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Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman is speaking in favour of the Liberal Democrat motion, which refers to "the crisis in transport", so will he provide the House with five examples of transport crisis in this country and five solutions advanced by his party to deal with them?

Mr. Collins: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, if I were in full flow, I could confine myself to only five examples of transport crisis? How about a 250 per cent. increase in congestion on some motorways and the fact that trains are running later under Network Rail than under Railtrack and during the post-Hatfield arrangements? How about the fact that the Government's multi-modal studies have become an exercise in deferring and avoiding decisions rather than taking them? How about the fact that the British motorist faces the highest motoring taxes in the western world and receives in return the least amount of investment in roads spent by any major European Government? How about the fact that we have moved from a system in which decreasing public subsidy paid for more trains, to one in which greater public subsidy pays for fewer trains? There are five, just to start with, and there are many more.

Lawrie Quinn: What about the solutions?

Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman asks about the solutions.

Lawrie Quinn rose—

Mr. Collins: I shall give way in a moment. I shall not repeat the technique of the hon. Member for Bath who kept saying that the Secretary of State signed his policy document. We have already established that the Secretary of State is very busy: the idea that he is spending his nights leafing through the Liberal Democrat transport policy document may or may not be entirely valid. Plenty of policy documents have already been produced and more will no doubt be produced shortly. As to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), he can rest assured that under a Conservative Government, there

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would never be a year, as there was in calendar year 2001, when not a single inch of tarmac was added to the national road network.

Lawrie Quinn: The hon. Gentleman will not share with us even a slight snapshot of what might appear in his future manifesto, but could he go back to the last manifesto and tell us whether the Conservative party is now going to tear up the manifesto pledge to link the job of the Secretary of State for Scotland with another Government role?

Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman's problem is that he will search high and low in the 2001 manifesto to find any commitment to split the job of the Secretary of State for Transport. There was no such commitment. However, if Labour Members believe that they should implement the Conservative policy of 2001, why did they not implement our policies to end Labour's war on the motorist and cut petrol tax? Such policies might well have been more popular and successful than those that the Government have advanced. The hon. Gentleman is not putting forward a sensible argument.

We gather from the evidence provided by the Secretary of State to the Select Committee that being the Secretary of State for Scotland is and continues to be "a very important job". He spoke about it being a job that had been around for 100 years and implied that it might continue to be around for another 100 years. We are not therefore talking about a temporary winding-up function or something that will consume his attention for only a few months.

It will clearly be a necessary role for a long time, and it is bound, therefore, to take time away from concentrating on the accelerating problems caused by the state of the nation's transport infrastructure.

The Secretary of State may well be a superhero. Perhaps it is the case that if he sits at his desk, discharging his functions as Transport Secretary, and a call comes through on the batphone to say that he needs to be doing something for Scotland, he can dash into a phone booth, rip aside his shirt—displaying a big "S" for Scotland—and whiz up north of the border and sort out all the problems there. However, even the Secretary of State cannot be in two places at once. When he was giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, he was not dealing with transport issues. When he is deciding how many officials should work at the Scotland Office, he is not dealing with transport matters. We have been told by the junior Minister that Scotland Office Ministers need to be briefed on virtually everything, because they might be asked questions on a variety of topics, but the time spent being briefed will be time spent not dealing with transport.

Clive Efford (Eltham) rose—

Mr. Collins: I am happy to give way to anybody who can explain why the transport system is in such a healthy state that it needs only a part-time, half-time Secretary of State to deal with it.

Clive Efford: The hon. Gentleman is paying too much attention to the motion and should pay a little more attention to transport policy. Conservative party policy

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is that the congestion charge in London should be abolished. Even though it is not raising as much money as the Mayor had hoped, it is raising money that is being invested in London's public transport. Will the Conservatives make Londoners pay for the lost revenue if the congestion charge is abolished?

Mr. Collins: I have heard many accusations thrown across the Chamber, but that is the first time I have heard anyone be accused of spending too much time addressing their remarks to the motion. That is not normally a criticism, but I plead guilty anyway. The hon. Gentleman should not pretend that it is only the Conservatives who are opposed to the congestion charge. For example, the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) has been a consistent and passionate opponent of the congestion charge. She may wish to have a word with the hon. Gentleman later. The economic damage that is being done in London—

Clive Efford: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Collins: No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman already. He presumably wants to accuse me of spending too much time straying close to the motion. The congestion charge is not popular among Labour Members, and I suggest that he tries to persuade his colleagues before he starts trying to persuade us.

The motion rightly refers to the transport crisis that the country faces. Thanks to earlier interventions from Labour Members, I have managed to set out some aspects of it. However, the central aspect of the transport crisis is that—regrettably, unarguably and unavoidably—things are getting worse, whether one takes congestion on motorways, the abandonment by the Government of the targets in their own 10-year transport plan to increase rail usage by 50 per cent. over 10 years or the amount of public money that is being spent and the return gained for it. The Government no longer believe that they can achieve those targets. We are falling further behind in terms of competitiveness with our European neighbours, let alone our competitors in other countries around the world.

It is clear that what is needed above all, after six long years of Labour Government, is clear political grip from a single-minded, single-focused, determined and separate Secretary of State for Transport. That is something that we have had for only one year out of six, and it has just been changed. Apparently, the experiment of giving the right hon. Gentleman sole responsibility has been a failure. I regret that, but it appears to be the conclusion. The last thing the business leaders and others who are confused about the Government's transport policy need to know is that the man in charge is only part-time. The crisis cannot be addressed half-heartedly or by a part-timer. It requires a wholly different organisation and relationship than the one that has been put in place by this botched and incompetent reshuffle, and that is why we will support the motion tonight.

8.55 pm

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Before I try to address the motion, I remind the House that I worked as a professional in the railway industry for 19 years

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before I came here. As a chartered civil engineer, I have been able to formulate many views on how we should go about reinvigorating our transport infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) missed a tremendous opportunity to go into greater detail on some of the big challenges that the Government face on delivery. I did not hear him mention the skills shortages across engineering, or the skills shortages in the railway industry and in signalling. I am sure that 1,000 or more of my former colleagues would be delighted to spend a quiet moment or two on a station platform—at Crewe, let us say—to hear the hon. Gentleman explain how we can repair a railway such as the west coast main line, which has suffered underinvestment and been left to decay slowly since the 1960s. We cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. The amendment to the Liberal Democrat motion correctly identifies the fact that considerable thought needs to be given to such work if we are to reinvigorate our transport infrastructure. It was always envisaged in the 10-year plan that a long time would be spent building teams that would make a difference to the much-needed investment in that infrastructure.

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the change that has happened since the days of Railtrack. I was one of the first people employed by Railtrack way back in 1994, before the company was put in place. The company did not know its assets and did not know their condition. Above all, it was floated on the market on the basis of a totally false prospectus. We now have to deal with that legacy from the previous Administration. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words for and recognition of the former colleagues of mine who are working hard for Network Rail to put those matters right.

For me, good transport is essential not only to the quality of life, but to a successful economy. There can be no better example of that than my own constituency. Time and again, I hear calls from the local business community and local people for an upgrade for our transport infrastructure along the A64 corridor, and that involves not just roads but railways. We need plans to be put in place, and I believe that the Government, through their 10-year plan, have embarked on consideration of local concerns. That will respond to the agenda up the Yorkshire coast for improvements to the A64 corridor so that my constituents can have better access to the rest of the country and abroad. Our quality of life, with enjoyment of the coast, is far better than that of the cities, but we would like the economic advantage of being able to move our goods and services back and forward.

We have almost reached the stage at which the next phase of communications—the internet and broadband—may overtake the lack of investment in our transport infrastructure over the 18 failed years of Conservative Administration.

Since 1945, the country and certainly this Chamber have preferred to use transport as a political football, rather than taking the approach of the German Parliament. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) revealingly acknowledged that we have many lessons to learn from Europe. I referred earlier to the recent visit of the president of Deutsche

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Bahn. That organisation, too, is learning about partnership approaches, such as the one that is bringing investment to our infrastructure.

Following my intervention, the hon. Member for Bath accepted that the so-called crisis in transport that he currently perceives pre-dated not only the Labour Government and the 18 years of Conservative Government but went right back to the beginning of the 20th century. He seemed to be arguing that it even pre-dated the invention of aviation and many of the technological advances of the 20th century. Perhaps he should go back to the dictionary and reappraise his definition of "crisis".

For those reasons, I shall be happy to support my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench and reject the Liberal Democrat proposals in the Division Lobby tonight. We heard nothing from the Liberal Democrats that would provide solutions to the decades of failure to invest in our transport infrastructure and systems. Equally, although I have great regard for the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I was staggered at his failure to give us five snappy policies after his analysis of the problems.

I like to think of myself as a transport professional. It is the easiest thing in the world for people to explain why things are wrong, but coming up with solutions to the problems needs full and proper analysis. We need planning for personnel and for innovation. We need to make sure that all the pieces fit and that systems are delivered to cost and on time.

We are turning a corner in the history of our transport policy. I commend the work undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during the past year or so. He has done a great job leading an effective team. He has listened to transport professionals to find solutions that will stand the country in good stead and deliver those key objectives—improvements in the quality of life and improvements to our economy.

In his concluding speech, I hope that there might be time for my hon. Friend the Minister to resolve one or two contradictions in relation to freight transportation that many Members have noted. It is deeply regrettable that the Liberal Democrat spokesman did not raise some of those important matters. My hon. Friend is new to the Transport brief, but he will know that I co-chair the all-party group on rail, which is one of the largest such groups. During recent weeks, great concern and consternation have been expressed at the decision of Royal Mail—with almost no reference to the House, the Department for Transport or the Department of Trade and Industry—to move mail services from rail to road. Members on both sides of the House who have advocated moving freight to rail are concerned about that decision. It gives the wrong signal at the wrong time.

The Minister will know that giving out the wrong signal on the railways can lead to great damage and great danger. The problem is that, if there is a modal shift away from railways and back on to the roads, it could take three to four years to try to reinstate such services. I wish Ministers in the Department for Transport well in any deliberations and discussions that they may have with their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to try, in the national logistical interest, to get Royal Mail to reconsider that decision. It

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has been presented as having been taken on commercial grounds, but, in the big picture of transport, it looks as though Royal Mail is wagging the dog's tail and making the dog walk in a different direction, so I hope that the Minister can say something positive about that proposition.

I also want to mention the fact that in 2000 I was involved in the Standing Committee that considered the Transport Bill. It had about 14 sittings, and was a very good Committee. I see the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), my old colleague from that Committee, in his place tonight. We had a great time and there was great camaraderie, although we obviously disagreed about certain policy aspects. It was a good time for me personally. However, the fundamental fact was that we had to provide solutions to national problems, often with those solutions determined in a local context.

I had great hopes for the Strategic Rail Authority. I thought that it would bring Railtrack—my former employer—back to heel and provide the strategic rigour and vision that national transport policy needs, certainly on the railways, producing a clear way forward. I should like to thank the Government for supporting that measure and creating the SRA because in my part of the world, the Esk valley line, which runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby, is starting a new experiment to consider the standards and operational requirements, as well as—I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris)—the safety criteria on that lightly used but strategically important rural railway line.

Every day, that line carries children from the most remote parts of my constituency to schools in Whitby. It is an absolute lifeline, and there are many similar social railways throughout the country. The experiment on which the SRA is about to embark, through the Esk valley partnership, is very important to the national interest, and it is a clear local example of a solution to the type of problems that sit in the pending trays of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

In conclusion, I hope that we will hear more about the important issue of investment in the transport industry. People are the key. I hope that the Government will make good, solid progress with the rail academy and in trying to encourage more people to take up careers in engineering, so that we can have the key people—whether they are signal engineers, civil engineers or mechanical engineers—that we need to work not only in the SRA and the railway operating companies, but in the Highways Agency and throughout all our local government partners.

At the end of the day, my reason for supporting the Government tonight comes down to one thing: partnership. The Secretary of State is a member of a very successful team that is changing the direction and the destiny of transport policy in this country, and I commend the Government amendment to the House.

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