Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman's speech is premised on the idea that we are not spending enough on transport. That would be fine if the Leader of the Opposition wanted to spend more, but
1 Feb 2006 : Column 389
he criticises us for spending too much across the board. How does the hon. Gentleman square those two positions?

Chris Grayling: If the hon. Gentleman is patient, he will find that my thesis is not that the Government are spending inadequate sums. I am asking the Government how it is possible to spend so much extra money on the transport system—the motion refers specifically to the amounts that are being spent—yet fail to deliver so many of the things that were promised.

There are many examples of that. We know about Crossrail. Targets for rail freight have been abandoned and the upgraded links to ports such as Felixstowe have been downgraded. The subsidy for rail freight has been cut in half. There were plans to allow suburban rail lines to take more passengers by adding extra coaches and lengthening platforms, but the Government paid South West Trains to take out a carriage from planned new trains because they abandoned plans to lengthen platforms. That was doubly ironic because one of the explicit promises in the 10-year plan was to cut congestion and ensure that no passenger stood for more than 20 minutes. You will know from travelling in from East Anglia, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as do many of us from travelling on trains around London and the experiences of our constituents, that that aspiration is a million miles from reality in far too many places. Worryingly, as I said to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), passengers are standing on inter-city services, too.

There was a much vaunted promise to open 25 new light rail lines. I understand that the Secretary of State has taken a hard look at the economics of trams and has reached the view that guided busways are better light rapid transit systems than trams. However, if we accept that he has taken that decision, where are all the guided busway schemes? I asked him in a written question last week how many of the 25 rapid transit schemes were on the way. A couple have opened so far and there are about six more in development, although it is by no means certain that they will be open by 2010—another promise broken.

The Secretary of State made a whole string of promises on roads to put flesh on the bones of the general announcements in the 10-year plan, but many are back on hold again. The Stonehenge tunnel was given the go-ahead in 2002, but put on hold again last week. Improvements to the M6 were announced in 2002, but there is no sign of them happening. Improvements to the M1 are on hold. The link between the M6 toll road and the M54 that was announced in 2003 was still a matter of debate during Transport questions last week. Improvements to the A14 were announced in 2003, but we have seen nothing yet. Smaller projects, such as the Kiln lane link in my constituency, were announced three or four years ago, but are now back on hold again. There have been lots of promises and press releases, but the bulldozers remain firmly in their garages. The Government pledged to treble the number of cycling trips in the 10-year plan, but the number of trips is falling, not rising.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman refers to the failure to complete guided
1 Feb 2006 : Column 390
busways and widen the M1. Is he aware that my constituency will have the new Translink guided busway by 2008 due to an investment of some £84 million? The M1 will be widened between junctions 6a and 10 due to investment of £240 million. Those projects represent part of the investment of around £218 million in my area that proves that our 10-year transport plan is working, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman says.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady clearly demonstrates a good reason why we should be worried about the Government's numeracy strategy. Even if she is right that one busway will be approved and constructed in her constituency, rather than losing Government support, as many others have, there will still be 24 more to go. Believe me, the Government are nowhere near meeting their commitment on 25 new rapid transit systems by 2010. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), we recognise in the motion the fact that more money is being spent.

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way, but will he clarify his attitude towards investment? In my constituency, we have seen the benefits of the investment. In 1996, the Conservative Government cancelled, arbitrarily and suddenly, the Blunsdon bypass, which was to bring much-needed relief to that community. This Government have invested the money to put that bypass back, for which the whole of Blunsdon is very grateful. This Government have trebled the amount of funding going to Wiltshire county council for its local transport plans. As a result, we are seeing much needed traffic-mitigation measures in the village of Cricklade in my constituency. The Government have quintupled the amount of funding going to Swindon borough council—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has given us enough to work on for the time being.

Chris Grayling: As I was about to say, I fully accept that the Government have increased their budgets. Indeed, the Secretary of State has boosted spending beyond the original 10-year plan forecast. He said in 2004 that the spending review

He frequently boasts that he is spending £87 million a week on the railways, and he is right. It is not quite as much as that in this financial year, but it certainly will be in the next. Five years ago the Government were spending £1 billion; in the coming financial year it will be £5 billion. Over the same period the Highways Agency budget has gone up from £3 billion to around £5.4 billion. The Government have provided an extra £1 billion a year for transport in London.

So if all this extra money has been provided and all these extra sums are being found, why, five years after the publication of the 10-year plan, which was lauded by the Secretary of State, have so many of its projects
1 Feb 2006 : Column 391
designed to ease congestion by 2010 disappeared? That is the conundrum; that is what the Secretary of State needs to ask himself. If the Government are spending so much money, where is it going?

The Secretary of State will undoubtedly tell us later that he is trying to catch up with decades of under-investment on the transport network. If that is the case, why did the Government make all those promises, produce a 10-year plan, set out all the different things that they were going to do by 2010 and walk away from those commitments less than five years later? That is what this House has a right to know. Without the expansion in capacity that those projects represented, the travelling public face years and years of additional congestion.

All around the network projects are being cancelled and promises are being broken. Last week I received a written answer from the Secretary of State showing that of the 112 road schemes that had made it into the Government's targeted programme of improvements, only 32 have been completed. We know from hon. Members around the House that in very many parts of the country—obviously not in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), but in the constituencies of hon. Members throughout the House—projects that were planned and promised are not happening.

I think of projects such as the improvements to road surfacing. Anyone who has been down to see the A30 in the west country knows that the noisy road surface there is causing real distress to residents who live close to it. The Government promised—the Prime Minister promised—that they would deal with that and that they would renew those road surfaces by 2007. I discovered recently that last summer Ministers sent a memo around the Highways Agency saying, "We're going to drop the commitment to replace noisy road surfaces. We're not going to make a public statement or one to the House, but here's a line to take in case anybody asks a difficult question." That is another promise broken.

What happened to the rail schemes? What did happen to the east coast modernisation, to longer platforms for suburban trains, to plans for Crossrail by 2010 and to Thameslink 2000? What happened to the new transit systems? What happened to the push to increase cycling? I cannot understand why the Government made so many promises, set out so many new schemes, spent so much extra money, and yet all those schemes have been abandoned. I await with interest to hear the Secretary of State explain specifically why.

We were told in the 10-year plan document that there was more than enough money to deliver all the Government's promises, which in turn has proved to be another worthless promise. May I ask the Secretary of State how it is possible to promise so much and deliver so little? I listen carefully to his speeches, but he seems to have only one idea left to tackle Britain's transport problems, and that is his plan to introduce a nationwide system of road pricing. His grand road pricing scheme may play a part in future public policy on transport. We need to look at that and discuss it with him, but first he must answer important questions about how it will work, how it will be paid for, and how it will be enforced. Another question, however, is top of the list. It is self-evident that we cannot use road pricing to encourage people to leave their cars at home if we do not give them
1 Feb 2006 : Column 392
any alternative transport. Where are those alternatives? They are not provided by rush-hour trains, which increasingly suffer from overcrowding that far exceeds health and safety guidelines. They are not provided by buses, because in most of the country outside London services are all too infrequent. They are not provided by tram routes, which the Government promised but which they will no longer provide. What is the alternative that the Government are providing for the travellers whom they said they want to encourage off Britain's roads? At the moment, the answer to that question is virtually nothing at all.

The Government have been in power for nearly nine years. Today's Ministers have no more idea about how to make transport in this country better than they did 10 years ago, even after endless studies, White Papers and blue-skies thinking. We need a proper transport strategy. We need quick improvements to ease congestion and increase capacity. We need value for money from vastly increased Government spending. We need a long-term plan, both to support economic growth and to ensure that our transport system does not destroy our environment. We will not obtain that plan from a Government who have run out of ideas. Things are not going to get better under Labour. It will be the job of the next Conservative Government to start getting British transport back on track.

4.46 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page