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Mr. Wiggin: Perhaps the Government should have considered that before they renationalised Railtrack. Would the hon. Gentleman genuinely want to be a hero so that his party could slip out bad news behind his courageous acts? Perhaps police numbers are so lowback to 1997 levelsbecause of the Government's behaviour. It is hardly encouraging for new recruits to believe that their acts of heroism will be used merely as a cover for more Government bad news. Railtrack's 300,000 voters or shareholders cannot be surprised by the Government's behaviour after they constantly undermined the company and moved the goalposts. The Government effectively ruined it months before news of their shameful behaviour was released stealthily.
Transport is not a Government strength. Anyone who has been parked on the M4 on a Friday or Sunday evening cannot help but wonder at the environmental and practical wisdom of a bus lane that leads people away from the airport instead of helping them to arrive in time to catch their aeroplanes. Lowering the speed limit simply allows traffic jams to stall vehicles, but the environmental cost of stationary traffic goes against anything that the Government promised, and not for the first time.
In my constituency, the A49 forms the north-south spine and is a narrow road on which several lives have been lost. We also suffer the effect of huge lorries that wind their way down roads that were built hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Lorries that drive through Pembridge, Eardisley and Lyonshall make life miserable for residents. Money for bypasses or simply better roads that drivers would prefer is not available, despite the increase in transport budgets.
The traffic problem in Hereford city is a national joke. The Liberal Democrat-controlled council is responsible for the appalling traffic jams. Without better roads, the pollution will be as bad in that beautiful city as it is in London. [Interruption.] Indeed, the Liberal Democrats have changed the one-way system several times.
The bridges over the River Wye constitute another crisis for my constituents. The capacity of Bridge Sollers bridge has been reduced from 10 tonnes to three tonnes. That forces agricultural traffic into Hereford city. Plans have been mooted for another Wye crossing, which cannot come soon enough. I hope that the Government will support that proposal.
I can often be seen disguised in my crash helmet because I regularly ride here on a motor bike. The Government are not doing nearly enough to encourage the use of motor cycles. We should immediately allow them to use bus lanes; in fact they already do that.
Motor cycles are at great risk of theft, and insurance is correspondingly high. That happens because it is not possible to anchor a motor cycle adequately. The huge risk that road users take must be balanced with some sort of encouragement. That leads me to the Westminster version of the West Lothian question: will Members of Parliament or motor cyclists have to pay to enter the congestion zone? I hope that that will be made clear.
In my local regional area, Advantage West Midlands considered future transport strategies. It focused mainly on Birmingham and issued platitudes such as, "Being at the centre of the UK's public transport network does not always feel like an advantage." There is no advantage to the position in the west midlands. Travelling to my constituency by train takes longer than driving, and that includes the pleasure of sitting on the Fulham Palace road.
Specific projects include getting the Eurostar to run to the west midlands and Birmingham airport. Advantage West Midlands briefly touched on increasing public transport uptakes in rural areas. What a shame that it did not tackle the major problem of where the M5 meets the M612 lanes become six there. We want not active traffic management, but better roads with more lanes and possibly higher speed limits.
Mr. Wiggin: Given the number of lives lost in certain areas, I think there is a good argument for dualling parts of the A49. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that anything that would bring prosperity into the region would be popular.
More money is also required for the dial-a-ride heroes, those who will collect people if they are disabled and take them wherever they need to be. They have a serious problemmoney is available only to new schemes. Any scheme that has been running for more than three years is likely to lose its funding.
As for the rail freight investment of more than £1,000 million, I wonder who will now invest in any sort of rail. Railtrack has changed its management structure. It changed its principlesit issued a new statement of principlebut perhaps that was just an effort to appease the Government. I do not think that anyone had a chance at Railtrack, given the way in which it was undermined. The constant harping from the extreme left, to the effect that the railways should be renationalised, may have done us a favour: perhaps there would have been more than 300,000 victims had their voices not been heard. It could so easily have been a larger number. This has, however, hit all of us who hope to retire one day on our pensions.
The question is now the same for the NHS and for the welfare state. Not only have the Government thought the unthinkable, they have now done the unspeakable. We must wait and see whether they deliver. As a rail user, I must say that my mind is not closed to improvement, nor am I so dogmatic that I cannot kindle a glimmer of hope for a better rail service in the future. I am acutely aware, however, that the bill will be picked up by the taxpayer. The main thrust of the Government's argument for the necessity to stop Railtrack was ever-increasing debt. Why will a non-profit-making company be any different? Will the money still not be needed?
Chris Grayling: I found one aspect of arguments advanced by Members on both sides of the House today slightly confusing. If the model adopted by the last Conservative Government for privatising the railways was so fundamentally flawed, whygiven the opportunities for restructuring presented by the franchising round and by the situation at Railtrackhave the Government chosen to adopt exactly the same model, but without the Railtrack shareholders, for the future of our railways? Perhaps we got something more right than the Government sometimes suggest.
The advantage to a non-profit-making company is supposed to be safety. That, if it were true, would be laudable, but airlines are private and work acceptablyand this is, after all, the Government who privatised air traffic control, or at least attempted to do so.
Mr. Don Foster: There is a considerable difference between the issue of safety in a competitive situation and the same issue in a monopoly. In a competitive situation, it is vital for airlines to ensure that safety is their number one priority. Were that not to be so, we would simply choose to travel on a different airline.
Mr. Wiggin: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's implication that monopolistic companies gamble with people's lives. However, it is extraordinary that the same model is to be used for the underground, and I think that some scrutiny should be given to the cavalier way in which Bob Kiley has been treated. I am curious about the appointment of Richard Bowker, who was formerly with Virgin Trains and is now to head Son of Railtrack, or whatever it is to be called. [Interruption.] Yes, he is.
Mr. Spellar: May I correct the hon. Gentleman? The rumours in the press link Mr. Bowker to the Strategic Rail Authority, not to the company limited by guarantee, which could succeed Railtrack, or to any other suggestion from the administrator.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster): We have heard of many instances of blurred lines of responsibility between civil servants and Ministers, which do nothing for democracy and everything for effect, and we have grown weary of this culture of spin. We need look no further than local government over the past two years.
Instead of the Government dealing with a few seriously failing councils with huge debts and collapsing public services, under the guise of modernisation all councils were obliged to undergo major change. Enormous costs were associated with that change, however, and those costs diverted funds from essential services run on budgets already stretched to the limit. Last year, the London borough of Havering, in which Upminster falls, experienced the third-highest council tax increase in the country. Another 20 per cent. increase is forecast this year. Councils could ill afford the costs of the change imposed on them.
The imposition of cabinet-style local government has made councils far less democratic, with power vested in small decision-making groups. The majority of councillors are now without a meaningful role outside their ward casework and scrutiny committees set up to examine policy retrospectively are, in the main, toothless tigers with minimal influence on the executive.
The old committee system might have grown cumbersome, but it could and should have been streamlined. At least under the old system all members were involved in the decision-making process and they could contribute their ideas before decisions were made.
Spin would have us believe that local government has been improved, but words such as "open government", "accountability" and "modernisation" simply disguise more and more regulation, loss of local control and centralisation of power. We have grown used to multiple counting in funding announcements such as those in respect of the Small Business Service, which were well documented by the Trade and Industry Committee.
The Government tell us what a good deal the public- private partnership will be for London Underground, but publication of a critical report on value for money by Deloitte and Touche was delayed by High Court injunction. Its inconvenient findings came to light only when the injunction preventing publication was overturned. That followed the shameful attempt to discredit Bob Kiley, a professional and experienced man of impeccable reputation, by special adviser Jo Moore.
Is it any wonder that the infamous e-mail was sent by Jo Moore when it was simply the culmination of the Government's culture of spin? When national attention was on the dreadful events in New York and Washington DC, one of the Government's 81 special advisers thought of a way to turn them to the Government's advantage. She gave a belated apology, the main thrust of which was regret that the Government had been embarrassed.