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Mr. Darling: Of course I know what the answer said but, as I explained briefly, we are taking a far more realistic view of what projects are likely to cost. Under successive Governments, people have presented projects, said that they would cost x but they ultimately cost x plus 20 per cent.
We need to be more realistic. There is no doubt that, in several cases, costs have been higher than we thought they would be. That is a general problem that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell could have cited. I do not believe that anyone realised the true state of the railways in the late 1990s. It was not until Railtrack went bust and we could open the books that we realised how much money had to be spent on putting the railways back on a proper footing.
Paul Rowen: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for finally giving way. Why is he not prepared to accept the same cost overruns for light rail schemes as he accepts for road building? Indeed, he has cited cost overruns as a reason for scrapping several light rail schemes. Is not that a case of one rule for road building and another for light rail?
No, it is not. Earlier, the hon. Gentleman complained that we refused to sanction the big cost increase in the tunnel at Stonehenge. I wanted the tunnel go ahead because it would have been great to
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move the traffic away from a national monument. However, the ground conditions are far worse than people thought and the cost would have increased dramatically. When the cost of a tunnel is £500 million, one has to think about it. Even the Liberal Democrats, when they are in office in local government, tend to take a slightlyonly slightlymore realistic view of cost increases. Simply ignoring cost increases is fiscally incontinent.
Chris Grayling: The Stonehenge tunnel is a good example and I understand the Secretary of State's predicament. However, why did he announce the scheme before he knew how much it would cost? Why did not he do the work beforehand? Why does he announce new schemes only to work out subsequently that he cannot afford them?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right that I announced the Stonehenge scheme in 2002. An inquiry subsequently took place because of objections by the National Trust and others. In the meantime, the Highways Agency did more exploratory drilling in the normal course of working up the scheme and discovered that the chalk, far from being firm, was moist. That meant an increase in cost. When faced with that, one has a choice. One could take the Liberal Democrat view of, "It's somebody else's money, let's just do it", or decide, "This is half a billion quid, we've got to be realistic." If we could get the road away from Stonehenge, most people would agree that that was a huge improvement. However, we cannot simply sign away projects regardless of the cost.
The debate should be about what we do in the future. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is right that there is general agreement that we can blame successive GovernmentsLabour and Tory, and probably Liberal when they were in power[Interruption.] Gladstone had his weaknesses.
We can all sign up to the proposition that successive Governments did not spend as much as they should have done. That is why we have increased investment. Let us not forget that the Opposition have voted against every singly penny of that increase since 1997. The reason I sought to draw the hon. Gentleman earlier on his spending proposals was that the shadow Chancellor said about future spending:
The long and the short of it is that the Conservatives would not spend as much as we are spending, and we are entitled at some stage to find out where they would spend less, how much less it would be, and what the implications would be.
Martin Horwood : As we have had no clarification from the Conservatives on this matter, may I tell the House that when they took over in Gloucestershire, they cut bus priority schemes, park-and-ride schemes and the planned purchase of new buses? Perhaps that is an indication of their direction of travel.
When the 10-year plan was launched in 2000, it was the first time that any Government had been prepared to set out transport planning for 10 years. Conservative Members who have been Ministers will know that the old days of annual spending rounds and stop-go spending were ruinous for transport. The reason for things going wrong with many road and rail schemes is that people thought that they had the money for them, only to discover that they did not.
The 10-year plan was a big achievement. However, I make no bones about the fact that there have been changes to it since it was published. The day I was appointed to this job I said that I was going to review it, see whether it was right and make any changes that were appropriate. And I did. I announced them in 2004, so in some ways the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is about two years behind on these matters.
Our policy is quite clear: we need sustained investment and, in additionthis is important, because I agree that money is not everythingwe need better management. I have already talked about Network Rail, but on the roads we now have traffic officers who clear up after incidents. Instead of a road being shut for five or six hours after a lorry crash, for example, it can now reopen much more quickly. Following the explosion at Buncefield just before Christmas, we thought that the motorway might have to be shut for several hours, but because of the action taken by the traffic officers, it was able to be reopened much more quickly. The Traffic Management Act 2004 will make it more difficult for people repeatedly to dig up roads, sometimes for weeks on end and with no obvious signs of activity taking place.
The third strand to our policy, in addition to investment and management, is our ability to plan ahead for the long term. That strikes me as the subject that the public really want to hear about, rather than past glories and failures.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) spoke on behalf of the Conservatives for almost 30 minutes, yet he made no mention of rural bus services. My suspicion is that the failed deregulation of the bus services in the 1980s was the reason for his not mentioning that subject. Will the Secretary of State explain in detail what has now been done for bus service provision in rural localities?
Ms Butler : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing that the Conservatives made no mention in their manifesto of matching the Government's commitment of £350 million to ensure free bus travel for disabled and elderly people?
In regard to planning for the long term, I want to concentrate on several issues. The House will recall that I published an aviation White Paper in 2003 which set
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out the long-term strategy for aviation over the next 20 to 30 years. I mention that because that is the kind of time scale that we need to think about in transport planning. The White Paper was widely welcomed as a good example of the Government being prepared to take a long-term view of these issues. I notice that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said in the Evening Standard on 28 January:
We reorganised the railways in a much more satisfactory way last year. Next year, we will publish our longer-term strategy on spending to 2015. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is right that capacity is the key issue, not just on the railways but on the roads. We will address that then, when we will also have the benefit of the Eddington review and the longer-term strategy.
We keep returning to the central issue of road congestion. I have said that we need additional capacity, especially at some of the big pinch points. We also need to manage the system better, which we are doing. I firmly believe, however, that we need to consider how road pricing can reduce congestion. We are all familiar with the problemtraffic is growing, the number of cars has increased by something like 60 per cent. in the past 25 years, people are travelling longer distances and more people have access to cars, partly because of economic prosperity. We can no longer say that the issue is 10 years awayit always will be unless we do something about it, and we are doing that.
I am not quite sure where the Conservatives stand on this issue, because the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell sometimes gives the impression of being hostile. In November last year, as I said, he was critical of the satellite tracking of cars. I notice, however, that the Leader of the Opposition, in setting out his transport policywhich he appears to have lifted from my last speechtalks about investment management and then says that we should examine
We need to make progress in this area. In the next year or so, as I have told the House previously, I hope to decide in which part of the country we will trial road pricing. It will be a fairly large area, as it cannot be done on a small scale. I have made it clear that road pricing can work only if it is accompanied by a major improvement in public transport, and about £10 billion will be available through the transport innovation fund during the spending period to 2015. The congestion charge in London has worked partly because London has always had a better transport system. Ninety per cent. of people coming into central London do so by public transport. If it is to work outside London, we need to improve public transport, and we will do that.
As part of thatthis brings me to the bus pointthe House might have noticed that I made it clear in a written statement last Thursday that we will change the
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current regime to ensure that in the areas where road pricing is to be trialled there will be greater control over bus services. If we are going to say to somebody, "Don't take your car", we must be able to say that there is a train, tram or bus, and we must be satisfied as to the adequacy and reliability of the service. We have been talking to the Office of Fair Trading about that over the past few weeks, and because I am determined to press ahead I assure the House that we will make changes.
In addition to that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) was right to say, we will continue to improve rural bus services, and we will examine how bus usage can be improved outside London because there are areas where bus companies and local authorities could co-operate a bit more. If there is any impediment to that, we will do our best to remove it.
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