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Lawrie Quinn: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's very valid international comparisons. In the context of the German transport infrastructure—

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particularly the German railway industry—does he find it interesting that the chairman and the president of Deutsche Bahn recently came to this country to see how we were proceeding with partnerships in relation to many of the proposals mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

Mr. Collins: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many lessons to be learned from more than one direction in Europe. He is quite right to say that those aspects of the structure of the railways that were set up in the mid-1990s that do not always attract pleasurable comment from the Labour Benches are themselves sometimes subject to the interest of our European partners, many of whom are proceeding down the same routes, partly of their own volition and partly because of European directives. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: we can learn lessons from our European partners, and they can learn lessons from us. Such exchanges are fruitful and I am sure that, because of the hon. Gentleman's extremely long-standing and deep knowledge of railways, he is likely to continue to contribute to them. I very much welcome that.

Lembit Öpik: I promise not to interfere any further in the debate, but would the hon. Gentleman accept that we do not get many visitors coming to see some of the other forms of transport funding in this country? For example, dial-a-ride might be a great scheme, and we all agree with it, but is he aware that the Newtown dial-a-ride scheme in mid-Wales has had to resort to getting 1,000 people to dress up as Santa Claus and run round the town, simply to maintain its funding stream? That is because, once the pump-priming has gone, the dial-a-ride schemes are often simply left to decline.

Mr. Collins: I have to confess that, when the hon. Gentleman rose to his feet, I thought that he was going to say that the problem was that not enough people were coming to Welshpool airport. None the less, I take his general point and I am sure that there are photographs of him in appropriate garb as one of the 1,000 Santa Clauses.

Lembit Öpik indicated assent.

Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman indicates that that is the case.

The Secretary of State used a couple of intriguing phrases. He referred, as he has on many occasions and as Labour Members frequently do, to the welcome news—it is undoubtedly welcome—that there are 1.5 million more jobs in the UK economy than there were in 1997. That fact, which is frequently advanced as almost the entire explanation for why there are transport difficulties, is worth putting into context. The number of jobs has increased by 5 per cent. in the past six years. It can hardly be advanced as the reason for an increase of between 50 to 250 per cent. in congestion on our motorways. Five per cent. does not translate into 250 per cent. Other things are going on, or rather not going on, at the same time.

The Secretary of State used another intriguing phrase when he said—I think that I am quoting him correctly—that the Government were delivering a huge increase in the amount of rolling stock. It is true that the

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Government, through the taxpayer, are making a significant financial contribution to much of that new rolling stock. However, it is also true that it is the privatised train operating companies that are purchasing the rolling stock.

It is no coincidence—some Labour Members may remember that Marxist old phrase, so I will deploy it for them—that, in the Secretary of State's own phrase, more passengers are travelling on our trains now than at any time since nationalisation: more are travelling than in any nationalised year. A privatised train operating company system has returned passenger usage to levels not seen since before we had a nationalised British Rail. It is no coincidence either that we have seen the largest increase in orders for new rolling stock for at least half a century. That is because of the very arrangements that the Labour party is so accustomed to criticising.

It is important when assessing the wording of the motion to deal with the issue of whether there is any confusion in the wider world both about transport policy and about the role of the Secretary of State for Transport. In that context, I was intrigued, as I am sure you were, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by the comments at the end of last week of Mr. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who said:

He went on:

That intriguing comment from a senior figure in British business shows that there is serious confusion about the Government's transport strategy. I will return to that, but first let us deal with the heart of the motion: whether there is any confusion over the role of the Secretary of State himself.

First, I went to the various Government websites. The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that, on the No. 10 website, his biography appears and he is correctly identified as Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland, so that is terrific. The problem is that, on the Department for Transport website, exactly the same biography appears, word for word, but there is no mention of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is also Secretary of State for Scotland.

An article that was written for the Sunday Herald by its respected Westminster editor, James Cusick, explains some of the background to how the right hon. Gentleman ended up having two Secretary of Stateships. Apparently, it all transpired because the Prime Minister rang Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, at around 2.45 on the afternoon of the reshuffle to tell him that the Scotland Office was to be abolished. He was somewhat stunned when the First Minister said that there had to be a Scot inside the Cabinet with the specific role of speaking for Scotland because of specific legislative proposals.

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But the Secretary of State has had people speaking on his behalf, just to explain how it was possible for him to do two roles:

That is tremendous. That explains everything: it is a job that he can manage and it will not take up too much of his time.

Then, of course, the Prime Minister's official spokesman got in on the act. Some of us will remember the famous briefing in which he admitted under questioning that everything was "a little hazy", but before he made that comment he went into a little more detail. The Secretary of State will doubtless be delighted to know that the official spokesman was pressed quite hard on his roles. Apparently, he said that he

but that it would be possible to combine both roles. Transport

Well, that is precisely what some of us are worried about. Indeed, the history of this Government since 1997 shows that in all bar the last 12 months, the transport role has been linked with other roles. That is one reason why transport is, in the immortal words of the Prime Minister, probably the worst of our public services.

Geraint Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Collins: In a moment. First under the Deputy Prime Minister and then under the Secretary of State's predecessor, who has now resigned from the Government, transport has been spatchcocked in with other responsibilities and therefore downgraded and diminished in its status, unfortunately. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we shall now hear from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) why transport can afford to be downgraded in this way.

Geraint Davies: I should like the hon. Gentleman to say what his transport policies are, rather than simply recounting tittle-tattle from the Corridors. Has he any policies, or not?

Mr. Collins: I get the sense that the hon. Gentleman is a little defensive about the running of his Government and the clarity of the decision making emerging from No. 10. [Interruption.] I believe that I am speaking very closely to the motion, and through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Chair will doubtless supervise these matters, as it always does.

The key point is that many other people were very critical of the attempt to put the two jobs together. If the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies)

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does not want to take my word for it, perhaps he will take that of his colleague, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), who said:

Similarly, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) said that the plan had been worked out

And the former energy Minister, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), said that the way in which the new arrangements were announced was

But the good news is that none of that matters much, because Lord Falconer has addressed this issue. In his magisterial interview on "Breakfast with Frost", he said:

I cannot remember anybody calling for the job of Transport Secretary to be made a part-time one. However, the official line from the Secretary of State's friends—perhaps including his special adviser—was that he had checked in advance and discovered that being Scottish Secretary was not a very big job, so there was no problem there; this was not something that he needed to worry about.

It is therefore interesting to note that when the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, he said:

He continued by saying that if things go wrong, he can be held to account in the House of Commons. That was all very admirable. He talked about the almost 100 civil servants in the Scotland Office who will be working directly for him and advising him. He was asked the following question:

given his onerous transport responsibilities? He replied:

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman works extremely hard and extremely conscientiously, and as a result of this development he is probably working even harder and even more conscientiously. But one has to ask whether it is sensible for decisions of such importance to be taken in this way. Is this really that desirable an arrangement?

We also heard from the Secretary of State for Transport that, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Scotland, he would be meeting Scottish Executive Ministers "weekly". That sounds a rather time-consuming matter. As Secretary of State for Scotland he is taking over an allocation of 13 Cabinet Committee memberships—not exactly a de minimis role. When challenged, he said—and it puts matters into perspective—that some Cabinet Committees were more important than others. That may be true, but implies a downgrading even of Cabinet Committee memberships as not that important.

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We heard that the Secretary of State would continue to have a separate Scottish Question Time. He also said, and it is particularly intriguing, that he would continue to be ultimately responsible for the implementation of the report of the boundary commission for Scotland—he rightly said that he had a personal interest in that matter. That, too, will be a time-consuming role. On the question of fishing he said:

How can the Secretary of State be extremely engaged in fishing policy, take decisions about the boundaries of Members of Parliament with constituencies north of the border, represent Scotland in the Cabinet, represent Scotland in the House and hold key and important discussions with the Chancellor about funding north of the border without reducing the amount of time available to him to perform and pay attention to his primary job as Secretary of State for Transport? It is quite clear that he cannot do both jobs adequately, which is precisely why we are worried.

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