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Mr. Prescott: In traffic movements.

Mr. Foster: The right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that he has changed his position, but that has led to much confusion. As I said earlier, there is confusion about the Government's stance on Government funding of public transport. Only today in this Chamber, we heard the Prime Minister claim that the Government were investing more in public transport, but that simply is not the case. Over the five-year period of the comprehensive spending review--[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may wave his figures at me, but I got mine from the Library and I hope that he will not challenge them. They are from the Red Book and they demonstrate that the Government will spend £270 million less on public transport during the five-year period than was spent under the previous Administration.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: No, because I want to make some progress and many other hon. Members wish to speak.

My other concern is the way in which Government policies sometimes appear to be made for the wrong reason. Much has been made of the decision not to go ahead with Railtrack in the proposals for the tube. I am concerned that--whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue--the reason for that decision was purely political. The evidence is clear. On 19 June, the Deputy Prime Minister first announced a possible partnership between the Government and Railtrack. On 30 September--and only then--heads of agreement were signed by the two parties. Those heads of agreement made it clear that the deadline for Railtrack's submission was January 2000. On 8 November, the hon. Member for Brent, East launched his attack on the Government's policies for the tube. On 16 November, an ICM poll showed that the hon. Gentleman was way ahead of all the other candidates. On 19 November the Labour party allowed the hon. Gentleman on to the shortlist, despite all the criticisms he had made of Railtrack's involvement. Although Railtrack was not required to submit its proposal until the end of January, on 22 November, the Government suggested that the Railtrack deal might not be certain. Then, on 30 November, it was ditched by the Government.

Mr. Prescott: This is an important point. When the heads of agreement were signed, one of them was that there should be integration east and west, and north and south. I received a letter from the Strategic Rail Authority, which is handling matters of integration, informing me that it would not be possible to conclude a deal east and west from Paddington. I had told Railtrack that it could have an exclusive contract if it could provide me with the

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integration plans. It could not do that: in those circumstances, I ended the agreement and put it out to open contract.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister, who has pointed out that the Strategic Rail Authority advised him that the integration was not possible. However, the reality is that Railtrack was not due to bring forward a proposal--

Mr. Prescott indicated dissent.

Mr. Foster: If the right hon. Gentleman is going to intervene, I hope that he will state that he was told categorically by Railtrack, before the date that I have specified, that it was incapable of delivering the programme.

Mr. Prescott: Yes, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Railtrack informed me the next day that it was not able to carry out the contract for the integration with the Paddington link in the way that it had suggested. It proposed a two-stage deal, which I did not consider acceptable as it went against what I had agreed. That is why I took the action that I did. Both Railtrack and the Strategic Rail Authority agreed that the contract could not be completed to that timetable.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that clear statement on the record. However, as I said earlier, it is clear to me that the opportunity for Railtrack to see what it could do extended until the end of January. I do not know whether the company would have been able to deliver on the contract, but I am left with the belief that party politics played a large role in the decision, especially in respect of the hon. Member for Brent, East.

Mr. Jenkin: I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman with this. Railtrack would have been perfectly capable of completing the private finance initiative arrangements for the whole of the sub-surface of the tube and for the north-south integration project. The east-west integration was a relatively minor part of the scheme, and the Deputy Prime Minister used it as an excuse to drop Railtrack like a hot brick.

Mr. Prescott: East-west integration was a major part of the scheme.

Mr. Foster: I may not agree with everything that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said about transport, and I do not even agree with his proposals for solving the problems of the tube, but, when it comes to an analysis of what has happened, he and I are as one.

Mr. Prescott: You are both wrong.

Mr. Foster: It is clear that the Government have over-hyped what they are capable of doing to improve public transport and solve this country's transport problems. In that respect, they have failed the country. We cannot therefore support the Government's amendment.

Equally, however, we are extremely disappointed that Conservative Members have not offered an ounce of admission that the previous Government were responsible

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for the vast majority of the current problems. As a result, we shall go into the Lobby and vote against both the motion and the amendment.

5.33 pm

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): The House of Commons is an amazing place. At 3.30 this afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister was under siege. An hour and a half later, he has triumphed in the House and the whole agenda has changed.

The future role of my right hon. Friend started out as the subject under discussion, but now it is the question of leadership challenges in the Conservative party. Will the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) be a challenger some time in the future? On today's performance, I think not, so perhaps it will be the retread who has just returned to the House, the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). In addition, there is the side issue among Labour Members of who will be our mayoral candidate.

In a sense, it is almost a pity to go back to the opening speech, about which I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). The right hon. Member for Wokingham displayed bare-faced cheek in coming to the House and making no apology for the 18 years under the previous Conservative Government during which problems got worse, and in offering no policy proposals for the future.

What exactly happened during those 18 years? I shall deal first with bus deregulation. Before that, in almost everywhere in my constituency a bus ran until at least 10 o'clock at night, and often later. Pensioners come to me now worried that they will have to give up their driving licences because they are too old to drive a car safely. They say to me, "What can we do? The last bus back to the estate is at 8 o'clock at night. There is no regular service back." For many of those pensioners, bus deregulation destroyed public transport

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): Has my hon. Friend been told by his constituents how pleased they are with the Government's investment in rural transport? In my area, 130,000 passenger journeys have been made on the Essex village link since the Government invested that money. One customer commented:


I have one more quote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think not.

Mr. Bennett: I certainly appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. It would be unfair of me to claim that a large part of Denton and Reddish has rural bus services. The point is that many people are not able to drive, because they are too old, too young or disabled. They have to rely on the buses, and the bus service was destroyed by deregulation.

The previous Government claimed that the bus services in Manchester needed more competition, leading to the privatisation of the old municipal services. There is no more competition now than there was before, but we have

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a far worse service. Wage rates for drivers have been substantially reduced, there are some driver shortages and buses do not always turn up.

As for rail privatisation, one has only to stand on Stockport station to see six different rail companies jostling to get their trains on to platform 2. If a train is a couple of minutes late, the situation snowballs. People want to know where the blame lies, but it is extremely difficult to apportion blame.

The previous Government promised that the new Swanwick centre for National Air Traffic Services would be up and running first one year, then the next, and then the next. They never gave the management the opportunity to make it work. The way in which that contract was left was a tragedy. There was no guarantee under the previous Government that, if a project went wrong, the contractor, rather than the public, would meet the cost. The Jubilee line is another example.

I want to refer to the positive aspects of transport. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, in arguing strongly for a new Department, recognised a major fault in that the previous Government did not join up pollution, planning and transport. They all go together so any problems must be dealt with across the board, not piecemeal. Of course, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is big, and doing that is difficult. I sit on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs and, although I appreciate the extent of the Department's problems, I also appreciate the extent of my right hon. Friend's success.

When the Labour party came to office, the failure of the water companies was an issue. Leakage was a problem, as was the amount of water unnecessarily flushed down the toilet. Huge amounts of sewage were dumped in the sea and on land. My right hon. Friend got the water companies together and laid down the law. The leakage rate reduced dramatically and water conservation has improved marvellously. My right hon. Friend also got on to the regulator and achieved an environmental settlement and a price cut for consumers. Our water supply and sewage treatment will be first class, something that is long overdue. When they privatised the water industry the previous Government claimed that we would enjoy those benefits, but all that happened was that profits were ripped off.

My right hon. Friend went to Kyoto and fought vigorously for an agreement. I accept that there is a long way to go, and from his opening remarks it seems that it is a question of persuading many developing countries, as well as countries such as the United States, to go along with such an agreement. However, at least he has pushed the agenda along so that people are now talking about those issues. He can take a great deal of credit for raising that issue at home and around the world.

Little things can make a tremendous difference.Local authorities were being crippled by compulsory competitive tendering, so my right hon. Friend has pushed through a best value regime, which will soon be in legislation and which will make a great difference to many things that ordinary people take for granted.


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