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Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): For an institution that is meant to be held lower and lower in public esteem, tonight has been remarkable for the number of speeches by people who have been prepared to take ever lengthier steps to attain office in this House.
I pay tribute first to my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), who ably made his maiden speech. He gracefully paid tribute both to his Scottish National party predecessor and to Ian Lang, who is now my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Lang. My hon. Friend described his constituency as "Scotland in miniature". I know that part of the kingdom well, having often visited relations and cousins there. From his personal form and substance, I think that he will be representing Scotland at large from the Conservative Benches. Clearly, he has much to contribute and I commend his confidence that he is the advance party for many more Conservative Members from that great nation of Scotland.
We heard many other maiden speeches, for example from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), with her pleasant toothy smile. Her self-deprecating humour belied the seriousness of purpose with which she approached the subject of adoption. We look forward to hearing more from her.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) also made a maiden speech, as did the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who brings to the House an authentic voice that is a challenge to us tired old clapped-out professional politicians--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I notice that that remark got the most authentic cheers from the Liberal Democrats. We look forward to hearing more about what the hon. Gentleman represents. He is a lesson to us all.
We also heard maiden speeches from the hon. Members for Angus (Mr. Weir), for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen), for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). There was a spate of speeches from the Province of Northern Ireland--from the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), for South Antrim (David Burnside) and for North Down (Lady Hermon).
We had extra, sub-maiden speeches from other hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) is best remembered for the advice that he took about seconding the Loyal Address himself, when he was told that it was always proposed by some clapped-out old has-been and seconded by some oily young man on the make. He did not tell us which category he now fits into.
I regret missing the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry), but I gather that he was among many hon. Members who mentioned foot and mouth disease. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State, who opened the debate but is not in her place--
It is not satisfactory for the Government to continue to dismiss the demands for a proper public inquiry into why it happened and how it was dealt with. It is not sufficient to explain that because the Conservatives did not clamour for an inquiry into BSE, there should be no inquiry into foot and mouth. That is the worst sort of tit-for-tat politics, which does this place no good.
I had hoped to begin the debate by welcoming the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to his new post. The papers were quick to report last week that, unlike his predecessor, he does not drive two Jaguars--in fact, he does not drive at all, as he does not have a driving licence. We have gone from two Jags to a man who travels on two feet. Personally, I favour two wheels, but I look forward to debating with the new Secretary of State when he has the courage to appear at the Dispatch Box.
Instead, I welcome the new Minister for Transport. It is a pleasure to see him. I owe him a great debt as he arranged my pair--not that it has been much use in recent years. He comes from the Ministry of Defence, where he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I fear that after a few weeks in his new post he will hanker for the halcyon days in the Ministry of Defence, which will seem like a charmed life compared with the mess that he inherits in this Department.
In a pre-election audit of the Government's record, Anatole Kaletsky in The Times gave the Government nought out of 10 for transport and his was not the only voice to attack their record. In January, the Prime Minister's environmental adviser said:
The Government have been given a second chance. They said that they needed more time, but now they must prove that they are worth their second chance. They must face the obligations that fall on them, and there can be no more excuses.
The amendment makes reference to the fact that specific measures to improve transport are noticeable by their absence from the Gracious Speech. It also states that the Prime Minister promised, before the general election, that Labour was committed to creating "world-class public services". I wonder whether the fact that transport was downgraded in the reshuffle reflects the Government's anxiety about their ability to deliver on transport.
Labour's first four years do not inspire much confidence. As the Minister is new to his job, perhaps I can remind him of the Government's record. Few people would be brave enough to say that the Government made much progress towards a world-class transport system in their first term. In 1997, a litre of petrol cost about 59p, and it costs 80p now. The amount of tax taken from road users has increased by £9 billion over the past four years.
What the travelling public get for that extra tax? Annual investment in roads is down. It touched the 1997 level of £1.4 billion in only one of the past four years. Between 1992 and 1997, the Conservative Government averaged investment of £1.78 billion a year. None of our major competitors invests so little in roads as Britain. Britain now has the worst traffic jams in Europe, and our roads are in their worst condition since the mid-1970s.
Labour's roads policy has hardly been consistent. The Government were elected in 1997 on a wave of anti-roads sentiment. The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, who was then responsible for transport, gleefully slashed more than 100 schemes and bypasses from the national roads programme in England and Wales. By the end of the previous Parliament, the Labour Government were trumpeting their intention to deliver 100 new bypasses as part of their 10-year transport plan.
Labour's roads policy is a conundrum. Urgent schemes such as the A3 at Hindhead were scrapped, but they are now back in the programme. Before there are too many cheers, I should tell the House that its construction is not now due to start until 2007, which is after the expiry of this Parliament. Is that because the Government have wasted their first four years in office?
There is similar chaos in the policy on motorway widening schemes. When they were first elected, the Government dubbed such investment "motorway madness", and scrapped all such schemes. As the system ground to a halt, business cried out for investment. When the Confederation of British Industry complains about the costs of congestion, it is champing not for cuts in the roads programme but for increased investment in it.