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8.28 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Perhaps I should start by declaring an interest, as a director of a retail store which has ample free parking for customer and staff alike.

Despite having been exposed to the Government's breathtaking arrogance and cynical deceit for more than two long years, I was still flabbergasted to read in the Government's annual report for 1998-99 that they had successfully developed an integrated transport policy. Whom are they kidding? Where is it? Is this supposed to be it? Having listened to Lord Macdonald on the radio this morning, I can say that their policy is rapidly disintegrating.

I suppose that we should at least be grateful that at last, after two and a half years, the Government have got round to introducing a Transport Bill. Their obsession with spin in this case has made them look ridiculous. Millions of people every day are confronted by the reality of congested roads, overcrowded trains and, in London, an extremely busy and increasingly strained tube network. People want solutions to problems, not the strangulated hyperbole of the Deputy Prime Minister. According to a recent opinion poll, the majority of respondents thought that transport would never improve under the Government's policies.

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We realise that the problems are huge; they have not materialised overnight and solving them will not be easy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) reminded us that we have some of the most congested roads in western Europe. The problems vary depending on where people live in Britain--in an urban, suburban or rural environment.

The Labour party spent 18 years telling the country how awful transport was under those evil Conservatives, but precious little time thinking about how they would solve the problems. Perhaps they were too busy telling us that they would not sell our air, while getting the sale tickets ready.

Before the election, the Labour party promised immediate changes. Two and a half years later, the Deputy Prime Minister has put that back to 10 years. It will also become increasingly difficult for the House to monitor what progress the Government will make when an unelected peer has been put in the driving seat of the Government's transport policy. That transport policyhas seen the expenditure of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on main transport programmes fall by 24 per cent. over the period 1996-97 to 1998-99, at a time when public frustration and impatience are growing daily.

The gulf between the Government's promises and their achievement is also widening daily. I am sure that Downing street cannot wait for the new year, so that this year--the year of delivery--can be forgotten. If the Government were in business, they would be paying the electorate compensation for their lamentable failure.

I should like to express my genuine sympathy for the Deputy Prime Minister. I believe that he is sincere in his aim of improving the transport system but he has been isolated and ignored by the Prime Minister. The poor old Deputy Prime Minister has effectively been torpedoed and is now holed below the water-line. All we can do is watch as he slowly and inexorably sinks from our sight.

I have a number of general remarks about the Bill. Naturally, with regard to my constituency of Uxbridge--which is in London but happily still not run by London--some of its provisions on road pricing and workplace charging have already been covered by the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Sadly, we were denied the opportunity of properly debating the issues by a guillotine motion imposed by this increasingly authoritarian and non-democratic Government. However, the issues of principle and the problems of implementing such schemes are identical, so I shall be discussing some of the implications of these measures.

First, however, I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with the future of National Air Traffic Services. I have an interest in this because the air traffic control centre, although in the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), is on my doorstep, and many NATS employees live in my constituency. Apart from that, I hardly need mention that a huge amount of air traffic passes over the area daily.

Many NATS employees have contacted me expressing strong reservations about the plans in the Bill. Naturally, safety is their primary concern, as I suggest it is for all hon. Members. This part of the Bill separates the Civil

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Aviation Authority from NATS. The CAA will remain fully in the public sector while the status of NATS changes through the public-private partnership. I do not want to get distracted by whether full-scale privatisation or PPP is the best mechanism for providing NATS with its future funds for investment, but I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the effectiveness of the safety regime under the new arrangements.

A constituent of mine who works for NATS in West Drayton wrote to me with details of a case that had been drawn to his attention by a member of his staff. This engineer had joined NATS from a privately run airport which was separately regulated. He was the only engineer for the whole airport and had to repair and maintain all the tower systems and the instrument landing system. During work on the latter, he was instructed to falsify the maintenance documentation so that the safety regulator would not demand expensive, but necessary, flight testing. The company in question is one of the proposed bidders for NATS. My constituent's concern--one shared by Members on both sides of the House who have reservations as to this part of the Bill--is how we can ensure that safety is in no way compromised by the separation of NATS from the CAA.

The matter is of such importance that the Government should have dealt with the proposals for NATS in a separate Bill. They must listen to these concerns, and must be aware that public opinion shows that there are serious doubts as to the wisdom of their policy.

Mr. Dalyell: I do not want the hon. Gentleman to go into the details of that important case on the Floor of House, but has he passed them to the Government?

Mr. Randall: I have not done so at present.

I have much sympathy with the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). However, if I found myself in the company of the amendment's supporters in the Lobby tonight, not only would it put them off but I should soon become the target of dubious enticements by the Labour party.

Under the Bill, local transport plans and bus strategies will become a statutory responsibility for all local authorities. The authorities

That is where we see how cowardly the Government are. We are told that they are serious about reducing road traffic--or rather, they were. As we now know, they have abandoned that policy and have gone into reverse at speed. The Bill is yesterday's Bill. It seems that the Government have realised that congestion charging will be too unpopular and workplace parking charging will be wholly unworkable, so they are washing their hands of the measures. They say, "It's not our job." Local authorities will be left to implement the measures, if they are implemented at all. That will mean that one local authority will be in direct conflict with another; businesses will be forced to migrate from authority to authority like herds of wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti. That is not an integrated measure.

Workplace charging will not deter motorists; it will only add to their misery. Motorists will either have to pay out yet again, or will clog up streets and residential areas.

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It is continually said--but it remains fundamental to trying to solve the problem of traffic congestion--that public transport must be dramatically improved. The quality and efficiency of the service, and its price, are of the utmost importance. Sadly, the Government are unwilling to provide real money to deal with the problem, which only gets worse by the day. The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs report on the White Paper pointed out that, without spending money up front on improvements to public transport before the introduction of charges, the schemes will be seen by many motorists as yet another attack on the driver. The need for consultation will ensure that local authorities have difficulty in introducing charges against a backdrop of popular opposition.

Why have the Government suggested only a 10-year period for hypothecation? Does that mean that, after 10 years, the charges will become yet another tax on the hard pressed driver?

This morning, I heard Lord Macdonald admit on the "Today" programme that the Government had suddenly realised that their policy of last week was flawed. I found it slightly strange to hear the Minister express a desire to see more cars on the roads, although nothing about the Government much surprises me now. The Bill will do little to improve the lot of the travelling public. If the Deputy Prime Minister and his Department had the courage of their convictions on congestion charging and its efficacy, they would not have passed the buck--of sorting out the matter--to local authorities.

To a great extent, the Deputy Prime Minister's hands have been tied by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We know that that is why the Bill was delayed for so long. The Deputy Prime Minister is being lined up as the eventual fall guy for the Government's transport failures. The Bill is deeply flawed; by the Government's admission, it passed its sell-by date before even reaching the shops. I suggest that the Government take it away and put some real thought into it before they bring it back. I might then be able to support it. At present, I shall have no problem in opposing Second Reading.

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