Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend makes an important point, yet all we hear from the Labour Benches is laughter. I
25 Nov 2004 : Column 268
want to place on record the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Jamieson) is guffawing at my hon. Friend's comments.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition paid a key part in getting the United States to sign the Rio treaty, from which a great many environmental benefits have directly flowed. Had he not taken the trouble to go to Washington and to spend time trying to bring the US into that process, the US would never have signed the treaty. That is in absolutely stark contrast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) pointed out, to the Prime Minister, who, given his relationship with President Bush, has a unique opportunity to take steps to bring the US Administration into the process. He has utterly and completely failed to do so and it will be one of the biggest stains on a heavily stained record—when he eventually leaves office—that he did not take that opportunity.

In the transport sector, the Government's efforts to encourage greener practices are pitiful. The Conservative party is looking at how we can encourage a much faster switch to more environmentally friendly vehicles. We have already advocated colour-coded licence disks so that the public can instantly recognise which vehicles are environmentally friendly and which are not. We are now examining how the tax system can be used much more extensively to encourage the purchase and the use of greener cars. We want Britain to be in the forefront of the trend, which is already under way, for hybrid vehicles that do not run at all times on fossil fuels.

Aviation is the fastest growing single source of carbon-dioxide emissions in the transport sector. It is an area where international leadership is desperately required to move the world towards recognition of the need for an agreement on an aviation fuel tax—leadership which Britain could provide if we had a Government who took climate change seriously.

Progress in curbing emissions from aircraft depends on international agreement, and sadly the Government have neglected this subject entirely. One step forward would be the inclusion of aviation within the EU emissions trading scheme. Why on earth are the Government giving the go-ahead for further expansion of runway capacity in south-east England before agreement has even been reached on a robust European emissions trading regime for aviation? The Department for Transport's own survey in 2002 shows that only one person in eight is aware of the link between aviation and climate change. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has commented that

On this issue, the Government are not even all talk; they are no talk. Surely it would be a start if air travel documents contained information similar to that which now appears in car advertisements, disclosing the emissions that the relevant flights caused. [Laughter.] Once again, let us just place it on the record that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport thinks that the problem of carbon dioxide emissions from aviation is a hysterically funny matter—[Interruption.] I have to say these things because I cannot be sure that Hansard will pick them up, but I am absolutely certain that those
25 Nov 2004 : Column 269
people who are concerned about this issue outside will note, not just with interest but with dismay, the frivolous way in which the Minister is taking this whole subject.

Home energy efficiency is another crucial aspect of the solution to climate change, and it is another area where the Government's approach has been lacklustre. The domestic sector accounts for a quarter of all UK carbon dioxide emissions, largely from heating homes and generating electricity for appliances. Households could cut their bills by one third through energy efficiency measures.

Under pressure from the Conservative party and others, amendments to the recent Housing Bill, now the Housing Act 2004, have finally forced the present Government to accept a target for improving domestic energy efficiency equivalent to that set under the last   Conservative Government. The next Conservative Government will make it easier for homes to be powered by clean, green, renewable energy and to save on energy consumption. Fiscal instruments can promote those aims, whether in the form of lower stamp duty for energy-efficient homes—an option that we are now examining—or through council tax concessions for tenants and owners who have invested to make their homes more energy efficient. The scheme pioneered by Centrica with Conservative-led Braintree district council, under which householders who install cavity wall insulation can claim a £100 council tax rebate, is a good model that could be replicated elsewhere. More could be done in the social housing sector too, where faster progress is needed to bring all social housing up to an energy-efficient rating of 65, to reduce fuel poverty and to comply with the law.

Another area of Government neglect is micro-generation. To realise the enormous potential that that could make, changes to the distribution network would be needed, and discussions with the industry and with Ofgem about how to promote those changes should be under way now. The role that combined heat and power schemes can play has been well demonstrated in Woking, and it is disappointing that that model has not been more widely followed.

That leads directly to the topic of renewable energy. The Government's fixation, which I mentioned, with covering our countryside with onshore wind farms at the expense of encouraging other renewable energy technologies is undermining both our ability to raise the proportion of Britain's energy derived from renewable sources and our chances of gaining a commercial advantage by leading the world in the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal power. Our island status gives us a big natural advantage, which Ministers are busy throwing away.

Biofuels and biomass could also make a bigger contribution than they currently do, and at a time when farm output is likely to fall, biofuels could take up some of the slack. If that is to happen, more encouragement, whether in the form of a further duty cut or through a renewables transport fuel obligation, is needed. As usual from a Government who are all talk, nothing is happening.

There are other matters in the Queen's Speech with which my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden will deal in her winding-up speech. In conclusion, let me just say
25 Nov 2004 : Column 270
that the issues for which the Department for Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are responsible affect every family and every business in the country. They affect Britain's reputation abroad and the influence we can exercise, as well as our ability to attract new investment and to compete internationally. Sadly, the failure of Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, to tackle these challenges with the urgency needed is damaging our economy, our environment and the quality of life of every man, woman and child in the country. Instead of action, we have consultation. Instead of decisions, we have delay. Instead of leadership, we have posturing. This is a Government who are all talk, and they must be replaced at the earliest opportunity.

1.46 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): This Government have always accepted that transport is not only essential, but one of the foundations of an efficient and a growing economy. Because of the amounts of money that have gone into transport in the last seven years, noticeable changes are now taking place. I am sad to note, however, that the Queen's Speech is lacking some of the practical measures that we had rather hoped to see. Before my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench get unaccountably used to my telling them how marvellous they are, perhaps I might remind them that there are a great many things left to do.

One of the hazards that the Government encounter stems from the fact that they have a lot of energetic desires and good intentions but have frequently, after starting on a policy, shied away from exercising the required strength of enforcement. Let us look at some of the difficulties. Transport is not only highly complex; it is fragmented, it is confronted with all sorts of contradictory laws and it frequently seems to absorb large amounts of money for many years before it produces any practical or positive result.

The railways Bill is a long overdue acknowledgment that the Strategic Rail Authority was set up in the wrong way, was not given enough powers, did not have enough clean lines of policy to enable it to take action and, I am sorry to say, in many instances seemed to regard a certain degree of empire building as a substitute for clear and effective policies. The fact that the Department is now acknowledging that it needs to take direct responsibility for railways into the Department is not only very welcome but a clear indication that if taxpayers are going to continue to invest large sums in railways, they expect to see positive results.

We should pay tribute to those people working in the industry who have managed to bring about distinct improvements, certainly over the last 18 months, in running times and in the general level of safety. It is sad that the publicity that attends any terrible rail accident frequently gives a distorted view of how safe the rail industry is, and it is very important to emphasise that it is still the safest means of transport, and that many hundreds of thousands of people use it every day precisely because they have that confidence in it.

I hope that when we discuss the railways Bill we shall look rather harder at franchises, because at the moment there is no competition governing their award. In future, we must insist on much tougher enforcement of the standards that the passengers want.
25 Nov 2004 : Column 271

My Committee has just returned from Korea and Japan, and it is chastening to see the high standards of efficiency in the rail industries in both those countries. The people who work in those industries are proud and immaculately turned out, the stations are immaculate and the tickets cost about a 16th of what we pay. I pay about 10 times more to go from Euston to Crewe than the cost of an equivalent train ticket on the Korean railways. Although the rolling stock was the same in theory, as it had been built by and bought from the same French company, no one would recognise the trains as equal in any way.

The Korean trains were immaculate, efficient and comfortable. All of them worked and they did not have stinking loos or galleys that refused to work so that the staff eternally face the difficulty of not being able to carry out their tasks properly, yet they were exactly the same product as ours in theory. The difference was that the Korean rolling stock industry had realised that defects existed in those trains and had taken them virtually back to the bogies and started all over again. The result was so impressive that I frequently feel that we ought to return to the days when British engineers could produce all our own rolling stock with the high quality of care that we need.

The railways Bill will give us the opportunity to match up the promises of those in the private sector and the constant cry that they are eternally investing in the railway industry with what actually happens. That is not the way that things are currently perceived by passengers, and the need to explain to some of those companies that they require to offer a much higher standard of commitment to their passengers and a very much higher standard of management is long overdue. The general level of management is not acceptable.

I want to deal with some of the lacunae in the Queen's Speech. Why is there nothing about ports? We are an island nation, and there is a very urgent need for new deep-sea container capacity in the south and east of England. The Dibden rejection sent shockwaves through the maritime and logistics industry, and major shippers have been agitating for certainty to give them confidence that new capacity will be added. When will we get the decision on Shell Haven? We cannot conceivably continue without one. The west coast of America is already suffering from the fact that its ports are so congested that they are unable to deal with the amount of trade coming in every week across the Pacific, and we will rapidly reach exactly the same stage.

I had the honour of opening two deep-sea berths at Felixstowe last week, and one of the parliamentary occasions that I shall treasure for the rest of my life is standing under a swaying gantry with a very large metal TEU container gently balanced over my head, to be told by the managing director that, for health and safety purposes, only he and I would be allowed to walk down the dock. However, that was an interesting example of the fact that those at Felixstowe recognise that we need a new generation of deep-sea berths to deal with the increasing size of the new container ships. At the moment, there is an astonishing lack of indication of where such space will be found.

Our marine industry competes on a global scale. It must deal not just with the snail-like pace of development in Europe, but the £7 million-plus subsidy that UK port users pay to maintain the Irish Lights,
25 Nov 2004 : Column 272
which may sound like an interesting bit of meat; but, in fact, as Ministers will know, we have recently got ourselves into negotiation with the Irish Government over the payments that we make to them for controls over the Irish Lights that, frankly, could be much more usefully used elsewhere and make an enormous difference to the cost of running our own ports industry.

Let us look very carefully at why there is no obvious master plan in relation not only to the movement of goods back and forth from ports, but to the provision of roads and railways, including gauges. There are practical, logistical problems that, before long, will push us into the situation where we will be unable to move goods at the speed that we require into and out of our ports system. That will have a direct effect on our economy throughout the United Kingdom, and it is not safe to leave matters until we are suddenly confronted by congestion. We need to take those decisions now, and we need to improve the situation.

We should also look carefully at some of the suggestions in the Queen's Speech about the passenger transport executives. The past few years have shown very clearly not only that PTEs are one of the few bits of the transport industry in which people are thinking ahead and putting in place efficient passenger transport, but that they are using their own money in a more much more exciting and imaginative way to develop rail services and to co-ordinate the various different kinds of rail system—light rail, trams and other facilities.

Of course, the PTEs will sometimes run ahead of themselves and find that they demand many millions of pounds of the Government's money without being able to justify the costs that they suddenly face, but they are one of the few groups of people in the country who are thinking ahead. Before we take away from them the right to decide what happens to the rail franchises in their own industry, we should examine carefully whether that will improve the system or make it worse. We cannot talk about devolving power to the regions, while saying that we will take away a very basic planning power from the PTEs. That is not sensible, and we will definitely be sorry for it in the future.

The railways Bill will give us the opportunity to talk about many of those things and the way that they integrate. When the Government get to the point where they could give a clear indication of their view, however, they frequently step back for fear of upsetting the general public, but that notion is not necessarily justified by what people say to their elected representatives.

When people talk about road safety, for example, they accept that road safety laws are directly related to the safety of the individual. They know that 10 people a day are killed on the roads. The general public will therefore become bewildered by the suggestion that some road safety laws on speeding should be relaxed. The faster a car goes, the quicker and more efficiently it kills people. That is not a difficult recipe to understand—most people can get it—but it means that someone who drives over even quite a basic speed limit is more likely to have a lethal effect. We ought to be prepared not only to defend our views on that, but to keep shouting them from the roof tops, even if doing so makes us extraordinarily unpopular with the motoring lobbies and the manufacturing industry. That is basic and important.
25 Nov 2004 : Column 273

My Committee has made a number of recommendations on road safety, one of which stems from the fact that the Home Office has removed traffic enforcement from the core responsibilities of chief constables. Every county force should have as one of its basic tenets the responsibility to enforce the law. That includes traffic law, speeding and the general policies of road safety. At the moment, that is not the case.

The Home Office expects us to accept many encroachments on our civil rights—I will have something to say about identity cards on another occasion—but it does not seem to think it necessary to consider basic issues such as providing enough traffic policemen to make sure that it is safe to use the roads in urban areas and the motorways. That is not a small thing; it is a major failure. We should have specially trained motor vehicle policemen, and responsibility for this issue cannot be delegated. I trust that the Government will think carefully about it and talk harshly to the Home Secretary about his inability to see that the policies that I have described will transform the position on road safety and deal with the problems that we face.

I also want to say a little about buses. The majority of complaints that I receive in my postbag are about buses, but we rarely talk about them here because, after all, nearly all the people who write to me are women. They tell me, "I have a part-time job in a hospital and I am incapable of getting there on time or home in a civilised manner, because my local bus service is never on time and never guaranteed to turn up. It is not only becoming more and more expensive, but more and more irregular." We should therefore consider why we allow such problems to occur on a day-to-day basis.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) spoke about the success of the National Express system and about how deregulating it had produced such an efficient and high-quality service. Such a view can stem only from a party that never talks to people who use the service or never uses it itself. I shall cite one example. The National Express bus from Wakefield to London has, over the past five weeks on a Sunday night, been anything from two hours to five hours late. Its drivers change halfway along, but not in a service station but by standing in a lay-by. They do not allow any of their passengers to get off, although the drivers frequently leave the vehicle for a smoke. I am assured that, last Sunday, a 16-year-old who did not realise that she could not get off the bus and who went to buy a can of drink was refused entry back on to the bus by the driver even though she had no shoes on. He not only berated her in extraordinarily sharp terms but physically refused to let that child rejoin the bus until he was shouted at by the other passengers. That is the level of care that we are talking about for passengers. It is about time that we stopped talking in general terms about how efficient our transport industry is and recognised that we face real problems at every level.

I believe that the Secretary of State is not only strongly committed to a properly organised transport industry, but has been enormously successfully in obtaining the moneys to back that up. Frankly,
25 Nov 2004 : Column 274
however, unless that is equalled by an industry in which the staff are properly trained and there is research and development into improving safety and the way that the industry develops, we shall continue to look as though we are spending more and more money on a worse and worse service. That is not always the case, but that is the way that the general public perceive it. We should be worried by that.

Let us have a good railways Bill and a much more sensible discussion about transport, but let us also understand that, for the majority of the people in the United Kingdom, the provision of a decent, clean, prompt bus that meets an efficient, swift and reasonably cheap railway is not an indulgence. It is a basic fact of economic life. The sooner we get it right, the sooner the general public will thank us.

2.4 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page