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Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): The hon. Gentleman quoted with approval the article in the Evening Standard that said that the tube should be privatised "lock, stock and barrel". Does he also agree that the people who would subsequently have control of the tube could do exactly what they like with fares?

Mr. Ottaway: I do not think that that is so. The mayor will integrate with the new privatised sector. I have no doubt that the success of every privatisation is largely dependent on the role of the regulator. The mayor could be the regulator in the Conservative party's proposals.

The public-private partnership will be a ball and chain around the ankle of the new mayor of London. It was interesting that, when I asked the Deputy Prime Minister whether the operating profit would cover the costs and the investment of the PPP, he said that he would answer that question, but did not do so. I am pretty sure that the PPP will not cover all the costs of the London Underground, so I hope that any future mayor of London will send the bill to the Government.

There is no doubt that all tube and public tramway systems need subsidy. That is why, when we announced our privatisation policy, we said that the proceeds from the sale would be reinvested as our subsidy. I have to tell the Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for Brent, East that the principle behind the idea of bonds is distinctly flawed. In New York, on top of the sums raised by the bonds, there has had to be a government subsidy of $1.7 billion in just the past year.

I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), who has responsibility for transport in London, to answer the question that I put to the Deputy Prime Minister. When the PPP is in place, will the operating profit cover the cost and the investment, or will subsidies still be necessary in addition to the PPP?

Where is the vision for the London underground? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said in his excellent second maiden speech, the previous Government had the vision to introduce the docklands light railway, the Jubilee line extension, the Croydon tramlink, modernisation of the

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east London line, Thameslink 2000, the Paddington express and the link to Stansted. That was the vision of a Government who know where they were going on transport policy. Passenger numbers on public transport systems are now up by 20 per cent. but no increase in capacity is planned.

Fares are increasing, there is more overcrowding and public transport is less reliable. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is not in the Chamber now, but his proposal for an outer Circle line sounds great. However, where will the money come from to pay for it? If God forbid, the right hon. Gentleman becomes the next mayor of London, he will not have the money to build an outer Circle line around London. That is more talk from the Labour party, without any action. The public will know where the blame lies.

Mr. Geraint Davies: I wish to make two points. First, will not the Croydon tramlink, which will not be a radial line, be a test of whether PPP can survive in the private sector and fund some of the link? Secondly, under the Conservative party's privatisation plan, if the people running the tube could not make a profit unless they jacked up fares beyond what the mayor would allow, how would the hon. Gentleman solve that problem?

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman represents a neighbouring constituency to mine, so I shall not be too tough on him. However, I would have thought that he knew that the Croydon tramlink is not a PPP; it is a private finance initiative built by the private sector and it will be run by the private sector. It will have no public sector involvement whatever. The previous Government had the vision to introduce it--

Mr. Davies rose--

Mr. Ottaway: I shall not give way again. About £200 million have gone into the project, of which £140 million came from the previous Government and £60 million came from the private sector. However, there will be no public sector involvement in the management of the project.

The Government seem to think that congestion charging is the answer to the traffic problems that face London. The Deputy Prime Minister referred to a Green Paper, which was produced in the mid-1990s and said that there was a presumption that congestion charging would be introduced. All presumptions are rebuttable. If the right hon. Gentleman did not know, a Green Paper is a consultation document. That proposal did not appear in any manifesto or White Paper published by the previous Conservative Government.

I have no doubt that the reduction of congestion is a desirable objective, but I am not convinced that it is achievable. I certainly am convinced that a congestion tax is not the answer. The problem is that people like using their cars. Ministers will be well aware of the pilot schemes that have been carried out to find out how effective a congestion tax will be, and they know that, in London, it will take charges of £8 to £10 to deter someone from making a trip.

If, for example, the borough of Croydon were to introduce a congestion tax, all the shoppers would boycott Croydon and go to Bluewater, which has just opened

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down the road and which has free parking. I am well aware that the Croydon chamber of commerce is most concerned about Labour-controlled Croydon council's proposals to introduce a congestion charge.

Mr. Davies rose--

Mr. Ottaway: I will not give way.

The problem with the congestion charge is that it discriminates against the mother who is going to collect her children from school, the nurse on her way to night duty and the elderly and disabled who want to use their car to get to the shops. It is, in effect, a stealth tax, and it is not an effective way to tackle congestion.

The people who will be most affected by a congestion tax are those on low incomes, and that proposal comes from a Labour Government. We must question the very point of the Labour party when a Labour Government are introducing a flat tax that will hit those on low incomes the hardest. It is ironic that it should be left to one-nation Conservatives to defend such people from the Labour party. When that happens, it is a sure sign that the Government have lost touch with the people who elected them in the first place.

6.1 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): If anything demonstrates that the Conservative party has lost touch with reality, it is the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). This is the only legislature in the world that would be having the sort of debate that we are having today. In sensible, grown-up democracies, the argument for a decent public transport system is irrefutable, and in other parts of the world even right-wing parties like the Conservative party accept the necessity for decent basic public transport. Instead, we got the usual tirade.

I shall not comment on the speech by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), because I think that private grief is best left private, but the hon. Member for Croydon, South had to pursue the argument that the congestion charge is an attack on the lowest paid. I have to tell him that the lowest earners do not drive motor cars, so, whatever happens with congestion charges, they will not usually be the people who have to pay them. I agree with colleagues who have said that, before we can introduce congestion charges, we have to make sure that there is proper public transport provision, particularly in our towns and cities.

There are those who advocate freezing or reducing tube fares. I shall make only one comment about the tube. As someone who has lived in London during at least part of the week for a quarter of a century, I hope that, if tube fares are reduced or frozen, someone will tell us how the extra passengers are to be carried because, in my experience, there is not much spare capacity. Until long-term improvements to the tube are carried out, the congestion that we see every day, for most of the day, on London's tube service will continue regardless of the level of fares.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is up to local authorities to decide whether congestion charging is appropriate for their area? We are handing back the power to local authorities to

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make those decisions, and to do so on the basis of what works in their area. My hon. Friend referred to people who do not have access to a car and, in areas such as mine, where 40 per cent. of the population do not have access to a car, people need improvements to public transport so that they can travel to work and get about.

Mr. Snape: Yes, I could not agree more.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South said that the Bluewater development would have an enormous impact on Croydon if congestion charges were introduced. Obviously, I do not know that part of the world as well as the hon. Gentleman does, but I would hazard a guess that the Bluewater development will have a pretty significant impact on shopping in Croydon regardless of congestion charges. There are no congestion charges in the west midlands, but the Merry Hill shopping complex has wreaked havoc in many of the small towns in the immediate area. Such out-of-town shopping areas, as approved by the previous Government--Merry Hill is, incidentally, part of an enterprise zone--have an impact well before we start even to talk about implementing congestion charging. The hon. Gentleman should not, therefore, pursue that argument.

There is no point in Members on opposite sides of the House blaming each other for the situation in which we now find ourselves. Nobody seriously thinks that two and a half years into a Labour Government, some of the major transport construction schemes that are needed could have been carried out already. Let me make it plain--many of the congestion problems that have arisen in the past 20 years would have come about regardless of the political hue of the Government of the day, because, as people become more affluent, they travel more. There are more cars on our roads. There were more cars on the road by the end of the nearly 20 years that the Conservatives were in office, and a few more have been added to that total since 1 May 1997. All that will have an impact on congestion.

Some of my colleagues apparently believe that the privatisation of the railway industry can somehow be reversed, but I do not think that it can. None of us would have started from this particular point, but this is the point that we are at.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) talk about the number of different rail companies whose trains want to enter Stockport and the delays that they cause. I hope that he is not for a moment suggesting that my former colleagues in the signal box should let them all into the platform at the same time. [Interruption.] I shall give way to him in a moment if he likes. As an occasional, if unofficial, visitor to that signal box, I have to tell him that there are many more passenger trains going through Stockport than when I worked there. There are far fewer freight trains but, as they say, there are swings and roundabouts.

We should be trying to get investment into the railway industry from any source. I find it fascinating that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), talked about the need for the Government to pump in more money. He appeared to be suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister should tear up the agreement with franchisees--who freely negotiated rail franchises, knowing full well that the

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amount of subsidy would decline year by year--and give them the money anyway. That might be the Liberals' idea of a sensible way to use resources.

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