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Partnership works where there are ready profits to be made by the private sector, but it does not meet the challenge of the social needs in many of the communities that we represent. I have no problem with partnership where it works, especially with operators who are prepared to take a long-term view instead of a profit-making view. But sometimesI say this with all due respect to my Front-Bench colleagueswe have to put
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power in the hands of passengers and communities, not in the hands of the profit-maker. That is why I support quality bus contracts.
I was mildly heartened by what the Secretary of State said last week, and again here today, about the fact that he may be considering using quality contracts. However, I am disappointed that they come with strings attached and that they are regarded as the sweet coating on the bitter pill of introducing road charging. We ought to go the extra mile and say that quality contracts are a useful tool in promoting bus use.
I want to say a few words about my constituency. I am worried that the A65 Kirkstall road quality bus initiative seems to have gone into the ether, because that measure would have served my constituents very well.
Rail users in my constituency, like many others throughout the country, have been ill served by privatisation. However, under the Government, three stations in my constituency have been refurbished. A £250 million refurbishment has taken place at Leeds city station, enabling it to develop greater capacity for local routes.
A rail passenger partnership grant has allowed most of the rolling stock on the Airedale and Wharfedale line to be replaced with brand new, air conditioned, class 333 trains. They replaced the antediluvian, 40-year-old, slam-door cast-offs from the south-east commuter belt that we inherited under the previous Government. We cannot take lessons from the Conservative party about investment in rail.
Between 1994 and now, rail use in West Yorkshire increased from 11.5 million to 21 million passengers. There is a price to pay for that. The Select Committee on Transport identified overcrowding in West Yorkshire as being worse than in the south-east, which may surprise some London-centric Members. The Harrogate line, which goes through Horsforth in my constituency, and the Calder Vale line through New Pudsey are two of the most overcrowded routes in West Yorkshire at peak times.
Despite the recent renewal of rolling stock, capacity on the Wharfedale line, too, approaches saturation point at peak times. It is under pressure from new development, especially housing development. The Department for Transport is currently funding eight carriages up to 2007 on the Wharfedale line. It is essential that the rolling stock is retained and that we do not move backwards by having less capacity through the removal of that rolling stock.
The Northern Rail franchise is under review. I submit to our Front-Bench colleagues that that must reflect not only current demand and pressure on services but the potential for carrying tens of thousands more passengers if we increase capacity and perhaps accompany that with park-and-ride schemes. I contend that, in West Yorkshire, we would get more passengers per pound of investment than almost anywhere else in the country.
West Yorkshire Metro has a blueprint for increasing patronage by more than 50 per cent. in the next 10 years with what I regardI hope that Ministers agreeas a relatively modest investment of between £5 million and £6 million a year.
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Although we should not take lessons from Conservative Members about public transport, I hope that my hon. Friends accept that genuine concerns need to be tackled if we are to emerge from the mire that we inherited from the Conservative party.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for initiating the debate and for some of his comments, although, like other hon. Members, I await the Conservative policy with bated breath.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) covered several points on Conservative and Labour transport policies as well as our Liberal Democrat alternatives. I want to concentrate on public transport, especially light rail, buses and the railways.
The 10-year plan was announced in 2000, although it was modified in 2002. It made several specific commitments. They included: 25 light rail schemes and 100 per cent. increase in passengers on light rail; a 10 per cent. increase in the number of passengers using buses, with newer and more reliable bus services; and more cities and towns with park and ride schemes. The White Paper combined figures to make a 12 per cent. increase overall. That has not happened.
We were told that the number of passengers using the railways would increase by 50 per cent., with more modern trains and improved commuter services in London and other cities, and that rail freight would increase by 80 per cent. Although improvements and investment have occurredmy party will not deny thatthey have been too slow, too late and do not fulfil the commitments in the 10-year plan.
Only two new light rail schemes have been completed and one more has been agreed. Passenger numbers have not increased by the projected 50 per cent. but by only 28 per cent. The Government have scrapped light rail schemes in Leeds, Hampshire and Merseyside. Earlier, the Secretary of State claimed that that was due to increasing cost, yet he failed to answer my point that it is okay for road schemes to overspendindeed, he is prepared to accommodate thatbut not for light rail to do so. Only the Manchester Metrolink extension is still on the shelf. That project has sat on the Secretary of State's desk since July 2004, when public pressure forced him to reinstate the scheme. Meanwhile, services on the Rochdale-Oldham loop line continue to decline, with 30-year-old Pacer trains and track that cannot cope when a few leaves fall. We are entitled to hear from the Minister today when the Manchester Metrolink extension is to go forward.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD):
Does my hon. Friend agree that, until the Government fulfil their promise on the Metrolink big bang expansion in Greater Manchester, his constituents and mineand those of many other Members in the regionwill continue to struggle with enormous congestion problems? Only that
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investment in the Metrolink expansion will help to persuade car users seriously to consider public transport as an alternative.
Paul Rowen: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State said that our area would receive that investment, but unless or until it is delivered he will not get any support for traffic congestion charging. The Government said in their 10-year plan that other countries had more light rail schemes than the UK, but recent Government decisions have served only to make our position even worse, compared with other cities and towns in Europe.
The Government also made a pledge to increase bus use by 10 per cent. It is true that, if we include services in London, the 10 per cent. target has been achieved. However, outside London there has been a 7 per cent. fall in bus use. At the same time, bus fares have increased by 24 per cent., compared with a retail prices index increase of only 11 per cent. During the same period, the number of vehicle kilometres has fallen by 13 per cent. in metropolitan areas and by 4 per cent. in other areas of England. People are paying exorbitantly high fares for a much poorer service under this Government. I note that the Secretary of State did not cover buses in any great detail in his speech.
Mr. Redwood: Is the hon. Gentleman against the people in his constituency getting a bit richer and buying cars? He does not seem to understand that a lot of people have been buying cars and want to use them.
Paul Rowen: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but for many people buses are the only the service available, and, in many areas, that service is exorbitant in cost and declining in frequency.
A recent report produced by the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission entitled "Delivery chain analysis for bus services in England" makes a telling observation that supports a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). It states:
Dr. Pugh: Is my hon. Friend aware that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) avoided altogether using the word "environment" in his intervention? Our preference for public transport is based on the fact that it does not cause the same environmental damage as private transport.
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