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5.41 pm

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): As someone who has been employed in London's transport industry for the past 11 years, I am delighted to make my maiden speech in this debate and to support the Government's amendment.

My constituency is not served by the London underground. In fact, the London underground has only just discovered the borough of Greenwich, which is where my constituency is. The Jubilee line extension will reach Greenwich in time for the millennium celebrations, bringing the London underground to Greenwich for the first time.

There are only 700 industrial jobs in my constituency; the majority of jobs in the borough are in the service industries. The majority of people who are employed travel to work in central London. London transport services provide vital links between the people of my constituency and their place of work.

Throughout the history of our capital city, transport links with London have helped shape my constituency. Communities have built up around stations such as Eltham Park and Well Hall, which have now been replaced by a new station at Eltham, a New Eltham station, Kidbrooke and Mottingham. These have given rise to a number of estates, each with its own distinct design and character, from Coldharbour in the south to the slopes of Shooters hill in the north.

The Corbett estate, which to this day has a covenant prohibiting any premises being used for the sale of alcohol, is where I live. I live in the middle of an area with no public house for many miles. Fortunately, the good Lord provides, and within the ward where I am a local councillor, the church of St. Barnabas provides a small clubhouse which is a welcome oasis for many local residents. The club is named after one of Eltham's famous sons, Frankie Howerd. I am pleased to say that it has just won the CAMRA award for the club of the year. To celebrate, there was a beer festival last weekend, and I took it to be my duty to attend. The Corbett estate was also home to another famous comedian, Bob Hope, and Eltham's little theatre is named after him.

My constituency also boasts the Progress estate, which was built during the first world war in only 11 months to house workers of the royal arsenal at Woolwich. It has the appearance of a Kent village. One of the houses was home to Herbert Morrison, who eventually moved to another house near to Eltham town centre which, to this day, bears a blue plaque in his honour. Denis Healey also lived in my ward. He was the son of a worker at the royal arsenal and lived in the properties known as the Hutments until the age of 11.

The A20 and the A2 cut through the heart of my constituency and are a reminder of the ancient links between London and Kent. Shooters hill was the old Roman road to Dover. Royalty has also held court in Eltham, and the surviving buildings of the Eltham palace built in the 14th century can still be visited today. There is also a Tudor barn which was built in the 16th century

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and is now an excellent pub and restaurant. Set in the magnificent surroundings of Pleasance park, it is well worth a visit; I invite all hon. Members to come and enjoy the surroundings. That is all that remains of the mansion built by Will Roper, the son-in-law of Thomas More. It later became the home of Edith Nesbitt, author of "The Railway Children", and her husband, Hubert Bland, one of the founders of the Fabian society.

There is one story which shows that commuting from Eltham to London has always had its hazards. It concerns one Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer was the clerk of works during part of the construction of Eltham palace. One of his tasks was to travel to Westminster to collect the wages. On his way back along the A2 at Hatcham near New Cross, he had the misfortune to be mugged. He was immediately sent back to collect another set of wages and was once again robbed when he reached New Cross. Soon after that, Chaucer's services at the palace were dispensed with and he went on to become a writer, as one would. Some credit his work as the starting point for English literature. People who know London will know that New Cross is very near Millwall football club.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, I must point out the time span between the founding of Millwall and the event that I have just described. As a lifelong Millwall supporter, I have to say that Millwall football club is famous for many things, but not for its influence on English literature.

My constituency is not home to any professional team, but the borough of Greenwich is home to Charlton Athletic. Many of my constituents support Charlton and Millwall, our local teams, and I take this opportunity to wish them both well in the forthcoming season. I look forward to a time when the reds of Charlton and the blues of Millwall compete at the top of the league in the manner of Liverpool and Everton and Manchester United and Manchester City but, this time, with the blues being the most successful team.

In accordance with the protocol of a maiden speech, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor who is now the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley). He announced that he would not stay to contest the seat on the grounds that it was marginal and that he was too old for such a task. I assume that his campaign slogan was, "You're Never Too Old for Worthing West". I shall bear that in mind. I shall miss his "Westminster Watch" column in our local newspaper. It was written in a style that only he could manage. He represented Eltham for 22 years and made many friends during that time, and I pay a warm tribute to him.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin), which is a new constituency. He is a former leader of Greenwich council and is very well respected in the area. He has worked hard on behalf of the local community, and I thank him for the assistance that he has given me since I arrived in the House as a new Member. I shall endeavour to represent the people of Plumstead as he has done for the past five years, as they now form part of my Eltham constituency.

London's public transport system is crucial to the future of our capital city. From my vantage point as a worker in the industry, I have witnessed the damaging effects that the lack of investment in the infrastructure has had on people's attitudes to London. People are getting increasingly angry and frustrated about our public

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transport service. Some people find the underground too uncomfortable or too unsafe and cannot rely on the buses because of the delays caused by traffic congestion. There are also complaints about the congestion caused by too many unnecessary journeys being undertaken by road.

The London underground is vital to the well-being of the capital. Every Londoner wants to improve the environment in which they live. Each recognises the importance of the public transport system in reducing car pollution. The consumer wants safe, affordable, comfortable, reliable public transport--an integrated transport system with through ticketing for all forms of transport, door to door, with facilities for disabled access planned into the system from the start, not a belated addition implemented as costs allow.

I have a plea for all local authorities to be compelled to participate in a London-wide taxi card scheme. I make no apology for making that plea. All fleets of vehicles that are allocated local authority contracts should have wheelchair access.

Road pricing has been mooted as a possible way to combat the increase in road use, which is predicted to grow by 20 per cent. between 1991 and 2011. The number of car journeys is predicted to rise by 27 per cent. and the number of commercial vehicles by 50 per cent., while the number of bus journeys is predicted to fall by 12 per cent. Some people believe that the way to combat that problem is to introduce a pricing regime to charge drivers for using roads. There are various options, some of which have been tried in major conurbations overseas. My view is that it would be unworkable and unpopular--a poll tax on wheels.

London needs a strategic approach to bring together all the providers of transport--bus, train, taxi and the underground. We need clear objectives. How will the success of public transport be measured at the end of each year--by its profitability to a private company or by the increase in the number of train miles travelled by passengers or in the numbers using public transport?

It is impossible to overstate the financial mess that the Government have inherited. Up and down the country, there are schools in desperate need of repair, hospital trusts and health authorities in deficit to the tune of millions of pounds and an investment backlog in vital services such as the London underground. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has said, London Underground estimates that investment backlog will be in the region of £1.5 billion by the end of the century.

London is the portal through which the rest of the world views our country. How we treat our capital city creates the image by which Britain is judged and visitors and investment are attracted. Our performance here has a knock-on effect throughout the country. Since the loss of the Greater London council, London has had no voice. The lack of co-ordination in the planning and delivery of services is apparent to all who wish to see it.

London's underground is in urgent need of investment to meet the challenges ahead as the millennium approaches. Wherever the resources come from, they must not be directed at the behest of the private sector. The needs of the environment and of the people of the capital are too pressing. Experience shows that, when it comes to the environment, the market is too slow to respond, if it responds at all. Investment in the London underground

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system will be more cost-effective if it is co-ordinated with all other forms of transport. Let us start to invest in our capital city, but let us do it with the needs of the city at the top of our agenda. Let us make London the world's premier city once again.


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