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Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Pull the other one!

Mr. Yeo: The right hon. Gentleman suggests that I am not enthusiastic about this. No one is more concerned than I, who have talked to many of my constituents in recent months about their transport problems, and no one is more enthusiastic about addressing the issues. I will, however, start on the rational and grown-up note that I intend to adopt in dealing with this issue during the next few months, by acknowledging that some of the problems of transport are, indeed, long term. The origins of some of today's difficulties lie far in the past.

Mr. Foulkes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo: In a moment. It is precisely because of that that many of the difficulties need to be addressed more urgently than they are being addressed by the Government.

Let me thank the Secretary of State and his predecessors, however, and most notably the Deputy Prime Minister, who predictably is absent from the House today, for creating a background in relation to transport that is so familiar to someone who has just spent seven and a half months shadowing health and education.

Mr. Foulkes rose—

Mr. Yeo: I shall give way in a moment. Health and education are two areas in which Labour has spent
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much of the past seven years setting targets in Whitehall, very few of which are ever achieved, establishing expensive new quangos that, after a few years of consuming huge sums of taxpayers' money, none of which reaches front-line services, are then abolished, and making claims that waiting times are getting shorter. In fact, whether someone is waiting for a hospital bed, for a consultant's appointment or for a train to arrive, they know in many cases that waiting times are getting longer.

Mr. Foulkes: I know that the hon. Gentleman's Chief Whip is desperately trying to protect him from my intervention, but the hon. Gentleman said that many of the problems that our Government face go back a long way into the past. Surely the main problem on the railways is the botched privatisation of the previous Tory Government.

Mr. Yeo: I wondered how many minutes it would be before a Labour Member tried to address today's problems by referring to issues that were decided many years ago in the past. If Labour Members are so concerned about privatisation, have they asked the Secretary of State why he has not renationalised the train operating companies? What is the answer to that? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be a renationalisation programme, and how does he propose that that should be financed? Which taxes on his constituents does he want to see raised to repurchase the train operating companies, many of which have done a successful job?

Mr. Foulkes: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I said, and to what many others on this side of the House have said. The problem was the particular way in which the privatisation was carried out. It could have been done sensibly, although I should not necessarily have supported it, but to set up all the different organisations—train operating companies, leasing companies and the predecessor of Network Rail, Railtrack—clearly created chaos and confusion. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are the architects of that chaos and confusion.

Mr. Yeo: I note that the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that he would raise the tax on whisky to pay for the renationalisation of the railway industry.

The similarities in the ways in which Labour has let people down on health, education and transport are depressing, with the same combination of over-hyped policies, endless centrally set bureaucratic targets, broken promises and frustrated consumers. Britain's transport system is used by almost every family in the country almost every day of the lives and, equally importantly, by almost every business. Families, businesses and the whole economy are damaged by the Government's failures on roads, railways and airports. That damage is not confined to the endless delays experienced by travellers in cars, trains and aircraft every day, but extends to businesses, whose competitive position is undermined at a time when competition from abroad is more intense than ever before.
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Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is new to the job, and he is setting out his concerns on transport policy. I think that he was today quoted as saying that Tory transport policies were at a fairly undeveloped stage. If that is so, when will he start to develop them? Will he be arguing with the shadow Chancellor that the Tories should increase transport spending by more than inflation?

Mr. Yeo: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of Conservative transport policy. My colleagues have set out a 10-point plan to deal with one aspect of policy, about half of which has already been adopted by the Government. We will gradually set out further policies, and the electors will have the choice of either persuading the Government to do the sensible thing and adopt them or, before too long, electing a Conservative Government who will implement them wholeheartedly. After the results of the elections last week, it seems that that day is not far off.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the main problem is a shortage of transport capacity of all kinds? We are short of rail capacity and road capacity. Will a Conservative Government start to produce the kind of infrastructure that we need, preferably using private finance?

Mr. Yeo: My right hon. Friend goes to the heart of the matter, and I shall deal with our approach and the Government's shortcomings and failures to increase capacity in the way in which he has suggested in a moment. Looking at business, it is perfectly true that our competitive position worldwide is now threatened by capacity shortages, particularly in roads, railways and airports.

Only this week, the CBI has concluded that Labour's 10-year transport plan has failed. The director general, Digby Jones, pointed out that even after £50 billion of spending in four years, the lack of improvement in road congestion and train performance is "exhausting tolerance" among the public and employers. He went on:

Earlier this year, the British Chambers of Commerce reported that only one company in 10 believed that the transport system met its business needs. Only one company in 50 believes that the Government's proposals will provide an effective solution to the transport problems that are holding its business back. The BCC estimates that the costs of meeting the problems caused by the transport infrastructure now amount to £15 billion. One business in three states that the resulting higher operating costs have a significant impact on its business.

Labour's failures on transport, therefore, not only let down millions of frustrated motorists, rail travellers and airport users every day, but are costing the country dear and undermining our international competitive position.
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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): My hon. Friend is giving an insightful analysis into the failings of the policy. Does he also accept that much of the policy was a work of fiction? If we read the transport plan, we find that project after project that the Government committed themselves to having open by 2010—modernising the east coast main line, upgrading the Great Western main line—has now been scrapped. The document is not worth the paper that it is written on.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend anticipates some of the points that I intend to make. He is quite right to say that the Department has an almost unbeatable record for setting targets through a variety of documents, then failing to achieve them. I should mention that we support the idea of having a long-term transport plan. The nature of the issues and the industries involved requires long-term planning, and our criticism of Labour's approach is not the existence of the plan but the execution of it.

Let us consider the Government's record in relation to the motion. The 10-year transport plan promised to cut road congestion by 5 per cent. by 2010, with bigger reductions in major cities. Last year, however, the CBI reported that congestion on key parts of the road network was worse than it was before the plan. Perhaps that is not surprising because under Labour, Britain spends the lowest proportion of motoring taxes on transport of any advanced country. Throughout the period of the 10-year plan, Labour plans to spend less every single year on new roads than Baroness Thatcher's Government spent every single year for which she was in power. Under Labour, in 2001 not a single inch of new bypass was built anywhere in the United Kingdom.

The £6 billion road-building programme that was left behind by the outgoing Conservative Government in 1997, including a commitment to building 150 new roads, was scrapped. Only 37 of those roads were completed. I welcome the fact that belatedly, Labour has restarted the road-building programme. In just the past few days, I have heard that a small project, involving less than £1 million, is to go ahead in my constituency, and I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), for listening to the representations that I and my constituents made about the Old London road link road in Capel St. Mary. I hope that that is the harbinger of further roads to be built in Suffolk. They are certainly badly needed, most notably the Sudbury western bypass. I shall take that up with the Under-Secretary in due course.

Changes of mind in the Government's approach to the roads have not been confined to decisions about building. Road pricing has suffered a similar fate. In the 2002 Budget, the Government said that they would introduce a UK-wide, distance-based road user charge for lorries to ensure that all lorry operators, including those from continental Europe, pay their fair share towards the cost of using British roads and of financing further investment. Since that time, the Department says that it

It has produced no fewer than three progress reports on the proposed framework, the most recent being issued
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this March. It announced that the implementation date has been moved back to 2007–08 to

so that

This is another example of the dithering for which the Department for Transport has become famous.

On the third anniversary of the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement of the 10-year plan, figures from Trafficmaster showed that average journey times had risen by 16 per cent. since 1998, and that motorway congestion was up by 40 per cent. The Freight Transport Association pointed out earlier this year that the condition of local roads is 6 per cent. worse than a decade ago.

It is not just the state of the roads but the cost of driving that causes concern. Labour remains addicted to raising fuel duty, but we have long opposed the 2p increase planned for this autumn. I remind the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his 2003 Budget that high and volatile fuel prices provide no basis for raising duty, and that he was therefore deferring duty rises until this autumn. It is clear that if ever there has been a time of high and volatile fuel prices, it is now. All we get from the Chancellor is a commitment to review the decision, despite the fact that because of the fuel price increase, the revenue that he is raising from petroleum revenue tax already greatly exceeds the amount that would be produced by a 2p increase in duty.

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