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Robin Oakley reports for BBC News
"Mr Prescott saw off his critics"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 18:23 GMT
Angry Prescott fights back
John Prescott: Defending his policies hours after flying home

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has responded to attacks on his transport policies in a bitter debate in the Commons.

Mr Prescott returned to the UK from a state-visit to India for the opposition day debate on transport on Wednesday afternoon.

But after listening to an opening speech by the Tory transport spokesman John Redwood, he angrily responded claimed it had not been worth it.

My expert advisors tell me, of all the trees in the world, the densest is the redwood.
John Prescott
In a hostile and sometimes personal debate, Mr Prescott went on to outline the government's record on transport, including improvements to bus and train services.

He also attacked the Tories for attempting to make political gain out of the Paddington rail disaster, something the opposition denied.

This led to anger and vigorous denials from the Conservative frontbench.

Mr Redwood had told MPs that the government's transport policy is not "working, cannot work, will never work."

The prime minister and you show us how you can go from Jags to riches by coming south.
John Redwood
He continued: "Your transport policy is rip-off Britain. The motorist is fleeced at the pump, the British haulier is taxed off the road, the Tube traveller has to pay ever higher fares. "

Mr Prescott's idea of an integrated transport policy "seems to be a layby on the A1 where you can swop Jaguars as you speed south", said Mr Redwood.

The deputy prime minister responded to the criticism by saying the Conservatives' spending plans at the general election would have cut almost 1bn from the transport budget over the last two years.

Financing the tube is proving to be a thorny issue
Mr Prescott criticised the Tories' record on buses, roads, and congestion and accused them of fragmenting the rail network.

After just two and a half years of a Labour government, there were now 1,000 more train services a day, the strategic rail authority had been established, and a new regulator had been set up, he said.

Mr Prescott also listed the government's achievements on improving bus services as well as highlighting improvements to the environment.

The debate follows mounting criticism of the effectiveness of Mr Prescott's transport policies following a series of U-turns.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the government's record on transport.

Under attack by Tory leader William Hague at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Blair insisted he was tackling transport "better and faster" than the Conservatives.

Prescott's problems
Government slow in tackling transport problems
Accused of being anti-car
Awarded Golden Bull award by Plain English Campaign
On the receiving end of the hostile press
Labour rebellion threatened on air traffic control plans
His super-ministry is seen as too large
Mr Hague said the government had not improved public services while carrying out "hypocritical attacks on drivers".

Mr Prescott's policies amounted to a "complete failure and do not remotely represent an integrated transport policy".

"Now the prime minister has been on the front cover of Hello magazine isn't it time the deputy prime minister was on Goodbye magazine?" he joked.

The prime minister argued Mr Prescott had to reform a system suffering from "years of neglect" at the same time as usage increased across public and private transport.

"There is an increase in demand on the whole system. However we are actually going to be spending more on transport than under the Conservative plans," he said.

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