Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Taylor: I am pleased to hear the shadow Front-Bench spokesman say that the Conservatives will support any alternatives to the car. How does that sit with the deregulation of bus services, which removed much of public transport from the most rural areas which hon. Members on both sides of the House now represent?

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to what I was saying. One of the reasons for the decline in rural bus services is that people have the superior alternative of the car. In the last six years we were in office, there was a big increase in dial-a-ride services and community transport, which is much more applicable to rural areas.

New Labour is a byword for wanton cynicism and opportunism. In March this year, the Chancellor announced that the Government were to devote an extra £50 million to rural bus schemes. That is a classic example of new Labour spin, and the Minister wantonly

29 Jul 1998 : Column 466

spun it again today. This tokenism has gained publicity out of all proportion to the scale of the commitment.It would be instructive to compare that figure with the amount of extra money that the Treasury will suck out of the countryside through its draconian increases in fuel duty. The Library estimates that to be at least twice as much every year.

As for the Minister's announcement of an increase in money for the countryside, the real increase is 26 per cent. spread over three years. The increase of 11 per cent. in the first year is only £18 million. How does that compare with the £9 billion in extra fuel duties? How many new bus services per village would £50 million buy? Even if it were to double the provision of rural bus services, a village would get perhaps four services a day instead of two. What alternative is that to a car? [Interruption.] The answer to that question was thought to be the transport White Paper. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must calm down: we need to hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jenkin: I shall take it out of the Minister's time. The answer to that question was thought to be the transport White Paper, "A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone", but it is a very poor deal for rural areas. Like the bad old days of British Rail, the Chancellor's £50 million for rural transport is announced again and again throughout the White Paper, but the policy itself never arrives.

The White Paper is almost exclusively about urban and inter-urban transport. Virtually nothing in its 170 pages of waffle pays more than lip service to the transport problems of rural areas. Its central thesis is "pay up now and benefit some time in the future"--by way of little more than the faint prospect of improvements to public transport. When the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement last week, he called that hypothecation. In the here today, gone tomorrow world of Labour's Transport Ministers, that is what passes for a victory over the Treasury.

The only other money the Government have to spend for the next five years comes as a direct benefit of rail privatisation--the money freed up by reducing rail subsidies. The Government will take people off the road long before adequate alternatives are in place. The Council for the Protection of Rural England complains that the Government are creating a two-tier transport system--a new deal for the towns, but no deal for rural areas. It is new Labour tax on tax on tax from the party which, before the general election, solemnly promised no new taxes at all. No concessionary fares scheme can possibly compensate people in isolated communities for being priced out of their cars.

In the section "Reducing social exclusion", the Government come up with another novel solution. Paragraph 4.88 states:

29 Jul 1998 : Column 467

    What exactly does that mean? I am reminded of the words of Jon Mendelsohn, the famous lobbyist and crony of the Prime Minister:

    "Tony is very anxious to be seen as green. Everything has to be couched"--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. When we refer to the Prime Minister or any other hon. Member we use his constituency name.

Mr. Jenkin: Speaking of the Prime Minister, the lobbyist said:

In this Orwellian world, what is a key village and what do the Government mean by growth?

The integration of planning and transport is meant to be a key part of the Government's integrated transport strategy. But the Government's house building policy flies in the face of what they say about land use planning.

The Government rightly acknowledge the Conservative Government's changes in planning policy guidance. It was the Conservatives who took the first initiatives towards the integration of transport and land use planning--in PPG 13. However, the Government have not only accepted unquestioningly the projection that 4.4 million new homes will need to be built in the next 20 years, but the Deputy Prime Minister has set about the task of ensuring that they are built. Moreover, half of them are to be targeted on rural areas.

We are pushing for two thirds of new build to be situated on brown-field sites; for the planning guidance which the Minister has yet to produce to reflect changes in Government policy; and for a halt to the structure plans until the guidance is issued--another point to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, not least because the Government do not seem to appreciate that the people who choose to live in those houses on green-field sites will need to own cars.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that, even if he realises his golden age of racehorse buses, his integrated transport policy will be no more than a pantomime horse if more and more people live away from the large conurbations and continue to use their cars? The whole purpose of land use planning is that people should live nearer where they work and the shops, offices and facilities that they need so that alternatives to the car can become available by choice.

The Government's policy is a mess. The transport White Paper is the most manifest evidence that they have failed to appreciate the problems facing rural areas. The CPRE has made public its fear that

As every schoolboy knows, that is exactly what the green belt was designed to prevent. As well as hammering the rural motorist with ever higher taxes and creating rural car fuel poverty, they are targeting housing in rural areas or, to reuse their Orwellian rhetoric,

    "promoting the growth of key villages".

29 Jul 1998 : Column 468

That is not integration; it is a massive fudge. The Government's policies are destructive of the environment and ultimately self-defeating. But that should come as no surprise when key former advisers regard key green-belt areas as

    "just a bunch of mud tracts on the edge of town".

Those are the words of Derek Draper, whose key contact in the Government is Mr. Geoff Norris of the No. 10 policy unit. It was he who ripped the guts out of the transport White Paper even before it had reached the dim world of off-the-record briefings.

What happened to the environment? Let Mr. Draper explain:

the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher)--

    "is very weak and basically he's irrelevant and nobody should have to take him into account . . . He's nobody going nowhere. I don't think he'll be in his job much longer."

Mr. Draper got that bit wrong. I pay tribute to the outgoing Minister of Transport. The Government might well have done better to listen to his advice. I welcome his successor, the hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), but he has some catching up to do to win an Oscar nomination like that of the Minister for Transport in London.

The real problem lies in the Government's mindset--in the Labour party's fundamental bias in favour of its urban heartlands. New Labour's first-hand knowledge of the countryside is from an Islington perspective: it is a mixture of James Herriot, "The Archers" and Postman Pat, laced with the poison of coercion and political correctness. The Liberal Democrats are completely divided on the countryside. They say what they want, depending on where they happen to be at the time. It therefore falls to the Conservatives to speak for rural Britain.

The Government are determined to make the countryside pay for their failures and their policies. They are not just harming those who live and work in the countryside; they are failing Britain as a whole. Today, the populations in our great towns and cities may far outnumber those in the countryside, but the few are no less a part of our nation's history and greatness. When we sing

we want to sing about the England of today, not about an England that has been laid waste by the Government's dogma and incompetence. While the Government and their cronies are trying to build some new Jerusalem of their own, the rest of us can see that the countryside is already our inheritance. It must not be squandered.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): This is, I believe, the third Opposition day on which Opposition Members have chosen to debate rural issues. On each occasion, they have markedly failed to convince either the House or the country that they are even vaguely what they continually claim to be--the party that speaks for rural interests.

29 Jul 1998 : Column 469

What we have heard tonight has been the usual recycling of, in the main, inaccurate statistics, along with empty insults directed at the Labour Benches--where sit a Government and a party committed to the interests of our rural communities. If the Conservative party genuinely wishes to present itself as a party with even the slightest interest in the countryside and its people, all that it needs to do is apologise for the grievous damage that it inflicted on rural communities during the 18 years of its lamentable Government. It is the party which was responsible for vast unemployment in rural areas, for the reduction of housing in rural areas, for taking away public transport in rural areas and for causing grievous damage not only to agriculture but to the human food chain. It sat idly by and allowed BSE to take a poisonous grip on the country, and taxpayers are still paying vast amounts as a result.

Let me now adopt a rather more factual approach to the issues raised tonight, and, perhaps, set the record straight on some of the issues that Opposition Members introduced time after time. The most obvious is the canard that the Government--and, indeed, the Labour party--are giving away the nation's green belt. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment pointed out, it was the Labour Government who introduced a green belt. It may interest the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who asked a direct question, to know that, since 1 May last year, the green belt has increased by 29,547 hectares.

The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and, I believe, the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) were much exercised by what they claimed to be the Government's plans for new house building over the coming decades. I understand that the need for 4.4 million new houses was first suggested by the previous Government who significantly failed to meet their target of 50 per cent. of new build on brown-field sites. They managed to average only 42 per cent. on such sites.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) was much concerned about the effect of new build on Sussex. It is impossible for the Government, and it would have been impossible for the previous Administration, to accept a shortfall of 12,800 houses in that area. The hon. Gentleman claims that 60 per cent. of them will have to be built on green-field sites. The figure for the previous Government was 58 per cent., and our clear commitment is that the majority of our houses will be on brown-field sites.

Next Section

IndexHome Page