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9.39 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I congratulate the Secretary of State on setting out policy—rare in such a debate. However, it was Liberal Democrat policy that he set out. His knowledge of it was incomplete and he needs to study harder, but I am sure he will be able to fit that into his busy programme.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) gave us some good knockabout stuff. It was long on puns, but I am afraid that it was rather short on policy. In the 26 minutes for which he spoke, I could detect no Tory policy apart from a reference to a couple of unnamed policy papers that have apparently been published and to the fact that some more may be on their way; no doubt, three will arrive together. However, I welcome his support for the motion.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) referred to the shortage of engineers, which is a very significant point. He may be interested to know that I had discussions with GoAhead only a couple of days ago about whether it could play any role with regard to one of my local schools, Wallington high school for girls, which is considering applying for specialist school status in respect of engineering, and whether a link might be established. Getting women engineers to work in the industry would be a very positive development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) clearly demonstrated why he is widely recognised in Parliament as the most effective campaigner on environmental issues.

The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) does not know Liberal Democrat policy, for which I can forgive him. What is more worrying for him, however, is the fact that he does not know his own Government's policy. If he is seeking to make further progress up the greasy pole, it is important that he acquaint himself with that policy, otherwise, his progress will be limited. He trumpeted the £180 billion that has been mentioned, but yet again failed to recognise that it is not £180 billion in today's prices and that it is not all Government money. Most embarrassingly for him, the amount is less than the Conservatives spent in their last six years in government.

Geraint Davies: The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that the present value of the £180 billion was £158 billion. How much would the hon. Gentleman spend at today's prices, or does he not know?

Tom Brake: I know exactly how much we would spend. We have said that we would stick to the Government's spending policies and also put in some additional funds to restore the rail passenger partnership fund, for instance. What the hon. Gentleman needs to do is ask the Secretary of State, who has a copy of our policy document, to circulate it to Labour Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) did a very good job of setting out the pain of his own travelling experiences, as well as some of the improvements that have occurred in his area.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, this Government's approach to the transport crisis is characterised by indecision, lack of leadership and the

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Treasury's initiative-sapping stranglehold over alternative means of funding transport improvements. Let us consider London and the tube public-private partnership, to which the hon. Member for Croydon, Central referred. Let us go back to 20 March 1998, when the policy was introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. He said that it would take two years to negotiate the contracts. It has now taken more than five years and we are still not there. He referred to the fact that only £100,000 had been spent on consultancy fees. How much has been spent on the PPP now? No less than £500 million. The Government's credit cards must be burning at this point. Who will pick up the bill for that unrestrained spending spree? It is Londoners who will do so over the 30 years for which those contracts will last.

Norman Baker: My hon. Friend is right that Londoners will pick up the bill. Is he aware that the journey from Leicester Square to Covent Garden is the most expensive public transport journey in the world mile for mile, and is more expensive even than flying on Concorde?

Tom Brake: I do not need to add anything to that very telling point.

One could forgive the Deputy Prime Minister for making a mistake about how much was going to be spent on the PPP if the Government had at least had an estimate of the cost, but, of course, no such estimate existed.

The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed as much. We do not have an estimate of how much the contracts will cost. The permanent secretary at the Department for Transport confirmed in a Select Committee inquiry that the Government had made no estimate whatsoever. It was not normal, apparently, for the Government to estimate the cost of such a project, even though it has ended up costing £500 million to date, and the handover is running three years late.

We already have the first evidence of the sort of dispute that will arise in such a contractual set-up. On 11 April, there was a dispute between Metronet and Tubelines about who was to blame for delayed trains when glue caught fire and generated smoke, causing a fire alert. I suspect that that is the first of many hundreds of disputes that will arise as a result of the policy of PPP and fragmentation.

Norman Baker: It is a sticking point.

Tom Brake: Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for that pun.

Congestion charging is another great example of the lack of leadership that the Government have shown. Congestion is one of the single biggest transport problems in London, costing businesses billions of pounds, with many associated health problems. What leadership has the Secretary of State provided on that issue? A Library briefing says:

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In questions, the Secretary of State was repeatedly asked by different Members to confirm his view on congestion charges, but with the biggest congestion charge scheme anywhere in the country up and running under his nose, in London, he had no view on it whatsoever. His right hon. Friend the Prime Minister showed no more leadership. The Conservative leader, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), asked him in Prime Minister's Questions:

No answer was forthcoming—we were told that it is down to the Mayor.

Rob Marris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Brake: I am afraid not, given the lack of time.

On Crossrail, a similar lack of leadership leaves that scheme in limbo, putting at risk London's Olympic bid. It is sad when the Evening Standard, which is running a campaign in support of Crossrail, has to trumpet the fact that we finally have a Minister with specific responsibility for Crossrail as a major transport development. Indeed, he is here today. Crossrail has been debated for 14 years, yet we are only at the stage of identifying a Minister who has specific responsibility for it.

Aviation policy is another example of lack of vision. The Secretary of State says time and again that the Government's policy is not one of predict and provide. Let us hear from the Minister in what respect it is not that. Will he announce some targets for rail substitution? I suspect not, because he is talking to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who knows that there are no such targets. Will he talk about the fiscal measures that the Government are going to introduce? Of course not.

The Secretary of State's performance lacks substance and has done nothing to reassure commuters, rail passengers or bus users that the crisis is over. His promises of improvements on the way and progress being made convince nobody. The fact is that the Government's transport policy is late and overpriced, like the trains; inches forwards, like the traffic on our roads; and stops without explanation, like a tube train in a tunnel. The Government's amendment reeks of complacency and deserves to be resoundingly defeated. I urge all Members to support our motion.

9.49 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Dr. Kim Howells): The title of this debate is an expression of the unique sense of humour of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). It is humorous because he knows full well that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is tackling with great energy and skill the job of delivering a better transport system for this country. The hon. Gentleman's speech was humorous, too, although whether it was meant to be is another matter. It was very elegantly delivered, but it was a "Dear Santa" letter—a wish list of goodies with all the price tags conveniently torn off. Of course, that is what we always get from the

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Liberals; they are very good at that. I hope that that goes on the record, because I have never said anything good about the Liberals before. They are very good at tearing the price list off any proposals.

The hon. Gentleman is a bright and perceptive human being, and he knows that the transport networks in this country have been underfunded for decades. Modernisation and even basic maintenance have been put off, and their performance has been hampered by stop-go funding, short-term thinking and botched privatisations. We can all see the results. Road and rail networks are operating beyond their designed capacity. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) told us of his frustration this morning. The tenor of his speech left us without any sense of optimism about rail transport, but he also left his charisma on the train. I thought that he was going to fall asleep during his speech. It was a classic. First, he described this terrible, unmitigated disaster, then he went on to say, "But they've put on a few new train services. It's excellent, it's really good—we've got this scheme and we've got that scheme." Those schemes did not fall out of the air. They are the result of a Labour Government and Labour transportation policies and, as I shall explain, there is more to come.

The Government have decided to make the improvement of our transportation systems a top priority because we care about the quality of our public services and because we recognise that the deterioration cannot be allowed to continue. So, starting in 2001, we committed unprecedented levels of new funding under a 10-year programme of investment: a £180 billion modernisation programme to begin to turn around decades of underinvestment. There are no quick fixes. There are deep-rooted issues and long-term trends that need to be addressed here. We have made it clear that, in many cases, things would inevitably get worse before they got better. That is why a long-term strategy is essential. Only sustained investment, year on year, can begin to deliver the modern, high-quality transport system that this country needs.

When the 10-year plan was published, it was almost universally welcomed. Even the Opposition could only express their disbelief that we could deliver the levels of investment that were promised. Well, we are delivering those levels of investment. We are now spending more than £250 million each week to improve transportation in this country. That is an increase of some 65 per cent. over the past three years. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) did us a grave disservice when he alleged that that amounted to nothing more than tinkering with transportation policy. The £9 billion being spent on the upgrading of the west coast main line does not represent tinkering with policy.

Total investment in transportation infrastructure—public and private—has nearly doubled since the days of the last Tory Government, and that is allowing for inflation. Investment in the railways has trebled—that is not tinkering; it is real investment—and investment through local authorities has more than doubled. These increases in funding have been translated into real activity on the ground. Construction industry output in the road and rail sectors has seen the sharpest increases on record in the past two years and is now at an all-time high.

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Of course, it takes more than two years to plan and deliver major new transport schemes.

As we have acknowledged, events have thrown up new problems and priorities for the railway network that have increased the scale of the task. All the while, our sustained economic success is producing ever-growing demand for travel on our railways, on our roads and in our skies. I am glad that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is back in her seat. She said that we should have concentrated on rail substitution, rather than air travel. She did not tell me about the 11.03 to Auckland, New Zealand, or the 12.15 to New York. It is nonsense. It is the kind of soundbite that the Liberals love. When we start to pick it apart, it is fatuous nonsense. The hon. Lady is a good exponent of it—a past master.

It is natural that people are impatient for change. So are we, but we are in it for the long haul and we have already made important progress in many areas, although we do not often read about those. In many parts of the country, travellers are already beginning to see benefits. Rail is a case in point. Following the instability caused by privatisation and the collapse of Railtrack, we put in place a new structure for the industry. Network Rail has been set up as a public interest company whose prime objective is to provide a safe and reliable rail network, rather than to generate profits for shareholders.

Rail use is at historically high levels. Since 1997, it has risen by over 23 per cent. In the 1990s, British Rail reckoned that 500 miles of track needed to be replaced each year just to stand still. That dropped to 300 miles per year in the run-up to privatisation under the Tories and to 200 miles per year immediately after privatisation. This year, Network Rail will replace more than 740 miles of track—more than has ever been replaced in the history of the railway industry in this country. That is a tremendous achievement. That is real investment, not the tinkering of the hon. Member for Lewes, who whinged for 20 minutes.

Across the network, performance and reliability are now steadily improving. The annual average performance measure at the end of March was 79.2 per cent., up 1.2 per cent. on the previous year. The latest passenger satisfaction survey, despite the descriptions of disaster, showed that 74 per cent. of all passengers were fairly or very satisfied with the journey just completed.

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