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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): We have had a useful enough debate, I suppose. We have heard useful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) and for
 
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Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). The local issues that they raised can be pursued outside the context of this particular debate.

We had a nice journey down memory lane from the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney). As I understand it, his speech consisted of saying that everything good that has happened since his departure from being Secretary of State for Transport was down to his tenure of that office at some stage or other, and that everything bad was down to successive Labour Ministers since 1997.

I suppose that the hon. Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) made some reasonable comments, as did the Liberal Democrat spokesman, but we have not had a serious exposition or analysis of where we are and where we want to get to. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said that we needed to talk much more about where we go from 2004 towards the future, rather than hark back on what prevailed before 1997 or between 1997 and 2004. That is absolutely right, but any honest assessment of the two Conservative Front Benchers' contributions would suggest that they are not listening to, or are ignoring, his advice.

I welcome the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to his new position. However, with the best will in the world, what we heard from him and his Front-Bench colleague offered nothing to the British travelling public for the future and no vision of any alternative to the Government's position. Happily, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has made only one speech—he presented the same speech twice—on aviation, which is preferable to having more.

Underneath all the hot air and rhetoric, dated though much of it was, is a kernel of where the debate should be. We should be debating how best to utilise our capacity. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, we should be debating whether we need more capacity across the piece. We should be debating road pricing and the balance between public and private funding. Just about the only thing that the hon. Member for Ashford got right was his point about presenting people with real choices. A real public policy debate is needed, but it is not one to which Conservative Front Benchers have made any able contribution.

I can, in part, understand the embarrassment of Conservative Front Benchers. A shadow Cabinet member apparently said, regarding the appointment of the hon. Member for South Suffolk:

That was made more than clear by the Conservative Front Benchers' contributions. Apparently, according to another newspaper today:

by the hon. Member for South Suffolk in the area of health and education. Indeed, his leader was so delighted that he

It is reported that one MP said:


 
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I am afraid that, given the paucity of substantial policy offerings today by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, he is clearly more of a salesman of second-hand cars or snake oil than one of any repute. After six years in opposition, it is bad enough that the Conservatives have offered almost no substantive transport policy, but it is completely irresponsible of them to fill the policy vacuum with opportunism, as they have done over the past two or three years.

I come now to some of the substantive issues in the motion. It states that the Government have failed to meet their target of reducing congestion on Britain's roads by 5 per cent. There was no such target in the 10-year plan.The motion states that the decline of 0.3 billion net tonne kilometres in rail freight in 2002 is a matter of serious concern, but it says nothing about the increase of more than 25 per cent. in rail freight since 1997, nor about the fact that rail passenger journeys have grown by more than 25 per cent. since 1997.

Chris Grayling: The Minister is going on about percentages and targets. Will he confirm that he stands by the target in the 10-year plan for an increase in passenger kilometres on the railways, and the 80 per cent. target for rail freight?

Mr. McNulty: I had the great pleasure, around the time of Christmas, of frightening the hell out of a passenger down at Liverpool Street station. I presented that person with a bouquet for being the billionth passenger on the rail system, and that had not happened since the 1940s.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham was right in what he said about capacity, but mirror images of another party's policy are no substitute for proper policy. It is not sufficient for a party to suggest that it knows where people are coming from, even though it neither opposes nor supports a particular approach.

Some gentle green shoots of policy were evident among Opposition Front-Bench contributions, however, and that has been clear even before today. For example, there was an understanding of the debate that we have to hold in respect of transport. That was outlined for the Liberal Democrats by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso).

Another example can be found in the speeches of the predecessor but two—I think that that is right—of the hon. Member for South Suffolk. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) said last year that the Conservatives supported the difficult decision to suspend some rail services for long periods in order to accelerate the completion of engineering work.

That is evidence of a real understanding of what is required in transport. In another speech, the hon. Gentleman said that he was happy to agree with the Secretary of State that we needed


 
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The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire made the same point today.

We agree that that should be looked at actively. Such an examination should cover the Department's processes, the wider planning process and the TWA process. Sadly, however, any recognition of the substantive elements needed for the mature debate that the country deserves on transport was missing from Conservative Front-Bench contributions today. We are back to the snake oil salesman.

We heard much about the CBI report, whose conclusion stated:

That programme is at the heart of our policy. Whatever the protestations of the Tory Front-Bench transport team, they need only to travel to the office of the shadow Chancellor to see that nothing that he has said will give the CBI what it requires—

in respect of transport. Such a programme cannot be achieved through a freeze on public spending on transport, or the severe real-terms cut in transport spending proposed by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). Nowhere does the CBI report say that there are difficulties and problems but that everything will be OK if public spending on transport is frozen—or, indeed, cut, as the shadow Chancellor has suggested.

The Opposition have given us smoke and mirrors all over again. They agree with the CBI report but are not allowed by the shadow Cabinet to promise to put in the money and funding necessary for the task. That is typical.

The motion goes into detail on the delay to Crossrail, the East London line extension and other projects, with the clear implication that if only the Conservatives were in government, they would all be achieved overnight. That is not what the shadow Chancellor says. He will not let the hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his new capacity, anywhere near the necessary pot of money. However, that did not stop the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) and his colleagues bobbing up and down like Bill and Ben in a recent Adjournment debate on London's transport needs in Westminster Hall. By the time they had finished, they had spent the best part of £15 billion to £20 billion on transport in London alone. That is more smoke and mirrors, because none of it would happen if they ever got near power. But they say that it would anyway.

The same is true on aviation. However eloquent the little speech by the hon. Member for Ashford—and it was not so good that we needed to hear it twice—there would be no more money. It appears that the Conservatives are not against flights, but against airports. They are back to a nod and wink and more smoke and mirrors. The hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his first day as shadow Secretary of State for Transport, came out against Birmingham, Stansted and Heathrow. He is also against noise levels at Doncaster Finningley, which is not even open yet. What is the Tories' substantive aviation policy? Well, they have not got one.
 
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The Tories have shown naked opportunism on the issue of safety cameras. We have scotched that today, given the publication of the report on their use, although the hon. Member for Ribble Valley tried his best—as usual, he was not up to it—as did the hon. Member for Ashford. They say that they are not against safety cameras. They say that they are not in favour of vandalising or destroying safety cameras, but they say to the protestors, "We know where you are coming from and we broadly support you." The Tories cannot be against Chope cameras, because they were introduced by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). They dice with road safety considerations, taking their lead from the Leader of the Opposition, who is not against illegal fuel protests.

There was one glaring omission from the contributions from Tory Front Benchers in this debate. Some 70 per cent. of passenger journeys in this country are by bus. The hon. Member for South Suffolk, in his new position, and the hon. Member for Ashford said not one word about buses, which serve—among others—our most deprived communities. Perhaps that is because they take the same view as Baroness Thatcher, who once said:

As for their second-hand car salesman, who was reduced to a feeble second place in the campaign to be Mayor of London, he likes the healthy smell of exhaust and kebabs and he could care less about buses. However, buses are an essential and vital part of our transport policy and they must feature in it. They did not feature at all in the contributions from the Conservatives.

This country needs the Opposition to understand fully the difficulties with transport. It does not need them to offer the techniques of the snake oil salesman or smoke and mirrors. It needs them to work with us and to commit to match—at least—our investment plans for Europe. The Opposition should confirm to the CBI that they understand the points it has made about sustained investment and that they will match our spending plans. The Opposition cannot say that because the shadow Chancellor has locked them in a box and thrown away the key. If the Conservatives ever get close to power, there will be substantive cuts in transport.


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