Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Redwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Brake: I happily give way to the right hon. Gentleman a further time.

Mr. Redwood: In the light of the hon. Gentleman's argument that we should not build roads because people might use them, does he therefore think that we should not build hospitals because ill people might fill them? Does he further think that ill people might sometimes need roads to get to hospital?

Tom Brake: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his further intervention. We are clearly in very odd territory, which I shall leave to him.

Reviewing the targets in the 10-year transport plan is an interesting intellectual exercise, but given that the Government have conceded that it is dead in the water, has jumped the rails and the wheels have fallen off, it is much more relevant to look at the targets issued in July 2004 and the Department for Transport's autumn performance report, which was published last December. In looking at those targets, we need to take particular account of what the Prime Minister said in the foreword to the report, "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change". He said that:

The Department's current target is to provide transport that works for everyone, and I am sure that we can all agree with that. Other objectives include supporting the economy through the provision of

Part of that will involve the development of ways to measure congestion. Regrettably, we cannot assess the Department's performance in that respect, as details of progress are to be published at a later date.

The Department's second target is to improve the punctuality and reliability of rail services. Good progress is reportedly being made, and I do not necessarily disagree, but what about overcrowding, to which the Secretary of State referred earlier? I know that he likes to consult my press releases, so he may be interested in one that was published late last year. It pointed out that, each day, 25,000 passengers on trains in and out of London travel in conditions that the Department's statistics officially designate as overcrowded. They are the lucky ones, of course. The
1 Feb 2006 : Column 406
unlucky ones are those who cannot get on the train in the first place, but their numbers are not taken into account.

The increase in overcrowding on some services since 1997 has been phenomenal. On WAGN trains, overcrowding has increased by no less than 485 per cent., while on c2c's morning services it has risen by 263 per cent. The increase in overcrowding on various other services has also been very large, and the crush can only get worse in the poor weather that we can expect over the next couple of months.

The Government cannot expect people to get off the roads and on to public transport when our trains are over capacity and there is no room to accommodate passengers. They must bring forward some concrete proposals and the Secretary of State has waxed lyrical about double-decker trains. I had hoped that he would have used his speech to say more about the progress being made in that regard, and perhaps the Minister of State will do so when he winds up. We would welcome some information about that, although I suspect that the plan has not gone much beyond speech making.

Interestingly, the Department has no target for fares. That may be just as well, as there have been above inflation increases at a time when the network is severely overcrowded. Those rises have sent exactly the wrong signal, given that the Government are trying to get people out of cars and on to trains. Moreover, they entrench the UK's position as the country with the most expensive rail fares in Europe.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about fares. People in my Kettering constituency are paying more for their midland mainline services to London, but increasingly have to stand for an hour. Does he agree that, when the Government review rail franchises, they should include a clause that means that passengers who buy a ticket for a journey that lasts longer than, say, 15 or 20 minutes are entitled to a seat?

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman raised a similar possibility in Transport questions. It is a valid point and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to give us both some comfort about overcrowding and what passengers can look forward to in years to come.

I am grateful to the Thomas Cook agency for producing a helpful report that confirms that, for £10, people can travel 300 miles in Slovakia and 200 in Italy, but only 38 in Britain. They can go three times further than that in France. For £10, people in Britain can get to the next county if they are lucky, whereas in most European nations they can get to the next country.

The Government's second transport objective was to improve the accessibility, punctuality and reliability of local and regional transport systems, and to look at buses. The Secretary of State was asked about rural bus services today and the second target on bus services related to growth in patronage in every region. According to the Department's autumn performance report, that target remains "challenging", which I think is code for, "We will miss it by a mile". According to a parliamentary written answer, the number of passengers is down 13 per cent. in the north-east, 10 per cent. in the west midlands, 9 per cent. in the east of England, and 9 per cent. in Yorkshire and the Humber.
1 Feb 2006 : Column 407

The only comfort for the Government is performance in London, which is very good. Hon. Members have congratulated the Mayor on his congestion charging policy, which, incidentally, the Liberal Democrats were almost alone in supporting before its introduction. It was only once the Government had the comfort of knowing that that had been a success that they were willing to go on the record to congratulate the Mayor.

Mr. Darling: Why were the Liberal Democrats against the Edinburgh congestion charge?

Tom Brake: I expected that intervention. It is up to local parties to decide whether to support a scheme. We supported the Mayor's proposals for the London scheme, when there was almost a total absence of support on the Government Benches. Perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm that, in Edinburgh, the Liberal Democrats and almost all the Opposition parties were against the proposal, as, I understand, were all the Labour councils in the surrounding area. Clearly, there were failings in that scheme, which Labour councils identified just as the Liberal Democrats did.

Chris Grayling: If the hon. Gentleman and his party believe philosophically in allowing local authorities and local party groups to take their own decisions, why does he stand up in this place to criticise other parties for decisions taken locally?

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it would be helpful if he illustrated the point he is making. If he expects any political party, including his own, to apply a policy uniformly across the whole country, I should welcome it. It is not the position that the Liberal Democrats adopt.

The targets also cover light rail and we all know what the Government's performance has been on that over the last year or so. We had the Leeds supertram, when funding was provided for the scheme at almost the same time as the Government were negotiating an alternative bus solution. They gave people the impression that the tram would proceed while negotiating behind closed doors with an alternative provider, and £39 million of public funding spent on that has been lost.

There was the Manchester tram, too, and now we have the situation in relation to Merseytram. That matter is being discussed in the High Court today, and I received a letter from the chief executive of Merseytravel—I understand it is a matter of public record, or so widely in the public domain that I can discuss it—stating that on 29 November the Government gave a not accurate summary of recent events, which was subsequently repeated by the Prime Minister at Question Time the next day. In fact, a none-too-accurate summary of the Government's own position was given. Whether it is buses or trams—

Mr. Darling: It might help the House to learn that about an hour ago the Merseytram application for judicial review was dismissed.

Tom Brake: I thank the Secretary of State for clarifying that. If he has not received a copy of this letter, I would be happy to send him one so that he can respond
1 Feb 2006 : Column 408
specifically to the allegation that the information that was provided to Members, by Ministers and by the Prime Minister, was inaccurate.

Next Section IndexHome Page