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Clearly, transport policy is one of those areas in which people feel let down by Labour. First, we have seen petrol taxation go up again and again. Deferring the tax
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on fuel and pretending that it is okay as long as it is announced in a Budget and introduced in December or October is simply not acceptable. It is a stealth tax. Sneaking it in a few months after a Budget does not make it any easier for people living in rural areas or hauliers, who rely on their cars or vehicles either to pursue their social life or to make a living. All that I have been able to detect from the debate so far is that the Liberal Democrats want to push up the cost of motoringthat is the only thing that I have been able to glean about their policy. Will the Minister please ensure that he influences the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a speedy announcement that he will not introduce that stealth tax in September?
People also feel cheated by speed cameras, which they also feel are a way of taxing by stealth. The money goes partly to some of the police forces but also to the Exchequer. According to one figure that I have heard, the Chancellor received £20 million from speed cameras. We should use that money to introduce other imaginative traffic calming measures. In my constituency, we have asked for a roundabout to be built where the A59 leads down from Sabden into Clitheroe. All sorts of reasons have been given for why that could not happen. The main reason, I believe, is cost. Therefore a cheaper version was suggested, whereby people cannot turn right off the A59 towards Clitheroe but must go further along the road to another roundabout that already exists. Let us use the money so that that part of the A59 can be made safer. There have been so many accidents around that area, and if we use the money that has been raised legitimately by cameras in the right places to introduce other traffic calming measures, that would be welcome.
Three cheers for the 71-year-old Hampshire man, whose name escapes me, who held up a sign saying that there was a speed trap around a corner. I assume that the mobile speed camera was in an area that was a black spot, so he was doing a public service by warning motorists that a speed camera was there, that it was a black spot, and that they should slow down. That is what motorists did, but he ended up losing his licence for it, which is an utter shame.
Finally, on regional airports, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) said, Manchester airport is superb. It has 90 airlines flying to 180 destinations. Let us ensure that a lot more support is given to those regional airports. One clear example might be to allow fifth rightsI believe that that is what they are calledwhereby a plane originating from one area, landing at, say, Manchester, could be allowed to fly on to another airport in another country. Let us consider boosting the number of airlines that could come into a regional airport such as Manchester by giving them those extra, special rights.
In particular, we are concerned about the proposed discontinuation of the Nottingham-Hinckley-Coventry line. Will the Minister consider Railfuture's proposal to reinstate a tunnel at Nuneaton, with what is called a dive-under tunnel on the main track? That would be a cost-effective way of preserving this important link, which concerns many of my constituents.
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Secondly, will the Minister consider that Hinckley station still has many features of the 1920s, not of the 1990s or 2000 and beyond? It is important that we get passenger screens there telling passengers about the arrival of trains.
I am also worried about the 254 bus route; it is to be discontinued, which will cause great hardship to residents in Botcheston, particularly at the Kirby Grange retirement village, and for that I see no justification. My hauliers, such as Crowfoots, are deeply concerned about the Government's failure to tackle fuel price increases, as trucks flood into the continent with cheap diesel, threatening their business.
Let me deal with one or two national issues, as I find that I have time to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) spoke of the importance of Thameslink 2000 in London, and the problems caused by failure to widen the Borough Market junction. I remind the Minister that it was under a Conservative Government that the Snowhill tunnel was finally reopened, and that that made the Thames link possible. I remember arguing the case in the House in the late 1980s. It was a Conservative policy, and it was implemented.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), a former Secretary of State for Transport, referred to privatisation. Privatisation was of course hugely successful in several respects. It increased passenger use of trains, increased the quality of servicescertainly on the midland main lineand increased frequency. To rubbish privatisation is to try and rewrite history.
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Many eloquent contributions have been made over the past few hours, but perhaps the most eloquence is represented by the fact that, despite having at least 419 MPs, including hundreds of Back Benchers, the governing party could persuade only two of them to come and defend it.
Mr. Green: I was about to sayif the Minister could contain himself for the first few seconds of my speechthat regrettably some of my hon. Friends who wanted to speak could not do so, because of the length and eloquence of other contributions. That tells its own story about attitudes to the Government's transport policy.
As ever, we have been given a varied diet. I thought it noteworthy that both Labour speakersthe hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn)not only said the loyal things that are expected on such occasions, but managed to slip in some cogent comments on the effect of transport problems in their constituencies.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present yet, but I am delighted to learn that he is spending his time reading my speeches. I commend that to him as a helpful and constructive activity, and hope he will continue to engage in it. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), does the same. During last week's
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aviation debate he complained that he had been reading my speeches on the subject, and that what I had said last week was consistent with what I had said the previous month. I make no apologies for that: if I thought something last month I am quite likely to think it this month, particularly when it comes to the Government's failures in regard to transport policy. The Under-Secretary of State, however, seemed to find that surprising.
What the Secretary of State saidnot just that he had been spending his time usefully in reading my speeches, but that he agreed with the three principles I had mentioned in them and with points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo)was genuinely constructive. I believe that those three principlesconsistency, the use of private finance and the provision of real choice between different modes of transportconstitute the basis on which a sensible policy should be introduced. The question that the Government need to consider today is whether the long-term problems and failures identified by the Secretary of State and by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), who spoke from his experience as a former Secretary of State, have been addressed. That is the key question: have the Government, with their 10-year plan, provided steady, consistent investment and the planning structures that allow for it?
Like other Labour Members, the Secretary of State made great play of spending. That is simple to address, and we will address it directly by means of two policies. The first is to try and ensure, much better than the Government, that money is spent in the most effective way and in a way that is most sensitive to the needs of local people. In an early intervention on the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) referred to spending in the west midlands. I am sure the Minister knows that a serious and crucial debate is under way in the west midlands about whether the extra money will be spent in the right way, because of restrictions that the Government are imposing on the way in which it can be spent. For instance, it cannot be spent on the motorway network; and yet many people to whom I talk in the west midlands, particularly those involved professionally in the road haulage industry, say that relieving congestion on the network is by far the most important step that could be taken to improve transport in and around Birmingham and the rest of the area. Another important aspect of efficient spendingas I think the Secretary of State, whom I now welcome to the Chamber, would agreeis the use of private as well as public finance, which we would wish to extend. The Government are setting up an Aunt Sally when they talk simply about spending levels.
While I am on spending, it is important to note the contribution of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats. As I understood the thrust of his economic analysis, he said that he wanted to stick to the Government's spending plans, so there would be no spending increase, but that despite that, he wanted a number of tax rises. He suggested that he would tax drivers and air travellers more. That was a great burst of clarity from the Liberal Democrats. They are not going down the Labour route of taxing and spending; they are
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not going to spend any more, they are just going to tax for the fun of it. They like taxing, even if they do not want to spend the money after they have raised it.
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