§ [Relevant documents from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee: Third Report of Session 1997–98, on The Proposed Strategic Rail Authority and Railway Regulation (HC 286-I); Fourth Report of Session 1997–98, on Air Traffic Control (HC 360-I), and the Government's response thereto (HC 843); Third Report of Session 1998–99, on The Future of National Air Traffic Services (HC 122), and the Government's response thereto (HC 794); Ninth Report of Session 1998–99, on the Integrated Transport White Paper (HC 32-I), and the Government's response thereto (HC 708); Minutes of Evidence taken before the Transport Sub-Committee, Session 1998–99, on Railway Regulation (HC 585-i); and Twenty-first Report of Session 1998–99, on the Railways Bill (HC 827), and the Government's response thereto (Cm 4538).]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
I must inform Back Benchers that I am afraid that speeches must be limited to 15 minutes. I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang).
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a proud moment for me, as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. This Transport Bill is the first major Bill on the subject in more than 30 years. For me, improving transport goes to the heart of my politics. All issues for change in transport have been controversial but, in time, have been accepted.
I was a seaman, and I became a Member of Parliament at the end of the 1960s as one of the politically motivated few because I realised that only through Parliament could one reform and modernise the 19th century merchant shipping laws, reverse the decline of shipping and make life at sea safer. That has now been achieved.
In the 1970s, as a member of the former nationalised industries Select Committee, I recognised that public sector transport was in decline because it was restricted by silly Treasury rules and therefore unable to raise the necessary capital investment. In the 1980s, as an Opposition Front-Bench transport spokesman, 1 warned about the environmental consequences of just building roads to solve congestion and of ignoring the importance of public transport networks. That issue is now centre stage.
I was also an early advocate of public-private partnerships, when the major political parties—including my own—were opposed to them. Indeed, in 1991, I advocated the leasing through private finance of an order for Network SouthEast Trains. The Tory Government at that time eventually adopted the idea during the election campaign. The option not only provided new trains for the south-east through private financing, but saved the York works from closure. Unfortunately, within a very short period, we were back to old public sector financing arrangements, under which
531 money was denied and the plant—which we desperately need today to enable expansion of the railways—was closed. In the 1990s, I warned of the effects of letting, privatisation, deregulation and uncontrolled markets, which ruined the bus and rail networks.
I do not intend to waste time on the Tory record. The other week, during the debate on the so-called confidence motion proposed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), whom we welcome back to the Opposition Front Bench, I said that I was happy to compare the Tory 18 years to Labour's two and a half. I think the House gave its judgment that night, as did the press the following day. In a depressing speech, the right hon. Gentleman failed to offer any alternatives. The Times had been right earlier, when it summed up his plans as:
"cheap populism, muddled thinking and a breath of stale air".
I trust that his response today will be different, but his articles in the weekend press about the rail industry did not make encouraging reading—especially from a man who is a Fellow of All Souls.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong even about that, but we shall leave that aside. Will he explain why, three days after claiming victory and assuring us that he was now safe in his job, he was stripped of most of his transport responsibilities? Will he tell us whether or not there has been a U-turn toward motoring and the car?
§ Mr. Prescott
I am the Secretary of State for transport, the environment, and the regions. I have transport Ministers who are responsible to me for the implementation of the strategic policy outlined in our White Paper. In addition, I reported to the House almost 12 months ago on my intentions in respect of local transport plans, which have recently been produced and which contain some of the road and bypass plans. Nothing has changed: we are carrying out our policies to reduce congestion, create a better public transport system and improve the environment, all of which objectives are opposed by the right hon. Gentleman.
For far too long, politicians have dodged the hard decisions and sacrificed long-term gain for short-term popularity. I have no intention of doing that. I am determined to make transport in this country modern, integrated, efficient, reliable and, above all, safe. We have made a good start and reversed decades of decline. We now have more buses, more trains, more passengers and record levels of investment in our public transport system. We are negotiating public-private partnerships to finance £7 billion-worth of tube investment. We have negotiated another public-private partnership to rescue the channel tunnel rail link, which had failed under the contract negotiated by the previous Administration. That deal is now on budget and on time and the risk is to be carried by the private sector.
§ Mr. Prescott
No, the private sector bears the risk. In addition, we will not pay the extra £1 billion requested for the rail link, but will direct that money to our education and health priorities.
532 As Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my approach on taking office was to set out a clear strategy for a better integrated transport system. Our White Paper "A New Deal For Transport: Better for Everyone" did that, by building on the consensus in favour of better integration of our transport system. The right hon. Member for Wokingham is outside that consensus, which was established under the previous Administration, and is leading his party further away from it. He is the extremist, just as his party was revealed to be this weekend by the ex-Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward).
We have set out the policy and much of it is already being implemented. Alongside that policy, the Bill reflects our radically new approach to funding public transport. That approach is based on public-private partnerships, which will combine the best skills of the public sector in providing public service with the expertise of the private sector in efficiency, innovation and project management. We shall ring-fence any future real increases in fuel duty for public transport and roads, and introduce new income streams of revenues from congestion charging and workplace parking to improve local transport. That implements the principle of hypothecation—a truly radical move, which no British Government have done before.
§ Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether or not the Government remain committed to adopting national road traffic reduction targets? If they are, when will they be published?
§ Mr. Prescott
The Government were never committed to that. When road traffic reduction legislation was considered by the House, we made it clear that we would report within one year on our proposals and on other means by which we could achieve the objectives of reducing congestion and environmental damage. The Commission for Integrated Transport has just reported to me, making it clear that those objectives can be achieved without banning the entry of cars into towns on the scale suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
Last Monday, I launched our 10-year programme to revitalise Britain's transport system.
§ Mr. Redwood
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall saying
I will have failed if in five years' time there are not far fewer journeys by car"?Does he know that the new Minister for Transport has said that of course there are going to be more journeys by car? Is that not a U-turn and has the Secretary of State not been overruled?
§ Mr. Prescott
The Minister for Transport said that there probably would be more cars. That is due to the success of our economy over the past two years. I said that there would be fewer car journeys. If the right hon. Gentleman went to Manchester, Brighton or Leeds, he would see that public transport has been improved. People are changing from using their cars to using public transport. That means that there are fewer journeys by car and more by public transport. That is being proved around the country. If he visited such places, he would be better informed.
533 For the first time, we will give transport the long-term stability and certainty that it needs, building on a strong and stable economy. We are prepared to take the difficult long-term decisions needed to improve the quality of public transport and reduce congestion through public transport plans. That is the basis of the approach to improving local public transport outlined in part II.
Part II includes our proposals to improve local transport services, particularly buses. The new local transport plans are the centrepiece of our approach to providing integrated transport at local planning level. They are the key to providing local solutions for local problems and set out our policies for the promotion of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities in each area. The Bill puts them on a statutory footing.
Last Thursday, we announced a local transport settlement for 2000–01 of £755 million. The total over three years for local transport will be £2.4 billion, including £700 million of additional expenditure. The Bill requires authorities to develop a bus strategy to ensure good quality bus services tailored to local circumstances. It puts the current voluntary quality partnerships on a statutory basis. That will allow all parties to invest with confidence. It will mean that local quality standards can be imposed to help reduce congestion and improve air quality in our towns and cities.
The Bill provides powers for local authorities to require bus operators to participate in integrated joint ticketing and bus passenger information schemes. It allows local authorities to enter into quality contracts for bus services to determine networks and service levels.
§ Mr. Prescott
I have never known a common-sense intervention from the hon. Gentleman in the past, so I have no desire to give way.
Such contracts will be subjected to a strict public interest test and will require the prior consent of the Secretary of State or of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Bill honours our promise to introduce a national minimum standard for local authority concessionary fare schemes. That will guarantee all pensioners at least half-fare on local buses if they buy the bus pass. That will benefit around 3 million pensioners. We think that that is right, and a good example of a good transport system meeting people's needs.
Part III introduces a radical new approach to road user charging and the workplace parking levy. It is clearly controversial. The Bill will grant powers to local authorities similar to those included in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Such powers can be used only at the direct request of a local authority. The Bill provides that every penny of the net revenues raised from new charges will be retained locally and ring-fenced for spending on improvements to local transport for at least 10 years. Local authorities will have to submit their plans for charging and the use of revenues to improve local transport to me or to the National Assembly for Wales for approval. I am pleased to say that 25 local authorities have said that they are interested in road user charging or the workplace parking levy.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the charge that would need to be imposed by a local authority in, say, London or Manchester, to reduce traffic on the roads by 10 per cent.?
§ Mr. Prescott
The calculations have been done by the local authorities that have chosen to use the scheme, based on the consultation document. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, who produced the Green Paper on transport for the previous Administration, had arrived at the same conclusion—that greater priority should be given to public transport and the possibility of congestion charging. Perhaps he has a better idea as a result of his analysis, but I have asked local authorities to examine our consultative document. At least the right hon. Gentleman and I are at one, though in total disagreement with those on the Opposition Front Bench, who are opposed to congestion charging and the improvement of public transport.
§ Mr. Prescott
Clearly, the consensus has ended. We now know where the extreme position is held: on the Conservative Front Bench.
I shall deal now with our proposals for air traffic services, which are also controversial. Air traffic services are covered in part I.
§ Mr. Prescott
I have made it clear that the hon. Gentleman has never made a sensible intervention. I have no intention of conceding to him. [Interruption.]
Part I provides powers to proceed with a public-private partnership for the National Air Traffic Services. The Civil Aviation Authority and NATS provide a world-class service, but there are three reasons why we believe that change is necessary.
First, the existing public sector framework is inadequate to deal with future growth. NATS is denied access by restrictive Treasury rules to new forms of financing to fund the £1.3 billion of investment required over the next 10 years.
Secondly, there is a clear conflict between the obligation to provide air services while regulating safety. The Bill addresses that as the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs recommended. Thirdly, project management of the new Swanwick and Prestwick centres has been poor, with five-year delays and a budget overrun of more than 50 per cent.
Under the PPP, NATS, which is already a private company but publicly owned, will be jointly owned by the Government, a strategic private sector partner, and its employees. It will not be unique. It will be designated to the private sector, like the air traffic control at many of our major airports—for example, at Belfast and Bristol, to name just two. There are 35 air traffic service providers in the UK, most of which are privately owned.
We have always made it clear that we saw a PPP as the solution for NATS, rather than the wholesale privatisation demanded by the Opposition. When my right hon. Friend
535 the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) was the Minister for Transport, he stated on 11 June 1998:
The Government believe that the level of investment and efficiency that we need in our National Air Traffic Services can best be achieved through a partnership between the public and private sectors."—[0fficial Report, 11 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 637W.]That partnership will ensure that NATS is able to finance its future investment within a stable regulatory framework. I agree that that is somewhat different from the amendment before the House today.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
What rate of return is expected on the large sums that will have to be provided for the necessary capital projects?
§ Mr. Prescott
That has not yet been established, as bids must be made by companies interested in operating as a strategic partner. Let us be clear about one thing: whatever the rate of return, the price will be determined by the regulator—the CAA—which can already take into account a sensible rate of return, as in the case of the BAA. That is its obligation. There will be regulatory control, as there is in comparable industries.
Air traffic control is all about safety—
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he explain how the risk transfer will take place, with regard to the privatisation of NATS, and in particular, what will happen to the company's current debt of £300 million?
§ Mr. Prescott
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asks such a question. When the Conservative party was in government, it was well practised in—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to what I am about to say. The debt can be treated in the way that I outlined in my reply to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). We have made it clear that a mistake was made in the double calculation of debt. The return from the sale of the proportion of shares that we propose must take into account the level of debt, the level of income, and the price that is likely to be obtained. The company's debt will be transferred and paid over a longer period, which will be negotiated as part of the contract. [Interruption.] If hon. Members consider the price, it is a balance between debt and equity, and there is an assumption by the company about the income stream that can be achieved by that. Debt is only a small part of the proposal and it will be taken into account in the negotiations that will take place after the House has agreed the proposal.
Air traffic control is all about safety, which must be paramount. Hon Members rightly want to ensure that safety is maintained, and I am happy to assure the House that safety will continue to be the overriding priority. The company is—and will continue to be—regulated to a high standard of safety by the CAA.
Once the PPP is effected, the company will also be subject to a licence while ensuring that its service standards are maintained. The Secretary of State and the CAA will be able to take enforcement action if the licence conditions or statutory duties, including maintaining a 536 safe service, appear at any time to be compromised. In the event of a severe breach of a licence, a comprehensive special administration regime will safeguard the delivery of those services.
The concern that the profit motive will undermine safety is not proven. At the moment, the CAA is the public regulatory body that regulates companies—be it the BAA or airports authorities—with clear profit motives. In those circumstances, the BAA and the airports authorities are controlling companies that have a profit motive but maintain a high standard of regulatory safety.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
It is important to register that if the CAA or the BAA want to expand, the BAA could offer more commercial opportunities in shops. Although NATS can offer management elsewhere, it is impossible for it to expand on a commercial basis in the way in which my right hon. Friend suggests. He is not comparing like with like.
§ Mr. Prescott
I agree. It is not proposed that NATS should be involved in the commercial operation of opening shops and creating extra income flows. We want to ensure that safety standards are maintained; that there is proper equipment and that the staff are properly trained. The CAA has established that. It has a safety function as well as a regulatory and economic function. The authorities have spelt out to the Transport Sub-Committee, which my hon. Friend chairs, the sort of checks and controls that they undertake. I believe that they meet the safety requirements. Safety regulation is safer than previously, because we adopted the Committee's recommendation.
The CAA's safety regulation group, which is relevant to the matters that we are discussing, will retain safety oversight of the 35 United Kingdom air traffic service providers, including NATS. The Bill will give the Government power to issue directions to NATS in the interests of national security. The licence conditions will also lay that down. We intend, through the PPP, to secure a long-term strategic partner, which will commit to investing in and delivering an air traffic control system for the next century. The new PPP company will have a proportion of directors appointed by the Government, with the Government holding a special golden share and having a separate partnership agreement with the strategic partner.
Those two instruments will protect the Government's interests in key areas such as the business principles of the company, the transfer, issue and disposal of shares and the completion and maintenance of major projects such as Swanwick and the new air traffic control centre at Prestwick. While I am on the subject of Swanwick, I can confirm that NATS expect the centre to meet its operational target date of winter 2001–02.
The new Scottish centre demonstrates our commitment not just to maintaining safety, but to enhancing it. That commitment also underlies our decision to proceed with a PPP.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he explain the use of a golden share that he is obviously planning to get rid of?
537 Why does clause 49 make provision for him to waive the rights under the golden share? Indeed, there is a shortcut provision for him to
"amend or repeal this section"
of the Bill. If the golden share is so important, why is there a fast-track provision to enable him to rid of it?
§ Mr. Prescott
There is clear provision for fast-tracking on national security matters, but the golden share will define those conditions in which the directors acting on behalf of the Government will be able to intervene and uphold those conditions of national interest that we have laid down. That is not unusual. I believe that the previous Administration used the golden share in a similar way, and we have made it clear that that is how we will maintain control in the company. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to press those points in Committee.
§ Mr. Prescott
Under our proposals, the main strategic decisions of the NATS board will require a unanimous vote of all directors, including those who will be appointed by the Government. Moreover, by retaining a substantial shareholding we can ensure that the Exchequer—and hence the taxpayer—shares in the future profits of the company. That is an important point in respect of the priorities of public expenditure. Chancellors have many pressures on them to invest in education, health, pensions and all such areas. A special role can be played by those public sector industries with an income stream that can raise their own investment requirements instead of adding to the pressure on the Exchequer, and it is right for them to do so.
§ Mr. Prescott
I believe that that is a proper consideration to take into account regarding the priorities of public expenditure. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Give way!"] No, no.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe set out the Government's preferred option in July. Under those proposals, the Government will retain a 49 per cent. stake in NATS, while NATS staff will have a 5 per cent. share. A private sector strategic partner will take the remaining 46 per cent. We are having discussions with the parties concerned and will be reporting back to the House on the detailed conclusions. The House will have an opportunity to vote on the shareholding arrangements of the company, as about every decision on this matter. I can reassure the House that it will not be a rushed sale without the safeguards that we were used to seeing under the Conservative Government.
Finally, part IV relates to our proposals to improve the railways. The House has, of course, seen those provisions before and the Railways Bill, which I introduced to the House during the summer, has undergone scrutiny by the 538 Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. In its report, the Committee said:
We welcome the Railways Bill, which we believe is a practical way of addressing the problems of a restructured railway.As ever, I am grateful to its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and her Committee. As a result of the Committee's hard work, I believe that we have a better Bill that enjoys considerable consensus of agreement, both inside and outside the House, with the exception of the Opposition, who once again have adopted the more extreme position.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On part IV, may I point out to him that many members of the passenger transport executives are deeply concerned about the present wording of clause 215? Their fear—which I believe is legitimate—is that their rights to set local railway services may be diminished by the Strategic Rail Authority. Will he look again at the serious complaint that they make?
§ Mr. Prescott
That is indeed a serious point and I am well aware of it. In this matter, although passenger transport authorities in Scotland and in England have some concerns, we shall be giving the grants to the Strategic Rail Authority and it will negotiate with the PTAs about the provision of services. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall be giving the matter proper attention in Committee. We are well aware of the problem and members of the Committee will have a chance to examine that complaint.
The Bill establishes the Strategic Rail Authority and sets out its powers to improve services for rail users. The Conservative party planned for a static railway; its solution was to price passengers off the system, rather than invest for growth. Privatisation fragmented the industry into many pieces—[Interruption.] It is not in doubt that the railway system was fragmented into many pieces by privatisation, which created millionaires and millions of dissatisfied passengers as well a decline in performance and investment. The industry was subject to constraint by the limited franchises that the Conservative party imposed on it. Labour's priorities are exactly the opposite.
§ Mr. Prescott
We will promote and develop a growing, safer, better invested railway that is committed to delivering improved performance, quality and capacity.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).
§ Joan Ruddock
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the railway company Connex, which has today threatened that there will be no new year services for passengers in my constituency and elsewhere? Does he understand the fury of my constituents? That threat comes on the back of the company's practice of shutting out disabled
539 passengers earlier this year, and running trains with so few carriages that there has been massive overcrowding. Three weeks ago, in an apparent attempt at virtual punctuality, it removed all the clocks at Lewisham station.
§ Mr. Prescott
That is a proper answer to those who make claims about the joys and successes of the privatised railway industry. The Strategic Rail Authority will be able to deal with such matters and with the renegotiation of franchises, which will improve services. It will have powers to enforce the franchisees to deliver what they have promised. As I understand it, that railway company suffered a fine of £1.4 million. Under the Bill, that money will not go to the Treasury: such fines will be reinvested in the railways. That is an obvious improvement.
The Strategic Rail Authority will put railways at the centre of an integrated transport system, with proper public accountability and investment, putting the passenger's interest at the top of the agenda in a long-term strategic framework with the focus on a plan for growth.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The Secretary of State rightly proposes a large investment in the railway infrastructure. What plans does he have for any stake to be taken in Railtrack by the public sector, so that we can guarantee that the money invested by the public does not end up in the pockets of the shareholders of Railtrack or train operating companies?
§ Mr. Prescott
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but the money that was given by the previous Administration under the negotiations for the franchises was a form of revenue support for the companies to maintain the price structure forced on them by the Railtrack agreement. That is a matter of some concern. I have instructed the Strategic Rail Authority and the regulator to consider this matter in the further agreements with Railtrack and the rolling stock companies. We do not envisage taking any share in Railtrack. I am not sure that many people would want to do that at the moment, and I am not convinced that there is a case for the Government to do so.
I am glad that the shadow Strategic Rail Authority has already set to work on strategic planning with such good effect. In his articles, the right hon. Member for Wokingham complained about the rail franchises. It was the Conservative Government who negotiated rail franchises that were limited to seven years and which, according to the companies, stunted investment. That is their complaint and why they agreed to renegotiate the franchises.
§ Mr. Prescott
They are getting on with it, although the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of that. They have seven-year contracts, and I agreed that we should start early negotiations. The Strategic Rail Authority is doing that, but the right hon. Gentleman will apparently vote against that body.
Renegotiating the franchises will create greater commitment to quality and investment over a longer period. The Strategic Rail Authority will take over consumer protection functions from the rail regulator.
540 The Strategic Rail Authority and rail regulator will have enhanced powers to deal with poor performing companies.
The rail regulator, confirming his role as an economic regulator, will have a new power to require facility owners, such as Railtrack, to enhance facilities or to provide new facilities. The rail regulator will work to facilitate the SRA's strategic approach, balanced against his other duties.
As I said, the SRA will retain the penalty income from enforcement action, including enforcement by the rail regulator. Penalties will be kept for investment in the railway, and not returned to the Treasury.
We have also responded to the Select Committee's other concerns. We have given the SRA wider powers to encourage rail freight, we have ensured greater transparency and accountability and we were happy to include in the Bill the other recommendations made by the Transport Sub-Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich.
During the Second Reading of last Session's Railways Bill, I undertook to return to the issue of the borrowing powers available to the SRA—I think the matter was raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham. The SRA's borrowing limit is that of the British Railways Board which it replaces and is to be set at £3 billion, part of which will be swallowed up by the board's existing debt of half a billion pounds.
We are now providing the necessary flexibility for the SRA to accommodate the outcome of the current negotiations on franchise replacement. The existence of a £3 billion borrowing limit does not mean that the SRA will need to borrow £3 billion or any other amount. We should not anticipate the results of the negotiations.
The measures in the Bill bring public accountability back to the railway industry. It will allow the SRA to plan for an expanding network. It will require those who own the network to meet their obligations and fulfil their promises, and it will require train operators to fulfil their franchise agreements. It will return the concept of "public" to the concept of a public rail service.
The railway industry has been subject to plenty of criticism, much of it deserved, but there are now positive signs of a revival of Britain's railways. Figures for performance and for signals passed at danger are encouraging, although we still have a long way to go. The Strategic Rail Authority will be the new guardian of the public interest: it will plug the loopholes in the last Government's rail legislation, and will provide tougher enforcement to protect the passenger.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)
Should not the authority be obliged to listen carefully to what is said by the Welsh Assembly about the needs and priorities of services in Wales? What mechanisms will the Secretary of State introduce to ensure that it does so?
§ Mr. Prescott
I believe strongly in consultation between the Welsh Assembly and the SRA. Indeed, I am currently considering a proposal that the authority should include a member representing the Welsh interest.
We have further enhanced the powers of the passengers' representatives, now renamed rail passengers' committees, by providing a statutory basis for their work 541 on bus-rail links, interchanges and new integration. Given those new powers, it is no wonder that the rail passenger watchdog has described the Bill and the SRA asthe best Christmas present passengers could have".The Bill will help to provide a quality integrated transport system for the 21st century. It gives us the means to rebuild our transport industries, to reduce congestion, to improve the environment and to provide a transport system that is good for people, whether they are motorists, bus or rail passengers or, indeed, pedestrians. Despite the transport mess and the decline in quality over the 18 years that we inherited we have, in just two and a half years, begun to turn the corner. There are more passengers on trains; more goods are carried on the railways; there are more bus passengers, reversing the decline; there is cleaner air in our cities; and there are record levels of investment. All that is within a longer-term framework. The Bill takes a further step towards the establishment of a modem, integrated, properly financed and properly regulated transport system to rival the best in Europe.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests, including the fact that my wife works for British Airways. However, I speak not on behalf of those interests, but on behalf of the many hard-pressed travellers who will be given a rotten deal by the Bill, and on behalf of the overtaxed motorists who will be taxed again and again if the Bill is passed unamended.
It is a pleasure to see the Deputy Prime Minister attending a transport debate again. I have read many obituaries of him as Transport Minister over the past week and I have seen the briefings. We now know, notwithstanding the briefing that he gave after our last transport debate, that he had lost at No. 10. Much of his power and responsibility has now been transferred to a Minister in the other place. It is great to have the right hon. Gentleman back with us, singing his swan song. We all remember some of the great refrains: I particularly enjoyed the little passage about the static railway. There could hardly be a better phrase to sum up all that the right hon. Gentleman has done for the railway industry so far.
We are about to see a vision of Labour's future transport policy, before the Bill has even been passed by the House. I ask hon. Members to think forward to millennium night in our great capital city. We are told that we will not be allowed to drive into London and that many central London streets will be closed. We are told that we will not be allowed to take a car to the Dome or anywhere near it, on pain of being fined for daring to do so.
We are then told that if we nevertheless manage to get into the centre in time for some of the celebrations, 24 tube stations will be closed in the busiest places to make it as difficult as possible for us to get home. In the meantime, Westminster tube station, which will be closed to everyone else, will be open so that members of the Cabinet can take a special ride to the Dome on the Jubilee line. That is not travel for the people, it is travel for the privileged few. It is like Moscow in 1960, not London in 542 2000. Ministers should be ashamed of themselves because they are closing public transport when the public want to use it and they are stopping people using their cars.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Two weeks ago, after the right hon. Gentleman's last abject performance in the House, his excuse was that he was suffering from flu. Does he have a similar excuse prepared for today's debacle?
§ Mr. Redwood
Labour Members do not like it when I am scoring, and they know I am scoring. They know that, on the previous occasion, the Deputy Prime Minister overspun his alleged success and was sacked three days later. If, every time I bring a Minister to the Dispatch Box, he gets sacked three days later, I will regard that as a success, given the dreadful Ministers and the dreadful policies that are brought before us.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) wishes to remind us of that Opposition day debate, when I asked 10 crucial questions but received no answers. Again, today, we have had no answers from the Deputy Prime Minister. We now know, of course, that we have to go to another place to ask the true Transport Minister for some of the answers.
§ Mr. Redwood
I wish to deal with the point about the previous debate and then I will give way to the hon. Lady. I remember that she was very patient on that occasion. I will not make her wait quite so long this time.
To come to a judgment about the Bill, we need to know the answer to many important questions about the Government's plans for our transport system. When will there be a tube public-private partnership? How much more delay will there be? How much cash does the Secretary of State have for the tube over the next two years? We were told last Wednesday that he had zero in the budget for next year and zero in the budget for the year after. Is it still zero? Nothing will come of nothing—he has been filleted by the Treasury.
Is the Secretary of State able to offer any new tube lines, in the way that we can with our Londoners tube scheme? When will he come to a decision on Railtrack payments? It has put a sensible proposal to him, which will enable it to get on with the job of increasing capacity. He and the new Minister for Transport have been unable to come to a decision.
When will the Secretary of State extend the franchises of the train operating companies? They are claiming, rightly, that his delay and the indecision of the new Transport Minister in the other place are stopping them getting on with the level of investment that they would like to make.
When will the right hon. Gentleman have something positive to say about proper car parks at stations? When will he rule out 550,000 houses on the green fields of the south-east, which would make a mockery of any attempt to control the congestion problem? When will he announce policies to improve access to stations, rather than trying to stop people driving into towns, where most stations happen to be? When will he announce new road
543 schemes in the trunk road programme? When will he admit that trying to privatise National Air Traffic Services on the cheap is a very foolish policy?
Those are 10 important questions. I will ask them again and again until we start to drag some answers out of this miserable Secretary of State and the new Minister in the other place, who has taken most of his job away from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Ms Ward
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for remembering my persistence during the last debate and for giving way so easily this time.
As we are on the subject of repeating questions, perhaps I can repeat my question from last time: why is the right hon. Gentleman so opposed to the Strategic Rail Authority when it will provide the protection that passengers need and ensure that, where fines are levied, they go back into investing in that important service?
§ Mr. Redwood
We think that the authority is a cop-out by the Secretary of State and the new Minister for Transport. They should make many of those decisions and regulators exist to deal with the regulatory issues. The authority is a great red herring. It involves delay, but we need Ministers to make some decisions now so that the railway industry can get on and invest. We do not need a year of delay, the setting up of a new body and then some decisions from people who have been chosen by the Minister for Transport, or perhaps on the advice of the Secretary of State if he is back in favour by then. They will be people whom he wishes to control and who are unnecessary intermediaries in the process of the Government making some decisions and the railway industry investing.
§ Mr. Prescott
Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman is not aware that renegotiations are handled by the franchising director. Ministers did not do that even under the right hon. Gentleman's legislation, but he does not appear to be aware of that.
§ Mr. Redwood
Of course I am aware of that. However, as I said, we do not need more regulators; we need the Government to make some decisions and to give strategic direction. Everyone in the industry knows that the Deputy Prime Minister and the new Transport Minister are failing to give the necessary direction, which is why we are seeking it.
This morning, I turned on my radio to listen to the "Today" programme and I felt sorry for the Government when, sure enough, just after 8 o'clock the prime slot was about transport. Although I was very pleased to note that the day's big issue in Parliament was being picked up by the BBC's flagship morning news programme, what did I hear? I heard not the Deputy Prime Minister—of course not—but the true Minister for Transport, the man whom No. 10 Downing street trusts. And what did I hear him saying? I heard him wriggling every which way, trying to 544 change the rhetoric and the words of the Deputy Prime Minister. Above all, I heard absolutely nothing about the Transport Bill.
Today, the House is considering a non-Bill from a non-Minister who is being airbrushed out of the script. Although a Minister appeared on the "Today" programme, he did not mention the Transport Bill, which is being debated today on the Floor of the House. I can quite understand why the Minister did not mention the Transport Bill: it will make matters worse and it is an embarrassment. The Bill will tax people off the road and clog up the railways with more regulation. There will be no decisions. The Bill also sells National Air Traffic Services on the cheap.
In his speech, the Deputy Prime Minister struggled over the NATS issue. I was therefore pleased to see that 50 Labour Members have today had the courage of the convictions of the whole Labour party before the general election and tabled a reasoned amendment on the sale of NATS. Opposition Members look forward to a lively debate among Labour Members on that particular problem.
§ Mr. Redwood
As the Deputy Prime Minister should well know, Conservative Members do not disagree about NATS. We know exactly what we should like to do with NATS, and it would not be what the Government want to do with it.
We remember only too clearly a senior Labour spokesman saying before the general election that our air would not be for sale under a Labour Government. Two and a half years later, we have the effrontery of Ministers presenting to both Houses of Parliament proposals to sell it on the cheap.
§ Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if his preferred option of full-scale privatisation were to proceed, there would be no new Scottish centre at Prestwick?
§ Mr. Redwood
That is a false assumption. We would not sell NATS on the cheap. If we were to proceed, we would wish to protect all the important interests, including safety.
The Deputy Prime Minister is in a terrible muddle over the sale proceeds from NATS. The Bill's financial memorandum states not only that the gross proceeds will be £350 million, but that NATS has outstanding loans of about £300 million, which will have to be settled either by refinancing, repayment or writing off. If we write off £300 million, but raise only £350 million from the sale—and if the costs amount to £35 million, as we are told they will—we would be selling off NATS for £15 million net.
When I first pointed out the position, the spin from the Department was that it would not write off £300 million at the taxpayers' expense, despite the very clear language of its memorandum, which it has still not amended. Is the Deputy Prime Minister therefore saying that clause 55 is redundant? That clause strengthens the impression given by the financial memorandum because it gives him the power to write off that debt. Presumably, he seeks that power because he thinks that he may need to use it, 545 in which case he will be selling NATS at the devastatingly cheap price of £15 million net—[Interruption.] Labour Members say that that is ridiculous. It is entirely ridiculous, but it is what the documents say. The Deputy Prime Minister has been unable to clear up the uncertainty.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
Is the right hon. Gentleman the same person who, as a Minister in the previous Government, authorised the selling off of British Rail and the extinguishing of a debt of £19,000 million? British Rail was sold for a fraction of its true worth.
§ Mr. Redwood
I was not the Minister who signed off anything on the sale of British Rail. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in thinking that I was not the Minister. Perhaps he should cross-examine those on his own Front Bench. It is deeply embarrassing because they are unable to explain the numbers. The fact that they are all remaining seated displays that they cannot do so. They have a great problem.
§ Mr. Prescott
The right hon. Gentleman knows that, in a letter to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), we explained precisely the mistake that we believe the Conservatives are making. First, their judgment about the £350 million figure is based on present circumstances, not on any judgment by a company that wants to buy. Such a company would take into account debt and equity as well as the income stream that would have to be determined by the prices to be charged. It is nonsense to say that £350 million would be the price. One cannot make that judgment until someone makes a bid.
As for debt, it can be structured over a longer period, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has already said. Such decisions will be taken during the progress of negotiation as we choose a strategic partner in this matter. Only then can we come to a proper judgment, although the Committee will, of course, be able to debate the matter.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am relieved to hear that the Deputy Prime Minister wants to walk away from the clear statement made to the House in the paper tabled on the financial and manpower effects of the Bill. The mistake is not mine, but the Government's. I did not invent the figures, I simply read out what the Government had produced. They say that they will receive only around £350 million. They leave open the possibility—that puts it at its lowest, although I believe that clause 55 states it explicitly—that they will have to pay off £300 million of debt into the bargain. I urge the Deputy Prime Minister to tear up those figures, to recognise that the assets are much more valuable, and to sell them differently and for a sensible price. On the available figures and information, our charge stands that the Government's original intention was to sell those assets on the cheap for a net £15 million.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has said, there is also considerable vagueness over the golden share. The right hon. Gentleman seems quite unclear about what the Bill says. It makes it crystal clear that the golden share, which we thought had been included to protect some of the British taxpayers' interests, can be overridden at the Secretary of State's request without the proper protections that we shall demand.
546 Clauses 92 to 138 tackle the issue of buses. We object most strongly to the wish of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Transport to bring back the monopolist to the bus industry. The kernel of the proposals would, in given areas, enable quality contracts to lock out competitors for up to 10 years. Competition is best for the traveller and the passenger, so we shall fight that proposal tooth and nail. In addition, it may not be permissible under European law, and we look forward to exploring that issue.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that during the 10 years after the Tories deregulated bus services outside London, there was a consistent fall in passenger usage? Meanwhile, in London—the one place where bus regulation was maintained—there was a consistent increase in bus usage. Is that not the answer to the problem?
§ Mr. Redwood
I remember deregulation of the buses producing a lot of new services and retaining passengers who would otherwise have been lost. It is true that during the Conservative years people became a great deal more prosperous and many of them decided to buy and use cars. We see nothing wrong in that even if the Government, speaking with one of their voices, have trouble with that idea.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I know that the right hon. Gentleman studies very closely the reports of the Transport Sub-Committee, which I Chair, and I am exceedingly grateful to him. He will therefore acknowledge that the evidence that we received on areas in which privatised bus companies operated revealed the astonishing fact that, somehow, very few of them managed to compete with one another in the same places. As we looked at the map appended to our report, we might almost have thought that the companies did not want any real competition among themselves.
§ Mr. Redwood
That is not a good argument for trying to prevent competition by legislating for lock-outs of the kind envisaged in the Bill. [Interruption.] Ministers may suggest that I am shifting my ground, but that is not so. There are good examples of areas in which competition worked extremely well before Labour councils caught up and wrecked it. In Oxford, for example, there was tremendous bus competition until a Labour council arrived recently and tried to stop buses moving around the streets, as well as cars. That has begun to undermine the good work that deregulation undoubtedly did.
In my local area, the Liberal Democrat opposition were all ready to run a strong campaign against bus deregulation. Then someone kindly sent us one of their memos, which said "Don't bother with running this campaign, because unfortunately there are more buses around since deregulation, and such a campaign would backfire." At least they were sensible, unlike the Labour party on this occasion.
One of the Government's big problems is that they cannot make up their mind whether to make a U-turn. I have already asked the Deputy Prime Minister whether he stands by the statement in which he said:
I will have failed if in five years time there are not far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it. I agree to keep that commitment. Judge my performance in five years.547 Meanwhile, the proper Minister for Transport—Lord Macdonald—is busily briefing everybody that there is no chance of car usage decreasing over a five-year period. Not only is he saying that more cars will be bought, but that, as a result of that and of what he wants to do—which is to make motoring cheaper—there will be more journeys by car. His latest statement on the "Today" programme this morning—the official Government view—was that the best that he could ever do would be to have the odd year of zero growth in car journeys, while most years would see some growth.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am still making an important point.
We need to know from the Government why the previous Transport Minister—now the retired one—still seems to believe that he can reduce the number of car journeys over a five-year period, bearing in mind that over the first two years of the Government's term in office they have gone up substantially, when the true Minister is clearly telling us that there is no chance of achieving that. Lord Macdonald said:
You can either try to reduce traffic overall or you can say it's more rational to try to reduce the damaging output of traffic—pollution and congestion. We think that is more realistic.He was clearly putting the boot into the Deputy Prime Minister's ambitions.
§ Mr. Foster
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given his particular concern and interest in the issue, demonstrated by his persistent questioning, could he explain whether he and his party wish there to be fewer car journeys and whether the policies that he has expounded are likely to lead to that?
§ Mr. Redwood
We would like a wider range of options so that people can travel more easily. We fully accept that there needs to be a big improvement in rail, tube and bus travel, particularly at peak times, in congested areas. I reckon that as the country gets richer and people acquire more cars, there will be more car journeys. It is not an object of our policy physically to stop people using their cars, or to tax them off the road. We wish to provide them with better choices because we believe, particularly at busy times of day and in busy areas, that the car is not always the best answer. However, the public transport option needs a lot of investment to make it that much better.
§ Mr. Davies
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that lowering or increasing speed limits, lowering the price of petrol, getting rid of speed humps and building more roads will lead to more traffic and congestion? How can he criticise the Secretary of State on those grounds?
§ Mr. Redwood
We want people to be able to travel more easily. There will be times when it is better to travel by bus, train or tube, but that will require massive investment. Nor should we deliberately go out of our way to make the congestion worse, as the Government have 548 been doing up to now by trying to force people off the roads, restricting the capacity of the existing road network to no good effect.
§ Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend read The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, in which the new Transport Minister—in complete contrast to the views of his predecessor, as he explained—said that it was inevitable that the number of cars in Britain keeps rising. As an amusing aside, Lord Macdonald also said:
There were elements of the market philosophy and privatisation that seemed to me to make economic sense".Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is not what the Deputy Prime Minister believes?
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the controversy raging at the heart of Government. We all know that Lord Macdonald is more likely to win because he has the backing of No. 10, while the Deputy Prime Minister does not.
We also know that the Bill will continue the same old bash-the-motorist policies—which brings me to clauses 139 to 153, which deal with congestion taxes, and clauses 154 to 173, which deal with parking taxes. We need to know—at the winding-up of the debate or in Committee—how much tax will be required to make an impact. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) made an excellent intervention on that point, but was unable to get an answer from the Deputy Prime Minister.
Experts have suggested that it would take a charge of at least £10 a day to make any visible impact on the number of cars entering a main city such as London or Manchester. How much do the Government suggest local authorities might impose and when do they suggest the charges should be introduced? Has the Deputy Prime Minister read the reports stating that the technology is not yet ready for the introduction of sensible road charging? Presumably, we cannot have toll booths at every road that goes into a main city. When does he think that the technology will be sufficiently workable to introduce those charges? How much does he think a council will want to charge?
It has been suggested that the parking tax could be as much as £3,000 a space in central London and several hundred pounds in other major towns and cities. [Interruption.] Is that a realistic assessment? How much does the Deputy Prime Minister think should be imposed? Would he accept any cap or limit on what could be enormous charges? When does he think that the charges should and could be introduced?
The right hon. Gentleman proposes to tax people who drive into towns to catch a train or to pick up heavy loads from shops or from their place of business. He proposes to tax people who drive to the office and park during the day because they intend to work late, when public transport will have ceased to provide a decent service.
§ Mr. Redwood
The Deputy Prime Minister now says that the legislation is a work of fiction and that he is not proposing anything. If he cares to look at the measures that he is proposing, he will see clause after clause giving 549 local authorities the power to impose those swingeing taxes. Why is he introducing the measure if he does not want local authorities to do that? Of course he wants them to impose those taxes on the motorist—but his cowardice is such that he would prefer someone else to take the immediate flak for doing so. However, he will get the flak because the taxes are his wish and are in his legislation.
§ Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is now repudiating the policies in the 1994 Tory manifesto, which advocated congestion charging, and the policies of his erstwhile colleague, Mr. Norris, who supported such charges in 1999? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he said that if private enterprise were given its head, it would build more toll roads and would get Britain on the move? Is not that also taxing the motorist? Does he repudiate his own views?
§ Mr. Redwood
That was an extremely feeble intervention. I am making it crystal clear that the Conservative party is against these new taxes on the motorist. We are against congestion charges for the use of the existing road system. We are against parking taxes for the use of existing parking places. The hon. Lady will find that we shall vote against those and the rest of the Bill this evening, and that we shall oppose the measures vigorously in Committee.
The Deputy Prime Minister, as a defence for all these extra taxes that he has invented, says that he has succeeded in securing hypothecation. He seems to have bought a pig in a poke from the Treasury. If the taxes go through, how do we know that there will be any extra money when he has not secured base budgets for the money that the Treasury already collects from the motorist? Does he not realise that the Treasury collects more than £32,000 million from the motorist and that only about one fifth of that is spent on transport improvements and on the transport system? Most of the motorists' money is taken for other uses. If he does not secure big and sensible base budgets, his hypothecation is absolutely worthless. The Treasury will take away what the Deputy Prime Minister is taking from the motorist. He is not Mr. Hypothecation—he is Mr. Gullible. He has bought this pig in a poke from the Treasury. He really believes that there will be extra money, whereas the Treasury will use the excuse of the extra money from the higher taxes to take away some of the other money that would have gone to the transport sector.
On the issue of the fuel escalator, Ministers are trying to look both ways at the same time. We are told that they will scrap the fuel escalator, which they raised well after the time that it should have been scrapped—[Interruption.] The Government increased the fuel escalator when fuel taxes were already high. They made those taxes ruinously high.
We now hear from the Government that they may possibly scrap the fuel escalator, and that the main source of new money to sort out transport problems will be increases in fuel duties above the rate of inflation. [Interruption.] The Government cannot have it both ways— we all know on which side they will come down. They will tax the motorist more. They may hypothecate 550 that revenue, but then they will mug the motorist by taking away money that the Government would otherwise have put into the transport system.
§ Mr. Paterson
From a sedentary position, the Deputy Prime Minister, chuntering away, said "Perhaps" with reference to the fuel escalator. Table B9 in the pre-Budget report clearly shows fuel duties increasing from £21.6 billion to an amazing £23.5 billion.
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend has a bull's eye again. That is why I predicted that the Government will come down on the side of taxing the motorist. They always do. What does Labour do best? Taxing the motorist—that is what they are there for and that is what they like doing.
Finally, I shall discuss the part of the Bill dealing with the railway industry.
§ Mr. Don Foster
Only a few minutes ago, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he was not in favour of proposals for road traffic reduction. Will he acknowledge that that is a personal U-turn on his part, and that on 29 May 1997 he wrote to a Mr. Keabie in Reading offering to support road traffic reduction proposals?
§ Mr. Redwood
I have set out very clearly Her Majesty's Opposition's policy. We believe that we need to promote more public transport, which is what I was saying then and what I am still saying today. Rumours of my inconsistency have been greatly exaggerated.
§ Mr. Redwood
No. I shall now move on to discuss the railways. The hon. Gentleman has had one little shot, which went wrong; he will have to make do with that.
The Bill gives the impression that a new regulator will sort out the railways, when what we need is someone to sort out the money for the railways. The Deputy Prime Minister savages Railtrack at every opportunity and he has now taken away its opportunity to bid for the tube, having originally encouraged it to do so, wasting £20 million of its money in the process. We have a smooth-talking Minister in the other place who does not seem to think that Railtrack is guilty of all the sins of the railways. I trust that he wins this argument because he is closer to the truth, and his may be a better approach to adopt to improve the railway industry.
What we especially dislike about the part of the Bill dealing with the railways is the fact that the Strategic Rail Authority will be a pawn in the hands of the Transport Minister, the Secretary of State or his successor. It is given all sorts of grant powers, but we do not know—and still have not been told by the Deputy Prime Minister—whether it will have any money to spend on those grant powers to enable it to do any good. We do not know how the very wide-ranging powers will be used. We shall need to probe in Committee the type of guidance and guidelines that will be offered.
We know that the train operating companies are rightly complaining about the uncertainty that the clauses are causing, and we know that Railtrack has a rotten deal—one which does not encourage increases in capacity—which needs sorting out. The Government are performing
551 a U-turn in their words but not in their deeds. If there was a U-turn in reality, there would be an end to higher fuel taxes; more roads would be built; there would be more investment in the tube and railways; and, above all, the Government would scrap the Bill.
The Bill bashes the motorist. It threatens the motorist with more congestion and parking taxes; it gives powers to sell NATS on the cheap; and it shows that Ministers have not a clue about how much they might get for NATS, so great is the muddle and confusion. In addition, the Bill threatens to overwhelm the railway industry with Government interference.
This is a Secretary of State with two jags, half a job and no money. This is a Department making the traveller pay dearly for its failure with the Treasury. This is a Secretary of State on the wrong track, introducing the wrong Bill, at the wrong time, while he is undermined from above and below. We will oppose it tooth and nail, with vigour.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which applies from now.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
In the small islands that constitute the United Kingdom, for nearly 20 years we have operated without any clear, coherent or organised plan for transport. It seems incredible that we are entering the new century with the first really useful Transport Bill that the House has been offered for many years. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is the first person to plan coherently to initiate a modern and responsive system, and a system of transport that will respond to the needs of our economy, of our people and certainly of our future. That has not been done for so long that I think that he can almost take credit for being a truly unique, sensitive and intelligent Secretary of State.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
May I just tell my right hon. Friend that in 1840 George Stephenson—not my talented hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) who sits on the Transport Sub-Committee but an equally talented Mr. George Stephenson—wrote to the Board of Trade complaining that, unless legislation was introduced to control safety in the railway industry, its reputation would suffer with the general public? They regarded the fatalities to passengers that resulted from broken rails, fallen bridges and from other disastrous pieces of masonry flying around the system as a real deterrent to travelling by rail.
This is the first Bill for some time to understand that, unless we are able to plan our transport system, passengers will decide where it will go. The problem will not just simply be that they will take their money and their goods elsewhere, but the economy will not be able to function efficiently. That is why the Bill is fundamental. It deals with many of the difficulties that were politically and pointlessly created by the Conservative Government.
552 The railway system is in the most frightful muddle; that is the truth of the matter. Recent terrifying accidents were only a demonstration of that lack of clarity and lack of coherence. The Strategic Rail Authority is not only necessary; it is essential. Without an attempt to put together this kaleidoscope of broken pieces, the railway industry in the next century will be totally unable to serve the needs of the United Kingdom.
Inside the railway industry at present there is not only a split of responsibilities across the system, but there is evidence that people are not clear about their own role. The Health and Safety Executive has said that, in some instances, working practices are dangerous and that some problems have arisen from the fact that the companies themselves were not clear what they expected people to do. In some cases, it is only too obvious that, because of the practice of contracting and sub-contracting jobs right the way down the system, people believed that, once a safety notice had been issued, that was the extent of their involvement. They did not monitor the work of those employed to do the job and they did not produce the high standard of safety that passengers have a right to expect. The Strategic Rail Authority is desperately needed.
It is a pity that we have had to wait two and a half years for this opportunity to legislate on transport, although I understand the political reasons for that. However, when we consider the size and shape of the Bill, one realises how much must be achieved in such a short time and why so many things have been thrust into the large basket of transport problems.
The Health and Safety Executive will need not only extra powers, but will need to be considered in a slightly different way. For example, at present, it is not even able to compare like with like. It does not have the safety standards that applied beforehand, when the old British Railways Board had responsibility for considering the licensing of particular equipment but not for ensuring that it worked efficiently or was solving the problems that arose.
There have been problems with the role of the rail regulator. I hope that during the proceedings on the Bill, the Secretary of State will spell out the relationship between the rail regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority. It would be unfortunate if clashes were to occur. They might give the impression that the rail regulator were prepared, on occasion, to talk up the situation, but when it came to making difficult decisions or, if I may use a colloquial phrase, putting the boot in, he ran away because he was influenced by political considerations, imposed not by the Government but by others in the railway industry.
When we talk about integrating transport we shall have to consider the role of the passenger transport authorities and their ability to plan in conjunction with the main rail system not only to provide good systems within their local areas, but to work out how they can integrate planning for roads and the provision of high-quality park and ride schemes. They will also be involved in other basic forms of planning that will enable increasing numbers of the public to move on to the rail system and encourage them not to use their motor car.
Some of the arguments that we have heard this afternoon are so artificial that they require no refutation. However, while there is not an efficient public transport system, people will hang on to their car, sometimes 553 because they have to and sometimes because it is more comfortable to do so. The provision by local authorities of alternative means of transport will be fundamental in changing that situation. That is why the ability in the Bill to introduce hypothecation is a tremendous advance.
In some countries there has been a clear acceptance of the fact that motorists will give up their four little wheels only when they are equally comfortable using other transport. For example, Scandinavian countries not only accept such planning, but positively encourage it. The city authorities in San Francisco were able, without any feeling that they were making a political decision, to raise the cost of bringing motor cars into the city and lower the cost of travelling on public transport. The response was clear and produced a shift of people from their car to the public railway system. Such planning and imagination will change the situation in the coming century, and it is to be warmly welcomed and encouraged.
I want to say a little about National Air Traffic Services. I can tell the Secretary of State that the Committee did a lot of detailed work on the railway aspects of the Bill, but we also considered aviation safety and are continuing to look at the public-private partnership for NATS. I know that my right hon. Friend will take seriously those findings and I know that he finds it helpful to have us doing the detailed work. However, I should like, for a moment, to speak in a personal capacity, not as the Chairman of the Committee.
I am totally opposed to the sale of NATS, and that will not come as any great surprise to my colleagues, who have heard me hold forth on the subject before. There is a kind of logic — it is not acceptable to me—in suggesting that we should sell the whole of NATS, which I understand is the present Conservative party position. That sale would be advised not because of concerns about safety but presumably because of a belief that if a body like Railtrack were created for air services, that would in some obscure way benefit the passenger. We know very well that such a measure would only bring in money from a sale; that body would not be concerned with safety or aviation planning.
However, there are difficulties with the suggestion that, somehow, the deal that is being proposed will be suitably protective of the interests of the customer, because there will be, first, a golden share and, secondly, an agreement that safety is to be regulated. I do not believe that that is so.
Unlike the other organisations that we have discussed and the BAA, which owns bricks and mortar and shops and can presumably charge more rent or increase its business elsewhere, NATS is very limited and controlled. Its business—to put it in its simplest form—is to keep planes apart in the air. In order to do that, its operators are extremely well trained, work under tremendous stress and believe that safety is their very first priority.
NATS has every year seen an increase—greater than in any other comparable industry —in aircraft movements. Its operators cope with that, and they do so reasonably cheerfully because they understand that it is not only their responsibility but one for which they are trained. They find it difficult to understand the Government's suggestion that NATS could be turned into a paying service and that they would be able to provide the same quality and assume the same responsibility for the traveller if they were employed by people who needed to 554 make a profit for their shareholders. That is the fundamental difference. There would be a different attitude; we have seen it in other forms of transport.
I am afraid that the Government are not really matching like with like. I hope that they will very seriously reconsider their suggestion because it is not in the general interest and will not really offer improvements. Nor do I think that the suggestions for the protection of the public interest are sufficient to result in the level of care that we need.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not give way; I am very much up against time.
It does not help the debate to persist in saying that Exeter, Guernsey or Luton airports are comparable to London air traffic space. They are not. The arguments must be better thought out, better argued and, above all, fundamentally examined with great care by a Labour Government before they go down such a path.
The Secretary of State is the best Secretary of State that we have had for many years. He knows, understands and is totally committed to transport, and he will not be deflected by those in the press who are looking for any Aunt Sally in order to have a go at a Labour Government who appear to be coated in Teflon. More importantly, he should remember that he is a man of courage and integrity, and that those are the qualities that, above all, we look for in him and the future transport industry.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
I listened with interest to the Deputy Prime Minister. 1 hope that he will understand what I mean when I say that I was strongly reminded of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.
I recall the right hon. Gentleman's splenic outbursts during the rail privatisation process, so I could not resist a smile when he told us this afternoon that the National Air Traffic Services could be sold only for what the market would pay for it. He totally denied such a point in our discussions some years ago. I welcome the fact that he has put all that juvenile abuse and offence behind him, and that, to some degree, has cut himself off from the ideological baggage that is so reminiscent of old Labour and is now seeking to address what he and I would recognise as some of the real issues on the railway system. To the extent that the Transport Bill improves what we put in place, I welcome it.
§ Mr. Prescott
The right hon. Gentleman will recall our saying at the time that it would be foolish to privatise the railways just before the election, because the selling price would be affected—a complaint that has been echoed by Select Committees. The Administration responsible for the privatisation of British Telecom had the sense to wait until after the election. The Government responsible for the privatisation of the railways did not wait, and sold them for less than market value.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I call to mind the efforts made in the City by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to talk down the price as much as they could.
555 My first point relates to the background of funding and expenditure to which the Secretary of State drew attention when, with a degree of fanfare, he announced that he would muster£ 80 billion of expenditure, both public and private, to spend on this country's transport system over the next 10 years. I thought that a strange figure, so I asked the House of Commons Library for the figures for total Government expenditure on transport in the United Kingdom under the last Conservative Government. The answer was that, in 1996-97, total managed expenditure was £8.7 billion. For spending to be the same this year in real terms —that is, adjusted by the gross domestic product deflator—it would have to be £9.4 billion.
If spending were to remain at the same real level over the ensuing 10 years, it would total £105 billion at 2 per cent. inflation, £111 billion at 3 per cent. inflation, and £117 billion at 4 per cent. inflation. I wondered why the Secretary of State was so excited about that £80 billion of public and private money, given that if he simply maintained for the next 10 years the real value of Conservative spending, he would provide about £25 billion to £30 billion more. In the light of those figures, which were produced by the Library, not by some central office research assistant about which he might harbour certain—unjustified—suspicions, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why he is robbing the country of between £25 billion and £30 billion of expenditure, both public and private, which would have been made if he had simply followed Conservative plans?
If the Secretary of State followed on from the latest estimate of expenditure in 1998-99, he would spend, in real terms, £98 billion at 2 per cent. inflation, £104 billion at 3 per cent. inflation and £110 billion at 4 per cent. inflation. Not only is the right hon. Gentleman robbing this country of £20 billion to £30 billion of expenditure that was already in place, but he is making a virtue of it. One of the values of a debate such as this is that we can draw attention to the fact that future expenditure is not as impressive as he and his spin doctors would have us believe.
Since franchising started, private rail companies have made about £2 billion of expenditure. We can add that to Railtrack's expenditure plans for the 10 years to which the Secretary of State has referred of £27 billion, assuming 30 per cent. growth. However, according to the chief executive of Rai1track, recently revised figures have increased expectations of growth to 50 per cent.; therefore, planned expenditure increases to £34 billion to £35 billion. Adding channel tunnel expenditure to that results in more than £40 billion of the £80 billion coming from the private sector, over which the Secretary of State exercises no control. I have not added in figures relating to the tube, to design, build, finance and operate road schemes, to ferries and docks or to aviation.
When all those are added in, the Secretary of State is making a song and dance about offering some £20 billion to £25 billion of public expenditure over the next 10 years. Had he followed our plans it would have been about £110 billion; had he followed his own, it would have been slightly more than £100 billion. Alastair Campbell has him dangling on the end of a string for about £25 billion to £30 billion of public expenditure. 556 As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, even that is not from a solid base, so who knows what the Chancellor will actually give? Mr. Prescott: Watch this space.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I assure the Secretary of State that if there is one space that we will watch, it is the rather large space that he occupies.
My second point concerns the regulation of aviation and rail transport. Clauses 200 and 201 give powers to the regulators to penalise train operators. There are no similar powers in respect of plane operators. Let me put this case to the Secretary of State. Two business men have businesses that compete for the same customers in Newcastle and want to go to London. They have a genuine choice: they can fly or go by train. Let us assume that the trains and the planes are equally late. The Bill means that the train operator can be fined a considerable sum for poor performance, but the plane operator cannot be similarly penalised.
As the Secretary of State would expect, I took advice about that situation. Fares would rise for the man who took the train because the train company would have to pass the bill on to the customer. I took advice about whether that made the Bill hybrid. I am told that in modem Britain, as we head to the 21st century, the view of hybridity means that it is a trains issue or a planes issue, rather than a transport issue. There cannot be hybridity across different modes of transport, even if the Secretary of State puts them in the same Bill. I have to accept that advice, but I have some other advice. I advise Richard Branson, Michael Bishop, Bob Ayling and the chief executives of all the train operating companies that operate over long distances to seek early legal advice because I think that that aspect of this Bill will wind up in the courts.
My third point is about charging. I asked the Secretary of State what charge would have to be imposed to reduce traffic by 10 per cent. He did not know and nor do the local authorities. Let me tell him something else that he does not know. When I was Secretary of State, I asked a world authority that very question. I was told, "I'll get you an answer for a contract for $150,000, but my strong advice to you is to save your money because no one knows, except that the figure will be so high that it is politically impossible to implement." We must understand that the Bill is not about congestion but taxation. Until the Secretary of State can tell the House how much effect different charges will have in reducing congestion, this will remain a taxation Bill.
The Secretary of State did not tell us how much it will cost to administer the scheme with all its exemptions, such as those for the elderly and the sick, for people on public service, and for doctors and health visitors. How much will it all cost? He does not know, nor do the local authorities. That also shows that the Bill is simply a taxation measure.
I put another question to the right hon. Gentleman. What effect will road charging have on the value of properties on those roads, or the rental value of those properties? The Secretary of State does not know, nor do local authorities.
May I point out one last thing to the Secretary of State? The Bill will charge teachers for the car parking places at their schools. It will charge doctors and nurses for the car 557 parking places at their hospitals. It will cost charity workers, such as those at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, for the car parking spaces at their place in my constituency. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was your proposal."] It will cost business for the car parking places at factories. It will cost local authorities for the car parking places of their employees, and the cost will be passed on in council tax.
The Bill is a mishmash. It is not the answer to what the Secretary of State and I agree are real transport issues. If he is willing to amend the Bill in Committee to meet those issues, I for one will support him, but I will not hold my breath.
§ Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"this House, believing that government ownership and control of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is necessary for national security, acknowledging that the United Kingdom air traffic control system is recognised internationally as the safest and most reliable in the world, and being concerned that the introduction of the private profit motive could jeopardise safety standards in the future, considers that the Transport Bill is not an acceptable measure because it contains provisions the purpose of which is to pave the way for the partial privatisation of NATS."
The amendment encapsulates the case against the partial privatisation of NATS.
I strongly support the thrust of my right hon. Friend's opening remarks about the way in which Labour is delivering on transport virtually across the board. It is true that we are getting investment up on the London tube, the railways and the buses, with consequent benefits. It should always be borne in mind that, although the tube and the railways are extremely important, many people live nowhere near a railway or underground station and some do not even live close to a bus service. That is why it is particularly good that we have managed to increase subsidies for bus services, so that more people are now taking the bus. That is an important advance, as my right hon. Friend reminded us. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve with him on these matters in an earlier period in the Parliament.
My right hon. Friend referred to the day—my recollection of it may be more vivid than his—on which we received the report of the comprehensive spending review in which the Chancellor announced that we intended to consult on the Government's preferred option. My right hon. Friend will remember well that it fell to me, as Minister for Transport, to provide the written answer from which he quoted, which made it clear that we were consulting on the principle, not just the practical implementation. Let me make it clear that I do not intend to break the convention that conversations between Ministers are private. I accepted collective responsibility for everything that happened in relation to aviation, including National Air Traffic Services, until I left the Administration.
There are three key categories in which we have a strong—indeed, overwhelming— argument against the proposed partial privatisation of NATS. They are: business, national security—possibly the most important category—and safety. The arguments for the latter were 558 well presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Transport Sub-Committee.
I shall make the business case briefly. Hon. Members may know that the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions launched an important document produced by Oxford Economic Forecasting, entitled, "The Contribution of the Aviation Industry to the UK Economy". The aviation industry has made a huge contribution, including thousands of jobs. The shorthand document, which was released at the same time as the main document, and is supported by two Departments and sponsored by the industry, states that the aviation industry accounts for 180,000 direct airport jobs, 200,000 indirect jobs through the supply chain, 94,000 induced jobs, and 75,000 jobs in travel agencies. Some people—including, I suspect, some hon. Members—do not appreciate that the aviation sector is as big as the car manufacturing sector in terms of employment and business. Incidentally, I hope that the Government will grant the subsidy to the car manufacturing industry—it is especially important for Rover. But we are not considering a subsidy to the aviation industry.
Why are the Government not prepared to fund air traffic control in this country? It is argued that, from now on, we are not prepared to allow National Air Traffic Services to continue to borrow within the public sector. NATS runs at a profit, and we are simply asking the Government to allow it to continue to do that. We admit that perhaps £1 billion of investment will be required over the next 10 years, but the new tax that the previous Administration introduced on air passengers provides £700 million of income each year, and that figure will probably increase to £1 billion in two or three years' time, so people will find it difficult to understand that we are not prepared to continue to allow NATS to borrow in the public sector and run at a profit.
The argument that the privatisation proposal has been made in the interest of obtaining a capital receipt is the worst of financial or business arguments. When we consider debt and the proposed capital receipt, we must ask whether the Government are genuinely suggesting that NATS should be sold before Swanwick is operational, because if they are, the capital receipt will be very small. Swanwick will be a quantum advance in air traffic control in this country, and we must ensure that it is operational as soon as possible. Business supports that view, yet senior NATS officials are travelling around the country making the case for partial privatisation when they should be ensuring that everything has been done to enable Swanwick to come on stream on time. That is a great mistake. Even if I were in favour of privatisation £and I am totally opposed to it£I would still feel that this is the worst time at which to embark on it.
The argument for the second Scottish centre also relates to questions of business, safety and national security. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) has already raised the point. I remind my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who will remember it well, of the statement that he enabled me to make at Prestwick on 6 June 1997, when we clearly committed ourselves to the
559 two-centre strategy. That commitment was not conditional on the private finance initiative or some sort of partial privatisation. The press release said:
Dr. Strang's decision confirms the two centre strategy for air traffic control in the UK, with the first centre being built at Swanwick in Hampshire. The New Scottish Centre will replace the existing Scottish Area Control Centre, whose air traffic control equipment is almost 20 years old, and will be run by National Air Traffic Services… a wholly owned subsidiary of the Civil Aviation Authority.A note to the editor, which is worth quoting, states:
In the early 1990s, NATS developed a long term plan for UK air traffic control. This has been reviewed in consultation with the industry and is known as the two centre strategy.Yes, it was the previous Administration's strategy. The document continues:
It is envisaged that all civil and military air traffic control operations will be concentrated at two sites—Swanwick in Hampshire and the New Scottish Centre at Prestwick, which would replace the existing centre there.We have to be sure that there has been no change in Government policy on that.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I can confirm that, as he well knows, our commitment to a two-centre strategy remains. That is not in doubt, but it is a matter of raising money: the resources raised from the private sector—from an income stream, for example for the underground—can amount to many billions of pounds. If we can secure the income for investment requirements from an income stream rather than putting pressure on the Exchequer, it is legitimate for us to make that argument in respect of expenditure on health, services and pensions.
On my right hon. Friend's final point in regard to growth in the industry, I want all those jobs to remain—and they will be returned, because this is a growth sector. There are 49 air traffic control centres in Eurocontrol, and it is estimated that the figure will be reduced to three or four in the next few years. I believe that under the proposed formula we can have something that we cannot have under a public sector formula—the opportunity to begin to expand in Europe and provide even more jobs and earnings.
§ Dr. Strang
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I have only a quarter of an hour in which to speak. I say to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister that I am hopeful that we can continue the dialogue in relation to the two-centre strategy on military and civil grounds. That has nothing to do with privatisation, nothing to do with the private finance initiative and nothing to do with this so-called public-private partnership, to use the new jargon.
I shall move on to national security, which is the key issue; if anyone has any illusions about that I suggest that he or she dips into the Bill. Hon. Members will have 560 noticed that more than half of it concerns aviation and NATS, although the provisions are very general. Clause 38(3) says:
The Secretary of State may give to a licence holder a direction requiring it—
That refers to the provider of the air traffic control service, which will be NATS, and, whatever it is called, it will have a private strategic partner, which will run things on a commercial basis if the Government's declared policy goes ahead—although I am pleased that that is not specific in the Bill. The interesting point is that the clause continues:
- (a) to do or not to do a particular thing in connection with anything authorised by the licence, or
- (b) to secure that a particular thing is done or not done in connection with anything authorised by the licence".
A person must not disclose, and is not required by any enactment or otherwise to disclose, a direction given or other thing done by virtue of this section if the Secretary of State notifies him that he thinks disclosure is against the interests of national security or the interests of the United Kingdom's relations with another country".The Secretary of State takes powers to tell people who might be employed by a British or international company based wherever what to do; then he has to tell them not to tell anyone that he has told them what to do.
There are two important aspects to the security issue. The first is on-going and short-term and includes global terrorism, which fortunately is not a major factor at present. I do not want to be over-dramatic, but there undoubtedly could be circumstances in which we needed to seize control of the air traffic control system immediately if intelligence information was received about a bomb on a particular plane. The second aspect is on-going military-civil co-operation, at which we are the best in the world—not just better than France, which is what is often said. Day-to-day co-operation is so important, particularly as the civil aviation sector is growing, and must be handled properly. We in the UK are good at such co-operation, but after privatisation or partial privatisation there will be less incentive for the new private or semi-private company to co-operate fully with the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence.
There is also the longer-term national security aspect—the issue of an international crisis: war may not have been declared but we may be in the run-up to a conflict. I am glad that national security issues have been addressed in the Bill, but the concerns cannot be adequately answered. Once the private set-up has been in control for a few years, we cannot be sure that it will respond as we would want to an immediate direction or request from the Secretary of State or his representatives. National security may well be the reason why the United States has not privatised its air traffic control services, and why the Conservative Government never did so despite the huge privatisation programmes under Lady Thatcher and her successor as Tory Prime Minister. The decisive case against privatisation is the national security case.
However, there are also safety issues. I shall comment on them fairly briefly, not least because my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, the Chair of the Transport Sub-Committee, has dealt with them fully. The Government's response to the Select Committee is not credible. It is not credible to argue that we are going down this road so as to enhance safety.
We need to retain NATS in public ownership in the longer term on security and safety grounds. It is vital that the House addresses this issue. I want the Bill to go into 561 Committee. We will move forward, and we will have a dialogue. I know that I am speaking for more than 50 Labour MPs when I make this case, and I hope that the Government will listen.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), who rightly focused most of his comments on the part privatisation proposals for National Air Traffic Services. I shall return to that theme later.
There has been a great deal of puff in recent days and weeks about 10-year visions and the great future for transport. The House is glad finally to be tackling serious legislation on transport. As other hon. Members have said, this is the first Transport Bill this Parliament, and many would argue that it is long overdue.
The House faces a huge task in considering the Bill. It has four major sections, some of which the Liberal Democrats will support, although we believe that the Bill has pulled its punches in certain respects, and that the proposals for NATS are seriously misguided. For that reason, we shall vote against Second Reading.
Across the country—no matter which part of the United Kingdom we represent— everyone is conscious of transport problems. They are part of people's everyday lives, whether they are stuck in traffic jams, sitting in clapped-out rail carriages, waiting for buses or connections or hanging around at airports. The problems of congestion, crumbling or failed infrastructure, inadequate services and lack of integration face every transport user every day, whether they use public or private transport.
Ultimately, the reason for many of the problems facing people on Britain's road, rail and air system is that there is too little choice. We recognise and welcome the fact that the Government are trying to redress the balance and to begin to tackle some of these important issues.
The Bill introduces local transport plans and gives them a statutory basis. We welcome the principle enshrined in the Bill. We think it will be a useful tool to tackle congestion, poor service provision and the lack of integration that typifies many community transport systems.
We also commend the fact that the Bill establishes targets for the reduction of pollution and traffic at local level. That is very good—although we are disappointed that the logic of that has not been extended to the establishment of national targets for traffic reduction. In recent days, the Minister for Transport has expressed a view which has been echoed here today, saying that the Government's targets now relate to slowing the rate of traffic growth, rather than to an actual and absolute reduction. The Deputy Prime Minister entered the debate this afternoon, but confused the issue again by saying—if I heard him correctly— that there would be fewer car journeys after his policies had taken effect. That sounds to me like a pledge to reduce traffic levels, which all Liberal Democrats would wholeheartedly support.
Funding the alternatives is of course crucial, but many people throughout the country are rightly sceptical about those alternatives, and about the objective of persuading travellers to use public transport. They think that at 562 present there is little opportunity for that, and they will continue to be sceptical about the Government's proposals until funds and provision have caught up with need, and real choices exist.
The Bill contains good proposals for buses. A key aspect of the implementation of local transport plans will be improvements in the quality and number of bus services, and response to customer requirements. We also welcome the huge boost for quality partnerships, which will be a cornerstone of future transport policy. We hope that powers will exist to enforce them, and to ensure that high standards are delivered. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr.Foster) hopes to say something about open-top buses if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will not detain the House by talking about that now.
We broadly welcome the proposed information and ticketing systems, and the new powers for traffic commissioners—especially the environmental aspects of those powers—but we shall want to examine them in more detail in Committee. We are disappointed by what is proposed for concessionary fares, however. We share the Government's desire for the introduction of such fares, but we are less happy about the delay that has occurred. Concessionary fares were first mentioned in 1998, and their introduction apparently requires only £25 million per annum—so why is it being delayed until 2001–02?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)
It is a question of legislation.
§ Mr. Moore
The Government have been keen to introduce certain measures ahead of legislation when they have considered them to be a good idea. We wish that they had done the same with the concessionary fares scheme, and we do not believe that this legislation will take a further year to introduce.
The proposals for road charging and workplace parking will clearly tackle head on the problems of congestion and a crumbling infrastructure. Although the plans are understandably controversial and will have to be implemented carefully, there is growing acceptance that, without charging, congestion will become worse, not better. Even the CBI, in its briefing for today's debate, says that itsupports the principle of congestion charging, but only if it brings demonstrable reductions in traffic and the revenue is ploughed back into transport improvement.That returns us to the need for an absolute reduction in traffic, rather than a slowing down of the growth in the rate of traffic.
§ Mr. Moore
I have said that I think that until people have alternatives to the car, which many in different parts of the country do not have at present, they will not be tempted to abandon it, but I do not wish to be quite as cynical as the hon. Gentleman: I hope that things will change over the next few years.
563 The key to road user charging and workplace parking must be additionality. The revenue must represent an extra resource for transport funding, and must not be seen as a replacement for other Government finance. Ministers have said that that is their intention, but, if that is to be believed and taken on board, we will have to ensure that there are agreed baselines for existing transport expenditure and equalisation between different areas of the country, as certain parts have enjoyed higher investment than others. Indeed, once those systems are implemented, it will be critical that areas with more scope for congestion charging have their revenues shared out and equalised with others that have less scope.
On the proposals for the Strategic Rail Authority, there is clearly a need to sort out the mess that privatisation has left behind—which is widely acknowledged except by Conservative Members. The Liberal Democrats have supported the shadow Strategic Rail Authority. Legislation for the SRA proper is also to be welcomed and encouraged. However, we require clarification—I hope that, in Committee, we will get it—on the respective roles and responsibilities of the SRA and the regulator, particularly over such things as the national rail inquiry service.
The Minister will probably be aware of concerns that the SRA's potential direct involvement with Railtrack could undermine train operating companies. Some anxiety has been expressed by both TOCs and Railtrack on that issue. It is important that we get further clarification as the Bill proceeds through the House.
Liberal Democrats would like to stress in particular that, although there is much to commend in the Bill, we regret the fact that the Government have not taken the opportunity to establish a strategic transport authority. The Bill repeatedly highlights the need to integrate local authorities' provision of transport service. We have already focused on the lack of national guidance or targets for traffic reduction. Opportunities should be seized now to integrate bus and train services and other modes of public transport, so we hope the Government will think again.
§ Dr. Godman
On the question of a strategic transport authority, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for many of our coastal and island communities in Scotland, an important element of any integrated transport system is passenger ferry services? Does he agree that the Caledonian MacBrayne company performs that service, requires a decent subsidy and should remain in public ownership?
§ Mr. Moore
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, whose argument will find echoes throughout the country and underlines the importance of a strategic transport authority to cover all the different aspects of transport throughout the country.
The issue of safety has dogged the transport debate over many years, but particularly since the Ladbroke Grove tragedy. We have heard Ministers talk about the fact that they are "minded" to remove the safety and standards directorate from Railtrack, and Liberal Democrats recognise that inquiries are on-going and that Ministers will wait for the results before they make final decisions.
564 We believe that the case for an independent safety body to tackle the issues of air, sea and rail has never been stronger. The Transport Sub-Committee has recommended it and we would endorse that recommendation. Again, we hope that, at some stage in the Bill's passage, the Government will consider the inclusion of such a body.
Safety is at the heart of the final part of the Bill to which I turn my attention: the part privatisation of NATS. The Liberal Democrats have made it clear that we oppose that part privatisation. Again, I stress the importance of the comments of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).
I want to focus on three aspects of the argument: the undoubted need to finance the infrastructure that NATS requires over the next decade; the question whether private sector expertise is to be brought into the process; and the important issue of safety, which must not be forgotten.
I do not think that anyone denies that NATS needs substantial investment—today, the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned £1.3 billion; at briefings at NATS, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath and I were told that the figure is £1 billion over 10 years—but we are told that the money is not available, or that it would count against the public sector borrowing requirement, which would be unacceptable.
I should not like to underestimate the investment required—the sum is substantial, and will make the difference in determining whether NATS is able to progress and develop— but would point out the crucial fact that, at £100 million per annum, it amounts to less than 15 per cent. of the credit approvals announced last week as part of the one-year local transport plans. Therefore—relatively—the sum is not huge.
If the sum is truly an obstacle and there is no way round it, surely other structures short of privatising the air traffic services are possible and must be considered. The Select Committee drew attention to some options. Liberal Democrat Members favour an independent publicly owned corporation or a trust. However, the key feature in the debate is that, because of regulation and Eurocontrol, NATS has a guaranteed market and pricing, which makes it an attractive proposition for bond financing. Conversely, as other hon. Members have said, the growth potential of NATS is relatively restricted.
Liberal Democrat Members do not believe that the PSBR rules should get in the way of the investment. If that happened, it would be a case of accountancy getting in the way of real decisions. It would also undoubtedly give rise to the strong suspicion that the Treasury was simply protecting a holy grail, and that no one in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions could seriously tackle the issue.
With a highly regulated market and caps on pricing and growth opportunities, scope for a public-private partnership operator to increase revenue is limited. Consequently, cost pressures increase—which is the point at which concerns arise about safety. I have spoken to representatives of both management and unions at Prestwick, and they— particularly union representatives—do not understand or accept that one can bear down on costs without creating consequences for safety.
Private sector expertise has frequently been cited as the solution. Although Liberal Democrats would be the first to welcome the suggestion that the private sector should 565 have a role, we do not accept that the private sector is infallible. The prospect of using private sector expertise raises two issues: first, the lack of progress at Swanwick, and the major role played there by the private sector; and, secondly, the issue of what will happen to NATS' current management. Are the current management part of the Government's long-term or short-term plans, and who has the upper hand? To outsiders, the situation is very clear.
Although safety is an emotive topic, and we have to approach it with some sensitivity, the facts speak for themselves: the public sector record is first class, and the ethos of the personnel is beyond reproach. Many ordinary people will ask, "Why tamper with that highly successful arrangement?"
We are often told that the safety arrangements will not change with NATS in the private sector. Indeed, we are told that, if the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS are completely separate and given the infrastructure spending that we are debating today, safety may improve. Liberal Democrat Members argue that both those improvements are possible within the public sector context, and urge both to be developed within that context.
Liberal Democrats remain concerned that commercial imperatives bearing down on costs will drive straight up against safety—a dilemma that no one should be forced to confront.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is the hon. Gentleman advising other Liberal Democrats to vote for the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang)?
§ Mr. Moore
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Only last Thursday, I had the pleasure of accompanying him on an aircraft up to Edinburgh, and I know how seriously he takes these issues. In answer to his direct question: yes, we shall be supporting the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh and voting against the Bill.
The public, staff, unions and pilots all oppose the privatisation proposal. Ultimately, for Liberal Democrat Members, it comes down to a simple judgment: we have a world-leading and highly respected air traffic system that requires investment; that investment could be made available, but, instead, we are being asked to gamble on an untried and unproven private sector. Is it any wonder that people are so opposed to the proposals?
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I will detain the House briefly on just three points. First, however, I declare an interest listed in the Register of Members' Interests as I chair a bus company which is part of the National Express group.
The privatisation of National Air Traffic Services is the most controversial part of the Bill, has taken up much of our debate so far and is the subject of the amendment 566 moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). I do not want to spend the bulk of my time on NATS, but if any member of the Government can be trusted to act properly on it, it is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. He has not come only recently to the principle of private involvement. More than a decade ago, when the Opposition transport team was comprised of him and me, my right hon. Friend, in the face—as now—of scorn from the Conservatives, advanced the philosophy that the Treasury could not do everything. Indeed, he said, if left to its own devices, it would do very little. Private sector finance was needed, he said, for many industries that had been traditionally publicly owned.
I was subject to enormous pressures at that time as my right hon. Friend sent me—hon. Members might wonder who could have been better—on a charm offensive around some of London's more expensive restaurants to meet captains of industry. Alas, we did not know in the late 1980s that it would be eight or nine long years before my right hon. Friend and my party took their rightful places on the Government Benches. If the captains of industry had known that, they might have been more reluctant to pick up the tabs. So, my right hon. Friend has not come lately to the view that we need some private money. The touching faith of some of my hon. Friends in the Treasury's advancement of moneys needed for air traffic control and other parts of the traditional public sector is somewhat misplaced.
I have listened carefully to the debate so far, particularly to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chairman of the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. She was somewhat scathing about what she called the Exeter experience. NATS does not provide air traffic control services at the majority of airports in the United Kingdom. Indeed, of the 28 airports that have more than 6,000 air transport movements a year, NATS serves a minority. Seventeen airports employ their own air traffic personnel, and only 11 use NATS.
To those of my hon. Friends who express understandable concern about safety, I have to say that I remain to be convinced that landing at Belfast international airport, which uses NATS, is inherently less dangerous than landing at Belfast city airport, which provides its own controllers. I remain to be convinced that someone expecting to land at Birmingham airport, which uses NATS—and is the nearest to my constituency—who is diverted for some reason to East Midlands airport, which provides its own air traffic controllers, will grip his or her seat even more anxiously. I cannot see matters that way, and the safety angle, though understandable, has been somewhat overblown.
§ Mr. Snape
I do not believe it. I have spoken to representatives of everyone involved in aviation. Many
567 prefer the status quo. It is almost always more comfortable to leave things as they are rather than change anything. But, after perhaps too many cynical years in the House, I believe that the long-term income stream needed for air traffic control services in the UK requires us to find a different way forward. I do not want to be personally offensive towards my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh because I accept that he feels worried about this matter. However, I cannot help but feel that if he still sat on the Government Front Bench, he would troop through the Lobby in favour of the Bill tonight. To personalise this important matter does no service to what should be—
§ Mr. Snape
I am not. It is true that my right hon. Friend would have voted for the Bill had he still been a Minister. I have to say that it must be a source of annoyance to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), whom I have known for many years, that many of the signatories to the amendment have been voting against Labour Governments for most of their political careers, except, of course, at election time, when they usually have a picture of the leader of the day on the front of their election address. One or two of them do not need any excuse to vote against their own party—it helps them to prove that they are better socialists than the rest of us.
§ Mr. Snape
No, I have already given way once and I only have 15 minutes. I do not include my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in that accusation. I know that he always votes according to his conscience.
I welcome the provisions on the rail industry. I cannot understand the attitude of the Conservative party. Indeed, I barely understand the speeches of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who—temporarily, one hopes—is the Opposition spokesman on transport matters. Two weeks ago, he made a speech and went home ill. He disappeared again after today's speech, leaving the rest of us in that condition.
The right hon. Gentleman attacks the setting up of the Strategic Rail Authority and, presumably, the work of Sir Alastair Morton, its chairman. I believe that the setting up of the SRA is very much overdue. The work in which the SRA envisages getting involved is essential for the railway system. The Labour party did not welcome the previous Government's rail privatisation. But we are where we are, and it seems that only the SRA has the power to weld together the disparate groups running the railway industry into a national railway system.
To make trains more attractive to the car owner—I realise that the Conservative party pooh-poohs such a philosophy at present, although it did not in the fairly recent past— we need a networkwide system of express trains which, because of their speed, comfort and safety, attract people who would otherwise use their cars for long journeys. If each train operating company concentrates exclusively on its own geographical area, that will not be achieved. I realise that there is some access between train operating companies and involvement with different train 568 operating companies on the provision of long-distance services, particularly cross-country services, but it is not enough, in my view. I hope that the SRA will bring pressure to bear to ensure that a genuine alternative to the car for long journeys is provided.
I hope that the SRA will consider the seating on new trains. I do not share Richard Branson's view that trains are aircraft that never get off the ground. I certainly do not share his views on ticket prices for some of his services. However, I think that aircraft-type seating, particularly in multiple-unit trains, is not acceptable on a long journey. It is certainly not attractive enough to lure people away from the alternative of using their car. I hope, therefore, that the SRA will look carefully at such services. To get genuine jam-busters for the railway industry, Sir Alastair Morton will have to bring his renowned muscle to bear.
The SRA has shown a great interest in the provision of rail services in the west midlands, where lies my constituency. The Conservative party has voiced its opposition to the SRA, which has recently set up a review of rail capacity in the west midlands—something that the previous Government never provided. The review will:
Consider a broad range of capacity solutions proposed by train operators, Railtrack and others, including how best to develop: terminal capacity at Birmingham New Street, Snow Hill and Moor Street; line and signalling capacity; and train capacity.The review will also:Consider capacity solutions which would encompass the role of light rail and the development of terminal complexes.The Conservative party is against all that. What sort of transport policy does it embrace these days? Of course, we can all ride in our cars—I have one as well, before any Conservative Member makes a sarcastic comment—but we cannot keep driving into towns and cities at 8.30 or 9 o'clock in the morning and home again at 4.30 or 5.30 in the afternoon and expect to do so in any reasonable comfort, without enormous congestion and pollution resulting.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Would the hon. Gentleman, as a director of National Express, welcome a strategic bus authority and a bus regulator with power to fine bus companies for late-running buses?
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman smirks as though he has made a debating point. He might get a laugh at the Cambridge or Oxford debating society for that question, but he is comparing apples with lemons. [Interruption.] Oh yes, he is. The previous Government did not privatise the two industries in exactly the same way. Indeed, they made an equal mess of bus privatisation, which the industry, somewhat belatedly, is doing something to put right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is not in his place, trotted out the old story about bus use declining outside London and increasing in London. Bus usage outside London has been declining for some 40 years and only recently has that decline been stemmed. In the west midlands, there is an increase in bus passengers for the first time in four decades, although I take no credit for that.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North in his absence that at the time that the franchising system—because that is basically what it is—was introduced in London, the first to suffer were London bus 569 drivers, who went from the top of the wages tree to the bottom. If my hon. Friend is advocating that principle in the short term, he should talk to people who work in the bus industry, rather than making speeches in the House.
The Bill contains provisions for quality contracts, which most people in the bus industry are not mad about. We accept that they are enabling provisions only. Ministers—at least in the run-up period to the Bill—made it clear that contracts could be used, but as a safety net only if quality partnerships were not successful. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), replies to the debate will he tell us how he thinks such quality partnerships are operating at present and how he sees them working in future?
No one would claim that bus privatisation has been particularly successful, because it has not. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must take his seat. He must also stop that musical box.
§ Mr. Snape
That is another witty comment from the Cambridge debating society. I may well be.
In the two minutes left to me, let me say that there are a couple of matters that should be considered. In Birmingham, for example, we run many bus services. We do not have a monopoly, nor does the company that I chair seek one. We have a problem, however, with certain operators who do not consider starting new routes—which we would welcome—but cherry-pick on certain routes that are operated by Travel West Midlands, the major company. I need hardly add that we pay top wages, provide uniforms, canteens, and so on. Many of the smaller operators do not recognise trade unions-we are fully unionised—and operate only one shift to drivers. When such companies do so on the busier routes they are, in our view, guilty of cherry-picking. For example, on one route, an operator registered in November of this year and will deregister those same services in January. That is no way to ensure continuity and a sensible bus operation. Such operators use vehicles which leave a lot to be desired, to say the least.
There is work for traffic commissioners and local authorities. I hope that Ministers will, under the Bill, correct some of the anomalies and problems that have cropped up over the years. Overall, I think that the Bill is eminently sensible and will be widely welcomed by railway workers and bus operators. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel sincerely about the future of the air traffic control industry will reflect on the fact that it could not be in better hands than those of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)
I begin by declaring an interest; as listed in the register, I am a non-executive director of Unigate, which has a transport subsidiary. However, my real interest in the debate is as 570 a former Secretary of State for Transport. I always thought that the present Secretary of State—I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber—would not be up to the job, but I thought it reasonable to give him some time to prove himself. During the two years when I served as Secretary of State, we saw the greatest national and local road-building programme of this decade. We implemented rail privatisation, whence have come all the improvements about which the Secretary of State now boasts. We introduced a host of other initiatives and actions to achieve results, including the Jubilee line extension. I introduced local authority transport plans that put much greater emphasis on park and ride, road safety schemes and comprehensive local plans.
The Secretary of State has held that office for longer than I did; but, during two and a half years, he has been a blustering, dithering disaster. There has been little action on roads, except for the closure of one lane of the M4 for all except the Prime Minister's car. There has been much waffle about integrated transport policy with a series of consultation documents, Green Papers and White Papers; that is no substitute for action. In July, one of the conclusions of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs was that:
Unfortunately the Department's achievements, as listed by the Permanent Secretary, have largely been confined to the publication of documents and policy statements and the establishment of task forces. As yet there have been few tangible improvements.We can say that again.
The Secretary of State is still at it. In his speech of 13 December, he announced that he would publish a comprehensive programme for change in the investment programme next summer. Good heavens—that will be more than three years since the right hon. Gentleman took office, only then will he get round to doing that. During the two and three quarter years since Labour came to power, four Transport Ministers have served under the Secretary of State. They are all Scots. Three of them have Scottish constituencies and their interest in transport is now only inasmuch as it concerns their own constituencies. All Scottish transport issues are settled in the Scottish Parliament and those Members have no interest in transport and road programmes in England—and it shows. Recently, The Sunday Telegraph quoted an aide at No. 10, who said:
Gus Macdonald is the first Transport Minister who has been up to the job.Too true—what an admission—but whose fault is it?
To the Secretary of State, an integrated transport policy is a slogan; it is a soundbite to be trotted out on every occasion, but it is no substitute for action. We have had a period of indecision and inaction followed by substantial U-turns, because the right hon. Gentleman's earlier policies have not worked, and will not work. No wonder that four fifths of people disagree with his transport policies, and that many in the media and—it seems— the Prime Minister are calling for him to give up his responsibility for transport policy.
I have examined carefully the right hon. Gentleman's much vaunted speech of 13 December. The comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the speech were absolutely correct; the amount of money that we put into public transport, during the years for which the Secretary of State derides us, was much greater than the amount he
571 proposes for the next 10 years. Every achievement listed by the Secretary of State in his speech resulted from Conservative policies and decisions: in particular, that private rail investment had gone up by a third; that passenger journeys had increased by 25 per cent.; that there were 1,000 extra rail services every day; and that freight had increased by 20 per cent. over the past two years. That compares to a steady decline in every year before privatisation. Rail privatisation brought about a change in culture, putting the focus on the customer and ensuring that services were directed to improvements for the customer.
Meanwhile, investment in National Air Traffic Services and the Scottish control centre at Prestwick has been delayed by the right hon. Gentleman's dithering over the privatisation of the service.
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I shall not give way, as we do not have a long time for our speeches.
Government investment in the London underground—excluding the Jubilee line—will be much less during the coming year than when I was Secretary of State for Transport. The Government's future plans for the underground are now in disarray because of their U-turn over Railtrack.
The new local transport plans, about which the Secretary of State has huffed and puffed for two and a half years, differ little from our transport polices and programmes—the TPP. Park and ride and local safety schemes were included in those programmes. The difference was that the amount of money that we were giving local authorities for those programmes was much greater even than that which the Government have announced for the coming year, which they boasted was an improvement. If we compare the figures, we see that it is a good deal less than we gave local authorities every year.
I welcome the U-turn on bypass schemes, for which I have long argued. During the Conservative Government, 13 bypasses were built in my constituency; I am glad that we have finally been granted one by the Labour Government. However, it could have been started two years ago. Other bypasses and road improvement programmes in Norfolk are ready to be started, but all have been delayed because of the Government's decisions on road expenditure during the past two years. The country needs money, investment and action—not boasting from the Secretary of State about what he plans to do.
I am not talking about new roads, but—as I did when I was Secretary of State— about bypasses and improvements to the existing road infrastructure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has already referred to the Secretary of State's remarks when he took office. The Secretary of State said that, in five years' time, he would have failed if there were not far fewer journeys by car. As he showed in his speech of 13 December, and in his comments today, he now agrees that there should not be a national road traffic reduction target. However, far fewer journeys by car means a reduction in road traffic. The right hon. Gentleman 572 claimed that there would be far fewer journeys by car by the time that he left office, but by abandoning the reduction target, he knows that he has failed.
Lord Macdonald, now appointed as Transport Minister, said recently that improving the efficiency of engines is a more realistic way than traffic reduction of tackling pollution. We have been telling Labour that for years. The improvements that have taken place since 1992 in car technology have produced a substantial reduction in pollution—as the Automobile Association has demonstrated. That offers the Government lessons not only for the road programme but for the fuel duty escalator. The reduction in pollution resulting from technology took place after the Conservative Government introduced the escalator. The escalator is now irrelevant to tackling pollution.
We all know that the Secretary of State has been opposed to road building throughout his time in office. Because of that, there has been a complete lack of investment in road schemes, and traffic delays have increased by more than 10 per cent. over two years—as is shown by recent evidence from the AA—another example of failure. No doubt, that is why the Government are coming round to the view that they need to spend a bit more on roads. They should have realised that two years ago. Meanwhile, we have suffered the enormous inconvenience and problems caused by two years of delay and dithering.
What does the Bill add up to? I agree with the Secretary of State that the measures dealing with NATS are by far the most important. On 11 November, a letter was sent to all Conservative colleagues on this subject, containing one of the most devastating criticisms of NATS. It was written by one of my colleagues and made three major criticisms. The first was that
Labour proposed a three-way split of NATS shares.As a result of that and the
"special voting arrangements… to protect the interest of the private sector partner"
there was confusion as to who would control NATS. The letter asked:
Who will take ultimate responsibility? Will a minority stake give majority voting rights?The second criticism was about possible foreign ownership. The third was thatin opting for their scheme and abandoning ours"—that is the Conservative approach
Labour have delayed badly-needed investment.How true that is; as I pointed out earlier, investment has been delayed. The writer of the letter continued:
In direct contrast to Labour's position, we favour a straightforward privatisation of NATS. Shares would be issued to the public and to staff. We would establish an independent regulator to police the highest safety standards. Significant funds for badly-needed investment in air traffic control would be raised.At the time, I nearly wrote to the writer to congratulate him on producing one of the best brief pieces that I had read on the Government's proposals. The letter concluded:
They appear to allow a foreign-owned investor to control Britain's airways by holding a minority of the shares. They will not generate as much investment as a simple privatisation. They continue to delay investment… Labour's plans are complicated573and opaque. The commonsense Conservative alternative would deliver the highest levels of safety and investment through a simple and transparent privatisation.The letter described Labour's U-turn since coming to office. It was written by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward). Last week, I had intended to read it out and compliment him on the succinct way in which he put the case. I have to say to him—no longer as my hon. Friend—that I hope that he will stick to his guns, and that he will support our policies as he did two weeks ago.
The workplace levy will impose a further burden on businesses at precisely the time that they do not want such burdens. I notice from information provided by the Local Government Association that only a fifth of local authorities are willing even to pilot such a scheme, given suitable guidance, which they do not believe that they have received yet. I believe that, given the formidable opposition that there will be locally, very few of those local authorities will ever put forward schemes.
If that is true of the workplace levy, it is even more true of the road congestion tax. There are very many powerful arguments against introducing such a tax; let me outline a few. 1 understand that £1 in every £3 of revenue raised will be spent on administration. That must make it one of the costliest administrative schemes in terms of the relationship between administrative costs and revenue raised. Traffic will avoid the areas where there is congestion charging, thereby causing huge congestion just outside those areas. There will be problems about arbitrary boundaries. There will also be tremendous difficulties about deciding who will be exempted froth the road congestion tax—for example, the disabled and those whose journeys are necessary.
Perhaps the most formidable criticism is that, as the LGA has shown in its survey, only 6 per cent. of local authorities are willing even to pilot a road congestion charge scheme, given suitable guidance. No wonder the Secretary of State is saying that congestion charges will not be introduced until the year 2005. I venture to predict that very few local authorities will introduce such a scheme in the year 2005. As that date will be well beyond the next general election, it is a complete waste of time to include that proposal in the Bill.
I take a different view about motorway tolling, for which I remain a strong advocate. As I pointed out in the Queen's Speech debate, I had obtained agreement from the Treasury for the hypothecation of motorway tolling, as was made clear in the consultation document that we published. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to that. Therefore, motorway tolling is not a new concept. It is a sensible way of getting extra resources into transport, because the money that is paid by those who use the motorways will be used to improve the motorway system. As every hon. Member knows, so many motorways still need major improvement but are not getting it.
Motorway tolling is a sensible proposal, and would be workable once the required technology was available. I strongly criticise the Government for running down the relevant technology programme, not pushing it forward. In fact, they are taking up the wrong type of congestion charging. They should have gone for motorway tolling, instead of going for something that poses many more formidable difficulties, which will not work and which will not be introduced any way.
574 While I am on the subject of hypothecation, I want to say something about the Secretary of State's proposals on fuel duty escalators and the hypothecation of those revenues. As so many hon. Members have pointed out, the crucial issue is whether those funds will amount to genuine additionality. I have a shrewd suspicion that the Treasury knows perfectly well that the funds will be a replacement for money that it would otherwise claw back. In other words, there will be no additionality.
The other problem is that such money as goes to transport from the fuel duty escalator will not necessarily benefit the people who have to carry the burden of the extra fuel duty. That is especially true in rural areas. Rural motorists, very often of modest means, will suffer most from that fuel duty increase, and yet they will see no substantial benefits from the revenue. Unlike motorway tolling, this hypothecation does not work; it will not benefit those who have to pay.
I should have liked to refer to Strategic Rail Authority, but I will conclude. I always recognised that rail privatisation would need development and change as it moved along. I especially support the idea of longer franchises. That is sensible because it enables the franchisees to invest. I had hoped to extend the franchises myself. However, the Bill poses the real risk of too much interference by the Government and too much of a return to public sector interference. I hope that that threat will be probed hard in Committee.
The Bill simply does not measure up to the claims that the Secretary of State has made for it. Of its four measures, one is badly thought through, two are irrelevant because they will not be implemented, and on rail many questions must be asked to ensure that the legislation will not reverse many of the benefits that we have achieved from railway privatisation.
§ Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. Many hon. Members are aware that I have a strong constituency interest in the issue of National Air Traffic Services. Although I agree with my hon. Friends who have welcomed other aspects of the Bill, I want to confine my remarks to voicing several concerns about the proposed public-private partnership for NATS. I hope that Ministers will be prepared to listen to those concerns, which have been expressed by many of my constituents, and adapt their proposals in a way that would enable the Government to achieve their objectives while reaching a consensus among all the parties involved, with the possible exception of the Conservative party.
NATS has been in the front of my mind for a considerable time—since just before the most recent general election, to be precise—but that is not the only reason why I feel that its future must be resolved without further delay. In particular, I am concerned about the completion of the new Scottish centre and the flight data processing system 2— FDPS2—private finance initiative contract at Atlantic house in Prestwick. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that PPP is the best way to secure that investment.
I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on the experience of those who actually work in Prestwick. There is a legacy of mistrust dating back to the previous Government, and I must inform my hon. Friends that the work force at Atlantic house no longer believe that the new Scottish
575 centre will go ahead under any structure, far less PPP. Previous Conservative Governments made several attempts to privatise air traffic control—all of which met with overwhelming opposition and did not go ahead. Swanwick and the two PH projects that the Tories introduced in Scotland have been unmitigated disasters, and Swanwick was only recently set on track. For many years, the investment required by NATS has been far too slow in coming. When Swanwick was eventually brought on stream, it had totally unrealistic time scales. That was partly due to political pressure. I am sure that, by now, everyone is aware of the situation since then.
The Tories called into question the two-centre strategy—did we need a centre at both Swanwick and Prestwick? I find it ironic that the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) is blaming the present Government for delays in investment. As long ago as 1993, a PFI contract was agreed for the new Scottish centre. As it turned out, that would have been a scandalous waste of public money and would have been totally unworkable. Those of us who are concerned about Prestwick and want it to go ahead bought into the PFI after the general election, initially because it was the only show in town. Every effort was made to make it workable, but we now know that it was not.
The previous Government must have been aware of the debacle at Swanwick and, for that matter, at Prestwick. If they were not, they certainly should have been. In the past two and a half years, I have had quite a lot of time to reflect on the issue, and I have had reason to wonder why my predecessor had so very little to say, because he was not known as a shrinking violet when it came to expressing his views. What was he doing on a matter so crucial to the constituency? Given all that history and the sorry tales of indecision, delays and absolutely no strategic direction for NATS, can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, or anyone else, be surprised that the work force is sceptical, frustrated and angry, and that morale is at an all-time low?
Just before the general election, the Labour party announced that privatisation could not be ruled out. That was in the context of a black hole in the public finances, when the Tories had already included in their forecasts their estimate of the receipts from privatisation. That led to widespread dismay in my constituency at least, given the previous record on the issue.
The question that must be answered is why something that is so crucial to public safety was regarded as a no-go area one day, but acceptable for privatisation the next. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State now proposes a public-private partnership, but says that that is not privatisation by another name. I suggest that some of his difficulties in that regard date back to the first announcement. Unfortunately, the proposal now lacks credibility for those who work at Atlantic house in Prestwick.
Given all the problems, delays and indecisions that I have outlined, it was never going to be easy for my right hon. Friend to come up with a solution to the problem. I realise and accept, as do most of those to whom I have spoken, that greater commercial freedom is required to provide the necessary investment for the future needs of NATS. No one is opposed to PPP in principle; the issue is the form that that should take. If the Government 576 conclude that there is only one viable way forward, they should justify it in detail and tell us why it is better than the other options proposed.
My right hon. Friend has already taken some of our concerns on board through the stakeholders council, but discussion is needed on its powers. What will it do? He has pledged to protect the pensions of both existing and retired employees. I have raised that issue with him, and I welcome his commitment on that together with his assurances on preventing any surplus from being removed from the scheme through the trust deed.
Much has been made of the issue of safety, and my right hon. Friend will be aware that air traffic controllers are questioning the proposal. Therefore, I should like to share with the House some of the worries that the air traffic controllers in my constituency have raised with me. They believe that safety will be compromised—not deliberately, but unavoidably —because of the controlling interest of the profit motive and the need to earn dividends for shareholders. NATS cannot boost profits in the short to medium term by putting up charges. Therefore, it is feared that the only alternative is to reduce running costs. For example, the controllers point to the wholesale redundancies in the railway industry following privatisation.
There have already been cuts in the number of air traffic control staff during the past five years—despite a 20 per cent. increase in traffic over the same period—because of Government and airline pressure to keep costs down. As we all know, controllers and engineers work under immense pressure, struggling to keep pace with record levels of traffic and working with ageing equipment. There is a tremendous fear that that pressure will be added to by a private sector company that is likely to focus on working time as a means to reducing costs.
Controllers hours are currently regulated to minimise fatigue and to reduce the likelihood of accidents. NATS has enhanced arrangements that recognise the exceptionally busy airspace in, for example, the London area, where controllers take a break every 90 minutes rather than the statutory two hours. That is obviously expensive in staffing terms and is seen as an easy target for a cost-cutting private sector owner.
It has also been alleged to me that the incidence of air crews in British Airways using the captain's discretion to exceed duty flying time has risen dramatically since the privatisation of the company. Can the Minister confirm that? The fact that private companies own airport air traffic control centres has also been mentioned. I have been informed that most breaches of the regulations covering air traffic control hours investigated by the safety regulation group of the Civil Aviation Authority occur in private airports, where low staffing levels can result in controllers working beyond the two hours limit or staying on beyond the end of a shift. The response of such operators is not to increase staffing levels so that they can cope, but to seek changes in legislation to allow them to continue with their current practices.
There are also concerns that investment decisions will be based on commercial rather than safety factors. The example is cited of the privately owned Belfast international airport, which has already been mentioned in the debate. It refused to pay for a vital secondary radar system, despite a recommendation that it was necessary 577 following a serious near miss, because a nearby competitor—Belfast city airport, which is also private—would benefit from the equipment.
A further issue arises from the relationship between NATS and the general aviation community of flying clubs and small operators. They do not, at the moment, need airline operating certificates. Unless they are in controlled airspace, they are under no obligation to contact air traffic control. However, they are encouraged to do so to ensure that controllers are aware of all the traffic movements across the system. NATS provides several air traffic control services free of charge for that reason. It is thought that charges are likely to be introduced by a private company and that that may result in small operators being less willing to maintain contact with air traffic control, thereby reducing safety for other airspace users.
We have already heard that NATS management has a first-class operational record, but a dismal record on project management for investment. I agree that that problem should be addressed, but how will that be done in the context of an imperative to expand NATS business? Will my right hon. Friend find a way to access private sector expertise and investment for capital projects, distinct from the operational function?
I know that my right hon. Friend very strongly refutes the accusation that he is jeopardising safety and that he feels that his plans to separate the safety function from the operational function are sufficient. However, air traffic controllers in my constituency have expressed to me their serious and genuine concerns—and, after all, they are in a position to know. It is incumbent upon me, as the local Member of Parliament, to raise those concerns in the debate, and therefore I would be grateful if the Minister would tell me how they will be dealt with under PPP.
I return to the issue that is of most concern to me, and which is my priority in the debate. I refer to the completion of two projects: FDPS2 and the new Scottish centre. Over the past two and a half years, I have been given repeated assurances that the projects would go ahead and that the Government were committed to the two-centre strategy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) has already referred to that.
I have rehearsed some of the history of the projects, but the recent position is that further delays have been caused by the change from funding and the knock-on effect of the Swanwick delays. The first phase has been started with public money, and I very much welcome that, but when will the second phase begin? I am aware that the Government introduced the projects to ensure that the operational infrastructure would meet growing demand and would fit in with their wider plans for PPP for NATS.
At the time when the original tender documents were issued, NATS estimated that the centre would be needed in about 2000, but the latest estimated date is 2005 or 2006. Is the new Scottish centre being further delayed because of PPP discussions? Does my right hon. Friend and his colleagues understand that that is leading to further disillusionment, and scepticism at Prestwick that there is any intention of ever having a new Scottish centre? My constituents are fed up with the speculation and doubt.
Again, the centre is being used as a political football in the debate. Parties such as the Scottish National party took no interest in the issue until they sensed the possibility 578 of some political air miles. Given the activities of SNP Members, those air miles will not get them even to the end of the runway. They are so interested in the issue that they cannot even be bothered to attend the debate. However, I understand that the SNP intends to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament, which has no power to deal with it. It should come to Westminster and be dealt with as a reserved issue here.
In addition to the speculation about the new Scottish centre, I am aware of problems with the PFI contract for FDPS2. Conservative Members have the audacity to talk about a botched PPP and the delays caused by this Government, but they left nothing but disaster in their wake. Will my hon. Friend the Minister inform the House of the current status of the project? Will it go ahead under the present contractor, or is it the intention to incorporate it into the PPP? Will there then be further delays?
Last week, I heard the Transport Minister, my noble Friend Lord Macdonald, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), give evidence to the Transport Sub-Committee. I join with others in paying tribute to the work of the Committee. It has taken detailed evidence on the subject, which has been useful, and its view should be taken seriously. However, I am worried because my noble Friend inferred that the new Scottish centre would not go ahead if PPP was rejected. I have the same fear about the Oceanic project. I am very aware of the time scales involved, so will my hon. Friend the Minister tell us about the implications for the two projects?
It was stated earlier that the two-centre strategy may be written into the Bill. Will the Government accept an amendment in my name, at a later stage in the proceedings, to achieve that? That would go a long way towards quelling fears in Scotland, particularly in my constituency, about investment that is so important to our economy.
§ Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)
I must declare an interest as I receive an income from two energy groups.
I listened to the speech by the Secretary of State and found myself moved by his introductory remarks, in which he catalogued the way in which he has, over several decades, taken an interest in transport policy. He is genuinely an idealist, but he must know, when he looks at himself in the mirror, that the Bill bears no relation to his ambitions and will make almost no difference to transport in this country. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) issued a devastating critique of the Bill and described those parts of it that are absolutely irrelevant.
I fear that the Secretary of State and his team have simply parted company with reality. During the past hour and a half, while we have been sitting here in air-conditioned luxury, sprawling on our green Benches with plenty of room about us, the experience of our constituents has been extremely different. They have been making their way home from work in extraordinarily crowded conditions. They have been shoved into trains or they have been sitting in traffic jams. Common sense tells us that transport in this country needs not more reviews, which we heard the hon. Member for West Bromwich,
579 East (Mr. Snape) call for, or more co-ordination, regulation and interference, as promised in the Bill, but more capacity.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk was Transport Secretary, he gave us more capacity, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) when he was in that post. If commuters on their way home this evening hear that the House is debating the first major Transport Bill for many years—a 258-page Bill of 231 clauses and 26 schedules—will they not ask how much new capacity the Bill will provide, how many new railway lines will be built, and how much easier the Bill will make people's journeys? The answer is that it will make no difference to anybody's journey or to transport capacity.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice
How many miles of new railway were constructed during the 18 years of Conservative Government?
§ Mr. Portillo
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how many miles were constructed, but I can tell him that we constructed the Jubilee line extension, the docklands light railway, the Manchester metrolink, the new tram system in Sheffield and the channel tunnel, and we implemented the electrification of the east coast main line. Those are all Conservative achievements. In the two and a half years during which this Government have been in power, they have not even mentioned the possibility that they might build more railway lines.
In an Opposition day debate about 10 days ago, we demonstrated clearly and conclusively that the amount of investment now going into London Underground is less than it was under the previous Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire pointed out that despite the great hype about investment over the next 10 years, the amount is smaller than that in the investment programme that was bequeathed to the Government.
Over the past two and a half years, we have seen the Secretary of State's transport policy sagging and collapsing like a tired souffle. We have seen him regularly out-manoeuvred by the Treasury. We have seen him denied funds and duped. Quite honestly, I feel sorry for the right hon. Gentleman. The last time that he was here we intimated to him that he was about to lose his job and responsibilities, and he scowled at us—and once he even waved his fist. None the less, there has been a change of ministerial responsibilities since then and certainly a change of rhetoric, if not of policy.
Last week, we saw the insulting sight of the Prime Minister travelling by tube to the dome. Why was that insulting? Because he did it for the television cameras, as a publicity gimmick, which further demonstrated the extent to which the Government are completely out of touch with what their constituents are experiencing.
All that the Bill introduces is a call for co-ordination, integration and regulation. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) loves that stuff. She is much more interested in the extent to which transport is regulated, planned and controlled than in how much transport is provided for people to travel on. It is of no 580 interest to her that we now have more bus and rail services—something of which the Government themselves boast—because that has not been planned. There was an intimation of what might result from the Bill when the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said that he looked forward to having a Strategic Rail Authority so that it could plan the seats on trains. Is that really the sort of minimalist intervention that we seek from the Government?
I heard the Transport Minister, Lord Macdonald, on the radio this morning, and it was clear to me that he had effected a major U-turn in his rhetoric. It was, frankly, pathetic and insulting to the intelligence not only of Parliament, but of the people of this country for him to say that he was able to effect that U-turn because he had just discovered that technological changes in the petrol engine would make it possible for us to achieve our environmental target without cutting the amount of traffic. The Government clearly have a dim view of the intelligence of the British people.
I noticed during the course of that interview that Lord Macdonald seemed to be extremely vague about the details of the Bill. That is all that we can expect now that our Transport Minister is in another place. Why should he care what the Commons is doing today? I have not observed anyone from another place here today to see what we are about. Perhaps that vagueness more precisely reflects the fact that Lord Macdonald does know what is of interest to the travelling public—and he knows that the Bill is irrelevant to that, which is why he is apparently ignorant of the Bill's contents.
If I am a member of the Standing Committee that considers the Bill, there is something that I should like to discover from Labour Members. I want to know why they have declared war on poor people who would like to drive. The only means that the Government have of controlling the amount of traffic on our roads is to price people off the roads. From what I know of my constituents, as they go up the income scale, they long to achieve greater mobility by getting four wheels. Buying a battered old Datsun and being able to take the family around when they choose, how they choose and whither they choose, is a great step forward. For our constituents, that is the great achievement of freedom. The Labour party's only answer for controlling traffic is to slap enormous charges on those who want to drive.
We have had an increase in fuel duties. It is no good saying that the fuel duty escalator was invented by the previous Government. Another 12p per litre has been imposed by this Government. Are they going to say that they are absolutely incapable of making any change? That increase was their decision. They have made it difficult for people on low incomes to drive. All hon. Members know that well-off people are completely indifferent to charging, yet the Bill contains proposals to impose more taxes on people who drive. That is yet another example of the way in which the well off will be able to move about at will, while the poor will be denied the opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Portillo
No, I am running out of time.
The Bill completely misses its target. We improve transport by providing more capacity. It is possible that some structural changes will increase capacity. 581 The structural changes that we made to the bus industry through deregulation, and to the railways through privatisation, meant that new operators came forward and new capacity was provided. The Bill appears to move in the other direction. It will move us away from deregulation and privatisation—the policies that have been successful.
Ministers often boast about the fact that we have more than 1,000 new rail services and more than 1,000 new bus services, but do they not understand that those have been created by allowing freedom, but the Bill will move us in the other direction? [Interruption.] It is all very well hon. Members shouting at me, but it was the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East—as a director of a bus company, he has to be in touch with reality—who pointed out that there were more services.
One part of the Bill makes a structural change and can improve capacity: the part that deals with NATS. Of course, if one creates a structure in which more investment can be forthcoming and in which there can be greater innovation and enterprise, it is possible to create new capacity. That is why, in principle, we are in favour of privatisation.
I must echo the words of the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) in the letter that was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk a moment ago. This is a thoroughly botched privatisation. What do we mean by that? We mean that the company may be thoroughly confused because it comprises a Government holding and a commercial company's 46 per cent. stake. The commercial company may be British or foreign. If it is foreign, it may not be all that commercial. If it is Thompson CSF, there will be a 40 per cent. French Government stakeholding. What an extraordinary mess to get us into.
The Deputy Prime Minister clearly did not understand the point about the proceeds. The explanatory memorandum makes it absolutely clear that it is anticipated that the proceeds will be £350 million, but that £300 million of that will have to be paid in debt write-off and £35 million in expenses, which will leave only £15 million. The right hon. Gentleman said that the proceeds may not be £350 million. He is absolutely right—they could be great deal less. The proceeds from the sale could be negative.
The other point that the Deputy Prime Minister did not understand was clause 49. I could tell that he did not understand it because when I tried to intervene on him, he ran away in terror. He clearly did not want to discuss the point. He had already said—I hope that Hansard bears me out on this—in reply to a question from my Front-Bench team that, for national security reasons, we needed to be able to repeal the golden share clause in secondary legislation. What an extraordinary thing to say. Why?
Labour Members who are worried about NATS privatisation—the public-private partnership—should consider that the golden share, which is their only guarantee of Government control, can be repealed not by primary legislation, as is usual, but by simply putting an order through the House. The golden share on which they are pinning all their hopes could be repealed by minor secondary legislation. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench—by huffing and puffing and blowing, they have changed ministerial responsibility, Government rhetoric and Government policy.
582 In Committee, it is possible for the Labour party to change Government policy: it can be done. All that Labour Members have to do is serve on the Committee and vote in the right way. This Government fall over when anyone blows hard enough. All Labour Members have to do is come with us and vote with us. To do that will require courage, and I shall spell that: C-O-U-R-A-G-E. If Labour Members are really concerned about the privatisation of NATS, all they have to do is serve on the Committee or turn up on Report and vote down the proposal. This Government are not as strong as they look. It is in the hands of Labour Members to join us to defeat aspects of the Bill that they find objectionable. If they do not do so, the fault will lie with them and it will be on their conscience.
§ Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
I do miss the late Alan Clark.
Given that Heathrow airport and the London area and terminal control centre at West Drayton are in my constituency, hon. Members will understand why I shall concentrate on the parts of the Bill that deal with air traffic control.
I should say at the outset that I have no doubts about the Government's commitment to safety or about the Deputy Prime Minister's lifelong commitment to the transport industry and safety. What bewilders a number of us is why, so soon after the commitment that we gave that the air was not for sale, part of the air is to be sold. We ask: what has changed?
I shall deal with some of the Government's arguments that have been set out by Lord Macdonald. The first is that the Bill separates safety regulation from service provision. There is now consensus on that; we support the division and welcome the implementation of the proposal as soon as possible. We believe that it will enhance safety.
The second argument is that the National Air Traffic Services proposal will make charging policy in the industry more transparent. Such greater transparency is welcome in the industry overall. There have been other proposals in the public sector to achieve that end. Another argument was that the proposal would enable NATS to expand its operation overseas. Although there has not been much evidence of that overseas market, such expansion would not require part privatisation, as the public-private partnership proposal.
Another argument is that the proposal will free the service from the constraints of the Treasury, and that it will introduce a structure of incentives and disciplines to maximise efficiency. Let us be clear that the objective on both sides of the House is a modern, safe, efficient, well supplied and investment-rich service. We all agree on that. We on the Labour Benches are very clear that wholesale privatisation would be disastrous. We do not want a rerun of British Rail privatisation, from which it appears the Opposition have learned no lessons. A number of us in our constituencies along the Great Western line have learned several lessons from both Southall and Paddington.
We also agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that we need to get round what he described as "silly Treasury rules". There is a need for long-term, stable investment in air traffic control services, for which NATS staff have been crying out. The service makes a profit for the
583 Treasury, and it should be able to modernise and be planned on a stable basis. That does not require the sell-off of the majority shareholding; there are alternatives that do not put safety in the skies at risk.
Our problem is that anyone who has argued for such alternatives has been told that they do so either for industrial or ideological reasons. I regret the allegation that my constituents who are air traffic controllers argue on industrial grounds. Their views, and now those of airline pilots, must be respected as the considered opinions of professionals who are dedicated to the safe and efficient delivery of their services. I resent any allegation that air traffic controllers are motivated by some selfish industrial reasons—far from it. In opposing the sell-off of NATS, they are rejecting the share out of anything up to £25 million-worth of shares. That is not some selfish industrial motive.
It is also argued that we are opposing the proposal for ideological reasons. It is quite the reverse; this is a mirror image of ideology. The Government's argument appears to be based on an ideological bias against the public sector—public sector bad, private sector good. That runs contrary to everything that the Prime Minister has stated. He has said that we must aim to let the public sector do what it is best at, and the private sector what it is best at. NATS is run efficiently, effectively and, above all, safely in the public sector.
We take the clear view that, if there are failings of management or problems on project management resulting from a failure to achieve contract management, the management should be changed, not the service sold off. If the management is poor, it should be replaced with a more effective one that, yes, may be drawn from some elements of private sector expertise. However, I give a warning if there is to be blind faith in private sector management—I have worked in both, public and private.
Let us look no further than the Railtrack investment programme. The Booz-Allen and Hamilton report demonstrated that, as a result of poor management, 22 per cent. of the service was not up to the quality expected. Look at tube service investment by private-sector management of individual projects: a private-sector company, Adtrans, could not even properly measure the gauge in respect of the provision of track and carriages to the London tube, thus delaying improvements to the Central line.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston has argued that there should be a structure for incentives and disciplines to maximise efficiency—in short, the profit motive. However, I believe that there is a potential conflict between profit and safety. The Secretary of State says that the argument that the profit motive undermines safety has not been proven—but it has been proven to the professionals who run the service. In their submission to the Government, they say that the concerns of NATS staff about a public-private partnership are founded on the experience of other privatised industries, and they drew a parallel with Railtrack and the rail industry.
Mr. Justice Scott-Baker said about the rail industry
There may be a conflict between profit and safety.584 On 25 October, the former head of fire safety for British Rail said on the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme that safety standards had been "compromised" by privatisation. On "Panorama", Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, conceded
It is impossible to keep everybody happy at the same time. It is actually at the moment unmanageable. We cannot… keep shareholders happy at the same time as fulfilling our public service obligations, and that tension is just massive, and it is at the heart of our unpopularity.Air traffic controllers are clearly concerned that the profit motive will undermine safety. We should rely on the judgment of those operating the service before proceeding further along the path proposed. In their submission, the controllers state that the primary objective of the strategic partner should be, not profit, but safety of flight, security of investment and sensible capacity for future growth.
It has been said that there is no safety problem affecting the air industry generally, but I beg to differ. Last week's debate about air safety revealed that commercial pressures put on pilots and others were putting the industry's record at risk; those pressures arise from profit motivation. It is interesting to note that the role of air traffic control is to ensure safety by mediating between different private companies and the pressures they put on air space. Therefore, we are proposing today to privatise part of the regulation service that keeps our skies safe.
Concerns about safety have not been adequately heeded. We have to listen to what the experts who have, over the years, built up the safety culture are saying to us. We have to ask how we can generate increased stable investment and introduce more effective management while maintaining the safety culture and denying the introduction of the profit motive. There are alternatives. I urge the Government to think again and to review the options that have been put to them. We have to consider how we can introduce a not-for-profit motivation—one that is based on professionalism and regulation, not on the fast buck.
The future should not lie in the profit ethos, but in consideration of other proposals, such as those that have been advanced by the airline industry. The Airline Group, comprising major airline companies, has submitted a proposal to purchase the shareholding and said that it sees an opportunity to run the service on a not-for-commercial-return basis. Given the participants in that group and their direct interest in future charges for the services, it is not surprising that the proposal has met with a degree of scepticism and incredulity.
However, if there is to be a purchase, the possibility of a not-for-commercial-return group gives us an opportunity constructively and creatively to examine ways to enshrine a guarantee that the system will not be run for profit in perpetuity, or in the long term. One of the proposals that has been put forward by operators, air traffic controllers and pilots is that the any sale should lead to the creation of a trust, run on a not-for-profit or not-for-commercial-gain basis. In that way, future investment and future safety would be consolidated within a structure in which we could all have confidence.
The Government and the Select Committee considered the Canadian trust option, and detailed arguments in support of such proposals were laid out by the Committee. However, the Government rejected the Canadian option 585 too lightly and too swiftly. I plead for that option to be revisited in the Committee on the Bill. It would provide an opportunity to effect a sale, if necessary, and thus a substantial capital receipt, to introduce an element of new management, to create greater accountability and transparency, and to expand overseas—an objective to which the Government appear to be committed. However, it would also provide a guarantee that the service would not be run for profit and that pressures would not be put on the service and staff to reduce conditions or operational costs in such a way as to put safety at risk.
At Heathrow, there are 500,000 transport movements every year. Those movements pass over the heads of my constituents, and I cannot vote for a measure that in any way puts at risk their safety. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow, some as air traffic controllers, so I have to listen to their views. Their views are strong and straightforward: they believe that the Government's proposals will undermine the safety ethos. That will not happen immediately, or overnight; it will occur through a slow process of erosion and will, inevitably, put my constituents at risk in their homes and at work.
I urge the Government to think again about the trust option. That constructive proposal would guarantee safety, provide the income needed and allow long-term investment. In that way, when the Bill returns to the House, we shall be able to support unanimously a constructive plan, instead of having to rehearse the arid arguments of privatisation.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) made a brave speech. It will be interesting to see how Ministers respond to his pleas. He clearly conveyed to Opposition Members that good old-fashioned Labour, with its great distrust of the private sector, is alive and well. If the Government allow that mood to spread, where will that leave Labour?
I do not intend to debate NATS, but to examine the Bill in terms of its relevance to my Lancashire constituency and to the wider transport issues that face the United Kingdom. As I sat on a Virgin train that was an hour and three quarters late getting into London, I thought about what I would say in this debate—other than to vent my anger at the delay in that particular form of public transport getting me from A to B. That journey reminded me that the purpose of a transport system is to enable people to get from A to B as quickly as possible, with minimum environmental impact, at good value for money.
I have searched the Bill and the preceding White Paper to find a mission statement or definition that reflects most people's expectations of a transport system, but none have I found. Instead, I find that the Bill is an odd ragbag of measures. The Bill shows that, in many of Labour's activities, the Government and the Deputy Prime Minister are still following the Pontius Pilate approach: they wash their hands of the difficult issues and hand them on to someone else.
As Conservative Members have said, many local authorities will be reluctant to go down the unpopular route of workplace parking or local congestion charges. If nothing else, in competing for business and enterprise, they will suddenly find the town next door saying that it is a charge-free zone. It will be interesting to see how Labour authority will be set against Labour authority by the measure.
586 Much of what the Deputy Prime Minister said was an attempt to denigrate the previous Government, as if they had had no transport policy. Our developments of the national motorway network, our opening of the door to more investment in rail, our financing and helping of metrolink in Manchester, the Tyneside light rail system and the developments in Croydon, and so on, show that we nailed our colours to the mast. We believed in public transport and put our money where our mouth was.
In contrast, the background to this Bill is that the motorist has become the Government's milch cow for cash. As for the logic of their policies, one has only to consider the Deputy Prime Minister's bizarre decision not to continue the treble carriageway route out to the M40. Within weeks of coming into office, despite the public expense undertaken to increase the size of that corridor, one of the Government's first contributions to improving transport was to maintain congestion to the west of London.
I want to consider the Bill as it affects my constituents. Their problem is getting from north to south on the motorway network. The M6 has become a nightmare. Anyone attempting the journey from Birmingham to Preston on a Friday would have to allow nearly the whole day. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said, the Government have lost two years in dealing with that. My constituents are anxious for developments on the west coast main line and are glad that our privatisations opened the door to more capital for that. The Bill and the accompanying White Paper offer no encouragement for developing a light rail system on the Fylde coast to link Fleetwood, Blackpool, Lytham St. Anne's and Preston. Such a system could revolutionise our area.
A briefing from the Institution of Civil Engineers brings home some facts. In a country where motor vehicles dominate movements of both passengers and freight, the cost of congestion is estimated at £20 billion. The British road system is the most congested in western Europe. In relation to land area, the British motorway network is one of the smallest in Europe. The state of maintenance of our roads is worse than when the Government came into office. The Bill does nothing to address those problems.
That is hardly surprising when one considers the research by W.S. Atkins on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in assessing whether anything in the Bill would have a measurable, meaningful effect on traffic growth, particularly in the urban environment. This recently published research suggests that even implementing the most radical White Paper policies, such as congestion charging using the powers in the Bill, would result only in arresting the rate of traffic growth nationally. That means that even if the rate of traffic growth is arrested, we will still face an undercapacity problem in our transport system. The Government suggest no solution to that.
Going back to the M6, there is nothing in the Bill or the White Paper—apart from the Birmingham northern relief road—that offers one ounce of extra capacity on that vital north-south link. There is no suggestion of additional lanes. I recognise that building a duplicate M6 is off the agenda, but we face serious constraints. The Government should reconsider because their own research shows that we have a serious undercapacity problem in our transport system.
587 In a document deposited in the Library at the beginning of the month, the publication, "Local Transport Today" states that the Commission for Integrated Transport, which was set up by the Government to consider the impact of charging on congestion, said that theevidence shows that with a cordon charge of £2.50 a day in all conurbations, coupled with a £3,000 workplace parking levy and limited motorway tolling, traffic is still set to rise overall by 21 per cent. between 1996 and 2010.Whichever way we look at it, independent and objective assessment of the measures put forward in the Bill as the solution to our transport problems shows that they have already been found wanting.
§ Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Institution of Civil Engineers. Is he aware that it states:
The inclusion in the Bill of powers for local authorities to impose charging for workplace parking and use of roads creates potentially very effective tools to tackle congestion. The establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority should give the necessary strategic leadership to a rail sector which has lacked this since its fragmentation and privatisation.There is evidence on the other side.
§ Mr. Jack
The people who make up that institution have a vested interest. Most are representatives of, and paid by, local authorities. They are hardly likely to bite the hand that feeds them. It may well be that they are not yet aware of the independent work to which I referred.
Motorists will resile from the truth about the Government's much professed interest in investing in transport infrastructure. It emerges from paragraph 236 of the explanatory memorandum, which states:The local authority road charging and parking levy schemes might generate up to £1 billion net annually by 2005".That is another £40 per motorist of additional taxation. Is it not remarkable that when the Government talk about investment, they mean, yet again, attacking the motorist? As my right hon. Friends the Members for Kensington and Chelsea and for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) noted, rural motorists and low-income families are the people most affected by the proposals.
As for all the guff about the Strategic Rail Authority bringing new investment, paragraph 4.31 of the White Paper says that the franchising director, who will come under the new authority, will have new money to invest in the railway system. However, paragraph 2.37 of the explanatory memorandum states:
The creation of the Strategic Rail Authority is not expected to create any significant requirement for additional public expenditure.There we have it in black and white in the Government's own material. There will be no new money from public sources to inject cash into the rail system. The Government are fond of their own rhetoric but the reality tells a different story.
I am interested in some of the details in the Bill about how the proposals will work. Clause 92 deals with local transport plans, which are a key part of the Government's 588 approach, especially in respect of road traffic congestion charges, because the money from that and workplace parking is supposed to sustain the plans. It states:
Each local transport authority must develop and implement plans for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport.What a wonderful sentence, but what is the definition of all that? How will we judge the effectiveness of those plans, when the Government refuse to supply any kind of national benchmark so that we can measure whether their policies are improving the nation's transport?
§ Mr. Jack
No, I am afraid that time forbids me. I have taken one intervention already.
The Government are fond of league tables of performance in education and just about every other area, to show that their judgment is getting better, but on transport, they are remarkably silent. The only thing that they want is an intermodal change, so that people move from one mode to another, but we do not know whether the fundamentals of the transport system will be improved.
We find in clause 140, on road user charging, thata local charging scheme may only be made if it appears desirable for the purpose of directly or indirectly facilitating the achievement of policies in the charging authority's local transport plan.I love the word "indirectly". It moves us a long way from measurable gains resulting from those charges.
Clause 145, which deals with charging schemes, reveals that the Deputy Prime Minister will eventually approve such schemes. The clause refers to them beingconfirmed by the appropriate national authority".I wonder what British Aerospace in my constituency, which employs 6,000 people and has a couple of thousand workplace parking places for skilled aerospace engineers from all over Lancashire, will think of that? It will be a huge additional cost on BAe's highly competitive business. There is not a prayer of a public transport system bringing those skilled workers from all over the north-west of England to work at that location. I do not see how there will be any gain from that proposal.
The Government speak of diminishing out-of-town shopping, and the renaissance of the city centre, but then propose a mechanism to impose a charge on people who will invest in the city centre and build shoppers' car parks. Wait till customers suddenly twig that the cost of goods in Tesco and Sainsbury's will rise because the Government plan to tax the supermarket car park space. It is the politics of the madhouse, but such are the Government's policies.
In a rational world, peer group pressure exists. Drinking and driving has effectively been eliminated through being perceived as anti-social, because people were convinced by the arguments. The Government must convince people of the benefits of public transport. I believe in it, but it needs up-front investment.
The capacity of the public transport system must be expanded, if people are to be persuaded to shift from their motor cars. There is nothing in the manana world of the Bill to achieve that. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk spoke of the measures taking 589 effect in 2005, he pointed exactly to the Government's problem—long on promises, long on rhetoric and short on delivery.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
After that speech, who could be blamed for believing that the Conservatives left us with a transport system that was firing on all four cylinders, and that the problems on the M6 began in May 1997? How ludicrous! The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) spoke of a light rail system in his constituency, which he knows would be the responsibility of the local highway authority under the local transport plan.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The schemes mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and others were funded by us. Where is the money to fund light rail schemes under the present Government? Can the hon. Gentleman name one light rail scheme that the Government have approved?
§ Mr. Prentice
The right hon. Member for Fylde mentioned integration. The Commission for Integrated Transport has studied a sample of local transport plans and made a pronouncement: the information is freely available. I suggest that before the hon. Gentleman gets hot under the collar, he looks at information that is in the public domain.
The former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), had the brass neck to say what he said without accepting any interventions. Despite the fact that, throughout his time as a transport Minister, spending on road maintenance went down, we never get a word of apology from him: he just brushes everything aside. The right hon. Gentleman had the temerity to suggest that local transport plans are no different from the system over which he presided, the TPP—transport policies and programmes—system. Again, that is ludicrous. These days, before any new road is built, a new system of appraisal examines not only transport matters but the scheme's implications for the local economy, jobs, the local environment, wildlife and so on. Those considerations were never built into the system about which the right hon. Gentleman waxed lyrical. His version was not history; it was manufactured.
I support the Bill—or at least most of it. Local transport plans are long overdue. I support the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority. I support the proposals in the Bill to deal with workplace congestion. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk proposed that in a Green Paper, yet he criticises what the Government are doing as though he had never thought of it himself. The proposal was contained in a document published by the Conservatives when they were in government but, like so many other things, has been airbrushed out of their history.
I have reservations about the public-private partnership for National Air Traffic Services, but I am certainly not going into the Lobby with the Conservatives, who want to privatise air traffic control. I am fearful of what would happen if it were privatised. The Conservatives looked into that when they were in government, but they saw the difficulties and backed off. A Government who privatised anything and everything that was not nailed down backed away from privatising NATS as being too hot to handle.
590 Amazingly, we are picking up the privatisation issue—hot to handle though it may be. If the air traffic controllers are against it, apparently it is their problem. If the pilots flying the planes are against it, apparently it is their problem. If 50 of my hon. Friends point out that the proposal was not in the Labour manifesto in May 1997, word goes out that it is their problem. I can only say that if the Government do not address the concerns of many people, both in this place and outside it, it will be their problem.
I pay tribute to the way in which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has moved the transport agenda forward. My right hon. Friend said that we needed the PPP to allow NATS to invest, citing the famous Treasury rules, which he said were too restrictive. But we are the Government, and no one has ever explained to me why we cannot change the Treasury rules. Is it impossible, with our majority? I see the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) nodding. I have much in common with Liberal Democrats on this issue, as on some others. Why can we not change the rules? We have again heard the mantra, "Private sector good, public sector bad", which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) mentioned. If project management in the public sector is useless, as we are hearing from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and from those on the Front Bench, the solution is not to privatise but to change the management. It is as simple as that.
There are penalty clauses in commercial contracts. If one side does not do what it is supposed to do, the penalty clauses are supposed to kick in. Why not use them? We are offered a comparison between the Jubilee line, which was a disaster, and the docklands light railway, run and managed by the private sector, which was brilliant. Everyone recognises—and the right hon. Member for Fylde will know this, as he was at the Institution of Civil Engineers when we touched on this—that tunnelling under London for the new Jubilee line was an immensely difficult engineering task. It is silly to compare the two. I hesitate to mention the TUC but I shall do so sotto voce, to say that it opposes the proposal and believes that the Government should fund the investment directly. They could do that, because they are awash with cash. We do not need to part-privatise NATS; the TUC suggests that it could be turned into an independent, publicly owned company based on the Post Office model. The briefing notes suggest that that is okay for the Post Office, but not for air traffic control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne), who is not in her place, made a suggestion about how to proceed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington also referred to it. Let all the options and all the pros and cons be set out, rather than just the preferred option, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, of the Government and the Prime Minister.
Why are the Government proposing partial privatisation? As I said earlier, it is not because we need the cash. When I met the Minister for Transport with some of my colleagues in the north-west last week, I pointed out that the explanatory memorandum suggested that the Government might get £350 million from the sale of NATS, and that a few weeks ago, the Government decided to spend £350 million to allow all over-75s a free television licence. That is exactly equivalent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) mentioned
591 the air passenger tax that the previous Government introduced, which generates more than £700 million every year in revenue. Yet we are told that there is no money to invest in air traffic control. The £1 billion figure does not frighten me: over 10 years, £1 billion is £100 million a year.
When the Conservatives sold British Rail for a song, they extinguished the entire debt of £19,000 million. I shall repeat that: £19,000 million was extinguished to make British Rail attractive to the private sector. No Labour Member genuinely embraces the privatisation policy enthusiastically; the Labour party outside the House repudiates it. We have been invited to embrace it because my good friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who constantly reminds us that he espouses traditional values in a modem setting, proposed it. That may work for 99.9 per cent. of the policies that he proposes, but not for this one.
We will not get anything like £350 million when such constraints are built into the sale. We are told that partnership directors will look after the public interest and will be able to cap dividends and cut the profits that the private sector company would like to distribute. Is that an attractive proposition for the private sector?
What about the all-important 5 per cent. that is to be shared among the staff? The calculation is this: 49 per cent. for the private sector; 46 per cent. for the public sector; and in the middle, performing a balancing act, NATS employees who get a share. What will happen to the shares? I assume that, at some stage, they will be traded on the market, as BT shares were traded. One day, someone will want to buy those shares. When I raised that with my noble Friend the Minister for Transport, it was suggested—the idea was not fully worked out—that there would be a period of five or seven years during which the shares could not be traded. What happens after that period? The shares will be traded, the private sector will buy them and NATS will be privatised. I do not want that to happen; no Labour Member supports that. Conservative Members who think they have scented blood will be disappointed this evening. For me, at least, the amendment is a shot across the Government's bows. Much debate is yet to take place in Committee to ensure that, whatever argument the Government devise, NATS remains in the public sector and does not generate profit.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)
I would like to say a few words about the way in which the Bill will affect Wales—and from the perspective of a Member of the National Assembly for Wales. I shall concentrate specifically on rail.
The Assembly recently debated the Government's legislative programme, and an amendment stating:the Assembly … calls on the First Secretary and the Secretary of State to seek to ensure that all Bills which impact on the functions and responsibilities of the Assembly are drafted in such a way as to permit the Assembly to implement their provisions with the maximum flexibility, and to develop policy in the areas concerned in a way which best reflects the views of the Assembly and the needs of the people of Wales".Those words are taken from a Plaid Cymru amendment, which the Government accepted. The amended motion 592 was supported by all Assembly Members except the Conservative group. During his contribution to the debate, the First Secretary said:
We need to make the case for primary legislation to be framed in a way that allows us to develop policy to meet the needs of Wales.He went on:this should involve the whole Assembly, not only myself and the Cabinet.That is the answer of the government of Wales to the fact that the Assembly has no primary legislative powers. That should and will be rectified. In the meantime, however, it is important to make the current system work towards the priorities that the Assembly identifies.
It was agreed during that debate that in the new year the Assembly would agree a response to the Government's legislative programme, for submission to the Secretary of State for Wales. I assume that the response will be carefully studied and that account will be taken of the Assembly's views.
The Transport Bill is an important test of the effectiveness of the process and of the Government's willingness to respond to the views of the Assembly and the needs of Wales. Transport policy has been discussed in the Assembly in the past three weeks not only in the debate on the Queen's Speech, but in two short debates—the equivalent of Adjournment debates in this place. I initiated one of them and another, on north-south transport links, was initiated by Alun Pugh—in the Assembly, we are allowed to call Members by their names—-who is Labour Assembly Member for Clwyd, West. I urge the Deputy Prime Minister and his officials to read those debates. Alun Pugh stated:
improving north-south links is a policy objective that unites parties in the Assembly" —I am sure that he is right about that. He also pointed to the need to overcome "the real problem" of the Assembly having
significant powers for road but few for rail.It is easy to understand the problems of developing an integrated transport policy under those circumstances.
The Assembly should be empowered to develop an integrated transport policy within a United Kingdom framework. The Bill provides an opportunity to empower the Assembly to do that, but it is not so empowered in the Bill as currently drafted, and it should be amended accordingly. The Scottish Parliament is given a powerful role through clauses 171, 175, 183 and 186, and has the power to direct the Strategic Rail Authority on services in Scotland. There is no such role for the Assembly. That is unsatisfactory for delivering policy objectives, and is insulting to Wales.
A high-quality north-south rail service is an example of an objective that could be more easily achieved if the Assembly had powers over rail. Another good and illuminating example that is worth studying is the ability to choose between options for relieving congestion on the M4 in the south-east and improving access to Cardiff Wales international airport. Many Members will know of the congestion on the M4 as it passes Newport and Cardiff, and two options have been touted for solving the problem: one is to invest £497 million in new roads; the other is to invest less than £400 million in rail and buses plus some road improvement, which represents a mix of investment. There are two sides to the debate, and I am 593 not saying that the issue is simple, but whichever side people are on, the point is that the Assembly should be able to choose. In order to choose, it should have powers in relation to rail.
What changes should we be looking for in the Bill? An amendment to section 9 of the Transport Act 1968 would enable the Assembly to become a passenger transport authority. Such bodies exist, although I believe that they may be slipping out of favour. That option would be best for Wales, as it is appropriate for a small country. Such a PTA would determine the services in Wales, the quality of rolling stock, the opening hours of booking offices and waiting rooms and possibly even fares in its area. It would enable rail policy decision making to be truly local and, through the Assembly, enable an integrated transport policy for Wales to be developed.
That idea was discussed in an Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and responded to by the then Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), who suggested that it involved making Wales, or Wales's railways, a separate entity and would lead to fragmentation. Of course that is not true: it would be no more true of Wales than it would of Birmingham, its trains and the central PTA that is linked to the wider rail network. A PTA for Wales is an option that has been called for in the Assembly by our party, Plaid Cymru; by the Liberal Democrats; and by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who is a Labour Member. Sue Essex, the Labour chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Committee, said that she wouldnot want to be prescriptiveabout a PTA, but there should be "enabling provisions" in the Bill so that we can consider options andsee which ones suit Wales the best".That seems all right to me. If such provisions were included, the Assembly would be enabled to establish a PTA if it deemed that to be the best way forward, and I think that many Labour Assembly Members would support it. The Conservatives have not made their views known, but encouragingly they constantly call for policies in all areas that are tailored to the needs of Wales.
Along with the PTA and the power to establish it, it seems to us that the Assembly should receive Wales's share of the rail services subsidy, which is about £100 million. We have no way of knowing whether that total, which is pro rata for the Welsh population, is spent in Wales, and we think that there would be more investment in Wales if we received that money. Given the Government's attitude to Wales, I now have to go into the unpleasant business of bidding down, which is what King Lear did with his daughters.
I recognise that the Government are unlikely to give us that money, which is what we ought to get, so let us be a bit more pessimistic: a softer but useful option would be a Wales division of the Strategic Rail Authority. That is worth thinking about; it is the minimum necessary to enable the Assembly to influence rail policy. We are currently discussing who should appoint the Welsh member of the UK SRA, and I am glad that the Secretary of State said that there would be a Welsh member, but that is minimal provision and it is clear to us that the appointment ought to be made by the Assembly. That seems self-evident, but even that is apparently a 594 matter of contention. Merely having that individual on the UK SRA is not enough to give us the influence that we need.
I come now to the absolute bottom line, which has been mentioned by the head of the shadow SRA as a feasible option. It is important to think carefully about it. It seems to us that there must be a clear decision to create a Wales and the Marches rail franchise for all services except inter-city services, for which it would not be appropriate. An all-Wales franchise, including the Marches, for all other services is absolutely essential. It would be easy to operate as it would dovetail with adjacent franchises and take in part of the English Marches. Such a franchise is the only way to rescue Wales's rail operations from their current franchise position on the periphery of the urban network franchises. They are little more than an afterthought—the tail-end of the existing franchises—and that simply has to be changed. [Interruption.] I hope that the Government will respond positively to those proposals, despite the apparent amusement that they are causing among Ministers. They represent a crucial test of the Government's attitude to devolution in Wales, which is currently the subject of considerable interest in Wales, and their decision will be carefully observed. I hope that they do the right thing.
§ Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)
It is often said that education and health are the peoples' priorities, yet each day in Britain far more people are directly affected by transport systems than have personal contact with schools or hospitals. My constituency is no exception. In Sale, trams run on the modern metrolink system, which has been referred to, and on the M56 in Wythenshawe today tens of thousands of people—many of whom will have been on their way to work—will have driven into and out of Manchester. Last year, 18 million passengers travelled through Manchester airport. Although the transport debate tends to centre on the need to get people out of cars and on to trains and buses, more than half the households in my constituency do not own a car and therefore have no choice but to use public transport. Too often, it lets them down.
The system inherited by the Government was a mess. Deregulation and privatisation created a crisis for car owners and public transport users alike. The Tory myths that public transport can be run for profit and that car use has no limits, and which have again been repeated in the debate, resulted in frustration, pollution and the waste of road congestion as well as the chaos of unreliable buses and trains. I can outdo the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) because today my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) and I endured a journey on a Virgin train that was two hours late coming to London from Manchester.
A number of improvements have been made during the first two and a half years of this Parliament. For example, the quality partnership initiative, which was developed on a voluntary basis in Manchester, has shown that it is possible to improve the quality of bus services and develop modern arrangements for ticketing and information systems. The 15 per cent. increase in rail journeys and rail freight is welcome and last week's transport settlement, which put an extra £750 million into local transport systems, reaffirmed the importance that the Government attach to local transport integration and
595 long-term planning. Ministers are the first to say, however, that a great deal more needs to be done and the Bill is an important foundation for the 10-year programme that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken about again today.
Having acknowledged those positive developments, I want to use the short time available to me to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to two particular issues, which I hope he will comment on tonight and consider further, now and in Committee. The first was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and concerns the relationship between the Strategic Rail Authority and the passenger transport authorities and executives, which cover the six metropolitan areas outside London. From the national perspective, the SRA will provide an important lead in fostering the use and development of an integrated transport system by bringing together a variety of disparate organisations in a common purpose. However, from a local perspective there is concern that under clause 215 passenger transport authorities would be subordinate to the Strategic Rail Authority, rather than in partnership with it. Under the Railways Act 1993, PTAs can specify rail service requirements for their areas. Clause 215 provides that the SRA must not carry out those requirements if they conflict with advice from Ministers—the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), may regard that as fair enough—or if thatwould have an adverse effect on the provision of services for the carriage of passengers or goods by railway (whether inside or outside the Passenger Transport Executive's… area).The Library research paper on the Bill states quite succinctly that that clauseclarifies the hierarchy in case of contradictory requirements".I ask my hon. Friend to consider this issue carefully. Placing PTAs at the bottom of this hierarchy runs the risk of countering the key role that they will be expected to play in the development of local transport plans.
A good example of the advantages of local co-ordination is the development of the new station at Manchester airport, which involved detailed negotiations between the PTA, Railtrack, the train operating companies and the airport—which, incidentally, was an important additional source of funding. I have genuine concerns that if the system is not built around local knowledge and relationships, such positive outcomes would be much less likely.
I believe that the best way to proceed is for Ministers to make it clear to the shadow Strategic Rail Authority and the passenger transport authorities that the Government want a strategic partnership, and to promote dialogue on that basis. PTAs cannot be given a blank cheque, but they should expect their local knowledge and experience to be taken seriously. If the Minister decides that dialogue does not work, perhaps he will consider amending the Bill to make explicit the requirement of partnership.
The second matter I wish to raise, in common with many of my hon. Friends, is the proposed new arrangements for National Air Traffic Services. I should say at this point that about 300 NATS staff work at Manchester airport in my constituency. I shall first 596 underline those matters that are not, as far as I am concerned, in dispute: NATS has the potential to be a world leader in a fast growing market; it needs substantial new investment; much, if not all, the new money will come from the private sector; the management of NATS must start to demonstrate a greatly enhanced ability to deliver on new initiatives and services —the Secretary of State was right to point out that project management in NATS has been poor—and it simply is not true that because a service is in the private sector it is automatically unsafe.
I should like further information and some reassurance, however, on three other points. The first echoes the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Ms Osborne) and for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). Will the Government publish more details of their analysis of other potential models for the organisation of NATS together with the reasons for judging that the model chosen is the best available for promoting the safe and successful development of NATS as a global company? For what it is worth, I believe that the status quo would make our airspace more unsafe. It is clear that the Government have made a judgment about what they regard as the best way forward. It would be helpful to know in more detail why the proposed model is regarded as the best alternative.
Secondly, although the regulation of NATS is to remain in the public sector with the Civil Aviation Authority, what action are the Government taking to ensure that regulation goes well beyond the policing of minimal standards. Safety requires much more than just keeping the basic rules. It demands the pursuit of best practice. Will the confidential human incident reporting programme—the so-called CHIRP system of independent and confidential reporting of safety-related incidents—be retained? Will the Airprox system continue? What other proposals, if any, are under discussion? More information on how the Government will retain and enhance the safety culture in NATS would be most welcome.
Thirdly, will the Minister tell the House how he intends to prevent changes in company structure from disturbing the workplace of air traffic controllers? Anyone who has observed air traffic controllers at work will know how important it is that they are able to work in an environment devoid of any pressures other than those essentially concerned with keeping aircraft safely in the sky. As the public debate on NATS has such a high profile, it is essential that staff are reassured that their workplaces will not be disrupted.
I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on those important issues, so that with more detail there can be no room for any doubt that safety will come first as we construct a transport system that is fit for the new millennium.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
This morning, I waited some time for my bus to take me to my constituency office. This afternoon, I waited much longer for my train. However, the House has waited a long time for this Bill. My bus and my train eventually got me to where I wanted to go, but I am not convinced that, after this long wait, the Bill will get us to where I would like the country to be in five, 10 or 15 years.
As hon. Members from both sides of the House have said, the Bill contains some good measures. I am delighted that there is a clear commitment to improving 597 our public transport system and our infrastructure. As some hon. Members have rightly said, there is genuine concern about whether the Government's commitment will extend to ensuring that the appropriate finances will be available. We have had the analysis of the £80 billion over 10 years that the Government have announced, and it has rightly been pointed out that that is merely a continuation of, or possibly a reduction in, current levels of funding. We have yet to see—after the next couple of years—evidence that that money will be found. When challenged on that, the Deputy Prime Minister's only commitment was to wait and see.
There are other good measures in the Bill. I am delighted about the provisions to improve the regulation of our buses. Most hon. Members acknowledge that deregulation did not work. As at least one hon. Member said, the evidence is clear. We know that, as a result of deregulation, the number of bus users was significantly reduced in most of the country. In London, where deregulation did not take place, there was a continual improvement in the number of bus users. I am pleased that bus regulation will be improved, not least through further powers to the transport commissioners and proposals for quality partnerships and quality contracts, although I hope that they will have teeth.
I hope that the Government will also include proposals, through amendment, to further regulate open-top buses, which currently operate in many of our historic cities without the regulation that I, for one, should like to see. That causes a number of problems. It is ludicrous that a tourist open-top bus can travel around an area almost empty. If it sticks to a timetable, it is entitled to the bus fuel rebate. If the rules were changed, such buses would operate only when they have passengers on board, and thereby relieve some of the congestion.
I am delighted that we will move towards concessionary fares for pensioners. Local authorities in many parts of the country already offer such concessions. At long last, the Government have promised to provide funding for that—they first promised it in June 1998, and it seems that we shall have to wait a further two years before their commitment will be delivered.
Concerns have been expressed, especially by Conservative Members, about congestion charging. I want to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats will support the Government in their moves towards the introduction of such charging.
We are delighted that the Government now recognise the importance of establishing alternative high-quality public transport options before the introduction of congestion charging. We also think it right for the Government to consider other measures to reduce the amount of congestion, by means of local transport plans. What some Members said earlier suggested that they were thinking only of congestion charging, but imaginative authorities are already investigating many other measures and, in some instances, are implementing them. Some have persuaded local firms to implement car sharing and park and ride schemes. In the case of such schemes, there is a stick as well as a carrot.
§ Mr. Foster
A good many. As the hon. Gentleman says, many of my constituents are forced to suffer the real problems of congestion. Nowadays, some people will not even come into my city to use its shops because of the congestion. Many of those who come in to work could take advantage of car-sharing schemes that are already proving very successful, and are delighting many who use them. Congestion could also be reduced by the use of park and ride schemes. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have established such schemes in some parts of the outskirts of Bath, and we hope to establish more. There are schemes that are popular with people who want to work and shop in the beautiful city of Bath without having to suffer from congestion.
Along with many of his colleagues, the hon. Gentleman seems to be besotted with the idea that all we must do is allow for more and more car growth and use of cars. The long-term consequence of that would be a continuing escalation in congestion, leading to an almost solid traffic jam throughout the country. According to the CBI, congestion—apart from all the environmental and health problems that it creates—already costs business £15 billion a year. If we do not start to tackle congestion with a range of measures, that cost will continue to grow.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, his phraseology must be right.
§ Mr. Foster
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was, in fact, addressing his question about freight through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me therefore tell you that Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of moving as much freight as possible to the railway, while also recognising that it is an impossible dream to expect all freight to travel by that means. We must consider imaginative measures, such as the use of interchanges outside cities to enable larger lorries to employ our motorways and the main routes leading to the outskirts, and the use of smaller vehicles for the purpose of that distribution.
As I have intimated, we support parts of the Bill, but we are especially concerned about the Government's proposals for National Air Traffic Services. I recently received a detailed briefing from senior management at NATS. I pay enormous tribute to all who work for NATS: they deliver a fantastic service, and a fantastically safe service, and we should all be proud of what they do. Anyway, the management made it clear that four key things were required for the future of NATS:
599 opportunities for real investment, clarity about where NATS is going, access to international markets and access to broader management skills.
The Government suggest that the only way of achieving those aims is the adoption of their proposals for a public-private partnership scheme. The House must answer this question: are there alternatives that will deliver what NATS senior management understandably wants, while also delivering what I suspect most hon. Members want—an absolute guarantee of the continuation of high-safety standards? My answer is yes. I believe that there are alternatives to be considered.
In powerful speeches, the hon. Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), among others, suggested that there were alternative solutions. Liberal Democrats believe that an independent publicly owned company, or a form of trust, would facilitate the right kind of investment and access to the markets. As the hon. Member for Pendle pointed out, the Government recommend PPP only because there is, they say, a problem with Treasury rules; and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Government of the day can change Treasury rules if they wish. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Front Bench that it may not even be necessary to change the rules, because, as I think the House knows, there are other ways round the system.
Interestingly, in the case of the channel tunnel rail link the Government were prepared to make money available outside the public sector borrowing requirement, on the ground that the risk on the loan was less than 15 per cent. The House will be well aware that the risk in respect of NATS is well below that figure. Even under the current Treasury rules, it would be possible to introduce a scheme whereby, under an IPOC—independent publicly owned company—or a trust, NATS would be able to raise the necessary sums.
We are extremely concerned about the Government's plans for a PPP. Because of that, and because of other aspects of the Bill, the Liberal Democrats support the amendment, and will oppose Second Reading.
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
Along with many of my hon. Friends, I support the vast majority of the Bill. I will speak briefly, because I have already had ample opportunity to express my concerns, especially over PPP for NATS.
The Bill contains many welcome measures: the good far outweighs the not so good. Who, for example, could not welcome the long-awaited establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority? Surely not my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), or any other Member who suffered—as we did in Reading, and as other communities did on the Great Western Trains line—the consequences of the terrible disaster of the Ladbroke Grove train crash. Never again do I want to see a privatised company such as Railtrack put pressure on safety investigators in the aftermath of a disaster like the Southall crash, when there was a wish to open the lines rather than getting to the core of why the disaster had occurred.
600 Which Member representing a constituency served—or not served—by Thames Trains would not long for the powers that the SRA will have to improve services and to require adherence to the franchise regime? Like the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), I support the introduction of measures to restrict unnecessary commuter access by cars to our overcrowded towns and cities; but, like him, I think that we should introduce the public transport infrastructure first. We cannot ask our motorists to leave their cars behind unless they have a viable alternative. The Bill paves the way for such an alternative, and I praise the Government for being brave enough to make unpopular suggestions. Ultimately, however unpopular congestion charging may prove to be, gridlock in places such as Reading, Bath and Bristol will be even more unpopular. As the Deputy Prime Minister has said time and again, doing nothing is simply not an option.
I represent a highly successful part of the Thames valley. The economy there is booming, but the price of that success is often congestion, which must be tackled—if only because asthma levels in parts of my constituency are double the national average. Young people's health is suffering as a result of congestion in major towns and cities.
One aspect of the Bill has not been referred to, but is worthy of praise and support: its provisions to ensure that some of the more lousy, mean and penny-pinching district authorities which do not have a concessionary bus fare scheme for pensioners and disabled people are forced to introduce at least a minimum service. It is a shame that that provision has not been trumpeted from the rafters—but then, if we tack air traffic privatisation to a lot of good, worthwhile measures, their impact will be lost.
I represent some 70,000 constituents, 24,000 of whom have the misfortune to come under one of those mean, penny-pinching Liberal Democrat councils. I refer to West Berkshire district council—some Members were smiling too easily then. The council offers pensioners in my constituency the princely sum of £23 in tokens. If a pensioner wants to go to the Royal Berkshire hospital to visit a loved one twice a week, his annual allocation of tokens expires after five weeks. For the other 47 weeks—whether he wants to visit someone in that hospital or elsewhere—he has to pay the full bus fare.
It is good that a Labour Government are forcing councils such as West Berkshire to deliver at least something in terms of a minimum concessionary fare. It is not as good as that provided by the Labour Reading council, but that is because Reading has the Rolls-Royce of concessionary bus fare schemes. It is more generous even than that in London. It operates not just at off peak, but at peak times. Pensioners can travel anywhere within the travel-to-work area free of charge. That is how it should be. How we treat pensioners is a mark of a civilised society.
I welcome the Bill's provisions to put local transport plans and bus service strategies on a statutory basis. Buses are crucial to the future of towns and cities and are central to any integrated transport strategy. I welcome, too—as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House do—the introduction of quality partnerships. Those will lay down minimum standards for bus operations and for defined routes. However, there is a problem. The Bill as drafted—I hope that Ministers are listening carefully—excludes specifically from quality partnerships the inclusion of service frequencies, hours of operation, 601 networks and fares. All those things are fundamental to the delivery of a bus strategy and local transport plan. It is ridiculous to have quality partnerships that allow us to discuss bus lanes, but not the buses that run along them. I urge Ministers to reconsider the scope of those partnerships.
In support of that point, and taking a fresh look at the scope of quality partnerships, I shall quote briefly from a letter from the director general of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK to a colleague who chairs a highly successful municipal bus company. It states:
Flexibility remains the key word. We can certainly foresee occasions when quality partnerships will contain detailed clauses on frequency, priorities for network development and general fares policy.I implore Ministers to consider that point when the Bill is in Committee.
I come to NATS. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Ms Osborne) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), I have a specific constituency interest. Like them, before the general election I made clear commitments to my constituents and I intend to honour them. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, I believe that a more detailed examination of what is proposed within PPP is necessary. Those points have been well made by other Labour Members.
I do not think that there is any real problem in securing the Government's objectives. What are they? One is to lever in private sector investment. No one has argued against that; it is not a point of ideology. Another objective is to remove the investment requirements from the public sector borrowing requirement. No Member on the Labour or Opposition Benches has argued that NATS should compete with schools and hospitals for hard-pressed public finances. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) mentioned that at some length.
I do not think that any Members, particularly Labour Members, would object to levering in private sector management expertise for project management and finishing off important contracts such as Swanwick. Therefore, if the objectives are not the problem, what is? It is how we achieve those objectives and convince hon. Members that all available options have been tested. For example, there is a huge question mark over the future of the 5 per cent. golden share. Whether that can be ring-fenced and whether we can for ever stop that 5 per cent. from being sold are matters of some debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle said, if it is sold, 55 per cent. will be in the private sector and, effectively, there will be privatisation of NATS.
I welcome the fact that the Bill specifically does not lay down the detail of PPP. That gives us scope for negotiation. It gives Labour Members some room for hope. I welcome the fact that air traffic controllers and pilots are in detailed discussions with Ministers. Those discussions must continue. I hope that Ministers will at some point be in a position to tell us why they do not think that the trust options are viable and why an IPO—an independent publicly owned company, which is good enough for the Post Office—is not good enough for NATS. I have heard no convincing arguments to knock down those two options.
I, too, am attracted—initially, I was not—to the proposal from the Airline Group, the not-for-profit company. People I talk to in the industry, in which I have 602 worked, are attracted by the wish to keep air traffic services within the industry. They want the people who are to become the strategic partners to have a financial investment in the billions of pounds of aircraft that are flying above our constituencies and that depend on the professionalism of air traffic controllers.
Only the other month, I had the opportunity to look at another model, which I have put forward to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). That model is the Transport Research Laboratory at Wokingham. It is quite an interesting model. When the previous Administration privatised the TRL, they, too, wanted to lever in private sector management expertise and to free it from the PSBR, but they recognised the unique nature of the TRL. It is where much transport research takes place, both for civil and military purposes. So what did they do? They set up a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, which achieved all those objectives. It produced a more dynamic private sector management and a stream of private sector investment. However, the company cannot be bought by the likes of Asil Nadir, the Hong Kong bank or anyone else who we would not want to run our air space and the planes that fly over the heads of our constituents.
The amendment has been signed by some 50 hon. Members. I know, the Government Whips know, and Ministers know that considerably more than 50 Labour Members are concerned about the proposals, but it is not the time to press the amendment to the vote. As I have said, we have ample opportunity for negotiation and to improve what is a very good Bill.
I conclude with a plea to Ministers. There is a deal out there waiting to be done. I cannot believe that any Minister worth his, or her, salt does not want to take with them in the reform of NATS the pilots and air traffic controllers, as well as the vast majority of Labour Members. The crucial issue is corporate governance. There are models that will achieve both the Government's objectives and unanimity among Labour Members.
§ Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley)
It has been a fascinating debate, which began with the Secretary of State introducing the Bill with some of his traditional bluster. Behind his back—he is absent from the Chamber—we saw Labour Members throwing darts, some of which were quite sharp, whereas others had poisoned tips. Although all those Labour Members are seeking to serve on the Bill's Committee, I suspect that, because of their words and actions, they will not be on it.
Conversely, opposition party Members—particularly Conservative Members—have offered considerable expertise. We have heard, for example, from a former Secretary of State for Transport and at least two former Treasury Ministers. They have struck considerable blows to the Bill, knocking from it some dust and plenty of bluster. As such broad expertise has already been offered—on roads, trains and air transport—I shall, in a very short speech, limit myself to dealing with congestion and workplace parking charging and with the statutory bus quality partnership schemes, both of which were dealt with briefly by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor.)
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said, the Government have an almost psychotic desire to control and direct—which
603 explains the huge number of regulations and directions affecting both businesses and individuals. The Bill seeks to extend that control and to increase the number of controlling and interfering bodies, particularly the lord mayor and the Greater London Authority —which have, for the dubious benefit of Londoners, already been given some of the powers proposed in the Transport Bill.
As one might expect from someone with my background, I am a great supporter of local government. Equally, however, my experience makes me wary of the damage that local government is able to do. I appreciate the tendency of some people in local government to inflict damage at the first possible opportunity. In a few cases, people in local government desire to regulate and control almost to the point of seeming paranoia. The Bill will greatly extend the possibility of such damage, regulation and control.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk that many local authorities will not implement the Bill's proposals, especially congestion charging. From my experience, I believe that some local authorities will be silly enough to try to implement all the programmes. The Greater London Authority, for example, has been established in such a manner that London could be damaged by a politically motivated but commercially ignorant mayor. I am greatly concerned that only one of the leading potential contenders for that extraordinary post has any real business experience, whereas the other contenders seem to have only public sector expertise—which, in some cases, is also rather dubious.
The prospect of many local authorities requiring bus operators to co-operate in quality transport schemes will allow authorities in some areas to create a complete monopoly and ensure complete control by politically driven but commercially ignorant councillors. It worries me to hear Labour Members calling for greater extension of those powers—to allow even more power for local government to control in spheres in which they have no expertise—particularly when there is a commercial aspect. Sheffield's tram scheme provides a prime example of how a financial black hole may develop, in which public money is invested to produce dubious results.
Mr. Mayor—I mean Mr. Deputy Speaker; I am sorry about that—one of the difficulties I have in talking about local government these days is that one has visions of mayors popping up all over the place, although the prospect of a London mayor is the one that really bothers me.
I recall the damage that politically motivated but commercially ignorant authorities in London did in the late 1970s. As I am speaking only briefly, I should describe a stark contrast. I remember arriving in the United Kingdom and walking down the busy streets of Westminster, which was thriving. In Camden, however, and particularly around Tottenham Court road, the atmosphere was dead. In the late 1970s, for business and shopping, the Tottenham Court road area was semi-derelict. Today, that area is thriving—but it is thriving because local government lost the power to impinge on it. Some of the Bill's proposals, in the hands of some individuals in local government, could produce the same situation that prevailed in Camden in the 1970s.
604 Many of our cities, including London, have good or even excellent radial public transport systems. However, few of our cities have reasonable circular systems. Although I accept that circular systems have improved considerably in the past 10 years or so, it has to be recognised that very many people have no alternative but to use a car. Furthermore, despite the Government's soothing words—even the words of an ambitious Secretary of State—there is only a small prospect of major improvements to the transport situation for those people.
Road user charging proposals, as described in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and in the Bill, will create great difficulties for many of my constituents. My constituency is on the edge of London. Although most of my constituents live just outside the M25, many of them commute to work and to shop in, or simply to enjoy, the wonderful city of London. An irresponsible London mayor, using the powers given to him in the 1999 Act and in the Bill, could cause great damage.
When it is absolutely unfeasible for my constituents to forgo using their cars, they face increased taxation. Those who are able to use public transportation discover that the current system—which allows little circular movement around London—greatly increases the length, confusion and difficulty of their travelling day. One of our mayoral candidates has already warned us that he has plans to apply charges in the central area. He said that he would try it as a pilot scheme, with the prospect of expanding it. The scheme would probably apply charging even to residents, as it would to those who are forced to travel in or through the charge zone. Such zones evoke visions of merely moving the problem of parking congestion from the centres progressively outwards. Such movement is happening already, particularly in London, as local authorities are able to implement changes in parking systems and facilities. The zones will increasingly move outwards, affecting ever more people who wish to commute into the major cities.
Many of my constituents regularly have to go for treatment at hospitals in, for example, Epsom, Tooting and central London, but they cannot use public transport. Effectively, therefore, they will have to pay an extra cost—a fee—for the privilege of having a London mayor and for implementation of the Bill's proposals.
The Government have shown no ability to learn from the past. I therefore anticipate that implementation of those two aspects of the Bill will cause not only considerable dissatisfaction, but the greatest difficulties. Nevertheless, I imagine that the Government will plough on regardless, and that they will apply plenty of spin. However, when things go wrong with the programmes—as they will—the blame will again be laid on local government.
§ Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)
Two former Secretaries of State for Transport, now on the Opposition Benches, and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) have referred to workplace parking charges. My former workplace, a national health service hospital, had workplace charges. Patients and visitors were charged for parking. So were doctors, nurses and other health service workers, some of them on extremely low pay. That happened during the early 1990s, under the Conservative Government.
605 I should like to turn to local and regional matters. I welcome the Bill, with a single reservation about the air traffic control proposals. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. Hon. Members must not wander about the Chamber in front of hon. Members who are addressing the House.
§ Mr. Dobbin
I shall return to air traffic control later.
Transport will be a central issue at the next election. I am sure that most of my constituents will support the thrust of the Government's 10-year plan. Heywood and Middleton is split by the M60—formerly the M62—and the motorway carries traffic across the country from Liverpool to Hull as well as taking feeder traffic from the M6 and the M 1. It carries a huge volume of heavy goods vehicles. The distribution park network to either side of the motorway generates many vehicle movements 24 hours a day through my local communities. That has been the result, I think, of bad land use planning decisions in the past and a failure to create direct access to and from those parks to the motorway. Some of the best attended public meetings that I have held have been about the continual noise, pollution and disturbance suffered by those communities.
I therefore support the joint working taking place for the first time between the three Departments brought together by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Consultation between those three arms should help to alleviate the type of problem that I have described. I look forward to hearing the Government's proposals for local transport plans, and the encouragement that those initiatives will offer local authorities to work together across boundaries and to agree an integrated approach to local transport within regional and national guidelines.
My constituents also complain about bus services. Will buses come in time? Will they be clean? Will they arrive at all? Such questions are especially pertinent at weekends when evening services are few and far between. Bus deregulation and the competitive battle that followed caused confusion. There was a lack of information, and there was certainly a reduction in quality. Greater involvement by local authorities is absolutely essential. Local traffic plans could and would have immense influence on ticketing policies, traffic information and the environment.
I make a plea for an early decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the extension of metrolink to include the Oldham-Rochdale link and links in other parts of Greater Manchester. Metrolink has been a tremendous success in helping to reduce car journeys in and around Greater Manchester. It has been proven to work. If combined with developments at Manchester airport, where forecasts of increased employment and economic growth are extremely good, metrolink and improved bus services would work together to form a strong integrated approach to transport. Manchester airport is, incidentally, a public sector airport, owned by local authorities. It also has borrowing powers, a point referred to by other hon. Members.
On a recent visit to Switzerland with the all-party rail freight group, I saw systems for transferring freight from road to rail. I look forward to a growth in strategically 606 placed rail terminals throughout the country, as that would go some way to resolving heavy goods vehicles problems in local communities. I am aware that grant funding exists, but wish that local authorities and other bodies were encouraged to take it on board. It never ceases to amaze me that we in the United Kingdom often have difficulty achieving planning agreement for the imposition of double yellow lines or "Give Way" signs, while in Switzerland, tunnels are being driven through the Alps. That shows the difference of approach.
I look forward to new and imaginative transport policies. I am enthusiastic about the Government's proposals for local integrated transport. However, I am not convinced by their proposals on air traffic control. The primary issue is passenger safety. I have never been convinced by the commercial sector's response to safety. Experience down the years, from the mines being put into private ownership to the North sea ferry tragedies and the Paddington rail crash, shows an unwillingness in the private sector to prioritise safety over profit. In The Guardian today, I read that the Government have accused the nuclear power industry of endangering safety to save money by getting rid of staff. In recent days, the water regulator has instructed water authorities to reduce prices, and the industry has responded by announcing staff cuts that will, in my view, endanger water quality.
I remain to be convinced that even partial privatisation of air traffic control would not follow a similar course. History tells us that it would. However, I shall not vote against the Government tonight as I want to hear more detail from the Secretary of State on the matter. My right hon. Friend and the Minister of Transport have placed the matter at the top of their agenda, and there is time to reconsider it.
Finally, I should like the Secretary of State to consider extending Eurostar to the north-west, which would be a tremendous boon to the whole north of England. I want the transpennine rail networks to develop, as that would complete the transport integration policies that I want to see in the north of England.
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
Perhaps I should start by declaring an interest, as a director of a retail store which has ample free parking for customer and staff alike.
Despite having been exposed to the Government's breathtaking arrogance and cynical deceit for more than two long years, I was still flabbergasted to read in the Government's annual report for 1998-99 that they had successfully developed an integrated transport policy. Whom are they kidding? Where is it? Is this supposed to be it? Having listened to Lord Macdonald on the radio this morning, I can say that their policy is rapidly disintegrating.
I suppose that we should at least be grateful that at last, after two and a half years, the Government have got round to introducing a Transport Bill. Their obsession with spin in this case has made them look ridiculous. Millions of people every day are confronted by the reality of congested roads, overcrowded trains and, in London, an extremely busy and increasingly strained tube network. People want solutions to problems, not the strangulated hyperbole of the Deputy Prime Minister. According to a recent opinion poll, the majority of respondents thought that transport would never improve under the Government's policies.
607 We realise that the problems are huge; they have not materialised overnight and solving them will not be easy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) reminded us that we have some of the most congested roads in western Europe. The problems vary depending on where people live in Britain—in an urban, suburban or rural environment.
The Labour party spent 18 years telling the country how awful transport was under those evil Conservatives, but precious little time thinking about how they would solve the problems. Perhaps they were too busy telling us that they would not sell our air, while getting the sale tickets ready.
Before the election, the Labour party promised immediate changes. Two and a half years later, the Deputy Prime Minister has put that back to 10 years. It will also become increasingly difficult for the House to monitor what progress the Government will make when an unelected peer has been put in the driving seat of the Government's transport policy. That transport policy has seen the expenditure of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on main transport programmes fall by 24 per cent. over the period 1996-97 to 1998-99, at a time when public frustration and impatience are growing daily.
The gulf between the Government's promises and their achievement is also widening daily. I am sure that Downing street cannot wait for the new year, so that this year—the year of delivery—can be forgotten. If the Government were in business, they would be paying the electorate compensation for their lamentable failure.
I should like to express my genuine sympathy for the Deputy Prime Minister. I believe that he is sincere in his aim of improving the transport system but he has been isolated and ignored by the Prime Minister. The poor old Deputy Prime Minister has effectively been torpedoed and is now holed below the water-line. All we can do is watch as he slowly and inexorably sinks from our sight.
I have a number of general remarks about the Bill. Naturally, with regard to my constituency of Uxbridge—which is in London but happily still not run by London—some of its provisions on road pricing and workplace charging have already been covered by the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Sadly, we were denied the opportunity of properly debating the issues by a guillotine motion imposed by this increasingly authoritarian and non-democratic Government. However, the issues of principle and the problems of implementing such schemes are identical, so I shall be discussing some of the implications of these measures.
First, however, I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with the future of National Air Traffic Services. I have an interest in this because the air traffic control centre, although in the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), is on my doorstep, and many NATS employees live in my constituency. Apart from that, I hardly need mention that a huge amount of air traffic passes over the area daily.
Many NATS employees have contacted me expressing strong reservations about the plans in the Bill. Naturally, safety is their primary concern, as I suggest it is for all hon. Members. This part of the Bill separates the Civil 608 Aviation Authority from NATS. The CAA will remain fully in the public sector while the status of NATS changes through the public-private partnership. I do not want to get distracted by whether full-scale privatisation or PPP is the best mechanism for providing NATS with its future funds for investment, but I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the effectiveness of the safety regime under the new arrangements.
A constituent of mine who works for NATS in West Drayton wrote to me with details of a case that had been drawn to his attention by a member of his staff. This engineer had joined NATS from a privately run airport which was separately regulated. He was the only engineer for the whole airport and had to repair and maintain all the tower systems and the instrument landing system. During work on the latter, he was instructed to falsify the maintenance documentation so that the safety regulator would not demand expensive, but necessary, flight testing. The company in question is one of the proposed bidders for NATS. My constituent's concern—one shared by Members on both sides of the House who have reservations as to this part of the Bill—is how we can ensure that safety is in no way compromised by the separation of NATS from the CAA.
The matter is of such importance that the Government should have dealt with the proposals for NATS in a separate Bill. They must listen to these concerns, and must be aware that public opinion shows that there are serious doubts as to the wisdom of their policy.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to go into the details of that important case on the Floor of House, but has he passed them to the Government?
§ Mr. Randall
I have not done so at present.
I have much sympathy with the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). However, if I found myself in the company of the amendment's supporters in the Lobby tonight, not only would it put them off but I should soon become the target of dubious enticements by the Labour party.
Under the Bill, local transport plans and bus strategies will become a statutory responsibility for all local authorities. The authoritiesmust develop and implement policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within their area.That is where we see how cowardly the Government are. We are told that they are serious about reducing road traffic—or rather, they were. As we now know, they have abandoned that policy and have gone into reverse at speed. The Bill is yesterday's Bill. It seems that the Government have realised that congestion charging will be too unpopular and workplace parking charging will be wholly unworkable, so they are washing their hands of the measures. They say, "It's not our job." Local authorities will be left to implement the measures, if they are implemented at all. That will mean that one local authority will be in direct conflict with another; businesses will be forced to migrate from authority to authority like herds of wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti. That is not an integrated measure.
Workplace charging will not deter motorists; it will only add to their misery. Motorists will either have to pay out yet again, or will clog up streets and residential areas. 609 It is continually said—but it remains fundamental to trying to solve the problem of traffic congestion—that public transport must be dramatically improved. The quality and efficiency of the service, and its price, are of the utmost importance. Sadly, the Government are unwilling to provide real money to deal with the problem, which only gets worse by the day. The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs report on the White Paper pointed out that, without spending money up front on improvements to public transport before the introduction of charges, the schemes will be seen by many motorists as yet another attack on the driver. The need for consultation will ensure that local authorities have difficulty in introducing charges against a backdrop of popular opposition.
Why have the Government suggested only a 10-year period for hypothecation? Does that mean that, after 10 years, the charges will become yet another tax on the hard pressed driver?
This morning, I heard Lord Macdonald admit on the "Today" programme that the Government had suddenly realised that their policy of last week was flawed. I found it slightly strange to hear the Minister express a desire to see more cars on the roads, although nothing about the Government much surprises me now. The Bill will do little to improve the lot of the travelling public. If the Deputy Prime Minister and his Department had the courage of their convictions on congestion charging and its efficacy, they would not have passed the buck—of sorting out the matter—to local authorities.
To a great extent, the Deputy Prime Minister's hands have been tied by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We know that that is why the Bill was delayed for so long. The Deputy Prime Minister is being lined up as the eventual fall guy for the Government's transport failures. The Bill is deeply flawed; by the Government's admission, it passed its sell-by date before even reaching the shops. I suggest that the Government take it away and put some real thought into it before they bring it back. I might then be able to support it. At present, I shall have no problem in opposing Second Reading.
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Two matters of significance have emerged from the past few hours of debate. The first is that although, as those of us with long memories recall, integrated transport policy has been mentioned many times over the years, we have never before had a Secretary of State—as we have now, in the form of the Deputy Prime Minister—with the determination and courage to define "integrated transport policy". My right hon. Friend is therefore to be congratulated on having the courage and determination to introduce the Bill.
The other thing that is of significance, against the background of congestion costing the country some £20 billion a year, and of an anticipated increase in traffic over the next 10 years of some 30 per cent.—that is another 8 million vehicles on the road—is the mixed message that we have heard from Conservative Members. The do-nothing brigade have said, "Just let things continue as they are". Then we had that notable speech by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), setting out what is best described as a blancmange policy of extra capacity—not thought out, 610 and without costings or details. That is the sort of argument that the Conservative party has asked the House to take seriously tonight.
In the time available, I want to comment on the four parts of the Bill and make some suggestions that I hope that my hon. Friends the Ministers can act on.
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and others, who have implied that because there will be a duty on local authorities, local transport plans are, first, a Government abdication of responsibility and, secondly, bound to end in disaster. I see the passing of responsibility to local authorities as a strength, because it is ludicrous that there could be a national integrated transport policy, decided in Whitehall and passed on to local authorities to implement. The strength of the proposals in the Bill is the recognition that if an integrated transport policy is to work—and, my goodness, we now have the best chance in generations to make such a policy work—it must involve differing solutions in different parts of the country. It makes perfect sense for local transport plans to be the bedrock of such a policy, within a national framework.
However, I remain to be convinced on quality partnerships for buses. I am one of those who supports quality contracts. I like to see franchises. Quality contracts will give local authorities the teeth to ensure that bus operators live up to their contractual terms. They would also provide a golden opportunity to bring education transport—a massive area of transport need, which uses a massive amount of resources—within the ambit of quality contracts. Education transport is left out of quality partnerships.
The other aspect of quality partnerships that bothers me is that while there is an agreement between bus operators and a local authority, a local authority has no means to prevent a bus operator from withdrawing a service. The operator need give only 40 days' notice and withdraw it, and the quality partnership starts to be adversely affected.
Three very important points need to be made about road user charging and workplace parking charging. The first has already been mentioned. The idea has been advanced by the official Opposition that such charging is the only shot in the locker—the only measure that local authorities will have with which to affect positively the terrible congestion that we are facing now, which is likely to grow. That is nonsense. A whole range of options is available to local authorities and managing road space is one of them. To try to give the impression—I think that Conservative Members have failed—that the proposal declares war on the motorist is abject nonsense.
It is important, however, that the Government recognise the importance of three points. First, if we are to achieve public acceptance of what will be an unpopular and controversial measure, there must be broad consultation. Secondly, resources will have to be made available up front. The Government will have seriously to consider allowing local authorities to borrow on the basis of future income streams so that public transport alternatives are in place at least at the same time as, or preferably before, workplace and road charging are introduced. Thirdly, I endorse a point that has already been made. The 10-year hypothecation period seems to be too short. We should think in terms of at least 15 years and probably longer. The issues are long term. Changes will not happen overnight or even in the five-year period that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned.
611 I enthusiastically welcome the proposal for a Strategic Rail Authority. I say to those who voted against the proposal for a Strategic Rail Authority on the Second Reading of the Railways Bill, who opposed its consideration in a Select Committee and who have expressed their opposition again tonight, that every private company in the railway industry supports the establishment of such an authority. Conservative Members believe that they know what is best, but they are against the united opinion of every company in the railway sector.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Transport Sub-Committee and he knows full well that I did not dismiss out of hand the principle of a Strategic Rail Authority. However, I wish to make a simple point. Every one of the companies that the hon. Gentleman mentioned thinks, "My goodness—anybody but the present Secretary of State running the railways." They are looking for someone with sense and who can bring parties together to help the railways to operate better. Instead, the Secretary of State just criticises and shouts at the railway companies.
§ Mr. Stevenson
I have only 15 minutes in which to speak, so I wish that I had not wasted the past 30 seconds with the hon. Gentleman's intervention. Indeed, one of the major transport operators in the country, Stagecoach, wanted the Government to go even further and to give the Strategic Rail Authority more power than it will have. We can give an enthusiastic welcome to the establishment of the authority.
§ Mr. Stevenson
I am trying to calculate how much longer I have left to speak; I think that I can give way.
"The strategic overview which the SRA will provide will be helpful and we welcome the clarification of"—
§ Mr. Stevenson
My hon. Friend simply endorses the point that I made earlier.
I draw attention to an important point. If we consider Railtrack's investment particularly in the first three years of its existence, the way that it is moving away at a rate of knots from its commitment to expanding freight facilities and the way that it is trying to develop a scare scenario by suggesting that improvements to the west coast main line will cost three times more than it originally envisaged, it appears that it is trying to make the case that it will not be able to invest in the way that we want to invest unless the Government are prepared to put in more money. If that happens, serious consideration must be given to how the public interest will be protected in that scenario.
612 I turn now to the proposals for National Air Traffic Services. In a recent sitting of the Select Committee, the chief executive of NATS, Mr. Bill Semple, was asked whether he could name any country that has privatised its air traffic control system. His immediate answer was, "Yes." The next question was, "Which?" His reply was, "Fiji." The chief executive of NATS seriously stated that Fiji is an important factor in his support of the proposals. That is ludicrous.
The next question was why all other countries, including the United States, had not embraced privatisation of their air traffic control services. It was suggested that perhaps they did not have the courage—as presumably the Government are suggesting that they themselves have—to break the mould. That may be so, but the notion that those countries have not had the courage to break the mould seems worthy of consideration. However, it may be that all those countries had considered privatisation, and rejected it. I suspect that the latter possibility is the more likely. Those countries must therefore have come up with models that meet all the objectives that the Government desire, while retaining the public control that is necessary in the public interest.
I shall support the Government tonight, but they have a lot more arguing to do on the NATS proposals before they will convince many Labour Members that they have got it right. We shall be watching extremely carefully to see what consideration the Government will give to ensuring that the objectives that they have, rightly, set for the future of NATS are achieved without going down what many of us consider, for many reasons, to be a dangerous road.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
I am delighted to contribute to the Second Reading debate on this Bill, which has been long awaited and heralds the Government's much-promised policies. I declare an interest in that I am married to a British director of a prominent American airline company, and I sit on the Royal Automobile Club public policy committee, which carries certain privileges.
I regret that the Bill is too ambitious and that the Secretary of State will find it impossible to deliver. In summing up the Bill, we can liken it to the Secretary of State himself: it is good-natured but long-winded and incoherent. I am unable to support the Bill and regret that the Government have not introduced four separate Bills to which the House could have done full justice.
I regret also the way in which the Secretary of State has personally been undermined by the appointment of a powerful Minister for Transport in another place. The fact that the Minister is not accountable to the House is deeply regrettable. The man who is entrusted with the Government's 10-year transport programme is unable to be questioned by, and held to account in this Chamber.
§ Miss McIntosh
As my hon. Friend will realise, I have no hesitation in welcoming the fact that Scots are being promoted.
613 I want to place on record that I am about to make a robust attack on the Government policies set out in the Bill. To those who are interested in the current hotbed of attacks and counter-attacks, I say that this lady is not for turning, and I am not about to cross the Floor of the House. 1 hope to make many more, similar speeches from these Benches.
I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with National Air Traffic Services, establishing a public-private partnership with a strategic private sector partner. Why did the Government feel incapable of a simple flotation, with a remaining golden-share issue to secure permanent United Kingdom control? The proposal amounts to semi-privatisation, which is regrettable and, for that reason, unacceptable. It is a halfway house: a semi-detached NATS rather than a privatised one with a golden share.
I have the privilege to serve on the Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, under the capable and amiable chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She has placed on record in this debate her personal opposition to the proposed PPP for NATS. I note the omission of her name among the 50 Members supporting the amendment, headed by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). She finds herself in excellent and assorted company. Her opposition is undoubtedly a source of deep embarrassment for the Government. We look to the Minister to respond to that embarrassment.
I turn to part II on local transport plans and buses. The Government have said on a number of occasions in this Chamber that the number of bus routes has increased this year. That is simply not true. In Vale of York, we are at least one bus route short from the beginning of the year. It was a crucial route: it was the first to be withdrawn, initially in February. Following complaints from several constituents, which I supported, it was reinstated, only to be taken away again at the end of the summer. The route was from Haxby Wiggington to the city of York, stopping at the hospital, the station and the theatre. I plead with the Government to ensure that, under them, one's first bus is not one's last.
Continuing with the transport analogy, the Government must not put the cart before the horse. If they are to be truly ambitious about greater passenger use of public transport, investment in improved public transport services must precede congestion charging or workplace parking levies. We await the winding-up speech to hear whether the Government will announce such a commitment and honour that obligation.
Government policies in practice, and current local transport plans in particular, do not inspire confidence. Let us take another example from Vale of York. The latest park and ride scheme is to be removed from its existing site on Clifton Moor business park, which is ideal. Drivers are currently invited to park their cars and visit shops on the business park, which many do, before taking the bus into York and therefore ease congestion. Many pedestrians also take the bus for convenience.
Let us contrast the present site with the newly constructed park and ride scheme on greenbelt land—yes, greenbelt land in Vale of York, confirming the Deputy Prime Minister's promise that Labour created the green belt and now wants to build on it—at Rawcliffe on the A19. The site is close to the most congested roundabout 614 on the outskirts of York. Those living in Rawcliffe do not welcome the scheme, and those living in Clifton Moor regret the impending loss of their park and ride site, as they now have to start their cars in order to take the bus. Those living in Skelton and Shipton are horrified to learn that the congestion and tailbacks on to the A 1 9 from the Rawcliffe roundabout in their direction are likely hugely to increase.
Rather than relieving congestion and increasing the scope and use of public transport, the park and ride scheme will increase congestion and result in fewer people using public transport in Vale of York. That ingenious yet somewhat surprising policy was the brainchild of Labour's flagship council—none less than City of York unitary authority. What does that tell us about Labour's public transport policy?
I shall address briefly part III, which deals with road charges and the workplace parking levy. As I mentioned, I have the honour to work with the RAC on its public policy committee. It has raised fundamental points, which I invite the Government to take on board.
In the RAC's view, the motorist must be convinced that road pricing is a charge, not a tax; otherwise, the concept will be unacceptable and unviable. For the Government to make that distinction between charges and taxes, motorists must be persuaded that there are publicly endorsed objectives and convinced of the transparency of the operation, spending hypothecation and the additionality of revenues raised.
If trunk road charging is introduced, charges must not be set at such a level as to encourage diversion from the most used or preferred route. Public transport in many towns and cities—including York, part of which falls in my constituency—cannot cope with the existing number of peak-time commuters, so it would be unfair to charge motorists before improving public transport. We await a decision early next year from the European Court of Justice on the question of imposing VAT on congestion charging and tolls. Do Ministers accept that revenues derived from those VAT charges should be fully hypothecated into local transport?
The Secretary of State has said that safety is and will remain of paramount importance. One can only assume that safety is of equal importance in all sectors, including rail transport. However, in their response to the Select Committee report on the Railways Bill, the Government state:The review of transport safety arrangements which the Government initiated in response to the Committee's earlier recommendations is nearing completion.Only when it is completed will the Government addressthe case for unified, independent arrangements for safety regulation and accident investigation.The Government are non-committal as to which functions will fall to a new authority. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that a single body will assume overall responsibility for transport safety in the rail sector. We do not want safety in the industry to become fragmented between a plethora of organisations, including the Strategic Rail Authority, the railways regulator, Railtrack, the Health and Safety Executive and the new safety authority. The public want to know which body is to have ultimate responsibility for rail safety.
The Bill must ensure the independence of the British Transport police from Railtrack and the train operating companies: the independence of BTP officers must be
615 beyond doubt. Finally, I ask that the promised regional Eurostar services from York, Newcastle and Edinburgh direct to Paris and Brussels be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. Because of the Government's actions or omissions, and because four full Bills have been crammed into one, I am unable to support the Bill and will oppose it this evening.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)
I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak, and glad to follow the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), with whom I work on the RAC public policy committee. I do that in a voluntary capacity.
This is a landmark Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, it is the first major transport Bill for 30 years. It will put right years of Tory neglect of Britain's transport system. It follows and builds on the details set out in the integrated transport White Paper, which has now been put in the context of a 10-year transport strategy. The policies it contains contrast sharply with the predict-and-provide policies of the previous Administration.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who pointed out Opposition Members' lack of reference to the environment. It is staggering that Conservative Members barely mentioned the importance of transport in improving our environment. Hon. Members know that that greatly concerns our constituents, especially young people. We cannot do anything about the environment without considering our transport system, which is what the Bill tries to do.
§ Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party's suggestions about motorway tolling would severely damage the environment by driving traffic through villages and areas of natural beauty?
§ Ms Winterton
I agree, although it was surprising to hear any proposals from the Conservatives: on the whole, they merely attacked ours without making any constructive ones of their own.
The Bill contains radical forms of financing, including public-private partnership. Many comments were made about that by Government and Opposition Members and I am sure that the discussions will continue in Committee. Another radical form of financing is hypothecation from congestion and workplace parking charges. The direct expenditure of money from those charges on improving public transport in local areas is welcome. That comes on top of the announcement on fuel duty, whereby money raised over and above inflation will go directly into a fund for transport. That is good news for Britain's transport system.
As I said, I serve in a voluntary capacity as a member of the RAC's public policy committee. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) talked about some of what the AA has been saying. The RAC surveys many thousands of motorists every year. Those surveys show clearly that there is a consensus among motorists that the real anti-car policy is to do nothing about congestion.
§ Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the important thing about local transport plans 616 and the options given on congestion charging or using of roads in a different way is that local people and organisations can decide the best solutions for their areas?
§ Ms Winterton
I agree and will say more about that. The Conservatives seem completely incapable of understanding that, possibly because of their attitude to local government when they were in power.
Motorists know that the forecast increase in car growth and the need to tackle environmental problems mean that something must be done. That is why the principle of hypothecation established in the Bill is so important. Motorists have reservations about congestion charging. That is shown by the RAC surveys. However, most motorists support congestion charging provided that the money raised is put back directly into improving public transport.
There is also clear evidence, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), that if motorists are subject to congestion charging, they will seriously consider alternatives such as car sharing, so that they use cars less. Many motorists have said that they would consider other forms of transport if public transport were improved.
It is important—this was one of the RAC's concerns, and was highlighted in the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Clark)—that there should be thorough consultation when local transport plans are drawn up, particularly if congestion charging is proposed.
Many of the Government's policies have concentrated on ensuring that the local community is consulted when the local authority draws up plans. That is important in ensuring local support for any changes that take place. I hope that during the passage of the Bill, Ministers will make it clear that they expect there to be thorough consultation by local transport authorities. Perhaps they will suggest how such consultation should take place, and the guidance that might be issued; for example, local disability groups should be included. I have previously raised some of the concerns of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
It is right that the Government have given local authorities the power to raise money locally for the improvement of public transport.
§ Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
Does my hon. Friend agree that when congestion charging schemes are discussed as part of that consultation process, it is important that they should have credibility, and that, if they are to have credibility, it is likely that there will need to be a clear relationship between car use and charging? Various organisations and bodies have drawn attention to the relative merits of a congestion charging scheme based on entering certain areas—as opposed, for example, to a workplace parking scheme.
§ Ms Winterton
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's comments, and I shall offer some suggestions in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke about the importance of planning at national level. It is also important that planning goes on at local level—particularly a strategic look at the needs of the local community and how those needs can be met. In my area of South Yorkshire, even 10-year-olds talk about the days when the South Yorkshire transport system 617 was healthy, before the Tories destroyed it. I believe that local authorities can be imaginative and forward-thinking in their proposals. Those can be popular locally, contrary to comments from the Opposition.
The Bill restores to local authorities the ability to be imaginative and forward-looking. Transport authorities can learn from each other. There should be a facility for exchanging best practice. I hope that Ministers will assist with that. Where local authorities have taken radical steps that have improved public transport, it would be helpful if other authorities were given information about that and encouraged to adopt similar policies.
I should like to make a suggestion, which follows on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden): it might be useful for organisations such as the Motorists Forum, which the Government set up, to work alongside the RAC and the AA to examine local transport plans that have improved life for the motorist and have proved most effective, so that we can follow the best examples.
Integration is the key to local transport plans. Bringing together provision for car, bus and rail users is important. The quality bus partnerships and the quality contracts that the Bill proposes will help to end the years of misery that deregulation has caused, leaving many people in constituencies such as mine isolated and without access to the services that they need.
Railways are an important part of making a properly integrated transport system work. I welcome the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority, but I want to underline the points that my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins) made about the concerns of PTAs, and especially their relationship with the SRA in setting priorities. We need to ensure that there is no conflict between the priorities of the PTAs and those of the SRA; any locally devised plan should bring those priorities together.
My constituency is in the centre of Doncaster, a town that was run down by the previous Government. Once a thriving industrial town, it now qualifies for objective 1 status as one of the poorest regions in Europe. In my constituency, 40 per cent. of people do not have access to a car. It is important to make good public transport a priority in my constituency if we are to create the regeneration that is necessary to get the area back on its feet and to get people back to work. Business has welcomed the moves to improve public transport—it realises that that is good for it—and my constituents will welcome the Bill because it will improve their quality of life in the next millennium.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
It is a privilege to follow two hon. Ladies who are members of the RAC public policy committee. I must admit that I agree more with one than with the other, although I congratulate the other—the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton)—on the excellence of her timekeeping.
Before the general election, Labour's transport document promised immediate benefits for the travelling public. Since the Opposition day debate a week ago, however, we have discovered that we are considering not immediate benefits to the travelling public but, as the Deputy Prime Minister suggested, a 10-year plan. 618 The benefit for the Government is that, by the time of the next general election, we will not know whether they have delivered. In 1999—the year of delivery—they have certainly not delivered on transport.
Let me quote from a recent transport debate:Under the present Government, transport policy is in chaos. Road budgets have been slashed. Investment … slashed … the Government are lining up new taxes for the motorist. A congestion tax is coming soon … The truth is that the Government are anti-motorist, but have no credible public transport policy to offer in its place … We are wholly against the policies that the Government are pursuing."—[Official Report, 15 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 623-24.]That was said not by a Conservative transport guru but by a Labour Member of Parliament: none other than the honourable—I use the word loosely—Member for Witney (Mr. woodward), who was right about transport, although I disagree with him on so many other subjects.
The Labour Government have not even begun to deliver on transport: their approach is fundamentally flawed and gives a fascinating glimpse into the realities of new Labour thinking. It is all about central planning and the state knowing best: "We've got an integrated transport White Paper. We are clever fellows. We know all about it. Do what we tell you and you'll be all right." That is exactly what Labour did to the economy under Wilson and Callaghan—central government and telling the people what they want. What works in transport terms is providing the travelling public with the services they want and the comfort they demand at a price they can afford. The market does that, not central planning, which is where Labour is wrong.
§ Mr. Gray
I am terribly sorry, but I have only five minutes in which to speak.
The second fundamental flaw in Labour's transport policy is that the Government are saying not, "Here is what we shall do to make transport better," but, "Here are the things that we shall not allow you to do, even if you want to do them." That particularly applies to cars. Why are petrol prices going through the roof and why are the Government introducing congestion charging and workplace taxes? It is not because motorists want to get off the road but to get motorists off the road. They are saying to motorists who want to use their cars for perfectly legitimate tasks, "You may not use them and we will tax you to make sure that you don't." They are interfering with the freedom of individuals to do what they could reasonably want to do.
Who will the measures affect? Not the fat cats, not company car drivers and not Ministers zipping around in their limos, but those who can least afford to pay for them. Let me quote a Labour professor, Professor Grant, who is a leading expert in car pollution at the university of Warwick:Even if you remove the vehicles from the road, others often appear in their place. People assume that the congestion has gone and use their cars again.Congestion charging not only affects those who can least afford to pay for it but does not work. If it did work and we managed to clear the roads by that means, what would happen? People would come back on to the roads. I suggest that congestion charging represents entirely
619 flawed and entirely wrong thinking and is a way of finding more revenue for the Treasury. It is all about the Government saying, "We know best and we are going to mess you lot out there around so that you'll do what we want you to do."
The same applies, but in another way, to the Strategic Rail Authority. The Government are saying, "Right, let's not leave it to Richard Branson and other business men to make money from providing decent transport; let's set up a centralised quango to dictate to the companies and tell them what we want them to do and how we will restrict them. My goodness, Mr. Branson! Make a profit? How awful. Labour does not like profits—no, no, no. We will restrict your profits as much as we possibly can so that you cannot invest or make money from providing a decent service for the people who travel on your trains."
The same applies, in a funny way, to the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services. Again, the Government will not allow the market to have its say. They will not allow NATS to make a profit and will not allow people to say, "Fine, let's make money and let those in the City invest in air traffic control so that we can make a profit from it." They say, "Oh no, we'll come up with a botched job. We shall do our best to produce something that looks a bit like privatisation. We will buy off the left wingers on our Back Benches, with something that is not truly a privatisation." The same applies to buses.
Labour's whole approach to transport is to centralise, dictate to the people and say, "We know best." In two and a half years in power it has made a mess of transport, which has been taken out of the Secretary of State's hands. We are glad about that because one thing is for sure: the Minister for Transport cannot make a worse mess than he has.
§ 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, as my 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.
620 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. 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. 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.
621 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. 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. Jenkin
I am short of time. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.
What about the £2 bill ion 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.
622 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
Rail fares shock for Prescott",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:The Secretary of State may by order amend or repeal this section.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
623 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.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)
As this is, after all, the season of good will, I should tell the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) that he did his best. Of course, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) would have done far better, but he is now—I am delighted to say—my hon. Friend. The Government's gain is very definitely the Opposition's loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He will be in the Division Lobby, that is for sure.
The Transport Bill deals with four main areas of change: congestion charging, buses and local transport plans, our proposals for a new structure in the railways, and National Air Traffic Services public-private partnership. The Government's proposal to introduce a public-private partnership for NATS has been the subject of serious and important speeches in today's debate. Among those speeches, however, I do not include those by hon. Members from either of the main opposition parties. Let us be entirely clear about it: despite the weasel words of Conservative Front Benchers, their position remains as it always has been—full privatisation of NATS, which is an option entirely rejected by the Government, by every key player in the industry and, not least, by public opinion.
§ Mr. Hill
I shall not give way now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] My hon. Friend knows that I am tremendously fond of him and that I shall certainly look in his direction eventually. I should point out, however, that 17 Back Benchers spoke about NATS, taking a total of two hours, and that, regrettably, I am alone and have only approximately 10 minutes to deal with the subject. However, I shall return to my hon. Friend in due course.
From Liberal Democrat Members we have had the usual defence of the status quo: it should all be paid for out of the public purse or by public sector borrowing. As usual, the Liberal Democrats are stranded among the flotsam and jetsam, high on the shoreline of history.
§ Mr. Hill
No, not yet, but in due course.
I pay tribute to the excellent record of our air traffic controllers and to their outstanding commitment to safety standards in the industry. However, the trade union side in NATS accepts that it is unreasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund the new investment that NATS so urgently requires. I believe that that view is widely shared also by those of my hon. Friends who have expressed reservations about the form of funding proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. Salter
Will my hon. Friend expand on the suggestion that we made—that the Transport Research 625 Laboratory in Wokingham offers a useful and instructive model? The TRL was privatised, but only as a company limited by guarantee and on a not-for-profit basis.
§ Mr. Hill
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The TRL privatisation was undertaken by the previous Government, using a competitive tender process. We intend to use a similar process for NATS. There is nothing to stop NATS management or a not-for-profit group submitting a bid, as happened with TRL. The organisation would, of course, have to meet all of our criteria for a strategic partner, and the Government must ensure that the value of our 49 per cent. is retained—it is, after all, a public asset. If a not-for-public organisation is able to do that, there is no reason why it should not be considered on an equal footing with any commercial bid. I hope that that is helpful to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Foster
Is the Minister able to explain by what considerably contorted logic he arrived at the conclusion that a proposition for an independent publicly owned company issuing bonds to raise money is the same as the status quo?
§ Mr. Hill
The crystal clear logic by which I arrived at that position will unfold in the course of my subsequent remarks.
Enormous, new and exciting opportunities will open up in world aviation in the next few years. By 2010, in United Kingdom airspace alone, there will have been an increase in air traffic movements of 60 per cent. New technology will bring with it the opportunity to export British air traffic expertise on a major scale. In 10 years, it could be possible for air traffic movements into Hong Kong, for example, to be controlled from Swanwick or Prestwick—from the other side of the world.
It is vital that Britain should be at the forefront of the new technology in order to seize these market opportunities, but the competition will be severe. Over the next 10 years both NATS and Eurocontrol expect air traffic control centres in Europe to have consolidated from 30 to six. To meet that challenge, we need state of the art control centres at Swanwick and Prestwick. That is why we need the £1 billion that the strategic partner will generate from the private sector for new investment in NATS over the next 10 years.
Why should the public purse foot that bill or shoulder the financial risk when money is available from the private sector? The lesson of past decades is that public sector borrowing, with its limited horizon of three years at most, simply cannot guarantee the long-term finance necessary to commission the new en route centre at Swanwick, and, I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends from north of the border, the new Scottish centre at Prestwick. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) made a very good speech, and I remind her that, as the Prime Minister said earlier this year, the Government are fully committed to the new Scottish centre and the public-private partnership will be obliged to complete it.
§ Mr. Redwood
Does the Minister intend to write off NATS debt, or will he promise to strike out in Committee the clause that gives him that power as he has now decided that it is not necessary?
§ Mr. Hill
Those are matters for negotiation on the development of the PPP. No action is required on the face 626 of the Bill. The disposal of the £300 million debt will be a matter for discussion between the strategic partner and the Government in due course.
The PPP is about more than finance alone. We are all aware of the long and sorry history of inefficiency and delay at Swanwick—five years late in delivery, with a massive cost overrun, and Bechtel brought in, as usual, to project manage the new centre at Prestwick. The truth is that NATS, for all its considerable operational skills, lacks top level skills in key areas such as project management and investment, as well as financial management. That is why, in the Government's view, the independent publicly owned company solution advocated by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends will not do. It would permit limited borrowing freedom—but under the same management as before.
We do not believe that an IPOC, or a similar solution, would offer the real efficiency driver that would enable NATS to rise to the challenge of new opportunities in the global aviation market. The PPP will enable NATS to sell its operational expertise abroad, to train staff and offer safety management to other air traffic control providers around the world, and, in the longer term, to run those systems for them. These are commercial ventures, the financial risk of which it is proper for the private sector—not the taxpayer—to bear. We need to establish a structure of incentives and disciplines to maximise efficiency. We need to give NATS the commercial freedoms and the management skills to make best use of them. That is why we support the PPP.
In implementing the PPP, it is of course vital that there should be no compromise on national security or safety. I reassure the House that there will be no such compromise. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) dwelt on national security in his speech. Let me make it clear that the Bill gives the Government the power to direct NATS in the interests of national security. That power will be written into the operating licence. It is exactly the same principle as that which allows the Government to requisition a ship in wartime.
§ Mr. Hill
The strategic partner will be selected only after stringent suitability tests, and the Government will have powers to ensure that the PPP—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I will not give way. I must cover the other provisions of the Bill.
The Government will have powers to ensure that the PPP remains in the hands of a fit and proper person whose ownership would not compromise the public interest or national security. The fact is that safety is, and will always be, the Government's overriding priority. Indeed, in establishing the PPP, we shall make a positive contribution to aviation safety by separating safety regulation from service provision. For the first time, we shall create a properly independent safety regulator, to ensure that safety standards are maintained at their existing high levels and improved where necessary—a development long recommended by the airlines, the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs and the former Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
There will be no profits before safety under the public-private partnership, any more than there are now at Belfast, Bristol, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford,
627 Humberside, London Luton and Newcastle airports, or at any of the 83 airports nationwide that have private sector air traffic control and which are subject to the air safety regulator and safely handle more than 21 million air passengers every year. We want to maintain and build on some of the most stringent air safety standards in the world. There will be no reduction in safety standards or in the safety regulator's powers to enforce them under a public-private partnership. It is for those reasons that I ask the House to oppose the amendment.
I want now to deal with the other provisions that will, in practice, have a more immediate impact on the day-to-day travel experiences of the British public than our proposal for NATS. I thought it proper, however, within the limited time available to me, to respond as fully as possible to the strongly felt and considered views of a number of colleagues whom I deeply respect. "Strongly felt and considered" are not, I am bound to say, the adjectives that I would apply to the claptrap we have heard from Conservative Members on road user charging and workplace parking levies.
Let us leave on one side the sheer irresponsibility and opportunism of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in breaking a growing cross-party consensus on congestion charging. Well, let us leave it almost on one side. The previous Government, for all their manifold failures in transport policy, were beginning to understand the potential benefits of congestion charging. If not, why did they initiate the London congestion charging research programme, led by MVA Consultancy, in November 1991? If not, why did they support similar research projects in Bristol in 1992, in Edinburgh and Lothian in the same year, in Cambridge in 1993 and in south-east Hampshire in 1994—years during which, incidentally, the right hon. Members for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and for North—West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) were Secretaries of State?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is perfectly reasonable to undertake research inquiries into various options? However, the lessons of those were that we should not pursue congestion charging for all the reasons that I set out in my speech.
§ Mr. Hill
I was coming on to that. The Conservative Government also commissioned a study by the university of Westminster on transport and the environment, which it published in April 1996 to coincide with their Green Paper on transport. The then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North—West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), said in a press release:
The study shows that people are increasingly concerned about the impact of traffic growth on their daily lives, but accept the need for measures to restrain their own car use if they are provided with reasonable alternatives. These views along with the strong opinions expressed that the expenditure should be switched from roads to public transport coincide with some of the main messages in the Transport Green Paper.628 There was a growing political consensus. As I have said before, in seeking to politicise the issue of congestion charging—
I must put the Question at the appropriate time. I believe that the Minister was about to give way to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney).
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. If he had read my evidence to the Select Committee about charging in inner-city areas—evidence which included the questions that I put today—he would be able to tell us why this legislation was introduced without answering any of the fundamental questions that must be dealt with before congestion becomes nothing but another Labour stealth tax.
§ Mr. Hill
Not only did I read the observations that the right hon. Gentleman made before the Select Committee, I was on the Committee when he made them. Notwithstanding the mounting evidence and the research undertaken by his Department, he did not have the courage to introduce congestion charging. The Labour Government have that courage.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham claims that the Government' s proposals for congestion charging are anti-car. Anti-car? Do we hear that from the party that brought in the automatic fuel duty escalator and increased fuel tax from 7 to 42p a litre? What could be more anti-car than that? Anti-car—from the party that invented road congestion at 70 cars per mile. The Conservatives spent £70 billion on new roads and ended up with 100 cars per mile. What could be more anti-car than that? Anti-car—from the party that cut road maintenance by 9 per cent. over four years and left Britain's motorway and trunk road network in its worst state of maintenance since records began. What could be more anti-car than that?
The Labour Government are the pro-car Government. This year, we are spending £765 million on road maintenance—40 per cent. more than in the last year of Tory rule. This Government have ended the automatic fuel duty escalator and ring-fenced any further real increase for improving roads and modernising public transport. This Government are tackling the biggest 629 problem facing drivers in urban areas—congested roads—because we realise that the most pro-car action a Government can take is to reduce congestion on our roads. The Government are pro-car in tackling congestion. We are pro-choice in transport, because we have guaranteed that the net revenues of congestion charging will be put into local transport improvements—both public transport and roads.
The Government believe that local people are best placed to find local solutions to local transport problems. In general, we received an excellent response to the first and provisional round of local capital transport plans. Last week, we were able to give tangible expression to our commitment to local decision making in transport in a settlement which, at £755 million, represented a 20 per cent. increase over last year. Over the next three years we shall be allocating a massive extra £700 million to local transport plans. Because of that success, the Bill will place those plans on a statutory footing.
However, if local solutions are right for local transport problems, we need a strategic and national vision for our railway network. From the confusion and fragmentation of rail privatisation, we need to bring order, co-ordination and accountability. The Bill provides for that. We shall establish a new Strategic Rail Authority and we shall strengthen the powers of the rail regulator. Furthermore, we shall strengthen the consumer's voice by giving a new structure and new powers to the rail passengers committees.
In 1997, we inherited a crumbling transport system that failed to provide real choice. We inherited underinvestment in road maintenance and a long list of frozen road building schemes. We inherited a rail system that had been broken up into a hundred pieces and flogged off at a massive loss to the taxpayer. Under the plans of the previous Administration, we would now be spending nearly £1 billion less on transport each year. We are investing in London's underground, in local authorities' transport plans and in national roads. We need no lessons on transport policy from the party that gave us road congestion, the party of rail privatisation, the party that would privatise the—
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 33, Noes 321.632
|Division No. 21]||[10 pm|
|Allan, Richard||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|Baker, Norman||Keetch, Paul|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Livsey, Richard|
|Brake, Tom||Moore, Michael|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)|
|Breed, Colin||Öpik, Lembit|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Rendel, David|
|Burstow, Paul||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies||Sanders, Adrian|
|(NE Fife)||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Cotter, Brian||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Dafis, Cynog||Webb, Steve|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Willis, Phil|
|Foster, Don (Bath)|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hancock, Mike||Mr. Oliver Heald and|
|Harvey, Nick||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Davis, Rt Hon Terry|
|Allen, Graham||(B'ham Hodge H)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Denham, John|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Dismore, Andrew|
|Ashton, Joe||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Doran, Frank|
|Banks, Tony||Dowd, Jim|
|Barron, Kevin||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Beard, Nigel||Edwards, Huw|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Efford, Clive|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Ennis, Jeff|
|Benton, Joe||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Fisher, Mark|
|Berry, Roger||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Best, Harold||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Betts, Clive||Flint, Caroline|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Follett, Barbara|
|Blizzard, Bob||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Borrow, David||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Foulkes, George|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Gardiner, Barry|
|Bradshaw, Ben||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Brown, Rt Hon Gordon||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|(Dunfermline E)||Godsiff, Roger|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Goggins, Paul|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Browne, Desmond||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Burden, Richard||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Burgon, Colin||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Butter, Mrs Christine||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Grocott, Bruce|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Grogan, John|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Gunnell, John|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Campbell—Savours, Dale||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Cann, Jamie||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Hanson, David|
|Casale, Roger||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Caton, Martin||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Cawsey, Ian||Healey, John|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Chaytor, David||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Church, Ms Judith||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Heppell, John|
|Clark, Dr Lynda||Hesford, Stephen|
|(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Heppell, John|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Hill, Keith|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Clelland, David||Hoey, Kate|
|Clwyd, Ann||Hood, Jimmy|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hope, Phil|
|Coleman, Iain||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Colman, Tony||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)|
|Cox, Tom||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Cranston, Ross||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Crausby, David||Hurst, Alan|
|Cummings, John||Hutton, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Illsley, Eric|
|Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Jackson, Helen(Hillsborough)|
|Darvill, Keith||Jenkins, Brian|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Norris, Dan|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie||O'Brien, Bill (Normandton)|
|(Welwyn Hatfield)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Olner, Bill|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Pearson, Ian|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Pendry, Tom|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Pike, Peter L|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Plaskitt, James|
|Khabra, Piara S||Pollard, Kerry|
|Kidney, David||Pond, Chris|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Pope, Greg|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Pound, Stephen|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Lawrence, Mrs Jackie||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Laxton, Bob||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Leslie, Christopher||Purchase, Ken|
|Levitt, Tom||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Linton, Martin||Rapson, Syd|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Lock, David||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Love, Andrew||Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|McCabe, Steve||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|McCartney, Rt Hon Ian||Rogers, Allan|
|(Makerfield)||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Rooney, Terry|
|McFall, John||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Rowlands, Ted|
|Mclsaac, Shona||Roy, Frank|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Ruane, Chris|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Ruddock, Joan|
|McNulty, Tony||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|MacShane, Denis||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Shaw, Jonathan|
|McWalter, Tony||Sheerman, Barry|
|McWilliam, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Mallaber, Judy||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter||Singh, Marsha|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Marshall—Andrews, Robert||Smith, Miss Geraldine|
|Martlew, Eric||(Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|Maxton, John||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Smith, John(Glamorgan)|
|Meale, Alan||Snape, Peter|
|Merron, Gillian||Soley, Clive|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Spellar, John|
|Miller, Andrew||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Moffatt, Laura||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Stevenson, George|
|Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Morley, Elliot||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|(B'ham Yardley)||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Morris, Rt Hon Sir John||Stringer, Graham|
|(Aberavon)||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Mountford, Kali||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann|
|Mullin, Chris||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Timms, Stephen||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Tipping, Paddy||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Todd, Mark||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Touhig, Don||(Swansea W)|
|Trickett, Jon||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)||Wills, Michael|
|Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)||Wilson, Brian|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)||Woolas, Phil|
|Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)||Worthington, Tony|
|Vaz, Keith||Wray, James|
|Vis, Dr Rudi||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Walley, Ms Joan||Wyatt, Derek|
|Ward, Ms Claire||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Watts, David||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|White, Brian||Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 358, Noes 163.636
|Division No. 22]||[10.13 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Campbell—Savours, Dale|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Cann, Jamie|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Alexander, Douglas||Casale, Roger|
|Allen, Graham||Caton, Martin|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Cawsey, Ian|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Chaytor, David|
|Ashton, Joe||Church, Ms Judith|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Clapham, Michael|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)|
|Austin, John||Clark, Dr Lynda|
|Banks, Tony||(Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Barnes, Harry||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Beard, Nigel||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Clarke, (Northampton S)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Clelland, David|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Clwyd, Ann|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Coaker, Vernon|
|Benton, Joe||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cohen, Harry|
|Berry, Roger||Coleman, Iain|
|Best, Harold||Coleman, Iain|
|Betts, Clive||Colman, Tony|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Cooper, Yvette|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Corbett, Robin|
|Borrow, David||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Cox, Tom|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Cranston, Ross|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Crausby, David|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Cryer, John (Homchurch)|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Cummings, John|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Browne, Desmond||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Burden, Richard||Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Burgon, Colin||Dalyell, Tam|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Darvill, Keith|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Davidson, Ian|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Llanelli)|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Hutton, John|
|Davis, Rt Hon Terry||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|(B'ham Hodge H)||Illsley,Eric|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Denham, John||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Dismore, Andrew||Jenkins, Brian|
|Dobbin, Jim||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Dobson, Rt Hon Frank||Johnson, Miss Melanie|
|Donohoe, Brian H||(Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Doran, Frank||Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)|
|Dowd, Jim||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Drew, David||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly, Oak)|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa|
|Edwards, Huw||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Efford, Clive||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Ennis, Jeff||Keen, Ann (Brentford & lsleworth)|
|Etherington, Bill||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|Fisher, Mark||Khabra, Piara S|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Kidney, David|
|Fitzsimons, Lorna||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Flint, Caroline||King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)|
|Flynn, Paul||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Follett, Barbara||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Foster, Michael J(Worcester)||Laxton, Bob|
|Foulkes, George||Leslie, Christopher|
|Fyfe, Maria||Levitt, Tom|
|Galloway, George||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Gardiner, Barry||Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||Linton, Martin|
|Gerrard, Neil||Livingstone, Ken|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Lock, David|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Love, Andrew|
|Godsiff, Roger||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Goggins, Paul||McCabe, Steve|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McDonnell, John|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McFall, John|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mclsaac, Shona|
|Grogan, John||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Gunnell, John||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||McNulty, Tony|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||MacShane, Denis|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Hanson, David||McWalter, Tony|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Mallaber, Judy|
|Healey, John||Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Marshal, David (Shettleston)|
|Heppell, John||Marshall—Andrews, Robert|
|Hesford, Stephen||Martlew, Eric|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Maxton, John|
|Hill, Keith||Meacher, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Meale, Alan|
|Hoey, Kate||Merron, Gillian|
|Hood, Jimmy||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Hope, Phil||Miller, Andrew|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Moffatt, Laura|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Morgan, Ms Juile (Cardiff N)|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Morley, Elliot|
|Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Moris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle||smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|(B'ham Yardley)||Smith, Miss Geraldine|
|Morris, Rt Hon Sir John||(Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|(Aberavon)||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Mountford, Kali||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Mudie, George||Snape, Peter|
|Mullin, Chris||Soley, Clive|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Spellar, John|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||squire, Ms Rachel|
|Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Norris, Dan||Stevenson, George|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Olner, Bil||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|O'Neill, Martin||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Organ, Mrs Diana||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra||Stringer, Graham|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Pearson, Ian||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Taylor, Mrs Dari (Stockton S)|
|Pickthall, Colin||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Pike, Peter L||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|Plaskitt, James||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Pollard, Kerry||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Pond, Chris||Timms, stephen|
|Pope, Greg||Tiping, Paddy|
|Pound, Stephen||Todd, Mark|
|Powell, Sir, Raymond||Touhig, Don|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Trickett, Jon|
|Prentice, Ms Gordon (Pendle)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Purchase, Ken||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Vaz, Keith|
|Radice, Rt Hon Giles||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Rapson, Syd||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Raynsford, Nick||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)||Watts, David|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||White, Brian|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Rogers, Allan||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Rooney, Terry||(Swansea W)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Roy, Frank||Wills, Michael|
|Ruane, Chris||Wilson, Brian|
|Ruddock, Joan||Winnick, David|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Salter, Martin||Wood, Mike|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Woolas, Phil|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wright,Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wyatt,Derek|
|Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Singh, Marsha||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Mr.Gerry Sutcliffe and|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Mr. David Jamieson|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Beith, Rt Hon A J|
|Allan, Richard||Bell, Martin (Tatton)|
|Amess, David||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Blunt, Crispin|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Body, Sir Richard|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Boswell, Tim|
|Atkinson, David(Bour'mth E)||Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia|
|Baker, Norman||Brady, Graham|
|Brake, Tom||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Brazier, Julian||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Breed, Colin||Lansley, Andrew|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Leigh, Edward|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Lidington, David|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Burns, Simon||Livsey, Richard|
|Burstow, Paul||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies||Loughton, Tim|
|(NE Fife)||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Cash, William||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Mclntosh, Miss Anne|
|(Chipping Barnet)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Chope, Christopher||Madel, Sir David|
|Clappison, James||Malins, Humfrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Mates, Michael|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|(Rushcliffe)||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brain|
|Collins, Tim||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Colvin, Michael||Moore, Michael|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway|
|Cotter, Brian||O'Brein, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Cran, James||Öpik, Lembit|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Ottaway, Richard|
|Dafis, Cynog||Page, Richard|
|Davies, Quentin(Grantham)||Paice, James|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice||Paterson, Owen|
|&Howden)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Day, Stephen||Prior, David|
|Duncan, Alan||Randall, John|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Evans, Nigel||Rendel, David|
|Faber, David||Robertson, Laurence|
|Fabricant, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion Broxbourne|
|Fallon, Michael||Ruffley, David|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Russell, Bob(Colchester)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Sanders, Adrian|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Fraser, Christopher||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Gale, Roger||Simpson, Keith (Mid—Norfolk)|
|Garnier, Edward||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Soames, Nicholas|
|Gibb, Nick||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Gill, Christopher||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Spring, Richard|
|Gray, James||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Green, Damian||Steen, Anthony|
|Greenway, John||Streeter, Gary|
|Grieve, Dominic||Swayne, Desmond|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Syms, Robert|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Hammond, Philip||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hancock, Mike||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Harvey, Nick||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Hawkins, Nick||Tredinnick, David|
|Hayes, John||Trend, Michael|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David||Viggers, Peter|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Walter, Robert|
|Horam, John||Wardle, Charles|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Waterson, Nigel|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Webb, Steve|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Wells, Bowen|
|Hunter, Andrew||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Whittingdale, John|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Wilkinson, John|
|Keetch, Paul||Willetts, David|
|Key, Robert||Willis, Phil|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Wilshire, David|
|Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield>||Mr. Oliver Heald and|
|Young, Rt Hon Sir George||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).