Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jenkin: I wish to place on the record my contempt for the Secretary of State's remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has never sought to bring safety into party politics. It was the Secretary of State's remarks that lowered the tone of the debate on rail safety.

The Conservative Government invested far more in roads than the present Government are investing.

If the right hon. Gentleman is claiming to have stopped the automatic fuel duty escalator, will he now promise, on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor, that, in the next Budget, there will be no fuel duty increases over and above inflation?

Mr. Prescott: In relation to safety, it was the right hon. Member for Wokingham who appeared on television, within hours of the crash, suggesting that the issue was one for Government--[Hon. Members: "No."] I am afraid that it is a matter of record. I do not want to betray confidences, but the right hon. Gentleman knows what I am saying to be true.

8 Dec 1999 : Column 840

Mr. Jenkin rose--

Mr. Prescott: I am trying to answer the hon. Gentleman's first intervention. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Prescott: It is also a matter of fact--the record is available for all to see--that the previous Administration admitted that the introduction of train protection was a cost consideration.

Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Government mounted an incredible media operation to dump the blame for the crash on Railtrack. [Interruption.] Everybody in the rail industry knows that he was keen to shift the blame. Let us put that behind us and ensure that rail safety is discussed in a level-headed and calm fashion, as I know that he and I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham would want.

Mr. Prescott: It was not me who undermined Railtrack; it was the report of the Health and Safety Commission, which suggested that there was a conflict of interest in Railtrack dealing with safety as well as providing and operating the rest of the railway service. That was also the conclusion--I believe that it was unanimous--of the Transport Sub-Committee which also concluded that there was a conflict of interest. The previous Government were warned about this by the then Opposition, but they took no notice--I am now trying to correct that fatal mistake on safety. I shall take no lectures on safety from the Opposition.

The Opposition's claim to be the friend of the motorist is certainly not borne out. To answer the question about fuel duty increases put by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)--[Interruption.] Opposition Members should recall the Chancellor's statement to the House. My right hon. Friend said that he would end the automatic fuel duty escalator; that is our position. However, my right hon. Friend offered the proposition that, if there was an agreement to increase that tax above the rate of inflation, that money--[Interruption.] As I understand it, for years, most of the motoring organisations have been asking why the money raised from the duty does not go into transport. The Chancellor has offered another opportunity--if the demand is there--for that money to be hypothecated for roads and public transport. That is what my right hon. Friend has done and it is clear--[Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Prescott: When money comes up, it certainly brings them up. I want to make some progress; I have given way enough--I have certainly given way more than the right hon. Member for Wokingham did.

After 18 years of Government, the Tories published a Green Paper in which they supported congestion charging. They produced a reasonable analysis of transport and, in our White Paper, I incorporated the consultations reported in their Green Paper. There was a consensus that we needed to improve the quality of public transport, because we simply could not build our way out of the problem. The Green Paper made it clear that congestion charging and parking charges should be considered. The Tories did

8 Dec 1999 : Column 841

not say that they would introduce the charges--they did not have the courage to do that--but they suggested them as a possibility.

I am prepared to accept that the previous Administration realised that spending £70 billion on the roads did not reduce congestion, but increased it by 40 per cent. [Hon. Members: "What are you doing?"] We are switching priorities to make public transport more attractive, so that people will make it their choice instead of using private cars.

Those were the conclusions reached by the Tories. In two and half years, the Labour Government have grasped the issue, legislated for it and brought about a radical change--one that is now supported by every leading candidate for the mayor of London, including one possible Tory one--[Interruption.]

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): I, too, do not think that the Deputy Prime Minister needed to come back for this debate.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that there is a huge consensus, not just among mayoral candidates but among the general public and the business community, in support of the congestion charge that he has described to the House and for which he will legislate? There is a concern, however, that, as the congestion charge is introduced, somebody in the Treasury may take a chance to reduce the transport grant to London. Could my right hon. Friend set those fears at rest by giving a categorical undertaking that that will not happen?

Mr. Prescott: We have made it clear that there will not be a reduction in other grants and we have made it clear that any congestion charging has to be transparent and directed towards public transport improvements. That is written into the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and it will be written into the Bill that I shall bring before the House. It is additionality, and I think very important additionality.

Where I disagree with my colleague on this matter is that he seems to believe that such charging can be introduced in a year or two. Reports suggest that it cannot be done for three or four years, but things might move faster if my hon. Friend became the mayor of London--I do not know. I suspect that charging has more to do with filling that old gap in the public financing of the London underground.

All the mayoral candidates agree about the charge. Every one of them, from the Liberal Democrat candidate to my colleagues who are standing in the election, has chosen congestion charging because it will provide an extra source of income to make up the difference in the London underground system. We will have some debates about that as the process goes on.

Mr. Redwood: Can we just check a little more on this promise, which has been half given to the House? Will the Secretary of State tell us how much money he is guaranteeing from public funds from his budget for the London underground for the years 2000-01 and 2001-02?

Mr. Prescott: I will give a statement on that at the appropriate time. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] There is nothing clever in that. We are putting our public expenditure in place over three years and we are in the process of

8 Dec 1999 : Column 842

negotiating the second round of that. It is then that we shall make a decision about resources; there is nothing new about that.

Mr. Redwood: Does that not prove the point that there is no guarantee at all? It is not even written on a worthless piece of paper. The Secretary of State does not even know whether he has got any money to let the London underground have in the next two years. We cannot believe a word of the claim that the hypothecated money will make all the difference. It is quite obvious that the right hon. Gentleman will be stitched up by the Treasury.

Mr. Prescott: The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that we are negotiating the whole public-private partnership for the underground, which will bring investment in on a more sustained level over a longer period than any other Government of either party has been able to achieve. It is a bit much for the right hon. Gentleman to talk about investment in the underground when the sum that he had in his Red Book was£161 million even though £700 million a year was supposed to be available for investment in the underground. I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman's other point in a second.

The right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind a number of times since he became the Conservative party's spokesman on the subject. On congestion charging--

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) rose--

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman should fight his election campaign outside the House.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham does not think that it is right for people to pay charges that will finance public transport and better roads. To be fair, he has made that clear in the House and in the debate. However, from what I hear of his statement, he is apparently quite happy for people to pay tolls on private roads. That money will go into private pockets, and he thinks that he can build roads quickly.

I was interested in the remark, "Going private will get it all speeding along and will open up the business." May I give the right hon. Gentleman a good example of what the Opposition did when they were in government and embarked upon the private sector fast-track for the Birmingham northern relief road? It was Tory Government in a nutshell.

The project saw the light of day in 1980, just after the Tories had come to office. First, it was in the public sector, but they took it out of that because, they said, they were putting it on the fast track. Then it was put in the private sector, and not an inch of the road had been built by the time they left office in 1997. Seventeen years is a fast track for the private financing of roads--cor blimey!

I will give the right hon. Gentleman fast track: it took me less than three months to decide to get on with it, and we will begin building the road next year. That is in the first two and a half years of a Labour Government. [Interruption.] The Tories' charges are totally untrue.

I turn now to something that is near to my heart--the shipping industry. In 18 years, the Tories decimated the British shipping industry. We were an island nation with barely a British-registered fleet. We lost more than 1,000 ships. In two years, Labour has reversed the decline

8 Dec 1999 : Column 843

through the tonnage tax proposals and shown what can be done. All types of ship--including containers, cruise liners and tankers--are coming back to the British flag, and, with a doubling of the fleet tonnage in 12 months, the red duster now flies with pride. We told the right hon. Member for Wokingham that we could do it, and we have done it.

Instead of the cuts in transport spending by the previous Administration, we have provided an extra £1.8 billion for public transport and roads, including £700 million for the local transport plans, £300 million more for buses, £300 million more for railways on top of the annual subsidy of £1 billion, and £400 million extra for roads.

The best vote of confidence in the Government's transport strategy has come from the transport industry itself. It realises that Labour is here for a long time and that it has a long-term strategy. Rail companies have increased their private investment by one third, to nearly £2 billion a year. Bus companies have doubled their investment to £400 million a year; and overall private sector investment is up to £4.4 billion, compared with£3 billion three years ago. We can make public-private partnerships work--and the industry welcomes them--even though they failed under the previous Administration.

On planning, I am staggered when I hear some of the charges made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham. I am surprised that he wants to drag planning policy into the Opposition motion. He made a quick reference to that and moved on, and I was not surprised. In 18 years, the Tories allowed an explosion of out-of-town shopping centres. The number rose from 450 in 1986 to 1,000 in 1997. Who was in the Department of the Environment during that period? It was the right hon. Member for Wokingham. If ever there was a case for combining the Department of the Environment with the Department of Transport, the Tories' planning decisions on out-of-town development prove it singlehandedly.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham's remarks about the north-south divide were opportunist. They are the latest example of such opportunism. The Tories invented the divide between the north and south to which he referred. The right hon. Gentleman is now showing concern for the disparity that his party created and then widened in its 18 years in government.

In two years, Labour has introduced regional development agencies. [Interruption.] Hang on and listen. The Opposition now want to abolish them--is that right?

Next Section

IndexHome Page