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John Thurso: I am terribly sorry to prick the hon. Gentleman's balloon. I did not say that the taxes would be increased, but explained at some length that the method of raising them would be changed. In road user charging, the overall burden on the taxpayer would remain the same, but the method by which it would be collected would be different. Air passenger duty would be abolished and replaced by an aeroplane tax. The actual quantum of tax would remain the same.
Mr. Green: The hon. Gentleman spent a significant time explaining to the House that the cost of motoring was too low, particular when compared with other modes of transport. It seems to me not unreasonable for the House therefore to divine that what he wants to do is to make the cost of motoring higher. He can do that only by putting up costs for tens of millions of drivers in this country. I think that he is nodding his head, so we now have that confirmed. Everyone who drives a car in this country will know that the Liberal Democrats would like to tax them even more.
Sir Brian Mawhinney: The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) is trying to dig himself out of a hole. We all remember hearing him say that the freedom to fly had to be constrained, which reminded me of those good old communist days, and that he would introduce a new tax on aeroplanes to constrain that freedom. For him now to say that there would be no increase in the total cost simply will not wash. Will my hon. Friend reinforce that message for the benefit of the House?
Mr. Green: I cannot reinforce that message any more strongly than my right hon. Friend has just done. He is absolutely right, and I am sure that the House has taken on board the Liberal Democrats' desire to tax for taxation's sake. I can pledge to my right hon. Friend and to the House that I will certainly take that message around the country between now and the next general election.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire was exactly right in his contribution about the problems bequeathed to current Ministers by the Deputy Prime Minister. He expressed a sensible degree of sympathy with the current Secretary of State, much of whose work involves undoing the bad work of the Deputy Prime Minister. Inasmuch as he can do that, my party wishes him well. I just hope that other Ministers will be able to reverse the Deputy Prime Minister's other disastrous policies in such fields as planning and regionalism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made a particularly cogent point about petrol taxes, especially for the road haulage industry, for which there is no sense in which petrol is a luxury. It is vital for the industry itself and, of course, for everyone in this country who depends on an efficient road haulage industry to deliver the essential goods that we use every
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day. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) made a key point about hauliers in his constituency.
Let me turn to the substance of what the Secretary of State said, particularly on speed cameras. It was a fascinating juggling act that, although he and others on the Government Bench complained that they would prefer to discuss our transport policy rather than the subject of the debatethe Government's transport policythey had to admit at the same time that we do in fact have a 10-point plan for safer driving, published in April. The Government are now up to about point three and a half in terms of stealing those ideas. I welcome that theft, which is extremely sensible. The more Conservative transport policies are introduced, the better it will be for this country. The quickest way in which people can achieve that is to elect a Conservative Government, which they will no doubt do next year. Inasmuch as the Government want to use these ideas between now and then, I am happy to provide them. I was glad to discover that in today's document, the Government talk about moving to variable penalty pointsan idea that is number four in our list. I welcome the fact that they are keen to extend driver education programmes to those caught speedingidea number five in our listand that they want to encourage lower speed limits near schools.
Of course everyone in this House wants safer roads, but there is one point on which I take issue with the Secretary of State. He talked about striking the proper balance and said that cameras cannot provide the full solution. I completely agree, but that is not what the Government are doing. In the past three or four years in particular, we have witnessed the introduction of thousands of new cameras and a reduction of several thousand in the number of traffic police. So we are relying increasingly on static technology, and less and less on active policing. The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that the most dangerous drivers in this country are often those who drive without insurance or tax. Such people are far more likely to drive while drunk or to drive unroadworthy vehicles. Cameras do not catch them, which is why the policy is so severely out of balance.
The Secretary of State talked about private sector finance coming into the railways and I completely agree with him. I am happy to support him against many of his own Back Benchers who do not believe that there should be private finance in the railways, and who think that they would be better off under complete state control. He will be aware that there are two things that will deter private investment, the first of which is constantly changing the regulatory system, so that none of the private sector operators knows what the regime will be from year to year. I am aware that his predecessor left him a complete dog's breakfastthe Strategic Rail Authority, the current rail regulator set-up and so onand that he will be undoing that in the coming weeks. So I have sympathy in that regard, but he must recognise that that is a deterrent to private investment.
The second big deterrent to private sector investment is the constant rumbling of calls from Labour Members for complete re-nationalisation. The Secretary of State has so far been robust in fighting off those calls, and I very much hope that he remains robust in opposing what is clearly the spirit of the age in his own party. As
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panic increases on the Government Benches, it is clear that demands for old Labour policies are likely to increase. They provide some amusement for the Opposition, but the extremely sad fact is that they are doing real damage to the future of our rail industry.
Several Members from all parts of the House raised the subject of aviation, on which we had a very good debate last week. All that remains for me to do is to point out that in the intervening few days, we have witnessed a successful High Court application for action to be taken against the Government. I am afraid that the Secretary of State brought a slight degree of complacency to this debate when he said that everything is wonderful and that the Government have produced a White Paper on the issue. We said when the White Paper was published that because of the failure of the consultation exercise, court action was very likely. Since last week's debate, such court action has indeed arrived.
Most people who use Britain's transport networks ask themselves two basic questions: are the roads less congested under this Government, and is the railway more reliable? To both questions they answer no, and as the Government limp into their eighth year in office, their attempts to blame anyone and everyone else become less convincing by the day. Their attitude to roads and drivers has switched. They have gone from hostility on first taking office, when they cancelled dozens of road schemes, to neutrality, when they restored some of those schemes. Now, it seems that they have reverted to hostility. In a now notorious interview, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) equated driving a car with smoking.
I remind Ministers that driving is a necessity for millions of people. I know that the Government are a little ambivalent about smoking at the moment, but even the Secretary of State for Health does not regard it as a necessity, whereas driving is a necessity. It is time that the Government ended their war on drivers. Forcing people out of their cars by making driving miserable is a rotten policy, but it comes perilously close to the Government's current policy.
On rail, the Secretary of State has set up a review to dismantle the system set up by the Deputy Prime Minister. Good for him. However, I warn him that, if he goes down the route of having more day-to-day interference by Ministers, he could yet make things even worse.
"the Plan will bring greater certainty and coherence in decision-making. It will provide a stable framework against which planning and investment decisions can be made."
That is what the Government hoped for. Instead, they have provided uncertainty, incoherence and instability. The travelling public have been badly let down by the Government. I commend our motion to the House.
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