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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request from the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement on the catastrophic effect that the Intervention Board's decision--if it is allowed to stand--to remove from Devon the last over-30-month scheme abattoir would have on the farming industry and on animal welfare standards?

Madam Speaker: No, I have not. As the hon. Gentleman will know, if the Government intended to make such a statement, it would have been notified on the Annunciator by noon today.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker, of which you have prior notice. In the light of uncertainty on the matter, Madam Speaker, I wonder whether you are able today to inform right. hon. and hon. Members whether the Palace of Westminster will be open on new year's eve.

Madam Speaker: A number of hon. Members have raised with me the issue of whether the House of Commons should be open on new year's eve for the benefit of hon. Members and their families. I have made a very clear decision that--apart from a party for family and friends in my private apartments, which I normally hold on new year's eve--the Commons should remain closed on that night. Separately, I understand that the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords will be used earlier in the evening for a Government function.

I have based my decision that the House should be closed on the grounds of safety, expense and--most of all--consideration for the staff of the House, who should be allowed to be with their own families on that night.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), the Prime Minister implied that he was responsible for expenditure, out of the new opportunities funds, on the Christie hospital, in Manchester, whereas the Prime Minister is responsible only--

Madam Speaker: Order. That is a matter of political argument and not for me. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order, to me, which I might be able to resolve?

Mr. Blunt: I believe that the Prime Minister has inadvertently misled the House, Madam Speaker. What arrangements are there for him to be able to correct the record?

Madam Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the House has been misled and wants to clear up what he thinks is an erroneous point, he must find other ways of asking the Prime Minister a question on it.

8 Dec 1999 : Column 828

Opposition Day

[1st Allotted Day]

Tube Investment

[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 1997-98, on London Underground (HC 715-I) and the Government's response thereto (Cm 4093); Ninth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99, on the Integrated Transport White Paper (HC 32-I) and the Government's response thereto (HC 708).]

Madam Speaker: I have to notify the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.33 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I beg to move,

I have declared my interests in the register--including the fact that my wife works for British Airways--but I am not here to speak on behalf of those interests today. I am here to draw attention to the chaos and crisis that is the Government's transport policy.

In the past two days, as I lay on my sick bed--[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I am glad that there is so much sympathy. As I lay on my sick bed, with a temperature as overheated as Labour's south-east plans and a chest as congested as Labour's road network, I had the one comfort of knowing that my headache was likely to pass in a couple of days, whereas the huge headache caused to the Government by their transport plans will not only be with us for a very long time, but will get worse and worse. The Government's transport policy is not working, cannot work and will never work. They said that all that they had to do was to tax and hound motorists off the road and they would then go by tube or train instead. After two and a half years of that ridiculous policy, there are more cars on the road, trying to make more journeys, and the policy now looks at if it is in complete chaos.

The Government's transport policy has recently been given some go-faster stripes by the No. 10 Downing street spin doctors, but it is still stuck in standstill Britain--still caught in the same old traffic jam that the Government have deliberately created.

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The Deputy Prime Minister has been forced to admit that traffic volumes cannot be cut when the economy is growing, so why did he come to office saying that he would do exactly that? Why does he persist in saying that there is an easy answer to get the motorist off the road, while doing nothing to provide that vital alternative that might give the motorist a better way of getting somewhere? It was a great Labour lie that the new Government would improve public transport. Two and a half years on, we see a group of Ministers wedded to their chauffeur-driven cars, busily slashing investment in the tube. Ministers may laugh, but they will not even answer my questions on how often they go to the office by tube or bus. We all know that they will not answer because the answer is never. The Secretary of State is wedded to his car and the Prime Minister is so wedded to his that he even uses the bus lane in it.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): How many members of the Conservative Government used to take the tube or bus to work regularly?

Mr. Redwood: I used to walk to the office every time that I was in London. I have not seen the Secretary of State doing that.

The Government are slashing investment in the tube and dodging all the important decisions on the railways. The Deputy Prime Minister has shown himself well able to arrange a chauffeured car to go just 250 yd downhill at Bournemouth. Will he try his organising skills on securing more investment in the tube so that Londoners can move around as easily? He has shown himself adept at planning a diving trip to the Maldives. Could he use some of that energy to expand the capacity of the Welwyn viaduct so that more people could come to London by train from the north? After his recent passage to India, could he do something to relieve the worst stretches of congested highway nearer to home? I wonder what India had done so to upset the Government that the Deputy Prime Minister was sent there to talk to them about how to run a transport system.

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): As a former cricketer, I shall try to bowl the right hon. Gentleman a nice slow one. Will he confirm a quotation from him in November 1996? He said:

Given his other reputation as being not of this planet, will he tell NASA what he has done with its space probe?

Mr. Redwood: I see that Walworth road has been working overtime with the hon. Gentleman. He clearly would not have thought of an intervention of his own. Labour cannot claim to have invented traffic jams, but it is clear that the Government have deliberately made them worse, longer lasting and more frequent on important stretches of road. The outgoing Government had road schemes that would have tackled those congestion problems, but this Government cancelled them. The outgoing Government had plans to bring in private capital for the tube and the railways, but this Government have put a spanner in the works. That is why they, not the previous Government, are to blame. Is it not about time

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that the Government recognised that they are governing the country, two and a half years into their period of office?

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My right hon. Friend will know that a scheme in Weymouth was ready, with planning permission and everything else dealt with and approved by Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, and could have gone straight ahead under the private finance initiative when the Government came to power. After two and a half years, we are still waiting to know whether the scheme will go ahead. In the mean time, when Ministers have come, they have had to sit in traffic jams trying to get into Weymouth.

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