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Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that it ill behoves the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) to look quite so smug, because an articulate espousal of the Conservatives' effective opposition to the Government's transport policies will be one of the many factors that will enable the admirable Mr. David Senior, the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Shipley, to ditch him at the general election and join the Conservative party in government?

Mr. Bruce: I did not want to be rude or nasty to anybody. I did not realise the hon. Gentleman's constituency. In fact, I was not even sure that he was a Member of Parliament. He is so young that I thought that perhaps someone had sent their research assistant.

Mr. Leslie rose--

Mr. Bruce: I shall give way in a moment. If I attack someone I always let them get their own back. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants to have a go at me or support me. I used to be active in Yorkshire politics--indeed, I still am. I once stood for Yorkshire, West in the European elections and had the good fortune to be able to go around with the then Member of Parliament for Shipley. I know the road problems in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There is a solution to them, but it requires money and it requires the Government to give the hon. Gentleman his road scheme.

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman talked about his scheme waiting for 40 years. The Bingley relief road project has also been waiting for a long time, but I am delighted to announce that my right hon. Friend the

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Deputy Prime Minister has given £60 million for it to be completed. Work will start in April 2001 and will finish in 2004. There is no better illustration of delivery in action than that scheme.

Mr. Bruce: I am delighted for the hon. Gentleman, his constituents and my many friends in the area. I am also delighted that the Government can be persuaded to spend £60 million for political advantage. I am not asking for as much to make my road in Dorset whole. We are the only county in the United Kingdom with eight Conservative Members and I am the only one vulnerable to the Labour party. I trashed the Liberal Democrats at the election and very nearly allowed Labour to get in instead.

I was worried to read in the newspaper the other day about the possibility of VAT on ferry fares. I hope that the Minister is listening to this important point. We have a private ferry going from Poole to Swanage. Everybody complains about the fares going up already. If they had to go up by 17.5 per cent.--or even a lower VAT rate--it would be disastrous. Instead of taking the short ferry crossing, people would go the long route round, putting even more traffic on the A31, which has not been improved yet in Dorset, or the Sandford bypass. I am straying into other constituencies, but I am sure that my hon. Friends would like me to mention the problems. I was delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) on the Front Bench earlier. I hoped that he was going to be put in charge of London transport, because those of us from Dorset could run it a good deal better than it is being run at the moment.

We have a park-and-ride scheme at Norden that works very well. I think that the Minister knows it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I opened it, but the hon. Gentleman was not there.

Mr. Bruce: I was grateful to the Minister for opening the extension to the Norden park-and-ride scheme. I apologised to him at the time because I could not be there. I did not want to encourage too many people to come out and demonstrate against him as he came along the Sandford bypass. I was surprised that he ever got to the opening, given the number of people who were likely to demonstrate against him. It was good that it was him, because people thought that the Deputy Prime Minister might come and he would never have got to the opening, because people wanted to demonstrate in favour of their bypass.

The Government have introduced a scheme to extend railways. The Swanage railway is the first private railway that has been rebuilt. Most private heritage railways run on existing track. All the track had been ripped up at Swanage, but it has been built again. A small amount of work is needed to link it to the main system. South West Trains has volunteered to bring an hourly service from Bournemouth to Swanage, which would be a great advantage to my constituents and would give the Labour party some credibility by showing that the Government are doing something about transport.

I hope that the Minister will give us some good news on those projects. If he does not, I should certainly like some by 15 December.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was distracted from reading

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Horse and Hound in the Library a few moments ago--I was doing some research about the Conservatives--when the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) disturbed me by asking one of her colleagues if he would come and speak in the Chamber because there were not enough Tory Members present. That is an abuse of Parliament. Either we have something to say and should be here or we can go home and let the staff off early.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has done nothing wrong. What goes on outside the Chamber is nothing to do with me. That is not a point of order and I am sure that the hon. Lady would act honourably at all times.

7.50 pm

Angela Smith (Basildon): I must say that I have some sympathy with my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). When I first heard that the Conservatives were proposing a vote of no confidence in my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, I expected a lively and interesting debate. When the vote of no confidence failed to materialise and the debate was extended to 10 pm, my expectations soared, but there have been times tonight when I have almost lost the will to live, thanks to the filibustering of Conservative Members who scurried to the Chamber with their notes, trying to find something to say. However, they have found so little to criticise in our transport policy that they have been struggling to find enough Members to speak in the debate. Hon. Members may find it hard to believe, but at times there have been more Liberal Democrat Members than Conservative Members in the Chamber. Hon. Members may be shocked by that, but it demonstrates the lack of attendance by Conservative Members during a debate on an important and serious issue.

The debate has underlined the fact that we face extremely serious transport problems and that the Government have to balance the competing needs of commuters, social travellers, car drivers, public transport and the environment, which has received very little attention tonight. Many of my constituents commute to London for work, social activities and tourism. Despite that, I am one of the few Members speaking in tonight's debate who is not standing for election as London's mayor. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] Although my colleagues are urging me to stand, I must decline.

The debate has concentrated on London, but I should like to refer to congestion generally. Over a number of years journeys have become longer and more difficult. We do not want a quick-fix solution or a sad attempt at making cheap party political points, such as those we have heard this evening. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, we need a serious long-term approach to a difficult problem. We need a transport policy that provides choice and is modern, efficient and safe. As I am the first woman to speak in tonight's debate, apart from an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), I must say that it is a shame that we have not heard more about safety issues.

For a country that used to have pride in balancing a high quality public transport system with the needs of motorists, how did we reach our present predicament?

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I find the complacency of Opposition Members quite staggering. They speak as though the problems that we now face never existed previously, but, in fact, they have not arisen unexpectedly and caught us unawares. Listening to their speeches, one would think that, until 1997, there had never been a traffic jam, that no one had ever waited for a bus, and that no train had ever been delayed. I do not deny that there are serious problems, but if the Opposition are to have any credibility in their criticisms of the Government, they have to admit that their own failures and actions led us here in the first place.

Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am prepared to listen to criticism from members of the public who are frustrated and desperate for a solution, but I take no lectures from Conservative Members who, during their time in government, only made matters worse. Their biggest crime was the loss to the taxpayer of some£895 million in the bargain basement sale of British Rail rolling stock. There has been very little reference to that tonight. We have never had an apology from Conservative Members for that and still no apology is forthcoming. When we consider how that money could have been used to benefit the traveller, and that it now lines the pockets of private business people and is lost to the rail network, it is clearly a public disgrace that we have never had an apology from the Conservatives.

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