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Miss McIntosh: Mindful of the fact that the Minister is new to his position, I congratulate him on his appointment. If privatisation was such a failure, why was a record number of passengers and freight carried on the railways after privatisation?

Mr. Spellar: That was under a Labour Government. My point is that the industry's fragmented nature contained the seeds of its problems. It would have been easier to have developed the industry had there been a better structure. That is not just the view of Labour Members; it is the view of most people in the industry. Even the hon. Member for North Essex has conceded as much previously. Conservative Members need to examine that. It does not mean that the whole structure must be turned over, but we need to consider how to develop that structure. We do not want another two years of turmoil and disruption. We need to work with the structure, but we could be doing a lot better had we not had that inheritance.

Mr. Jenkin: I think that we can put the debate on to a more positive footing. It is notable that the hon. Gentleman has not explained how he will put the matter on to a more positive footing. The Government have been in office for four years and he does not have a clue what to do.

Mr. Spellar: That is not right and I shall come to it later.

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Those sorts of problems cannot be turned around overnight, or in four years. That is why, in the previous Parliament, we set our sights on the longer term through our 10-year plan for transport. In this Parliament, we shall deliver on the ground.

In the past four years, as we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we have begun to deliver change. The M60 Manchester orbital motorway has been completed; 17 new railway stations have been opened and more than 2,000 stations improved; 30,000 new buses have been registered; there have been new or extended light rail lines in Croydon, Manchester and London Docklands; we have had more than 1,800 new or enhanced rural bus services in England; and public transport use overall was up by 7 per cent. by 1997 and 2000. That shows the balanced approach of our programme.

During 2000, road traffic increased by only 0.4 per cent. on the previous year--a much lower rate than previous years and certainly lower than during previous years of comparable sustained industrial growth. That is only the beginning. We shall continue to deliver during the next five and 10 years. We are delivering solutions that will improve the lives of all sections of the community. By that I mean more and better public transport--trains, buses and light rail systems, with light rail having been proven to achieve modal shift from the car. We shall also deliver less congested and better maintained roads and better information for all road users--better not only for motorists, who are important, but for bus users, pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.

Local highway authorities now have local cycling and walking strategies. We are working with them and the voluntary and commercial sectors to ensure that pedestrians can move around in far greater safety, to deal with problems of graffiti-ridden and somewhat smelly underpasses, and to make sure that pedestrians and cars are not in conflict. That will be good for vehicle users and for pedestrians. By creating the right conditions for walking, we encourage people to adopt a healthier life style. We must use available planning powers and encourage highway authorities to take advantage of them--[Interruption.] Many Conservative-controlled local councils are examining those issues, but we do not expect a similarly mature approach from some Tory Back Benchers.

An area that has been mentioned, but unfortunately not developed sufficiently, is rural transport, which is extremely important to the maintenance, preservation and regeneration of rural economies and societies. We are committed to sustained long-term investment to improve local transport in urban, suburban and rural areas. The 10-year plan for transport envisages a £59 billion investment in local transport of which £19.3 billion is public capital--a doubling in real terms of the figure for the previous decade. The local transport capital settlement announced in December provided an £8.4 billion package for the next five years. Every region in England will benefit from that investment in integrated and public transport schemes and in local roads.

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Mr. Evans: Does the Minister recognise that in rural areas the car is a necessity, not a luxury? Will he guarantee that the next Budget will not clobber the motorist with higher taxation on fuel?

Mr. Spellar: What cheek--it was the Conservatives who introduced the automatic fuel duty escalator and the Labour Government who stopped it. In the last Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a package of measures that will benefit motorists in rural areas, including the reduction in duty on low-sulphur fuels, a freeze on vehicle excise duty until next year and an increase in the small car threshold for VED on cars. The latter measure should benefit those who live in rural areas who have a slightly larger car for travelling longer distances. We have done all that, so the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) does not have to ask for such measures.

The White Paper "Our countryside: the future" published last November sets out our vision for rural areas and explains how we intend to promote, improve and extend public transport. We recognise that people living in rural areas are often less well served by public transport and can suffer disadvantage in accessing employment, services and shops. That is why we have targeted more resources to improve transport for all in rural areas. In addition to the boost in capital spending, we are investing £239 million over the next three years in rural transport services--an increase of 54 per cent. on 1998 to 2001.

Schemes that we introduced in 1998 to support rural bus services have proved a success. The bus subsidy grant has supported more than 1,800 new or improved routes in England carrying 16 million passenger journeys a year--[Interruption.] Some Conservative Members might not be interested, but their constituents certainly are. More than 150 innovative schemes, including demand-responsive and community bus projects, have been approved under the rural bus challenge. We are expanding those schemes still further. Our measures will increase and improve rural bus services and contribute to achieving the target in the 10-year plan of increasing the number of rural households within about a 10-minute walk of a bus service that is hourly or better.

That must be seen in the broader context of roads policy. We recognise that roads are a key element of the country's transport system and will continue to be so. More than 90 per cent. of passenger journeys are made by road and almost two thirds of freight traffic travels by road. That is why our 10-year plan provides for investment of £59 billion in roads.

That does not mean that we are embarking on a massive, environmentally damaging programme of new road building. We remain committed to the principles for protecting the environment set out in "A New Deal for Transport". In particular, there remains a strong presumption against new or expanded transport infrastructure that would adversely affect environmentally sensitive areas, such as sites of special scientific interest. However, we recognise that there will be cases where the overriding public interest will allow such development to proceed.

In fact, some 70 per cent. of planned spending on roads will be directed to maintaining and making better use of existing roads, which we know is of importance to drivers. That includes provision of £31 billion by 2004 for

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maintenance of local roads to halt the deterioration in their condition and to eliminate the backlog of maintenance that has built up because of serious under-investment under the Conservative Government in the mid-1990s. Our investment will contribute to road safety and to ensuring that we meet our target to reduce by 40 per cent. the number of people killed or seriously injured. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), will pay particular attention to that.

Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Spellar: We have taken the hon. Lady's point about the A1(M). [Interruption.]

We recognise the role that business, particularly the construction industry, will have in ensuring delivery of an integrated transport system. One of the big opportunities that the plan presents to the construction industry and other industries is the opportunity of jobs. With that comes the challenge of addressing--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. On both sides of the Chamber, there is far too much noise. The Minister is entitled to a hearing.

Mr. Spellar: With that comes the challenge of addressing the associated skills shortages and the ageing of the work force. The Government will work with industry, trade unions and others to ensure that the skilled work force required are available.

We shall be deeply concerned with the rail industry, too. Rail safety is at the heart of our policies on revitalising the railways. They are safe, but we must never be complacent. It is a matter of continual improvement. We have asked the Health and Safety Commission to ensure that the Cullen report recommendations are acted upon and to report to us in six months.

The complexities of railway operation mean that we should expect not a sudden transformation, but a steady improvement in punctuality. When the Secretary of State and I met the key players in the rail industry last week, we made it clear that we would work together to achieve a steady improvement in performance over the next few years. After safety, performance will be the top priority for Britain's railways.

We are committed to delivering the increases in passenger rail use, bus use and rail freight that were outlined in the 10-year plan, and to ensuring that transport makes its proper contribution to meeting Government targets on air quality and reducing greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions.

By 2005, what will that mean? It will mean completion of 25 trunk road improvement schemes under the targeted programme of improvements, including the A1(M); 100 smaller schemes tackling congestion and safety problems; a traffic control centre giving up-to-date information about traffic conditions on the strategic network; the first phase of modernisation of the west coast main line, enabling trains to travel at 125 mph; new rolling stock for the inter-city west coast service; new light rail lines in Nottingham and Sunderland; and more than 80 projects supported under the urban bus challenge.

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Our drive is to ensure that the system works--that the projects work. A lot of money has gone into transport. Under the 10-year plan, there is a lot more to come. We must ensure delivery steadily and relentlessly. At the election--it has been reiterated tonight--the public got it right. They knew that neither the Tories nor the Liberal Democrats had the ideas, commitment or realism to achieve that. We have, we can and we will.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add:


Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Calling of amendments at end of debate), That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 198, Noes 331.


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