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Andrew Gwynne: The hon. Gentleman briefly mentions the need to improve bus services. Is he aware
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that, in my part of Greater Manchester, the Government have made available to Stockport and Tameside councils very great amounts of public money for the south-east Manchester multi-modal study, which is having a major impact, not least with the implementation of quality bus corridors?

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am here not to say that everything that the Government have done is negative, but to congratulate them where appropriate—I have done so two or three times, as I am sure Hansard will confirm—and to highlight some failings in Government policy.

The second issue that the Government need to address is ensuring that transport policy is greener. The Government's lack of action on aviation policy is certainly regrettable. They have simply pushed all responsibility for tackling the environmental problems associated with aviation to a future EU emissions trading scheme, which may never happen. The Government could have taken action now and supported our calls to halt any growth in airports and runways in the south-east until the environmental issues—whether the climate change, pollution or congestion implications—associated with aviation are addressed.

David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman at least give the Secretary of State for Transport credit for his announcement on the requirement to have stringent noise controls at airports? Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that East Midlands airport, which is in my constituency, will publish its airport master plan—a further Government initiative—very soon indeed? The community can use those documents to try to work their way through the problems that exist.

Tom Brake: I do indeed welcome the measures that the Government have taken. No doubt, East Midlands airport's representatives will mention those issues to me when I visit them tomorrow to listen to the noise. As the airport is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, may I warn him that I will be visiting for legitimate purposes tomorrow evening?

Our final priority is to make spending on transport projects more accountable. Very large sums of money are now being distributed and priorities are being identified regionally, where democratic control is not great. As other hon. Members have said, we are concerned about the ability of local communities to influence the bus services provided in their areas. All that needs to be underpinned by paying attention to value for money, which is why my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the London assembly are putting forward a proposal to replace the tram scheme for London with a trolleybus scheme that could do the same job for about a third of the price.

We need to ensure that the Government invest for the long term, so we need to make more use of bonds. Several hon. Members referred positively to what the Mayor has achieved in London. He thought that bonds were the appropriate way to address investment in the London underground. Unfortunately, the Government did not allow him to go down that route, but we would have supported it.
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The Government quietly torpedoed the 10-year transport plan years ago.

Dr. Pugh: The Government might have torpedoed the national 10-year plan, but they have quietly introduced regional 10-year plans that commit the regions to significant expenditure with little democratic accountability. We thus have a new set of plans that are diverse and unrepresentative.

Tom Brake: That is why we would ensure that people responsible for taking decisions on transport priorities are democratically accountable, which they are not at present.

After torpedoing the 10-year plan, the Government produced a revised plan in July 2004 called "The Future of Transport", but that is already taking on water. Bus use outside London has declined by 7 per cent., although it is an objective that bus use will increase in every region by 2010. The Government claim that their efficiency target has been met, yet road building projects overrun by more than £1.5 billion. While they might hit their targets on punctuality and reliability for rail, the law of unintended consequences means that train overcrowding has rocketed since 1997 with 25,000 passengers travelling to and from London each day on officially overcrowded trains. An objective analysis shows that the Government's progress on their self-imposed targets has been patchy. Delivery has been poor and targets have been discarded, downgraded, or have simply disappeared. Delivery lags behind rhetoric and anyone who travels on our roads, railways or buses knows it.

Liberal Democrats think that the Secretary of State is tired. He longs for a higher-profile post. It is time to put him out of his misery and appoint a Secretary of State who will really get to grips with the tragedy that is our transport system.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a time limit of 10 minutes on Back-Bench speeches? However, they will see that we are under time pressure, so I am sure that they are capable of doing the arithmetic for themselves.

5.57 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I will come to the aid of the Secretary of State because I wish to thank him warmly for the funding that we have received in Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes council, which is, of course, unfortunately controlled by the Liberal Democrats, has received more than £3 million from the Government for its local transport capital expenditure every single year since 2001. For the most part, it has been spent reasonably well. The money that has been spent on supporting public transport, bus priority measures and improving the quality of bus   networks is starting to improve the lamentable bus transport system in Milton Keynes.

I should mention that a key aspect of continuing to improve bus transport in Milton Keynes, as in other places, is not in the gift of the Department for Transport because it is related to the planning of future housing.
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We are all grappling with the way in which we can plan future housing growth in Milton Keynes so that we can try to make the expanded city more public transport-friendly than it is at present.

Primarily, I want to talk about the rail system in Milton Keynes. We are on the west coast main line. My constituency contains four rail stations, three of which are on the west coast main line; Wolverton, Milton Keynes Central and Bletchley. Milton Keynes as a whole has suffered from the incredibly lengthy delays to the modernisation of the west coast main line. I am old enough to recall that that was first planned before the privatisation of the railways. The Tory Government did not undertake the modernisation because they thought that as the railways were going to be privatised, the private rail companies could do it, which, of course, they did not. This Government finally delivered the modernisation, although because such a huge amount of time had passed, they had to examine the plans again, redo the costings and rescale the work. For my constituents and everybody else up and down the west coast main line, they have delivered a rail service that is considerably more reliable and has a vastly increased capacity.

However, although the capacity of the west coast main line has increased, passenger and freight usage has also increased. The key issue for my constituents, of which all members of the Front-Bench team will be well aware, because I have raised it endlessly in the House, is the conflict between long-distance rail passengers and commuter rail passengers. This is to a certain extent a zero-sum game; whatever the capacity of the rail system, it is finite at any one time.

There is an understandable desire among passengers from the north of England and Scotland for trains travelling down the west coast main line through Milton Keynes not to stop terribly often, because every time they do so it increases the journey time. In addition, if a train from the north which is already about 90 per cent. full stops at Milton Keynes during a peak time, it is likely that more people than the few remaining available places will try to get on.

Therefore, a balance must be struck between the needs of long-distance travellers and those of the very large number of commuters—about 20,000 a day—whose journeys are packed into a very small time and who want to be able to travel reliably, reasonably comfortably and in a short time into London and out again. There are also commuters who come into Milton Keynes from London and the north, and some people from Milton Keynes who commute northwards, although in much smaller numbers.

There was a problem; my constituents would have liked every Virgin Pendolino train to London to have stopped in Milton Keynes and, preferably, all the people on it to have got off to make space, so that they could have enjoyed a fast journey in peak time. The Pendolinos are about 10 to 15 minutes faster than the Silverlink trains, which are the main commuter trains.

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