Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Talking of building our way out of congestion, the Deputy Prime Minister knows that one of the bypasses that the Government have kept in the programme is Great Barford in Bedfordshire, which needs to be built because of the terrible congestion. Why will nothing happen until 2001, and why even then will we get only the publication of the orders? Can the plans be brought forward?

15 Jul 1999 : Column 603

Mr. Prescott: We constantly hear such pleas, but our record on building bypasses is very good compared with that of the previous Administration. We are reviewing road expenditure and using different criteria, to take into account the environment, safety, economic regeneration, the relief of congestion and other such matters. That is how we have put together our programme. We have not drawn up the £6 billion wish list that we used to debate in the House.

The Conservatives put £6 billion of roads into the programme, with no chance whatever of getting them built, and spent only £1.5 billion. That was a load of nonsense. We have rejected that and said that it is right to spell out what we plan to build over three years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should be grateful that his bypass is in the programme. We have designed the programme to reflect the fact that we want more and more of the resources to go into offering people more of an opportunity to use their cars less and public transport more, as we have taken the view that we cannot build our way out of congestion.

Mr. Ian Bruce rose--

Mr. Prescott: No, I must make some progress. There are real problems with time, and the right hon. Member for Wokingham also had to limit his taking of interventions because of the shortening of our debate.

We should remind the House, and especially the right hon. Member for Wokingham, that in 18 years in office the Tories did nothing to sort out the transport problems. There was a fall of 11 per cent. in the number of public transport journeys, and the number of car journeys increased by 21 per cent. Bus journeys fell by 31 per cent. There was disinvestment in the London underground system. The privatised rail system was broken into 100 pieces and Railtrack was sold off very cheaply and has had great difficulty in keeping its investment promises to improve rail services. Roads fell into the worst condition since official surveys began. Official Government records show that road maintenance was as bad as it has ever been and constantly worsening. The situation was totally unacceptable.

One would welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is now converted to the notion of providing more resources for maintenance, but the Conservatives cut the maintenance programme by 8 per cent. We restored that cut because we understand the programme's importance. There was increasing gridlock and congestion.

In an article in 1996, after 16 years of Tory government, the right hon. Gentleman said:


That was not after our policies but after all the wonderful things that the right hon. Gentleman tells us the previous Government planned. Perhaps it was old Conservatism that produced the problem, but I have to deal with what we inherited.

Mr. Ian Bruce rose--

Mr. Prescott: No, no. I have problems with time.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 604

The Tory Government brought about the very things that the right hon. Member for Wokingham classically identified in his article almost 12 months before the general election. There were 70 cars for every mile of road in 1979 and there are now 100. We have predicted, and everyone accepts the analysis, that in 20 years, if we do nothing, there will be 6 million new cars on our roads, meaning 30 per cent. more traffic and 70 per cent. longer journey times.

That is clearly unacceptable, but I pray in aid the 1996 Tory Green Paper, which admitted:


That did not come from my White Paper: it came from the conclusion of the previous Administration's Green Paper. They agreed that we had to get people to use their cars less and use public transport more. I happen to agree. That was the old Conservative view, and we have heard the new view from the right hon. Member for Wokingham. That Green Paper was called "The Way Forward", but the Redwood plan is the way back.

There is a general consensus that we cannot build our way out of congestion, but this week the Conservatives set out a new transport policy almost entirely devoted to roads. It could not really be called a transport policy. The Tories have listened, but they have learned nothing. In our White Paper, we acknowledge the need to integrate transport, because in 18 years we learned the lessons that the right hon. Member for Wokingham apparently has not learned.

We introduced the first White Paper for 20 years and it was welcomed by business groups, all the motoring organisations, consumers' organisations, environmentalists and the public. The Government's clear aim is to provide a decent transport system that is integrated and sustainable. No other White Paper has been so broadly welcomed in its definition of what we have to do in the short and long term.

Since the White Paper, we have seen a dramatic increase in rail passengers and freight, more resources for rural buses and 1,500 new services. We have seen a greater commitment to concessionary bus fares so that all can benefit from greater mobility. Some 100 towns now have bus and rail links through through-ticketing. Some 430 railway car parks now have CCTV and I have announced extra resources for the London underground. Those are some of the benefits that are beginning to flow from improving confidence in the transport policy.

Reaction to the Redwood plan has been very different. The right hon. Gentleman's transport policy is called "A Fair Deal for Motorists", but if he were able to implement it, it would be the most anti-motorist policy of all. It is not costed, it would be damaging to the environment and the resources for it would not be made available, according to what I read of it. One of the Tories' press releases said that all the proposals had been costed, but we did not hear anything about that today. We did not hear which roads or bypasses would be built as a priority. We did not hear what resources would be put into public transport. I do not doubt that the shadow Treasury team will not allow the right hon. Member for Wokingham to cost his proposals. We all face the rule of the Treasury on such matters.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 605

I am critical of the Redwood plan, but that is only to be expected. Therefore, I shall pray in aid other organisations and publications. The spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents stated:


Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): It is dead wood.

Mr. Prescott: The Redwood plan may be a dead-wood plan, but RoSPA is an authoritative voice on death and accidents. We have a proud record in reducing death and accidents on roads in this country that is better than those of many other countries. That has continued through Governments from the mid-1960s onwards. The Conservatives' new policy would reverse that trend and that is what RoSPA have complained about.

The Financial Times quoted the AA:


That is the AA's view of the success of Tory policies. The Guardian, for all the intellectuals who read it, said:


    "The Tories are not so much jumping on a bandwagon as clambering into the back seat. Yesterday they unveiled what they called their 'motorists' charter' transport policy . . . uncosted tinkering, masquerading as a long-term strategy."

The Times, which is not exactly a left-leaning newspaper, said:


    "The new transport policy, unveiled yesterday, is like a blast of stale air. Muddled thinking, uncosted plans and contradictory statements do not make a policy."

It continues:


    "John Redwood . . . appears to define 'transport' solely as travel by car."

The Tories' new policy purports to be the friend of the motorist but it does not offer solutions to congestion. In 18 years, they failed to relieve congestion. After billions of pounds of expenditure on roads, there were more cars on the roads and more coming. They could not keep ahead of the growth. Unless the right hon. Member for Wokingham intends to double or treble the road-building programme--and I can believe that he would propose to do so--he will not be able to keep ahead of car growth. However, the policy paper does not say that they will double or treble road building to meet their wish list. Would he do so? It is a possibility. It would not work, but the right hon. Gentleman should have the honesty to tell the motorist which roads he would build.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham tries to kid motorists that he would not introduce charges, but his Government introduced charges for the Birmingham northern relief road. He said that there would be no tolls on the motorways.


Next Section

IndexHome Page