HL Deb 26 February 1964 vol 255 cc1106-23

2.49 p.m.


rose to call attention to the problems of transport within Great Britain; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would be in accordance with the general feeling on all sides of the House if I expressed the pleasure with which we see the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in his place after his recent visit to hospital. We hope that everything has gone well, and that he will show us at any rate something near his customary vigour and powers of exposition this afternoon. We are very glad to see the noble Lord back.

My Lords, I open this debate on the general and wider issues of transport functioning and organisation in Great Britain. It is not unnatural that I start with some reference to the recent Buchanan Report, which has attracted a great deal of public notice. This is a valuable Report within the limits which I will indicate later; it is well written; sometimes it is a little difficult to follow, because it is technical in character. But it is a valuable Report and will throw a lot of light on the problem of the congestion of our towns and cities and the conflict between the convenience of an ever-growing number of motor vehicle drivers and the pedestrian and the general body of citizens.

I have some criticisms to make of the Report, but the first one I want to "get off my chest" is the weight of it—the physical weight. It is no joke, trying to read a volume weighing three pounds four ounces. One has to hold it up in some way, and now and again it becomes difficult to continue holding it. The paper is thick; the printing is very nice, except that the type could have been a little larger. But I think it would have been more easily handled if it had been produced in the ordinary Blue Book style, even if it had had to go to two volumes. However that is a personal view. I believe it costs £2 10s., and I think the Government have really let themselves go, from the point of view of economy, and have felt that this Report is so good that they could not possibly spend too much upon it. Still it has its value, as the House will realise and understand.

Another criticism is that there is no index in the book. This is an unusual omission; because an index is a useful thing to have in any book when you want to find a subject which you cannot easily discover by turning over the pages; and I think its absence a fault.

The Report tells us that the number of motor vehicles of all sorts—private cars, commercial lorries and so on—in Great Britain is going to double in ten years and will treble in twenty years. In 1963 there were 10½ million motor vehicles in this little Island; in 1970 it is estimated that there will be 18 million motor vehicles; in 1980 there will be 27 million; and in 2010 there will be 40 million vehicles. It may seem to some that the year 2010 is a long way off and that we ought not to worry about it too much; but I would remind the House that a baby born to-day will be only 47 years of age in 2010; so it is not far off; and, in the interests of babies born to-day, we ought to look ahead in these matters.

The Report affirms that motor vehicles should be able to move from one place to another in towns and to destinations beyond the towns; that they should be able to penetrate without delay to their destinations and should be able to stop there without restriction. The question is whether all this is realistic, whether it is something we can safely plan for and look forward to. When we are dealing with the great number of vehicles in this Island, I believe it is asking a lot to think that we can stand that great increase in traffic and that they will be able to go from point to point and to stop without restriction and without interference. That, it seems to me, is somewhat unrealistic. The Report also rightly gives the estimated cost of existing congestion on the roads. When it says "cost", I presume it means the cost consequent on the stoppage of motor vehicles because of congestion. It states that in 1958 the loss consequent upon stoppage was £140 million; in 1963 it will have grown to over £250 million.

The Report rightly brings in a new term, "traffic architecture", on the ground that hitherto highway problems have been considered on the basis of the physical nature of and the change in the highway itself; it has not taken sufficiently into account the surrounding buildings, the use likely to be taken of those buildings or contact made at the buildings by motor vehicles of one sort or another. Therefore we must take into account the architecture, the lay-out and planning of buildings, as well as the planning of roads. I think in that respect the Report is quite right: not merely have we to get on with the planning of roads but, we must also have, so far as is practicable, a comprehensive development or redevelopment of substantial areas of built-up territory.

The Report presents us with formidable problems of finance, administration and land ownership; and one of the disappointing things about it is that there are no estimates of overall costs of the enormous and very expensive proposals that are made. There are some estimates relating to the small-sized town of Newbury. They are theoretical estimates; but even for this small town they are substantial, running into millions. But when Reports on big elements of policy are presented to the public it seems to me to be clearly wrong that no attempt should be made to estimate the financial cost of the proposals. It is like a Minister going to a Cabinet meeting, proposing to make very big changes which will inevitably cost a lot of money, and not telling the Cabinet what that cost will be. I wonder how he can hope to get past the Treasury with a memorandum recommending proposals costing an enormous amount of money without telling the Cabinet what that cost will be. I know the difficulties facing the estimators, but I think that an attempt might have been made; because in this matter money is a very important factor in deciding whether the Report is proceeded with on an extensive scale.

The Chairman of the Steering Group was my friend, Sir Geoffrey Crowther, who is a very able man and formerly the editor of the Economist. It is curious that a former editor of the Economist has not indicated in this Steering Group Report the financial estimates of the overall costs that are likely to be involved. I wonder what the Economist would say if a Labour Government were to propound a great policy (because we must remember the Government have given this their general blessing) obviously involving an enormous expenditure, and did not say what it was going to cost. I have the pleasure to be a regular reader of the Economist; and I think that it would rap that Government over the knuckles—and it would be right to do so.

I am not quite sure why the Steering Group was appointed at all. Its Report is ably written—as anything written by Sir Geoffrey Crowther would be—but I cannot see that it adds anything much to the main body of the Buchanan Report itself. But I do complain most strongly against public policies being adumbrated without any estimate of the financial cost being given. I do not care whether it is a parish council, an urban district council, a county borough, county council or the Government, or a local Conservative or Labour Party Association, I would never let them get away with voting for schemes without an estimate of the financial cost. But that is what is done in this case.

The Report had a good Press. I am a great friend of the newspapers. I love reading them; I am fond of them: I have been in my time a very good friend of journalists, though nobody would recognise it by way of reciprocal treatment. But an amusing thing about the Press, especially about the popular Press, is that, so far as I know, this point about the absence of a financial estimate does not seem to have been made. If a Report is sufficiently exciting—what they call "imaginative"—if it is vast, making revolutionary proposals, and thereby makes good headlines and a good story, the journalists—bless their hearts!—assume that it is a good Report. That is what has happened with this Report. I do not want to be troublesome, but it was the same with the Report of the Royal Commission on London Local Government. That was exciting, so it had a good Press. And the last thing that Fleet Street understands is local government.

Of course, London suffers from the evil that there is no local daily Press in London. The newspapers are national newspapers. You get more wisdom from a provincial newspaper, covering a town and its surroundings, than you will from the London Press. I am not blaming the journalists. Heaven knows! they have to be expert about all sorts of things, and we cannot expect them to be expert about everything. But I do wish that, before praising a Report merely on the ground that it provides good journalistic copy and exciting headlines, they would read and understand it. I think that it was Shakespeare who said: This was the weight that brought me down". I am not going to blame the journalists if they did not read this Report thoroughly, but no doubt they were supplied with a guide, a hand-out, a summary by the very energetic Press Relations Department at the Ministry of Transport. Probably they had to rely on that and I do not suppose that that mentioned anything about the financial consequences.

Then there is administration and land ownership. And I beg of the House (I hesitate to beg of the Government, because I do not think that such a plea is likely to meet with success) to realise that in all these matters—including the suggestion my noble friend Lord Silkin is going to bring up on urban renewal—this question of the buying of land for public purposes is one of the biggest obstacles to good town planning and to the implementation of the Buchanan Report, because of the fabulous cost involved.

Land, which was relatively cheap a few years ago, has now soared up to enormous figures. The enormous increase in the price of land not only affects the cost of roads: when members of the middle class, and the working class, go to buy a house, they find that the price of land is likely to be substantially more than the price of the house itself. Let them remember, these poor things, the owner-occupiers—of whom I am one, thank goodness! I like the idea of owner-occupying—when they go to buy a house, that the staggering burden that oppresses their lives is the fault of Her Majesty's Government, whose deliberate policy has encouraged this soaring of land prices and who have not tried to deal with it, either by control or by the rating of land values—a question to which my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch has, very rightly, devoted a good part of his life.

The Government defend all this in the name of private enterprise, as a motive for making money; but it is a motive irrespective of social consequences. This is going to be one of the big problems that anyone seeking to implement the Buchanan Report will be up against. There is one good thing in the Buchanan Report; the statement that up to now grants towards road improvements have been Ministry of Transport grants which have met the costs of the narrow issue of highway improvement itself, and that the Ministry have been "sticky" about including in these grants anything for the redevelopment of the surrounding land, which of course is necessary, if the highway itself is to be a success. I believe that town planning costs are partly met from the block grant, but that is not satisfactory. If a local authority is faced with an area redevelopment, including highways and highway improvements, it is reasonable that the cost of the surrounding redevelopment should be eligible for grant, as well as the cost of the actual highway, bridge or underpass itself.

I think that the Buchanan Report has rendered a public service by drawing attention to this point. The Report says that in handling this kind of problem local authorities need to have an adequate administration and a united technical set-up. As a matter of fact, the London County Council are doing just this. They have valuer, architect, chief engineer and planning officers, who are welded together in a team for handling problems of this sort, as well as slum clearance and area redevelopment. And I daresay that in the larger cities, like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow, it may well be that similar combinations exist; and if they do not, they can easily be brought together. In the L.C.C., the Town Planning and Roads Committees have joined together in considering this matter of Traffic in Towns. They have not reported thoroughly yet, because they have not had time; but they have joined together. And as regards roads, the Ministry of Transport and the L.C.C. are co-operating to produce the London traffic survey, which I gather will see the light of day somewhat later in the year.

The Buchanan Report concludes that road and bridge improvements alone will not be sufficient to bring about all the changes that are required. The surrounding areas must be taken into account. Of course, it may often be the case that legitimate and proper improvements within half a mile or a mile of a highway might create a problem in some respects worse than the problem that existed before. That is another case for the comprehensive view of these things being taken. The Buchanan Report, rightly, in my view, makes a distinction between essential and optional traffic. Notwithstanding the desiderata that I referred to earlier, of being able to get from point to point anywhere and stop there, the Report admits that, even with many of these changes, optional traffic may not be able to get through; and by "optional traffic" it means, I think, primarily the private car or other traffic not essential to the social necessity or the business of the nation. The Report says that the optional traffic may not be able to get there and may have to be restricted.

But then the whole flavour of the Report is that it would be a terrible thing if every British subject—almost every man, woman and child; it is not quite as bad as that, but we are getting on to it—does not have a motor car; it will be a public scandal if they have not, and they should be able to go anywhere they like with it. That, I think, is "Cuckoo Land". When it later comes on to say that optional traffic may not be able to get there and may have to be restricted, that is more rational and sensible. My own view (and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport on one occasion across the Floor of the House rather agreed with me, I gathered, and implied that the Buchanan Report partially, but only partially, reached the same conclusion) is that I do not see how the time can be avoided—and I should have thought the sooner the better—when people who want to drive into Central London in a private car may have to prove the necessity of so doing. There may have to be a special licence authorising people to drive into Central London. Some Minister of Transport will, I think, have to do this. Probably for reasons of Parliamentary survival and expediency he will guarantee passes to Members of Parliament and active Members of your Lordships' House: and I should not blame him for doing that, because I do not want to assassinate him by that means.

We cannot have a situation in which traffic is growing and growing, and then contemplate saying, "Never mind; let it grow. We will spend not merely millions of pounds, but thousands of millions, to make the highways fit the traffic." The time is coming when the traffic will have to be made to fit the highways to some extent. Of course, improvements will have to be made, because highway improvements are most important. But I think I told your Lordships on an earlier occasion about a former valuer of the London County Council—he was a very able man—exaggerating somewhat what he said when I was rather praising the late Mr. Lloyd George's roads scheme. He said, "That is all right, Mr. Morrison, but take it gently, because if you are not careful this city will be a city of roads with no rateable value left". That was an exaggeration, but there is something in it to be taken into account. And, of course, if there is no rateable value left, there is no rateable value to raise the money with which to improve the highways. That, too, is a point for consideration.

It is not only the actual optional traffic. There is the commuter traffic from Outer London into Central London. If it cannot be helped and it is vital to preserve a man's business and so on, then I do not think it is easy to object. But there is a lot of commuter and motor traffic coming into London with one man in one car, or perhaps two people in one car, without any need for it. I used to drive to Parliament, but I have given it up. The time taken to do it now is at least double what it was not so long ago. The strain is considerable—and, unfortunately, I have never been able to learn how to drive a car and read official documents at the same time. It is absurd when there is public transport available.

The other curious thing about this Report, with which my friend Sir Geoffrey Crowther is identified in some way or another, is that it contemplates that in order to discourage the optional traffic driver you had better subsidise (I do not say this is laid down, but it is contemplated) public transport in order to tempt the optional commuter-driver off the highway and on to public transport. Well, this is a bit "hot". I do not myself want to subsidise public transport; and if we have to do it, it should be done carefully. I would sooner give a Class I highway grant towards maintenance of the traffic, which would be something specific. I do not want a bottomless purse to be available either to the management of transport systems or, come to that, to the work-people, in the belief that we can have as much as we want, with the taxpayers behind us. If we are going to have any public money in this, then we must have specific ends. I must say it is a curious thing for the former editor of the Economist to be nibbling at this question of subsidies for public transport.

Why not look at it the other way round? Public transport is there, and some of it is overcrowded. We suffer from this on the Southern Electric and at times the Tubes also suffer in this way. Therefore, there is a need for more Tubes and railways. But if that is to be done, there must be a reasonable prospect of revenue and it is not good enough to assume that the commuter, the optional driver, can go along just as he likes and use public transport as a matter of convenience. I am not talking about compulsion but about social policy. So the development of the commuter traffic, the optional traffic, is having a deleterious financial effect upon the Tube railways, the buses and the ordinary railways, as well; and this is a serious factor to be taken into account. I think that the railways and the Tubes would be wise, wherever they can, to build good parking spaces at their suburban, Outer London stations. People are leaving their cars anywhere round about. They are not doing a great deal of harm, but there should be proper provision in order to encourage the Outer London driver to drive to a point and then get on to the public transport system; and this, of course, would be financially advantageous to the public transport system.

To conclude on the Buchanan Report, I would say that if this is to be experimented with, the most suitable place for an initial experiment would be a small town, or a not more than moderately sized town. The town where this has been tried is Newbury, where I must say, in fairness, there are some sort of financial estimates, although they are not precise, and they are pretty substantial. But a town like Newbury would be a place for experiment. Or if a somewhat larger place is needed, you could take a city like Norwich. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich is going to speak in the debate, because he will probably say something about Norwich, where a little good work as amenity improvement has already been done by the Civic Trust in conjunction with the City Council. But let this be started in a small place. It is no good starting with London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow or Liverpool, because the cost will frighten you off, and when you have done it you will not have proved anything one way or another—as with the Tottenham Court Road area, which the Report examines with care. So I would say that if you want to experiment—and I do not object to it; in fact, I would rather advocate it—try it in a smaller or medium-sized town.

Following on the Report, we have had the Government's circular in which they express general agreement, which may mean something or may mean nothing, and I do not think it means anything. I think the Government, in accordance with their slogan of modernisation (including land values—too much), think this is a good stunt to play with, and they give it a general blessing. But the Government have not said anything about finance, either; nor about the finance of the local highway authorities if they try to implement the Report—not one word. There is little else, if anything else, in the Government circular issued by the Ministries of Transport and Housing and Local Government to indicate that help will be given to the local authorities. There is a proposal in the Report that there should be regional development agencies. If that means the Government Department regionally taking over the functions of local government, I do not like it. If it means another elected local authority in regions, so that we have a three-tier system of local government, at any rate in administrative counties, again I do not like it. The machinery of government can become too heavy.

I admit that there is a regional problem, and the way to solve it, where local government is concerned, is for the Government to have regional offices of the Ministries concerned, preferably in one building and in an important city of the region. There should then be established a consultative committee of the local authorities, or at any rate the major authorities, of that region, in order that they can confer with the Government officers in the regional office. Perhaps the committee might have an impartial chairman, a person experienced in public life, but not necessarily too heavyweight, and not making too big a job of it. In that way, there would be a contact between the machinery of central Government, regionally placed, and of local government, without setting up new independent organs of government, whether national or local. Some of the chief officers and some of the members of local authorities would not like it, because they love coming to London and seeing the headquarters of the Ministries. Some town clerks think it a derogation of their dignity if they have to deal with a local regional officer. But such a scheme could be an effective way of dealing with the problem and of reaching agreement by channels and means of that sort. The Government themselves have said, through the Minister of Transport in another place on November 27, that they are against the recommendation of independent regional authorities. I put for consideration by the Government the other proposal which I have advanced.

The Report deals with some cities abroad. It makes an interesting study of Venice. That is a lucky place. Apart from the outskirts, there are no motor vehicles at all within the area of the city of Venice proper. There are plenty of canals, serving as our highways do. There are plenty of little boats and steamships, just as frequent as our buses; and pretty well as quick, because they can get along more quickly. It is a pleasant place: it is a pity that London did not grow up like that. But it is too late now. There are also references to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The interesting thing about those two great American cities of the West is that they both went highway mad, as we are in danger of doing. There is a philosophy in the United States that there cannot be too many motor cars. Yet they have found that there are too many motor cars. Both these cities have ruined their local railway system, but are having to consider bringing them back because of the congestion on the highways, notwithstanding the enormous amount of road space in these cities.

There is also this to be said about the United States. It is an extraordinary country. It believes in the rights of property. It is very individualist, and every man's home is his castle. But if the city, the county or State want to build a road like that, they will build it like that, and anything in the way has to come down. They will build that road straight. I admit that they pay handsome compensation, but there is no nonsense about hanging about. This rather contradicts American traditions, but we also do many things which contradict our traditions.

Now let us look at transport as a whole, which we have done often before, so that I need not be long about it. Nevertheless, it is profoundly important. The conflict here—there is a conflict, and I wish there were not—is mainly between road and rail. We on this side of the House want a reconciliation between road and rail, with co-operation for each form of transport to do the job for which it is best fitted. Even if inland waterways die out a little, let us try to preserve them as places of amenity where people can go to enjoy themselves. But here we have this problem of road and rail. The advantage of road transport is that it can go from point to point, pick up, and deliver. The capital costs are more limited. True, they have to contribute to the maintenance and construction of highways, but the capital cost of the actual road transport vehicles and garaging, is not in itself excessive. These things are to the advantage of road transport of whatever sort.

The advantage of railways is that they can carry a big load, whether of passengers or of freight in these long trains which can carry a considerable number of people and considerable quantities of goods. The railways have speed; and with electrification and modernisation, that speed is tending to increase. But there is one thing to be said about the railways which must never be forgotten: that whereas the capital cost of a commercial motor vehicle and the cost of garaging it are relatively low, the cost of the building and maintenance of a railway is inevitably high. Consequently, if the load carried by an existing railway is only 30, 35 or maybe even 50 per cent. (or it may be lower than 30 per cent.), of its maximum load factor then the enormous capital spent upon the building and maintenance of the railway and the maintenance of irreducible staff, becomes out of proportion to the revenue it is earning. Indeed, to a great extent this was the problem which confronted Dr. Beeching when he made his famous Report—and he will always be famous for that, going a long time ahead in history.

I do not say that within a reasonable radius of a town the private operation of road commercial transport under the "C" licence—that is to say, the vehicle which delivers for a firm that is concerned with the goods that it carries—is illegitimate. But when you have a deliberately disorganised system whereby the road vehicles are going any disstance in competition with the railways, and perhaps carrying a high load factor (though not always on both journeys), whereas the railways on which all this capital—and it is now public capital—has been spent, are running half, or even three-quarters, empty, I say that that is not the way to run a transport system. It is just asking for trouble. It is asking for financial difficulty, and it is putting the undertakings in a bad way when they are met from time to time with requests from the unions for increases in wages and salaries. The boards are put in great difficulty in knowing whether or not to grant such increases, and in the end they probably have to chance their arm.

Therefore, this question of load factor and of the effective and economic use of capital invested is a matter of national economy. This is a vital economic matter for the nation as a whole. I would beg the Government to think again and to abandon what I have often called this anarchistic view whereby they have deliberately set the various forms of transport to compete against each other, irrespective of the social and economic consequences that are involved.

Moreover, the Government have not even surveyed the problem as a whole. Dr. Beeching was given the situation of the railways as they are, including these low load factors to which I have referred, and was asked what was the best thing to do with the railways. And it is no good grumbling at Dr. Beeching. That was his order; and he had to look at it from that narrow point of view of what to do with the railways as they are. The Buchanan Report then comes along and the Government are told what to do with road transport of all sorts, as it is. So we have two Reports dealing with two departments of transport. There is no attempt at a reconciliation between them. My Lords, what we ought to have had, and what we still need, is a proper, pukka inquiry into the problem of British transport as a whole. The roads are filling up (and I have given some figures about the estimated growth of vehicles), and we must remember that, while the vehicles grow enormously in numbers, our little Great Britain is not going to grow; it will remain the same size. These vehicles have to be tucked away somewhere—and not exactly tucked away either.

We need, and it is elementary (I nearly said "my dear Watson") that there should be, an inquiry into our country and the transport that it needs, looking at the whole field of transport and the best way to organise it. Surely the sensible thing about this is to let the railways do their job where they can and not try to "run them off the rails"; to let the railways have their element of road commercial transport—which they had until the Government, in the name of doctrinaire, dogmatic, Conservative, capitalist individualist beliefs came along, and said: "Ah, we are going to take the bulk of these things off."


They were making a profit.


As the noble Lord says, they were making a profit; not enough to square the books, but any profit is worth having. They did it. And just as they have incited the increase of land values so they have incited trouble in British Transport and the troubles with which the railways are faced.

Then along comes Dr. Beeching (I am not going to get too cross with him), who says: "There is this, that and the other railway; they are not paying: they are making substantial losses." I do not want to go mad about this. If it is clear that on a given branch line, for example, there cannot be adequate traffic of either passengers or goods, then so long as alternative forms of transport are forthcoming, I would not say that every inch of railway should be preserved. But some of the railway lines which Dr. Beeching proposes to shut up could survive it there were a co-ordinated, comprehensive transport system. Therefore, these were not fair terms of reference to put to Dr. Beeching. He was asked: "What will you do with the situation as it is?"—and they might have said, "Beastly situation as it is, which we ourselves, as a Government, have helped to create." But that is what was put to Dr. Beeching. And Buchanan was told the same thing vis-à-vis the roads.

The problem is how to get the best of both worlds, both road and rail transport. I want point-to-point delivery. Road transport can do it, and there is no reason why the long-distance transport should not be publicly owned and an ancillary of the railway system, maybe under separate management. But why should not the railways be able to pick up and deliver from point-to-point? The goods can be loaded on to one of these movable trucks—




I am much obliged—on to containers; which can then be dropped on to the goods wagon, taken un the line, lifted off by crane and delivered by road to the other point. This method was on the way. British Railways were thinking about it and experimenting with it. I do not say that the case is conclusively proved, but it seems to me theoretically justified and properly able to be considered. And the result of adopting this system would be to take the stuff off the roads and so relieve them to some extent.

The problem is how to get the most economic system of transport in our country, not the most effective profit for somebody to get out of our country, nor how to make the most effective losses on the railways because of the cut-throat competition that the railways have faced. Moreover, a financial pool is needed on these matters, just as the railways are expected to have a financial pool within themselves. Inevitably, there will still be some lines left which do not pay, and they will have to be helped out by lines which do pay, if and when the railways become a paying financial proposition, which personally I hope they will.

The Government really have suffered too much from dogma. I spent a lot of my time in the Labour Party in earlier years, and got myself disliked, by fighting against dogma and unrealistic doctrinaire things among the Socialists and in the Labour Party; and I do not regret it. But the biggest dogmatists of our day, the most doctrinaire people of our time, are this Government. It is a pity, because they are setting a bad example to the comrades. I want the comrades to be realistic, to be objective and to judge things on the merits of the case and in the light of the facts, and then to come to a conclusion; but the Government are setting them a bad example. They come to conclusions first and do not even face facts afterwards. They just drift into a muddle and into a mess.

I have been reading a book, possibly the last he wrote, by John Strachey, unhappily gone from among us, called The Challenge of Democracy. He does not deal with this matter in particular, but there are many lessons in it, and I recommend noble Lords on both sides to read it. You can get it for 3s. 6d. from Encounter. It is worth reading and compares Western with Communist democracies, and so on, and it has its relevance to this problem. The trouble with the Government is that they are anti-public ownership and anti-rail-that is their dogma at any cost. The problem now is how to fit rail and roads advantageously into the situation.

Air transport of course comes into it, though not to the same acute extent, but even in air transport the Government, for doctrinaire reasons, have deliberately unleashed private enterprise competition against the scheduled air services and other air services run by the public corporations: and the same thing is coming in regard to pipelines, too. It is a pity, because British European Airways, for example, are expected, possibly required, to run a lot of unremunerative traffic in the Highlands of Scotland—and the Islands and Highlands of Scotland must be taken care of. But when they have to do this, it is a bit rough to unleash private competition against them on other routes.

The importance of transport to our country is enormous: to passengers, to industry (for transport provides the arteries of industry), and the towns in the cost of provision of highway systems; and it means a lot to the country in amenity. My complaint against the Government is that in this matter they have no comprehensive idea of modernisation. The Socialists will be the last to object to true modernisation—we should be stuffy people if we did; but this is not modernisation. The Government have been going backwards in creating this destructive, cut-throat, useless competition. I am not against competition as such, but in this field, in so far as it has been practised by the Government, it is not good. For the sake of our country, for its well being, for the sake of the example we all want it to set the world, I beg of Her Majesty's Government to think, and to think objectively, once again. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to ask him one question? I ask it as one who was chairman of a road—rail conference whose agreed recommendations for a number of years actually determined the structure of transport in this country. It is this. Is there not a third alternative to either the kind of competition you have now or the complete measure of Government ownership and control which I think the noble Lord contemplates, and that is an attempt to secure a fairer basis of competition which would tend more than the present system does to divide between road and rail what is economically better for each of the two forms of transport? One of our recommendations was for taxation of roads which would equalise their burden as compared with the debt burden in respect of the great capital cost of the railways. That part of our recommendations of course ceased to have any effect whatever when the value of money changed as much as it has so that all our tax scales became irrelevant. But I suggest that this method represents a possible, partial alternative to the major choice which the noble Lord has in mind.


My Lords, I do not want to start another debate or even to continue one, because we want to hear the Parliamentary Secretary. But I very well remember the valuable public service the noble Lord rendered to the country in his chairmanship of that inquiry, and it was a useful thing which taught a great many lessons about the matter. I am not wedded to universal public ownership if it can be shown that it can be done in a better way. On the other hand, in the case of the railways you cannot get out of it; in fact, I do not think the Conservative Party would try to get out of it, because they would get nobody to buy them as things are, because it would not pay them. There may be room for co-ordination in a mixed system within limits. It may be possible.

Indeed, I conceded that within the radius of towns private local hauliers may well be the best chaps to do the job within those limits. But I do not think I would agree with the noble Lord in putting up taxation on road commercial transport to such an extent as to equalise their capital cost with the railways. That is not what I want to do because that will increase transport costs, which is the last thing we want to do. What I want is a fair deal for both of them, and I think if one were to try to lift the taxation on road commercial transport to such an extent—it would have to be a very great extent—that their capital costs would be equal to the railways, that would increase British Transport costs, and I do not think that would be a good thing.