Labour Party Conference: Bill on integrated transport set for next Parliament

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JOHN PRESCOTT has been told he will secure a transport integration Bill, including the power for local councils to impose congestion charging on motorists, in the next session of Parliament.

In a rumbustious speech at the Labour Party conference, the Deputy Prime Minister staged a fightback against his critics who have accused him of failing to fulfil Labour's election promises on transport. Rounding on the press attacks during the summer, Mr Prescott said: "How could I be anti-car, driving two Jags? It's a pity we can't have a more intelligent debate. "

He won a standing ovation from the conference and a pat on the back from the Prime Minister in a show of support.

But the disclosure that Mr Prescott has been assured he will have his big transport Bill in the next Queen's Speech - confirmed by senior government sources - will go further in answering his critics.

Mr Prescott announced the creation of a Motorists Forum under Sir Trevor Chinn, chairman of Lex Services plc and vice-chairman of a government forum, the Commission for Integrated Transport.

A new national travel inquiry service is also being set up to help the public to plan trips on trains and buses.

Mr Prescott, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, also announced: tough guidelines for passenger train franchises to improve their services by next spring; five millennium villages to be created; a government initiative with the charities Crisis, Shelter and churches to end the scandal of rough sleepers; new national parks for the South Downs and New Forest; and a home energy efficiency scheme to help one million pensioners and poor families with new grants for central heating and insulation.

About four million households with children in receipt of benefit and people receiving disability benefit will be eligible for grants of up to pounds 700 - double their present level; households using on-peak electricity, bottled gas or paraffin will be eligible for grants of up to pounds 1,000.