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6.17 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I instinctively warm to colleagues who do not forget their roots. It was endearing of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to remind us of his early days in the signal box. Perhaps the best part of the Deputy Prime Minister's speech was when he was harking back to his early days before the mast with P&O and talking about his achievements for the shipping industry. I applaud that. It has to be said that the new tax regime is better; it is to the good of the country. As for the rest of his speech, it was rather like the earth before the creation, being without form and void. It was a flat earth at that. To be candid, we were given very little information about how the integrated transport strategy will work.

I have been sceptical for many a month about the merits of a London mayor, as I think probably two thirds of Londoners have been, inasmuch as they did not bother to vote in the referendum. However, having heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech on transport, I have become a convert. The role of the mayor in putting London's transport to rights has perhaps been fully vindicated. The right hon. Gentleman's transport strategy has not improved the lot of the travelling public in our capital.

I appreciated too--I must be more generous--the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has come back from India. He foreshortened his passage to the sub-continent and returned to the Dispatch Box. Obviously, his time out east had some influence on him--he said that climate change is the big picture for transport. That may be so for the right hon. Gentleman, having flown back from the Himalayas, but for my constituents who are strap-hanging their way into London along the Metropolitan line in sweaty, steamy, heaving, smelly carriages which are typical of the underground today, the picture is very different. It may not be the big picture, but it is a real and unpleasant picture. They have to endure purgatorial conditions that are unjustifiable and unnecessary.

My constituents are served by no fewer than eight tube stations and three tube lines. The London underground system is essential to them, as it is to so many Londoners, to get to work and to fulfil their daily obligations.

In an arresting and welcome second maiden speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) made some telling points. He stressed the importance of quality of life to his constituents. That is crucial to Londoners, and a great many of them do not have a high quality of life, not least because of the misery that they have to endure because of congestion on the roads and the appalling state of London underground.

What makes Londoners' life worth while is their sense of community and of belonging, and the sense of heritage of those communities. I was pleased when my right hon. Friend brought that out in his speech. He made a moving tribute to his predecessor, the late and right hon. Alan Clark. He spoke lightheartedly about Alan's hinterland. I am sure that he was referring to Alan's castle and the land down at Saltwood which he loved so dearly.

The hinterland for central London is, of course, outer London and the ring of the home counties around it, from which so many people commute and to which they return relieved at the end of a long, stressful, tiring day.I was disappointed, therefore, that the Government's amendment to the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), which

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is--rightly--highly critical of the lack of investment in the tube, was so inadequate and recognised so little the stresses and strains that commuters must endure.

That was the case, too, with the speech of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). He has overcome his depression at no longer being Secretary of State, but sad to say, he has returned to his characteristically ungenerous and unconvincing self. He had little to offer for the improvement of commuting and the London transport system.

I shall make some simple and straightforward points. The first is that, of course, investment is crucial. The trouble is that we are getting the worst of both worlds. We have not had the public-private partnership. It is stillborn. We do not know when it will come to fruition. Because it has been so long delayed, Londoners are not only suffering inconvenience, congestion and uncomfortable travelling conditions, but are paying an awful lot more for the privilege. Every year, London underground fares go up way above inflation, as they will next year as well.

Furthermore, the Treasury has to pick up the shortfall, to the tune of £517 million over a two-year period. This was not anticipated, because the Government presumed that there would be moneys coming in from the public-private partnership and the sale of the leases for the infrastructure of the tube.

Mr. Geraint Davies: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, if he were mayor of London, which he may be, he would ensure that fares would not rise above inflation, even though, under his scheme, the tube would be privatised? Can he give that guarantee? I do not think so.

Mr. Wilkinson: I can guarantee to provide leadership for London and a sense of direction. The mayor will have, above all, to choose the appropriate team and to put in place a chief executive and board of Transport for London to integrate the city's transport.

The tragedy is that the Government had to announce during the Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill that the Transport for London organisation, which is central to their plans to integrate transport in the capital, and rightly so, will not come into being until some undefined date in the future, which they cannot yet specify, even half way through their term of office. It is a monumental failure: a catastrophic failure for Londoners.

With regard to fares, the management of the underground system should be commercial. Appropriate fares should be set at an incentive level to bring in passengers, to get a good return and to provide the revenue stream to generate new rolling stock and to overcome the congestion problems. Without that commercial management, I do not believe that there will be much improvement in conditions for the travelling public on the underground.

I hope that that answers the question from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies), which was largely answered earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who correctly said that the regulator would have a crucial role in ensuring that an appropriate fare level was set.

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I was struck by the omissions from the Government amendment. There is no mention of the public-private partnership. Perhaps the Government think that, if they do not mention it, no one will notice that it has not come about. There is no mention of the extra £517 million to which I referred. There is no mention of Transport for London--understandably so, as it does not exist, but it was in their manifesto and all their early speeches. There is no mention of the fare increases that Londoners endure.

Interestingly, there is also no mention of the other burdens that will be placed on the travelling public in London--the road user charges and the workplace parking taxes. For my constituents in outer London, the concept of road user charges is anathema, for two reasons. First, they have to go into central London by car, because public transport is so inadequate. Clearly, public transport must be put right before such charges can be considered. Secondly, the inner circle within which road user charges are to be levied will be a barrier. People will park in outer London to avoid having to pay the impost.

Anyway, a workplace parking tax is a tax on going to work. A mayor who wants to make London the free enterprise capital of the world is not in the business of taxing Londoners more, nor should he be in the business of imposing workplace charges. Employers in London face enough taxation already. Why should they--especially small businesses--face yet another tax?

Mr. Ian Bruce: Has my hon. Friend noticed that analysis of a number of park and ride schemes shows that drivers often drive further before getting on a bus to go into the town centre than they would if they drove directly to a town centre car park? Very often, such schemes do not reduce pollution, even if they occasionally reduce congestion.

Mr. Wilkinson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is an expert in these matters. He has brought out new arguments that I would otherwise have overlooked.

The key point about investment is that it will give the opportunity for new lines to be created. For my constituents, that is crucial. Investment need not be substantial. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), whom I see on the Benches beside me, has long been an advocate, rightly, of extending the Central line from South Ruislip or West Ruislip in my constituency to Uxbridge--a modest increase in the length of the line, which is potentially of considerable benefit to the travelling public from Uxbridge, who could also link on to the Chiltern line and go westwards, beyond West Ruislip.

Another good example is the Croxley link, which would extend the Metropolitan line out to Watford junction, which would be invaluable for people in Northwood and in northern parts of my constituency. A further interesting example is the difficulty of getting from north-west London directly to Heathrow.

Good precedents have been set by the private sector. The Heathrow rail link, which is now in operation andis invaluable, was initiated by the Conservative Government, as has been pointed out. It was financed by British Airports Authority plc, British Airways plc and Railtrack. New links are planned from the airport to the south-east, towards Waterloo. I hope that yet another link will be built--certainly when the fifth terminal comes into operation--to the north-west and west, joining the main west line towards Reading.

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If the tube is under commercial management that has flair, vision and a desire to serve London people better, it will have a marketing strategy that is infinitely more imaginative than the present one. I advocate early-bird fares to get people on the network early at a discounted rate, and night-owl fares for people who would otherwise take their cars into London for the theatre, cinema or other entertainment. Those are both imaginative proposals, although I am sure there will be many more.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on initiating this debate. I am glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions came back to this country for it. Even though his speech was a bit of a flat-earth one, it was fun while it lasted. I doubt that he will make many more in his present appointment.


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