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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab):
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his simple
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argument about passenger numbers and capacity works only if all those passengers travel at peak time? Off-peak, there is enormous capacity in existing trains, so we need to look at policies that encourage people to work flexitime. It is not the simple equation that he suggested.
Chris Grayling: Yes, it is true that the busiest trains are at peak times, but if the hon. Lady has travelled on a long-distance train recently she will know that passengers frequently have to stand from Birmingham to Manchester, or from London to Birmingham. It is not simply a question of peak or off-peak; there are congestion problems across the network. It may be desirable that the commuters of Milton Keynes work more flexibly, but I am sure that the hon. Lady would not tell them that she did not want them to travel to work in the mornings. Most people have no option; they have to travel to work within a certain window of time. Simply pricing them out of peak times is not good enough.
There are similar problems on the roads. Motorists could be forgiven if they were confused about the Government's roads strategy over the past few years. When Labour took office they scrapped all the road schemes. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he would have failed if he had not cut road usage over the next five years. National schemes were cut. Smaller local schemes were cut. The money to fund small schemes throughout the country evaporated.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case indeed[Interruption.] He certainly is. Is he aware that a number of villages in my constituency on the A47 between King's Lynn and Norwich are crying out for bypasses? The schemes were cut by the Deputy Prime Minister in 1997; now all we get are multi-modal studies. All studies and no action. Many of my constituents are crying out for action from the Government, but they are not getting it.
Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend's comments speak for themselves[Laughter.] There may be mirth on the Labour Benches, but Labour Members should find out about their constituents' experience of travelling in this country. The issue will become bigger and bigger, and Labour Members will be held to account for the Government's failings on transport.
Average road speeds are dropping and average travel times on the roads are increasing. The amount of traffic is increasing yet all the schemes that could make a difference are, as my hon. Friend said, on hold or delayed, or no decision has been taken.
Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman said that traffic and travel times on the roads are increasing. Does he accept, however, that London offers a classic example and that when the Mayor introduced congestion charges it led not just to fewer cars being used, and thus less time spent in traffic, but lower emission rates? Will he join me not just in congratulating the Mayor of London but in welcoming the introduction of the congestion charge?
The hon. Gentleman, as a London Member, should be aware that such matters are devolved. I am interested in holding the Secretary of
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State for Transport to account. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Mayor of London is responsible for the congestion charge, not the Secretary of State.
The truth is that things were not meant to be like this. The Deputy Prime Minister presented a 10-year plan that, he said, would ease all the congestion in the transport system. We were promised wholesale change by 2010.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Chris Grayling: I want to make a bit more progress.
The Deputy Prime Minister said:
"Now we have a 10 Year Plan that will deliver the scale of resources required to put integrated transport into practice. It will also deliver radical improvements for passengers, motorists, business"[Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We do not want any more sedentary interventions, particularly not from those on the Parliamentary Private Secretary Bench.
Chris Grayling: Labour Members are trying to divert attention from the Government's transport failures.
Dr. Starkey: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it permissible for a member of the Opposition Front-Bench team to pretend to be a Back Bencher by moving between the Front Bench and the Back Benches in the middle of debate? Are the Opposition so short of Back Benchers?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair if hon. Members choose to move around the Chamber to make their comments from different places.
Chris Grayling: All Opposition Members are determined to represent the interests of our constituents on this important issue.
The Government have set out promise after promise to hon. Members and people in the country. They promised us that, by 2010, they would modernise our main rail arteriesthe west and east coast main lines and the great western routeand upgrade our suburban railways in London, Birmingham and Manchester. They promised less congestion and more rail freight, with upgrades to the routes to ports. They promised that Thameslink 2000 would be opened to improve north-south traffic in London and that Crossrail would be complete and easing east-west congestion in London.
The Government also promised us a huge jump forward in light rapid transit systems in our cities, with 25 new light rail routes; a big jump in work on our road network and major new road schemes around the country; and a widening of 5 per cent. of the road network and low-noise surfaces on 60 per cent. of our road network. They are all great promises, but I have always suspected that the Secretary of State for Transport was a little embarrassed to inherit so many of them. However, he seemed enthusiastic enough about them when he took over. He said:
"The Ten Year Plan represents our key reform in the delivery of the government's transport objectives."
It is time for a half term report on the plan. How much visible progress has been made in the past five years? How much of the plan has come to fruition? How much of it is on the way to coming to fruition? There is no doubt that some things have been done. The west coast main line is being modernised. The channel tunnel rail link is approaching completion. The M25 has been widened in places, although a mischievous journalist told me that the Secretary of State's sole transport legacy to Britain would be that he added an extra lane to the M25. There have been some other new road schemes, and a couple of new tram routes, but the truth is that most of the plan has disappeared without trace.
On the railways, most of the promises have disappeared into thin air, or at least into the long grass. The east coast main line modernisation has disappeared to the point where a battle is going on. A company wants to run trains from Sunderland, and GNER wants to run extra trains from Leeds. There is not, however, enough room for both of them to do so. The great western main line improvement has been completely forgotten. The rather inaptly named Thameslink 2000 service has no chance of opening this decade andwould hon. Members believe it?the Government are planning to preside over a ghost station under St. Pancras because they cannot afford the final part of the interchange between Thameslink trains and the new channel tunnel rail terminus. Let us imagine what will happen: for the next 10 years, passengers will travel non-stop through an empty station before getting off at the next station and walking back to link up with channel tunnel trains. Is that not a damning indictment of the Government's failings on transport?
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about transport schemes not going ahead, he should visit Gloucestershire, where the new Conservative administration in the county council has just cut £10 million from the integrated transport budget, which has been described by the non-party Cheltenham strategic partnership as representing
"a fundamental shift away from the implementation of sustainable, socially inclusive transport policies",
thus putting at risk Government funding that may come to Gloucestershire. We are hearing Tory words, but is it not clear that the Tories act very differently in our constituencies?
Chris Grayling: The Liberal Democrats are the last people who should accuse others of saying one thing in one place and another thing in Westminster. The hon. Gentleman will realise that the lack of joined-up government means that although the Department for Transport might aspire to improve transport facilities throughout the country, the Deputy Prime Minister is cutting funding to local authorities in county areas, which is making it impossible for authorities to do what they want to do.
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