John Prescott – 1999 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to the 1999 Labour Party Conference.

Two years ago, we inherited a Britain that was socially divided.

Public services were starved of investment.

Our environment was degraded. The air polluted. Water and rivers contaminated.

Local government was shackled. Housing investment slashed.

Rural communities neglected. A massive investment backlog, Disorganised railways, And crumbling roads.

That’s the legacy the Tories left us.

We are committed to reverse that.

On day one, we brought together a new government department whose very purpose is a better quality of life. Improving people’s homes, their neighbourhoods, their travel, the air they breathe, the water they drink.

There is much to do. But we have taken the essential long-term decisions to implement our manifesto Programme, and have a good ministerial team to implement it.

We have a new positive partnership with local government. No longer is local government treated as the enemy within. We value public services. We value public servants. And like them, we want to deliver better public services.

We promised to bring decision making closer to the people. We are giving London back to Londoners. Next May, Londoners will celebrate by ensuring their new mayor is neither Steven Norris nor Jeffrey Archer.

And alongside devolution in Scotland and Wales, We’ve taken a step towards the sort of regional government that I have long believed in, With Regional Development Agencies, new regional planning and accountability.

Two centuries after the world’s first Industrial Revolution, we face a new And momentous challenge – to renew and revitalise our towns and cities for a new age.

As Lord Rogers’ Urban Task Force report makes clear, This calls for nothing less than an urban renaissance.

It’s not just a matter of housing, planning or design.

It’s about jobs, transport, schools, crime and health as well – The whole quality of life in our cities and communities.

We have already started.

£5bn of capital receipts to help imporve2m homes as we promised.

£4bn to regenerate areas in need.

Almost a billion to help lift our poorest neighbourhoods out of the cycle of deprivation. Tackling the causes, not the symptoms.

A £350m package for our coalfield communities, To start to repair the damage caused by Mrs Thatcher’s spiteful attack on our pit communities.

We are offering jobs and hope, instead of despair and dole.

A new style of living – which puts people first – in the concept of the Millennium Village.

Built to the highest environmental standards The highest environmental standards. A social mix of housing. Excellent public transport.

The first two of these are at Greenwich by the Dome and in the mining town of Allerton Bywater.

Reclaiming contaminated industrial land to create a living, thriving, healthy community.

And I can announce today that we will invite proposals for a further five Millennium Villages in other part of Britain.

A new start for Britain.

And in the countryside, we have set up a new Countryside Agency to champion rural needs.

We are safeguarding rural schools and post offices.

And today, I can announce that our Rural Bus Fund is supporting 1,800 additional bus services, linking villages to hospitals, schools, jobs and market towns.

That’s social justice.

Well, let me tell you about the Tory Council of NorthYorkshire.

We gave the Council nearly a billion pounds from the Rural Bus Fund. The Council sent it back.

But local people want the bus services.

No doubt they will contact their local MP the leader of the opposition, Mr Hague.

No wonder the Tories are no longer the party of the countryside!

Under Labour, our air is getting cleaner. Our rivers and beaches are less polluted.

No longer is Britain tagged the ‘dirty man of Europe’.

And what about water supplies?

Every summer a crisis under the Tories.

We have got the privatised water companies to cut the leaks, repair the pipes at their own expense, and cut the water bills from next April.

And we’ve told them no more disconnection’s for families who can’t afford to pay.

That’s social justice. And it takes a Labour government to deliver it.

But the biggest environmental challenge we face is the poisoning of the earth’s atmosphere by the industrialised countries.

People see on TV the ice caps melting. Greater droughts. Fiercer storms. Rising seas, which threaten to wipe out whole coastal communities. They know something is wrong and they want action.

This is a global problem and needs a global solution.

That’s why Britain led the world at the UN Climate Summit in Kyoto, Negotiating legal limits to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

To take the lead in international negotiations.

Because, under Tony Blair, Britain is respected once again throughout the world.

And why do we do this?

Because we have an obligation to pass on to our children a better world that the one we inherited.

That’s what we mean by international solidarity – the essence of Labour’s beliefs.

That’s why we brought the environment and transport together, to get a more Integrated approach.

Of course transport is never out of the news.

The M4 bus land trial now means buses and taxis are getting through quicker. Cars are also getting through quicker.

Every week you get another alarmist news headline – seldom checked in case the truth gets in the way of a good story.

Reducing the speed limit from 70 to 50 – not true.

A policy to nick everybody, everywhere, driving over 30 – not true.

Anti-motorist – not true.

How could I be anti car, driving two jags?

It’s a pity we can’t have a more intelligent debate.

That’s why we set up the Integrated Transport Commission.

Anyway, people don’t pigeon-hole themselves just as motorists.

We are parents and pedestrians as well. People who drive cars care about pollution and their children’s future too.

We are not anti-car. We are pro-people.

Even the last Government came to accept that you can’t build your way out of congestion.

When the Tories came in, there were 70 cars per mile of road.

And, after £70bn spent on roods, this increased to 100 cars per mile of roads.

The worst option for the motorist is to carry on as before.

But John Redwood has disowned the last government. With promises of higher speeds, more tarmac, and ripping out road safety measures.

Even the Times newspaper called his plan “cheap populism”.

His solution to traffic jams is to deregulate the roads.

Fewer speed limits, fewer traffic lights – compromising safety.

What we need is a better balance.

In other European countries they own more cars. But they use them less. And they use public transport more.

Above all, we need to widen choice by steadily improving public transport.

For too long, politicians have dodged long term responsibility for short-term expediency.

I intend to do what is right.

Our policies are decided not for tomorrow’s newspapers, but for tomorrow’s children.

Our biggest challenge is to reverse the massive under-investment and damage of the Tory years.

As an ex-seafarer, I am particularly pleased that we are about to double – that’s right double – the size of the British registered fleet, under the Red Ensign.

That’s the kind of revival we are producing.

Under the Tories, privatisation saw rail companies re-painting their trains, instead of replacing them. The biggest beneficiary was Dulux.

Now billions of pounds are being invested in road and rail infrastructure.

Of course an ageing transport system that has been neglected for decades will have breakdowns and delay.

And you can’t put in brand new infrastructure without causing some disruption.

But we should celebrate the fact that public transport is now a growth industry.

We are making the investment for that to happen.

As we promised in the manifesto, As conference agreed last year, The new investment is from public and private sources.

New bus investment up 80%.

100 new rail stations.

1,000 more train services a day.

And we are getting more rail investment in 10 years than in the past 100 years.

New local transport plans will bring better quality and more choice in public transport, with £800m to kick them off.

In London we will hand over a £5bn legacy to the new mayor.

A package which includes the Light Rail crossing the river to Lewisham.

The new Jubilee Line extension, the Croydon Tramlink, and much more.

We are only able to do this because we are mobilising billions of pounds of private finance to serve the public interest.

But big investment can’t be done overnight.

Upgrading the national rail network.

Modernising the London Underground.

Completing the high speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

All these take time.

But we have established the new Strategic Rail Authority, To safeguard the public interest and develop the rail network – both passenger and freight.

Together with the new regulator, everyone agrees we now have a watchdog with a bite as well as a bark, acting on behalf of you – the public.

And I have today issued new instructions to the SRA to start the renegotiating rail franchises, to establish a new modern railway for a new century.

Last year I said the railways were a national disgrace.

Well, the industry has made some efforts.

The first signs of improvement are starting to show.

But I say to the rail companies: “You are on probation”.

By the next Spring Rail Summit, we will judge how far you have advanced.

Public private partnership is also the key to securing investment in the London Underground and Air Traffic Control.

That’s why we proposed in our Manifesto a £7bn public -private partnership to modernise the underground. A service which will be publicly owned and publicly run.

Where employees will have their employment conditions, pensions and free travel guaranteed.

We are mortgaging the Tube assets, just like you do with a house. And the assets will come back to the public sector, when they have been upgraded.

So it will be completely publicly owned once again.

I understand the concern about proposed changes in Air Traffic Control.

And of course we will continue to consult all the interested parties, including the unions.

But air traffic is growing fast. NATS want to use its expertise abroad to share in the growth of the aviation industry.

It needs over a billion pounds to keep up with growing air movements.

NATS has never been able to plan ahead to invest with certainty under past government financing.

NATS is an equity-based company already.

What is proposed is for government to keep a 49% stake, with 5% for staff – leaving 46% for the private sector.

We could ask the Chancellor to shell out the billions of pounds from public funds.

But that would mean less cash for hospitals and schools.

Some local authorities have swapped their paper shares in municipal airports to build new schools.

What’s wrong with that?

My own city of Hull has sold some of its shares in its telephone business to improve council services.

What is wrong with that?

So why shouldn’t we raise money from bricks and mortar to provide kidney machines and school computers?

Or – yes, in some cases – other forms of public transport that need investment funds.

This is a question of priorities.

As Nye Bevan said: ‘The language of priorities is the religion of socialism’

Our priority is not rigid dogma, but giving the people of this country the best possible public services

And using our public assets to the best possible advantage.

And let’s be clear about this. Whether it’s air traffic or anywhere else I will never agree to anything that would put safety at risk.

We will keep strict safety regulation entirely in state hands.

A government golden share.

A government director on board.

And a veto built in through the licence to protect the national interest.

Not a triple lock, but a quadruple lock.

The airlines are satisfied with that.

The RAF is happy with that.

And I think this Conference should trust this government would never put air passengers lives at risk.

I do not take exception to suggestions that I might be soft on safety.

All my life I have campaigned for transport safety.

From Lockerbie to Clapham Junction, I hounded the Tories.

In office, I have demanded train safety protection to stop trains going through red lights.

I have reopened the files on the sinking of the Gaul and the Derbyshire.

And last month I announced a public inquiry. So that the full story can be told of the Marchioness disaster.

So don’t let anyone doubt my commitment to safety.

I will never, repeat never, play games with people’s safety.

And I deplore those who seek to stir up safety for ideological or industrial ends.

Social justice. Labour is the party for the many, not the few.

But sometimes social justice demands that the many must help the few.

That’s why we have outlawed all forms of asbestos

– Britain’s biggest industrial killer

– That’s social justice

That’s why – as we enter the new Millennium We will guarantee every person currently living rough on the streets a bed to sleep in, with a roof over their head.

That’s social justice.

That’s why today Stephen Byers and I are announcing a new scheme to help pensioners and poor families who need help to make their homes warmer

And not just insulation, But brand new central heating.

To reduce the obscenity of deaths from hypothermia – that bring disgrace to this country.

That’s social justice.

It was that great post War Labour government which gave Britain its first National Parks, the jewels of the Countryside.

I remember as a boy the wonder I felt on my first visit youth hostelling to the Lake District.

Its beauty remained eternally with me.

50 years on, this Labour government will begin the process to create new National Parks – in the south downs and the New Forest.

Two new national parks for the new millennium.

A hundreth birthday present from Labour to the nation.

And we will introduce legislation to extend the right to roam and enjoy open countryside.

Because we believe our natural heritage is for the many, Not just the privileged few.