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Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


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Transport Strategy

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must tell the House that the Prime Minister’s amendment has been selected for debate.

7.15 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I beg to move,

Almost 10 years have now passed since this Government came to power. During that time they have promised us an integrated transport strategy, to reduce congestion on our roads—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I ask those Members who wish to leave the Chamber to do so now quickly and quietly, so that we can get on with the debate.

Chris Grayling: The Government also promised to make our public transport system safer and that we would have a huge expansion of modern, urban public transport systems in our cities and our towns, but, in the end, they have broken promise after promise.

They started by cancelling road schemes, but then they changed their mind and reannounced them—and then, in many cases, they cancelled them again. They announced a raft of improvements to our rail network and then cancelled most of them as well, or kicked them into the long grass. They unveiled plans for25 new tram and light rail schemes and then cancelled most of them, too.

There is, however, one thing that they must have done more of in the transport sector than any of their predecessors: commissioned plan after plan, study after study and consultancy project after consultancy project, all in the classic “Yes, Minister” tradition of being seen to be doing something without actually doing anything at all.

Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman’s party were to come to power, would they prioritise rail investment over tax cuts: yes or no?

Chris Grayling: I hope that by the time we have the opportunity to take office the Government will have started some of the rail investments that they promised five years ago. It is a bit of a cheek for a Member sitting on the Labour Benches to lecture and question us about rail investment when the Government have made so many promises that they have failed to deliver.

That is the big problem with the latest in a long line of grand strategy documents on transport. The Eddington report is the eighth major transport report
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that we have had from this Government since they came to power nine years ago. We have had multi-modal studies, a 10-year plan and White Papers on roads, rail and aviation. We have had Lord Birt’s “blue skies” thinking, “The Future of Transport” and “Delivering Better Transport”, and we now have the Eddington report on transport.

The trouble is that Eddington just seems to tell us things we already knew, such as:

It would not have taken my shadow Transport team18 months, a team of civil servants and a seven-figure sum in expenses and staff costs to work that out.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is always very courteous—and I am glad that he has his telephone under control today, unlike in a recent debate.

The hon. Gentleman goes on about policies. The Government’s policy on the west coast main line has been successful, but how would his policy of breaking it up and integrating it vertically succeed? There are12 rail companies that run on the west coast main line; how would the policy that he advocates be of benefit to that line?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the benefits of the west coast main line project—I use that route regularly and the service is much improved—but he would do better to spare a moment’s thought for Members with constituencies along the Great Western and Great North Eastern routes. Both routes were due to be upgraded as part of the Government’s 10-year plan, and both upgrades have been kicked into the long grass.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the shadow Chancellor, who suggests that we should build a Maglev line from Edinburgh to London? Would that be costed in any Tory policy?

Chris Grayling: When the question of a Maglev line was raised, the hon. Gentleman came up with some rather bizarre figures. He claimed that it would cost £100 million per mile to build such a line, which is of course complete poppycock; he really should check his figures more carefully. Anybody who has travelled on the Maglev line in Shanghai could not come away with anything but the impression that we should look at such a project with great interest. We certainly should not automatically reject new ideas without looking at them carefully.

The Eddington report does not just tell us things that we already know; some parts of it you simply could not make up, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let us try this one, on page 179, to which Labour Members should listen:

Whoever wrote that deserves some form of prize and clearly has a bright future as a comedy writer. Of course, there is some good research in the report, but
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the truth is that after nine years of a Labour Government, Ministers really should be able to do better than producing yet another detailed strategy document, at a time when Britain needs action, not more research.

I turn to the other major problem with the Eddington report. He is absolutely right to talk about the need for incremental projects, which are the best and quickest way to make a difference—I have been saying that for the past year—but his brief was to look at our transport needs post-2015. Are he and our Ministers seriously saying that we should wait 10 more years before getting the improvements that we so desperately need to ease congestion?

What about the bigger, long-term vision that so many people in the transport world were expecting, such as a detailed analysis of the high-speed rail option. Of course, the one big idea that Eddington did put forward for Britain post-2015 was road pricing, but as that is already the Government’s policy, it is hardly a great breakthrough in thinking. I know that the Secretary of State has been desperately keen to hear the Conservative party’s position on this issue and to get some political consensus, so let me finally give him what he has been waiting for, although I fear that I am going to disappoint him.

I do think that an element of road pricing and the increased use of road charges will be a part of the strategy of any future Government, including a Conservative one, but the Secretary of State and I differ significantly over the scale and pace of any move toward road pricing. Some road-pricing schemes will emerge locally as a result of decision making within an individual town or city; the key is whether they have local consent. It is not the job of central Government to impose them, as this Government are trying to do by threatening to withdraw funding for towns and cities that do not obey their instructions by introducing road pricing. That is happening to cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, which have been left in no doubt whatsoever that if they do not pursue road-pricing strategies, they will lose funding for other transport schemes.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentions Birmingham. If we are to give local authorities the autonomy to take such decisions, would he not expect them to show at least some leadership? Essentially, Birmingham is saying nothing, and if local authorities cannot make up their minds, the Government are absolutely right to take this approach. Consultation is not simply sitting there saying, “I don’t know what to do”; it is telling the people in what way they should proceed. What would the hon. Gentleman tell Birmingham that it should do?

Chris Grayling: I am sure that Birmingham councillors of all parties will be very interested to learn that the hon. Lady believes that the Government should instruct them to introduce road pricing. It is my and my colleagues’ view that such measures must emerge locally; they cannot be imposed by central Government.

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The truth is that the only proper role of a Government in such projects should be to ensure proper technological interoperability between schemes in different parts of the country; it would be daft to have a different box on the dashboard for each town or city that one happens to drive into. So if such interoperability forms part of the Government’s draft transport Bill, which they will publish shortly, we will support them in achieving that goal.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I want to press the hon. Gentleman a little further on the question of Birmingham, which is a large urban area and part of a very large conurbation. I understand what he is saying about not imposing measures nationally. Does he believe that an element of road pricing is likely to be part of the solution to Birmingham’s transport needs? Does he think that Birmingham should go down that route, or not?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is missing my point. Decisions about Birmingham should be taken in Birmingham by Birmingham’s elected representatives and its business community; they should not be the subject of debate by national politicians in this place. If we believe in localism, we should stand by that principle and accept that such decisions will be taken locally, and that it is not for national politicians such as me or the Secretary of State to express views on the matter and to seek to impose solutions. We should accept that individual cities know what is in their best interests, and we should not move away from that principle.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I understand from reading in the press, so I will be corrected if I am wrong, that the Conservatives are suggesting that we have not gone far enough in setting our greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2050. Is the hon. Gentleman saying to the House that if he were Secretary of State for Transport, he would tell a Cabinet meeting, “I cannot deliver on my targets because local authorities, which are responsible for dealing with congestion, are not playing ball and not delivering any strategies to deal with congestion”? Will that be his position?

Chris Grayling: When I am Secretary of State for Transport, I intend to pursue a policy of transforming the technology in our cars by incentivising the purchase of “green” cars, instead of doing what this Government have done, which is to scrap the incentives to purchase such cars. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that road-pricing schemes are primarily about managing congestion. The truth is that the real challenge in meeting our climate change goals, given that we are not, I assume, moving within the next few years to the kind of national scheme that the Government have talked about—they appear to be backing away from that, although I shall be interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say later—is the technology in our cars. People are not going to give up driving their cars, even with some form of road pricing; we have to change the nature of the technology in our cars.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In the light of the comments of Labour Members, does my hon. Friend agree that the real question on road pricing is one
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for the Government? They need to explain what the£28 billion that the Eddington report identifies could be raised by this mechanism will be used for. So far, they have been entirely silent on whether this is an extra way of raising money, or whether the resources will be channelled into other transport improvements.

Chris Grayling: I give my right hon. Friend a third option—that the money could be put into the general kitty. When the previous Secretary of State first announced the Government’s intention to move toward a road-pricing scheme, he talked about one that was fiscally neutral. Since then, both he and the current Secretary of State appear to have backed away from that position. So it is clear that the Government are thinking about road pricing as a revenue-raising measure; what we do not know is whether that money will simply be invested in transport, or whether road pricing is actually a vehicle to generate additional funds for the Treasury.

We also support the use of road charging to fund transport improvement schemes. The M6 toll road and the Queen Elizabeth bridge over the River Thames at Dartford both offer clear examples of how major projects can be funded, and we will see similar projects in future.

Thirdly, I want road-user charging for lorries to be put firmly back on the agenda. Such a scheme is essential in order to level the playing field between British and overseas hauliers. Too many of our family-run haulage firms are facing bankruptcy because of a steady loss of business to their counterparts from other parts of Europe, who arrive with a cheap tank of diesel from Calais—often in a vehicle that is not roadworthy—and stay here for a week or two, taking local business. That has got to change. The Government gave a clear commitment to introduce such a scheme, and then went back on their word. This issue cannot be allowed to fester.

Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): A moment ago the hon. Gentleman spoke about investment in the road network. The Leader of the Opposition said:

However, the head of the Conservative policy commission said that

Who does the hon. Gentleman agree with?

Chris Grayling: We have just heard yet another example from the Whips’ brief. We believe in debating the issues. Labour Members appear to believe in following the diktat of the Whips Office rather than having a proper policy debate about what is in the interests of this country.

I want to make one more thing absolutely clear. Road pricing and road charging cannot and must not become yet another stealth tax on the motorists of Britain. Our view is that they should be about congestion management and improving transport, but we will not support the Government in their plan for an early move to a national road-pricing scheme. Indeed, the Secretary of State himself may be back-tracking on the plan. At the past two Transport
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questions he used the word “if” about a national scheme rather than “when”. Perhaps he has realised the risks in taking such a step.

Apart from the civil rights debates that would have to accompany the introduction of any such scheme, it would probably be the biggest IT project this country has ever seen: tracking every car on every road for24 hours a day; collecting the data, processing it, issuing a bill and collecting the money. As we have noticed, the Government have not had triumphant success in running major IT projects, so for them in particular that one would certainly be a bridge too far.

The Government are also missing another essential element of any road-pricing strategy. They cannot take steps to price people off the roads without giving them better choices and alternatives. It is simply not good enough to say that people need to change their working patterns to avoid paying more. Are schools to start late or at different times so that teachers can go to work later? Are hospitals to open late so that nurses and porters can avoid the rush hour? If there is to be increased use of road pricing as a means of managing congestion, public transport improvements must come first. That is where the Government seem all at sea in their plans for the future, and where Sir Rod’s focus on incremental improvements, in a report about 2015 and beyond, seem so misplaced.

The problems are today, not in 10 years’ time. The country needs action now to deliver the changes that are needed.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): In the light of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, will he tell us what Conservative policy is on buses, particularly with regard to deregulation. They deregulated the buses and bus use dropped, so what will they do to get more people using buses?

Chris Grayling: As we are about to hear the Government’s proposals, I shall wait for them and react to them. Sadly, unless something dramatic happens, we will have to wait another three years for a chance of getting into government, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will have detailed plans beforehand. In the meantime, I am waiting, with a degree of bated breath, to hear what the Government plan to do. They have been raising the expectations of the bus industry and, indeed, of local authorities, so it will be interesting to hear what they come up with. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will prove rather disappointing to those who expect something substantial from this Administration.

We were supposed to have those public transport improvements. The Government had great intentions. Their 10-year plan was supposed to be a blueprint for improvement. It said:

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