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9.30 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): This Government were elected promising a great deal. Labour promised that there would be no new taxes and immediate benefits for the travelling public. We can laugh a hollow laugh at that. Labour said that merging the Departments of Transport and the Environment would create what it called "joined-up Government". Two years on, we have soaring anti-car taxation--the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) is right: the motorist is feeling hammered--transport spending has been cut and the Government pontificate endlessly against the car and against the ordinary folk who use it. We have had precious few policies and no legislation--which may be rather a good thing. We have had numerous consultation documents and policy launches, but the problems are worse than ever. Labour promised an integrated transport policy, but it is delivering a stand-still Britain.

After more than two years in office, all that the Government have to show for their transport and planning policies are ever-lengthening queues: queues of traffic on our motorways, queues of commuters waiting for their trains, queues of vehicles in town and city centres, queues of decisions waiting to be made and ever-growing queues of unanswered questions that are fundamental to the direction of future policy.

It is the Minister for Transport's first time at the Dispatch Box with me, so I shall be gentle with her. However, I should be grateful if she will answer in her

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winding-up speech some of the questions that the Government's policies leave unanswered. Let us consider the problems on the tube. The Circle line has been closed for two weeks and will remain closed for another seven weeks. Later this week, the city branch of the Northern line will also be closed for repairs. There is uncertainty about when the Jubilee line extension will be completed.

Will the Minister make a brief statement about the future of the public-private partnership on the tube? Will the Minister admit that the PPP is now at least one year behind the timetable envisaged in March 1998, that the contracts should have been let last September--we are not yet at the pre-qualification stage--and that the completion date of April 2000 is now ludicrously impossible? Will she tell the House who supports this public-private partnership? Not a single mayoral candidate is on record as backing it. Does the hon. Lady remember Labour's criticism of rail privatisation: that it was fragmenting the network? This public-private partnership will fragment the tube into four different companies, fragment the sub-surface tube from the deep tube and will split the management of the tube from that of London Buses for the first time in more than a generation. How is that integration?

Who will pay for the PPP? A written answer makes it clear that the Government subsidy for the tube will run out in April next year. Is it now apparent that the congestion charges and parking taxes will be hijacked by the Government to pay for their failed policies on the tube. What will happen when the money runs out? It is quite obvious that London Underground will run out of funds before the PPP is in place. Does the Minister agree that Londoners will rue the day when Labour cancelled the Conservative investment plans for the tube?

The public-private partnership is an extraordinary beast. It is one thing to privatise the management and the operations of the tube and hold the assets in the public sector but quite another to privatise the assets but keep the management answerable to the whims and fancies of politicians and civil servants. There is no precedent for the PPP. I recall the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Dewar) describing the privatisation of British Airways as the "pantomime horse of capitalism". This public-private partnership will be the pushmi-pullyu of the public sector.

The consensus option is the model proposed by Professor Glaister. Why do not the Government consider that? The supreme irony is that privatised Railtrack will be bailing out the Deputy Prime Minister's discredited policies.

That brings us to railway investment. I have a few questions about that. Does the Minister agree with Sir Alastair Morton, who says that he wants to make rail privatisation work, and that it was always going to take 10 years to do so? When will the Strategic Rail Authority Bill be published? Is it true that the Deputy Prime Minister was forced to remove that announcement from his speech this afternoon? What powers are needed by the SRA that the British Railways Board, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the Rail Regulator do not already have? Is a new statute really necessary?

When will the Government stop fighting the previous election campaign against the rail companies that are trying to deliver the network and service improvements that the Government say they want? If the rail franchises

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are too short, why have the Government taken no action on that for over two years? How will Railtrack deliver its £27 billion investment plans if Ministers continue to threaten its profitability and undermine its share price? That investment includes the investment in the west coast main line, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) pointed out. When will the Government make the decisions that will enable Railtrack to deliver the rest of its investment plans?

What is the objective of the rail regulatory review, and when will that be completed? With freight trebling over 10 years, what will the Government do to improve on their target, which is presumably part of their policy? As sure as eggs are eggs, increasing fuel duties for road freight is not the answer.

That brings me to the crisis in the road haulage sector. After her Government's massive hikes in fuel tax and vehicle excise duty, does the Minister recognise that the UK road haulage industry faces an unprecedented crisis? Is she aware that one in 10 long-haul trucks in the UK are now foreign-registered? The Conservatives' policy is to end the fuel escalator. What is the Government's policy? Will they increase fuel duties in the next Budget? The Minister's predecessor was considering our plans for the Britdisc. What progress has she made on that? She has finally agreed a new meeting, on 19 July, for the road haulage forum, but why has it taken so long since the first meeting--which was in early April--to do so? Are such delays the penalty for having a new Minister for Transport every year?

Does the right hon. Lady think that forcing UK hauliers out of business will help to solve congestion on our roads? Is taxation--on fuel, congestion and parking--the Government's only policy to solve congestion? In response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, I ask whether it is fair to try to price poorer motorists off the road. That is the effect of the Government's policy.

On planning and congestion, has the Minister read the report by her noble Friend Lord Rogers? He says that building 40 per cent. of the 4 million new homes required over the next 25 years on green-field sites would

What is the Government's response to that?

Congestion growth is found not in city centres or suburban areas but on inter-urban roads, where traffic is set to grow by 70 per cent. over the next 20 years. The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) is right to say that congestion is costly, but how will cancelling virtually the entire roads programme reduce congestion? Ninety-one per cent. of journeys are made by car, and 94 per cent. of land freight is moved by road. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), who spoke in the debate, understands that.

There is a fundamental contradiction in the Government's policy: there is no evidence that traffic growth forecasts have changed, but they are making absolutely no provision for any traffic growth.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Is my hon. Friend aware of the astonishing decision taken by the Deputy Prime Minister to grant additional planning permission for

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even more new houses in West Sussex without any provision for improvements in infrastructure? How does that combine with care for the environment?

Mr. Jenkin: My hon. Friend is right; the decision does nothing about caring for the environment. Nor will it reduce traffic and congestion.

It is perfectly all right for the Minister for Transport, who represents a Scottish constituency, to sit in her place and pontificate about policy--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Jenkin: In the 18 years of Conservative Government, spending per head on roads was 24.7 per cent. higher in Scotland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. In the Government's own plans, spending remains 12.3 per cent. higher in Scotland. How can the right hon. Lady come to this House, where she has no responsibility for roads in her constituency, to tell us in England that we should not complain about her cuts in our English roads programme? Why are a Government who pledged to revolutionise transport raising more taxation than ever from it but cutting spending?

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I will not give way.

The Deputy Prime Minister was hit very badly in the public spending review. Last year, he spent £4.7 billion on transport, this year, it is £4.6 billion, and next year, £4.5 billion. Taxation raised from road users last year totalled £32 billion. We have an affluent society, and the car economy reflects that affluence, yet this Government expect roads to be funded on a shoestring.

We have a standstill on the roads, a standstill at the UK Passport Agency, as we heard earlier and, by a quirk of irony, we also have a standstill at the airports. The Government are meant to be taking decisions on the public- private partnership for National Air Traffic Services. It was announced last summer in a document on asset disposals for the financial year 1999-2000.

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