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9.18 pm

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport referred in his opening remarks to the fact that the word "passengers" does not appear in the Conservative motion. He should know that the previous Government gave up using the term "passengers" because it gave the travelling public the impression that they intended to take them somewhere.

As somebody who worked in London's transport system for nearly 12 years, I witnessed the ravages inflicted on that transport by the previous Government. In an attempt to be brief and allow other hon. Members to speak, I shall not respond to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) or cite the catalogue of errors and attacks on public transport made by the previous Government.

I represent a constituency in south-east London and I know that public transport has to be treated as a public service that will always require funding from public money. Leaving it to the ravages of the private sector does not allow it to meet the various needs of the community. Many public transport services are essential but not profitable. Public subsidy will always be required, so public accountability will be necessary.

We have to start to plan, and to make the word "integrated" mean something if we are to tackle the economic environmental problems in London. We have to integrate trains, buses, the tube and the road network. I welcome the measure in the Greater London Authority Bill to combine responsibility for roads and other modes of transport because, for far too long, that lack of integration has been an obstacle to an effective plan for London's overall transport system.

London's traffic is likely to increase by 2 to 11 per cent. by 2000, by 8 to 21 per cent. by 2011, and by 22 to 59 per cent. by 2031. That points to serious problems for the economy and for people's health in London. We need to start addressing those problems, and we need to start now. With all due respect to the Liberal Democrats, we cannot wait to plan until the GLA is in place.

Mr. Brake rose--

Mr. Efford: There is very little time left, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty to say this evening.

Network SouthEast, which serves my constituency, is already running at capacity. There is very little scope for increasing that capacity at peak times, although investment in longer carriages and platforms may result in some improvement. Five of the operating companies are operating in excess of capacity--they carry many persons in excess of capacity every day--and, as I said, south-east London has no tube network.

Investment in London Underground, via the Jubilee line and other schemes, is planned to increase capacity outside of peak times by 25 per cent. by 2002 or 2003, but it is going to take a great deal longer to increase capacity at peak times. There is the potential for a further 20 per cent. increase, according to London Underground's own figures.

The bus is not seen as a suitable alternative by people travelling to London from my constituency or, for that

27 Jan 1999 : Column 430

matter, by those travelling through my constituency. People use their cars out of choice. A recent survey in the Evening Standard demonstrated that even a cut in the cost of travelling by public transport would not result in people choosing to give up their cars, so we have to make public transport extremely attractive.

Derek Turner, the Traffic Director for London, was quoted last week in the Evening Standard as saying that we have to take a carrot and stick approach. I very much agree with that. Bus lanes will take out sections of the road but will then offer an opportunity for people to travel more quickly by bus. He regards the bus as being the only solution to the problem of excess demand for transport over the next five years. That is not true in all cases, but in south-east London, where there is no underground network, we certainly need to find other ways to expand our links to the underground.

We have the prospect of road pricing in London, which will fund investment in public transport networks. If people in south-east London are contributing through road pricing to investment in public transport, it is only right that that investment goes into modes of transport that will benefit them in the absence of the underground in their area. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.

I have stressed the fact many times in the House that there is no underground network in south-east London. Other than the bus network and the over-subscribed Network SouthEast, there are no alternatives to the car for people travelling to central London. Unless we use our road network and turn sections of our roads over to guided bus links or other modes of transport of that sort, we shall have difficulty in getting people out of their cars and on to public transport in south-east London.

Let us consider the cost of extending rail links. The Jubilee line costs £172.5 million per km, and the Croydon tramlink costs £7.1 million per km. Guided bus links are considerably cheaper than that. The schemes in cities such as Ipswich and Leeds have succeeded in bringing people on to those forms of transport. The March edition of Local Transport Today contains articles about those schemes. Surveys demonstrate that few new journeys are made as a result of the schemes, but that significant numbers of people switch from their cars to public transport. That is the way forward for London.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said that he wanted the bus to become a racehorse, not a workhorse. I echo that. We must change people's attitudes to buses and other forms of public transport. We must improve links between existing modes of transport. People should view switching from a bus to the underground, or from a bus to the rail network, no differently from the way in which someone travelling on the London underground views changing from the Bakerloo line, for example, to the Central line.

By changing people's attitudes to public transport, we can start to address the growing problem of traffic levels in London. That would help to address the problems that my constituents face daily, with two of London's major arterial routes dissecting my constituency. I welcome the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I hope that in her summing up, my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will take my comments on board.

27 Jan 1999 : Column 431

9.26 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Labour and Liberal Members are wrong to suggest, as they have been doing all evening, that Conservative Members of Parliament do not care about standards on the underground. We do. We all want the best possible service for the passengers on the London underground.

I care particularly because the underground is extremely important to those who live in my constituency. However, I was pleased to hear the Minister say--I entirely agree with him--that the underground is also important because London is the capital city, not just of England, but of the United Kingdom. That is why hon. Members in all parts of the House and people in all parts of the country should care about London Underground.

Before the election, the Government made promises, as they did on many subjects, that they would wave a magic wand and make the underground, like many other parts of our national life, better. However, they have done nothing about it. They have been delaying all this time. I should point out to Ministers that, when our party was in government, we privatised the entire British Rail network in 18 months--[Interruption.] Hon. Members should not say that we did it wrongly. We did not.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) rose--

Mrs. Laing: No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Those who have scrutinised the financial affairs of British Rail and the way in which it was privatised have criticised certain aspects of it, but not the whole of it. Hon. Members should think what British Rail was like before we privatised it, and imagine how much worse the railway would be now, if it did not have the benefit of private sector investment.

Labour Members and Ministers know that the only way to get the capital that is needed for London Underground is to privatise it, but they are so full of dogmatic ideas against privatisation, simply because it was such a great success for the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).

Mr. Love: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. According to the recent National Audit Office report on the privatisation of Railtrack, the public purse lost between £600 million and £1.4 billion in that privatisation. It should not be forgotten that the National Audit Office is an extremely conservative body. That money could have been used to improve London underground.

Mrs. Laing: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well--the National Audit Office acknowledged this--that privatisation of the railways was conducted in the best possible way at the time, and that the best possible financial and professional advice was accepted and acted on. If we knew in advance what would happen, we would all be rich from playing the markets because we would know where to invest.

Mr. Love: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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