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Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): Does my hon. Friend agree that the important thing about local transport plans

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and the options given on congestion charging or using of roads in a different way is that local people and organisations can decide the best solutions for their areas?

Ms Winterton: I agree and will say more about that. The Conservatives seem completely incapable of understanding that, possibly because of their attitude to local government when they were in power.

Motorists know that the forecast increase in car growth and the need to tackle environmental problems mean that something must be done. That is why the principle of hypothecation established in the Bill is so important. Motorists have reservations about congestion charging. That is shown by the RAC surveys. However, most motorists support congestion charging provided that the money raised is put back directly into improving public transport.

There is also clear evidence, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), that if motorists are subject to congestion charging, they will seriously consider alternatives such as car sharing, so that they use cars less. Many motorists have said that they would consider other forms of transport if public transport were improved.

It is important--this was one of the RAC's concerns, and was highlighted in the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Clark)--that there should be thorough consultation when local transport plans are drawn up, particularly if congestion charging is proposed.

Many of the Government's policies have concentrated on ensuring that the local community is consulted when the local authority draws up plans. That is important in ensuring local support for any changes that take place. I hope that during the passage of the Bill, Ministers will make it clear that they expect there to be thorough consultation by local transport authorities. Perhaps they will suggest how such consultation should take place, and the guidance that might be issued; for example, local disability groups should be included. I have previously raised some of the concerns of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

It is right that the Government have given local authorities the power to raise money locally for the improvement of public transport.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Does my hon. Friend agree that when congestion charging schemes are discussed as part of that consultation process, it is important that they should have credibility, and that, if they are to have credibility, it is likely that there will need to be a clear relationship between car use and charging? Various organisations and bodies have drawn attention to the relative merits of a congestion charging scheme based on entering certain areas--as opposed, for example, to a workplace parking scheme.

Ms Winterton: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's comments, and I shall offer some suggestions in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke about the importance of planning at national level. It is also important that planning goes on at local level--particularly a strategic look at the needs of the local community and how those needs can be met. In my area of South Yorkshire, even 10-year-olds talk about the days when the South Yorkshire transport system

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was healthy, before the Tories destroyed it. I believe that local authorities can be imaginative and forward-thinking in their proposals. Those can be popular locally, contrary to comments from the Opposition.

The Bill restores to local authorities the ability to be imaginative and forward-looking. Transport authorities can learn from each other. There should be a facility for exchanging best practice. I hope that Ministers will assist with that. Where local authorities have taken radical steps that have improved public transport, it would be helpful if other authorities were given information about that and encouraged to adopt similar policies.

I should like to make a suggestion, which follows on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden): it might be useful for organisations such as the Motorists Forum, which the Government set up, to work alongside the RAC and the AA to examine local transport plans that have improved life for the motorist and have proved most effective, so that we can follow the best examples.

Integration is the key to local transport plans. Bringing together provision for car, bus and rail users is important. The quality bus partnerships and the quality contracts that the Bill proposes will help to end the years of misery that deregulation has caused, leaving many people in constituencies such as mine isolated and without access to the services that they need.

Railways are an important part of making a properly integrated transport system work. I welcome the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority, but I want to underline the points that my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins) made about the concerns of PTAs, and especially their relationship with the SRA in setting priorities. We need to ensure that there is no conflict between the priorities of the PTAs and those of the SRA; any locally devised plan should bring those priorities together.

My constituency is in the centre of Doncaster, a town that was run down by the previous Government. Once a thriving industrial town, it now qualifies for objective 1 status as one of the poorest regions in Europe. In my constituency, 40 per cent. of people do not have access to a car. It is important to make good public transport a priority in my constituency if we are to create the regeneration that is necessary to get the area back on its feet and to get people back to work. Business has welcomed the moves to improve public transport--it realises that that is good for it--and my constituents will welcome the Bill because it will improve their quality of life in the next millennium.

9.18 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): It is a privilege to follow two hon. Ladies who are members of the RAC public policy committee. I must admit that I agree more with one than with the other, although I congratulate the other--the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton)--on the excellence of her timekeeping.

Before the general election, Labour's transport document promised immediate benefits for the travelling public. Since the Opposition day debate a week ago, however, we have discovered that we are considering not immediate benefits to the travelling public but, as the Deputy Prime Minister suggested, a 10-year plan.

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The benefit for the Government is that, by the time of the next general election, we will not know whether they have delivered. In 1999--the year of delivery--they have certainly not delivered on transport.

Let me quote from a recent transport debate:

That was said not by a Conservative transport guru but by a Labour Member of Parliament: none other than the honourable--I use the word loosely--Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), who was right about transport, although I disagree with him on so many other subjects.

The Labour Government have not even begun to deliver on transport: their approach is fundamentally flawed and gives a fascinating glimpse into the realities of new Labour thinking. It is all about central planning and the state knowing best: "We've got an integrated transport White Paper. We are clever fellows. We know all about it. Do what we tell you and you'll be all right." That is exactly what Labour did to the economy under Wilson and Callaghan--central government and telling the people what they want. What works in transport terms is providing the travelling public with the services they want and the comfort they demand at a price they can afford. The market does that, not central planning, which is where Labour is wrong.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: I am terribly sorry, but I have only five minutes in which to speak.

The second fundamental flaw in Labour's transport policy is that the Government are saying not, "Here is what we shall do to make transport better," but, "Here are the things that we shall not allow you to do, even if you want to do them." That particularly applies to cars. Why are petrol prices going through the roof and why are the Government introducing congestion charging and workplace taxes? It is not because motorists want to get off the road but to get motorists off the road. They are saying to motorists who want to use their cars for perfectly legitimate tasks, "You may not use them and we will tax you to make sure that you don't." They are interfering with the freedom of individuals to do what they could reasonably want to do.

Who will the measures affect? Not the fat cats, not company car drivers and not Ministers zipping around in their limos, but those who can least afford to pay for them. Let me quote a Labour professor, Professor Grant, who is a leading expert in car pollution at the university of Warwick:

Congestion charging not only affects those who can least afford to pay for it but does not work. If it did work and we managed to clear the roads by that means, what would happen? People would come back on to the roads. I suggest that congestion charging represents entirely

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flawed and entirely wrong thinking and is a way of finding more revenue for the Treasury. It is all about the Government saying, "We know best and we are going to mess you lot out there around so that you'll do what we want you to do."

The same applies, but in another way, to the Strategic Rail Authority. The Government are saying, "Right, let's not leave it to Richard Branson and other business men to make money from providing decent transport; let's set up a centralised quango to dictate to the companies and tell them what we want them to do and how we will restrict them. My goodness, Mr. Branson! Make a profit? How awful. Labour does not like profits--no, no, no. We will restrict your profits as much as we possibly can so that you cannot invest or make money from providing a decent service for the people who travel on your trains."

The same applies, in a funny way, to the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services. Again, the Government will not allow the market to have its say. They will not allow NATS to make a profit and will not allow people to say, "Fine, let's make money and let those in the City invest in air traffic control so that we can make a profit from it." They say, "Oh no, we'll come up with a botched job. We shall do our best to produce something that looks a bit like privatisation. We will buy off the left wingers on our Back Benches, with something that is not truly a privatisation." The same applies to buses.

Labour's whole approach to transport is to centralise, dictate to the people and say, "We know best." In two and a half years in power it has made a mess of transport, which has been taken out of the Secretary of State's hands. We are glad about that because one thing is for sure: the Minister for Transport cannot make a worse mess than he has.

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