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4.12 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests, including the fact that my wife works for British Airways. However, I speak not on behalf of those interests, but on behalf of the many hard-pressed travellers who will be given a rotten deal by the Bill, and on behalf of the overtaxed motorists who will be taxed again and again if the Bill is passed unamended.

It is a pleasure to see the Deputy Prime Minister attending a transport debate again. I have read many obituaries of him as Transport Minister over the past week and I have seen the briefings. We now know, notwithstanding the briefing that he gave after our last transport debate, that he had lost at No. 10. Much of his power and responsibility has now been transferred to a Minister in the other place. It is great to have the right hon. Gentleman back with us, singing his swan song. We all remember some of the great refrains: I particularly enjoyed the little passage about the static railway. There could hardly be a better phrase to sum up all that the right hon. Gentleman has done for the railway industry so far.

We are about to see a vision of Labour's future transport policy, before the Bill has even been passed by the House. I ask hon. Members to think forward to millennium night in our great capital city. We are told that we will not be allowed to drive into London and that many central London streets will be closed. We are told that we will not be allowed to take a car to the Dome or anywhere near it, on pain of being fined for daring to do so.

We are then told that if we nevertheless manage to get into the centre in time for some of the celebrations, 24 tube stations will be closed in the busiest places to make it as difficult as possible for us to get home. In the meantime, Westminster tube station, which will be closed to everyone else, will be open so that members of the Cabinet can take a special ride to the Dome on the Jubilee line. That is not travel for the people, it is travel for the privileged few. It is like Moscow in 1960, not London in

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2000. Ministers should be ashamed of themselves because they are closing public transport when the public want to use it and they are stopping people using their cars.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): Two weeks ago, after the right hon. Gentleman's last abject performance in the House, his excuse was that he was suffering from flu. Does he have a similar excuse prepared for today's debacle?

Mr. Redwood: Labour Members do not like it when I am scoring, and they know I am scoring. They know that, on the previous occasion, the Deputy Prime Minister overspun his alleged success and was sacked three days later. If, every time I bring a Minister to the Dispatch Box, he gets sacked three days later, I will regard that as a success, given the dreadful Ministers and the dreadful policies that are brought before us.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) wishes to remind us of that Opposition day debate, when I asked 10 crucial questions but received no answers. Again, today, we have had no answers from the Deputy Prime Minister. We now know, of course, that we have to go to another place to ask the true Transport Minister for some of the answers.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I wish to deal with the point about the previous debate and then I will give way to the hon. Lady. I remember that she was very patient on that occasion. I will not make her wait quite so long this time.

To come to a judgment about the Bill, we need to know the answer to many important questions about the Government's plans for our transport system. When will there be a tube public-private partnership? How much more delay will there be? How much cash does the Secretary of State have for the tube over the next two years? We were told last Wednesday that he had zero in the budget for next year and zero in the budget for the year after. Is it still zero? Nothing will come of nothing--he has been filleted by the Treasury.

Is the Secretary of State able to offer any new tube lines, in the way that we can with our Londoners tube scheme? When will he come to a decision on Railtrack payments? It has put a sensible proposal to him, which will enable it to get on with the job of increasing capacity. He and the new Minister for Transport have been unable to come to a decision.

When will the Secretary of State extend the franchises of the train operating companies? They are claiming, rightly, that his delay and the indecision of the new Transport Minister in the other place are stopping them getting on with the level of investment that they would like to make.

When will the right hon. Gentleman have something positive to say about proper car parks at stations? When will he rule out 550,000 houses on the green fields of the south-east, which would make a mockery of any attempt to control the congestion problem? When will he announce policies to improve access to stations, rather than trying to stop people driving into towns, where most stations happen to be? When will he announce new road

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schemes in the trunk road programme? When will he admit that trying to privatise National Air Traffic Services on the cheap is a very foolish policy?

Those are 10 important questions. I will ask them again and again until we start to drag some answers out of this miserable Secretary of State and the new Minister in the other place, who has taken most of his job away from the right hon. Gentleman.

Ms Ward: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I will give way; I did offer to do so.

Ms Ward: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for remembering my persistence during the last debate and for giving way so easily this time.

As we are on the subject of repeating questions, perhaps I can repeat my question from last time: why is the right hon. Gentleman so opposed to the Strategic Rail Authority when it will provide the protection that passengers need and ensure that, where fines are levied, they go back into investing in that important service?

Mr. Redwood: We think that the authority is a cop-out by the Secretary of State and the new Minister for Transport. They should make many of those decisions and regulators exist to deal with the regulatory issues. The authority is a great red herring. It involves delay, but we need Ministers to make some decisions now so that the railway industry can get on and invest. We do not need a year of delay, the setting up of a new body and then some decisions from people who have been chosen by the Minister for Transport, or perhaps on the advice of the Secretary of State if he is back in favour by then. They will be people whom he wishes to control and who are unnecessary intermediaries in the process of the Government making some decisions and the railway industry investing.

Mr. Prescott: Apparently, the right hon. Gentlemanis not aware that renegotiations are handled by the franchising director. Ministers did not do that even under the right hon. Gentleman's legislation, but he does not appear to be aware of that.

Mr. Redwood: Of course I am aware of that. However, as I said, we do not need more regulators; we need the Government to make some decisions and to give strategic direction. Everyone in the industry knows that the Deputy Prime Minister and the new Transport Minister are failing to give the necessary direction, which is why we are seeking it.

This morning, I turned on my radio to listen to the "Today" programme and I felt sorry for the Government when, sure enough, just after 8 o'clock the prime slot was about transport. Although I was very pleased to note that the day's big issue in Parliament was being picked up by the BBC's flagship morning news programme, what did I hear? I heard not the Deputy Prime Minister--of course not--but the true Minister for Transport, the man whom No. 10 Downing street trusts. And what did I hear him saying? I heard him wriggling every which way, trying to

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change the rhetoric and the words of the Deputy Prime Minister. Above all, I heard absolutely nothing about the Transport Bill.

Today, the House is considering a non-Bill from a non-Minister who is being airbrushed out of the script. Although a Minister appeared on the "Today" programme, he did not mention the Transport Bill, which is being debated today on the Floor of the House. I can quite understand why the Minister did not mention the Transport Bill: it will make matters worse and it is an embarrassment. The Bill will tax people off the road and clog up the railways with more regulation. There will be no decisions. The Bill also sells National Air Traffic Services on the cheap.

In his speech, the Deputy Prime Minister struggled over the NATS issue. I was therefore pleased to see that 50 Labour Members have today had the courage of the convictions of the whole Labour party before the general election and tabled a reasoned amendment on the sale of NATS. Opposition Members look forward to a lively debate among Labour Members on that particular problem.

Mr. Prescott: There will not be any debate among Tory Members.

Mr. Redwood: As the Deputy Prime Minister should well know, Conservative Members do not disagree about NATS. We know exactly what we should like to do with NATS, and it would not be what the Government want to do with it.

We remember only too clearly a senior Labour spokesman saying before the general election that our air would not be for sale under a Labour Government. Two and a half years later, we have the effrontery of Ministers presenting to both Houses of Parliament proposals to sell it on the cheap.

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