HC Deb 25 May 2004 vol 421 cc387-411WH

2 pm

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab)

I feel slightly guilty about having called this debate, because when I tried to find the Minister last night, I realised that he was still answering an Adjournment debate on the Floor of the House. However, this is an apposite time to debate Londoners' transport needs, because we are coming up to the comprehensive spending review, and Londoners are about to elect a Mayor for the second time, although that has nothing to do with my purpose in calling the debate.

We should start from the basic point that the Government have an excellent record on improving public, and indeed private, transport in London. Traffic levels have fallen by 30 per cent., which has reduced congestion and shortened journey times. The tube has undergone a £16 billion programme of investment, while bus use has gone up 33 per cent. in the past three and half a years and the number of rail passengers has increased by a similar percentage—I do not have the figure to hand, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will know it.

In calling the debate, it was not my purpose simply to read out a list of achievements. We must not allow ourselves to become complacent as we measure ourselves against the Conservative Government. It was not difficult to do better than them; indeed, it would have been difficult to do worse. We are light years ahead of them, but our achievement must be measured against the transport needs of London and our strategy for meeting those needs, which are growing and changing all the time. That strategy must inform our priorities for capital projects.

Some people have tried to cast doubt on the Government's commitment to the capital projects that are already in the pipeline, such as the East London line extensions, simply because those projects are being considered alongside others as part of the comprehensive spending review. I believe that the Government remain fully committed to the East London line project, and I hope to hear the Minister repeat that commitment today. After all, work has started, the planning permissions have been granted, compulsory purchase powers have been confirmed, legal challenges have been overcome, the frequency and timetabling of the trains have been agreed, and the Minister has signed off the business case. We are already a long way down the track, and all we need now is a nod from the Chancellor to approve the funding.

Obviously, funding decisions must be taken in the context of a capital programme, but I do not believe that that poses any threat to this scheme. I say that not only because the project is already far advanced, but because it is good value for money. Even given the new costing of £1 billion, it is a snip compared with Thameslink at £3 billion and Crossrail at £8 billion —although given the benefits that both of those schemes will deliver, they are well worth the price.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab)

As my hon. Friend knows, I chair the all-party group on Crossrail. I am sure that he will agree with Ken Livingstone, the Mayor, that Crossrail is London's single most significant transport requirement, and that it would have huge benefits for the whole United Kingdom economy—not to mention the effect that it would have on overcrowding on the tubes and trains, particularly in my area, on the eastern side of London.

Martin Linton

I believe that Crossrail will enormously reduce pressure on the tube system, and I shall return to that after I have dealt with the East London line.

The East London line extensions project—or ELLX, as it is called—will be good value for money, but there are four other good reasons why it must go ahead. First, it makes excellent transport sense, relieving pressure on rail terminuses, enabling commuters to avoid the centre and take the tube straight to their destination, and allowing through-London passengers to bypass the centre and travel straight to one of the interchange stations on the main lines out of London, such as Stratford, Finsbury Park, Ealing Broadway or Clapham Junction. Even though the project may not be considered essential for the Olympic bid, it will enormously facilitate journeys to and between Olympic venues, especially Wimbledon.

Secondly, the project will open the way for a London orbital network by joining the eastern, southern, western and northern London lines and linking them to the interchange stations, or nodes. One could, for instance, get off the Cardiff train at Ealing and go straight to Finsbury Park to pick up an Edinburgh train, rather than having to fight one's way through the centre of London. More importantly, however, it will make cross-London journeys much easier for Londoners.

Thirdly, the project will make excellent regeneration sense. In fact, it has been called the regeneration express, because it will link south London's five most deprived areas—Peckham, Camberwell, Brixton, Clapham and Battersea—with jobs in docklands and elsewhere, cutting many journey times in half.

The scheme will be no good if Brixton and Battersea do not have stations, however. At the moment there are two-mile gaps where Brixton and Battersea stations should be. I have been speaking to Transport for London and the Mayor about a station in Battersea, and we await further discussions when the funding is settled.

Fourthly, the project will be a godsend to parts of London that were left off the underground network in the Victorian era. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is here, and Hackney is a prime example of that problem, as are Peckham and Battersea, and even north Kensington, in the context of the west London line. Many of London's communities are poorly served by the railways. In Battersea we have more railways per square mile than any other constituency in the country. There are lines all over the place—we even have a line that is used by only one passenger train a week, and by freight the rest of the time—but having so many lines is of little use if the trains do not stop.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, and apologise that I shall not be able to stay until the end. He has not mentioned the deprived areas in my constituency, which would also receive economic, travel and other benefits from the southern and northern extensions. We will be privileged to have the Surrey Canal Road station, which will make a huge difference to the opportunities for travel.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that we are being told to wait for the spending review, because the East London line extension team tells us that little public money is required in the period of the current spending review, and that the major expenditure will be post-2010? There is therefore little reason for delay by the Government. We should press the Minister to reassure us about a development that is so important to us all, especially my constituents. My constituency contains the fourth largest proportion of people in the country who are dependent on rail, and there is very low car usage. The line is essential to us, and I trust that my hon. Friend will continue to press the Minister forcefully.

Martin Linton

My hon. Friend is right. I mentioned the five most deprived areas in south London, and I had thought of Deptford as the sixth most deprived, but it is already connected to the tube. However, she is right to say that a new station in Surrey Canal road—I cycled past the spot this morning—will give Deptford an additional link and start the regeneration express across to Battersea. She is also right to say that the expense that will fall within the period 2005–08, which I understand is the period covered by the comprehensive spending review, is small. That is why I am hopeful—verging on confident—that the scheme will go ahead in its present form, but we must await events.

As I was saying, the usefulness of the project depends on having stations for the trains to stop at. Whenever we raise the question of opening new stations, however, the railway industry reacts with horror. The problem is partly to do with the industry's mindset. The train operating companies tend to be run by people who think inter-city—about getting people to and from London, rather than around London. They do not think about frequent trains and frequent stops, as on the tube. For a large part of London, however, the train is our tube. We need to adopt the same "metro" approach to the inner-city railways as we take to the tube.

There is also a problem of incentives. Privatisation left Railtrack and Network Rail with no incentive to support new stations. They get no more money for new stations, so they do not build them. In the last 10 years, only two new stations have been built in the entire south-east, one of which was West Brompton, in London. However, in my constituency alone we need a new station in north Battersea, on the East London line, and on Crossrail. We also need to reopen Battersea High Street station, on the west London line, but we just get told, "It's a freight problem."

I rejoice in the increased use of rail freight, which I believe is up by 38 per cent.—that figure is probably wrong, but I am sure that someone will correct me.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

That is right.

Martin Linton

Thank you.

Every piece of freight unloaded at our channel ports and taken to any destination north of London has to travel through my constituency and over the Battersea railway bridge. As a result, there is almost no space left for passengers on the south London and west London lines. If that happened on our road system, and all freight traffic had to use one bridge over the Thames, there would be mothers in prams demonstrating and blocking zebra crossings to draw attention to the situation, but because it affects the rail system, no one asks what local people think.

No one is saying that London ought to take over sole responsibility for railways in London. Obviously, they must be run as part of a national system; the London regional rail proposal recognises that, but others must recognise that railways are part of London's local transport system. Londoners make more train journeys than all the people in the midlands, the north, Scotland and Wales added together. Trains are, overwhelmingly, a London form of transport, but the railways do not seem to be run in the interests of Londoners. We need to reclaim the railway lines of inner London for greater use by Londoners.

Mr. Love

Is not the strongest argument for the change the fact that the railways in London have been run so badly that it could not do anything but improve the situation?

Martin Linton

That is right. As I said in my opening remarks, if we compare ourselves with the Conservative Government, it is almost impossible for what we have done not to be an improvement, but we need to set our standards higher than that. We should aim to create a railway system that serves Londoners' interests.

I return briefly to the East London line. I hope that I have demonstrated that that scheme is good value for money and makes good transport and regeneration sense. For those reasons, I would be surprised if we did not go ahead with it. In football parlance, I would be gobsmacked—indeed, I would be gutted—as I have invested much of my time and campaigning energies in that scheme.

Crossrail 1 and 2 are not as far down the track. They are much bigger projects, with a longer time scale, but they are just as vital. I hope that we keep up the momentum for them. Crossrail 2 is the answer to Clapham Junction's century-long exclusion from the London tube network, although the East London line will, if all goes well, link Clapham Junction to the tube system earlier—2011 is currently the best estimate.

The people living around Clapham Junction station, which, despite its name, is in the centre of my constituency, are puzzled as to why it is not linked to the tube, despite being the busiest station not just in London or the UK, but in Europe. In Victorian days, the reason was that Battersea is built on clay, but it is at least 50 years since clay ceased to be a difficult material through which to tunnel; indeed, it is now one of the easiest. I hope that my hon. Friend will be the Minister who is finally able to announce definitively that the 100-year wait is over and that Clapham Junction will be linked to the tube—possibly to coincide with its overdue redevelopment, which is in the Strategic Rail Authority plan for 2010.

Perhaps the most urgent transport need in London has been answered by the introduction of the congestion charge, using powers granted to the Greater London authority by the Labour Government. That charge has reduced traffic by 30 per cent., taken 65,000 cars a day out of the central zone, cut nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide by 16 and 19 per cent. respectively—not a bad achievement in itself—and has significantly reduced journey times for people who travel by bus. Battersea is a classic bus commuter constituency. The charge has also reduced journey times for motorists. I cannot believe that the Conservative candidate in the mayoral election has threatened to end the congestion charge on day one. I cannot think of a quicker way to ensure a return to the bad old days of daily gridlock in central London.

I pay tribute to Transport for London and its London Buses for the way in which they have increased bus use—with enormous help from the Department for Transport. On one day towards the end of April, they had more than 6 million passengers for the first time. Bus reliability is at an all-time high, although there is still a long way to go, and bus occupancy is double that outside London. Satisfaction with bus services has risen in each of the last four years and is now at 77 per cent.—although that does not stop me, and, no doubt, my hon. Friends, from receiving the occasional letter of complaint—and the buses are attracting many new users. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is that in London, the percentage of the population who never travel by bus has been reduced front 29 per cent. to 21 per cent.

I should like to make two more points about buses. One is that it is imperative that the comprehensive spending review does not freeze the money going to London's buses. If that were to happen, the frequency of buses would undoubtedly reduce, and that would inevitably affect off-peak and night buses most. The maximum possible revenue from fares and the congestion charge cannot plug more than a small part of the gap. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have said all that in his submission to the comprehensive spending review.

Secondly, buses are improving, although there is still a problem with the training of bus drivers. Frequency is being improved and so is reliability, but I should like to see buses developed as a more luxurious form of travel. Rather than think of them in old-fashioned terms as poor people's transport, why not introduce city express buses that go fast from suburbs to the city? Why not develop buses that will give people a smoother ride? Too many people get thrown around when they stand up in a bus, and for that reason fear to use buses. None of the new rail schemes can produce extra capacity until 2010 at the earliest, so although it is essential that we proceed with them, and build a transport system for London worthy of this century, in the next six years our only way of improving public transport will be to make buses quicker and more comfortable. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will do everything in his power to make that happen.

2.17 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) for having introduced this timely debate. He need not feel guilty for having done so, unless there is guilt by association with the socialist administration in City hall, which has not fulfilled the promises of the Labour Administration to improve transport in London. We shall hear more about that in the election campaign—but for now, on with the debate.

My constituents' principal concern is that the tube system should be improved, and I shall concentrate on that. It is understood that the mayoralty has invested a great deal of money and political energy in London's buses. There are even bus lanes to prove it, and more buses too. There has not been too bad a service on the buses—in fact, there has been an improvement. Whether that improvement has been cost-effective is for others to decide, particularly our representatives on the hustings.

The tube is another matter. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) in his place representing the Department for Transport, because he will understand the west London perspective. My constituents rely on the tube system for commuting, but it is unreliable: trains are slower than they should be, the track needs repair, the stations are often dirty and people fear that the system is not secure. The public-private partnership has yet to deliver the results that were promised. However, it cannot bring anybody any delight to know that the facilities for disabled passengers are well below standard. I cannot think of one tube station in my constituency, which has eight, with proper lifts and other facilities to enable disabled passengers to get to the platform easily. We need better leadership and higher standards.

We also need much more investment, and that should be the central theme of today's debate. We are all conscious that London is the powerhouse of the country's economy. We are aware that London pays a great deal more in taxes than it receives back in public service investment. We are also somewhat sore that so much of our hard-earned money goes to subsidise the Scots—with no change in the Barnett formula, even after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament—rather than being reinvested in services for the benefit of the Londoners who earned the money.

Let us consider the investment plan for the next few years. Transport for London reckons that under its business strategy, an extra £1 billion of Government money needs to be invested in transport in the capital for the foreseeable future. That is quite right. Even the much vaunted congestion charge is not bringing in the money that had been anticipated; the administrative costs of introduction were far higher than had been programmed, and the mayoralty is facing a shortfall in revenue from that source.

I will make only modest proposals relevant to west London for the consideration of the Chamber and the Minister this afternoon, and I will set them in the context of the air transport requirements of the capital. Air transport is very important to my constituents as a source of jobs, particularly at Heathrow, and as a source of local economic prosperity, but it is also the cause of much congestion on the overburdened road system. We need investment in tube extensions and links that can get people out of their cars and on to the tube system.

The first proposal that I shall put to the Minister is one with which he is familiar, and with which he probably instinctively has sympathy; whether the Treasury has such sympathy, I do not know. He has reminded me of the spending review being conducted this year, and I am sure that if the Treasury does its sums properly, it will find that the Croxley link to connect the metropolitan tube network to the west coast main line rail network at Watford Junction would bring substantial returns for a modest investment. The line is essentially there already, and it would take a great deal of passenger traffic from the west coast main line directly on to the tube system, and also make it easier for people to get on to the west coast main line.

The second proposal is to extend the Piccadilly line from Uxbridge down to Heathrow. If there is to be a fifth terminal—we know that it would be in service quite soon—it deserves an improvement in the transport facilities that service it. That proposal would be such an improvement, at modest cost. Another idea would be to extend the Central line from West Ruislip to Heathrow.

I suspect that those two extensions are especially relevant because Crossrail, which we so earnestly desire, seems to have slipped further and further into the future. I wish that Her Majesty's Government would put money into it now. We would be much more likely to get the Olympic games if Crossrail was a definitive project, officially supported, properly funded and effectively programmed. The fact that Crossrail is not an official Government-sponsored project creates a built-in headwind for our Olympic promoters. As Crossrail is so delayed, the two extensions of the tube to which I have referred are particularly important.

In conclusion, let us consider the promotion of the Olympics at the Stratford site in connection with air transport in London. London is already well served by air transport facilities—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City airports. For business aviation within the Greater London authority area, there is Northolt for movements up to a fixed limit of 7,000 a year, and Biggin Hill. We do not have a shortage of facilities, but we need better transport access to them. Another Heathrow runway would make the road congestion in west London intolerable. Let us concentrate on the road connections that need improving, at modest cost, but above all, on investment in tube infrastructure.

If we can do that, and the extra £1 billion a year can be provided for Transport for London, there is, I think, hope for west Londoners. Otherwise the present financial situation may continue, with money siphoned off from the capital for use elsewhere, and the congestion charge bringing in no more money. In that connection I ask the Minister to state now that he will veto any imposition of a congestion charge for access to Heathrow.

If the Government adopt the modest projects that I have proposed, London, particularly west Londoners, will benefit substantially. Congestion will be eased and a good return will be gained for relatively modest input by the taxpayer.

2.26 pm
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

I shall be brief, because many hon. Members want to speak. It is interesting that so far no one has suggested massive road building as a solution to any of London's transport problems. That is a welcome change from debates in past years. We now talk about public transport solutions, and I join other hon. Members in congratulating the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, on the enormous improvement and the investment that he has managed to make in bus services.

I have two pleas for the Government. First, will they ensure that the subsidy level is continued into future years? There will be a serious problem in two or three years if investment falls off. Secondly, will they study the question of the money being made by private operators out of franchised routes? I welcome the improvements in bus services, but it is noticeable that enormous profits are being made by private enterprise bus companies that are essentially operating a closed market on TFL-authorised routes. East Thames Buses, which is directly owned by the Greater London authority, runs a service as efficient and effective as any other, and that seems to me to be a positive way forward.

I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) said about the need for increased and enhanced bus driver and staff training and the importance of job retention. Turnover is still too fast. There was a time when working on London's buses was seen as a prestige job. We want that atmosphere back, with some degree of parity in salaries with people working on the tube network.

As one who cycles around London a great deal, I was interested in an item on last night's London news about a recent death in a traffic accident on Blackfriars bridge. There is an insane cycle route there, which was apparently approved in some form or other by the Minister's Department. The cycle route goes between two fast-moving lines of traffic, which is completely crazy and very dangerous. One accident like that, which gets a lot of publicity, puts an awful lot of people off cycling.

I urge the Department, when it issues advice, to encourage the continuation of safe cycling routes, not just on the easy bits of main roads, but on the harder bits, such as around junctions. Appropriate safety arrangements and priority should be given. Cycling has increased a great deal in London, but the accident rate is still high. That is in part because of the conflict with traffic at junctions, although it is also in some cases caused by dangerous cycling, such as cycling across pavements and jumping lights. It is also partly because children lack safety awareness, and there is not enough training in schools on riding and maintaining a bicycle. It is all simple stuff, but it is important if we are to maintain the growth in numbers of people who cycle.

The debate is essentially about investment, and I shall quickly mention three areas where investment is needed. My hon. Friend mentioned the East London line, and I support all that he said about it. If the East London line extension is to be improved, work can go ahead quickly. The route is largely established, particularly now that the Bishopsgate goods yard issue has been resolved. The track bed is already available for running to Dalston Junction. It can then join with the North London line and run round to Highbury and Islington station, at last linking Hackney to Islington by tube. The one thing that all Hackney residents want is to be able to get a tube to Islington?then they will be able to shop more easily in Upper street, which I am sure is their main aim in life.

I also feel strongly about the East London line extension route, which would go up to Finsbury Park station. That would enable the Finsbury Park interchange to be improved and developed. It would make a good stopping-off point, and allow many people to get on to the tube before the trains reach King's Cross. At the moment, they can get on to the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, but with the East London line there would be a link through to the City, which would be extremely welcome.

That leads me on to the vexed question of Finsbury Park station. I am sure that the Minister has been there, as has every Minister for the past 15 years. They have all said that it is appalling, and I agree with them. It is a mess. It is overcrowded, badly laid out, and on a difficult site. Transport for London has put in a great deal of effort to improve the station and the interchange. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) would support the need for improvement or that station, and if possible, its complete rebuilding.

We have reached agreement on most of the things that need to be done, but Network Rail has proved difficult, and has decided that all its investment must go somewhere else. I have raised the matter with the Secretary of State and with other Ministers and I would be grateful if the Minister will confirm in his reply that his Department is fully behind the TFL proposals for Finsbury Park station, and will ensure that Network Rail plays its part in improving it.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will agree that the investment and rebuilding of Finsbury Park is key to the regeneration of what is a rather neglected corner of north-east London, perhaps because three boroughs meet there. So much would be done to improve the quality of life of those living there if the Government could give the scheme their full backing.

Jeremy Corbyn

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the past, we have had plans to close railway lines and turn them into roads, and to run down various lines deliberately. Fortunately, those days are now behind us, but we still have quite a lot of underused surface-level railways lines, with unimaginative train routes using them. I am thinking of the North London line system, which includes the Barking to Gospel Oak line and the North Woolwich to Richmond line. I live near the Barking to Gospel Oak line, and we have complained about it for a long time. Silverlink has improved the service and the stations are better than they used to be, but several things could be done.

First, an interchange station near Tufnell Park station on the Northern line could be constructed. The route would then not only link with the Victoria line at Blackhorse Road, but passengers could transfer to the Northern line at Tufnell Park. Secondly, there could be a more imaginative service. Why does the service have to stop at Gospel Oak? Why on earth can trains not run through to Willesden, Ealing, Richmond or the west London line? The entire basis for an outer circle surface rail link is in place, and it could be developed. Is there a complete lack of imagination, or is nothing done because several railway franchises are involved and it is just too complicated for them to get together and work something out?

That leads me to the question of the future structure for transport in London. When this Government were elected, they did the right thing in establishing Transport for London, a Greater London authority and a Mayor who had considerable powers over transport. Unfortunately, he has only just received powers over the tube. It is time that the rail system in London was handed over to Transport for London, which could then ensure that a properly integrated system ran within London, that another ran in and out of London, and that the two were integrated.

The problem with London's transport infrastructure is largely its age. Some of it is very old. It is wonderful and historic, but expensive to maintain. New tube networks are expensive to install, particularly when we have so many different operating systems within the same network. I would be grateful if, when the Minister replies, he gives us hope on two issues. First, we want hope that Crossrail will finally go ahead. Secondly, we want him to continue to give his blessing to the development of surface-level tram lines.

The Croydon Tramlink has proved to be successful and the Mayor's proposals for tram links in west London and from Camberwell to Camden seem exciting, relatively cheap and quick to install. They are a rapid way of improving public transport in London. We have great opportunities and a wonderful city, but unless we continue to improve public transport quickly. we will end up with congestion problems that will encourage people back into their cars. All the success of the congestion charge will be lost unless we continue to invest heavily in surface-level transport links in London.

2.35 pm
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this debate at a very apposite time, and I shall take up the theme of his contribution—the transport challenges facing London.

Three million people use the underground every day, which is about the same number as use the rail network; 5.9 million people use London buses, which is a third of the total for the whole of England and Wales; and 85 per cent. of the commuters who come into central London use public transport. On top of that, London is the fastest growing city in Europe; as the Mayor likes to put it, it will grow by the size of the Leeds conurbation about 800,000 people—by 2016. The capital city also has an enormous tourist industry; 30 million tourists visit us annually. They spend a huge amount and are very important to the London economy. However, our infrastructure has been deteriorating for years under different Governments, and there has been a failure to address the increasing need for good-quality 21st–century transport.

I welcome the new powers, agreed by the Treasury, to allow Transport for London to borrow for capital expenditure. That can be done because of the fees that arise from the fare structures in London transport. However, that does not go far enough; it does not fund all the needs of London transport.

We must ask: why should we invest in the capital? There are many reasons. I do not think that one of them is that London is a net tax contributor to the rest of the country; in my view, that is right and proper. However, it must be recognised that London is the engine of the UK economy and that, economically, it faces not inwards but, in many ways, outwards. It competes internationally with cities in other countries rather than with other cities in this country.

The vast bulk of the investment that goes into London comes from abroad. The state of London's transport is critical to such decisions about whether to invest in London rather than other cities. That is critical to a wider area than London alone; all the evidence shows that that investment ripples out into the rest of the south-east and the entire country. If we lose that inward investment in London, not only will London suffer, so will the rest of the country. London has higher productivity than the rest of the country. Its competitive edge not only works internationally, it helps the rest of the south-east, and the country, to raise its game by improving its ability to attract investment.

Investment in London is good value for money. There has been a study that shows that the benefits will be two and a half times greater if investment is made along the lines that Transport for London suggests, rather than if the absolute minimum is done. The Transport for London plan shows that there will be a 7.5 per cent. increase in capacity if we invest the sums suggested. Those are just the benefits in transport terms; there are also the knock-on benefits of reducing social exclusion and regenerating parts of London that are exceptionally deprived.

Having made that case, I shall now look at two areas where investment is urgent. First I will take up the themes of previous speakers, and talk about London buses. They promote social inclusion. Who uses London buses? Bus passengers are the elderly, people on low incomes, people without cars, minority ethnic groups and women—all the groups that are most excluded within the London economy. If we are to reduce that exclusion, buses will have to be the primary transport mode that we use.

Transport for London, the Mayor and the Greater London authority have had some success on this issue, and I pay tribute to them for what they have achieved over the past four years. Bus use has gone up by 30 per cent., although it is stagnant in most of the rest of the country. There has been a 15 per cent. rise in the average number of passengers travelling on each bus, so buses are giving better value for money.

From the vantage point of my constituency, I can see that buses have made a major contribution to public transport in outer London, which does not generally enjoy the benefits of the underground or a good rail service. Buses therefore make a critical contribution to outer London, and that has been important over the past four years.

The second issue, however, is critical. We want to invest in the tube, the rail system and the other things that hon. Members have mentioned, but it will be some time—perhaps 10, 15 or 20 years—before we see the major benefits of that investment. Investment in buses, however, is ideal because it can be delivered in the short term and can increase capacity now. That is why we need to fund the plan to increase bus capacity throughout London, particularly in outer London.

Two issues are critical to my constituents. First, Edmonton Green bus terminus is among the top 10 in terms of daily bus movements, so it is critical to the whole of that part of north London. However, negotiations over the delivery of a new terminus are mired in complex issues and never seem to end. I make a plea to the Minister, and in particular to Transport for London and the developer, to sort things out. They desperately need to do so if the service to my constituents is to be improved.

Secondly, I am interested in the school bus service, which the Department has been carefully studying. I have corresponded with local schools, one of which said:

"What a much needed service! Like many schools in Edmonton we suffer from massive congestion at the start and end of each day. This leads to real issues of road safety for our children. We would be delighted to be involved in a pilot scheme". So, too, would the rest of my constituency. Perhaps the Minister could take that idea away and consider it for future reference.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea I mentioned that the rail service was in urgent need of upgrading, but that is an understatement. I know from the nods around the Chamber that that view is shared throughout the capital. We must create more capacity and improve performance on our railways, because commuters have suffered long enough. The train operating company on the railway line in my area has recently changed, and the transition has been relatively smooth; indeed, hardly anyone has noticed it. However, if I were to ask my constituents whether they had seen any improvement in performance or standards, they would say no to that, too, because the problems and challenges on the line are still to be addressed.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that we need to consider an alternative solution, and that suggested by Transport for London begins to address several of the issues. In its brief for the debate, for example, Transport for London says that it will be looking to increase capacity, to improve the integration of fares across London and to enable funds to be raised for major rail projects. Its expertise would bring real benefits to London commuters, and on that basis alone, its proposed alternative should be considered sympathetically.

The Minister will say that the commuter lines do not start in London and that London is only part of the service that they deliver. However, London commuters have suffered long enough, and there must be a positive way forward. A link-up between Transport for London, Network Rail and the train operating companies would deliver real benefits, without necessarily challenging or making things more difficult for the rest of the rail network in the south-east.

Finally, I want to raise a local issue. My local central station at Edmonton Green sits cheek by jowl with the bus station, and is in need of urgent improvement. That is set out in the plan, as are improvements to stations throughout the capital. Improvements will not happen without the plan. The use of the station by my constituents is severely limited because improvements have not taken place. They fear using the station in the evening. The multiple stairs to the station cause great problems for disabled people. Such matters should be dealt with.

I make a final plea to the Minister. Transport for London is doing all that it can to develop the transport network, but it needs the support of the Department to achieve all that it wants. The benefits will come primarily to London commuters and to people in constituencies such as mine, but benefits will also be delivered to the rest of the south-east and throughout the country. On that basis alone, I commend the plan to the Minister.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara)

Order. Before we continue, I remind hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate that winding-up speeches should start not later than 3 pm.

2.46 pm
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing the debate. As has been said, it is timely not only because of the elections for Mayor and the comprehensive spending review, but the fact that a debate about London's transport system has begun as a result of our being shortlisted for the Olympic bid—an issue to which I shall return. Reference has been made to many projects, such as the East London line, Crossrail, Thameslink, the extension of the Docklands light railway in the Thames gateway area and the Woolwich rapid transport link along the river front. However, alongside those issues we must consider how we bring the benefits of those schemes to the wider community, and how people who do not live or work in the immediate areas that will see major improvements in their infrastructure can link into them and reap the benefits of that investment.

We must appreciate the successes. It is easy to slip into a debate about London's transport network and be only negative, not positive, about it. That reflects the level of use of public transport in London. We should not forget that there is a high dependency on public transport in London, which to some degree is a reflection of its success. Over the past few years, several successes have come from the office of the Mayor—

2.47 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.3 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind hon. Members that the winding-up speeches will now start at 3.15 pm.

Clive Efford

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

TFL's research shows a 30 per cent. modal shift from cars to other forms of transport between 1999 and 2003. There are many other figures relating to increased bus usage and so on, but I shall not go through those now, as other hon. Members want to speak.

London is essential to the economic well-being of our country. It supports 4 million jobs, 1.4 million of which are in central London. Five local authorities in London have employment densities of 5,000 workers per square kilometre, and in the City of London the figure goes up to 130,000 jobs per square kilometre. More than 90 per cent. of those people travel to work by public transport. Two thirds of all UK rail journeys begin and end in London, and Londoners account for 50 per cent. of all UK rail journeys. That demonstrates that it is essential for London to have an effective voice in how not only our rail services but all our transport services are integrated. London will need more money to invest in public transport networks.

I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea support the East London line, which he rightly called the orbital route. I support it too, but coming from southeast London, I must ask what happens to my constituents who are outside its orbit. How do we ensure that our train services link into it? Is it possible to make it turn east, so that it really is an East London line, linking with communities in south-east London who do not have direct access to the London underground? They, too, will then benefit directly from the new rail service.

Crossrail is another essential development, particularly for south-east London. It is crucial that there is a station at Woolwich, and that Woolwich becomes a major transport hub, linking with other modes of transport and allowing the wider community in south-east London to use the road network. We must develop a bus network on those roads to link with the other new transport developments.

We seem to be approaching the end of the difficulties with Thameslink 2000—perhaps we should stop using that name, because it sounds like the number of years that it is taking to get off the ground; a new name may be needed. That extension to the rail service is needed in my part of London. We need to plan and ensure that we integrate our network. One example of such planning is the development of the Jubilee line, which has made its way to North Greenwich station in the north of my borough. One bus service goes direct to that tube station from the south of Greenwich, through my constituency, but in the rush hour it takes 45 minutes to get there, and is not an option for commuters.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) said earlier, we need express bus routes to take people from outlying areas, link them rapidly with the new transport developments and give them an alternative method of getting to and from work each day. We need to develop such strategies if we are to address the growth in demand that we all know will happen in London's transport system and reduce car use, which is increasing. We cannot afford the Mayor of London's voice not to be heard in those debates, including on the development of transport and train services.

I should like to dwell for a moment on train services. The 12-car strategy for the network in south-east London seems to be disappearing completely from the agenda. If we are to develop a transport network to meet the growing demands, particularly in north Kent and the Thames gateway, we need to increase the capacity of the existing rail network. We cannot continue with a train system that has an inadequate electricity supply and cannot grow as required to meet future demand. In the absence of any other form of public transport, failure to increase that capacity means that our road network, which is already overloaded, will become even more congested. We must ensure that London's needs—particularly those of south-east London, where there is no direct access to the London underground—are heard in that debate.

Finally, there is the discussion of London's transport network in relation to the Olympic bid. A lot has been said about our transport network creaking at the seams, the infrastructure needing repair and improvement and the fact that we desperately need to develop new schemes to meet future demand. In a sense, that is a private debate among ourselves. For those outside looking in, it may seem that our transport infrastructure could not support a scheme such as the Olympics. However, the truth is that we have an effective transport network. but we are so concerned about it because of the heavy demand on the rail network, and the value that we accord it. A debate about the need to improve and develop that network should not be mistaken for a debate about a system that is incapable of supporting London's needs in the future, or the needs of a major event such as the Olympics.

3.9 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate on London's transport needs. Colleagues have gone through the range of transport issues, and I want to focus on a few key infrastructure projects and the importance of transport for regeneration.

We cannot talk about transport in London without congratulating the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, on his visionary leadership in transport issues, particularly the introduction of the successful congestion charge and the massive improvements in buses. However, I want to focus on transport and regeneration.

We have heard a lot about transport for commuters and for people wanting to go through London to somewhere else, but we cannot overstress the importance of transport links for regeneration in inner London. There is sometimes a tendency to talk about London as if it were very wealthy, with lots of jobs, but in inner London—in my borough, Hackney, in Islington and in Deptford—one in two children live in poverty.

There is no more certain lever of economic regeneration than improved transport. First, it provides a Mecca for new business and retail projects. Secondly, it makes it easier for people to travel to work and enlarges their travel-to-work areas. Thirdly, investment in transport, in new stations and in developments above stations can transform the whole look of an area.

I am so keen on these infrastructure projects because of the benefits of transport improvements for people in some of the poorest areas of London. We have heard about Crossrail; what we want to hear from the Minister about Crossrail 1 is whether it will go ahead. Even if it were given the go-ahead tomorrow, its completion would still be too late for the 2012 Olympics. Nevertheless, it is still a vital project for London.

Business, the communities and the Mayor want to see Crossrail happen, and if the Minister gave the definite go-ahead in this debate, he would have the gratitude of Londoners from one end of the London underground to the other. Everyone inside the M25 would be singing his praises, and casting flowers on the road as he went about his daily business.

We do not hear enough about Crossrail 2, the Chelsea-Hackney line, but that is another vital infrastructure project, which would help redevelop the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) to the south, and which would help the people of Hackney and inner London.

As for the East London line, let me remind the Minister that it was the subject of a manifesto pledge. The Government have already committed more than £100 million to it; it would link Highbury and Islington in the north, passing through Dalston, Canonbury, Haggerston, Hoxton and Shoreditch down to West Croydon. No single project would do more for the east end than the East London line would. Other Members are quick to talk about crime, deprivation and social exclusion, but such infrastructure projects could probably do more than any single one-off scheme or project to counter social exclusion and poverty in the east end and other poor areas of London.

The London elections and the elections for the Mayor and the London assembly are not too far away. I remind colleagues, and the Minister, that within the next 12 months there will almost certainly be a general election. When we are on doorsteps during that campaign, people in London will want to know what their Labour Government have done for them. I want to be able to say on the doorsteps of Hackney that, yes, we did deliver the East London line, that, yes, there is a definite go-ahead for Crossrail 1 and that, yes, Crossrail 2 is definitely going to happen. That would make sense for Londoners, for the poorest areas of London and for business. Above all, it would make sense for the Government to make the money available for those long anticipated and desperately needed infrastructure projects. On behalf of the people of Hackney, I ask the Minister to let us have a real green light for Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and the East London line.

3.14 pm
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

I shall spend my one minute singing the concerns of south-west London, which, as people know, is the greatest bit of London. We recently had a visit from the Mayor. who called my office and suggested that he would like to arrive by public transport, but in that respect, in my constituency we feel that Paris is closer than north London.

From looking at the transport planner, we discovered that he would have to take three different buses plus the train to get there; it would have taken him in excess of two hours. When he finally got to Pollards Hill, he would find an area that has lots of great transport systems, but no access to any of them. The area is on the longest bit of the Brighton to Victoria rail line without a station, in spite of the fact that Eastfields station has been promised since 1936.

The Mayor would find a fantastic Croydon to Wimbledon tram line, which people in Pollards Hill cannot access unless they happen to be long-distance runners and can cross Mitcham common, because they do not have a bus to get there. He would also find that the 463 bus—a fantastic bus service provided by Quality Line—does not yet reach Pollards Hill, although that has been promised for years. We need to be able to access the systems that already exist. That would be quite simple; it just needs a little attention.

3.15 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Nk allington) (LD)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing the debate. I wholeheartedly agree with much that has been said today, but one aspect of the debate has surprised me—the difference that the Mayor's Labour party card has made to the plaudits given to him. Admittedly, several hon. Members in the Chamber have regularly congratulated him, but others have not been so forthcoming.

Ms Abbott

I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that I have consistently supported Ken Livingstone.

Tom Brake

I was looking directly at the hon. Lady when I commented on the fact that some Members have been consistent in their plaudits.

Another aspect of the debate that surprises me is the fact that, a couple of weeks away from elections, the Conservative mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, has not been mentioned. I would have thought it appropriate to mention him during the debate and to highlight some of the problems that his candidacy presents.[Interruption.] At least now many hon. Members are commenting, if only from a sedentary position, on the lack of suitability of such a candidate in the forthcoming mayoral elections.

London's transport needs are great, and are growing. If the Mayor's projections that an extra 800,000 people will arrive in London by 2016 are accurate, the demand will greatly increase. Clearly, transport funding needs are not being met. That was always going to be the case, given that when the legislation was passed, there were no means, with the exception of the congestion charge, by which the Mayor could raise funds for transport in London. The mayor, whether aspiring Labour, independent, or—as it now appears—independent Labour, was always going to have to go cap in hand to the Government to seek funds for transport in London. As several Members have pointed out, the framework within which funding is obtained, particularly for rail, is not fit for purpose.

It is regrettable that, seven years on, we are only now discussing the fact that rail is not included in the Mayor's portfolio, when four or five years ago there was an opportunity to ensure that it was. That was a missed opportunity. Four or five years ago there was a need for the Mayor to be given much greater powers over rail in London to ensure better integration. However, we are where we are. How do we get a transport system that Londoners can be proud of, and that tourists, businessmen, and perhaps visitors o the Olympics, will believe is appropriate for their needs?

Several Members have commented, entirely correctly, on very large schemes such as the Fast London line and Crossrail. It is, however, important to concentrate on the much smaller schemes too. At least one hon. Member focused, rightly, on the need to improve walking and cycling facilities. The Government are rightly focusing on improving people's health and trying to encourage people to take 10,000 steps a day, which by my reckoning means the average person walking about 5 km a day. Walking and cycling are key to improving people's health. Anyone who walks and cycles is taking some of the pressure off public transport in London. The focus on walking and cycling should therefore be greater, and some relatively low-cost schemes could be introduced to improve them.

The big schemes for the tube need to be tackled. The tube should be run much later to make it much more appropriate for London's needs, particularly at weekends. We also need simplified ways of measuring performance on the tube. I see from the glossy magazine sent me by Metronet that mystery shoppers have been examining the worst square metre of carriages and noting every piece of rubbish larger than 5 cm in width. That is one way to measure the cleanliness of trains, but I am not convinced that it is the best; nor it is necessarily the cheapest way, given the overheads involved in such schemes.

I agree entirely with the hon. Members who spoke of the need for a rail authority—a body that can integrate rail services with other transport providers. Several Members commented on bus improvements. Improvements have certainly been made, although I doubt whether it is prudent to build in improvements only to run out of money and find that a huge new injection of Government cash is needed.

No one has yet mentioned something that could make a significant difference to those who use buses, especially the socially excluded, to whom some have referred, but others as well. I am thinking of Countdown. If people are to use the buses, they need to know reliably when they are due to arrive. At the moment that does not happen. Until that issue is addressed, we cannot expect commuters, particularly those who now use their cars, to use buses, and those who now use the buses will still not receive a proper service. That has to be a priority.

I, too, welcome the fact that no one has proposed major road schemes as a solution. We can improve the road network by much tougher enforcement of bus lanes. So that we are not perceived as anti-car, there needs to be some sort of pan-London co-ordination on parking enforcement. People need to know that they are being dealt with firmly but fairly. They should understand that the system is fair, and has consistency across London.

Finally, the River Thames, which is only a few yards away from us, is severely underused. That is regrettable. I hope that the development of the Thames gateway will result in the provision of additional river services, and that we can use that main artery to great effect, which would reduce congestion on the roads.

We need to make progress on many relatively low-cost schemes, to improve the roads for walkers and cyclists, to improve bus lane enforcement and so on. However, we need also to make progress on the much larger schemes. Many hon. Members have made a case for Crossrail and the East London line extension. It is time that the Montague report was published; we need to see its it recommendations and get some of the projects under way, and we need to see progress before the International Olympic Committee returns. If we have not made progress, I suspect that the committee need not even bother to get off the plane.

3.23 pm
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

London's transport needs—and, accordingly, the outcome of the Government's forthcoming spending review—crucially affect the residential population. As one or two hon. Members have pointed out, they affect also commuters, tourists and businesses. As has already been said, the lifeblood of our nation lies in London. It is the economic powerhouse not only of the nation but, to a large extent, of Europe. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) rightly pointed out that a loss to London is a loss to the UK. Jobs lost in London will not necessarily go to Birmingham or Manchester—or even, dare I say it, to Glasgow or Edinburgh—but may leave our shores entirely.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this important and overdue debate. He is critical of my party's record, but I take that on the chin—although I could argue that his party has been in Government for the past seven years. However, as he rightly says, the East London line is the key. I will be interested, as he will, to hear the Minister's copper-bottomed commitment and guarantee to fund the line.

London's transport is—perhaps wrongly—widely regarded as being in something of a mess. I take on board the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford); he is absolutely right to say that the transport system undertakes an enormous task daily. We have all had, and know constituents who have had, negative experiences of commuting to and from and moving around London, but to a large extent London's transport is a great success. It does its job, albeit with certain glitches. We cannot deny what was said in the International Olympic Committee's report on the Olympic bid. That report raised the profile of the issue, and will continue to do so in the months ahead.

I have repeatedly said that our Olympic bid will be in great difficulty unless there is a commitment to Crossrail and the East London line. There is little doubt that we will have great difficulty putting forward a coherent case in July next year unless that case is turbo-charged by a Government commitment to the funding needed for the transport system.

I appreciate the concerns about the reliability of the tube felt by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). He mentioned that he has eight stations in his constituency at the moment; I am sure that he is hoping for nine or 10 when the Croxley link is in place. He rightly identified the need for better leadership on transport. That lies at the core of this debate. Where do we want our transport system to be, not just in the next few years, or in the run-up to the next mayoral or other elections, but in 20 or 30 years' time?

We need a strategic vision. To that extent, I have some—very limited—sympathy with Ken Livingstone. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) that he has been visionary. I do not agree with much of what he has done, but at least he has driven the agenda forward on the congestion charge and the buses—and I am a more regular bus user than I was in the past. There have been great successes with buses, and I am the first to admit it.

However, what is the cost? There is a colossal cost, which will affect all London council tax payers in years ahead unless we get investment from the Government, and unless some economic sense is put in place.

Clive Efford

On the economics of London's transport network, the Conservative party's candidate for Mayor— [HON. MEMBERS: "Jarvis."] Yes, Mr. Jarvis; he said that he would scrap the congestion charge on day one. At the moment, the estimate is that the congestion charge will increase our income per annum by about £60 million. What would the hon. Gentleman cut to finance the abolition of the congestion charge?

Mr. Field

Obviously, I have to bow to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge, bearing in mind his taxi-driving interests. Perhaps scrapping the congestion charge would be good for those with such interests.

It is fair to say that, economically, the congestion charge has been something of a disaster. The hon. Gentleman points out that it will apparently raise £60 million a year, but he will remember, as I do, that 18 months or two years ago, when it was evident that the congestion charge would be introduced, people were talking about its raising £200 million a year, which was to be securitised into an enormous number of transport projects. That has not happened; in fact, the congestion charge may well be one of the few taxes that lose money. That cannot be a sensible way forward. I entirely support my candidate, Mr. Norris, in his plan to scrap the congestion charge.

However, although the congestion charge has not proved its worth economically, not least because many businesses in central London have suffered, at least the idea showed a sense of leadership and the vision to take the issue forward.

Tom Brake

The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question: how do the Conservatives propose to fund the shortfall of £60 million a year?

Mr. Field

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that such issues are, rightly, in the hands of the Mayor and the Greater London assembly. However, there is no question of a £60 million shortfall. There will be no shortfall this year, and it is questionable whether there will be a shortfall in future.

Time is pressing, and I should like to mention a few specifics. Inevitably, we have not had much discussion about aircraft noise, apart from the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood. I have not said, and will not say. much about pedestrianisation, although I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) had to say about it. We need to look at such matters in an integrated way. I should like more aesthetic design, for example, to make pedestrianisation more attractive, particularly in central London.

Where is the Government strategy? There was a 10-year plan in 1999, which is now defunct. We encountered a refusal to commit to Crossrail. Inevitably there has been a plan, which will no doubt come to fruition now, to delay any announcement until after 10 June, when the mayoral and GLA elections will have come and gone. I am concerned that the Secretary of State for Transport is a man who, as a Scottish Member of Parliament, represents nothing and no one on transport matters in the House—yet he is making decisions that will affect all Londoners, as well as tourists and businesses.

We now face the prospect of prolonged strikes, courtesy of the RMT, affecting the tube and the rail network in London during the hot summer months ahead. We are long overdue for an agreement that will, it is to be hoped, lead to a no-strike deal, if we are to get the requisite level of investment.

Where has Mr. Livingstone, Labour's hand-picked candidate, taken us on transport matters? In the first three years of his mayoralty he spent millions of pounds of Londoners' money suing the Government in a futile attempt to block the public-private partnership on the tube. Indeed, things have got markedly worse on the underground system in the past seven years. They will get worse still in the next five years, I suspect, even with the investment promised under the PPP scheme, and I believe that there is a financial night mare ahead for the buses. The optimism that has been shown about the congestion charge is also unlikely to come to fruition.

Several hon. Members made interesting contributions; one was the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Having been a Finsbury Park resident and one of his constituents, I suspect I am solving one of the longest-standing mysteries troubling him. He wanted to know who the one Tory voter in Tollington ward was during the early 1990s. It was me. However, I endorse what he said about Finsbury Park station. It could and should be an important hub, just as, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) would say, Clapham Junction could be an important hub outside the central area. It is such an unattractive place at the moment that it needs fundamental redesign.

Jeremy Corbyn

That is the nicest thing that has ever been said about it.

Mr. Field

That is also the nicest thing that I have said to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) rightly identified the failure to deal with the expanding need for new transport. We must have more vision on this matter. The Conservative party, too, failed, when in government, to achieve a visionary outlook. However, it is important, just as it is to get the transport issue right in the context of London governance. If London's economy fails, the UK will fail. I cannot overstress the importance of that. Yet although the Mayor has been given power over Transport for London, he does not control the financial aspects that he needs to control if he is to be able to drive forward an agenda.

I have some sympathy with the Mayor of London, however financially illiterate I believe him to be, because he cannot influence the development of tramways and other projects, on which some detailed feasibility studies have been done. I have great sympathy, too, for the Transport for London staff in Windsor house, who are working on many of the relevant schemes. They know that those schemes will never leave the drawing board, because of the Treasury's financial control-freakery.

We need to break the logjam. The true congestion in London's transport lies in the failure to see through imaginative projects, because of the Treasury's reluctance to invest in our capital. I hope that the Minister will have something sensible to say about that, because otherwise all Londoners, all tourists and all London's businesses will continue to be let down by the Government.

3.34 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

As I have said in the previous couple of one-and-a-half-hour debates that I have replied to in Westminster Hall, the substantive, informative and intelligent Back-Bench contributions have been marred only by substandard contributions from the two Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. If they were really detailing the substance of what each party would provide for London, God help us if they ever got near power at mayoral level or in a general election.

Tom Brake

That is so offensive.

Mr. McNulty

I shall come back later to the Liberal Democrats' press release, which is so misleading and does London such a disfavour that it is unworthy of the most fifth or sixth-rate mayoral candidate.

I am grateful that many of my colleagues started their contributions by saying that London's transport system had much to commend it. Of course improvements are needed—I shall come to those in a moment—but it is worth repeating that every day, Transport for London and the rail network move phenomenal numbers of people in and out of the capital, and around it. All concerned are to be commended—TFL, those involved on the railways and on the buses and the local boroughs whose input helps everything to flow smoothly.

Last year there were 947 million passenger journeys on the underground. Every day there are more than 1.5 million trips by rail, 3 million by tube and 5.5 million on the buses. Increasingly, unsung, more than 100,000 people travel in and out of Docklands on the Docklands light railway. Are there problems? Yes, of course there are. Do the Government have the vision and leadership to deal with them, working with TFL and the Mayor, before and after 10 June? We do. Am I going to stand here and give the green light to all sorts of major projects? No. This close to the spending review, of course I am not. However, it is important to understand that the leadership, the plans and the vision for London's transport system are in place, and the doom and gloom merchants, the collective Victor Meldrews, do their constituents and their parties no favours if they suggest otherwise.

We hear from the Opposition that we need better leadership for London's transport. What leadership at all was there for meeting London's transport needs prior to 1997? If that was leadership, again I say God help us. We are told that we have no vision. The Mayor, through TFL, has issued a business plan update, and I commend that document to anyone who wants an example of vision for London's transport system. Read it in conjunction with the London plan and see the options that London has to meet its transport needs.

The vision is clearly there. I have no problem with that, nor did I in the past. At the last party conference I was told off for saying that, at least in terms of transport, we have had a new Labour Mayor for the past four years. I said it then, I have said it before, and I will keep on saying it. Heaven help London if any of those other clowns is elected on 10 June. The cheerful fact is that they will not be.

Let me try, in the limited time that I have, to address some of the specific points made by my hon. Friends on the Back Benches before dealing with—if I have time—the minor and rather substandard comments from those on the Opposition Front Benches.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) outlined good reasons for the East London line extension. In reality, procurement strategy and everything else has to be considered by the Department. We are assessing it. We are not like the previous Government, who willy-nilly said yes or no to things, and then they collapsed three months later—Crossrail or anything else.

The case has been made, and well made. TFL now has an alternative procurement strategy and we need to consider that seriously in the same context. The East London line extension is an important project, for all the reasons that have been suggested. This is grown-up government. It is not to do with standing up and spending £11 billion, as Opposition Members have said that they would do. Like all the projects that have been mentioned, it is a serious matter.

In passing, I shall have to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock)—I am sorry that she is no longer here—and her notion that over the horizon of the spending review, not a lot of money would be spent on the East London line extension. We could say yes, and hope and pray that by the next review the money was still there, but that is a silly way to go about public procurement or public accounting.

I am going to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who put words in my mouth. Talking about TFL's suggestion of a seat at the table, if not more, for London's rail services, he said, "The Minister will say that commuter lines do not start in London. so they should not have one." I am not going to say that. I am going to say, very seriously, that TFL's refined suggestion—it made two or three—is in the mix with the rail review. It is a serious proposition, suggesting a range of savings via fare structures, Oyster cards and wider procurement models, and we would be foolish not to take it seriously, as part of the comprehensive rail review.

My hon. Friend also said that TFL needed support from the Department for Transport. I hope that TFL would say that, in the past year if not previously, its relationship with the Government, through the Mayor and his officers, has been robust and productive. We shall continue in that way when, in a few weeks, we come to a decision on the rail review and on any number of other projects. I understand, and would not demur from, any of the comments that my hon. Friends made about their importance to their respective areas.

I have never lived in Islington, but I worked there for 14 years and I know Finsbury Park very well. Sadly, I know the Holloway road even better, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about that. I shall take up the detail with him later. However, I must say emphatically that the Government do not approve cycle lanes. The notion that the Department for Transport was somehow associated with the one on Blackfriars bridge is erroneous. However, my hon. Friend is right about the fact that cycle lanes are not about putting paint on roads, but about safe cycling. I have already dealt with the East London line.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) stand up for some six minutes and offer to spend at least £11 billion. I agree with him in principle, because it is a constituency interest of mine. The Croxley link is important. It was reviewed thoroughly last year as part of the local transport plan because, although it benefits London, it sits outside London. We said reasonably to TFL, which was a partner, along with Hertfordshire county council and those with an interest in Watford, that if it were to proceed, TFL should stump up some money. Clearly the rail network would benefit. However, the money is not yet forthcoming; discussions and assessments are going on. With my constituency hat on, I think that that should happen.

My time is running out, but I shall try to address some of the other points that have been made, especially about access for the disabled. Wherever the tube has got to, the story is far better on trains, on buses, on taxis and on the Docklands light railway. We need to tell the whole story, across the transport system, rather than focusing on the negative. Let me put some canards to bed—if that is not too mixed a metaphor. I agree with the Mayor that in broad planning terms, the central area is now well served by buses. However, the points about inter-suburban links and express buses were well made, and he is exploring those issues.

The notion still put about by mischievous and irresponsible parties that Crossrail was ever part of the Olympic bid is nonsense, and it always was. The very people who put the Crossrail bid together, Cross London Rail Links, which is a combination of the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London, say clearly in their business case that, even on the most optimistic of estimates, it will be 2013 or 2014 before it becomes operative.

I have seen silly little press releases from the Liberal Democrats, in which someone called Simon Hughes—or perhaps I should say the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—claims that the delay in Crossrail could prevent London from winning the Olympics. How dare he talk down our Olympic bid in those terms? His argument is fundamentally wrong. He should go and read the business case. I sat through the proceedings on the Greater London Authority Act 1999, and I do not profess to have committed each of the 1,500 amendments made to it to memory, but I am sure that there were none on rail services in London, or on what should and should not be part of the GLA structure in that respect.

Tom Brake

Go and look.

Mr. McNulty

I shall look, because I know that to be the case.

I have one last point, with which I hope hon. Members will agree—funnily enough, it is non-partisan. Is it really beyond the wit of our only substantive serious paper in London, theEvening Stanaard, to get behind our Olympic bid, as theManchester Evening News and other media in Manchester did for the Commonwealth games? Can it not engage with the debate? The International Olympic Committee has, of course, sent a shot across our bows—we have been well aware of that, as is reflected in the bid and the plans for the future. We will win that bid, and Londoners' transport needs will be served.

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