16 March 1998

Mr. David Lepper (Lab. Brighton, Pavilion)

By the time that we reach the millennium, I shall be one of those odd people who will have survived the second half of this century not only without owning a car, but without even being able to drive. That has not prevented me from holding down a secure job; being the leader of a council; ensuring that my children got to school regularly and did well there without needing lifts in a car; or, indeed, being elected to Parliament.

I will admit that without cars, my campaign might not have been so successful and, of course, if Dr. Turner, MP for Brighton, Kemptown, offers me a lift home from time to time, I do not refuse. It seems to me that that emphasises the importance of car sharing. We have heard about Fiestas in contrast to other, more expensive cars—the one crammed with passengers, the other with a single passenger. There is an aspect of car sharing that has found favour in this country—taking children to school. At other times of the day, car owners seem to fight shy of it.

I have managed to survive for a long time without being able to drive. One of the reasons for that is, fortunately, that I live in an urban constituency—I do now and I always have done. However, there are drawbacks to being unable to drive. There are now areas of the wonderful countryside of East Sussex and West Sussex around my constituency that I find difficult to visit. That was not so 20 or 25 years ago, when I first moved to the area, as there was then a rural bus network. Where do we look for the reasons for the decline in rural bus services? We need look no further than the deregulation policies of the previous Government, which have done so much to harm the rural way of life.

One of the strengths of the Road Traffic Reductions Bill is that it recognises the need for flexibility; it recognises that the needs of different parts of the country are themselves different. It also provides a vital link between the agreements that this Government did so much to ensure were eventually reached at Kyoto and the local Agenda 21 programmes which are in operation in all our areas.

One aspect of the transport system in my area is in many respects woefully inadequate—the rail system. I find it easy to get up and down fairly quickly from Brighton to London, but to the east lie Ashford and the channel tunnel link. Anyone who tries to make the journey by rail from Brighton and Hove to Ashford must be prepared for hours—if not days it sometimes seems—of travel.

There has been a startling lack of imagination on the part of Railtrack and the privatised rail companies and operators in respect of investing in the system. My constituency is losing out on many of the economic benefits that should be provided by the channel tunnel link, so close as the crow flies, but so far in terms of transport links.

Everyone recognises that simply building more roads will not help to solve the problem.

I urge support for the Road Traffic Reductions Bill, which enables us to put our transport and environmental problems in a context in which there are clear links between what is happening in local councils and what the Government have achieved internationally at Kyoto.

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