Transport: Prescott lashes out at Tories over attacks on policy

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT made a passionate return to the Commons yesterday, dismissing further attacks on his transport policies after he cut short an official trip to India as: "not worth coming back for".

The Deputy Prime Minister was forced to return to London early after the Tories called a debate attacking him for failing to solve the "crisis and chaos" in transport.

Accusing John Redwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, of "bottling out" of plans to press a motion of no confidence, he said: "Have I come all this way to hear a vote of no confidence on the quality of a speech like that? I should have stayed in India. "My expert advisors tell me that, of all the trees in the world, the densest is the redwood. Your speech has certainly lived up to its name."

Listing the Government's achievements on transport, he pledged: "Doing nothing is not an option. I am not promising quick fixes, but I am delivering the long-term solutions."

Ken Livingstone, one of the candidates for London Mayor, intervened, asking: "Are you aware that there is concern that hypothecation once congestion charges are introduced will lead to a reduction of grants for London transport?"

But Mr Prescott, flanked by four Cabinet ministers on the front bench, promised that there "will not be a reduction of any other grants."

He also stepped up the Government's attacks on proposals by Mr Livingstone to raise investment for London Underground, through issuing bonds. "There is no magic in bonds. Public bonds are just a form of public borrowing. If bonds had been used to fund the Jubilee Line extension, Londoners would have been faced with a bill of pounds 1.5bn to meet the cost overrun."

Citing a report today by consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers which compared the cost to Londoners of public bonds with the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), he told MPs: "It [the report] gives a clear steer that the PPP is the right choice. It would save $4.5bn pounds, which could be spent on education, health and other priority needs.

"What the PPP really stands for is publicly owned, publicly run, properly financed."

Mr Redwood claimed that only one fifth of revenue from road users was spent on transport."This Government's transport policy is not working, can not work, will never work. The biggest rip-off merchant in Britain is the Government, the master of stealth taxes, the mugger of the motorist."

Michael Portillo, in his first speech in the Commons since he won the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, accused ministers of losing touch "with the daily lives of commuters. The only thing the Government has brought in is a privilege line on the M4," he said.

Mr Prescott had been stitched up by the Treasury, he said, and the extra pounds 365m recently awarded for transport were used to "fund the black hole of the Jubilee Line".

"Don't have high hopes for PPPs because I doubt that companies will come forward without assurances of hefty public subsidises. You are the naive fall guy in this situation. It is painfully obvious that the Prime Minister intends to cut your salary to zero. It is now simply a question of when," he told Mr Prescott.