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Collins: A fair deal on transport

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2003

"Someone told me a story the other day. A man arrives at the pearly gates, and sees a clock above his name.

He asks the angel what it signifies. This, he is told, is a clock whose second hand moves forward every time he tells an untruth.

The man spots another clock, where the second hand has not moved at all. "Whose is that?" he asks. The angel says, "That belongs to Mother Theresa, who never told a fib in her life."

So the man asks, "Where's Tony Blair's clock?" "Oh that", says the angel - "Gabriel has it with him and uses it as a portable fan."

Our Prime Minister has a problem with telling the truth. But we are quite happy to tell the truth about him and his Government.

On transport they have been a miserable failure.

Tax paid by the motorist up by an extra £13 billion a year - up yet again last week - yet we have had the smallest road-building programme since the Second World War.

Motorway congestion up by 50 to 250% - while the CBI estimates congestion costs to business rising to over £20 billion a year.

And train punctuality sharply worse since 1997.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling came up with a clever scheme to reduce the number of trains running late. Run fewer trains!

After all if a train never sets off, it can't arrive late. But even on his plans, train punctuality won't return to 1997 levels, even after billions more, until 2010 at the earliest.

Even worse there is the national scandal of the West Coast Main Line. After billions and billions of pounds of spending, and after months of disruption for engineering work - all designed to enable trains to run faster and to shorten journey times between the North West and London, we have just had the new autumn timetable published. The good news is that there is a 40 minute difference between the old time and the new time for getting from Oxenholme in my Cumbrian constituency to London. The bad news is that this is an extra 40 minutes - meaning that journeys which took three and a half hours ten years ago will be taking four and a half hours in year 7 of this Labour Government. Your money, ladies and gentlemen, is going straight down the plughole - and we all have every reason to be furious about it.

Listen to people talking about transport and you soon hear frustration, disappointment and anger.

The train boss who told me of growing bureaucracy from a Strategic Rail Authority set up just to supervise the rail industry, not to run a single station or train, yet shortly due to employ more people in central London than British Rail did when it ran the lot.

The signalling engineer who told me that moving one signal box a few feet costs tens of thousands just on the contract.

The residents of small villages - near Rugby and Cliffe, Gatwick and Stansted - with homes and lives blighted by Labour's plans to destroy historic churches and wildlife sanctuaries in the pursuit of new and bigger airports everywhere - and I challenge Alistair Darling to do as I have done and visit these areas himself.

I think of the pensioner who told me he was left gasping for breath, frail and fearful of a fall because at one station he had to climb steep steps in deep darkness and when he asked a member of staff for help was told "we don't do that anymore".

Or the disabled person, coping with courage all her life, brought to tears because Gordon Brown's petrol taxes mean she can no longer afford to drive.

Think of these people and you will realise - enough is enough. And how dare Labour claim they care about the vulnerable, when this is what they do to the vulnerable?

Conservatives believe in freedom, in a smaller state, in the unlimited potential of individuals and private enterprise.

That's why the motorist will always be hated by the Left, and championed by the Conservatives. It's about freedom.

Ten years ago Mr Blair used to tell a story. While canvassing he met a man washing his Mondeo, who said he'd never dream of voting Labour. Mr Blair spent years wooing Mondeo Man. What he never said was that in office he'd try to ensure the only thing you could afford to do with a Mondeo is wash it.

When will they learn? Driving is not a sin. For millions of pensioners, people with disabilities and rural residents it is the only thing which makes life bearable.

British motorists get the worst deal in the industrialised world.

Just 14p in the £ of taxes raised from drivers is spent on roads in Britain. It's by far the lowest ratio in any G7 country.

The result? A road system which one Midlands company boss told me is unfair to call Third World - because at least in the Third World many roads are getting better.

The Lib Dems just offer the same as Labour but with added spite. Even more congestion charging. Even higher motoring taxes. Even less road-building. Not so much an alternative to socialism as an alternative to sanity.

The Left's prejudice and intolerance have a sinister consequence.

Under the Conservatives, the numbers killed on our roads halved - from 6,800 in 1979 to a still far too high 3,500 in 1997. Year after year the numbers fell. But no longer.

In each of Labour's first five years over 3,400 people have died on the roads - effectively the same number they inherited.

What has changed? Cars still get safer. Medical science still gets better. Yet 1200 more people lose their lives each year now than would if 1980s trends had continued.

However unintentionally, Government policy is largely to blame.

They stopped building new, safer roads - in 2001, not one inch of tarmac was added to the national road network.

And they have used speed cameras to replace, not supplement, traffic patrols. Under Labour, police officers on traffic duties have been cut by nearly 10%. As Chief Superintendent Mike McAndrew, former head of traffic policing for the Met, has said "speed on its own is not the real killer - it's dangerous driving." Without enough traffic patrols, he says, "people who drive dangerously, recklessly and carelessly don't get caught".

So under Labour the numbers caught for driving without a licence or proper insurance have fallen by 10%. The numbers caught for driving with a defective car have fallen by 30%.

Yet the number of speeding tickets issued to people who have

correctly registered their car has shot up by 250%.

So generally safe, generally responsible drivers are pursued ruthlessly for every mistake they make - while the really dangerous and irresponsible drivers, those without a licence, without insurance, without a safe car are let off time and time again.

Enough is enough. And so my first announcement today is that we will tell the police and the courts to concentrate not on easy catches but on the really dangerous drivers.

We will boost the numbers of traffic patrols. Improve driver education. And increase significantly penalties for those driving without a licence or without insurance, including permanent confiscation of their cars and when appropriate longer jail terms. Our Fair Deal for the Motorist starts with basic commonsense.

Greater safety also comes from new roads. We'll cut both the costs and the time of building roads, starting by scrapping time-wasting Multi-Modal Studies.

Unlike Labour, we don't aim to obliterate every last blade of grass in southern England. Our approach will ease overheating in the South - a sensible regional policy, respect for the Green Belt and, at last, firm and fair immigration and asylum rules to cut the numbers moving here from abroad.

And of course we'll keep the presumption, placed into law by the last Conservative Government, against major road developments in National Parks or Areas of Natural Beauty.

But we also know sensibly planned, sensibly built roads enhance the environment for villages and small towns, cut pollution and congestion, and reduce the number of accidents.

Most serious crashes occur not on motorways, but on small roads.

International experience shows that higher and more rigorously observed limits on motorways, combined with lower limits on small roads, strongly help to reduce road casualties.

That's why we will on entering office immediately start a swift and comprehensive review of speed limits. It's likely to mean raising the motorway limit to 80 mph while providing lower limits - of 20 mph or below - near schools or in small communities.

A more rational attitude towards risk across transport is needed.

In the eighteen months since the last time anyone was killed on a crashing train in Britain, over 5,000 have died in road accidents.

It is much safer to travel by rail than by road. Yet very often the opposite impression is given. This distortion has got to stop.

Because of it, we spend far more public money on rail safety than on road safety, putting a small chance of saving a few lives ahead of much better prospects of saving far more.

Because of it, we saw a 3 month shutdown of London's Central Line after an incident with no serious injuries - even though that caused tens of thousands to travel at far greater risk on the roads.

And because of it, we saw a collapse of rail performance after Hatfield, causing many to switch to riskier road journeys.

In the same way thousands of speed bumps were constructed, often thoughtlessly - when the London Ambulance Service say more die because ambulances are slowed than are saved by the bumps.

So a narrow obsession with health and safety is endangering lives, not saving them. And we have yet another way of taking money from taxpayers and giving it to the legal profession.

I don't know about you but my view is that the lawyers get quite enough of all our money as it is.

So my second announcement today is that Conservatives will concentrate on the big risks, not the small ones. When the next rail incident occurs, we will not rush to feed the frenzy of dangerous speculation encouraging people to switch to the roads.

We'll revise Government guidance which arm-twists councils into unwise speed bump schemes. Some make sense; many do not.

And in office we will spend public money available for transport safety not to get headlines but to save the largest number of lives.

Bus services need to be reliable, speedy and above all accessible, especially for pensioners. So we'll aim to build on today's half-priced bus pass to boost mobility for all, not just those near a bus route - because retirement should be a pleasure, not a sentence.

We'll be creative about transport solutions in the big cities - we'll explore entirely private sector means to build London's Crossrail, and welcome the thinking by Birmingham Conservatives about a privately funded new Tube. I look forward to further talks when next June Conservatives there sweep Labour out and take charge of England's second city.

Money spent on our railways must be better spent.

So my third announcement is a radical slimming for the bloated Strategic Rail Authority. We doubt it makes sense to have three different public sector bodies - all created by Labour - supervising the rail network. And we'll give longer franchises and more freedom to train companies, in return for much better service.

We must also end Labour's non-stop milking of the motorist.

In London, Steve Norris is campaigning vigorously against Ken Livingstone's Congestion Charge - not least because instead of the promised millions for public transport it is so off beam that it actually means less money for public transport. And we will resist Labour's plan for the greatest stealth tax of all: charging 50p a mile for using roads we've already paid for many times over.

In fact, here's a thought. For years the British taxpayer has paid for new roads in Ireland, Greece, and Spain - and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. How about using British taxes on British roads?

My final announcement concerns the purpose of the Department for Transport. The next Conservative Government will focus it on a goal which today astonishingly is not even an aspiration - reducing the time it takes to make a journey.

We'll address the frustration of millions - that it takes longer and longer to get home from work, get goods to market or visit friends.

As technology advances, we expect many things to get better year by year. It shows the poverty of ambition of the Left that their aim on transport is just to manage decline into ever greater misery.

There are no easy overnight solutions. But we can do better than the Left because we will at least try.

Our policies will help traffic flow, not force it to grind to a halt. And we'll aim to make journeys easier for all, not just for some.

Under the Conservatives, the right to travel will not be confined to those with two Jags, huge egos and the sort of staggering hypocrisy which it takes years of socialist belief to create.

I'm not saying this lot get things wrong - but they do sometimes remind me of the dyslexic devil-worshipper who sold his soul to Santa.

Conference, let's take pride in fundamental Conservative values.

Never has loyalty to our nation-state been more evident in every age group, or more necessary in a changing world. Never has the need to get rid of petty interfering bureaucrats been greater.

And never has it been more popular to believe in lower taxes - especially lower council taxes for pensioners.

So let us for goodness' sake take off the sackcloth and ashes.

I for one am proud that Conservative Governments won the Cold War, revived our economy, and gave power and wealth and home ownership to millions who only dreamed of it before.

And I'm proud to point out that today's prosperity wasn't built by Tony Blair but by Margaret Thatcher.

With renewed self-confidence we can take on and take apart a Prime Minister who calls himself "battered". Not half as battered, Tony, mate, as you are going to be.

But let's start with the Lib Dems. Their leader said that it was quite wrong to call his party Left wing - and then his Conference debated turning Britain into a People's Republic, called for voting rights for convicted prisoners, voted to abolish all effective immigration controls and said most burglars should not go to jail.

Charlie, the only place those ideas aren't leftwing is in Fidel Castro's Cuba. The Loony Left rides again.

Lib Dem Menzies Campbell says he wants to turn our head of state into a bicycling monarch. We have not forgotten that wonderful Golden Jubilee, nor that we have seen a magnificent half century of public service for which all of us should be profoundly grateful.

A bicycling monarchy, Mr Campbell? Let me echo Norman Tebbit - on your bike.

Mr Blair has done so much harm to this nation. Ripped up its constitution, ramped up its taxes, bankrupted its farmers and fishermen, persecuted its motorists and let its violent crime soar.

Worse, he has lied and lied and lied again. But none of this constitutes the most serious charge against him.

Signing this country up to any European constitution, against his solemn word, is a grave matter. Committing Britain in principle to the current version of that constitution, which represents the end of national liberty, is shameful. But doing so without seeking the consent of the British people in a referendum is an absolute, utter and wholly unforgivable disgrace.

Mr Blair arrogantly takes a third term for granted.

Some Labour rebels want to see the back of him tomorrow. Good luck to them, I say - but we all know they won't succeed.

The Liberal Democrats have already conceded that they cannot deny him a further term in office.

Only this Conservative Party can eject Tony Blair from Number Ten within the next two years.

But we've got two obstacles to overcome to do that.

First, there are some in this party who need rapidly to relearn the virtues of loyalty. Let us remind them - Iain Duncan-Smith was elected overwhelmingly, is daily exposing Tony Blair's deceit and dishonesty and deserves the undivided support of this entire party.

So let the message go forth to every Conservative, however eminent, senior or self-important - if you can't say anything positive about your party, kindly don't say anything at all.

Second, we need to raise our sights. Some say our aim should simply be to cut Mr Blair's majority and prepare to win the Election after next.

Conference, we can't wait that long. Those relying on failing public services, those paying skyrocketing taxes, those seeing years of striving to give their children a good education ruined by the corruption of the exam system, those held up as transport grinds to a halt - all these people can't wait.

Above all, Britain can't wait. Another New Labour term could end all that makes Britain what it is.

That is why our job is not just to oppose this Government, but to replace this Government.

If we go forward now with energy, and fire, and passion - if we demonstrate commitment and clarity and courage - if we pledge ourselves anew to fight for liberty, for democracy, and for Britain - then we will do more than deserve to win - we are going to win."

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