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9.9 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): It is a little strong to refer to changing the destiny of transport policy, but I agree with the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) about rail freight, and about Royal Mail in particular. It is a disgrace that Royal Mail proposes to cut mail trains and to transfer so much

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freight on to the roads. Mail is still a nationalised industry, and the Department of Trade and Industry should lean hard on Royal Mail to ensure that it has a proper environmental policy and promotes rail freight. If those train paths are lost, they will not come back. They will be replaced by overnight working, saving costs for the Strategic Rail Authority. That will be the end of rail mail. We must keep those freight trains going.

In 1997, when the Labour Government came to power, many of us had real hopes of a sensible transport policy. The Conservatives had neglected the environmental aspects, and had the biggest road-building programme since the Romans—that was how they described it. After years of the Conservatives, when the railways were falling apart and had been privatised, the Labour Government were committed to a transport policy. We had a Deputy Prime Minister who knew about transport from his previous occupation and his personal interests, and there was an understanding that we could not build our way out of problems for ever. We had tried for 100 years to build our way out of road congestion, and failed. There was an understanding that we had to aim for road traffic reduction, and a 10-year transport plan that had some sensible targets and philosophy.

Despite some useful steps that the Government have taken—my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) outlined some of them—I am sorry to say that they have now reverted to the default policy, which is not dissimilar to what we had when the Conservatives were in office. The default policy is to try to keep transport off the agenda, to build roads under pressure, to tinker with railways and not achieve much. I am sorry to put it in such stark terms, but I feel that that is where we have got to.

Gone are the days when environment and transport were under one Department, which could examine those two issues in unison, and which was headed by the Deputy Prime Minister. Gone are the days of multi-modal studies that were designed to deliver rail and road objectives, which was the intention when they were set up. We now have a botched union between Transport and Scotland. It is a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage of utility, which is what we would have had with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Multi-modal study schemes suggest road and rail improvements, but the road improvements get funded by the Treasury and go ahead and the rail improvements get shunted into the sidings.

Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich): The hon. Gentleman is speaking against his own motion. Does he not agree that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which had wide responsibilities far beyond transport, required a great deal more of the Secretary of State's time than the Department for Transport and Scotland will?

Norman Baker: No, I do not agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath dealt with that point. Environment and transport are two sides of the same coin. Having someone dealing with those two issues together makes sense both for transport policy and for environment policy. There is no such marriage between

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Scotland and Transport, unless it is dealing with Waverley station to which the Secretary of State referred.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for policy on the environment to be closely involved with transport. It is a pity that that link has now gone. However, does he not think that the major failure was not to involve the Chancellor of the Exchequer properly with transport policy?

Norman Baker: I agree, and the Environmental Audit Committee, which the hon. Gentleman chairs and of which I was happy to be a member for some time, has consistently made that point since 1997. The Chancellor has to be involved in these decisions.

We are now told that rail fares will have to go up when the cost of motoring is going down. The figures from a parliamentary answer that I have received show that in real terms the cost of motoring decreased by 1.3 per cent. between 1974 and 2001; the cost of travelling by rail went up by 85 per cent. in real terms over that period; and the cost of travelling by bus increased by 66 per cent. in real terms. Instead of dealing with that disparity, which is widening under Labour, the Prime Minister caught a cold when the fuel protest took place. Labour went behind in the opinion polls for the only time in the last Parliament, and the Prime Minister clearly said to the Deputy Prime Minister, "Lay off the motorist. A radical transport policy is now off the agenda." and so it has proved ever since.

Unless the gap between the cost of motoring and the cost of travelling by public transport is narrowed—that should be one of the Government's objectives to deal with social exclusion—there will not be a renaissance of rail in this country. There will be continued congestion on our roads, with more and more vehicles and more and more people deciding that they will go by road if they possibly can.

That is not a sensible transport strategy in any way. My constituents in Lewes being told that they must pay higher rail fares to use clapped-out slam-door stock—which, notwithstanding the Government's deadline, will be here for at least two more years—is difficult to swallow. That is one aspect.

Another aspect is congestion. Road congestion, we are told, is dealt with by building more roads. That is the Government's new answer: using the hard shoulder of motorways and building more and more bypasses. We are told that congestion on the railways must be met by fewer trains, which is a curious transport policy to pursue. We are back in the realms of the Tories, with money spent on the railways being called subsidy, and money spent on the roads being called investment. I thought that we had got rid of that mindset when the Government came to power: it may have gone for a while, but now it is back with a vengeance.

In the short time remaining, I want to concentrate on one or two constituency issues, to give other Members a chance to contribute to the debate. It is a great shame that we have a system that enables road schemes to go through quickly and be funded properly, while rail

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schemes never seem to get funded. We may have investment in the west coast main line and some new rolling stock, but where are the myriad small schemes across the country that could make a real difference to individual constituencies? They would not cost a great deal, but they never actually happen. In my constituency, as the Secretary of State for Transport will know, there is a long-running campaign, now 24 years old, to reinstate the Lewes-Uckfield railway line. We have the ridiculous situation in which a railway line comes down from London all the way to Uckfield—to a dead end. A six-mile gap exists between there and Lewes, which is still a major rail junction with trains to the south coast, Brighton, Eastbourne, up to London, across to Ashford and so on. That six-mile gap cannot be filled, despite all the county and district councillors being in favour, despite all Members of Parliament in the area being in favour—Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat—and despite the fact that we all went to the Strategic Rail Authority the other day to meet Richard Bowker. Everybody is on board, and the county council has presented a case that demonstrates that the railway line, once reinstated, will turn in an operational profit. We still cannot find a way of getting that railway reinstated. Why can the Government not find a way of dealing with those small-scale schemes up and down the country that would not cost much but would make a real difference?

There are other examples. There is a crying need in my constituency for one good railway station at Newhaven. At the moment, we have three, and they are an absolute disgrace. What on earth people must think when they come across on the ferry from Dieppe and see the railway stations at Newhaven God only knows. One of those, Newhaven Marine, has one train a week. Why? The reason is that the operator does not want to close the station because that will lead to a public inquiry, which will reveal the catastrophic way in which stations are managed down there. Consequently, we have the façade of one train a week to keep the station open. Such a scheme would not cost a great deal of money, and could be dealt with quickly by the Government, in conjunction with the district councils, which would contribute, as would the port owners. Yet nothing happens.

A proposal exists for a small stretch of line—it is called a cord—about 300 yd long, which would enable freight trains to run along the coast without the necessity of going into Eastbourne and back out again, which is a huge diversion in terms of the distance and journey time. Yet that cannot be funded either. It was recommended by the multi-modal study and is now not happening. The multi-modal study recommendation in relation to the Lewes-Uckfield line is now not happening. The electrification of the Ashford-Hastings line, which was recommended by the multi-modal study, is not happening. The electrification of the Uckfield-Oxted line, which was recommended, is not happening. Yet the road schemes will go ahead.

In my constituency, as I mentioned earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State, the road scheme is the proposed dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate. It is an environmentally destructive scheme that will cost millions of pounds and will go though an area of outstanding natural beauty—it is absolutely beautiful countryside— which has a railway line lying

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parallel to it. I do not know the result of the south coast multi-modal study but I will lay money now that the Government will give a green light to that scheme, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost. As for the comment that Liberal Democrats say one thing nationally and another locally, let me tell the Minister that we do not: nationally, we say that we must be careful about new road schemes, and locally, in my constituency, I am saying that I do not want that scheme.

If there is money going, I will have it for all the rail schemes that I mentioned because they could all be paid for out of the cost of the road and I would rather have those schemes. We have had road schemes galore over the years, while rail schemes have always been second best and have never been implemented. Let us start to turn that round once and for all and try to achieve something instead.

Let me leave the Minister with a final thought, although I shall have the chance to discuss it with him in greater detail on Wednesday, when I am grateful that he will meet me. On the parallel railway line—probably next to where the Government want to build a dual carriageway—I have persuaded the rail company, South Central, to reduce season ticket fares by a third. It is now cheaper to go from Eastbourne to Lewes because a season ticket used to cost £23.20 but now costs £16. A season ticket between Seaford and Lewes used to cost £15.50 but now costs £10. There has been a 35 per cent. increase in season ticket sales for those lines since the scheme was introduced—with little publicity. There has been a 13 per cent. increase in passengers using the line. The rail lines run parallel to the road yet the Government do not want to talk about that. They do not want to talk about cheaper fares because they say that that is a matter for the Strategic Rail Authority or the company—it is not their problem. However, building a road is their problem and they will no doubt do that.

We must have a better system of comparing road schemes with rail schemes for a specific area. There is a corridor where they co-exist. The Government had the theory exactly right by setting up multi-modal studies. The great tragedy is that following those studies the road schemes will go ahead and the rail schemes will not. We are back to the Conservative transport policy.

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