Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Salter: The hon. Gentleman did not listen closely to the Secretary of State, who made it clear that the document was cleared before 11 September. There is no indication at all of a deliberate attempt to bury this or anything else that has happened subsequent to 11 September.

I am also at a loss to understand why the Conservatives, stuck as they are in a bizarre 1980s time warp, seem to think that the recent decision by the Secretary of State on Railtrack is an embarrassment for the Government or the Labour party. I have news for Conservative Members: the decision was applauded in my constituency and on the Labour Benches. I hope that there are one or two more such decisions in the offing, frankly.

The Secretary of State comprehensively refuted the wholly spurious allegations spun into this debate by the Opposition. Much of this Opposition day debate is bereft of facts and brims with hypocrisy. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) said, hypocrisy is at the heart of the Conservative approach to the issue. It is not a term that I use lightly, but it is wholly justified when the record of Conservative Members is put under the microscope.

The obsession with spin doctors, special advisers and news management that so excites Tory Front Benchers may not seem quite so important when they are reminded of their own record. I do not often read The Guardian. However, I was privileged to spend 50p on it on the day that it had a letter, a couple of days after the famous e-mail incident received publicity. It was from

and states:

If that does not demonstrate breathtaking hypocrisy, I would like to know what does.

When it comes to news management, it is also worth looking at the record of the Government Whips under the Conservative Administration. Helpfully, one of their former colleagues, one Gyles Brandreth—a name that I have trouble pronouncing—the former Member for Chester, has published his diaries. They are entitled "Breaking the Code", which is apt. An entry headed 20 May states:


He goes on to talk about the celebrations taking place, and says:

23 Oct 2001 : Column 215

I assume that that was a regiment in the last war—

News management is nothing new.

What hypocrites the Conservatives have been. Was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) demoted? Was he reprimanded? No, he was promoted. He is a member of the shadow Cabinet and the new chairman of the Conservative party.

Chris Grayling: There is a fundamental difference between wilful news management on a day of international tragedy and coincidence, which the circumstance that the hon. Gentleman has just described clearly was.

Mr. Salter: The hon. Gentleman might say that, but the press would not.

With regard to the media, this has been a gentle wicket for the Opposition. They have had a willing media and the issue has been blown out of all proportion. However, not all the media have slavishly danced to the same tune. Alone is the Reading Evening Post—a publication that I commend to my hon. Friends and one that I know the Deputy Chief Whip has watched with interest. After the Jo Moore affair, its opinion column, which appeared in the national papers, said:

I advise hon. Members to read the Evening Post more often. So we have seen double standards in certain sections of the press, just as we have seen them in sections of the Conservative party.

While I have the ear of the Minister, and a wide-ranging amendment has been moved, I should like to lay out my shopping list for Reading, as one is not often called to speak in the Chamber, and I hope that he

23 Oct 2001 : Column 216

will note it down. We require an expansion of our boundaries and the granting of city status and—please, Minister—can we have an integrated transport strategy?

To sum up, I suggest that the motive behind the debate is pure mischief making. Opposition Members do not want Jo Moore to resign because they want this argument, this distraction from what is going on in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland to rumble on, and I find it sad that some Labour Members have chosen to dance to their tune. It is all very well for Opposition Members to praise a Labour Member for making a brave speech but he was one of the most supine members of the 1997 intake. What sticks in the throat of many Labour Members are the born-again revolutionaries who have suddenly worked out that they have no political future and embraced a left-wing ideology that they know precious little about. I tell the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), who is sadly no longer in his place, to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame because it will not last. When the parliamentary Labour party stood firm against the fuel protesters and the subsidised farmers, he was the only Member who broke ranks.

We will survive this problem. I hope that Jo Moore will do the decent thing and that the Government will continue to take even more privatised services back into public ownership. I end by saying, "You've made a great start, lads. Keep up the good work."

8.3 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): It is a privilege to follow the honourable comrade for Reading, West (Mr. Salter).

The conduct of Ministers in the DTLR is of particular importance to my constituents. Many of them commute to London by rail, often to work in the City; some continue their journeys across London using the underground. Tomorrow morning, I will meet Mr. Theo Steel, the deputy managing director of First Great Eastern Railways, to discuss the implications for service levels on the First Great Eastern line into Liverpool street station of Railtrack being forced into administration by DTLR Ministers.

For a Government committed to raising large sums from the markets to finance the reform of public services, the events of the past fortnight could be described, even charitably, as distinctly sub-optimal. The private finance initiative is a key plank in the Government's strategy for public service reform. Across the public services, from health care through education and transport, the Government' s declared strategy is to use private finance to supplement public investment, particularly in infrastructure projects. That point has been made repeatedly—indeed, ad nauseam—by the Prime Minister at Question Time, even in the few months during which I have been a Member of Parliament, but a credible strategy of public service reform, based on much greater use of private capital, cannot be executed if private capital is then slapped in the face by Ministers.

The reliance on private finance is particularly acute in transport policy. Raising private match funding is an absolutely fundamental part of the Government's much-vaunted 10-year transport plan. In essence, the Government will stump up some £30 billion for future investment if the City and other investors provide the other £34 billion. But who now will rationally trust the

23 Oct 2001 : Column 217

Government to keep their part of the bargain? Mr. Charles Saunders, head of international equities for the State of Wisconsin pension fund—one of the largest pension funds in the world, which invests mainly on behalf of public sector workers from that state—was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph, as opposed to the Reading Evening Post, on 21 October, as saying:

The journalist who wrote the associated piece, Mr. Neil Bennett, elaborated on that reaction, saying:

Many other major investors at home and abroad on whose money the Government were relying to bring their plan to fruition will have noted Ministers' actions and been very disturbed by them. That is a very important medium-term consequence of what has happened.

Ministerial conduct is also critical to the future of the tube. London's tube is already in trouble and is deteriorating further, along with the morale of its staff. Its track is old; its signalling system is highly unreliable; and its trains are failing more often. Everyone agrees that the system desperately needs investment, but it will not be forthcoming while the dialogue of the deaf continues between the DTLR and Treasury Ministers on one hand and Mayor Ken Livingstone on the other about the Government's ill-judged PPP proposals.

The House should recall that Ministers welcomed the arrival of Mr. Bob Kiley to help Mr. Livingstone run the tube, but when he tried to do exactly that, they savagely undermined him via off-the-record briefings, some of which, we believe, were delivered in person by Jo Moore. The saviour of London's tube was transformed into a victim and assassinated in the media for the heinous crime of being loyal to his own boss. London simply cannot go on like this.

Given that in four years Ministers could bring no credible modernisation plan to fruition—and they still have not—how do they think they will persuade the private sector to invest in the crumbling infrastructure now? An overarching issue is that the tube is crying out for investment, which it is even less likely to receive thanks to the actions of Ministers at the DTLR. If I were a London Member of Parliament of any party, I would now be very seriously concerned about the implications of the Railtrack fiasco for the future of London's tube service.

The actions of DTLR Ministers have also been very bad news for Railtrack employees and shareholders. It should be noted that those two categories are in effect often one and the same. The Government tend to think of "shareholders" as a pejorative term, often thinking of them as fat-cats or extremely rich people. However, the reality is that most shareholders—of whom there are now several million in this country, thanks largely to the Conservative party—have much more modest holdings, often of a few thousand pounds or so, in individual shares or as part of a pension plan. They are among the people who are losing out from what has happened to Railtrack.

23 Oct 2001 : Column 218

In addition, a large number of Railtrack employees were encouraged to buy shares in the company for which they worked. More than 80 per cent. of company employees are shareholders to a greater or lesser degree.

It is official Government policy to encourage employees to invest in the companies for which they work; they actually provide tax incentives to encourage that. Who thought about that when Ministers decided to bust the firm? Moreover, as The Times reported on 20 October:

Ministers at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions have not served the public well, whether they are my constituents in Rayleigh or the wider electorate. Responsibility for that fiasco lies with Ministers at the Department. If anyone has any career-related suggestions for the Secretary of State as a result, they can now e-mail them to him at his new brand new private e-mail address which, I am told, is "[email protected] at all/backslashed by Gordon. com."

In July, the House united to defend the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Transport Sub-Committee Chairman, against over-mighty Ministers. In essence, Members of Parliament stood up that night to be counted. This is another occasion on which they should stand up and show Ministers that they cannot treat with contempt people who are democratically elected to Parliament on their constituents' behalf—or, indeed, those constituents themselves.

Next Section

IndexHome Page