Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Casale: Did the right hon. Gentleman ask the other passengers on Reading station whether they voted for the Conservative party in 1992? If they did, they share with him responsibility for making such an appalling mess of rail privatisation.

Mr. Redwood: When the Conservatives left office, there were more trains, they were becoming more reliable and passenger numbers were rising. Three and a half years later, the service has fallen to a level that I cannot remember in my lifetime--indeed, I suspect that we have never seen it before. The public are aware of that and know who to blame. It has happened on this Government's watch, under the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, whose capricious and idiotic meddling has led directly to regulatory overload and a number of bad decisions. That is why the train system is now almost at a standstill and the roads are completely clogged.

In an economy debate, one of the few things that one would usually have assumed that the Government could sort out is transport. As the economy grew in 1997 and 1998, anybody could see that we needed more and more capacity. I do not believe that there was enough road or rail capacity when the Conservatives left office. Why, then, did the Government slash the road programme, mess up the railway system and over-regulate, instead of freeing the railway system to get on and do the job that it needed to do?

The other day, I tried to travel around the country by car, having given up on the railways--as, unfortunately, many of my constituents have done. I sat in one of those spectacular Labour traffic jams. Some traffic jams occurred in 1997. I remember them well and I knew the time that they took. They were a nuisance, but one could just about handle them. Traffic jams now are much better. I concede that some things have got better, as I recognise that the traffic jams are spectacularly better than they were in 1997. The journey from my constituency to the House used to take 55 minutes, if all was well, and an hour and a half if there were traffic jams. It now takes two and a half hours.

Some hon. Members now spend seven or eight hours travelling each way between their constituencies and the House. They lose more than a whole working day dealing with Labour's traffic jams. That is one day out of the three or four days which the Government sometimes allow us to be present in the House. The situation is spectacularly worse. The arrogant Chancellor said nothing to us tonight, and has said nothing at any other time, about how he will get Britain on the move. A first-rate economy cannot be achieved with third world-style transport. Indeed, on some of our systems, I would be pleased if we reached third-world levels. The third world has rather better trains than ours.

In pursuit of something that had got better, I went to see my local hospital. I was told that 10 per cent. of acute care beds are blocked. Their numbers have already been

13 Dec 2000 : Column 719

reduced by the Labour Government. They are blocked because the people in them want or need to go to a residential or nursing care home, but there are none at the price that the Government are prepared to match for those who need support and help from the state. That is another disgrace. The only thing that has got better in the health service is the length of the waiting lists, which are now much longer than when the Government came to power in 1997.

I went to my local schools and asked them how they were getting on. I asked whether things were getting better there. I was told that classes were definitely getting bigger and that teacher shortages were increasing. The schools cannot get teachers for love and they are not paying them enough money, so there is a simple impasse in my area, where many schools have large classes and an inability to recruit teachers. The same problem applies with regard to doctors and nurses.

A lot of money is being raised in tax. The boastful, arrogant Chancellor tells us that he is spending it all, but there is no money to buy the teachers, nurses, doctors and policemen that we want. That brings me to the local police meeting that I attended to hear the voters of Wokingham talking to the local police. The police told us that they were short of men and that trained policemen were leaving areas such as mine. We were told that 100 or 200 had gone north to find cheaper housing, as they could not afford that in my area. We are, therefore, short of policemen to do the work that we need to be done. I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West that the same has happened in his constituency. I was pleased to hear him make a plea for better policing and a clampdown on crime. He knows that the Home Secretary has not delivered.

So, this is a country in which things that people wanted to get better have not got better. There are longer waiting lists, fewer police, more crime, worse schools and bigger class sizes. All the problems which one thought Labour might have sorted out with the spending splurge that has been reannounced 16 times have not been sorted out. We are paying £670 a year in extra tax for the average family, but we are getting nothing for it. We all know that we are being sandbagged at the petrol pumps by the Chancellor with his huge tax rises, so why cannot we have the teachers? We all know that our pension funds are being robbed, so why cannot we have the nurses? We all know that we are being ripped off by the Chancellor's taxes if we travel or need insurance, so why cannot we have the policemen?

This failed Government are presiding over a boom- and-bust economy. They are so wooden that they cannot see the bust in manufacturing, fishing and farming. This Government are presiding over a wasteful splurge of public spending that is not being directed at the things that we want. We want teachers, nurses, doctors and policemen. We can have them and more besides for less than 40 per cent. of public spending--the area that the Government do not seem to know how to work. They waste millions and millions on spin doctors, over-administration, regional development agencies, domes and all the paraphernalia of new Labour nonsense: the things that people do not want. This was a vacuous Queen's Speech from a washed-up

13 Dec 2000 : Column 720

Government. They have deeply disappointed the British people and let them down. I hope that the British people will make their judgment clear come the election.

7.59 pm

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who took us on a mystery tour, must have felt down when he made his visits. Most of the responsibilities for what he found rest at the doorstep of the previous Government. He was a member of that Government, who created the situation that he found when he went on his tour. We are not going to be brainwashed by him into blaming a Labour Government who are trying to improve the situation. He will not get away either with talking about the state of the railways, as it was his Government who privatised the railways and created 100-odd companies, which has caused utter confusion. Moreover, his Government ensured that there was a general lack of investment in the railways for nearly 20 years. It is interesting that he has adopted a Pontius Pilate routine tonight, which involves saying, "It wasn't me, guv'nor; it was everybody else. Not me." He will not get away with that. He even resigned from the previous Government.

I actually felt sorry for the shadow Chancellor tonight. He is trying to pursue an economic policy, but, with his colleagues divided 57 ways, how can he propose any economic alternatives?

On the positive side, I welcome the £21 billion that will be spent on the national health service, the £19 billion that will be spent on education and the £180 billion that will be used over the next 10 years to put right the transport system that was wrecked by the Tories' policies.

I also welcome the increase for pensioners, which was long overdue. I am glad that my colleagues recognised the need for that increase. Pensioners have told me that they are concerned about issues such as the means test, and they want something to be done about the link with earnings. We on the Labour Benches have to be constituency Members of Parliament and support the Government, and we represent our constituents at the same time.

People in Coventry and on its outskirts are concerned about the serious situation at Rolls-Royce Amsty. A few weeks ago, it said that it was moving some of its manufacturing facilities to Canada, with a loss of 500 or 600 jobs. One also has to consider the indirect effect on small suppliers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will talk to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about what solutions can be found to deal with that problem.

Nissan was mentioned earlier. Some of us on the Trade and Industry Committee have visited that company. Part of the problem may be the exchange rate, but it has other problems, too, one of which is a general lack of investment. Jaguar has also been mentioned. It is doing very well--it is expanding in Coventry. That is a big turnaround from about 10 or 12 years ago, when people were desperately trying to keep Jaguar in Coventry.

Those are some of the good things that have happened under this Government. Those facts contrast with the doom and gloom that we have heard from Opposition Members.

13 Dec 2000 : Column 721

One has to concede that there is a problem in the textile industry, although that is not the Government's fault and we should not be blamed for it. I have discussed it from time to time with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has produced a range of proposals.

I welcome the measures that the Home Secretary has introduced to recruit more policemen and, more importantly, his approach to neighbourhood problems. People who live in neighbourhoods that have a yob culture feel under seige--they are terrorised and some, particularly the elderly, are frightened to go out. I welcome his approach to reducing crime.

I also welcome the fact that nationally 250,000 more young people have found jobs. Under the previous Government, many of those young people could not find jobs, and felt isolated and forgotten. While I am on the subject, I also welcome the fact that the present Government have been investing in the acquisition of skills, and will continue to invest in that. Industry badly needs skills. The previous Government did not do very much about that issue. We should remember how many companies took on young people as apprentices under the previous Government. If any were taken on, they had to be bribed for about six months, and then were let go. Under this Government, increasing numbers of young people are finding permanent employment and training.

I and, I am sure, many people up and down the country, welcome the fact that the Chancellor is encouraging other countries to do something about third world debt. Indeed, he is going further--he is trying to deal with the whole issue of the third world, and the role of skills, investment and training in that context. With that approach, we could develop new markets in the third world in the long term.

I was interested by the speech by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). It was the first time that we have heard from the Tory Benches a cohesive idea about Europe, and it is now clear what his views on Europe are. For a Conservative, he spoke a lot of common sense on a number of issues, but especially on Europe. Interestingly, his position is no different from that of the present Government. However, his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench are miles away from him.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham mentioned farmers and fisheries. I remember a heck of a lot of debates in the Chamber about fisheries and quotas, which were negotiated by the previous Government. I also remember the fishermen demonstrating. Some of them, especially those in Northern Ireland, burned their boats in response to the previous Government's policies. That Government let them down in Europe and failed to get them appropriate deals on quotas.

The present Government are putting money towards assisting farmers and they are trying to change the whole ethos of country life for those farmers who are considering doing something else. The Government have gone so far as to try to save country post offices--the right hon. Member for Wokingham did not mention that. The farming problem started with the BSE crisis.

The previous Government said that there was no such problem, but eventually said that there was. The present Government are suffering from a legacy that was left to them by the previous Government.

Members of the previous Government accuse us of arrogance and of using too many guillotines, but who was it who introduced the poll tax? The previous Government.

13 Dec 2000 : Column 722

I say to the shadow Chancellor that, whether we talk about cutting £16 billion or £8 billion, one thing is certain: the Opposition's intent to slash local government services. They use coded words when they talk about making savings by cutting bureaucracy. I wonder which bureaucracy they are talking about. When they define local government and local government employees, they normally mean the bureaucrats in local government. That could be a coded way for a Conservative Government to say to local government, "You are now going to be put to the axe."

We remember the 15 per cent. interest rate hikes under the previous Government, although the right hon. Member for Wokingham talked about interest rates under this Government. There were record levels of crime and hospital closures under that Government, but the right hon. Gentleman said that he visited hospitals in his constituency. There were also cuts in education. On the national health service, who remembers the number of people who could not get beds and found themselves on trollies outside wards?

We could go on about the Opposition's record. They failed tonight to put forward a cohesive alternative. It is no good their saying to us, "You must answer our questions and tell us what you are doing, but we do not want to tell you, and you have no right to ask us, about our policies."

The shadow Chancellor certainly has some major problems in his party, which is divided economically, over Europe and in other ways. I felt sorry for him. He tried to put on a brave face. He has obviously been taking acting lessons, but he could not convince us that his colleagues were united behind him.

Next Section

IndexHome Page