If I have taken rather longer than most hon. Members to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is because I wish to take time to try to understand the workings of the House, though even with the impetuousness of youth I would not claim to have done in six months what others have said they could not do in a lifetime.
In making my first speech in the House, I am deeply conscious of the task and role that has been bestowed on me by my constituents, and wish to express my deep gratitude for the help and advice that has been given to me by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by the Officers of the House.
My constituents have been well served by their Members in the past. Bryan Davies, my predecessor, was generally acknowledged to be a conscientious and hard-working Member of Parliament. I was fortunate indeed that the electors of Enfield, North were not all fanatical supporters of the House of Commons Football Club. Bryan was a worthy successor to my hon. Friend who represents Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), formerly the hon. Member for Enfield, West, and to John Mackie, the former hon. Member for Enfield, East. John was widely loved by his constituents. They regretted his decision to retire from active politics.
Enfield's best known Member was the late Iain Macleod. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who feel that the political events of the mid-1970s would have been very different if Iain had lived. He was a great man, and he had a great influence on me. It is a particular honour for me that I am representing part of his old constituency. It is a pleasure for me to see the way in which his widow, the noble Lady, continues to play an active part in the life of the country and that of the London borough of Enfield.
Many of those who read a map or drive out of London on the A10 may think that Enfield is merely another suburb with a bit of industry thrown in by mistake. They are wrong to take that view. Historically, Enfield has been independent of London. For hundreds of years Enfield played host to the Royal hunting parties in Enfield Chase, and hints of old Enfield remain in the conservation areas around Enfield town and Forty Hill.
It is not only the history but the diversity, depth and conviction of its institutions and of the many voluntary organisations that combine to make Enfield such a successful community. We are exceptionally fortunate in the strength of our local organisation. The residents' associations are well established, well respected and powerful. The preservation society is second to none in Greater London. The charity groups, social clubs and old folks' clubs all exude vitality. The local press is there to foster real local spirit.
However, Enfield's prosperity, its low unemployment and its relatively high wage rates depend on the strength of its local industry and on the success of the central London service industries.
Enfield's most famous product was the Lee Enfield rifle. The Royal small arms factory is still a major local employer. My constituency is host to many of the best-known names in British industry and continues to attract investment. Two local firms have recently spent over £26 million on new plant without a penny of Government aid. That is the tip of the iceberg. There are many hundreds of other small, growing firms that all contribute to Enfield's prosperity.
There is a real danger that Enfield will be strangled by its very success. The thriving local economy needs infrastructural expenditure to sustain its continued growth. Enfield enjoys standards of education, health and housing provision that are better than in most London boroughs. We are fortunate that that is so. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our roads or transport system.
The coming of the M25 to Potters Bar has meant that for many years the western half of my constituency has been inundated with industrial traffic. People's lives have been made intolerable. Everyone in Enfield welcomes the recent decision to press ahead with the building of the M25 first to the A10 and then to the M11. We ask the Minister to minimise the period when the M25 stops at the A10. The longer that period, the worse the traffic problems in eastern Enfield.
The rapid completion of the M25 is not enough on its own. Two and a half years ago at a public meeting all three political parties, local residents' associations and representatives from local industry agreed that the only way to stop eastern Enfield becoming a traffic nightmare was to build a north-south industrial relief road linking directly to the M25 to the east of the River Lea.
We were delighted when the new Conservative GLC agreed to start construction of the road by 1983. I regret to say that our joy was short-lived. Incredibly, the GLC is still proposing to build a new £40 million road designed to take industrial traffic without linking it directly to the motorway. Instead, it proposes to take the northern end of the road through residential streets which are already overcrowded with traffic.
The absurdity of the proposal—there is no other way of describing it—is clear to all local people of whatever political persuasion. Yet for the past two years we have watched the GLC and the Ministry of Transport citing each other's objections as the reason for the direct link not being granted. It is not much fun to watch bureaucratic pat-ball, especially if one's house and environment is the ball.
Through the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), I make one last plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to intervene on my constituents' behalf. Next week, together with local residents, I shall be meeting the GLC in a last effort to persuade it to change its mind. I hope that it listens and notes my remarks.
Many people in east Enfield are entirely reliant on the local bus service. Theoretically, the buses run along the main north-south arterial roads. They are rarely seen and, if seen, they are not on time. There is a feeling among my constituents that eastern and western Enfield are separate entities. London Transport, I regret to say, does its best to perpetuate that feeling. There are two east-west bus routes. The 107, we are proudly told, is the longest route in Greater London. At times the eastern Enfield section of the route appears to be there purely to provide London Transport with an entry for Enfield in the Guinness book of records. The 135, the other route, is one of the shortest in London. It runs as if to disprove the theory that the shorter the route the better the timekeeping.
For some time there has been a local pressure group wishing to improve the bus service. It put forward properly costed alternative route proposals that would involve no additional running costs. London Transport turned those down, after scant consideration. Meanwhile, the service continues to deteriorate. I am hopeful that London Transport may take my hint today and look at those proposals in more detail.
If really desperate, my constituents travel to work by train. I say "if desperate" as the Lea Valley line is admitted by British Rail to be the worst on the Eastern region. The Enfield Town line, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) knows, is little better.
Many Enfield commuters work in the City. Faced with a deteriorating service and a rise in fares, commuters are seeking jobs outside central London. Unless that trend can be reversed, irreparable damage will be done to one of the most successful areas of our economy. It is not only the City and central London that are affected by the poor train service. Enfield industry depends on attracting workers from Hertfordshire and inner London. Despite high unemployment in inner London, there is a massive number of job vacancies in my constituency. The simple fact is that people prefer to be on the dole at home rather than pay out large amounts for an unreliable train service.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that there is no easy way to improve the train services. However, I am disappointed that the Chancellor chose to reject my proposal for a tax allowance for those travelling to their jobs by public transport. Such an allowance is available to workers in other European countries and could, and should, be viewed as part of a taxation package to encourage energy saving and promote a better public transport system. I promise the House that I shall return to that theme on another occasion.
My constituents, whether they work in local industry or in central London, may justifiably claim to contribute to part of the success story of the British economy. Unless the Government in their many guises can improve the basic infrastructural road and transport services, there is a real danger that, totally unwittingly, we shall kill off the goose that lays the golden egg. Just as it is doubtful whether the greater good of our economy is served by a Government continuing to prop up outdated and decaying industries, so it is equally doubtful whether it is in the national interest for growth areas such as Enfield to be deprived of the infrastructural services which their success requires and demands.
I recognise that my speech has been full of special pleading. All I can say is that on an occasion such as this my contituents expect and deserve no less.