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That is the reality for many citizens in our constituencies under this Government, despite soundbites, glossy brochures, tsars, respect agendas, paradigm shifts, step changes and all the other new Labour gobbledegook. Under this Government, to paraphrase a former Member for Islwyn, “I warn you not to be old, I warn you not to be poor, I warn you not to live on a council estate and I warn you to keep your civic pride hidden for fear of retribution.”

I want to turn to three particular areas of concern in respect of the forthcoming legislation. One is the lack of any serious attempt at thorough reform of or extending democratic accountability to the police service across the United Kingdom. The answer is not the unpopular and wasteful merger of police forces, which, in the case of my constituency, cost the Cambridgeshire constabulary £140,000 of taxpayers’ money. We cannot continue with the bureaucratic, outdated, top-down approach, under which police authorities and chief constables appear to care little for the views of locally elected representatives, wedded as they are to a Pavlovian tick-box mentality imposed by the Home Office.

The second point relates to the proposal to push ahead with identity cards. They will be hugely expensive: they will cost £200 per person. They will involve the development of lifelong surveillance and the massive accumulation of personal data. They will not prevent illegal immigration or terrorism. They will also involve untested technologies on an unprecedented scale. I implore the Government to think again, at this late stage, about proceeding.

Thirdly, I will not vote for 90 days detention under any circumstances. It is wrong. No objective rationale or demonstrable evidence has been put forward—either last year or this year—for its imposition. That is the opinion of the Attorney-General and Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer.

I do not blame the Home Secretary, who is not in his place, for the whole of the mess that he inherited. Let us remember that the Prime Minister is complicit and
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guilty, too. I would have described him as Macavity the cat, except that Scotland Yard never caught up with Macavity. What an age since September 1993 and

Never have the decent, law-abiding silent majority in this country been so grievously betrayed.

5.29 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): We have had a broad-ranging and valuable debate and I have listened with interest to contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is not enough time for me to refer to all contributions, but we have certainly heard some valuable thoughts, some interesting constituency insights and useful reflections on the Gracious Speech.

The overwhelming message from what we have heard today and what draws the two subject areas together—we have heard it in complaints from the Opposition and in more subtle messages from the Government Benches—is that much has been promised, but far too little has actually happened or been delivered. The truth is that the Gracious Speech is rather like the film “Groundhog Day”: if we think that we have heard it all before, that is because we really have. This year’s Gracious Speech could have been transposed with virtually any one of its predecessors over the past five years and no one would have noticed that a switch had been made. There is a similar list of Bills, a similar list of promises and, at the end of it all, we know that yet again the delivery will not match the rhetoric.

Nowhere is that more true than with respect to the two subject areas that we have debated today. Year after year, the Government talk tough on law and order; year after year, they publish another long list of Bills to pass through the House in months ahead; yet year after year the problems just get worse. Violent crime goes up, antisocial behaviour gets worse, our police seem to have less and less time to catch criminals and our criminal justice system fails to deal out appropriate punishments to those who are caught, usually as a result of yet another piece of flawed guidance from Ministers.

The same is true of our transport system. A decade ago, the Government came to power promising an integrated transport strategy. The Deputy Prime Minister even pledged to put his job on the line if he failed to tackle congestion. We were promised nothing less than the transformation of our transport system. Unlike the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is no longer in her place, I do not believe—and nor do the travelling public—that transport has got better under this Government.

Actually, the opposite is true. Congestion has got worse and our trains are more overcrowded than ever. When toilets and seats are being ripped out of trains to create extra standing room, when the London underground is breaking down every single day of the week, when local authorities around the country are being coerced by the Government to accept road pricing schemes—set against the threat that, if they do not, they will lose funding for other transport schemes—and when promise after promise to improve
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things has been kicked into the long grass, it is hardly realistic to say that transport is getting better.

If we think back to the 10-year plan, we can see what we were promised by 2010—Crossrail, Thameslink, longer platforms on suburban stations, safer stations and faster road journeys—but none of it will happen by 2010. That is hardly surprising from a Government who have long since stopped trying to make a difference on transport.

If anyone does not believe me, they need only take a look at what has happened to transport in the Gracious Speech. We know that the Secretary of State wanted to bring forward a transport Bill, setting out the ground rules for road pricing and reforming our bus services this year. We know that because his letter to the Leader of the House was leaked back in August. The Transport Secretary asked for a slot in this year’s legislative programme, but it has not happened. His aim to introduce a Bill was clear, but what he has actually got is consultation and a draft Bill, which may or may not lead to a Bill next year.

All that is problematic for the Government’s transport strategy. It has been quite clear for the past couple of years that the Government’s transport strategy contains the introduction of road pricing—but not much beyond it. The Secretary of State seems to think so. He had been in his job only three days when he made a major speech, setting out the Government’s plans for road pricing. The Prime Minister’s letter of appointment made it a priority for the Secretary of State, but the road pricing strategy depends on getting things moving pretty quickly. It will take years to get a national road pricing scheme up and running. It will take years to set up meaningful pilots that can supply the basis for a national road pricing scheme. The Secretary of State is committed to setting up such a scheme by 2015—or so the Minister of State said a few weeks ago—but he has not got his Bill. Even the Government’s last remaining transport strategy does not seem to be a priority now.

What does the Gracious Speech say about transport? It contains a Bill on concessionary fares, and I think that all hon. Members would welcome a better deal for pensioners, but the proposed measure amounts to “Groundhog Day II”, as we have had it before. In the Budget presented two months before the last general election, one of the Chancellor’s flagship announcements was that free bus passes would be introduced for pensioners. They were supposed to be in place by April, and local authorities were promised a large amount of money to foot the bill for the new initiative. So why are we debating the matter all over again in this Parliament? Perhaps it is because the Government did not quite get things right last time.

The problem went beyond the lack of funding in many areas. In the north-east, for example, council tax had to go up because the Treasury got the grants wrong, while local schemes for the disabled in Cambridgeshire had to be scrapped to pay for the pensioners’ scheme. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) about the financial problems in his area, where pensioners will end up paying higher council tax to fund their bus passes.

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The scheme had one other big flaw: it applied only within a pensioner’s council area. The Chancellor did not tell us that at the time. Pensioners whose trip to the shops involves crossing a council boundary might end up having to pay up or get off. As a result, this year’s Budget contained the Chancellor’s second take on the matter. This time, we would have a national scheme and the problems would be sorted out. However, reports are now coming in of yet more problems with the existing scheme. What are the chances that Ministers will get it right this time? We will back the Bill and work on it, but we will watch the Government every inch of the way to make sure that it is not another example of a high-sounding undertaking that does not turn out quite as promised when it is put into practice on the front line.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that people in Greater London especially will get no benefit from the scheme unless they get a cast-iron guarantee that they can travel in all directions, and not just within the region?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. One of the difficulties has been that the present scheme comes to a halt at London’s boundaries. We will watch with interest how the new scheme is put into practice, to ensure that the Government fulfil their promise to deliver a better deal for our pensioners—but I am not holding my breath.

What is missing from the Gracious Speech? First, there is the Government’s policy on policing our roads. Last year, we debated the Bill that became the Road Safety Act 2006, and said that it was a missed opportunity. Earlier, the Home Secretary talked about increases in the numbers of police officers, but the truth is that there are now fewer traffic police than when this Labour Government took office. There is a real concern that the Government’s system of enforcing the laws on our roads is designed simply to hit targets and generate revenue, and that it is too dependent on technology.

We know that safety cameras play an important role in many places, but too many forces depend on technology to police our roads. Cameras cannot tell when a person is driving erratically, or has no insurance. They do not know when a licence has been revoked. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of hit-and-run accidents, while the number of breath tests carried out is down.

All told, people are worried that our system of enforcement avoids tackling the real problem drivers on our roads—the ones who flout or ignore the law. The drivers who get caught are those who play within the rules: they register their cars, have driving licences and pay their insurance. The drivers who get away with offences are the ones who completely ignore the law.

Criminals tend not to take the time to call Swansea and change their address details. They tend not to pay their insurance premiums, or reply when they get a letter from the police telling them that they were speeding. They are getting away with all kinds of reckless behaviour because cameras cannot capture what they do. Without police out on the roads, the drivers who pose a real threat to public safety will simply carry on getting away with it.

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I turn to road transport, transport generally and the environment. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made a good speech highlighting some of the issues in relation to transport and the environment. This is a huge challenge for us. As he said, transport is a major contributor to global warming. Despite the climate change Bill that we are promised but which we have not yet seen, we see little practical evidence in the Gracious Speech of tangible Government ideas for tackling the problem, particularly to deal with the impact of road transport on the environment.

The Government’s response to the need to encourage people to buy and drive greener cars has been poor. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to encourage people to buy greener cars. Britain offers fewer incentives to drivers of greener cars than any other western European country. This year the Government have reduced and in some cases removed incentives for green cars. Back in the Budget, the zero rate duty that they announced for the greenest cars did not apply to any car on sale in the UK at that time, so I question the Government’s strategy on greener cars. I look for some measure in the not too distant future, I hope, that will make a real contribution to encouraging people in Britain to drive greener cars.

Another issue that the Government have ducked is the competitive disadvantage that our hauliers face, compared with drivers coming into this country from the continent with cheap diesel in their tanks. Our hauliers are suffering significantly as a result of those duty differentials. The sad thing is that the Government recognised that years ago. Back when he was Secretary of State for Transport, the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling), took the time to come up with a policy which was included in one of his strategy documents. I quote from “The Future of Transport” published three years ago, which stated that the Government were

not just our own—

The Government abandoned that pledge two years ago but they said that they would return to the issue and present new proposals. We wait. Another year and another Gracious Speech have gone by and still our hauliers wait. Still our hauliers go out of business because the Government do not seem to care.

The railways are a further example of how the Government fail to tackle difficult problems. We have known for years that demand for rail travel is increasing and that it will continue to grow strongly over the next decade. Anyone who uses the train network on a morning knows there is a problem. The Government keep talking about our transport challenges. We have had regional planning assessments, route utilisation strategies and new franchise agreements. We are waiting with bated breath for the publication of the Eddington report in a couple of weeks, though I fear that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North will be disappointed
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because it seems that, possibly at the instigation of the Treasury, the Eddington report will rule out high speed rail links.

Next summer there is to be a high level output statement on the railways—yet another document, 10 years and three months after the Government first came to power. But out there, on our roads and on our trains, things are getting worse and far too little is being done to tackle the transport problems that we face. People know what needs to be done, but nothing is happening. A team of civil servants in Whitehall is tinkering with train timetables. Ministers are micro-managing our rail network, but rail companies are ripping seats and toilets out of trains to create more standing room because the Government have no long-term strategy for our railways or our transport system.

In the past 10 years we have had three different incarnations of the Department for Transport, four Secretaries of State, numerous strategic planning documents and a plethora of studies and reports. In 1997 we started with the second most senior member of the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Transport. Today we have the newest appointment to the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Transport. It is difficult not to see that as a reflection of the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to transport in the broad range of challenges facing the Government.

The only continuity in transport policy is the Government’s annual failure to keep the promises that they have made. While the Government sit in Whitehall devising headlines for tomorrow’s newspapers, the problems mount up: the roads get fuller; the trains get more crowded; the atmosphere gets more polluted; the streets become less safe; and antisocial behaviour gets worse. The Gracious Speech will do much too little to change that, which is why more and more people think that it is time for a change.

5.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The debate has been useful and wide ranging, and I thank all hon. Members who have spoken. There have been a large number of powerful contributions from both sides of the House, and I hope that hon. Members will understand if I do not seek to address each contribution in the limited time available.

As a former Transport Minister, the Home Secretary revealed his detailed knowledge of contemporary transport policy in his opening contribution to today’s debate by discussing the Duke of Wellington’s views on the railway network. I hope to offer a rather more up-to-date view of our transport challenges in my concluding remarks. I can vouch for the fact that my friend and colleague, the Home Secretary, who has just joined me on the Front Bench, regularly uses our railway network. I know that because I recently went to Euston station to catch the night sleeper, where I met the Home Secretary, who, with characteristic modesty and understatement, was travelling with two sniffer dogs, three police officers and a couple of personal detectives.

Talking of modesty, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) spoke with evident pride and nostalgia about the Major
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Government’s advocacy of road pricing. With due respect to one of my predecessors, I have never regarded Lord MacGregor, who helped bequeath to the country both Railtrack and the Conservatives’ botched railway privatisation, as the exemplar of the balance to be struck between careful planning and executive decision making.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) offered the House trenchant views on both Crossrail and the Mersey tram, and I thank him for his words and his historical perspective on bus policy.

In a wide-ranging speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is not in her place this evening, brought her considerable experience and expertise to bear on subjects ranging from road pricing to rail franchising. In her absence, I will reflect on her points, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Transport Committee in the months and years ahead.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), whose contribution has already been remarked upon in the winding-up speeches, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) spoke with passion on the environment in wide-ranging speeches—I will leave it to the Foreign Secretary to address the foreign policy aspects of the latter speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) is a formidable campaigner for her constituents. She reminded the House of the importance that her constituents attach to their bus services. Her constituents’ experience is too common, and I welcome her interest in the draft road transport Bill.

At first glance, transport and home affairs might appear to be curious bedfellows for the debate on the Gracious Address, but the threat of terrorism, which has featured prominently in today’s debate, is serious and ongoing, and it affects us all. Nowhere is that more apparent than in relation to transport. The transport system has historically represented a strong target for people who want to threaten our way of life, and it seems likely that that will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future.

In transport and other sectors of our economy and society, just as the terrorist threat is evolving, so our response will need to evolve, too. In August, for example, we needed to respond immediately to what we judged to be a serious threat to the aviation industry and air passengers from liquid explosives. We were able to deal with that threat and, for the most part, the aviation industry was able to keep flying because of close co-operation between the Government, the police, the security services, the airlines and many others. The risk of attack on the transport system can never be fully eliminated, but it can be reduced, and we will continue to work in full co-operation with the police, the security services and the transport sector.

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