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6.56 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I have enjoyed taking part in the mayoral hustings which this debate has been for most of the evening, although it has not been particularly enlightening. It has been nice to listen to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), but they have reconfirmed my view that I would prefer, by 100 per cent., my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) as mayor. I wonder where on earth the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) is this evening and why she has chosen not to take part in this important debate on transport in London. Perhaps the press will ask her that question in the days ahead.

I was particularly unhappy about one remark made by the hon. Member for Brent, East.

Mr. Livingstone: Only one?

Mr. Gray: Well, as always, I was unhappy with everything he had to say, although he speaks in such a personable and charming way that it is difficult to disagree with him. I disagreed in particular when he referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) as a retread. Suppose the hon. Gentleman were to be elected mayor of London; who could possibly be more of a tired old retread as leader of local government in London than him?

Mr. Ian Bruce: My hon. Friend will also recall the great honesty with which the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) began his speech. He said that he had spent 20 years coming across to Parliament to try to get money, so I do not know what he thinks the new mayor will get. If he gets the job and a Labour Government are in power, there will be no chance of him ever getting any money.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point. As an outside observer, I find it absolutely astonishing that anybody should possibly want the relatively worthless post of mayor of London. It seems to come with no money, no powers and no status at all, so I am baffled that so many people are falling over themselves to gain it, although it takes all sorts.

The British display a curious trait in conversation. When we get together, we like to complain; indeed, we are great complainers. As we all know, we like to

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complain in particular about the weather--it is only natural, and we all do it. We like to complain about sport, particularly cricket, and the awful performances of the England team are a constant source of amusement to us.

Mr. Geraint Davies: And transport.

Mr. Gray: From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman picks me up on the precise point that I was about to make. Since the second world war, we have particularly enjoyed complaining about the awfulness of our transport. We love to say how dirty it is, what delays we have experienced, how desperate the system is and what an awful time we have had reaching our destination. When we arrive, people say, "Oh dear, have you had a terrible journey?" We expect the trains to be late and expect to be held up at airports, but it is interesting to consider the statistics: delays on trains are less than a quarter of those experienced during air travel. We all expect to be delayed when we travel by plane, but are surprised to be delayed when we travel by train.

We love to talk about British Rail in particular--its awful sandwiches, the awful carriages, the wet platforms, the lateness of the trains, the rudeness of the staff and the fact that there were not enough trains, although theywent to the wrong place anyway--and say, "Wasn't Mr. Beeching dreadful to have abolished all those lines?" We love complaining about transport. Within that inherent British characteristic lies the appalling tragedy--the irony--of the appointment of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to take charge of transport: no matter what he does, he will not solve the problems of British transport. Nobody will do that, because they are far too deep and far too intractable to be solved. Even if they were solved, we would still complain.

We will certainly not solve the difficult, intractable problems of British transport by soundbites, launches, aspirations and glossy brochures, which is all that we have had so far from the right hon. Gentleman. I had the honour to serve on the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. When the Minister for Housing and Planning appeared before the Committee, we had occasion to comment that the Government suffered from a lack of any policy on transport that was worth talking about, apart from aspirations and glossy brochures.

The tendency to launch things all the time and talk about hopes and aspirations for the future is typified by the integrated transport White Paper, which was launched with such tremendous acclaim by the Government about two years ago. The Government said that they would produce nine so-called daughter documents, but they have produced only seven. It is typical of the Government that, two and a half years after they came to power, they have not done what they said they were going to do. They produced a huge, glossy paper and seven daughter documents.

The Government have now gone on from that to the Transport Bill, and what an empty Bill it is, despite its235 clauses and 26 schedules. The Strategic Rail Authority is yet another new Labour quango--yet another committee which has been designed to solve our problems, but which will do little worth talking about. It is interesting to read the explanatory memorandum to the Bill, which shows that the total take from the 48 per cent.

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privatisation of National Air Traffic Services will be £345 million. NATS has £300 million of debt, which leaves £45 million. The cost of the privatisation will be £35 million, which leaves the sum total of £10 million to £15 million net take. That is hardly a dramatic and fantastic policy. The Bill also contains proposals on road traffic charging and workplace charging.

After two and a half years in which we had the integrated transport White Paper and the seven daughter documents that the Government got round to producing, we now have this empty little Bill that does little other than to set up another quango. One of the two daughter documents that has not yet appeared is about the Government's action plan to encourage walking. On 29 March, the Secretary of State announced:

Perhaps it is just as well that it has not been produced, given his bad hair day during the Labour party conference--which we observed with amusement--when he himself ignored the Government's action plan to encourage walking.

We have heard plenty about London but, in a spirit of helpfulness, I shall address the other half of our motion, which refers to transport in general. The tube has been discussed by right hon. and hon. Friends whose London credentials are better than mine. The central flaw in the Secretary of State's proposals in the White Paper is that he has slipped back into an old Labour way of thinking about transport planning. No longer are we proposing to provide services that people wish to buy and that allow the market to work. No longer are we proposing that we should make British Airways the best airline in the world, so that people will fly on it and the company will make a profit. No longer are we arguing that we should privatise British Airports Authority and make it the best airport authority in the world, so that it offers the best service and people will want to use it. No longer are we proposing to privatise British Rail--of which I am a passionate supporter--in the hope that business men will move in and through the profit motive will improve the railways.

The Government are now saying, "We clever fellows in London and the civil service in Whitehall know what is best about transport. We are going to have an integrated transport White Paper. Aren't we frightfully clever?" Integrated transport--what a marvellous thing, what a great expression. The commentators in the north London wine bars, the transport lobbyists and the green lobbyists threw their hats in the air and said, "Isn't that marvellous. Integrated transport--just what we've always wanted." Anyone who knows anything about centralised planning in eastern Europe knows that integrated transport is a figment of the Secretary of State's imagination. It does not exist--there is no such thing. It is an easy soundbite--a throw-away line.

The only way to improve transport--whether on the roads, in the air or on trains--is by using the market. Labour Members do not like that: they like central planning. They want the Government to be in charge and to tell people what is best for them. I shall show how the market could be used better to improve transport. It may seem odd, but I shall use the example of roads policy.

Presumably, the only purpose of congestion charging is to reduce congestion. All Members are committed to reducing congestion where we can. It is terrible to be

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stuck in a traffic jam. Any sensible politician of any party wants to reduce congestion, but who wants us to reduce congestion on the roads by congestion charging? It is the people who are rich enough to pay the taxes so that they can drive unhindered on the roads. No one ever says, "Fine, bring in congestion and workplace charging and motorist taxation because I can't afford it. If you introduce those measures, I shall volunteer to put my car in the garage and walk to work." Of course no one says that. The only people interested in the motorist taxation that the Government have proposed are those who are rich enough to have the luxury of saying, "Get all those other people off the road, so that I can drive to work safely."

Let us take an extreme example. The hon. Member for Brent, East suggested a congestion charge for entry into London of £5, and others have referred to a charge of up to £10 a day.

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