that we are investing in both.

For example, in the 1990s, British Rail reckoned that about 500 miles of track needed to be replaced or renewed each year. Just before privatisation, investment

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started to dry up under the Tories and that figure dropped to 300 miles. During privatisation, it was about 200 miles; indeed, I recollect that it was less in one year. This year, Network Rail is replacing more than 740 miles of track. We are spending £73 million a week and bringing in a similar sum from the private sector. By 2005, we will be spending double what we spent in 2001. That money is going into improving infrastructure such as the west coast main line, which will cut journey times and improve reliability.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned rolling stock. He is right that we should not be in a position in which rolling stock that was trundling around southern England when I was a boy and was built in the 1950s is still being used. It should have been replaced by now, but the Government will replace almost 40 per cent. of trains on British railway lines in a period of five years. That is a huge amount of investment; I think that it is the biggest investment that anyone has ever seen.

Not only is money going into the trains, but more train services are running daily than in 1996, 25 per cent. more freight is carried by rail and the new channel tunnel rail link—the first ever high-speed link in this country and the first major railway to be built for 100 years—will open at the end of the year. Yes, there is an awful lot more to do, but those are all examples showing that we are making progress. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have got to deal with improving reliability and getting up-to-date information. The point that he makes about the rail inquiry service was perfectly well made and we need to do far better on it. However, I appreciate his tribute to staff at Paddington. As he knows, the delays were caused for non-railway purposes. Given the circumstances, the staff did extremely well.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Secretary of State will know that the proposal to which he referred earlier is not to build a motorway from Honiton to Ilminster—a route that goes through my constituency—but to dual an existing single carriageway road. The alternative proposal that he is advancing, which would route traffic via Ilminster and the M5 at Taunton, would add more petrol to the fossil fuel bill, as people will travel that much further if it is implemented. The proposal had been the subject of a public inquiry and was ready to go out to tender when this Government came to office in 1997. It is supported unanimously by local residents and the wider economic community in the south-west. I take this opportunity to urge him seriously to reconsider that proposal and to dual that piece of road.

Mr. Darling: I am surprised that, if the proposal was so important and so urgent, the Tory Government did not build the road. The hon. Lady was a Minister in that Government for many years. For reasons that I have given, we are looking at alternatives, as we must think long and hard before building roads about whether we are absolutely sure that they are justified.

On local transport, I should like to make one point about buses. The long-term decline in bus use has now been reversed, and not only in London. Two conditions are necessary. First, a council is needed that is prepared to put in place measures such as bus lanes and

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sometimes take difficult decisions to allow buses to run effectively. Secondly, there is a need for a bus company that is committed to making improvements. For example, Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Edinburgh, Leeds and Bradford have councils that are encouraging bus use and bus operators that are prepared to do more as well.

Hon. Members often hanker after the re-regulation of buses. I understand that many parts of the system need to be improved, but it is a mistake for us to think that the time of regulated buses was a golden age—it most certainly was not.

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