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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo: I must conclude.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con) rose—

Mr. Yeo: Transport is an area of policy—

Mr. Taylor: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I wanted to intervene before he altogether leaves the question of airports. What would he say to constituents such as mine who are blighted by the possibility of having a second runway at Birmingham airport, with no idea whatever of what sort of compensation scheme will apply? So far, they have had no consultation either.

Mr. Yeo: I am afraid that my hon. Friend's constituents have suffered not only from the Government's dither and delay, but from the failure of the consultation process. I sympathise greatly with his constituents, some of whom will be in a similar position to those in East Anglia who have similar anxieties. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that, when the happy day dawns and a Conservative Government are elected, those issues will be addressed urgently and responsibly.

Lembit Öpik: Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, does he agree that there is a role for smaller airports—I mean very small airports—to provide something of a regional link? The remote areas of Wales are an obvious example. That can be done without undue disturbance to local residents and there are considerable economic benefits to the communities that such airports serve.

Mr. Yeo: I am happy for local communities, if they want to exercise that choice, to have the opportunity to be served with additional local airport capacity.
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Transport is an area of policy whose impact is wider than almost any other. Decisions are in their nature very long term. Delay and uncertainty therefore have particularly harmful effects. A joined-up approach is needed to link planning decisions more logically to transport policy, which provides maximum choice to users and ensures that investment grows on a steady basis. That process should involve a greater element of private finance as a way of promoting that very steadiness.

The country is running out of patience with this Labour Government. After last week's excellent election results, the Conservative party looks forward to presenting its alternative prescription. Meanwhile, I commend the motion to the House.

1.23 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Mr. Speaker, some of us must have seen a different set of election results last Thursday from the one that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) saw.

I should first acknowledge the departure of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who had the shadow transport job for what seems a comparatively short time. We did not see her very much the second time in that role, but I see from the Conservative website that her new job as shadow Secretary of State with responsibility for the family includes the task of having

so I think that it will be some time before we see the right hon. Lady again.

I also noticed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) said, that on the appointment of the hon. Member for South Suffolk yesterday, which we are told was a total surprise to him, he thought that the Tory transport policy was "fairly undeveloped". That seems a rather damning indictment of his predecessors, but I would say that he is absolutely right in that analysis. I have waited the last two years to see just a glimmer of Tory party transport policy. They have now had seven years to develop one, but we still have not seen it. There must come a point at which we debate some of the big transport issues that we face—the hon. Gentleman is right that there are some, on which
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the electorate are entitled to make choices between the two main parties likely to form a Government—and I hope that that day will come.

Mr. Jenkin: May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I introduced the policy of the Brit disc—charging foreign lorries for the use of British roads—to this House some time ago. The difference between a Labour Government and a Conservative Government is that we would have gone on and done it, while the right hon. Gentleman is dithering and wasting money.

Mr. Darling: I shall come on to the lorry road user charging point in just a moment, but I hardly think that a single suggestion or a quote in a newspaper amounts to a coherent transport policy. The Conservatives do not have one and, arguably, they did not have one when they were in government either.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): Talking of coherent policies, did the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), when he said that he wanted to tax motorists out of their cars? Does he agree with that coherent policy?

Mr. Darling: He did not say that, and the hon. Gentleman would do well to read what my hon. Friend actually said.

Let me start by acknowledging that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who has managed to hold his place in the transport team, made an interesting speech in Portugal this year.

Mr. Yeo rose—

Mr. Darling: The hon. Member for South Suffolk must find it interesting, because he used the same words at the tail end of his speech—perhaps the hon. Member for Ashford acts as his speech writer. He made three points, which were absolutely right. He said that there were three principles that were essential to transport. First, the Government should give people genuine choice about the mode of transport that they choose. That is absolutely right, and I have long said that. Secondly, he made the important point that long-term transport success will come from steady and predictable investment policies, sheltered from incessant political interference. Thirdly, he went on to say that investment would require substantial private sector money, which is also absolutely right.

In respect of the second point, the hon. Member for South Suffolk started off by referring to it—at that stage I thought that he might be offering a thoughtful tour around transport policy—when he said that many of the problems that we face now have grown up over many years and many decades. That is absolutely true. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have failed to spend enough on a consistent and sustained basis. Whether we are talking about the railways or the roads, the problem is that, despite the fact that we are the fourth largest economy in the world and the fact that there have been times over the last 30 or 40 years when we should have been spending money to improve capacity, successive Governments did not do
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so. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who is no longer in his place, was absolutely right about that.

If we are to improve transport, several things need to be done in respect of management and policy, which I will develop in a moment, but the one thing that is absolutely essential is to continue with sustained and increased investment.

Chris Grayling: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Darling: I will give way in a moment.

That is what the CBI called for the other day. The one policy that the Conservative party—though not, curiously, the hon. Member for South Suffolk—has is a commitment to freezing public spending. That is what the shadow Chancellor has set out. Doing that in transport terms would mean a cut of nearly £600 million. Whatever the problems with transport, it can never be the answer to cut from the budget an amount roughly equivalent to what the Highways Agency spends on motorways and trunk roads, or to the amount spent on concessionary bus travel.

When the hon. Member for South Suffolk was speaking and taking interventions, he gave a number of nods and winks that he would back Crossrail, the East London line, Thameslink 2000—you name it, he would back it. Where is the money going to come from to pay for that?

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