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In our view, the problem at the heart of the Government’s approach has been the overweening centralisation, with micro-management from the centre. Because of that, they are bound to fail. I had an interesting meeting last week with a representative of
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one of the rolling stock companies, who gave me an insight into the way in which the Government now approach the provision of rolling stock. He told me that the north-west franchise currently operates with 10-carriage trains; predicted growth is such that the ROSCO wants to provide 12-carriage trains, but the Government are blocking that and insisting on an increase to only 11-carriage trains. It seems bizarre. The ROSCO wants to provide the rolling stock and the train operating company wants the ROSCO to provide the rolling stock. Surely, the role for Government should be to get out of the picture and let them get on with it.

In other franchise areas we see the nonsense of train operating companies removing seats to cram in more passengers, which the Evening Standard recently called, rightly, the “cattle truck policy”. We have the most expensive train services in Europe, but Government policy seems to be just to keep cramming in passengers. The Secretary of State will never achieve the necessary shift to public transport if we continue to provide a second class service at a first class price.

It is our view that there is much in the Eddington report that is good and useful. In particular, the analysis of the case for road user pricing as “an economic no-brainer” is exceptionally welcome. I hope that it serves as a stimulus to the Government to act, and to act early. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making Sir Rod Eddington available to meet me and my colleagues yesterday afternoon. It was an interesting and instructive session.

In the course of that meeting I was struck by the fact that Sir Rod said repeatedly—he is on the record as saying this—that his report is the start of the process, not an end point. I cannot help but wonder whether the report has been misshapen by the terms of its remit, commissioned as it was by the Treasury, with the emphasis on the economic contribution of transport.

Pete Wishart: Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise that the former chairman of British Airways favours expansion of British airports?

Mr. Carmichael: I was not particularly surprised, but I was rather disappointed. I shall say a little more about that later. In fairness to Sir Rod, it should be said that the expansion that was envisaged was not even to British airports. It was to Heathrow, particularly the construction of a further runway there.

On the remit, before the Stern report, the Eddington report would have been unexceptional. Post-Stern, the emphasis and reliance on economic benefits is an exercise in looking at the matter through the wrong end of the telescope. There should have been a much stronger focus on the environment, especially on the reduction of carbon emissions. When one finishes reading the report, it is not clear what effect transport would have on carbon emissions if everything that is proposed in the report were acted on.

I welcome the placing of a cost on carbon. Sir Rod settles on the figure of £70 per tonne. On reading the report, it strikes me that that figure is chosen because it is the mid point in a Treasury estimate. A great deal more work needs to be done in this area, and I hope the
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Secretary of State will view it as unfinished business—part of the process, as Sir Rod said, rather than the end point.

I also welcome the acceptance by Sir Rod that aviation should pay its way in terms of its carbon cost. I do not see how we can regard the present taxation regime in aviation as being in any way sustainable. It is bizarre that we tax passengers through air passenger duty, but not freight. Surely the plane pollutes just as much, whether it is carrying freight or people. Indeed, freight probably pollutes more, because it tends to use older, more polluting aircraft. The Eddington report contains much good analysis of that sort, but still ends up with the conclusion that we need an extra runway at Heathrow.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): In his discussions with Sir Rod, did my hon. Friend find out why he said so little about Crossrail, but quite a lot about high speed rail links to the north?

Mr. Carmichael: We touched briefly on the question of Crossrail, which I know is a matter near and dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, who struggles on the Crossrail Committee. Whatever is stated in the report about Crossrail is fairly supportive of the concept—that is, Sir Rod Eddington is supportive of the concept, but again, he recognises that there is a substantial financial commitment to be made by the Government. There is not much point in getting too excited about Crossrail unless and until that commitment is made. The report was, perhaps, a missed opportunity in that respect, as it was commissioned by the Chancellor. Something more trenchant on the subject of Crossrail might have elicited a rather more detailed and meaningful response from the Treasury than we have had to date. However, we have the pre-Budget report tomorrow, and who knows what we might learn then.

In relation to the conclusion about the extra runway for Heathrow, I much prefer the view of Stephen Joseph of Transport 2000, who said:

It is not lost on me, at least, that Eddington’s starting point in relation to aviation is an acceptance of the Government’s White Paper. I do not share that acceptance. I think that the aviation White Paper is deeply flawed. It is remarkable that Eddington was prepared to take it as his starting point, when the Secretary of State is currently engaged in what purports to be a review of that White Paper. I wonder whether Sir Rod Eddington had some steer as to the likely outcome of the Secretary of State’s review.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that in the light of the Stern report, it is impossible to accept the Government White Paper as the way forward for aviation, which we know will become one of the biggest emitters of carbon gases? Does he share my view that the Government must reflect again on that, in the light of Stern’s comments?

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Mr. Carmichael: Indeed. I would not depart from that view in any way.

Mr. Douglas Alexander: Can the hon. Gentleman reconcile that argument with the position of his own constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament—the Transport Minister in the Scottish Executive—who is on record as celebrating the additional air routes out of Scotland, using public money to achieve that?

Mr. Carmichael: That is a good example of the way that devolved government in Scotland has used a bit of imaginative and lateral thinking in order to take some of the pressure off Heathrow. By growing routes between Glasgow and Dubai, for example, the necessity of bringing traffic through Heathrow is obviated. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman’s difficulty with that. It is a policy that is supported—or perhaps it is not supported—by his colleagues in the Scottish Executive. Does the right hon. Gentleman have a different view? If he wishes to highlight that, I shall be pleased to hear it.

I shall say a little about high speed rail and place on the record my disappointment with the conclusion reached by Sir Rod in that regard. In the report, he presents comparison between air and rail on emissions as a straight choice between the two. I see no evidence of that comparison taking account of the modal shift that could be achieved by freeing pathways for more freight on local train services. Equally, I see no convincing attempt to quantify the effect of taxing pollution by aircraft in the way that I mentioned earlier, and the impact that that could have in achieving modal shift.

Sir Rod is right. Transport is crucial to the economic performance of the United Kingdom. That much is also a no-brainer. Congestion from any mode of transport costs British business dear every year. I had a meeting last week with representatives of the British Chambers of Commerce. They said that, overwhelmingly, transport was the main subject of concern to their members. That that should be so after nine and a half years of Labour government is a mark of the failure of Government policy. It is a mark of the challenge that faces us all. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be up to meeting that challenge.

8.20 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I do not often put in to speak in Opposition day debates, but I was particularly inspired to do so on this occasion,partly because of the staggering hypocrisy of the Conservatives over transport policy and partly because I wish to highlight several local issues to do with roads and railways in my constituency and in the Reading area.

In my experience, the broader issue of transport strategy is an area full of pitfalls for politicians. Spending commitments on transport schemes tumble from our lips with consummate ease. That is enough to cause serious problems of credibility if one happens, as does the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), to represent a party committed to cutting tax and to cutting public expenditure. Let us not be in any doubt about that. At the last general election, just 18 months ago, the Tories were committed to making
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savage cuts in public expenditure. Their James review would have slashed £35 billion from local government, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, from Home Office programmes and, most significantly in the context of this debate, from transport budgets—the very same transport budgets that fund improvements to our road and rail networks to provide the increased capacity referred to in the motion before the House. If the Opposition are serious about having an honest debate on transport capacity, they should publish a full list, region by region, of the transport schemes that would face the axe had they been elected to form a Government on 5 May last year.

Let us also be clear that the bright, new, clean, green, hoodie-hugging Tories are still committed to cutting back on Labour’s investment in public services. The shadow Chancellor wants to take revenues generated by the proceeds of economic growth away from public investment in order to fund tax cuts. That means spending a minimum of £16 billion less—less money for roads, for buses, and for our railways. In fact, the shadow Transport Secretary is on record as saying that he is

Yet if we listen to the wish lists from the lips of Conservative Members, they say that not enough money is being spent on their constituents, but have no vision at all of how those revenues will be raised and how that investment will be put in place. Serious transport policy requires serious public investment. Of course there is a role for private investment, but it can never be a replacement for the funding of an affordable public transport strategy. After years of cutbacks and botched privatisations under the Tories, we are at last seeing the benefits of increased public investment under this Government. By next year, transport spending will be 60 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1997, when we came to office.

The privatised railways that the Government, my party and the nation inherited gave us a fragmented network, the shambles of Railtrack, dreadful reliability, appalling rolling stock, a bad safety record, and profiteering and management buyouts.

Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend might add to his list the horrendous costs in terms of track renewal and rail maintenance, which is between four and five times as expensive as it was in the days of British Rail.

Martin Salter: That is now on the record and I proudly add it to my list.

I have no hesitation in stating that a measure of responsibility for the appalling Paddington train crash in 1999, which cost 31 lives, with many more injured, including some of my constituents, does not lie just at the door of Thames Trains. The finger of blames also points directly at those who privatised our railways and introduced a culture of greed, cuts in staff training and cuts in safety standards.

The Tories are the last people to lecture anyone on rail policy. In fact, they have admitted as much themselves, as we have heard today with apologies for the privatisation of the railways. The shadow Transport Secretary has previously made it perfectly clear that the Conservatives have not had a clear transport policy,
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but only tactical positions. I will return shortly to tactical positions that they have adopted on transport issues.

I want to talk about a transport vision for the Thames valley. I think that it is fair to say that I have always been prepared to work on a cross-party basis on issues where a consensus can be achieved. As such, I have been pleased to work with hon. Members from Berkshire and with Thames Valley Economic Partnership in drawing up a six-point plan for investment in the Thames valley transport infrastructure. That plan, entitled “Thames Valley—Sustaining our Success”, was presented to Transport Ministers this morning by a delegation including representatives of major Thames Valley companies such as Dell, Oracle, Prudential, Siemens, Microsoft and Vodafone, together with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and myself—but, sadly, not the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), who has now left the Chamber. The plan states that

I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), for the patient way in which she listened to that comprehensive presentation from members of all political parties and from some very powerful players in the Thames valley economy.

The six priorities identified for investment, totalling between £1.5 billion and £2 billion, are as follows. First, and most importantly, there is the proposed Reading station upgrade to remove the bottlenecks on the Great Western main line. Secondly, there is the proposed AirTrack scheme, which BAA has announced that it intends to promote and which will provide rail access to Heathrow airport. Thirdly, there is the proposal for a direct link to Heathrow from the west via the Great Western main line. It is an utter disgrace that although we have the driving force of the Thames valley economy and companies that deliberately located there because of the proximity to the M4, to London and to Heathrow airport, we have no direct rail access to the major airport covering not only this capital but this country. Fourthly, there is the proposal to upgrade the north-south linkages in the Thames valley, particularly the M3 to M4 to M40 road connections. Fifthly, and more controversially, there is the proposal to widen the M4 on a phased basis—luckily not around Reading but around Slough and Maidenhead. Sixthly, there is the proposal to provide a
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Thames valley rapid transport system. All those schemes require significant public investment, and it is highly unlikely that any of them would see the light of day under a Conservative spending regime, past or present. However, as I said, I am pleased with the positive reception that the Minister gave us, even if she did not get her cheque book out this morning.

I want to highlight the Conservatives’ political positioning on three of those six schemes—political positioning to which they have already owned up. The first of the schemes is the upgrading of the north-south M4-M40 road connections. In Reading, that would mean the construction of the long-awaited third Thames bridge, a proposal that is promoted by Wokingham and Reading councils, but blocked by the Oxfordshire Tories. In fact, the Tory tactical positioning is so complex that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will not even sit in the same room as the right hon. Members for Maidenhead, and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), and the hon. Member for Reading, East, and myself to discuss the third Thames bridge, which we all support, and which our constituents desperately need. There comes a point when seeking refuge in the argument of localism cuts no ice, because there are major strategic schemes that need to happen, and parish-pump politics cannot be allowed to get in the way.

Secondly, I want to mention the scheme for rail access to Heathrow airport. That, at least, is an issue on which we can all agree, but it is far from clear how such rail access will be achieved. In my evidence to the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill, I argued strongly for the inclusion of a western rail link to Heathrow. Although that is not part of the original Crossrail scheme, it will be an opportunity lost if we do not use Crossrail to resolve one of the major bugbears facing business travellers and commuters in the region. Figures presented to the Minister today by theThames Valley Economic Partnership show that the major companies in the region spend no less than£8.25 million a year on taxis to run customers and clients to London’s Heathrow airport from places such as Vodafone’s premises in Newbury, and Microsoft and Oracle’s premises in Reading, all because we do not have proper rail access. Those cabs pour out carbon emissions and clog up the roads. I doubt whether Crossrail will ever provide the immediate solution that we seek, which is why I support the AirTrack proposals from BAA, and I encourage hon. Members to do likewise. That will deliver rail access from Reading via Bracknell, Wokingham and Staines.

Finally, I turn to the upgrade of Reading station. Reading is the second busiest station outside London, providing direct train services to more than 360 towns and cities across Britain, as well as coach services to three of the four terminals at Heathrow airport. More than 20 million passengers use the station interchange each year, some of whom connect to it by one of more than 200 buses and coaches that serve it during peak hours. The station does not have enough platforms or track capacity to accommodate the frequency of services, especially at peak times. That is coupled with a busy junction at Reading West, which is heavily used by south-north freight services. The result is that passenger services are held up by congestion. That bottleneck affects the reliability of rail services across a
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vast region, from Paddington as far north as Birmingham, and from south Wales to the extreme south-west.

A core scheme addressing some of the issues has already been developed. It would cost £68 million and could deliver substantial benefits to the region. The core scheme has been worked up by the Reading Station Partnership Board, which is led by Reading borough council and which comprises representatives from the Government office for the south-east, Network Rail, the South East England Development Agency, SERA and the Department for Transport. A formal bid was submitted in March this year. Ministers have acknowledged, in the House, the need to upgrade Reading station, for all the reasons that I have given. We await the final assessment of the Reading Station Partnership Board with some confidence and much hope.

Unfortunately, that is the point at which consensus breaks down and good old Tory tactical positioning rears its ugly head again. There was an excellent degree of cross-party support for the Thames Valley Economic Partnership submission, but by stark contrast, the submission on the Reading station upgrade was the subject of silly party political games by the hon. Member for Reading, East, to whom I gave notice of the fact that I would refer to him in this debate. He has been utterly shameless in trying to claim credit for the hard work of others—so shameless, in fact, that his conduct is worthy of the Liberal Democrats. That should surprise no one; after all, he once stood for election as part of the Alliance between the Social Democratic party and the Liberals, before he discovered his undying allegiance to the Conservative party.

Instead of working in partnership with Reading borough council and the members of the Reading Station Partnership Board, which was formed in 2001—well before the hon. Gentleman became an MP—he has tried to undermine the work of the board by seeking to set up his own stakeholder group, to which no other elected representatives in Reading are invited. He tries to drum up support for early-day motions that imply that the Government are blocking progress on Reading station, when in fact Ministers have been most encouraging and supportive. However, all his spin and blustering have been to no avail—he is well and truly rumbled. Only 11 MPs have signed early-day motion 2810, and the long-suffering stakeholders have recently asked him to operate on a cross-party basis and in a less partisan manner.

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