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9.19 pm

Mr. Jenkin: The Minister asked us not to doubt the Government's commitment to improving the transport infrastructure, but we do. We have seen the Deputy Prime Minister and even the Prime Minister trotting round the country to celebrate the opening of great Tory transport projects, such as the Heathrow Express, the Croydon tramlink and the Jubilee line extension. Those were the projects that we commenced and initiated.

Let us consider the commitment of this Government and their spending figures. In a Tory year, 1994-95, we were committed to spending £8.5 billion on transport. In the present year, the Government are spending less than £6 billion on transport, despite the punitive new levels of taxation that they have imposed on motorists.

Every transport line of expenditure has been cut. In the Tory year I cited, we were spending £1.2 billion on trunk road and motorway improvements; this Government are spending a mere £305 million. On local transport grants and credit approvals, we were spending £1.3 billion; this Government are spending barely £1 billion. We were spending £906 million on London Transport; this Government are spending a mere £251 million. On highways maintenance--the top priority of this Government--we spent £3.3 billion in 1994-95. The Government, with all the extra taxation that they are raising, are spending less than £3 billion. That underlines the scale of the Government's miserable commitment to improving the transport infrastructure.

As we near the end of our proceedings on the Bill, I must record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), the Chairman of the Standing Committee, and to his fellow Chairman, the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton)--and also my thanks for the inexhaustible patience of the Clerks and officials in the Box and the good humour of the Standing Committee in general.

My particular thanks go to my small but hard-working band of hon. Friends, because ours has been an arduous task. We brought the Bill to the House with 237 clauses, 27 schedules and 276 pages. In the past two days, we have added a small telephone directory of Government amendments and new clauses. That underlines the fundamental shambles that is this Bill. It has been substantially rewritten during its passage.

The Bill contains some good clauses--[Hon. Members: "Name them."]--such as, the clauses that were inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest

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Mrs. Laing) on the impounding of vehicles. However, despite such extensive redrafting, it remains a bad Bill--and a bad Bill that is made worse by the fact that, in essence, it is four Bills rolled into one. It reflects the Government's mud-pie political philosophy.

The transfer of National Air Traffic Services to the private sector was rightly dubbed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) as a punk privatisation. We support the separation of regulation and operation, but the Government's public-private partnership was rightly described in the report on NATS by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee as the worst of all possible options.

Far from being some great innovation, the introduction of local transport plans is merely the extension of state bureaucracy to local authorities. It will require large volumes of guidance and ever larger volumes of local authority transport plans. Local authorities will be mired in ever more compulsory bureaucratisation and centralisation, because local transport plans have to fit the bill laid down by the Secretary of State. If they do not do so, he will not give them his support. That is centralisation and that is why the Labour chairman of the Local Government Association has complained about the "silent and strange death" of local government.

Another part of the Bill deals with re-regulation of the bus industry, whose investment record and expansion in its privatised and deregulated form the Minister was celebrating a few moments ago. The Government are now re-regulating that industry. We support the principle of quality partnerships, but we fail to see what quality contracts will bring to the bus industry. Indeed, the conflict between the regulation of quality contracts and the competition legislation is a complete mess.

Then we have the introduction of yet further taxes on the motorist: congestion taxes and parking taxes--a tax on business. As if it were not enough that the Government are taxing the motorist £36 billion in the current financial year, so that £1 in every £7 that the Government now spend is raised from the motorist, they are insisting on carrying through this vendetta against the motorist.

There is some evidence that the Government realise that their policy is somewhat unpopular. That is why, when the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), during his mayoral campaign, said,

the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) responded, in his manifesto:

The Government are trying to kick the policy into the long grass before and after the general election, but we now know that the new deputy mayor of London, Nicky Gavron, has openly defied the Prime Minister, who assured the House today that Labour Members of the London Assembly would honour their election pledges. Speaking on BBC News 24 this afternoon, Nicky Gavron said that congestion charges were "in principle" possible in the first term of the administration in London, and that it was only a matter of technicality. She refused to retract her comments when pressed over the Prime Minister's earlier commitment. In her own personal manifesto, she stated:

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That was the manifesto commitment given by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

That open defiance of the Prime Minister this afternoon--just hours after he gave that assurance to the House of Commons--is a humiliation; it shows that although the hon. Member for Brent, East may not be a member of the Labour party, he is taking over the Labour party in London.

The final part of the Bill is old Labour striking back at railway privatisation. There is a role for Sir Alastair Morton in helping the industry to develop, but not for the rebirth of the old British Railways Board; not for whole new powers to direct investment; not for new powers for unlimited fines; not for powers for the interference in access agreements; and not for the restoration of the ultimate control over the industry, once again, by the Secretary of State--the Fat Controller himself.

The Bill is founded on a fundamental misapprehension: the principle that the man in Whitehall knows best. The British people know that the current man in Whitehall has done nothing to contribute to the transport of this country. The Labour party's policy is discredited; it is all spin and no delivery, as evidenced by the Government's miserable commitments on spending.

The Bill is privatisation by stealth, centralisation by stealth, re-regulation by stealth and taxation by stealth, and it is renationalisation of the railways by the back door.

Labour's transport policy is fundamentally more taxation. The Bill does nothing to address the crisis in standstill Britain that Labour is creating.

9.28 pm

Mr. Don Foster: I add my voice to the thanks that have already been justifiably given to so many people who have been involved in the deliberations on the Bill so far.

I have been involved--as has my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore)--in nearly 110 hours of deliberations on the Bill. I have had more than enough opportunity to say what I believe about the Bill. To summarise, there are many good things in it, but, sadly, the beginning of the Bill provides for the part privatisation of National Air Traffic Services, with which we fundamentally disagree. For that reason, we shall vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

9.29 pm

Mr. Snape: The series of sittings on the Bill has been strange and protracted. Let me start back in January. The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) ambled into the Committee Room on the first day and said that he was going to--I paraphrase him--"fight the Bill tooth and nail". He said that the Bill was bare-faced effrontery. He said, "It is a flagship of the Labour Government and we are determined to oppose it". What in fact was bare-faced was the hon. Gentleman's effrontery in actually turning up and saying that, because that was the last we saw of him. The hon. Gentleman made the claim that the Bill has 230 clauses. I have counted them and he has missed some. If that represents a bare-knuckle fight even by his fairly elastic standard, no wonder the Tory party is on its knees.

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It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who provided some opposition in Committee. One could not say that about the Tories. In fact, two of them--the hon. Members for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)--have demonstrated their consistency tonight. They missed most sittings of the Committee, and they are missing the Bill's Third Reading.

The Conservative Opposition said that they were going to fight the Bill tooth and nail. Judging by the performance that they have put up so far, they have neither the teeth nor the nails to fight it with.

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