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Paul Rowen: Yes, and it was the right hon. Gentleman's Government who deregulated the buses. It is a simple fact that bus services outside London are controlled by five major bus companies, which together control two thirds of the bus market in this country. Local authorities and passenger transport executives have control of only 20 per cent. of the total bus market. In Rochdale and neighbouring Oldham, the bus operator, First, has a virtual monopoly, controlling 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of all bus services respectively. The result of that monopoly is cancelled services, late-running services, high bus fares and a high degree of passenger dissatisfaction.

Mark Lazarowicz: I mentioned the position in Edinburgh, which I would like the hon. Gentleman to
 
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visit some time to see what can be done with a different form of local bus company ownership. Does he agree that there is a strong case for the competition authorities conducting a serious investigation into the way in which the bus market in this country has developed and is operated?

Paul Rowen: I shall visit Edinburgh tomorrow on my way to the Dunfermline by-election. My next point was going to be that, at the very least, the Minister needs to refer the monopolies that exist at local authority level to the Office of Fair Trading. It is obvious that those bus monopolies are making disproportionate profits compared with the profits made on bus services in London. For example, in the metropolitan areas, an 18 per cent. return is being made on bus services, compared with only 8 per cent. inside London. The way forward must be targeted regulation, which, as the Minister responsible informed me in a written answer, the Government have no intention of introducing. Without it, however, I fear that bus usage will continue to decline and roads will become even more congested.

Substantial investment has been made in railways, although, again, because of the complex structure of the rail industry, it has not led to the planned improvements. The reality is that we were supposed to get a 50 per cent. increase in passenger journeys. The figure is now 20-odd per cent., but the report said that without further increases in capacity, that 50 per cent. increase would not be achieved. I look forward to hearing what proposals the Minister will make to deal with the Manchester or Birmingham bottlenecks. Without such action, commuter services cannot be improved further.

We also need to consider the age of the rolling stock. I was informed in a written answer last week that, outside London and the south-east, there are no plans to upgrade and improve rail network services. For example, Northern Rail's rolling stock, which covers a vast area from the Scottish borders down to the midlands, has an average age of 17.1 years. No allowance has been made in the 10-year plan to improve and upgrade that rolling stock. That can only result in more unreliable, more uncomfortable and more crowded services for rail commuters.

Funding for the railways needs to be examined properly, particularly the question of why so much money is being paid to rolling stock leasing companies, and why franchises have been set at limits below 10 years, contrary to the original plan, which envisaged a 10 to 20-year lead-in, which would have allowed more investment in new rolling stock.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. Transport is important for all of us. The wealth and future development of the country depend on it. Halfway through the 10-year plan, we have a mixed picture. There has been some improvement, but not enough has been done. The Government can and must do better.

6.38 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): In his closing remarks, the Secretary of State urged us to look to the future in terms of what can be done to improve further the transport system. In the
 
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time available, I want to highlight one specific area to which I hope the Government will look for the future. I want to urge the Government to give an early commitment to the development of high-speed rail in the UK.

In his attack on the Government, the Opposition's transport spokesman at least referred grudgingly to the fact that the west coast main line had been upgraded. That upgrading is already showing benefits in terms of attracting passengers to rail and away from road and air travel. That shows what more could be achieved if we moved forward with the development of proper high-speed rail links in the UK. The Government's own advisory bodies have reported on a number of occasions that:

and—

I was delighted when, a few weeks ago, the Institution of Civil Engineers published a report on the possibility of a dedicated high-speed line for the United Kingdom. That reflects the growing realisation that an idea that would have been regarded as bonkers a few years ago is gaining acceptability among policy makers, who recognise that it has now reached its time. The Government's adviser, Lord Eddington, has indicated that he will adopt that approach when he produces his report at the end of the year. I do not have time to describe all the advantages of high-speed rail, but it can offer shorter travel times for passengers, strengthen the move away from dependence on the road network and, in particular, from short-haul air travel, and ensure that the north of England, the midlands and Scotland can enjoy the economic prosperity that will result from more and better links to the continent of Europe through full development of the high-speed channel tunnel rail link.

I do not expect the Government to commit themselves to a high-speed rail line today, but I stress that there is strong support for it in the House. I hope that if Lord Eddington recommends it, the Secretary of State will choose to be bold, for we are at our best when we are at our boldest. I hope that he will ensure that we in the United Kingdom—not just in the south-east, and not just for the purposes of our links with the continent of Europe, but throughout the country—can begin to enjoy the type of high-speed rail network that our European friends and neighbours regard as the norm. It is time that we joined the 21st century in that regard, as well as in the context of the other initiatives and projects that the Government have introduced at both local and national level.

6.42 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): This has been a strategically important debate, featuring interesting contributions from a number of Members.

Opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) got to the heart of what we were asking—if the Government are spending so much money, where is it going and why are they not delivering on their 10-year plan? The fundamental failure of the plan lies in the fact that it announced much
 
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and promised much, but had no short-term or long-term context in relation to our country's economic needs or, indeed, its need for a sustainable environment. The Secretary of State clearly disagrees with me because he described it as a piece of strategic thinking. It was not his piece of strategic thinking, though; it was that of the Deputy Prime Minister, and given that relatively inauspicious start it was probably destined to fail.

In his foreword to the document dealing with the 10-year plan, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote that he was

On congestion, the facts are that the number of motor vehicles registered has risen from 27 million to 32 million. The number of passenger kilometres travelled has risen from 730 billion to 797 billion, which is almost entirely due to extra car miles, as nationally bus usage is down by 7 per cent. Investment in road infrastructure is now £4.2 billion, but under the Conservatives it reached £6.2 billion. If I quote the Government's figures correctly, investment in our trunk road system—mentioned by several Members today—reached its 1993 level only this year. As we have all agreed, expenditure on the rail infrastructure is now three times higher in real terms, but the question that we have asked several times without receiving a proper answer is, "Where is all that investment going?"

The all-operators public performance measure, which was just under 90 per cent. in 1997–98, is now only about 85 per cent. The train operating companies expect capacity to grow by about 2 per cent. between now and 2014, but usage is expected to grow by 38 per cent.

Mr. Redwood: Will my hon. Friend confirm that if the Government did hit their target of a 50 per cent. increase in railway passengers over the 10-year period, that would tackle only one year's worth of growth in the total demand for travel?


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