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3.58 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I do not think that that speech was worth coming back for. Have I come all this way to hear a vote of no confidence based on a speech of such poor quality? I should have stayed in India.

In passing, I note that the Leader of the Opposition has chosen to make some remarks about India. I thought that they were rather insulting to the largest democracy in the world, and to its people. Discussions of climate change problems are the big picture where transport is concerned. We have nothing but respect for the Government of India. The remarks made by the Opposition are terrible and should be withdrawn.

My expert advisers tell me that, of all the trees in the world, the densest is the redwood. The speech by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) certainly lived up to that reputation.

When this debate was announced, the right hon. Gentleman toured the studios and briefed the newspapers, saying that he would table a vote of no confidence. As there is no such vote in the motion, I assume that he did not have the support of the Leader of the Opposition. Or perhaps he examined the record and bottled out: he realised that he could not justify a vote of no confidence. Nothing in his speech today could justify the motion. There was an awful lot in it comparing records, and I intend to address that.

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In July, The Times described the right hon. Gentleman's new transport policy as

It referred to muddled thinking, uncosted plans, contradictory statements and "cheap populism". Five months later, the same judgment can be applied to the right hon. Gentleman's speech today. The phrase "shameless opportunism" sums it up. The right hon. Gentleman's opportunism is not just limited to transport--on the day I heard him on the radio accusing the Government of betraying the coal industry, I really learned the meaning of the word. And playing party politics with the Paddington tragedy was beneath contempt. Thankfully, that was rejected by the Leader of the Opposition. Today's motion is another example of opportunism and hypocrisy.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government have done nothing to improve transport. Let us compare the record of the Tory Administration, in office for 18 years, with that of this Government, who have been in office for two and a half years. The Opposition's last spending plans, published in their Red Book, would have cut almost £1 billion from transport expenditure over the past two years. In 18 years, the Tories fragmented our national railway system in a cut-price privatisation that planned for stagnation, and then sold the system off cheap. They introduced competition and left us with deteriorating services heading for decline. That is the common judgment on the privatisation of the railway system. The previous Government also failed to take a decision on train protection systems in the nine years after Clapham. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Miss Kirkbride, do you want to intervene? If not, keep quiet.

Mr. Prescott: In other words, shut up and listen.

Just two and a half years into a Labour Government, more than 1,000 extra train services run each day. We have taken a decision on train protection and created the Strategic Rail Authority to look after the public interest and lever in the investment that the right hon. Gentleman talks about. And we have appointed a regulator with a bite as well as a bark, by providing extra powers to ensure that the promises made by Railtrack and other bodies are carried out. The regulator told me that he did not have those powers before, and that is why I made those changes.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott: In a second. The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, rail users, train companies and everyone else all welcome the Strategic Rail Authority--except the right hon. Gentleman, who has apparently dragged his party along with him, Conservative Members on the Select Committee having previously supported our proposition. The right hon. Gentleman wants to know about crucial decisions on main line railways. How many times--

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Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: Sit down and listen to the record. The Tories have accused the Labour Government of doing nothing.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: Oh, sit down.

Mr. Jenkin rose--

Mr. Gray: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I think that it is probably a point of frustration, but I shall hear it.

Mr. Gray: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I have the honour to serve on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned what I have said on that Committee, but he will not give way so that I may correct his mistake.

Madam Speaker: As I understand it, the Secretary of State is saying that he wishes to make some progress and will give way later.

Mr. Prescott: Thank you, Madam Speaker. The Select Committee's record is there for all to see. I intend to continue to explore the record on the charges made against us.

Investment in the railways has been mentioned. How many times did the Tories announce the start of the west coast main line renewal during their 18 years in office? How many times did they do nothing? That renewal is happening now. Railtrack has let contracts worth nearly £800 million for the first phase of the upgrade. The right hon. Member for Wokingham asked why I had not agreed that. This afternoon, the European investment bank has announced a £400 million loan to help finance it.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: No. The Tories are going to hear about their record. They may not like it, but they are going to get it.

In 18 years, the Tories--

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: Just listen. The Opposition have a lot to learn. In their 18 years, the Tories deregulated buses.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: Passenger numbers went down by a third.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Madam Speaker: Order. Please sit down, Mr. Jenkin.

Mr. Prescott: They are going to hear it this time.

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Under the Tories, many villages lost their bus services; in just two and a half years, Labour has reversed the decline and created 1,800 new and improved rural services. In their 18 years, the Tories spent more than £70 billion on roads, but car per mile usage rose from 70 to 100--a 40 per cent. rise. Yet the right hon. Member for Wokingham has the audacity to talk about congestion.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: I am giving nothing.

The official roads survey of 1997 found that the condition of Britain's roads was the worst since records began in the 1970s. So after the Tories had spent £70 billion on them, the roads were at their worst since records began. Their legacy was potholes and disinvestment. There was one innovation of course--they gave us the cones hotline.

In only two and a half years, Labour has increased spending on road maintenance by 20 per cent. The shadow Secretary of State claims to be the motorist's friend, and says that we have imposed a tax on the motorist. But his Administration introduced the automatic fuel duty escalator from 1993. The Labour Government, in only two and a half years, has ended the fuel duty escalator.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Prescott: In a second.

In addition, any future real increase from fuel duty will be hypothecated to roads and public transport for the first time. No other Government have done that, and I hear nothing from the Opposition about it. Would they adopt such hypothecation?

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