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We are convinced that the public will tolerate road pricing if it is variable and if it delivers improved reliability. It is also vital that revenues are ploughed back into infrastructure to maintain public confidence. But it is a huge jump from that to a national scheme. We have serious concerns. It is one thing accepting the principle of price as a tool, but it is quite another thing
to bank everything on establishing the first national road pricing scheme. We heard about the huge projects that have gone wrong in the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database holds records of 36 million vehicles and 47 million drivers, of which 68 per cent. are correct in every detail, but 10 per cent. are not. I do not underestimate the task for the DVLA, but when do the Government think there will be a watertight database? There are serious civil liberties issues involved. When TollCollect set up its scheme in Germany, the diffusion of information to any Government Department was banned.
European directive 2004/52 deals with the interoperability of electronic toll collection systems. The crucial issue is the European electronic tolling service, which is intended to allow vehicle operators to subscribe to access any electronic charging scheme in Europe. The technology is immature. It is intimately connected to the progress of the EUs Galileo GNSS. As it was originally anticipated that EETS would not come into force for cars until 2012 and the system is already subject to delay on that timetable, do the Government consider that the regulatory and technical framework will be in place to meet the 2015 timetable?
To summarise, the Government came to office almost 10 years ago with simplistic and dogmatic ideas that the travelling public could be forced off the roads and on to public transport. They totally underestimated the growth in traffic demand for both road and rail. They have not increased capacity to keep up with demand and have failed to achieve their targets, letting down the travelling public in a spectacular manner. Under a succession of incompetent Ministers, the Department for Transport has been excessively timid and cautious. That is compounded by the fact that we are now Waiting for Gordot. We know that the Chancellor is floundering in his search for tax revenues, and my fear is that the Treasury, which was the chief sponsor of the Eddington report, sees road pricing as a future gold mine. The Chancellor already has his man in the Department for Transport, for the Secretary of State is effectively a sleeper waiting to be woken by the great clunking fist.
pricing of this scale is not to be found anywhere else in the world
there is currently insufficient evidence to be able to identify what the right option should be.
This uncertainty is not an excuse for doing nothing. Indeed, one of the most serious risks is that government and the private sector scale down their plans for investment on the basis that pricing will reduce the need for additional capacity, but for road pricing not to be delivered. This could result in a severe shortage of transport capacity, resulting in worsening congestion for road users and billions of pounds of cost to the economy.
We fear that the Government will use Eddington as a shieldan excuse for another nine years of inactivity and tax increases that will be catastrophic for Britains travelling public. Conservative Members remember that in Samuel Becketts play the protagonist never
arrived. We understand the needs of the travelling public, we understand the misery that the Government are putting them through, we understand what needs to be done, and I urge the House to support our motion.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport(Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said that it would be catastrophic if we delayed any further, yet he refuses to commit to a single transport project. The document that the Conservatives have just produced detailing their plans for transport says, in effect: We commit to nothing. We promise nothing. Yet they have the cheek to give us a shopping list of schemes that they wish to imply will be built, having committed to nothing.
On rail, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) completely overlooked the facts. This Government have invested £8 billion in the west coast main line. We have delivered 44 per cent. more train services on the east coast main line. We have overseen a rise of up to 1 billion passenger journeys a year. We have presided over the fastest growing railway in Europethe railway with the youngest rolling stock fleet in Europe. We have achieved 90 per cent. reliability. We have opened the first phase of the channel tunnel rail link, with the second phase soon to be opened. We have seen a 46 per cent. increase in railway freight since 1997. We have delivered train protection warning systems on the whole network. We have even seen Network Rail delivering a profita profit that goes not into the pockets of the City, but back into railway investment. That is what this Government have deliveredyet the Conservatives, who delivered us Railtrack and privatisation, made the channel tunnel rail link a basket case that we had to rescue, and introduced rail policies that led directly to tragedy and the disaster at Paddington have the cheek to criticise us.
On buses, we now have £2 billion-worth of funding invested in bus services; 400 bus projects supported by the bus challenge competitions; rural bus subsidy grants supporting more than 2,200 rural services, with more than 29 million annual journeys made on them; bus and light railway use up by 8.1 per cent. since 2000-01; 50 per cent. of the bus fleet now accessible to people with disabilities; and some 11 million older and disabled people due to get concessionary fares. All that from this Government, while the Conservatives, who delivered us deregulation, dare to criticise us.
On roads, we have 39 major trunk roads and motorways completed, with 17 under construction; the M25 being widened to four lanes; active traffic management being delivered to make the best use of the network; regional control centres being built to keep the traffic moving; 1,000 highway officers; real-time traffic information delivered to motorists; road fatalities down; road injuries down; and vehicle excise duty evasion down. All this, and the Conservatives, who gave us the cones hotline, dare to criticise us.
Did Conservative Members mention that otherkey transport modalityshipsin their motion? Nostrangely, ships have not even been mentioned, despite the fact that the shadow Minister concerned
has been sat on the Front Bench for most of the debate. That is hardly surprising, as it is Conservative party that destroyed British shipping and left us without it. The Government have quadrupled the number of ships under the red ensign. Under the Government, the amount of shipping has risen, providing £10 billion in net earnings. Shipping is now the third biggest export earner in the countrys economy, thanks to the Government, yet the party that destroyed the red ensign and left the British fleet flagged-out dares to criticise us.
We are studying the different issues carefully and intend to make full use of the time available to us in Opposition to address these issues.
As he told us just today, his big plan on buses is to wait and see what the Government propose. What is his big plan on trains? That is a good question, because the document hardly mentions trains, except to give the revelation that
Rail, for example, is essential to carrying commuters into...cities.
Well, we needed a Conservative think-tank to give us that information. As for his big plan on his big plan, it is to make no specific commitments to any individual transport project until nearer the general election. He promises us nothing, but he demands a great deal.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) did at least admit that Eddington had provided a good analysis, and I agree with him that the Eddington report should be considered in the context of the Stern report. However, he overlooked the fact that the Government have been responsible for major innovations on climate change and transport. The renewable transport fuel obligation, for example, leads the world. He seemed to distinguish between the effects on climate change that result from flights between Scotland and Dubai, which, according to him, are not carbon-emitting, and the effects resulting from flights from London, which seem to be a danger to the environment.
The contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) was characteristically understated. Yet again, he refused to tell us what he really thinks about people. He reminded us that the Tories promise big, but deliver very little.He reminded us of the James report and the£30 billion-plus cuts in public expenditure that the Conservatives planned to make if they got into power. He reminded us that the shadow Chancellor wants£16 billion-worth of growth to be delivered through tax cuts, instead of through investment in public services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State added to that list the fact that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has said, in the past day or so,
that he wants £20 billion-worth of business tax cuts. How will the Conservatives deliver on any of those so-called commitments? How will they deliver on any one of their promises?
The Government have made 60 per cent. extra investment in transport since 1997, but that is completely overlooked by the Opposition. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Tories want the ends, but they do not have the will to provide the means. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, told the House about the presentation delivered today on a transport vision for the Thames valley. I assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will study that carefully. We are happy to engage with it, and to consider how the objectives can be delivered.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) wants the regional transport structure abolished. He said that he wants decisions on the north-east to be taken not in the north-east, but in my office. That is completely foolish. It is people in the north-east who can best prioritise schemes for the north-east, and that is the system that we have put in place. The leader of the Conservatives himself has said that he wants fewer decisions to be taken in Westminster, and he wants what he calls real devolution, yet every time that a local, devolved decision is made in the regions or local councils, Conservative Members come to the House and demand that we do not let local people make the decisions, but instead make them in Westminster.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) pointed out that she can now use the west coast main line, which means that she no longer needs to fly. She pointed out, too, that when the Tories were in power there was no sustained investment. I agree with her that better transport links lead to regeneration and greater economic prosperity, which is why we commissioned the Eddington report and why we take competitiveness and transport seriously.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) repeated his frequent plea for the final stage of the A11 to be dualled. He is passionate about the issue, having made many representations to me, but he needs to work in the local region to ensure that it gives the scheme the highest possible priority. [ Interruption. ] It was the local region that decided not to make it its top priority, and while I entirely accept that it is my responsibility to review the regional funding allocation system and make sure that we learn the lessons of the first round of RFAs, it is his duty to make sure that he continues to fight his corner in the local area so that the scheme receives the highest possible priority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) made a powerful case, based on problems that she has experienced in her local railway system. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who is responsible for railways, listened carefully to those problems, and he is happy to discuss the way in which the issue can be progressed. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) discussed housing expansion and growth. The Conservatives frequently call for transport improvements ahead of growth, but I am afraid that that is not the way in which it works in the real world. We have to provide infrastructure investment in parallel with growth. Those things have
to be planned, because they go hand in hand. Her party has said in the past few days that it will not make any promises or commitments, and it does not have any investment to offer in her constituency or any other Conservative constituency. Her call for us to invest more heavily in advance of growth is therefore pure foolishness. She provided a shopping list of requirements, including noise treatment. Under her partys investment plans, there will be only one noise treatment for the roads in her constituencythe issuing of ear plugs to her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) made a powerful case for improvements to her local system. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South, is happy to engage in discussions.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) overlooked the fact that throughout the Tories 18 years in power his party pursued a policy of underinvestment and boom and bust economics. When there is no growth in the economy and peoples earnings do not go up, transport demand does not go up, which is why transport demand was contained throughout the Oppositions period in office. Since the Government have been in power, there has not been a single quarter in which the economy has failed to grow. We have the fastest growing incomes in Europe, so we have the fastest growing transport problems. During our term in office, 6 million extra vehicles have come on to the roads. There are more people in work, so more people are driving to work or are driving as part of their job, which inevitably puts pressure on the transport system. Despite the huge investments that we have made, including the billions of pounds that we have put into the west coast main line, the railway system and roads, and despite the effort that we have put into all transport modalities, the simple fact of the matterthis is the conclusion that Eddington reachedis that unless we are prepared to face the hard questions, including the challenge of road pricing, it will get worse. Tonight, one Tory spokesman said that the Opposition were in favour of that policy, but the other one completely contradicted him.
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