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Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head again, but he should know that the reorganisation plans that the Labour Government have put through are reducing the number of beds in a fast-growing area of the country. I am the first to admit that there were not enough beds under the outgoing Conservative Administration in 1997, but since we left office, the number of people needing the service has gone up and the Labour Government have decided to reduce the number of beds. How can that possibly make sense? How can we welcome the new Government on this auspicious day if, although they say that they are dedicated to the message that public services must get better, in my local area I face the conundrum that there are not enough staff, nurses, consultants or beds, yet Labour plans allow no increases to meet the extra demand? I hope that Ministers will look at that problem again and will think again.
Throughout the country, there are still plans to reduce the number of hospitals. Why do the Government have it in for the smaller hospital? What is wrong with the cottage hospital or the small hospital that does not qualify for full district general status? Why can it not be given a right to life? Have the Government not understood that in this extraordinary election, when many people felt that we were all disconnected from what they wanted, a by-election was held in Wyre Forest? That is what it looked like; people came out in droves to vote out of office a Labour MP who was also a junior Minister, and elect someone who had never been a politician and probably had not intended to be one--he simply wanted to save his local hospital. Does that not tell the Government something about the mood in the country, and does it not show that we need to take seriously the message from the electorate that they do not feel that the Government are engaging with their concerns and worries?
Perhaps the biggest failure of the previous four years of public service delivery, which has come across loud and clear to me on the doorsteps of Wokingham during the past four years, not just the past four weeks, was in transport. The Government swept to office saying that car drivers were wicked, that people really should not use their cars very much or at all and that we needed to understand that we had to switch to buses and trains on a
My electors said to me, and I agreed with them, that during the past four years they had observed no improvements in public transport facilities. I was able to tell them that part of the problem was that investment in many of the public transport facilities had fallen during the past four years. The other part of the problem was the extraordinary hostility of the Deputy Prime Minister, then the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to any private enterprise business involved in transport that might want to take some action to improve transport facilities.
The Government were undoubtedly able, with the help of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, to restrict the use of the car. All sorts of chicanes, bollards, obstacles, speed humps and other devices were introduced. Roads were blocked off, access to stations was made more difficult and other unhelpful impediments were placed in our way. I am all in favour of safety measures near schools and in residential roads, but many of those obstacles were placed on main routes where there was no such strong case in favour. The Government tried that part of the strategy, but it did not reduce the number of car journeys, because there was no alternative.
I suggest that Ministers try doing the weekly shop on a bike or on the bus. I suggest that Ministers try walking their children to primary schools, or to secondary schools if they still need help to get there, rather than taking them by car. I suggest that Ministers see how easy it is for the disabled, or those carrying heavy loads, or those who have to carry tools and equipment for their daily work, to travel by bike, by train, by bus or on foot. For many people it simply is not practical. It is not that we want to wreck the planet. I will use the bus or the train wherever it makes sense, wherever it can be timely, wherever it is a good alternative, but in many cases there is simply not a good alternative.
Norman Baker (Lewes): I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the previous Government and this Government for failing to invest in public transport, but does he believe that the Conservative party's proposal to cut petrol prices by 6p a litre would help to reduce congestion?
Mr. Redwood: The proposal would have a fairly neutral effect on congestion. It would be a good relief for those making essential car journeys who are being taxed over the top for the privilege. We have a rip-off Government, who dare to blame the petrol companies when it is the Government who are the main beneficiaries and the main raiders at the pumps. Most journeys are not voluntary. We have seen that because, with the huge petrol price increase, there has been no diminution in the use of the motor car. There has been no move from the car to the bus or the train, because people are unable to make such a switch.
Mr. Bercow: May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend has just said? Does he agree that quite the most damning indictment of the Government is the fact that pre-tax we have the cheapest petrol in Europe, but post-tax ours is without doubt the most expensive?
The public are prepared to use buses and trains more if they can get to the bus stop or the station, if they can park, if it makes economic sense and if it is timely, but for too many journeys that is not practical or timely. The Government need to put much more effort into promoting better public transport and creating the conditions in which the private sector can get on and do the job.
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House of the success of the Government of which he was a part in running down rural bus services by deregulation and the withdrawal of investment support?
Mr. Redwood: I do not see it quite like that. Deregulation produced a big increase in bus services in a number of important areas. For example, it certainly led to a large increase in the number of park-and-ride buses in Oxford city, to the extent that people eventually said that there were too many buses. That experiment was successful, but in rural areas my party and I favour flexible bus services, including more dial-a-ride services. Such services should bring together existing publicly subsidised transport so that more people without cars can have access to a more flexible service. In rural areas it will not be feasible to run hourly or half-hourly bus services to places that only a few people want to go to, so we need to be a little cleverer in thinking about how to meet the needs of a minority without cars, and allow those with cars to use them, as the car is the best way of getting around in rural conditions.
The Government's great boast, which was repeated in the Prime Minister's speech, is that they have run the economy wonderfully and banished the trade cycle. If only that were true. Again, they should be a little more humble than they currently seem on the basis of the support of a quarter of the electorate. This is the Government who have created a phenomenal boom and bust in the telecommunications, high-tech and computing industries, which is very serious for the British economy.
Most people now believe that economies will succeed in this decade as they did in the previous one--through the lead growth provided by high-tech activities involving new computers, internet links, new telephone links, mobile telephony and all the wonderful devices that have been developed in recent years. However, what did the Government do about that? Instead of deregulating, and encouraging and producing more competitive conditions
I want Britain to be one of the strongest economies in the world. I want it to continue to grow as it did under the Conservatives for most of our time in government, and during a part of the Labour Government's first term. Instead, however, the Government are heaping more and more sandbags on the British economy. They have started by deliberately creating a bust in telecommunications and computing, which form the colossal lead sector. Before Ministers and others look even more sceptical, they should consider what has happened to British Telecom's balance sheet and share price. They should also consider what has happened to the entire telecommunications sector and to all those internet start-ups. The Government's refusal to cut the tax burden--they have instead insisted on raising it--or to deregulate and create competitive conditions has caused very serious problems.