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A decade ago, London and the south-east were trapped in recessionthe second that the Tories had managed to inflict on our countryand 400,000 Londoners were out of work as a consequence. Now, thanks to sound economic management under Labour Governments, the picture is transformed. Since 1997, the number of adults in employment in London and the south-east has grown by nearly 500,000, and unemployment has fallen by 41 per cent. in London and by 46 per cent. in the south-east. Long-term unemployment in the south-east has fallen by nearly 75 per cent. since 1997.
It is curious, as one of my hon. Friends rightly pointed out, that we heard nothing about those achievements from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), in his remorselessly negative speech. But what else would one expect from the party of unemployment, the party of recession, the party of repossessions?
Not only did we not hear about the economic performance of London and the south-east from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), but we did not hear about the south-east. All his remarks were on London. The south-east, and my constituency in Kent, does not exist to him.
Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes an entirely apt point. I shall not get into a technical debate with him as to whether there were two or three recessions during the period of Conservative Government. All that
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Before we leave unemployment, would the Minister agree that there is no need for complacency? In Uxbridge, in December, unemployment increased by 10.7 per cent. on the previous year, and in January it increased by 15.9 per cent. on the previous year. In December, in my neighbouring constituency of Hayes and Harlington, it increased by a massive 29.5 per cent. There is no need for complacency.
Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman will well recognise the circumstances of west London and the area around Heathrow airport in the conditions that have applied since 11 September. I shall refer to that subject later in my speech, but it is certainly not a cause for party political comment. [Interruption.] We should all be aware of the circumstances caused by the terrible events of 11 September, the need to restore confidence, and the need to once again rebuild, not least the aviation industry. We are all working on a similar basis to achieve that. But the hon. Gentleman will of course remember
Mr. Raynsford: No; I am answering the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who will be the first to recognise that the overall framework of the London economy is such at the moment that there are far more opportunities for people to find work than there were when his party were in government.
Mr. Wilshire: It simply is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to try to blame all the problems of Heathrow on 11 September. Does he accept that the incompetent delay on the terminal 5 inquiry, which his Government could have sorted out long since, is also playing its part in creating unemployment?
Mr. Raynsford: I was not implying that the problems were solely associated with 11 September, but I was pointing out that that event had very dramatic consequences, and that it was right to take those into account and not to try to make party political points out of them. I might add that the state of the London economy under the present Government compares extraordinarily well with the state of the London economy when the party that the hon. Gentleman supports was in power, and he would probably do as well to remember that.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar made a lot of fuss about transport. Let me first remind him that the use of public transport has increased enormously, with over 0.5 billion more bus passenger km and 1.7 billion more tube passenger km in London than 10 years ago. New investment is already making an impact and will transform transport options and prospects over the next few years in London and the south-east.
Interestingly, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar chose not to mention the largest civil engineering contract in Europe; the channel tunnel high-speed rail link. My hon. Friends who represent Kent constituencies
We all know who is to blame for the fact that there is not yet a high-speed rail link from the channel tunnel to London; the Conservative party. Let me remind the Conservatives of the history. It is now eight years since the channel tunnel was completed, yet while the French and Belgian Governments had taken steps to ensure that high-speed links were in place to link their capitals with the tunnel, the British Governmenta Conservative Governmentchose deliberately not to put any investment into our railways.
The consequence is that passengers travel at 300 km an hour on the European side and 100 km an hour through the tunnel, and then dawdle in a meandering route through Kent; wonderful for enjoying the Kentish countryside, but a disastrous and shameful comment on the short- sightedness of the British Government of the day.
To be fair to the Conservative party, at the very end of its period in power, it realised that this had been a mistake and began plans to establish a high-speed rail link. But the Conservatives botched it in the usual way, so that when we came into officewithin literally a matter of a few weekswe were presented with the clear evidence that their scheme was not viable and was not going to proceed. That was their legacy. Now, five years later, we have stage one of the CTRL scheme very near completion; on course, on budget and on time. What a contrast with the record of the previous Government.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Minister is making great play of transit times into London by rail. Can he explain why, since Railtrack was taken into administration, by the Strategic Rail Authority's own figures delays on journeys into London have become much, much worse?
Mr. Raynsford: The consequence of the botched privatisation of British Rail and the mismanagement by Railtrack has caused a serious problem on all parts of the rail network. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Hatfield did not occur after we took Railtrack into administration. He would do well to ponder that.
Mr. Pickles: I am curious about the Minister's reference to Hatfield, and about his shroud-waving. Does he believe that the Deputy Prime Minister was wrong when he said that safety was in no way compromised by privatisation? Is he repudiating what the Deputy Prime Minister said? Perhaps he might take this opportunity of reflecting on his words on Hatfield.
Mr. Raynsford: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I was pointing out that in the aftermath of Hatfieldas he will know very wellthe speed of rail services throughout the country, not just into London, was dramatically affected because of the need to take measures to improve safety provision. That is why I said that it would be unwise of the hon. Member for Rayleigh
Mr. McLoughlin: We have so far heard the Minister blame 11 Sept for unemployment in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), and Hatfield for the problems on the railways. Is there anything for which this Government are responsible?