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Chris Grayling: I am amazed by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is describing a wish to move from one leasing arrangement to another. Leasing companies, regardless of who they are and what they do, will make a margin. Surely he agrees that the rolling stock side is the one demonstrable and tangible success of privatisation: the substantial new investments in rolling stock are visible and can be found on the rail network all the time. Does he want to go back to a situation in which the companies buy their own stock, or is he talking simply about moving from one kind of leasing company to another?

John Thurso: The hon. Gentleman's comment that the ROSCOs are the one successful part of privatisation is very revealing. That is at the heart of Conservative thinking. Those companies are the one part that makes a great deal of money for the City, which is the only thing that they seem to add to the equation. It would be perfectly possible for the train operating companies to have access to capital, and their capital cost is considerably smaller than the lease cost that they currently pay. I believe that their average cost of capital is around 7 or 8 per cent., so if they are paying 7 or 8 per cent. using capital from the equity market or from the borrowing to which they have access, they will be very able to acquire stock. What is needed is a mechanism by
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which the stock can be transferred at the end of the franchise. Above all, in the longer term, we need to commit to expanding the network to permit more capacity, particularly for fast trains and freight.

The Secretary of State asked me to say a word about our spending plans, and I am happy to confirm that our current policies for the next Parliament envisage nothing that involves an increase in transport spending. We are quite happy to live within the sums that are currently available. I agree with him that there has been considerable waste in the rail system, and Network Rail, through the policy that I agreed with of bringing maintenance back in-house, has been able to make savings. In the shorter term, all that is required to be done can be achieved within the existing budget.

I do not seek the same expenditure on each area. I would certainly seek a shift in policies that might lead to more being spent on public transport than on other things, but I am happy to confirm that the global figure for the Department would remain the same. However, before the Secretary of State announces on a website that a new commitment has been made—it is not a new commitment—I hasten to add that I believe that whoever is in government has a duty to look 25 to 30 years into the long term and decide about the infrastructure that needs to be put in place over that time to meet our goals. There is a serious and mature debate to be had about that, and I would be happy to enter into it.

I believe that there should be an assumption against expanding the road network. There will certainly be areas in which new schemes present the best cost-benefit overall and sometimes the best environmental option. We should certainly invest in those cases. However, I do not believe that simply building more roads provides an answer to the problems that we face. It is well documented that new roads create traffic.

We also need to consider how roads are charged for. The Secretary of State mentioned road charging, and it is worth mentioning in parenthesis that the actual cost of motoring in 2001 was lower in real terms than it was in 1974. An answer that one of my hon. Friends received from the Secretary of State's Department helpfully used a base of 100 for the cost of motoring in 1974. In 2001, the figure had reduced to 98.7. Interestingly, on the same time scale the costs of rail travel had increased from 100 to 185.3 and of bus travel from 100 to 166.1. Since 1997, the cost of rail travel has gone up by 8 per cent. and that of bus travel by 5 per cent., but despite what the Conservatives say, motoring costs have gone down by 1 per cent.

Mr. Evans: Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House on Liberal Democrat policy on this issue? Is it to get the cost of motoring up to 100 or perhaps a bit beyond, and the cost of rail travel to below its current figure?

John Thurso: We would like the true cost of motoring to be apparent. I note from the table that the previous Conservative Government had the highest figure, having got it up to 104 in 1979. Our policy, as I shall show in a moment, is to make sure that the real costs of motoring are seen. That is best done by removing vehicle excise duty and fuel duty and replacing them with road
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user charging. As the Secretary of State said, the technology for that is by no means proven, although there is one scheme that believes that it could be implemented immediately. It will take time to develop and implement the technology but, over a five to 10-year period, I see no reason why road charging should not prove the best way forward. If I heard him right, he invited us to discuss that matter, and I an certainly happy to do so.

I shall not go into detail on aviation. We had a very good debate on it last week, but my points about emissions make it clear that restraining the uncontrolled growth of aviation must be part of the longer-term strategy. In part, that can be done by providing real and competitive alternatives. It is mad that, in an island as small as ours, the most effective way of getting from London to Edinburgh is by air. There should be a rail alternative. A rail alternative was timetabled some years ago that would have done the journey in four hours, which is almost exactly the same as the time of a door-to-door journey by air. If we could promote that alternative, we might be able to remove some of the short-haul requirements for domestic aviation. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Korea and, on the day that I was there, a headline in the International Herald Tribune highlighted the collapse of domestic aviation demand there because of the opening of a new high-speed rail link from the south of the country to Seoul. It achieved the exact objective of reducing demand, so we should consider such schemes.

My colleagues and I will support the Conservative motion, albeit with some reluctance. It is pretty high on complaint yet, as the speech made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk showed, low on alternatives. When the Conservatives were in government, they did little for roads—the facts do not back up their rhetoric. They completely rodgered the railways and hid from just about everything else. The answer to the problem that Conservative Members have given in recent Westminster Hall debates and other debates in which I have participated has seemed to be, "Just build more roads." We had a long discussion about port capacity during one debate, and the Conservative spokesman's answer to the problem was, "Build more roads everywhere." Up until today, their answer seemed to be, "Build more roads and speed. You can go as fast as you like."

Although the Conservatives have little to offer, their criticism of the Government is justified. There are alternatives. In the longer term, we need a clear strategy and, above all, a commitment to an integrated transport policy that uses all available modes of transport. It is up to the Government to provide and deliver that vision.

2.21 pm

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): I feel the same way that I felt on Sunday night when we got to the 90th minute. I thought that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) was going to support the Government amendment, so I feel very disappointed. I regret that because I have a considerable amount of time for the hon. Gentleman. His constituency is similar to mine, although it is on the other side of the border. I applaud his attempts to talk
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and listen to people from the transport industry. I hope that he will reconfigure his approach on the amendment during the debate. It is sad that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) has left the Chamber because I thought that the official Opposition might be making a visionary attempt to hold a timely and appropriate debate on this day—I shall come to that in a moment.

I had especially hoped that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) would be in the Chamber so that I could take up an outstanding matter that arose during her recent visit to my constituency during the election campaign. It was a whistlestop visit with quick photographs by the quayside before she left, but that is not easy to do in a constituency such as Scarborough and Whitby. The right hon. Lady failed to listen or respond to any of the many questions asked by my constituents—albeit local journalists—about Conservative party transport policy. Indeed, the only reference made to transport policy as a result of her brief visit to the quayside in Whitby was a photograph in the local paper of her famous shoes—I do not think that that had anything to do with pedestrian strategy. The visit showed how the right hon. Lady, who is in charge of an official Opposition policy, failed to recognise a key priority in my constituency and many others throughout the country, despite the fact that her party wishes to become the Government.

As I said earlier, the debate is timely because today is the day on which the Institution of Civil Engineers publishes its report "The State of the Nation"—I declare an interest because I am a chartered civil engineer. The report is an independent assessment of the nation's logistics, key elements of the economy and everyday life, that is written by people such as me who are involved in the delivery of renewal and maintenance for our infrastructure. I pay tribute to the institution for commissioning the work. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have received invitations from fellow civil engineers to the Institution of Civil Engineers parliamentary reception this evening. I hope that the hon. Member for South Suffolk will go along and listen to practitioners who are trying to maintain this country's transport network because they do not feel that Conservative prescriptions thus far match their assessment on the country's transport policy.

During my 19 years in the transport industry, I reckon that about 60 per cent. of my design and assessment work behind my prognosis of what needed to happen to our transport infrastructure, and especially the rail infrastructure, was done to no effect. It was consigned to drawers and the archives—I guess that some might have ended up in the national railway museum by now. The Conservative Government of the time failed to deliver a transport policy. They failed to deliver on railways and certainly on this country's road network. The hon. Member for South Suffolk said that when the Conservative party left government in 1997, it left a wish list of road schemes at the Department for Transport. However, the wish list could not be delivered, so many of my constituents were disappointed that the much-needed revitalisation of the A64 corridor did not happen, despite the fact that my predecessor in my constituency, the Conservative Member John Sykes, had long promised it. Such a situation was a consequence of the boom-bust economy and the stop-go approach on policy delivery during the 18 sad and
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backward-looking years when the Conservatives failed to listen to the many communities that wanted investment in transport.

The Institution of Civil Engineers has rightly framed a national debate in much the same way that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross suggested. We need a debate from which politics is removed and a long-term strategic approach. As we try to reach conclusions on what needs to be put right, we need not only to assess what must be put in place, but to ensure that appropriate finance is available. I hope that as many Conservative Members as possible will go to listen to my colleagues in Great George street.

I pay tribute to the current president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Douglas Oakervee, who has a worldwide reputation for producing transport schemes. He was one of the people behind the provision and delivery of the Hong Kong mass rapid transit system and Hong Kong airport. He is a world-class engineer. The possibility of earning real revenue for the country through exporting his and my colleagues' skills and their ability to deliver such major projects must be based on a coherent and strategic domestic approach. We need a flow of work so that we may not only renew, build and maintain this country's infrastructure—especially our transport infrastructure—but ensure that we introduce new technologies and techniques.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross talked about his experiences in Korea. I remind him that one of the results of the Channel tunnel rail link was a modal switch affecting journeys from London to Paris and Brussels. The switch occurred because the high-speed railway was delivered on time and on budget. Many civil engineers thought that that deserved much celebration, but sadly, as ever, the national press failed to recognise the tremendous achievement of the team that put the project together. Such achievements can be delivered if there is continuity of approach.

I agree with Douglas Oakervee, who says in "The State of the Nation", the report that was published today:

I expressed a similar sentiment to great effect, I believe, when I stood for election in 1997. As an engineer who is also a Member of Parliament, I believe that if Members focused on listening to practitioners our debates would be better informed and there would be an opportunity, well received by our constituents, to achieve the right transport solutions for the nation.

As well as making an assessment of the nation's transport infrastructure, ICE looked at regional questions this year. Many Members will have received correspondence from it during the past few days indicating the nature of progress in their own region. I pay tribute to Mr. Colin Clinton, who chaired ICE's work on transport in "The State of the Nation" and examined the Government's performance in Yorkshire and the Humber, a region that I represent. Like any
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school report, it assesses performance with an A, B or C. I was pleased that ICE, an unbiased, independent body, believed that there was an improvement in the delivery of transport policy in Yorkshire and the Humber, and gave it a B/C grade. I do not know whether that is a B-minus or a C-plus, but it is a distinct improvement on the position in my region and many other parts of the country in 1997.

We obviously face challenges in rail, the area of transport that I know most about. The east coast main line gives cause for concern as it has almost reached capacity. The frustrations of business people and other passengers are sometimes recorded in the regional press. Urgent progress should be made on tackling delays in upgrades on the route because there is a strong indication that that is starting to have an effect on the growth of the economy in the region. The TransPennine service is vital to my Scarborough constituency, and the new franchise has produced some of the best improvements in the country in recent years. I pay tribute to the TransPennine team for the delivery of the new service. New rolling stock is promised and rapid services link the Pennines to the north-west and connect my constituency to the east coast main line and thence to the capital.

Some improvements on the TransPennine route could be translated into developments on the east coast main line, including longer passenger trains and the provision of passing loops. Above all, more capacity should be built into the system to allow for freight services, which are vital to the manufacturers on the Yorkshire coast and in the rest of the region. I welcome the fact that the franchises are being renegotiated. The northern franchise is important to communities in the Whitby area, which is serviced by the Esk Valley line, and I urge the Minister to do all that he can to encourage speedy announcements on that route.

I pay tribute to the Strategic Rail Authority for its work with the community rail partnerships to revitalise and reinvigorate the crucial relationship between local communities, particularly rural communities, and the railways. I urge the Minister to consider the outputs of the Esk Valley line, which has been identified as a suitable pilot by the SRA, as we need to make sure that the public get value for money on rural railways and that we achieve efficiency and effectiveness in our transport network.

Since 1997, the Yorkshire box, which consists of the M1, the M62, the A1 and the M18, has improved and reinvigorated local transport systems in the heart of the region. Promised improvements to upgrade the A1 corridor to motorway standard are in stark contrast to the state of affairs under the right hon. Member for Maidenhead. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), took considerable time and effort to meet my constituents, including members of the business community, and learn about the importance of the upgrade of the A64 corridor to the area. I pay tribute to the work that has been done to redefine strategic priorities in Yorkshire. The Government's regional transport policy has enabled us to have a dialogue and consider appropriate improvements and upgrades to the A64 corridor.
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Scarborough and Whitby are important tourism destinations in the summer and early autumn—in fact, almost all year round now—and local transport plans have been introduced in partnership with local authorities, North Yorkshire county council and Scarborough borough council. Park and ride schemes are about to come on stream and there is better handling and management of traffic systems in the area. Those vital schemes would not have been introduced by a Conservative Government. My constituents know that if such a Government were elected before those plans are fully delivered they would go into the wish list bin that was clearly utilised in the mid-1990s.

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