HC Deb 10 June 1996 vol 279 cc5-6
3. Mr. Roy Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to enlarge the network and improve the efficiency of public transport. [30603]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Sir George Young)

The Government are seeking to increase private sector involvement in the funding and operation of public transport, which we believe will provide the modern, efficient systems that this country needs.

Mr. Hughes

How much money will be saved as a result of the slashing of the roads programme? And how much, if any, of the money saved will be spent on new and improved forms of public transport? Or is the whole exercise merely a device to try to appease the green lobby and to store up money for tax handouts in the run-up to the next election?

Sir George Young

The Government set out their priorities clearly in the previous public expenditure round. Against a background of the need to contain public expenditure, we safeguarded investment in public transport and took the reduction in the publicly funded road programme. However, as a result of our commitment to the private finance initiative, we were able to carry forward about £1 billion worth of roads through the design, build, finance and operate scheme to make progress with necessary investment in the road infrastructure.

Mr. Sims

Does my right hon. Friend agree that anybody who travels on one of the newly privatised train systems, as I had occasion to recently, is immediately aware of the improved reliability and increased efficiency of such services? Will he give an assurance that I and many of my constituents who commute daily on South Eastern trains to London will be able to enjoy the benefits of privatisation before too long?

Sir George Young

As my hon. Friend knows, we are making good progress with the franchising of South Eastern trains. He and his constituents will be pleased to know that, as a condition of awarding the franchise, the bidders will have to renew the rolling stock. That is a good example of the benefits of privatisation—once the investment programmes take place outside the constraints of the public sector borrowing requirement, one can meet needs such as those of my hon. Friend's constituents without exerting any upward pressure on the PSBR.

Ms Short

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the fact that in the recent Green Paper the Government have understood that to deal with the growing problems of congestion and pollution it is essential to enhance the quality and reliability of public transport and to persuade people to use their cars more selectively. The House will welcome the fact that the Government have seen the error of their ways. As the Minister for Transport in London said, it is always good when a sinner repents. Will he apologise to the country for 17 wasted years, during which the Government exacerbated congestion and pollution problems by planning and then cancelling a massive roads programme and by their prejudice and hostility to public transport? Will he apologise for the damage that deregulation and privatisation have done? Does he agree that for there to be true repentance, there must be an expression of real remorse?

Sir George Young

The Government have nothing to apologise for, and therefore no remorse. We have published a clear transport strategy for the future. In particular, we have a clear vision of a modernised railway and we have identified the sources of finance for that modernisation. The hon. Lady and her party have totally failed to come up with a vision of the railway for the year 2000 and beyond, or any sources of finance. With some humility, I must tell her that it is she and not I who should apologise.

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