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9.23 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) for those concluding remarks from the Back Benches because he has summed up the fundamental flaw in the Government's thinking, but I have enjoyed the whole debate and am grateful to all those who have taken part. It is notable that, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), every Labour Back-Bench contribution has contained at least some criticism of the Bill, which makes a change. I have no doubt, however, that, as in the previous transport debate, the Government will win and think that they have achieved a great triumph, but we will have created confusion and dispute among them. We will have undermined the credibility of the Secretary of State and, like last time, we shall find that transport has been hypothecated to the other place.

This is the wrong Bill at the wrong time and, asmy hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) rightly said, in a civilised Parliament its provisions would merit four Bills. Here are 258 pages, but where is the beef?

We are told that the Government will announce another 10-year plan of £80 billion investment. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said, £80 billion is a modest sum compared with the amounts raised and invested by the previous Conservative Government.

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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) asked, where is the new capacity that the Bill was to provide, because it contains no provision for increased capacity? As for an integrated transport policy, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) reminded us of the immortal words that often appear in Private Eye, "Er--that's it." That is the Government's policy.

Mr. Prescott: That's it?

Mr. Jenkin: That is the question that we are asking, and the right hon. Gentleman might muse on that.

Is an integrated transport policy really represented by local transport plans? They put more compulsory burdens on local authorities and offer more bureaucracy and more guidance from the Secretary of State.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): Rubbish.

Mr. Jenkin: Who said rubbish?

Mr. Heppell: I did.

Mr. Jenkin: If the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill, he will see that it says that the authorities must do this and local authorities must do that. It imposes further obligations that will cost money and produce nothing. Local transport plans are already undertaken by responsible authorities voluntarily, and that is what should happen.

Is bus re-regulation the sum total of an integrated transport policy? I am not referring to the idea of quality partnerships in clause 96, which have some merit. I do not want to discomfit the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), who is not in his place, but I think that quality partnerships should be allowed to determine the frequency and timing of services. I hope that he will consider our amendment when we get to that clause.

The question of quality contracts is covered in 11 clauses of bus re-regulation. We are going back to the town hall monopolies, excluding operators from competing on routes on which they may have been operating for some time. That is the path back to reduced efficiency and higher cost.

Let us have the truth about bus deregulation. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, the decline in bus ridership was much faster before than after bus deregulation. In the 10 years prior to bus deregulation, the average annual decline in bus ridership was 1.2 per cent., and the Government inherited a decline of just 0.3 per cent. It remains to be seen whether the Government's policies add anything to bus ridership in the long term.

Throwing money at the problem may produce visible effects, but the rural bus partnership scheme is an expensive policy. In my county, the price ranges from £14 to £162 per passenger journey on one of the bus services in my constituency. That does not seem a wise allocation of resources.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said that bus ridership continued to hold up after bus deregulation. I noticed that his phone rang at that point, which suggests that someone was trying to tell him that he was off-message.

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Do congestion and car park taxes constitute an integrated transport policy? My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) asked who will pay these taxes and who will be exempt, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire asked how much the charge will be. How high does it need to be to produce a reduction in congestion? The Minister should answer that question, because the Secretary of State failed to do so. That is one of the conditions that the CBI attaches to its support for this policy. What should the limits to the charge be, what is the administrative cost, what will be the burdens on business and what will be the effect on the value of properties? Forcing people out of their cars before alternatives are in place is the Government's policy. They have decided to give the dirty work to local authorities, because they know how unpopular their policy will be, and are determined not to carry the can. I give the House this pledge: we will nail the Government with the unpopularity of their policies.

We endlessly hear the new word recently invented, or discovered, by the Secretary of State--hypothecation. The Secretary of State does not understand the difference between hypothecation and additionality. He has been given no guarantees by the Treasury about the baseline transport funding on which local authorities depend.

Mr. Prescott: Watch this space.

Mr. Jenkin: Let us watch the spaces that the right hon. Gentleman has been filling and vacating recently. He announced, with great panache and all the usual Labour spin, last week's £750 million transport supplementary grant and credit approval settlement. In fact, the grant constituted only 1.8 per cent. of the settlement; a staggering £624 million must be raised in loans. That is the lowest proportion of grant to loans that has featured since the system was established.

Indeed, the total settlement represents a significant cut in the context of the £1.54 billion that we announced in 1994-95. That is how we achieved improvements such as the Croydon tramlink and the Manchester metrolink under the last Government, and that is why the right hon. Gentleman has not approved a single light rail scheme since he took office.

The idea that we should depend on the right hon. Gentleman's negotiations with the Treasury for the future of investment in public transport is just more pie in the sky. Is the Strategic Rail Authority an example of the integrated transport policy? All this is based on the premise that privatisation has produced nothing.

Mr. Stevenson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I am short of time. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.

What about the £2 billion of additional investment produced by the train operating companies since privatisation, the huge investment announced by Railtrack, the 1,000 new train services, the 25 per cent. increase in passengers, and the fact that more passengers are in trains of their own free will? That is testament to the benefits of privatisation. We do not need a Strategic Rail Authority to build on that; we merely need a Secretary of State who knows his job.

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The one benefit conferred by Sir Alastair Morton's taking over of the Secretary of State's responsibility for the railways is that something will be done. That contrasts with the stagnation that we have experienced over the past two and a half years. We do not want re-regulation of the railways, and we do not want the politicisation of the regulator. The Government's policy has led to a share price collapse on Railtrack, and demands for increases in rail fares from the regulator under the stewardship of the Secretary of State.

The 13 December issue of The Guardian carries the headline

and a Financial Times headline tells us:

    "Railtrack seeks huge increase in subsidies".

That is the right hon. Gentleman's policy, and that shows what he has spoilt since he took over as Secretary of State. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) pointed out, the Bill produces no new money for the railway; all that has happened is that confidence has been undermined.

All but three Labour Back Benchers spoke with only one purpose in mind: to criticise the Government's proposals for the sale of NATS. Here we saw the House of Commons coming back to life, and serving the purpose for which it was designed. It is encouraging to note that, when a dispute in the Labour party finally surfaces, it surfaces here. This is where the reputations of Ministers are made and broken.

The Bill completely fails to resolve any of the issues that have been raised by the Minister's right hon. and hon. Friends. The actual shape of the privatisation is not in the Bill. The hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) tried to pretend that that was an advantage, and that there was a deal to be done on the public-private partnership. I rather suspect that, if he believes that, he will be one of the rebels who can be more easily bought off; but I think there are Members of honour on the Labour Benches who will treat the matter with the seriousness that it deserves.

The Minister needs to answer questions about, for example, the nature of the shareholdings. What happens to the management shares after five years, seven years, 10 years? What is the Government's proposal? That is not in the Bill. Who will be the private sector partner in the PPP in this botched privatisation? That is not in the Bill; we are not told even the nature of such a partner. What will be the future of the golden share in clause 49? The Secretary of State clearly did not quite understand the point I was making when he kindly allowed me to intervene. Clause 49(5) says that the Secretary of State can set aside the privileges of the golden share when he is required to do so. More than that, clause 49(7) says:

Therefore, the whole clause on which national security depends and on which the Labour Members are vesting their faith in the Government can be repealed at the stroke of a pen and the vote of a Committee in each of the Houses of Parliament. If the Government are serious about the golden share, there should be no provision for amendment of that clause without primary legislation; otherwise, the golden share is just an empty gesture to buy off dissent among Labour Members.

What about the sale proceeds, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)? What will be the purpose of clause 55

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if the debt is not to be written off? If the Secretary of State carries on backtracking, he will just undermine the credibility of his policy. He needs to satisfy his party and to deal with the reasoned amendment, which he has not dealt with at all today, which has been signed by no fewer than 50 of his colleagues and spoken to by others. I take on board the comments by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She is right: it is not like any other privatisation. There is no unlimited upside. It is more in the nature of a contracting-out than a privatisation. That is why it needs to be done carefully and responsibly.

I agree with many of the concerns that were expressed by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), although I regret that we cannot support his reasoned amendment, but why are the Government not prepared to accept it? Where is the consistency? As the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said, the Government will allow the Post Office to borrow. Why not NATS? Many other Labour Members raised those concerns.

The Bill is not just the wrong Bill at the wrong time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea pointed out. It is the epitome of two and a half years of a miserable Government transport policy. To crown it all, the Government have spent the past fortnight trying to pretend that everything in the Government's transport policy is changing. We know why they want people to believe that a U-turn is afoot: their transport policies are unpopular and discredited. They said that things could only get better and they have got worse.

The Secretary of State's reputation is in tatters. He is now just the monkey for the organ grinder in the other place. He spent two and a half years bringing Britain to a standstill and now he finds that he himself is at a standstill. Stripped of his responsibilities, he now has time to wonder when he will be replaced by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), the real Deputy Prime Minister.

The question that the Under-Secretary must answer above all else is: has there been a U-turn? Will the Government revive the Conservatives' plans to give more communities the bypasses that they need? [Interruption.] Did I hear a yes? Will they deal with the bottlenecks in road improvements, which have got worse over two and a half years of stagnation? Will they restore the cuts in the trunk road and motorway improvement network? Will they start to reduce fuel duties to make our transport industries competitive again? Will they abandon their vindictive tax campaign against ordinary folk in their cars? Will they stop legislating for restrictions and controls on our railways and buses, so that they are free to invest and to develop their services to passengers?

The Bill is a resounding no to all those questions. Its whole thrust and tone are wrong. It is based on the belief that Whitehall and town hall know best, that ordinary people will respond joyfully and positively to ever higher taxes and incursions on their freedom to travel. It is for the Minister to explain, on behalf of the Minister for Transport in the other place, why the Government's transport policies and their presentation are in such chaos.

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