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Mr. Redwood: The Deputy Prime Minister is getting himself into a muddle. We are not in a muddle at all. We are against the unfair congestion and parking charges--the taxes--that the Government say they will introduce. Our document states that the Government have taxed the motorist more than enough--indeed, too much--so we shall oppose those new taxes tooth and nail. We are against them, full stop.

Mr. Prescott: One of the difficulties that I have with that lies in the difference between the main document and an earlier paper that will be of interest to the Treasury. The word "fair" appears to have been inserted at some stage, and I wondered whether that meant that charges might be levied. The difficulty is especially awkward in relation to additional taxes on motorways.

The earlier paper, which was compiled before the document that has been published, makes it clear that the Opposition are prepared to consider motorway charges. It states that they are against those charges, but adds that they are now prepared to talk about "unfair" motorway charges. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Opposition are in any way considering placing charges on motorways?

Mr. Redwood: The burden on the motorist is far too high because of this Government. We are against the charges, which we regard as taxes, that the Government are threatening to impose. We stated our intent very clearly, and we shall oppose the right hon. Gentleman tooth and nail over the new taxes that he is to introduce. We do not want them, and will vote against them. That means we are offering a fairer deal for the motorist.

Mr. Prescott: I take that to mean that the right hon. Gentleman has set his face against any form of charges on motorways or congestion.

Mr. Redwood: I did not say that--[Interruption.] I did not say that for the simple reason that I think the Conservative Government were right to build the Dartford crossing and to impose a toll for that new facility, which had an additional capacity to help the motorist. I am not about to abolish the toll on that rather good facility. I supported it at the time, and still support it.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: All over the place.

Mr. Prescott: As my hon. Friend says, that is all over the place. We shall wait with interest to see how the right hon. Gentleman works the matter out with the Treasury, whose fingers I can already detect in this matter. Of course, we all have to be accountable to the Treasury and make a case for resource allocation, but the right hon. Gentleman has given a confused statement of the Opposition's approach.

Mr. Redwood: There is nothing at all confused about it. The previous Conservative Government held that if the

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private sector was prepared to build the additional facility provided by a big, new, very expensive crossing and then needed a toll, we would support that toll. That is still our position. We are not going back on our support for a toll at a new facility provided by the private sector. However, we shall oppose tooth and nail the Deputy Prime Minister's wish to tax people for using motorways that they have already bought.

Mr. Prescott: Now we have it. The document talks about new financial initiatives. It appears that the Opposition are quite prepared to allow tolls--and therefore profit--for private investment, but that the same levies to improve public transport are not acceptable for the public sector. We are beginning to see how the Opposition spokesman's mind works.

I shall therefore give the right hon. Gentleman something else to think about. He says that he is against workplace charging. Of the people who work, 75 per cent. travel to work by private transport and 70 per cent. of them have access to workplace parking. The others use a car park of some sort, paying £8,000 a year in car-parking charges. In order to be fair to the motorist, will the right hon. Gentleman have different rules for those who have to use a car park when they go to work and those who have a free space? Will he make different rules for different types of motorist?

Mr. Redwood: The fact that one person already suffers is no reason why everyone else should suffer a new tax from the Government.

Mr. Prescott: The right hon. Gentleman is still considering all these matters, of course. I suggest that he reads our White Paper, "Breaking the Logjam", which is out to consultation. It might help him to think about how to implement his fair or unfair congestion charges.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals are a wish list without true costs. He has told us nothing about costs. The press release told us the costs would be given. I have waited to hear from him, but nothing has come. We were right from the first--his programme is a wish list with no estimate of its cost. It is also steeped in hypocrisy; the right hon. Gentleman wants us to believe that whatever happened under the old Tory Government had nothing to do with him. This is year zero, and he is creating a new policy for a new Conservative party. He rejects all analysis, no matter how intelligent or right it is.

The right hon. Gentleman's new policy is all about populism, and it is designed to deceive the motorist. It leads motorists to believe that throwing in resources will relieve congestion, and it flies in the face of all the evidence. Even the motoring organisations know that we must do something new. The right hon. Gentleman's programme would cost us more deaths on the roads, and he ought to think very carefully about that. His ill-thought-out policy is irresponsible, opportunistic and dangerous. The Times was right to describe it as cheap populism, although this debate is revealing that its full implications will be neither cheap nor popular. The right hon. Gentleman is the Arthur Daley of the Opposition, trying to sell us a clapped-out policy that will make life worse for motorists.

Mr. Redwood: I must ask the Deputy Prime Minister to withdraw the allegation that I want more deaths on the

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roads. Our policy's top priority is safety. We are looking to improve speeds and flows only on main routes, and we wish to segregate them from pedestrians because we do not want more accidents or danger. Our document makes it clear that we support proper safety schemes in the right places.

Mr. Prescott: I certainly would not accuse any individual of causing road deaths, and I naturally withdraw any remark implying that I did. However, the right hon. Gentleman's policies would increase deaths. Before road humps were placed in his own constituency, there were seven; since their introduction, there have been none. That is a powerful statistic, and he may wish to think about it before reversing the reduction in deaths and accidents that many Governments have worked to achieve.

The right hon. Gentleman's policy is not a fair deal for the motorist. It is a raw deal. It is bad news for the motorist, for the environment and for the country, as the Tories will soon realise.

3.3 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): The Deputy Prime Minister has gone to some lengths to expose the hypocrisy of the Conservative Front-Bench team. Enormous costs are attached to the Conservatives' policies, and they have provided no information on how those costs would be met.

I thought that the new policy might provide us with another example of a Conservative spokesman who has been told to apologise for the sins of the past. Many sins in the previous Government's transport policy would be worth an apology, but the changes that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has proposed are entirely wrong. Towards the end of the Conservatives' years in office, their Government began to accept some of the realities of congestion, pollution and road deaths.

I had hoped that today we would hear a costed proposal, and a statement from the right hon. Gentleman that he was sorry for the past, for the tax increases, for the increases in vehicle excise duty and for raising an extra £25 billion from motorists. I might not have agreed with his policy, but I thought that he would give us an apology. Far from it; we have heard a pretence that the past never happened, that the world began in 1997, and that nothing that came before Labour's election victory is relevant.

The right hon. Gentleman, disinclined to support Government intervention of any sort, has always taken an extreme free-market position. Now that he has his hands on transport, it would seem reasonable to assume that he is proposing policies that he has always believed in. That would excuse him from making a personal apology, as he could say that his colleagues had got it wrong, but that he had argued the right course. But we know that he supported tax increases on motorists without a whisper of dissent. He even voted for them--although for all the passion in his speech today, he did not bother to turn up to vote against the Labour Government's increases.

Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's position is even worse than that. At the general election his view was very different from the one that he presented at the press conference to launch his new transport policy. At that

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press conference, his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said:


    "This Government was elected to bring traffic reduction and they now recognise how ludicrous that policy is."

But the right hon. Member for Wokingham did not see that policy as ludicrous when he sought votes. On 29 May 1997, he wrote to Mr. J. Keable of Reading:


    "Thank you for your letter. The Conservative Government offered its support to the road traffic reduction proposals in the last Parliament. I believe that the Labour and Liberal parties are also in favour. This being the case there should be no difficulty in pursuing the matter."

When seeking election, it seems, the right hon. Gentleman was all too well aware of the demand for road traffic reduction, and happy to say that there should be no difficulty in pursuing it. He was happy to imply that there would be cross-party consensus on efforts to find a way to reduce traffic and congestion, but he now says something entirely different. After two years of listening, the Conservatives have found--surprise, surprise--that motorists are not happy about some of the problems caused by the previous Government, such as the extra £25 billion that motorists paid in tax, the difficulties of finding money for public transport investment, and the need to pay more if we are to get people off the roads.

The Tories' focus groups have told them that there is some quick popularity to be had if they make a few promises, say that there will be no more taxes and no more traffic jams, and tell the people that there will be no more of the things that they do not like, and lots more of what they do like. The Tories think that that might win them a few votes, but unfortunately for the right hon. Member for Wokingham, people are not quite as stupid as he thinks.

Recent editorials cannot have made happy reading for the right hon. Gentleman. Can his boss, who has suffered some pretty similar editorials of his own, have been happy about the impact of the glorious new Conservative transport policy? The real shame of it is that the Government--like the Conservative Government before them--are trying to grapple with serious issues.

The issues are discussed in the White Paper that the right hon. Gentleman so cheerfully attacked, but the previous Government's Green Paper on transport was almost identical--almost the same, word for word. The Deputy Prime Minister may not wish to admit that.


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