Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con):
I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. It is apparent from the Gracious Speech and from his opening remarks that there is no reference to aviation and air transport. It is imperative that the Government get a grip on the environmental problems that are caused by increases in night flightsnoise nuisanceand the discharge of aviation fuel, which concern a great many people in this country. Will he undertake to look into the question of designation, for example, of East Midlands airport under the Civil Aviation Act 1982, so that his Department and he personally can take a greater grip on the increase of
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disturbance to my constituents that is caused by flights in and out of East Midlands airport, particularly at night?
Mr. Darling: If the hon. and learned Gentleman sticks around, he will hear me deal with one or two matters in relation to aviation. It is not mentioned specifically in the Gracious Speech, because the proposals in the White Paper that I published in December do not need primary legislation. He is right that noise control is of concern at a number of airports, and I am aware of the concern at East Midlands airport. As he will know, the Government do not have plans to designate that airport at the moment, but I and my ministerial colleagues are aware of the continuing discussions. If I can prevail on him to stay until the end of my speech, he is welcome to intervene again on that matter if he wants to do so.
Before I turn to the measures to which I have referred, it is important to remind the House of the context in which transport legislation must be seen. Obviously, an effective, reliable and safe transport system underpins a successful economy, because it allows people to travel and goods to be moved efficiently and cost-effectively. Our economy is growing and will continue to grow. Indeed, since 1997, the UK economy has been stronger and more stable than any other major economy, in contrast to much of what happened in the previous two decades, which saw two of the deepest recessions of the last century.
A strong economy means that people become better off and that they choose to travel more. As a country, we face two challenges on transport: decades of under-investment, coupled with pressures on the growing economy, means that the transport infrastructureboth road and railis coping with levels of use never anticipated when much of it was designed.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned two challenges. I did not hear him say that climate change was a major challenge. He knows that there has been a 47 per cent. increase in carbon emissions from the transport sector since 1990. What does he intend to do about that?
The fundamental problems of congestion and the well documented difficulties on the railways both derive from the fact that our infrastructure suffered from a lack of investment under successive Governments. I am not making a party-political point. In the past, our Governments have not spent as much as they should have. On top of that, because our economy has been growing so strongly, which of course is a good thingI think even the Liberal Democrats would concede thatit is putting pressure on the system. But the hon. Gentleman is right: the environmental impact of transport is important and I shall say something about it later.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP):
The Secretary of State mentioned under-investment in the railways. Will he confirm that it will be his policy to ensure that trans-European network rail links, as agreed between
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our Government and the European Commission, are completed? I think especially of the Cork-Dublin-Belfast-Larne line, which is still awaiting major investment.
Mr. Darling: If the trans-European network is agreed, the UK will be part of it. Part of the railway line to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the responsibility of the Irish Government, and we would probably do well not to offer to take it off them. In relation to Northern Ireland, perhaps I should write and let the hon. Gentleman know what the position is. That is dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office, rather than by my Department.
Both the problems that I identified need to be addressed, and we are addressing them. We have doubled rail investment since 1997. Obviously, there are no quick fixes for transport problems, but the long-term solution lies first and foremost in increasing investment and sustaining it over a long period, which we are doing; secondly, in managing the system effectively; and, thirdly, in planning ahead to meet the transport needs of the future. We are doing all these things.
The transport White Paper published in July this year set out how the Government will provide sustained investment and plan for and manage transport in a way that is consistent with our environmental objectives. The White Paper also outlined expenditure plans to 2015. That did not happen in the past. We now have long-term transport spending against which people can plan. Transport spending is more than 60 per cent. higher this year than it was in the last year that the Conservative Government were in office. Spending by the Department will rise by an annual average of 4.5 per cent. in real terms between 200506 and 200708. The level of spending will grow thereafter in real terms by 2.25 per cent. each year through to 2015
This sustained investment is allowing us to spend on the railways some £73 million each week, matched by a similar amount coming in from the private sector. That investment is making a difference. I make no apology for emphasising investment. Whatever this debate discloses about what is needed in transport, I am clear that the one thing it does not need is a reduction in transport spending. No matter what the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who speaks for the Conservatives, says in the rest of the debate, he has one pretty formidable problemthe strictures of the shadow Chancellor, as a result of which he would have to lose £1.8 billion of transport spending.
Let me give the House an idea of what that means. It is equivalent to all the investment in and maintenance of our strategic road network. So when I read, as I did a few days ago, that the hon. Member for South Suffolk was promising on behalf of the Conservatives better maintenance and quicker repairs, I am interested to hear how he squares that with a commitment to remove £1.8 billion. If he tells me that it is all right and that David James has fixed it for him, I have to say to himI read the James report with great interest, it being a Conservative report on how to be more efficientthat it is extremely interesting that the first thing that David James does is to acknowledge that most of the savings that he identified are already being made by the Department for Transport. The only way he gets the figure slightly larger is by, first, accepting that the way in
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which rail privatisation was put in place in relation to the rolling stock companies was not terribly effective. We are ahead of the Conservatives on that, too, because we have said that we are sorting that out.
Secondly, the Conservatives are offering to outsource the DVLA, which has made the Conservatives extremely popular in Swansea. I have read some of the cuttings in the local newspapers and I feel deeply sorry for the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate.
Nearly a third of what the DVLA and the vehicle services group have done has already been outsourced. The idea that Conservatives can save more than we are already saving is pretty improbable. I remind the hon. Gentleman what he said the day after he was appointed to his present position in June. He said that the Tory policy is
No wonder it is undeveloped. The hon. Gentleman's first big problem is that he does not have any money to spend. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. If he says that he will get the money from the private sector, he should be aware that we are already getting money from it. I suspect that if he goes to the private sector and says, "By the way, we will cut our public spending by £1.8 billion", the private sector will say, "If you don't have confidence to invest in transport, why on earth do you expect us to come and fill the gap?".
Mr. Darling: I will give way because no doubt the hon. Gentleman will want to explain how it is that cutting £1.8 billion from transport spending under the Conservatives can help. I look forward to hearing from him.
Mr. Field: The right hon. Gentleman may not be surprised that I am not going to explain in great detail. However, given the great success, apparently, of the economy and congestion, particularly the success in London, why is it that the Crossrail Bill that he is now proposing is not the green light that has been presented but a flickering amber light? It goes into no detail about the financing or funding of the project.
As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, we are currently in Opposition. We are looking to the Government to provide some answers. Given seven and a half years of a Labour Government, and given that the congestion problems in London are getting ever worse, Crossrail is an extremely important project. There should be a consensus among politicians, as there is among the business community. The business community has said that it would be willing to put up some money, but where will the Government's financing and funding stream come from?