|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that the 2p extra per litre on petrol, which will be introduced later this year, will hit disproportionately those who live in rural areas? They do not have a choice between public transport or the car; they have only the car, which they rely on to do their daily business. It is therefore vital that the 2p increase is not imposed in September, so that rural people can at least buy their fuelthe most expensive anywhere in Europewithout that extra tax.
Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend is right: no group of people suffers more from the Government's war on the motorist than those living in rural communities. He knows from his constituency experienceas I know from mine, and from the visits that I pay to rural areas throughout the countrythat the Government have systematically discriminated against people in rural communities. The 2p increase in fuel duty is yet another example of that. As long as the conditions of high and volatile fuel prices remain, the Conservative party will fight tooth and nail against this duty increase. The question now is whether the Secretary of State will join in that fight. We know how close he is to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; motorists will look to him to use his influence on their behalf.
On the railways, the picture is really no better. The 10-year plan promised a 50 per cent. increase in passenger use by 2010, but the Department for Transport's own annual report reveals a growth figure of only 6 per cent.
15 Jun 2004 : Column 656
so far. When Labour's own Commission for Integrated Transport advised that the 50 per cent. target be reconsidered, the Government were forced into a U-turn on this issue as well. One way to encourage greater use of the railways might be to make the comparative cost of rail travel more attractive. The 10-year plan promised real reductions in rail fares, but the Government subsequently removed the cap on rail fares, resulting in larger fare increases, with double-figure percentage rises becoming commonplace.
Regular users of the trains, such as me, are painfully aware of how out of date much of our rolling stock remains. The 10-year plan promised that by 2010, new and faster tilting trains would be travelling at speeds of up to 140 mph. There is no longer any possibility of that happening by 2010 on the west coast main line, and there is no definite date thereafter on which this pledge will be honoured. The Deputy Prime Minister's promise that the old mark 1 slam-door trains would be replaced by the end of 2004 has also been broken.
We were promised that under Labour trains would be more punctual, but more than one train in five continues to arrive late. Meanwhile, confusion reigns. The Office of the Rail Regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and Network Railall creations of this Labour Governmentare vying with each other to be the organisation that runs the railways. Re-franchising agreements struck by the SRA have resulted in station cuts and longer journey times for London commuterswho, incidentally, account for 70 per cent. of all rail journeys in the United Kingdom.
In the period after privatisation, services were increased in response to demand and passenger railway use grew. Now, as uncertainty prevails, the number of complaints from passengers is rising sharply. The Transport Committee pointed out that
"overcrowding on public transport is bad and is likely to get worse . . . The current chronic overcrowding in all the major conurbations that gave evidence is unacceptable".
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): On commuters and London commuters in particular, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the Government's major failings is that they simply have not taken decisions on the railway infrastructure spending that is necessaryI am thinking, for example, of Thameslink 2000if we are to have the capacity to which he has referred?
Mr. Yeo: I shall deal with Thameslink in a moment. May I tell my hon. Friend how much I enjoyed the journey that he and I took by railway to his constituency only a few weeks agoin only moderate discomfortin rolling stock that dated from the 1950s and certainly no later than the 1960s?
Whether the taxpayer is now seeing value for money for rail subsidies running at £14 million a day is extremely doubtful. As for future projects, as more than one of my hon. Friends has said, delay and dither continue to be the order of the day. Labour claims that it is committed to Crossrail, yet we still have no confirmation that this project is to go ahead. Such delay now means that it will not be built in time for the Olympic games, should they be held in this country in 2012.
15 Jun 2004 : Column 657
"We support plans to extend the East London line".
Despite that commitment and the fact that only three miles of new track are needed to join up the existing railways that form part of the project, the scheme has been delayed until 2010 at the earliest, and there is doubt as to whether it will ever be completed. Of course, this scheme is part of our Olympic bid; failure to complete it may well jeopardise London's chances of success. Indeed, if our bid fails it is extremely likely that transport failures will be one of the main reasons why.
We should not overlook the fact that our financial services industryan industry in which Britain remains a world leader, and which is heavily dependent on Londonitself requires an up-to-date infrastructure to maintain that position, to meet its needs, and to ensure that London remains a city in which people can move around easily, that is pleasant to live in and which can meet the demands of a 21st-century industry.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I wonder whether my hon. Friend intends to address the future of the Strategic Rail Authority. He is doubtless aware of the rumour that it will be abolished, which has come about because the prediction that we made during the legislative passage of the Transport Bill 2000that the SRA would be a bottleneck for investment and would slow down decision makinghas come true. Indeed, even the Government regret setting it up. Is he aware that more people in London are now employed by the SRA than were originally employed by British Rail? Is this not an area in which we could cut waste and improve transport?
Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I certainly look forward to the Government's announcing their decision on the future of the SRA. I am afraid that this is typical of Labour's approach in so many areas. They establish large new quangos and employ large numbers of people, none of whom do anything to improve services to customers. What is true for the railways is also true for education and for health. Huge sums of taxpayers' money are then spent, and in the end, the Government see the folly of their ways and close down such organisations. The SRA was a creation entirely of this Labour Government, and my hon. Friend has raised a most important point.
On airport capacity, a similar method of ducking or delaying decisions has characterised the Government's approach. The Secretary of State lacks any coherent plan or vision to address the environmental concerns associated with the future of Heathrow. Given that it is very likely that extra airport capacity will be neededand given that this problem will not only not go away, but will get harder to solve the longer decisions are put offit is time that we had some answers. Many thousands of people are now suffering blight as a result of the Government's inability to reach decisions.
My own constituency of South Suffolk is affected by developments at Stansted. The expansion of activity there has already caused considerable disturbance in some of the most tranquil areas of East Anglia. There is widespread and justified dissatisfaction with the consultation process, whose shortcomings mean that the first thing that many people in rural communities
15 Jun 2004 : Column 658
know about changes in flight paths and increased aircraft movements is the sound of jet planes droning over their homes.
Mr. Yeo: I would say that they need a clear decision from the Government on how they will tackle those problemsa decision that the Government have wholly failed to take. A proposed further expansion of Stansted now seems to be being advanced without proper environmental or health impact studies or a convincing business case.
We have seen the same head-in-the-sand approach in relation to ports with the refusal of the container port at Dibden bay. There may have been very sound environmental reasons for refusing the application. That is all very well, but at the same time, no one disputes the fact that, within a few years, the UK will run out of container port capacity. Where is the Government's ports strategy? Where is the leadership on that vital issue, which is so crucial to Britain's trading future? We cannot escape the view that, as with airports, the Government are stoking up a bonfire that someone else will have to dampen down.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|