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Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): By chance, this morning I received a letter from a constituent Mrs. Marriott. She says that she has been working in London for the past five years. She does not want to be selfish; she travels in by the Metropolitan line. She writes:

Then follows a list of breakdowns and delays, which is a disaster.

Will my hon. Friend please say why and how the Government's proposals for road tolls, and charges on parking and fuel will help my constituent on her travels on the tube?

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend makes an important point, because his constituent's experience mirrors that of so many people. A recent survey found that 84 per cent. of people interviewed on the underground thought that it had dramatically worsened since Labour came to power.

I challenge the Deputy Prime Minister, who has the nerve to come to this place and speak of benefits on the tube, to come with me to Moorgate station on the Northern line and meet the commuters there, 78 per cent. of whom were late for work on Monday last week because of the closure of the line between Moorgate and Kennington. Only last week, London Underground reported its "worst day for months." The Circle line was completely shut down. The Northern line was closed between Kennington and Moorgate. Extensive rush-hour cancellations occurred again and again on four other lines.

Meanwhile, temperatures soared. Commuters travelled in temperatures of over 100 deg. As the Evening Standard reported, it would be illegal to transport animals in those conditions. And yet the Minister--

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woodward: I am sorry; there is no time.

As the Minister knows--

Mr. Geraint Davies rose--

Mr. Woodward: I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) .

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We do not want a Greek chorus from either side. This is a serious debate and there is very little time left for it to proceed. Is Mr. Woodward giving way?

Mr. Woodward indicated assent.

Mr. Leslie: I am just trying to clarify whether, under the hon. Gentleman's policy of privatising London Underground, the proceeds of privatisation would be ring-fenced for London or spent elsewhere.

Mr. Woodward: My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has made the position

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entirely clear. We are in favour of privatising London Underground. We are wholly against the policies that the Government are pursuing; we are against them for one important reason. Under the present Government's policies, the tube is getting worse and worse. The people who are suffering are not people like the Deputy Prime Minister, who commutes everywhere in two Jaguars and a helicopter--they are the ordinary people of London, who have to try to get to work.

Mr. Geraint Davies rose--

Mr. Woodward: I will not take an intervention.

When we left office, one train broke down every 21 minutes. I admit that that was not a good record. However, under the present Government, one train breaks down every 16 minutes. The Labour party's solution to all this is the ludicrous public-private partnership. It is condemned by everyone and is going nowhere.

Mr. Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woodward: I will not.

The Deputy Prime Minister tells us again today that the public-private partnership will be delayed. Next year, the mayor will take up office, but he or she will not have charge of London Underground because of the delay caused by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Yesterday, the mayoral candidate, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)--it will be interesting to see whether his colleagues have views on this--said that the PPP would lead to tube fare increases of 30 per cent., and he condemned the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals. It will be interesting to see whether the Deputy Prime Minister supports the hon. Gentleman in his endeavours to become mayor of this city.

Under the present Government, transport policy is in chaos. Road budgets have been slashed. Investment in the tube has been dramatically slashed to little more than half the £1 billion a year that was being invested when we left office. Under the present Government, the motorist is being taxed and taxed, and the Government are lining up new taxes for the motorist. A congestion tax is coming soon, as is a parking tax.

Just for the record, the Minister for Transport might like to know that when the RAC surveyed people with NOP, it found that 75 per cent. of the public opposed congestion taxes. In addition, 49 per cent. would not be prepared to pay the parking tax, and made it clear that they would simply find other places to park their cars. Such a tax will not stop them from using their cars; they will simply try to evade the Government's tax policy.

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) has returned to her place. On Tuesday, I asked her about the local transport strategy in Oxford--a strategy that the present Government encouraged and sanctioned, with £7 million of credit for a £21 million disaster scheme. She questioned my brief and had the temerity to tell the House that the scheme in Oxford had not

I am afraid that it is she who is not up to her brief. She should read the Oxford Mail headlines, "Road works will kill us. Traders fear for the future" and, on Saturday 26 June, "Oxford's total standstill".

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Perhaps the Under-Secretary wishes to sit there and laugh at the people of Oxford. Perhaps she has not got across her brief and learned of the real misery that people in Oxford are experiencing. However, I suggest that, for the few remaining days in which she is likely to hold her post, she gets across her brief and perhaps even goes to meet the people in Oxford--people like a man called Mr. Bonner, who runs a family florist's business in the covered market. He goes to Covent Garden every day to collect flowers for his business. He has to drive to London and, of course, he gets stuck in traffic jams going to London and coming out of London. He gets stuck in the traffic jams on the A40, then in those on the M40. He gets stuck in the jams on the M40-M25 interchange--or should I say inter-jam?--then the jams going into Oxford city. After 10 o'clock, he is not allowed to get to the covered market.

As a result of the Government's policy, people like Mr. Bonner are realising that their livelihoods in the covered market may soon come to an end. More than a third of traders in the covered market fear that the local transport strategy will ensure that they go out of business. Perhaps the hon. Lady is happy with that; we are not content.

For that reason, we are very unhappy with the Government's transport policy, and we condemn them for the way in which they callously rob the motorist, taking more then £30 billion in taxes from the road user, but offer less than £6 billion back. The truth is that the Government are anti-motorist, but have no credible public transport policy to offer in its place.

At the beginning of the White Paper on transport policy, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that

Most of us would agree. What we need, however, is a consensus for change not in transport policy but in the Department and the Ministers who now preside over standstill Britain.

3.51 pm

The Minister for Transport (Mrs. Helen Liddell): May I take the opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) to the Dispatch Box? I understand that this is the first debate in which he has spoken under his new shadow portfolio.

I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has joined us. I was beginning to wonder whether he was indisposed. He has not had the best of weeks. This time last week, the Conservative Opposition were to launch their transport strategy. We were promised 60 commitments to the motorist. By Monday, the figure was down to 52, and in the course of the debate this afternoon, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was ditching commitments faster than the dance of the seven veils.

As the hon. Member for Witney gets further into his brief, he will learn that it is important that he does his homework accurately. When Labour came to power, we inherited a road network which, according to the Tories' Green Paper of 1996, was "broadly complete". However, the road network was suffering from a huge maintenance backlog. It was congested and crumbling.

The hon. Member for North Essex acknowledged in writing to the Leader of the Opposition last week that the previous Administration had cut money for roads.

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Those cuts were made in an area that is important to motorists--maintenance. Maintenance is important for vehicles, but it is also important for safety. We have seen the Opposition this afternoon wriggling, ducking and diving on the safety issue.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham described himself as "new Conservative"--that is, extreme Conservative. The position that the Opposition are adopting is extremely right-wing. It is libertarianism taken to a ludicrous extreme. Not even the safety of people matters to the Opposition, to judge by their transport policy.

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