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1 Feb 2006 : Column 383

Government's 10-year Transport Plan

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I also remind the House that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

4.17 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I beg to move,

It is eight years and eight months since the Government came to power, and the Secretary of State for Transport has been in office for just under half that time. This year also marks the start of the second half of the Government's much-vaunted 10-year plan for transport. It is, therefore, an appropriate moment for the House to review progress to date towards the Government's declared goal of creating what the Deputy Prime Minister described as

There is no doubt that in those eight years we have seen frenetic activity in the Department for Transport. We had the much-vaunted 10-year plan. We saw a series of White Papers and debated a series of transport Acts. We have had numerous strategic plans from Government agencies. We have seen the creation of new bodies to give direction to our transport system, such as the Strategic Rail Authority, set up in a blaze of publicity and commended by the Secretary of State, who said when he took office that it had already brought coherence to long-term planning as well as a commitment to getting results. The new management was making a real difference, he said. Then, he went and scrapped it, two years later.

We have had expensive multimodal studies setting out transport priorities all round the country. We have had a drive from the Department to improve the quality of local transport plans. We have had blue skies thinking from Lord Birt who wanted to build vast toll motorways across the country. Last week, it was the turn of the Government's science think-tank, Foresight, which set out its vision of transport for the future. Next, it will be the turn of Rod Eddington to set out how he thinks transport should look.

We cannot knock the Government for all the activity, thinking and debating that has taken place in the Department in the past few years. But there is one small problem. Out there, in the real world, things have been getting worse for the travelling public and there is precious little on the way to make their lives better. The trains are getting more crowded and are still running late. Traffic jams are getting longer every year. In much
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of the country, buses are no longer a viable transport alternative. Nothing seems to be happening to sort the problems out.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the drive for further development in the south-east, especially the 124,000 more houses in the Thames gateway area, will exacerbate the overcrowding of the roads and rail services in the area? Residents of Canvey Island need a new road and a new rail station much more than they need the thousands of new houses that will be forced on them by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Chris Grayling: I agree. One cannot build hundreds of thousands of new houses without the infrastructure to support them. However, in those areas where development is planned by the ODPM, with a distinct lack of joined-up government, the Department for Transport does not have plans to support the developments with infrastructure improvements.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned new organisations and bodies that have been set up over the past few years. Will he join me in congratulating Transport for London and the Mayor, who have been responsible for a 70,000 reduction in the number of vehicle journeys into London, thanks to the congestion charge, and a massive increase of 54 per cent. in bus usage in the past few years?

Chris Grayling: There is no doubt that some good work has been done on transport in London by the devolved administration, but the hon. Gentleman has to bear it in mind that it is easy to do good work when one has £1 billion extra to spend on it. Many parts of the country do not enjoy the financial support that London does; the level of service is rather less satisfactory than it is in many parts of London.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The picture in London may be rosy, as the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) points out, but has my hon. Friend noted that the south-west public transport users forum is far less upbeat about train services in particular? It is a funny way to start a 10-year transport plan by considering shutting the London Waterloo to Bristol service, which stops in the towns in my constituency.

Chris Grayling: That is right. As my hon. Friend knows, in many parts of the country the reality for many people is that transport alternatives do not exist. It is true that London is reasonably well served by bus services, but those who take suburban rail services into central London suffer from increasingly overcrowded trains. The forecasts are for even more passengers on those trains in future, but no more trains are planned.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentions overcrowding on trains. Does he agree that given a 36 per cent. increase in rail passenger journeys since 1997—in 2001, there were more than 1 billion passengers for the first time since 1961—the Government are perhaps victims of their own success? That success story is a result of the sound investment
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policies of this Government, as opposed to the botched privatisation policies of the previous Conservative Government.

Chris Grayling: The Secretary of State tends to say that that is a consequence of economic growth rather than transport policies. I shall come back to the increase in rail usage, but if trains are overcrowded and likely to become more so, one naturally looks to Government for some ideas on how to ease the congestion and increase capacity. That is distinctly lacking.

The hon. Gentleman is right: the number of people travelling by train has rocketed in the past few years. More passengers are carried on the railways than were carried on a much bigger network before the Beeching cuts. That is a matter of record. The Government's own figures show that the frequency of what, in the technical jargon, are called trains with passengers in excess of capacity—or, to the layman, really, really full trains—has gone up and up. The problem is that the Government forecast a further increase in passengers on the railways over the next few years. The future finances of the railways—the detailed financing in the franchise documents—require a growth in passenger numbers over the next few years to meet the passenger targets.

There are two problems, however. First, the official figures also show that there are no plans to increase the number of trains on our railways over the next seven to 10 years. The rail regulator says that between 2007 and 2014 there will be no growth at all. The maths is simple: if there are no extra trains but 30 to 40 per cent. more passengers, the trains will be more overcrowded.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The sum of £49 billion was allocated to the railways in the 10-year plan. Much of that has already been spent, much of it wasted. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, with the single exception of finishing off the Conservative scheme for the cross-channel rail link, the Government are not adding to the capacity of the network by building new railway lines? The money is just disappearing.

Chris Grayling: Even more astonishing is the fact that not only are the Government not adding to capacity, as they promised, setting out scheme after scheme for improvement, but all schemes have been shelved, postponed or kicked into the long grass. That is happening throughout our transport system.

The second problem is that passengers will pay more and more to travel on overcrowded trains. The same franchise agreements—the same small print—requires an increased contribution from passengers. That is what happened with the fare increases at the start of January. Let nobody think that is simply the work of private sector rail companies: the finances of the rail industry are dictated closely by the Government in the franchise agreements they set up. Those agreements are predicated on higher and higher fares in the years ahead—a higher price for more crowded trains. Passengers will believe that that is not good enough.

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