HL Deb 26 February 1964 vol 255 cc1128-215

3.52 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like first of all to say how kind and thoughtful it was of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, to think of saying such kind words on my return. I hope that my nose may be now considered to be in good working order, although I am sorry to say that it is still the same shape as it always was and, unfortunately, your Lordships will therefore have to continue to look at it in that way. If I am to judge by the number of Motions and Questions and various Bills regarding transport that we have discussed over the last year or two, I must conclude that your Lordships consider transport as one of the most important topics of all, and I can see no reason to depart from that conclusion to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has on occasion assured us that he was a simple soul, and I am quite sure that the affection which he enjoys in this House is the greater for that. But it struck me to-day that he really has overdone the simplicity and spoiled his endeavour to be forward-looking, by starting from a position so backward-looking—it appeared to me to be based on re-reading a number of his own Party political pamphlets, which must have been published years and years ago—that I do not think he really caught up with the present at all, because I did not see much sign of his taking into consideration the developments of modern transport in recent years and their implication.

I am sure that the noble Lord will forgive me if, while taking up some of his points, I do not follow exactly the argument which he put forward, first, because the Motion is so wide and the scale of it is so enormous; secondly, because my noble friend Lord Blakenham is to come in at the end with some most interesting things to say; and, thirdly, because there is quite a lot that I myself want to say. If I possibly can, I want to make crystal clear the Government's approach to transport, to say something about the progress we have been making and, in particular, to go on to our plans for the future, even if in the process I cannot really hope to complete 100 per cent. coverage of my subject.

It seems to me that the best way to appreciate the significance of the total complex which we call transport is to try to quantify that significance for its more accurate assessment. I can only have a shot at it, starting from the point where transport costs amount to nearly one-tenth of the total cost of goods and services. If I take the year 1962, I do not think that I shall be far out if I say that total business expenditure on transport was something of the order of £3,000 million, and if we then add what private users might well have been thought to spend we get the figure for the whole nation's transport expenditure of somewhere around £5,000 million. That emphasises the importance of the subject, which my right honourable friend the present Minister of Transport appreciated when he came into office, and because of which he began a series of inquiries into almost every aspect of transport.

As I have pointed out before to your Lordships, we have had the work of the Hall Group, looking ahead over the next twenty years to see what the total needs of the country would be. We had the Committee under the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, to look at the ports, as a result of which a Bill will shortly be before your Lordships which no doubt will give us a better opportunity for detailed discussion than we have to-day. We have had the Report of the Jack Committee, which looked carefully and sympathetically at what is basically the social problem of rural buses. Following that, my right honourable friend set up a number of special studies in selected parts of the country, and now that these are complete we are engaged in consultation with local authority and bus operating interests to see what practical measures are best calculated to provide the answer. The requirements of urban bus services—though they, too, stem from the rapid increase of private car ownership and use—are quite different and form part of the whole urban problem to which I shall come back before long.

Then there is the inquiry taking place under the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, which is looking at the whole basis and working of the carriers' licensing system. We certainly expect this to help the Government to get an informed view of the part of road haulage in the complete pattern. I do not want to prejudice what the Committee will say or what conclusions the Government will reach, so I will say no more about that for the moment. As the noble Lord mentioned, we had also the appointment of Dr. Beeching to the Railways Board; and last year we had his own reshaping Report to which I shall return also shortly, as I shall, too, to what we have had most recently of all—namely, the Buchanan Report.

By saying all this right now, the point I am making is that we know more from this valuable series of reports, and have a better grasp of the basic elements of the nation's transport, than any Government have ever had before. It was no surprise to me (because it has happened before) that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said that we have had no Report on transport as a whole and its co-ordination, and that nothing should be done until we have. It is, of course, quite true that we have not had a Report on transport as a whole. In fact, it is deliberate that we have not, and I will tell your Lordships exactly why—apart from what appears to me to be the degree of procrastination and delay which would result from doing such a thing.

The way we see it, the co-ordination of the various bodies is something which the Government must achieve, not by a single act or inquiry but by determined and progressive application of their policies. It is the Government's job to guide the transport industry so that each part of it makes the best contribution it can to the economy—I had thought we were all agreed about that in May of last year—and in giving this guidance or creating this climate, if your Lordships prefer to call it that, there are four main objectives as we see them. They are these.

First of all, to develop a comprehensive, modernised system with each element able to exploit new technological advances to the full. That is a matter of investment control, and I should not have thought that the noble Lord opposite would have complained very much about that. Secondly, our aim is that each element in the overall system should play its proper part. Here is a possible source of difference, because I do not believe that this is something which can be settled by political theory but is something which will evolve through competition between the different elements, for each has its individual advantages. Thirdly, we want, despite what is often said opposite, proper and economic co-ordination—that is, co-ordination which will result from allowing the user freedom of choice in the interests of his own efficiency, and the operator freedom to provide that efficiency where he is best able to do so. It is only by co-ordination of that kind that the whole of the consumers' needs—needs of cost, speed and service—can be fully and satisfactorily met. The fourth, and most important, aim must be to serve the needs of the nation efficiently to help to achieve and to maintain prosperity; and, as a rider, to provide for individuals a way of enjoying it.

Those are the principles on which our transport policy is based. I will let the record speak for how they have applied in practice. I shall now go on to take the pieces of the whole picture in order to show how we have tackled them individually under a total policy which allows them to come naturally together in a co-ordinated whole. I come first to roads, because it is over roads that the Government have the most direct control. An inheritance of a road programme of £3½ million in 1951 was rather a mingy start. Although it rose to £5 million by 1952–53, we have expanded it very much since then. This year it will be £125 million; and in the year 1968–69 we should see £200 million a year being spent on roads. I should like to make quite clear that I am talking only of new roads and works of major improvement, leaving out maintenance and minor improvement; and I am referring only to central Government contributions from the Exchequer.

We have concentrated on three things: first, the strategic network to give 1,000 miles of motorway by the early 1970s, of which there are now 300 miles open and 110 miles building. Secondly, and complementary to that, is the improvement of trunk roads. Sometimes this is comprehensive, like the A.1, and sometimes it is by major individual schemes, like the Forth Bridge or the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel. Whichever kind it may be, planning is in progress now for this kind of interurban road development into the 1970s. Thirdly, there is increasing emphasis on improvement work in towns, where road building has to be closely integrated with local planning and development. We shall derive a good deal of benefit from the transport surveys which have either started or are in process of starting, but we are not holding up essential work in towns for them. Of this year's road programme £50 million-worth goes into the towns, and by 1970 it is planned that this will amount to £140 million.

My Lords, to argue, or attempt to argue, that spending this money in this way is in some way anti-social, or even anti-railway, or has some other undesirable connotation, is to adopt the attitude of Canute. It is to ignore the growth of private cars alone from 3 million to over 7¼ million in the last ten years, with the possibility of 25 million by 1980. The plain fact of the matter is that people want their cars and they want the roads on which to drive them. Therefore we have done our utmost to plan the best roads we can for them within the limits of the foreseeable resources and within the limits of the requirements of industrial transport. That is doing the best one can, having regard to the fact—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—that there are other limits which the increasing traffic, as it comes on to the roads, will impose on itself. The noble Lord said that I had said this before, and so I have. I am sorry that I did not think of it first. No doubt, had I done so I should be Professor Buchanan. But, picking up that point, at some stage in the future, willy-nilly, whether one likes it or not, it is by no means beyond the bounds of possibility that some form of physical limitation will have to be brought in, at any rate in the larger cities.

May I now turn to the public transport industry? Since 1947 this has been dominated by the nationalised industries. We inherited a large structure which was not only loaded with conflicting duties but which also had the unmanageable task of providing a co-ordinated system of public transport without the tools to do the job. Contrary to the noble Lord's opinion, our aim has, in fact, been to make nationalised transport work; and this was why the 1962 Act replaced the old British Transport Commission by the five separate Boards, each with a set task which it could manage. It is perhaps rather hard to realise that it is only just over a year ago that these Boards took up their responsibilities, because the results are already becoming clear. I do not think I am very wrong when I say that the new managements are already proving themselves by their keen, more competitive and efficient approach. In particular, I think there is a feeling already evident to those who have to do with the railways that the results of their enterprise are beginning to show.

Although it is true that many of the changes which were foreshadowed in the Reshaping Plan have not yet had time to have any real effect on financial results, 1963 saw a reduction of £17 million in the railway operating deficit. This came from economies and increases in efficiency, and also—and it is a fact which I agree happily—Dr. Beeching is now gaining the benefit of the forward-looking decisions of his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, to invest some hundreds of millions of pounds in getting rid of steam. Steam, my Lords, may have a great sentimental attraction, but it is expensive to operate, and the harvest of reduced operating costs from bringing in diesel and electric traction is now beginning to appear.

I was surprised—not that I want to make a lot of this point—to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, accuse my right honourable friend, or the Government, through him (I am not sure which), of being in some way anti-railway, because I think that a capital investment of £1,100 million since 1955—£110 million this year—all carefully spent on something which will do the railways some good on the way to financial success, is hardly to be described as an anti-railway attitude, particularly when the climate has been created for them to be able to progress. For my part I am somewhat surprised that the railways are not crossing out "B.R." and repainting on their stock "L.M.S.." which of course stands for "Let Marples Stay".

I always think, too, that it is a pity that the railways' positive proposals and developments for improved passenger services to attract the longer-distance traffic tend to be overshadowed by the closure proposals, although I do not propose to go into detail about them at the moment. But as I think this subject is bound to come up, I want to make one point to put closures in perspective. Many people regard the closure part of the Railways Board's plans as negative and destructive, and I think that this is false. I do not think you can regard any plans which are designed to reduce the burden on the taxpayer by some £30 million a year as other than positive. This, in fact, is what Appendix 2 of the Reshaping Report amounts to. The Government support the general principle of doing away with unremunerative passenger services, where this can be done without causing hardship to travellers or damage to the larger interests of the community; and if that is done we shall have a smaller, more compact and more efficient rail system.

Some people think—ignoring repeated Government statements to the contrary—that Dr. Beeching is sweeping away uneconomic services more or less at will. Nothing could be more wrong than that, either. Right from the beginning, when the Reshaping Report was published in March last year, the Government have made it clear that one of their main objects is to ensure that every case is given the fullest and most careful consideration. I want it to be very clear to your Lordships that each proposal is considered on its merits, and I tell your Lordships that this is, without any question of doubt, the way it is being done.

May I now switch from passengers to freight? The railways, the Coal Board and the coal trade are co-operating with a view to cutting costs by new arrangements for handling coal. Big depôts with the most modern mechanised equipment are being built at selected points, and the same kind of thing is going on to concentrate freight traffic at large goods depôts. I shall have some more to say about this when I come to the question of road and rail together. There is the introduction of the "merry-go-round" coal train, which moves coal on the conveyor belt principle from the pits to the new power stations, and is a most important part of the long-term contract the railways have fixed up with the Central Electricity Generating Board. The locomotive remains continuously coupled to the train which goes round a circular route, not necessarily having to stop completely either to fill or to empty.

The railways have also fixed up long-term contracts with six of the major oil companies, all of which guarantees more traffic over the next ten years at least, as well as taking it off the roads. Other possibilities like liner trains are coming along, so that the picture already is one of the railways setting out to do what they can do really well—that is, to move goods far, fast, safely, reliably and cheaply in train load quantities—and that, my Lords, so as to attract as much as they can of the long-distance traffic, is precisely what they should be doing in the second half of this century.

I know that it is very easy—although I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was extremely moderate about it to-day—to marshal a plausible argument about the need to direct freight traffic from the roads on to the railways. I know that people in the noble Lord's Party have often urged us to take this course, and so have private motorists who are slowed down by heavy loads on the roads. And it is easier still to marshal that argument if you ignore the facts of the matter. I have never been able to understand how any spectator can know from the superficial look of a load whether it is more suitable to travel by rail than by road, and I think we hear a good deal of ill-considered talk about that. I do not know who can tell at a glance how far a load is going, or whether it is even going between places where it could have gone by rail; or, whether, if it had gone by rail, it would have later moved by road from a railhead in a congested area which it may well be avoiding by travelling cross-country; or how they can know how much longer it might have taken, or how much more it might have cost.

Now what we do know, is that the average length of haul of a load by rail is 135 miles, and by road it is 20 to 25 miles. From that we know that there is obviously a large volume of traffic quite unsuited to rail, which it is in no way helpful for them to have. The Beeching Report shows clearly what I have already said: that the railways' prospects lie in capturing the large consignments over the longer distances; and I had thought that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, agreed thoroughly with that. At least he seemed to do so when he said last May [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249, col. 180]: I must say that I find it a very able contribution to the study of the fundamental economics of railway transportation. If there is to be a question of the direction of traffic or loads from road to rail, or even the reverse process, that itself poses the question exactly who is going to make the decision and what test he would apply to come to his answer. A whole lot of things influence decisions about the best form of transport for a given load, just as they do any other commercial decision; and if the decision turns out not to be a commercial one, then I want to know just who is to be responsible for the financial burden, not only on the individual but on industry as a whole. I know—and if we had not known before, we should know to-day, because the noble Lord has told us—that noble Lords opposite have views about the whole thing. Quite frankly, more than once in the past I have asked for answers to these questions, but so far I have had no luck. I hope that to-day we may fare a little better, and that perhaps the noble Lord himself, when he comes to wind up, or one of this noble friends, will tell us.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He has been talking about people who advocate directing loads from road to rail. Can he quote any noble Lord on this side of the House, or any Labour Member in another place, who has spoken about directing loads from road to rail?


I do not suppose that I can, my Lords.


That is putting up your own aunt sally and knocking it down.


No, my Lords. Perhaps if I had the chance I might be able to. But we have been much criticised for our policy (which I am explaining, probably rather slowly and rather badly, to your Lordships) of letting each form of transport do what it can do best; so that, by and large, the long-distance stuff will go efficiently by rail and the shorter-distance stuff will go by road. That, apparently, is wrong—so we have been told this afternoon; and we are criticised for not having co-ordination. If our way of doing it is not the right way, which noble Lords opposite say it is not, then they must have another way. I want to know what that is; because I have asked again and again, and, so far, noble Lords opposite have "ducked" the issue every time. I hope very much that before this afternoon is over they will have told us, in clear, categorical terms, if the natural development of transport, which is our policy, is wrong, just how they are going to achieve that very thing. Perhaps I have completely got the wrong sense of their remarks; but frankly, I do not think that I have.

My Lords, I do not want there to be any confusion between what I have been talking about and what we usually call "abnormal, indivisible loads". The vast majority of these, contrary to some people's opinion (including, apparently, that of the right honourable Leader in another place of the noble Lords opposite) will not go on the railways at all, because they will not go under the bridges or tunnels or through the stations. It is, however, perfectly possible and reasonable to do something about them, and we have already done it. No very wide, heavy or long load can move on the roads now without my Ministry's approval; and before that is given we have to be satisfied that the load cannot be re-designed or broken down or sent by some other means—and I want to tell your Lordships that these arrangements have been very successful. Most of the manufacturers who make these heavy loads now come to us and talk about the possibilities of road transport when their products are at the design or tender stage; and your Lordships will therefore easily see that there is a considerable difference between special measures of this sort and sweeping, generalised restrictions which might be placed on freight and loads moving in the ordinary way.

I must come for a moment to what we are proposing to do about traffic in towns. I will be as brief as I can, though I should have liked time to deal with it at length—in fact, it could well merit a whole speech to itself. It is the fact (although I completely acquit the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, of saying anything of the kind to-day; because he did not) that the Government have been accused of "funking Buchanan"—presumably because we have not come out overnight with a blueprint for rebuilding all the cities on two or three levels. I think that is a complete misunderstanding of Professor Buchanan's approach to the whole problem. One of the important themes of his Report is that transport needs and facilities of all kinds, for passengers and for goods, private and public, must be looked at as part of the whole planning of land use. If the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, would accept for the moment so brief an answer from me, that answers to a great extent his criticism about the mention of the cost.

I do not think it would be possible, until we have got to a much further stage, to be categoric and to say exactly what could be reckoned as the cost of Buchanan. It is tied up very much with the cost of redeveloping property in cities, which will have to be done in years to come—and some of it before very long—whether you are taking transport properly and fully into account, as we wish to do, or whether you are not. Quite frankly, I think that the noble Lord's reflection is not one which we should consider very justified at the present time. If, in rebuilding our cities, we are to obtain the full benefit of Buchanan's analysis—and, incidentally, before we are in a position to be able to count the cost—we shall have to adopt rather more sophisticated methods of town planning than the methods we are using now. We need to know more about the transport requirements of different land uses, of different levels of car ownership, of different income levels, and so on. If we tried to re-plan without that basic information, we should probably make some pretty costly, and possibly pretty ghastly, mistakes. That is why we are giving this precedence to these transport surveys. We have one well in hand now in London, and we are working away with local authorities to get them started in most of the other conurbations. Once we have got the facts, we can draw up the right plan; and when we can do that we can face the cost of them.

But the sheer volume of physical work involved in redeveloping the congested areas of cities is so great that it is bound to last over some decades, and not merely years. Rebuilding on Buchanan principles is bound to be a gradual process; and so for a long while to come, in a great many places, we shall have to concentrate on making the best use of the street pattern that we have—and by no means least in the interests of the public transport system. Buchanan himself emphasised the importance of this. It means the application of traffic engineering techniques, including such things as one-way streets, banned turns, waiting restrictions, controlled parking, tidal flow and so on. If these are properly used, they can achieve remarkable results—and London, where my right honourable friend is the traffic authority, shows us that clearly. The London Traffic Managements Unit set up in 1960 can, I think, claim the credit for having speeded up traffic during the evening peak on 40 miles of roads in Central London by about 14 per cent. in 1962, compared with 1958, even though the flow of traffic went up 19 per cent.; and it is at any rate hopeful to see that in 1962 the accident rate had gone down by 6 per cent. compared with 1959.

Having kept the traffic moving by what we have clone—and even possibly improved it here and there—I sometimes wonder, when people become too vituperative and at their most unintelligent in abusing my right honourable friend for the success of his efforts, whether they have ever contemplated the alternative. The alternative is that the traffic would by now have ground to a standstill. But I can tell your Lordships that it will not do so as long as we have anything to do with it. I can tell your Lordships that there is scope for yet more improvement by traffic engineering methods all of which will be designed to keep traffic flowing until the long-term solution can be brought into action. We are not at the end of our efforts in this way; we are only at the start of what can be done even in the shorter term.

My Lords, I do not think, particularly as I have been speaking for a long time, that the noble Lord will contest my view that possibly this is neither the time nor the place for a detailed debate on the Buchanan and Crowther Reports. So, apart from seizing the opportunity to pay my tribute to these good gentlemen and their colleagues, I will say only one thing more about them. The situation they tackle, of how cities can best come to terms with the car, is one that does not apply to us alone; but, in fact, applies to most cities in the Western World. No other country has solved it, and most (I do think I am not far wrong in saying) are not so far forward as we are. These Reports are therefore a major step forward, and they are likely to have—in fact, the Government are determined that they shall have—a profound effect on urban redevelopment up to and beyond the end of this century.

That ends the rather breathless (in more ways than one) review of the situation that the width of the noble Lord's Motion has rather forced me to make. I have been trying to show your Lordships, as shortly as I could, how we are tackling the different sides of transport both individually and, especially, together. I do not think that I care for the word "problems" of transport that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, uses in his Motion. Of course, there are snags that must be overcome in an industry that is so dynamic, so basic and has such an insatiable appetite for resources. But I should prefer to look on it as a challenge—an exciting challenge—to all our skills and experience; as a challenge to our economic wisdom and our alertness to new ideas in technology and planning.

I believe that the course we have adopted and which I have been describing is the right one, in that, first of all, the right "infrastructure" (if I may be allowed to use that modern word) is being planned and built; secondly, that we have the organisations and managements working to the right terms of reference; and, thirdly, that we are getting the right co-ordination through the proper interplay of forces and interests. We have an efficient balance between public and private enterprise, and we shall have a transport system which suits our needs and not a dictated one to which the community has to conform. My Lords, I still think that I am right in saying that that is what we are, by implication, offered as an alternative; and I think that, for once in his distinguished career, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, is dead wrong about this in his approach; as dead wrong as he is about the dogma; because I think in that long and distinguished career he will have surely learned that you can throw a dogma at a Party but you cannot make it stick. At any rate he cannot stick it on us. Never has so much been known about transport by so many—


And so little done.


—and never so much realistically planned for the future. I am not in the least complacent about that, because I realise that there is challenge in plenty to face. But I can tell you that we are in good shape to face it.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, a friend of mine, who sits in the other place, when I told him I intended to speak on the subject of transport, retorted: "Terrestrial transport, I assume you mean, on this occasion." To those who are accustomed to think that a Bishop's main concern is the exposition of the way to Heaven, it may seem strange that I should rise on this occasion to speak on so mundane and terrestrial a theme as the way to Waterloo or, for that matter, to the Wallops. I myself am not prepared to draw a rigid line of distinction between what we are pleased to call "the sacred" and "the secular". What can be more sacred than the human personality? It is because transport means the transport of persons or of commodities required to meet personal needs that I wish to say a few words in this debate.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that one of the factors contributing to the health and happiness of persons is the provision of adequate transport facilities. Upon this their ability to do their daily work depends, as does also their ability to fulfil their service to the community. Moreover, adequate transport facilities contribute to the building up of community life by enabling persons to meet with persons rather than to live in isolation one from another.

After the handing over of the Channel Islands by the Pope to the Bishops of Winchester at the end of the fifteenth century, it was a rare thing for many centuries for a Bishop of Winchester to visit those islands, partly owing to the difficulties of transport and, no doubt partly, not unnaturally, to the dread of the hazards of the voyage. To-day, thanks to air transport, I can reach this remote part of my diocese as quickly as I can reach Bournemouth on the crowded roads of Hampshire, and, I might add, with considerably less danger. I speak as an ordinary citizen. In the fulfilment of my daily duties I am as dependent on adequate transport and on adequate roads as is any other citizen of this country. We live in a Welfare State; and I would submit that in a Welfare State adequate roads are as important as adequate ambulances; adequate trains as important as adequate drains. Transport should be regarded as a public service no less than the Health Service. I have no vested interest in aeroplanes, trains, buses, or other modes of transport. My sole concern is that human needs may be adequately met.

My Lords, let me first turn for a few moments to trains. British Railways have my deepest sympathy. They have been facing an acute economic problem. There is a section in the Act by which British Railways were nationalised which insists that the railways must pay their way, taking one year with another. The necessity for a Beeching Plan was as obvious as has been its success up to date. But the point I wish to make is that in deciding whether or not a particular railway is to be closed, the final criterion ought not to be financial profit or loss, but service to the community; not: "Does this particular part of the railways system make ends meet?", but "Does this particular railway meet a human need that cannot adequately be met in other ways?"

The corollary of this is that, if British Railways, and those who are associated with them in making final decisions on such issues, are to be in a position to make a fair assessment of the situation, one thing is essential; that is, close consultation with the local authorities. And because railway closures inevitably accentuate traffic problems on the roads, already so acute, the question of railway closures should be considered by the Government in conjunction with those problems and not as an entirely separate matter by British Railways alone.

I hope that I shall not be accused of special pleading if, merely for the sake of illustration, I quote the example of the Alton—Winchester line, the closure of which is recommended by Dr. Beeching. Proper consultation with the local authorities, which we assume will take place, will reveal certain facts. First, the line is used by a considerable number of people who travel to London, and is likely to be used by an increasing number of commuters. If the line were closed, the majority of these people would either travel by car to Winchester station, where parking facilities are already stretched to the utmost, or, more likely, travel by car to London and add to the chaos of London traffic.

Secondly, the line is used by a very large number of schoolchildren every day. From one place alone on the line, 100 schoolchildren are brought by train to Winchester schools. Of course it will be said—quite rightly—that buses can be provided. This is true; but for those who know the traffic problems in the City of Winch ester the thought of a procession of buses coming into Winchester to deliver children to their schools and to collect them from their schools at a very busy time of the day to take them back to their homes, fills the mind with horror. Thirdly, the particular valley served by this railway is the centre of the cress-farming industry. Farmers, who on a very large scale grow watercress in this area, send their watercress daily to the Midlands and the North of England, and to Scotland. Cress has to be cut and marketed within 24 hours. The cress growers, alarmed at the possibility that this railway may be closed, have already got together with a view to arranging road transport; but I understand that it has been found impossible to fix up a satisfactory scheme. Fourthly, this particular line, linking up, as it does, with the main line from Alton to Waterloo, provides a valuable alternative route to London; and when, as happened recently, there is a breakdown or blockage on the main line from Winchester, via Basingstoke, to Waterloo, the Southampton boat trains, the Bournemouth expresses and the mail trains can be diverted by this alternative route.

A signalman at a station on the line, discussing with a friend of mine some of the reasons why, in his judgment, the line met a real human need, added, somewhat sadly, "But then I don't suppose Dr. Beeching knows". This may or may not have been unfair, but at any rate the illustration serves to underline the only point that I want to make on this particular respect—namely, that it is supremely important that, before any decisions are made regarding railway closures, there should be full consultation on the broadest basis with the local authorities.

I fully appreciate that in some cases buses may provide a suitable and economic alternative to trains, in which case, I should be the first to welcome buses as an alternative. But let us remember that if the railways are closed many more people will use cars. Buses and cars together will add to the chaos on the roads and to the formidable parking problems in our towns and cities; and also, one must foresee with regret, to the appalling number of road casualties. So far as buses are concerned, have we, I wonder, any real guarantee that an adequate bus service would pay more satisfactorily than the present railway service? The answer may well be, Yes; but it would seem to me that if the transport service is to be regarded as an essential public service, meeting a genuine human need, there is a strong case for the Government's providing adequate subsidies to enable a particular human need in a particular area to be met, whether by keeping open an existing railway, otherwise destined for closure, or by providing an alternative and adequate bus service.

I will turn for a moment to the traffic problems on our roads, which are already, as we know to our cost, acute and will be immeasurably increased as the result of the closure of many of our railways. Here again if I choose my own City of Winchester as an example, it is not because I wish to indulge in any special pleading, but solely that I may illustrate what can, of course, be illustrated from many other towns and cities throughout the country. This ancient city, with its narrow streets, has a particularly difficult problem to solve. The City Council have recently completed a series of surveys on the general lines of the Buchanan Report, and a development plan for dealing with traffic problems in the centre of the city is now being prepared by the City Council, in association with the County Council. Over ten years ago, in order to relieve the streets in the centre of the city a western by-pass was proposed by the City Council. The scheme, however, was rejected by the Minister of Transport, and an alternative scheme was recommended in its place. This was more than ten years ago, and nothing has happened since. So far, neither scheme has been implemented, although at last, after ten years' frustration and delay, it is now officially stated that work will start on one of the schemes late this year.

It is this lack of encouragement from the Ministry of Transport that is filling so many of our local authorities with despair. In the case of the City of Winchester, the carrying out of the new traffic proposals is dependent on substantial Government grants; for the City of Winchester, like all non-county boroughs and urban districts, not only has to bear the whole cost of its own local unclassified roads without any grants of any kind, but also has to bear its share of local unclassified roads in the rural parts of Hampshire through its contribution to the county rate, a responsibility from which, by a strange anomaly, county boroughs are exempt. I understand that year after year the Association of Municipal Corporations has pressed the Ministry of Transport to put right this unjust double burden for unclassified roads, but so far the Ministry have not felt able to give relief by means of some Government grant. I understand that the Government collect between £600 million and £700 million a year in revenue from motor and fuel taxation. Would it not be reasonable for the Government, out of this large fund, to make grants more readily available to local authori- ties, to enable them to carry out their planning proposals, when approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, without delay, before traffic completely chokes our towns and cities?

In conclusion, my Lords, I would repeat that, in my judgment, a comprehensive transport service must be regarded in a Welfare State as being as essential as the Health Service, and I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to pay the most serious attention to two outstanding needs: first, the need for a wider and fuller measure of consultation with the local authorities, to ensure that the needs of the community may be adequately met; and, secondly, the need for more generous grant-aid to assist those who are deeply concerned in the solution of these two closely related problems—the problem of transport and the problem of traffic on our roads.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I may be granted the indulgence your Lordships so courteously give to those who are privileged to address your Lordships on a first occasion. As with many other noble Lords, however, this is not the first time I have spoken in this Chamber. Indeed, it will be within the recollection of certain noble Lords that there were a number of occasions, about eighteen years ago, when I considered it to be my duty to speak in the early hours of the morning to criticise certain Statutory Instruments. Indeed, during the Committee stage of the 1946 Finance Bill, after an all-night sitting, I rose to speak at 9.15 a.m. and was still going strong at 10 a.m. I would at once reassure your Lordships that I am not proposing to speak on this occasion more than the customary time for a maiden speech.

Before I make certain observations about what I think should be done to accelerate the action needed to meet the rapid traffic expansion now taking place in the country as a whole, and particularly in London and the South-East, so comprehensively analysed in the Crowther and Buchanan Reports, I should like to disclose, as is customary, a personal interest. I am a director of the A.C.V. Company, the builder of London buses through its subsidiaries. This Company recently amalgamated with the Leyland Corporation, which group, as your Lordships are aware, has created, quite unnecessarily, I think, a certain amount of agitation in the minds of our good friends and Allies on the other side of the Atlantic, because it is continuing to do something that it has done for a very long time—that is to say, export buses to Cuba. The requirements of the existing traffic of the Metropolis far exceed the present facilities provided for it; … the rapid increase in the traffic is constantly adding to the amount of inconvenience and loss caused; … it has become indispensable to make provision in this respect for the future on a great and comprehensive scale, and with the least possible delay. Those, my Lords, were the words of a Select Committee of the House of Commons that reported in 1855, well over a century ago.

The thinking behind that statement led directly to the creation of what is now the London Underground railway system, whose centenary was celebrated last year. Is it too much to hope that, just as that Select Committee's Report resulted in immediate and revolutionary thinking, followed by quick action, the same thing will happen again now that Crowther and Buchanan have shown the way? The Parliamentary Secretary referred to this "challenge of our time". It was a challenge that was met pretty successfully by our ancestors a hundred years ago. I very much hope that the example of our forbears will be followed as energetically by us, because, unless things move far more quickly than they have done in the past, our traffic situation will deteriorate again into a far worse position than it was three or four years ago before my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport energetically tackled and partially and temporarily solved some of the more pressing traffic problems that were besetting us, more especially in London.

I would, if I may, as one who lives, works and spends most of his time in Central London, pay a tribute to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport for the way in which he has got the increased amount of traffic moving more quickly, and, in particular, for the courageous way in which he has introduced meters, which have proved so beneficial to those of us who have to move about frequently in carrying out our various activities in Central London.

At the present time, in London, some five years elapse from the time a scheme is approved in principle to the time when engineering works can begin. In cases where the scheme has not been approved in principle, it may be anything up to eight years from when the design work begins to the start of work on site, or up to ten years before traffic uses the improvements. Since traffic will be doubled in ten years' time, it is obvious that this period of time must somehow or other be shortened. I should like to ask my noble friend whether, when he comes to reply, he can tell us what the Government intend to do to reduce this long period of time.

The greatest delay at present, how ever, is caused by the Government, I regret to say, in the failure to let the London County Council know sufficiently in advance whether or not grants will be approved for future schemes. I believe I am correct in stating that at present the London County Council simply do not know for certain whether schemes of the most urgent nature which really ought to have been put in hand years ago, are going to be eligible for grant for the preliminary work to be put in hand now for benefit to traffic in the mid-'seventies. I shudder to think of the extent of the traffic stagnation and the chaos there will be in the late 'sixties and the early 'seventies if the present arrangements for approving grant in aid are not immediately revised. Again, I would ask my noble friend when he comes to reply to tell us what is being done to overcome the present serious delay that takes place. Decisions about grant in aid which should have been made three or four years ago for traffic benefits in three or four years' time have still not been made. This delay in the making of decisions urgently needed is, indeed, most serious.

Take the case of flyovers and underpasses. The great advantage of these forms of construction is obvious, as anyone who has visited many of the principal cities of Europe recently well knows. What have we to offer in our great city of London? Well, we have the Hammersmith, Chiswick and Hyde Park flyovers; and there is that useful conversion at Aldwych of an underpass to the Strand, previously used by trams, which was already there. That is all. What a dismal record this is compared with what has been done on the Continent! And what of the future? A flyover at Harrow Road is on the way; and I believe there is to be one, possibly, but not for certain, in a few years' time at Old Street. So far as I know the position, that is all. Is that not a very dreary and uninspiring prospect? My Lords, I am sure it must be agreed on all sides that this is not the way to deal with London's most pressing traffic problems.

I know the Government may well say that flyovers and underpasses are costly—so they are—and that, in view of all the other calls on national expenditure, for hospitals, education, defence, pensions, nationalised industries, and so on, the money is simply not there. But surely the huge financial commitments of the Government are based on increased productivity arising from greater efficiency: and an important factor in increased productivity and greater efficiency must be better, not worse, communications. If millions of commercial vehicles are having only 50 per cent. utilisation because of traffic stagnation, and if millions of people, through failure to improve communications sufficiently fast, are only working at 75 per cent. efficiency, where is the money coming from to earn the foreign exchange to keep our balance of payments correct, as well as to pay for our Welfare State of increased benefits planned for the future? Surely, this must mean that expenditure on communications must be of the very highest priority. It is a major cornerstone in the economic planning for the future of the country's programme of expansion. Apart from these estimates made by Buchanan in his Report, as I think your Lordships probably know there have been various other estimates made, running from £500 million a year to £1,000 million a year as to the direct cost on our national economy of transport delays and road accidents. This waste surely must be reduced. The only way it can be reduced is by wise, increased expen- diture on road and rail improvements, rapidly executed.

Earlier on in my speech I referred to last year being the centenary of London's Underground railway system. It is quite remarkable how all over the world, whether it be across the Atlantic in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg and the other great cities of the United States and Canada, or, indeed, in the Communist cities like Moscow, Leningrad, Warsaw and Budapest, or in Europe in Stockholm, Milan, Madrid and other cities, or in Asia in Tokyo and other Japanese cities, many miles of new underground and metropolitan railways are now being built, and many hundreds of miles more are about to be built in the next few years in an endeavour to solve the difficulties of urban transportation. Here in London, as we all know, the Victoria—Walthamstow Underground line extension is now being constructed. But, surely, that is not enough.

For a long time now plans for Underground railways extensions have been prepared by the London Transport Board, which, if implemented now, would be quite invaluable in relieving surface traffic in the future. Could I ask my noble friend this: Will the Government give an assurance that, as soon as the equipment is available and the men have finished tunnelling in the Victoria Line extension, they will be transferred to other Underground extension work, particularly in South London? If, however, there is to be continuity of work—and it is far better and cheaper that there should be—then the Government will have to give the green light for the go ahead this year.

A decision is urgently needed on this matter, as on the clearing of the railway bottlenecks outside London Bridge, which are now like Hyde Park Corner used to be before the present improvement had taken place there. I understand that the benefits that could be obtained for railway traffic at this place would be very similar to the benefits that we can all see have been obtained for road users resulting from the improvements that have taken place at Hyde Park Corner. If this is indeed the case, then why, your Lordships may well ask, has this work not been put in hand long ago? The answer, as usual, is finance. It is just not an economic proposition for the railway bottlenecks to be removed and for the Underground to be extended if the Railways Board and the London Transport Board have to amortise the capital and pay the necessary interest. I would suggest, however, that grant in aid should be made available for such capital schemes from general taxation, exactly as grants are given for road improvements and extensions. Then operations and track maintenance could and should be self-financed on a profitable basis. It is surely necessary for the good health of our communications in London that this work in connection with the railways be put in hand at once, as were the Hammersmith Flyover and the Hyde Park—Park Lane improvements recently.

Your Lordships are aware, of course, that a great deal of planning and thinking about London's traffic has taken place, and is now taking place. There was the Report in 1959 by the Nugent Committee on Road Development and then, of course, there have been the recent Crowther and Buchanan imaginative Reports. A London traffic survey is now being carried out, as well as a separate study of the South-East region. Then there is a standing conference on London regional planning, and the London Traffic Management Unit is hard at it all the time. There is still another committee planning passenger transport for London.

My great fear is that these various planning committees will provide the Treasury with heaven-sent reasons for delaying action until each committee has reported and then, of course, each Report will be out of date and a start will have to be made all over again. With such a possibility in prospect, may I again emphasise these words of that House of Commons Select Committee Report of 1855, already given to your Lordships: With the least possible delay". Let us hope that the Government will take quicker and even more vigorous action than did our forbears, and quicker action than that taken recently with such success by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport.

In conclusion, I will, if I may, turn for a moment from railways in London to roads in the country. There is an urgent need to lessen the present dangers and uncertainties that are inherent on those country roads where there are three lines of traffic. Anybody who drives on such a road, and pulls out from his near side into the middle lane to overtake slower moving traffic, may at any time find himself confronted with another car some distance ahead pulling out from traffic coming in the opposite direction. One car or the other may be able to get back into its own near side conveniently and without cutting in before a head-on collision takes place. Far too often, to avoid an accident, dangerous cutting in becomes necessary, and at night time, when the speed of on-coming vehicles is in the glare of headlights much more difficult to assess, there is a much greater danger of head-on collisions and serious accidents. This uncertainty and need for good judgment by a driver could, I suggest, be overcome if for distances of at least a mile unbroken white lines alternated.

Let us, by way of example, take a road running North and South. For a mile or more a white line could be marked for north-bound traffic on the near side, so that that traffic must continue in a single line. On the other side of the road, the south-bound traffic would have on its near side a broken line, thus allowing vehicles to overtake one another. After a mile or more, the near side white line of the northbound traffic would become broken to allow the north-bound traffic to overtake, while the south-bound traffic would then be confined to a single line. What is new about this suggestion is having the method of marking both the unbroken and the broken white lines for the whole length of the road, instead of only in a few places as at present.

In the interests of road safety, I therefore urge the Government to make it compulsory on all roads where there are three lines of traffic, and where there is no 30 m.p.h. speed limit, that unbroken and broken white lines be alternately marked, as I have suggested. The cost is infinitesimal compared with the great advantage that would be gained by removing the dangers of errors of judgment by drivers, caused by uncertainty as to whether it is safe or unsafe to overtake. It is less than thirty years since the first white lines appeared upon our roads and, at the same time, the placing of the red letter "L" on cars driven by learners. I can place that date accurately because over 28 years ago when I made my maiden speech in another place these things were innovations, so I asked for the indulgence of that House if I "inadvertently crossed the white line as I had not the advantage of a letter 'L' upon my person fore and aft". If, therefore, this evening I have inadvertently crossed double white lines, perhaps driven the wrong way up a one-way street, or perhaps turned right when I should not have done so, I trust that I may be forgiven by your Lordships, and not disqualified from the privilege of again addressing this House on some future occasion.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, if, by any chance, there were ever a maiden speech in your Lordships' House which was a downright bad speech it would still be the duty of the Member following to congratulate the speaker on an interesting and enjoyable maiden speech. It is my extreme good fortune that I have not been placed in such a position. The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, declared an interest and then proceeded to demonstrate that, in so declaring, he had a knowledge which came from that interest and which he proceeded to impart. And by no stretch of the imagination could he be accused of having "pushed" an interest. I congratulate him most sincerely on his maiden speech.

He said that he would be brief, and he referred to a previous occasion when he spoke in this Chamber. I would say to the noble Lord that we look forward to hearing from him on many occasions, and if what he has given us to-day is the quality of speech we are to have from him we would encourage him to take all the time he wants, although not necessarily at nine-fifteen in the morning. He also said that he hoped he had not turned right. I do not think there is any danger of his being accused of that from these Benches. In fact, if he had been congratulated by a right honourable friend of mine in another place he would have been able to say with enthusiasm: "Thank you, brother."

The Parliamentary Secretary started off in a way which was very different from a gentleman who was very much in the news this morning, who at the conclusion of an adventure in the ring, said in rather boastful fashion: "I am still the prettiest". The Parliamentary Secretary apologised that his appearance after his treatment was still the same as before—and so he was much more modest than the "Louisville lip"—but having given us modesty in relation to his personal appearance, he then decided that Cassius was, after all, quite a good one to follow: because when he spoke collectively of the Ministry he said: "We are the greatest champions of the lot". Like Cassius, he said it as if he believed it, and the fact that nobody else seemed to believe it did not seem to disconcert him at all. That does not surprise me; nor does it surprise me to hear him talk so enthusiastically about the need for co-ordination. Because, after all, a Government which in recent months has found it possible to acquire a great belief in the merits of planning; which, even after the Queen's Speech, has found it possible to reform the hire-purchase law, and which is now tackling, albeit not so enthusiastically as some people would have wanted, the abolition of resale price maintenance; which accepted overnight the proposals in connection with university education, notwithstanding the fact that the cost is estimated to run into some thousands of millions of pounds, and which has given approval in principle to the Buchanan Report, obviously finds the acceptance of co-ordination at this late stage quite a small additional thing to take on.

I had intended to start off by saying that I wanted to speak briefly, and particularly in relation to Scotland; and I had intended to say that I did not consider that the Scottish problem differed in principle from the problem of the rest of the United Kingdom but rather in degree. After I heard my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth introducing the debate, pointing out the particular problems which abound in London, I realised that there is certainly some difference in degree, because here the problem which apparently faces the Government is the possibility of restricting the use of private cars so that people use one form or another of public transport. The recognition of such a restriction has not, I think, even in this debate, been confined to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—others have either said or hinted at the same sort of thing. Yet the same Government that is faced with that problem here is adopting, in the case of Scotland—and many other parts of the United Kingdom—a solution whereby if people do not have motor ears they will not be able to travel at all.

I hope that, before this debate is concluded, Scotland and places with similar transport problems will have something better from the Government than they have had to date, because we have statements made by one Minister and then by another in complete contradiction to those made by another member of the Government. Recently a deputation from Scotland saw the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport. They came away very well pleased with the assurances which they thought they had been given, in private, at that meeting. No sooner had they expressed their satisfaction with these assurances than the Government denied that the assurances had been given. Then, a little later on, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who had previously praised the Beeching Report, stated, in the most definite announcement that has so far been made in relation to the rail policy in Scotland, that many of the proposals in the Beeching Report would not be put into operation for many years, and that other lines would run for one, two, three, or even more years. It is perhaps part of the injustice which is inflicted on England that no such announcement in relation to areas in England or Wales has been made by the Minister of Transport, and it is perhaps ominous in relation to this announcement made on behalf of Scotland that almost immediately afterwards it was emphasised, "But the last decision is with the Minister of Transport".

The Parliamentary Secretary (and I think I am not doing him an injustice if I say this) paid only lip service to co-ordination, because Government policy shows no real evidence of any co-ordination, or of any desire for co-ordination. They first of all gave complete blessing to the Beeching Report; then, when public reaction came in, it was rut forward that certain things might not necessarily be done: that the fact that they had been stated by Dr. Beeching did not mean they were the final decision on the matter, and that they had to be approved by the Ministers. The undertaking was given by the Under-Secretary of State that no railway in Scotland would be closed until there was some alternative means of transport. Then, later on, we have the Buchanan Report dealing not with the whole of the road transport problem but with very important parts of it. No one knows what it is going to cost, but one thing is quite certain: that the cost of meeting the road transport problems of this country is going to involve a burden on the community very much greater than any deficiency which can possibly be foreseen on the railways.

From that point of view I welcome very much the statement which was made by the right reverend Prelate, that transport, whether it be roads or railways or any other form of transport, in this day and age should be operated from the point of view of being a public service; and I think that at the end of the day the Government of this country, whether the present Government or its successor, may find that the most short-sighted policy would be to abandon railways without finding out what the cost of the alternative is. The cost of the alternative is not just the cost of making the new roads or widening and improving existing roads. It is the cost in life and loss of working hours that will arise from the congestion on even improved roads.

The Parliamentary Secretary, when he was in his boasting mood about the Ministry of Transport being the greatest that ever was, departed very slightly from that theme when he said that he thought that instead of the letters "B.R." on the railways there should be substituted the letters "L.M.S.", and these he translated for us as "Let Marples stay". It was a peculiar statement for him to make, because starting a sentence with the word "Let" pre-supposes that somebody has been suggesting he ought to go. I agree that certain people are of the opinion that the country could bear with a certain degree of equanimity Mr. Marples's departure, but I did not think his Parliamentary Secretary would admit the possibility. I suggest there is nothing wrong with the letters on the rolling stock at the present time, and if the Government carry out the policy adumbrated by Dr. Beeching it will be even more appropriate that the letters "B.R." should stay, because they will stand for "Beeching's Remnants". I think that is much more to the point than putting up propaganda for the gentleman to whom his Parliamentary Secretary found it necessary to refer as the "present Minister of Transport", again bringing in a certain doubt as to whether Mr. Marples was here to stay or not.

However, the importance of the problem is not the individual who happens to be Minister of Transport it is the policy which is being carried out. It is not my business here to suggest that nothing has been done during the period of the present Government. Obviously, a great deal has been done, and in justification of the Ministry the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, referred to the fact that since 1955 the Government had invested £1,100 million in the railways, as if this was something for which the Government should take credit. I suggest that the only reason the Government have during that time spent £1,100 million on railways is because they have not found any way of keeping them going without incurring that expenditure, They paid it out not because they wanted to, but because they had no alternative policy during that time. When the noble Lord claimed credit for the result of the change of policy in saving some £17 million, and paid a certain tribute, and a well-deserved tribute, to Dr. Beeching's predecessor, now sitting with us, I thought he was perhaps less than fair, because it seems to me that a great deal of the £17 million arises from the expenditure undertaken in the time of Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and not so very much from what has been done in Dr. Beeching's time.

I think that whether the Government intend to use it or not, the policy that is needed is definitely the policy of co-ordination. What was wrong about Beeching was that we got Beeching in isolation, a decision on what could be done to make the railways pay without having any information as to the cost of the alternatives. And while it may be true that it was impossible for the Government to do nothing while a comprehensive survey was made of the whole programme, the fact remains that there can be no proper solution of the transport problems until the subject is looked at as one whole problem, or one whole challenge, call it what you like. But you cannot deal with the railways in isolation, any more than you can deal with certain roads in isolation, or with the services to be rendered to the community by air services in isolation. If there is any policy being put forward from these Benches, and if there is a policy which would be put into operation by Members on these Benches, it would be a policy of co-ordinating the transport system, not because we think it is a nice word but because it is a policy in which we believe.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, before say anything else, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, on what was really a very distinguished maiden speech. "Maiden" I think is a very inappropriate term to apply to it, because he showed himself to be a very experienced speaker, far more so than some that we hear in your Lordships' House occasionally, including myself. I was very glad indeed to hear him advocate the scheme of the alternate continuous white lines on three lane roads. This is a proposal I have been advocating for years. I hope it will be listened to from him with a little more success than it has been listened to from me.

The terms of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, are so wide that if we were to include everything that they implied we should probably have a four-day debate, but I am going to confine myself to one aspect only, and that is what is popularly known as the commuter traffic. I dislike that term very much, partly for its own sake and partly because I rather tend to get confused with the word "computer", and I am not always quite certain which I am talking about. However, I hope your Lordships will be able to make out which it is.

This problem is growing more and more severe every day, and it will grow even more severe as these enormous office blocks are put up all over London without any architectural value but with immense capacity. There are three ways of getting from outside London into it: either by car, by Underground or bus, or by a combination of the last two. Very soon the only way of getting to one's destination in the middle of London will be by helicopter.

Let us first look at cars. I do not think one can blame too much the inadequacy of the roads in London, because after all cars are aiming for every part of this city, and what might be termed urban motorways are not for those who are going to London, but for those who are travelling through it. A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the fact that so many cars come in, each car with only one person in it. But how is one to solve that problem? Let those who criticise these one-man-to-a-car drivers put themselves in the same position and think what they would do. Suppose they were coming from outside London. Would they put an advertisement in the local newspaper saying that they were travelling up to a certain part of London and asking for passengers? I think it would be most unlikely that they would get anybody except from their immediate neighbourhood, and even then, they probably would not be going to the exact part of London as the driver himself. So I do not think they can be blamed for this state of affairs.

There has been serious talk—it was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—of preventing private cars from entering London at all except by special permit. But what is the alternative? Of course, there is only one—public transport. But public transport is loaded to its full capacity already in the rush hour. The Underground could not possibly run more trains: Underground trains are already running almost within sight of each other, and it would be impossible to increase the traffic there. The same applies to the buses. The only way of increasing Underground transport would be to duplicate the lines so that you have fast through trains stopping only two or three times on the way to and from the centre of London—in fact, a double track. But that would be an extremely costly undertaking and would really be quite impossible. Then, if we are to have public transport as the only way of getting into and out of London, we shall have the problem of parking space on the borderline. We should have to have immensely increased parking space at every station which was going to accommodate the increased traffic.

What, then, is the solution? To my mind, there is only one—namely, allowing more people to live where they work, I think that the policy of the London County Council in the past has been mistaken in so strictly segregating the residential from the commercial or business areas. I have a cousin who lives in what is classified as a residential area. He happens to be a chartered accountant by profession. He had to get special permission from the London County Council to use some rooms in his own house for the purpose of his business. He got that permission; later there was a great deal of difficulty, but I will not go into that now. I personally think that a far wiser policy would be to make these borderlines between the residential and business areas far more flexible; and, in particular, when large new business and office blocks are being built, I think it would be a good thing to make half of them into flats and to let the flat go with the job, so that those who work in the buildings can live in them at the same time. That would save an enormous amount of travelling.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is precisely what is being done in the City of London now, with the assistance of the London County Council, in the Barbican? Also I think, to do justice to the London County Council, he should acknowledge that in every metropolitan borough, most of which are commercial and industrial, the London County Council have built large numbers of dwellings.


My Lords, I am most glad to hear that from the noble Lord. I had not realised it, and I am happy to hear that it is being done. This certainly is a problem which has to be dealt with soon, because there is no doubt that the rush-hour traffic is getting so heavy that shortly it will come to an absolute standstill.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has said in his denial and defence, I feel that the Government are funking Buchanan. He said that he did not feel that this was an occasion for a detailed debate on Buchanan. Perhaps that is some measure of the way the Government are, as it seems to me, shying away from this matter. The Government tell us that they want more facts and that they are having these transport surveys made. That is a good thing. It is indeed an admirable empirical approach. But I cannot help feeling that the Government are, in fact, adopting the minimum of the sets of alternatives which Buchanan put before them.

As an example, straight away they have rejected the idea of Crowther agencies. Crowther regarded these agencies as essential to implementing any set of Buchanan proposals. Again, the notes that the Ministry sent out in January to local authorities seem to me to be only short-term palliatives. Nothing has been said to local authorities about what attitude they should take towards the plans that they already have—whether these should be scrapped or what they should do about them. It seems to me that the whole basis of what the Government are doing is really that of the short-term palliative, and that the better use of existing roads and public transport simply is not enough. When the Buchanan Report first came out, one of the greatest experts that we have on transport problems, Professor Alan Day, indicated that he felt that the Government had already failed their initial test, and had rather funked matters of public ownership and control that were needed for the complete reconstruction that is necessary. I cannot help feeling that an opportunity is being muffed.

The towns simply cannot take the traffic without radical replanning, so why cannot the Government give some indication that they are willing to implement the fuller rather than the more meagre of Buchanan's alternatives?

Again, while the question of just improving what we now have is important, it is not enough. More and better roads, and better parking facilities, are things that we must push on with now. Yet in themselves they simply are not enough. It appears to me that this is all that the Government have in mind. We cannot spread out our towns. We must try to keep some sort of distinction between town and country, for there is very real danger of subtopia. This means that we must implement the bolder rather than the lesser of the proposals. With this goes the whole redevelopment of the urban structure of the country. Why cannot we do these two things together? The noble Lord spoke of challenge. Here is a challenge, if ever there was one. But we are not going to meet this challenge merely by saying that we must get more data and more facts, and ending up by implementing only the minimum proposals.

I should like now to examine what, to me, are the central issues of Buchanan. The first is the Crowther agencies; and the second is the cost of the whole thing. Crowther thought that a new executive agency was essential. He thought that what has to be done cannot be done with the existing machinery. The Government think it can be done; they think that we should wait and see. Again, this is no doubt a good empirical approach, but we all know that the whole planning machinery creaks in the most hopeless way, and that unless we take it by the scruff of the neck and reform it we are going to get nowhere.

The Government feel that local authorities, with a revised grant structure, with a little guidance from the centre, and with more staff and more expert staff, can do this job. The Minister feels that by dividing the responsibility—that is to say, as he thinks, putting the redevelopment of the urban areas on one side and the reorganisation of the traffic on the other one is going to make a nonsense of one of Buchanan's central ideas; namely, that there must be a local choice of the balance which he envisages between the use of the motor car and the use of the town. The Government feel that by making this division of responsibility one shatters the integration of land use and traffic planning. The Government again feel that one spoils the chances of at the same time dealing with traffic and rebuilding our towns. In other words, the Government consider that the Crowther agencies would be a sort of remote and unrepresentative superstructure.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Government are right on this? Crowther thought that one could not get the things I have mentioned in regard to the integration of redevelopment of towns and traffic without having these new central agencies. From what I have said of the way a great deal of local planning is going at the moment, and the way it creaks and groans along, I cannot help feeling that Crowther is right. In any case, from the local government point of view Crowther is not depriving local authorities of their present planning powers. The proposal is that it should oversee and co-ordinate them, to make possible the comprehensive planning that is essential in those urban conurbations where there is an overlap in local authorities. Though Crowther does not mean damaging local authorities in any way, it implies virtually a complete revolution in Government and local government structure and in the sort of powers and duties of Government and the relation between private and public property. In fact, what it implies is a complete shake-up of all the great problems which are central to our times. Therefore, in rejecting the idea of the Crowther agencies, I cannot help feeling that the Government, are dead wrong.

The second aspect of Buchanan on which I want to comment is the question of cost. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, deplored the fact that there had not even been any informed guesses by Buchanan. Well, in the Observer last Sunday Mr. Foster, one of our greatest experts in this field, did make an informed guess. He said that he thought the total cost of Buchanan might be £18,000 million.


Was that an estimate for the whole country?


As I understand it, the estimate was for the whole country. I am bound to say that I think it is on the low side. It has already been mentioned in the debate that the cost of accidents and the slowing up of traffic is something like £500 million a year. If one writes off that, figure of £500 million a year, one has paid for the £18,000 million in 36 years. In any case, we are all thinking in terms of 40 to 50 years for this redevelopment proposed by Buchanan.

Further, Philip Redfern, of the Central Statistics Office, has suggested that, with the existing building apparatus and existing techniques, the whole of the United Kingdom—that is to say, buildings not of historical importance—could be rebuilt in 30 years. I cannot help feeling that, with the immense resources we have at our disposal, if we can, indeed, rebuild the whole of this country in 30 years, and if we can pay for Buchanan on Mr. Foster's informed guess in 36 years, then this is not at all a frightening prospect. Take the two schemes where Buchanan does make a guess: Leeds, £90 million; and Newbury £3 million or thereabouts. It is suggested that if one takes those figures they amount to something like £3 per head per year for another 50 years. Again this is tiny. I wonder what the men who built the great cathedrals would have thought of the kind of money we are prepared to put into public works? I feel that they would have thought it pretty fainthearted to boggle at this sort of sum of £3 per head per year, or at writing off £18,000 million in 36 years. It is not a really big sum. We get terribly inflated ideas about the frightening nature of sums of this magnitude. My point is that it is not really such a big sum after all.

My next point is on the right method of paying for it. Part of this, I admit, is a betterment problem. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, raised this matter. But I think that perhaps too much is made of the whole question of betterment. People are too frightened by it. They say, "You cannot do this", or "We are inhibited from doing that, because of the tremendous cost of land." I do not think that this has anything to do with it. Land in any given context is neither dear nor cheap; it is what it costs—that is the measure of it. Land in a place where people want it will always be dear. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, if the Americans want to drive a road straight across the most valuable parts of their land they do it, and be damned to it!, and they pay for it. I do not think the cost of land is such an inhibiting factor after all.

But what I feel is the crux of the matter is that the motor car, or motor transport in general, is not paying its fair whack of the costs. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that we spend something like £5,000 million a year on transport. Somebody else suggested—not this evening, but in some other place—that we spend something like £1,000 million on new cars. If transport is costing us £5,000 million, and if we spend £1,000 million, or very near it, on new cars, surely this is indicative of the fact that buying a motor car is only half the cost. You must have a garage and you must have the ancillaries that go with it. The idea has grown up that you can have a motor car and that is the full cost. But that is not so; it is only half the cost. This is where we must find the money to pay for this tremendous reorganisation which we must undertake. There are various other means by which we can make sure that the motor car pays for itself. Electronic computers can be devised, so that you pay for the road you use according to whether it is a crowded road or an uncrowded road. The car parks and meters could be increased in those parts of towns which are dear, and so on. But, at any rate, the cars themselves can, and indeed must, pay for the cost of this.

My Lords, I want to end with a plea to the Government to do more. As the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, said, it is not at all clear what they are proposing to do. At any rate, what they are proposing to do—if, indeed, one can make it out—is the minimum of Buchanan's proposals rather than the maximum. I see the noble Lord shaking his head, but I shall be most interested to hear him explain how it is not the minimum, when he comes to wind up. They are setting in motion transport surveys; but why can they not now set in motion a plan for the location of industry, without which the whole of this traffic planning is going to be void?

Also, it seems to me that not enough has been made on the point put forward by the Financial Times the other day, which is that new road systems ought to be much more part of the economic strategy of the country. For instance, we had a debate on the location of industry the other day, covering the prob- lem of how you stop people from wanting to come into what is now called the "coffin". This is an aspect of economic strategy which new road systems can help. Again, though we may not be going into the Common Market in the immediate future, I imagine, or at least I hope, that there will come a time when we are part of the European system. This is going to draw traffic down, again. In ten years' time we are going to have a Channel Tunnel system, and this implies using our road system to put people up North so that we do not get a colossal bottle-neck down South.

My second point is on public transport. I was very sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, say that he did not want to see public transport subsidised. On the other hand, I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester say that he did want it subsidised. I should like to see it subsidised. I think it is the only way of encouraging people to use it. After all, what is the Victoria Line if it is not a subsidised line? We know it is going to cost £3 million a year more than it will earn, but it is still worth our while doing it because it relieves traffic in other directions which cannot be relieved in any other way. Is not that what subsidising transport means? Does it not mean very often running empty buses at a slight loss, so that you have a proper service when you do want it? I think that that must be done. I see no alternative.

Thirdly, I beg the Government to consider again whether they will accept the idea of the Crowther agencies. Lastly, I beg them not to be afraid to implement the bolder Buchanan proposals, and not to be afraid of what appears to be an enormous cost—which I do not think, in fact, it is. It seems to me that only by doing that can we make a full and complete life in this country.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth for giving us the opportunity to discuss this extremely important subject, and also for the fact that he couched his Motion in such terms that no subject remotely connected with transport can possibly be excluded. I join with my noble friend in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, back in our midst. I am particularly pleased, not only that his masculine beauty is unimpaired, but that his sense of humour seems as sound as ever it was. Recently, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in connection with his trouble, had an inquiry into it. The problem was diagnosed and the trouble was put right by experts. But when it comes to transport, and the transport problems of the country, he tells us that no comprehensive report has been decided on by the Government, because of the procrastination and delay it would have involved. I wonder, in connection with his recent operation, if he would have recommended surgery before diagnosis, which, apparently, is the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to transport.

The other way in which the noble Lord showed his sense of humour was by reciting the evidence to indicate that his right honourable friend was the "greatest". As my noble friend Lord Hughes said, he listed the various Reports which had been received by the Government. They are quite remarkable, my Lords. First of all, there was the Hall Group Report, and the noble Lord very kindly did not inform us, not only that the Government have, as it were, ignored their recommendations, but that in many respects they have gone absolutely conversely to them. Then the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, mentioned the Jack Committee Report. My Lords, that has been pigeon-holed for two or three years, despite the desperate and urgent requests from local authorities and others that it should be implemented. These, we are told, with the noble Lord's strong sense of humour, are the steps that have been taken by the Government.

I think it was a most remarkable thing, since my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth spent such considerable time in considering the Buchanan Report, that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that my noble friend's speech showed that he had not caught up with the present developments in transport. I think that the most graphic description of the problems of traffic and transport in the country to-day is the one which has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government, because it was penned by Professor Buchanan, who says: The rising tide of traffic is already seeping through every street and alley of every town, spreading confusion, death and injury, noise, fumes and ugliness. The cause of traffic accidents is quite horrifyingly simple—we have created a vast mincing machine wherein we move in conditions which are too much for us. Since the Government have accepted this position, this is the particular problem we have to consider to-day, and this, I would suggest, is the measure of the success of such steps as the Government have taken so far.

Therefore, I would contrast that true description, as this debate has shown it to be, with what I regard as the most fatuous statement of the century on transport, which is this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 689 (No. 49), col. 47]: The Government have tackled every major problem in inland transport. That statement was made by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport in another place on February 10, astonishingly enough in the debate on the Buchanan Report—a Report which I submit proves on almost every page that the Government have not tackled and certainly have not solved a single one of our major transport problems.

No one blames the Government for the rapid increase in the number of cars. It is, in large measure, a social phenomenon which we must welcome and for which we must certainly provide. But I submit that the Government are to blame for the fact that the rising tide of traffic finds us almost completely unprepared. I submit that they are to blame for a great deal of the confusion, and for the size of the "mincing machine," as Professor Buchanan calls it: because by almost every act of policy, and by inaction, they have lured and enticed, as they are doing, an increasing flood of traffic on to roads which are incapable of coping adequately with it. On the one hand, public transport has been discouraged, and in some cases closed down; and, on the other hand, private transport has been financially cosseted to a degree which is unparalleled in Europe.

Precise figures for all the costs involved in the use of the roads are not available, but according to the best estimates that can be made, some of them including official figures, it would appear that the costs involved in the use of the roads exceed by at least £800 million the total collected annually in all forms of motor taxation. That colossal £800 million subsidy distorts the whole transport system, and whilst it continues there is no possibility of real freedom of choice for the consumer and no possibility of achieving the ideal system whereby each form of transport does the job for which it is best fitted. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that the objective of the Government was to give the consumer freedom of choice. What choice have people in rural areas, deprived of their railways? What freedom of choice is there for people if you so load the scales in favour of one form of transport as against another? It is nonsense to talk of freedom of choice in such circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, asked what we on our side would do, and said he had been dying to hear. I want to make it quite clear. Your Lordships will remember that I interrupted the noble Lord when he spoke about direction, and asked him about his authority, which he was unable to quote. I do not believe in a great many transport controls except such as are designed for safety—and in those, I am sure, in large measure, we should have the noble Lord's support. But I do believe that, so far as possible, each form of transport must compete on equal terms, and that it would be a major step towards overall transport efficiency and the relief of congestion if road users were made to pay something approaching the costs to which they give rise.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this point—he will forgive me for interrupting—could he give me an idea of how the figure he gave breaks down? He mentioned £800 million over what is already raised by motor taxation. That makes the total what? It is just under £1,000 million, I think. Is that the figure the noble Lord is thinking of? Could he possibly break that down a bit and give us an idea of how he makes this figure up?


I can give the noble Earl the figures, although I have given them on many previous occasions. I think it would be better if I gave them, although I could refer him to the appropriate Hansard which shows where I have done this before. In the debate in May of last year I gave the figures, and I shall be giving some more figures now. But I would emphasise that that £800 million is in my view the minimum net subsidy after deducting—crediting, as it were—all forms of revenue from motor taxation. I think that if we shirk this issue and look only at the end products of the present system, it would be like putting ointment on the pimples without cleansing the bloodstream. I think we have got to be prepared to discriminate between road users. I am not thinking of ultra refinements such as we have been reading about recently, like the expensive gadgets for cars which might come into Central London. What I have in mind, for example, is the contrast between the week-end driver who almost certainly buys his car out of taxed income and drives, perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 miles a year, compared with the chap whose car is bought on the firm's expense account, and probably maintained on it, too, and who does about three or four times the mileage. I am thinking of these free cars, which mainly commute into town every day and help to choke the streets and fill the parking spaces. They pay the same licence fee as the week-end motorist, yet in road use and congestion cost the country anything from three or four to perhaps ten times as much. Two out of every five new cars, we are told on good authority, are expense account, scot-free, one-man commuter cars.

My Lords, we are going to spend £1,700 million—this is an official figure—over the next five years on new roads and new maintenance. That is £100 for every family in the country. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, was quoting an expert to the effect that the Buchanan plan or Report, if implemented, would cost £18,000 million, and that that might well prove to be an underestimate. £18,000 million is £1,000 for every family in this country, and although I quite agree that if this expense is necessary we have of course got to meet it—and, of course, we shall meet it over a period of years—nevertheless, if it is largely and unnecessarily inflated because of this distorted transport system, then it is wrong. In other words, this expenditure should not be mostly for the purpose of making life cosy for the scot-free car drivers. On February 10 the Minister of Transport said—and I am quoting [OFFICIAL, REPORT, Commons, Vol 689 (No. 49), col. 36]: … in the large towns and cities … there is no prospect whatever of catering for all the cars which might ultimately want to go into them I think that everyone must agree that he is absolutely right there; but, having agreed to that, then we have got to do something about it, and I should like the Minister now to say, "There is no case whatever for many of the cars going every day into our cities at our expense."

One simple way of making a first approach to justice and the relief of congestion would be to reduce the licence fee to, say, 5s. a year and to increase the tax on fuel to an extent which would bring in the same total revenue. It is not only cars which cause congestion and occasion road expenditure. We should take a close look at the national cost, the cost to the national Exchequer, of lorries. With no purchase tax and only a marginal tax on diesel oil, a three-ton lorry has the freedom of 200,000 miles of highway for less than £1 a week in licence duty. That is absolutely derisory and, as a matter of urgency, there should be a drastic though discriminatory increase in goods vehicles taxation. I think we should discriminate in favour of "A" licence hauliers and "C" licensees operating within a limited radius; and discriminate against "C" licensees outside the radius and against very heavy lorries. There has been no research in this country into vehicle damage to road surfaces. In America they have found through research that a 20-ton lorry does 60 times as much damage to a road as a 1-tonner. That has to be paid for; and it should be paid for by the users. I am aware that these acts of financial justice are only part of the problem, but they are fundamentally important and the necessary changes could be made comparatively quickly.

I think the other imperative necessity is to encourage the utmost use of other forms of transport which relieve congestion on the roads and in town. For that reason I warmly recommend the Interim Report of the British Waterways Board, which I think has not so far been mentioned in the course of this debate. Now that the waterways have been freed from what The Times calls "the dead hand of the British Transport Commission", the Board has taken a vital decision to use, exploit and develop the canals and not to close them. It accepts the principle of multiple use of the waterways, the encouragement of freight, supplies of water, amenities, recreation, boating and fishing. Only freight brings in much revenue, but the other aspects are accepted for their value to the community, and the former large-scale abandonment programme is dropped.

In other words, Sir John Hawton and his Board have at last halted the backward movement and they must now—and I am sure they will—follow Continental examples and expand the waterways system and its traffic. I do not claim—and I am sure that the Board would not claim—that this will make an enormous change, but I believe it will make an important contribution to our transport system and considerably aid in relieving congestion. One barge costing £50,000, with a life of 50 years, and a crew of three men can move 1,000 tons of freight at one time by water. To move the same freight by road would require 50 lorries with a life of only ten years and 100 men, at a capital cost of £300,000. I know it is possible to read too much into that, but there is no question that for certain classes of freight over certain journeys the waterways must be—and indeed are, if given the chance—the most efficient carriers. In the last ten years in the countries of Europe there has been an increase of waterways ton miles of anything from 30 per cent. to 60 per cent., and I think that tells its own story.

The determination of the Waterways Board to make the utmost use of their resources in the interests of the transport system as a whole is in refreshing contrast to the attitude of the British Railways Board who are resolutely determined to make the railways pay by getting rid of the customers and forcing traffic from the railways on to the roads. In this I would submit they are in direct conflict with every transport expert who is in a position to take an objective view. The transfer should be in the reverse direction. For example, Professor Buchanan says, in paragraph 457 of his Report: In the long run the most potent factor in maintaining a 'ceiling' on private traffic in busy areas is likely to be the provision of good, cheap public transport". The Crowther Committee declare that: The case for expanded public transport is proved. They add that it can make: a large contribution towards solving the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, Professor Buchanan underlines the folly of the Government's railways policy by pointing out that: there has been virtually no consideration of the problems of transport as a whole—railways for example have been consistently regarded as undertakings quite removed from the sphere of statutory town planning. Yet the Government permit Dr. Beeching to pursue what I regard as his completely exploded and untenable policy. His proposals, by definition, exclude consideration of either economic or social consequences, such as the lowering of standards imposed on people unable to run their own vehicle. Such people make up a large section of the community, although they may not be economically very strong. They include the elderly, schoolchildren, the infirm and the husband and wife of modest means with an increasing family. I receive literally hundreds of letters from people like these who, due to their particular dependence on road transport, are greatly worried at proposals to take this away from them, either completely or, in some cases, with a totally inadequate alternative.

Dr. Beeching's proposals are also, in my view, economically myopic in that they have been put forward without regard to the extra real cost they would impose on the community as a whole. Shifting traffic on to already crowded roads is bound to create further burdens for the community, in the form of further road congestion with its concomitant of the huge road construction and maintenance bill. These costs will not be met by the Railways Board; they will have to be paid for by the rest of us—and not only in money. His schemes have been propounded without any proper comparative costings. Had these been made, they would almost certainly have revealed the schemes to be against the overall economic interests of the country. To go on with what I have called "surgery before diagnosis", is the economics of Bedlam. It springs from a narrow bookkeeping approach to these problems, a preoccupation with money profits and with "making the railways pay".

It is surely unanswerably good social, economic and financial common sense to make public transport more attractive, more comfortable, more reliable, and to cover the widest possible area. And it must be regarded as an essential public service, with its value reckoned on the basis of total social benefit, taking all relevant factors into account. In my submission, unless this is an essential part of our overall transport plan, our towns and cities will certainly become choked to a standstill. Where any railway service is making a book loss, we must adjust that book loss for any social advantages conferred by the continued use of the railway which would be lost if it were closed. Only when the financial loss outweighs this social advantage will the case be made for withdrawing a railway service; and then only if it can be replaced by a road service that can be regarded as an adequate replacement.

Unfortunately, neither the Railways Board nor the Government show any signs of facing up to these facts, or to the implications of their own statements. On October 31 last, Dr. Beeching said that the Railways Board knew that they could not solve the problem of the suburban services by themselves: in the conurbations, there must be a joint attack on the whole problem of transport, and there was clearly a need to delay action on closures until further attention had been given to transport as a whole.

Mr. Marples and Sir Keith Joseph sent a joint circular to local authorities last month, emphasising the need for effective integration and instructing them to review their arrangements to ensure that urban land use and transport requirements are considered as a single subject. Groups of local authorities working together all over the country are now doing precisely that. Some of them have already prepared good and comprehensive reports, but in the midst of their work they are forced to get together to fight the closure of railways which they regard as an integral part of their transport system.

At least 150 of the line closures proposed in the Beeching Report serve conurbations or carry commuter traffic. Yet the closures are being relentlessly pressed forward. A typical example is the Southport—Liverpool line—and I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply will say something about this line. It is an efficient electric line and carries, according to the latest figures, 5 million passengers a year—100,000 a week—and it parallels a heavily congested road. The locals say that if the line is closed the only way of getting to town will be to walk on the tops of the cars on the road. It was thought that British Railways had changed their minds about this line, but they have now informed local authorities that they are determined to press forward with the closure, in accordance with the procedure laid down in the 1962 Act. The City of Liverpool and five other local authorities in the area have begun an analysis of rail, bus and river services against the present and foreseeable future needs of the conurbation. They describe this line as one of the lifelines of the Merseyside area and say that its closure would be ridiculous.

I submit that this closure, and many others—such as that of the Manchester—Buxton line—would be directly contrary to the recommendations of the Buchanan Report and contrary to common sense. I would ask the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, whether he considers there is the slightest chance that his right honourable friend would sanction closures of this kind; and, if he does (though I believe that he could not possibly do so), I would ask him: why put the local authorities and thousands of objectors to the trouble and expense of going through the procedure of objection? It is surely imperative for the Government to declare that action on all such urban closures will be suspended until the surveys for which they have asked have been completed. And if such a declaration should involve the resignation of Dr. Beeching, I am quite sure that the people of this country would find sufficient fortitude to bear it. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, put his own interpretation on L.M.S.—"Let Marples Stay". I would remind him that "B.R." could mean "Beeching—Resign!"

Last month, the Prime Minister talked for two hours with a delegation from Scotland. Subsequently, the Secretary of State for Scotland declared that some threatened lines in Scotland will never be closed and that others will not be closed for one, two or three years, until the necessary road improvements have been made. That is a step in the right direction. But the public are entitled to have the lines named, and we are entitled to precisely the same treatment in England and Wales as has been, quite rightly, accorded to Scotland. I am glad to know that the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, is to speak later in the debate, because I know that he will be able to deal with some points with which I should otherwise have dealt, particularly about freight.

Finally, I would say to the noble Viscount that we are entitled to demand action from the Government to end the unjust methods by which the Railways Board seek to justify their proposals, methods which are now the subject of complaint even by the T.U.C.C.s set up by the Government to judge questions of hardship. Sir Patrick Hamilton, Chairman of the North-Western T.U.C.C., was forced to complain in the Press that the Railways Board had refused his request for adequate advertisement of their proposal to close the Wigan—Liverpool line. He asked how he could assess hardship when travellers were denied, through ignorance of the Board's intentions, the chance to object.

The North-Eastern T.U.C.C. refused to make recommendations regarding the Darlington—Richmond line until the position of warrant earnings from Catterick Camp was cleared up. The Railways Board stated the earnings to be £21,000, and omitted to mention £96,000 of earnings from military warrants. What sort of conduct is that for a public corporation? Conduct of this kind in public affairs ended in the early nineteenth century. We do not want it back. It is useless to argue that these false figures are ignored by the T.U.C.C.s. They are not. What confidence can the public have that objective reports will be made, when they are influenced by false information? This is the sort of thing which is being encountered by every local authority which has had experience of a T.U.C.C. hearing. They are demanding that the rules should be changed, so that they can have the essential right of cross-examination. They are demanding that the Government should lay down honest financial principles, which must be followed by British Railways when determining costs and earnings. I believe that these demands are supported by every Member of your Lordships' House.

It is surely unanswerable that clear analysis of all the facts is an essential prerequisite for any policy decision. I believe that the suggestions I have made are steps towards the achievement of what we all desire—a sensible, efficient transport system in this country, in our own generation and for posterity.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal on his maiden speech. He is an old friend, whom I have heard speaking before in another place, and he is a welcome addition to our House. I am sure that we shall hear much of him. I agree with the final remark of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that we must have an efficient transport system; but, of course, he knows as well as I do that we do not agree on how that is to be provided.

I had not meant to talk about the Buchanan Report this afternoon, because the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is to introduce the debate next week in which I understand this Report will be discussed; but since it has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and subsequent speakers, I should like to say just a few words about it. The basic theme running through the Report is accessibility and environment. In my opinion, the maximum benefit from these can be obtained only by the type of transportation plan proposed by Professor Buchanan. A balance must be found between the capacity of the road network and that of the environment, and it is only by estimating the main demands for traffic in the future that this balance can properly be achieved. At the moment, traffic and buildings are in tremendous imbalance, if I may coin a phrase, and I really cannot understand the attitude that "we cannot afford Buchanan". To my mind, we must afford Buchanan if our towns are not to end in chaos, if not for our children at least for our grandchildren. But I will refer to that aspect in the debate next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Salter, in an interjection, posed the question: is there not a halfway house between out-and-out competition—or "cut-throat" competition, he said—and nationalisation or direction? I am not quite sure what "cut-throat" competition means, since the present licensing system prevents any such thing. As to direction, I think there was a slight to-and-fro between the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and my noble friend Lord Chesham. But the fact remains that the T.U.C., in their Memoranda to the Geddes Committee, called for restrictions on the present rights of trade and industry to carry their own goods in their own vehicles. I certainly call that restriction of a sort.

To my mind, the right of the customer to choose, to decide what is best for him, should be inviolate, so long as it is not to the detriment of other people. After all, the customer pays the bill; and it can certainly be argued that in exercising the right to choose up to now he has shown beyond a shadow of doubt where his favour lies. In 1963 no less than 64 per cent. of inland goods were transported by road, while the proportion of goods, by weight, carried by road was as high as 85 per cent. of all goods carried. I agree that more goods should go by rail, but it is up to the railways to put their house in order—which is what Dr. Beeching is trying to do—and to be more competitive so as to attract more traffic to the railways. After all, the Transport Act, 1962, gave British Railways complete commercial freedom. This would be healthy, and it is what the country needs. Moreover, we have to be competitive not only at home but also in export. If transport internally is not competitive, then industry itself cannot be competitive. Ours is a small island with a large population, which must import to live; and if we are not competitive, we shall surely die.

If there is to be a healthy development of transport, the present road programme of the Government I maintain, though good, is not good enough. When we consider, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, the condition of the road system when the Conservative Government came in, we see they have done a big job. But it seems to me that their programme for the future (and I have said this before), though big, is nothing like big enough: in fact, it is just over half of what the County Surveyors' Society has said will be essential to this country if traffic is not to come to a standstill. I would beg the Government to raise their sights so that our grandchildren will be able to live in comparative comfort; so that the roads will not be for them almost anathema, because there will be no pleasure in them—indeed, there might even not be any transport. This sounds like an over-statement of the position, but I am not certain that it is.

Debates such as this, on the principles embracing the overall operation of transport in this country, are extremely valuable; for transport is a personal thing. It is personal not only in the transport one rides in, but because of its effect on the economy of the country as a whole. As such, it plays a vital part in our lives. But debate is not enough. We must have action: action to increase the rate of road building; and action to implement Buchanan, if our grandchildren are not to live in chaos. Finally, I would remind those who propose direction as a means of getting a so-called transport system which is efficient that past experience has shown that direction does not end up with efficiency. What we want is healthy competition by all forms of transport, whether road or rail, or on the water.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with others of your Lordships in offering sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, on his maiden speech, which I much enjoyed. There is one aspect of the Buchanan Report which I very much welcome, and which has been a feature of many of the speeches in this debate, and it is that the approach in that Report to transport is fundamentally a social one. We must decide what kind of towns we want in terms of practical use, access and amenity. The claims of transport can either prejudice or facilitate those ends, according to the policy and plans which are effected, and if immediate action—I submit, on the lines of the Buchanan Report—is not taken, it appears that inevitably the claims of transport will prejudice those ends. Professor Buchanan has stated in his argument that he has had to make value judgments, and I do not believe we can get satisfactory planning without the sense and courage to make value judgments.

I should like to turn to one of the examples which Professor Buchanan and his colleagues have chosen to illustrate their thesis—namely, the city of Norwich. I am a newcomer to Norwich. It is a fascinating and delightful city to live in, not simply because it has much that is beautiful, quaint and of historical and cultural interest, but also because it has a type of life which is active in all sorts of ways and provides happily for the needs of its citizens, and it attracts those who live in the surrounding country of which it has for centuries been the centre. Environment can be of great assistance in making a city work together and pull together at all social levels. I believe the City of Norwich, built up and regenerated over centuries of life and effort, is a good example of this. It has benefited recently, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, from the help and advice given by the Civic Trust, and also from the recent activities of the Norwich Society.

As Norwich is remote from coal and minerals, it did not suffer in the way in which so many of our other cities suffered during the first industrial revolution with its evils of overcrowding, bad housing, and low standards of health. But like other towns and cities in Britain, it is threatened now by evils of a different kind. The traffic problem of Norwich has already reached serious proportions. In the four years since I have been there the change has been most noticeable. For instance, round about 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening the traffic in the centre of the City is almost at a standstill, and car parking in the centre has become a serious nuisance and also an eyesore.

The solution cannot lie simply in widening existing roads and driving new ones to keep the traffic flowing. If that was the term of reference, it could, of course, be achieved. But the result would be what I am sure no one in Norwich really wants. The City would be ruined in more ways than that of appearance. Professor Buchanan's approach seems to be an appropriate one and it is, by and large, similar to that of the revised basic plan which has been recently submitted by Mr. Rowley, the City Engineer and Planning officer—namely, to keep through-going traffic out of the centre, building a motorway or urban road along the line of the old City wall, with points of entry to the centre divided into sub-areas, each having a homogeneous character.

The connection between the subareas woud be via this urban road or motorway, and within the central area there would be connection for only cyclists or pedestrians, so that the central area would be like a number of rooms which open into a main corridor. This would impose (and, indeed, any solution surely must impose) some form of restriction on the motorist, but still give freedom of access by car or by bus to the centre, and so keep that centre alive. If such a plan were adopted, existing roads within the central area would, so Professor Buchanan argues, by and large be sufficient for carrying the local traffic, though it would be necessary to provide better facilities than at present exist for car parking.

This relatively simple and ingenious solution would still provide ease of access and, at the same time, avoid the destructive effects of a piecemeal surrender to the demands of increasing traffic under the pressure of expediency. This is what tends to happen and what to some extent has already happened, and what will inevitably happen on an increased scale without the adoption of a plan on the Buchanan Report scale. Relative to other cities, the solution for Norwich is comparatively inexpensive, and nothing like the scale of expenditure, for instance, needed for the improvement which the Buchanan Report has estimated to be needed for Leeds.

However, it is not only the cost that matters; it is the effort, and effort that needs to be made as a matter of urgency if we are to have cities and towns which are going to be a joy to live in, in which social, commercial and community life can flourish; towns which will be safe for old and for young; towns where people can meet and enjoy each other's company without being hustled; towns where they can do things together which interest and amuse them, and towns where there is access to a sufficient variety of needs and amenities. I believe that the thinking of the Buchanan Report leads to this kind of requirement, and calls for speedy implementation.

There is one other aspect of transport to which I should like to refer briefly. The point I wish to make is not altogether easy to make without misrepresenting the scale and proportions of what it is that I would plead for. It concerns future transport developments in the wilder parts of the country. As in the case of the towns, so in the case of the country, there is need for long-term planning which will take into account a wide range of social needs. The point that I am anxious to make is that the areas of country which at present are wild and remote, and can be reached only on foot or, in some cases, by boat or sail, should be given consideration so far as transport facilities are concerned.

There has been a great increase in the number of holidaymakers who visit the more remote parts of the British Isles, and that is surely to the good. But there is a paradox about wild and unspoilt countryside. There is a particular delight to be in unspoilt country and to enjoy it in relative isolation or, at all events, not in a crowd, and yet in one's better moments one likes to think that many people would enjoy the same experience as well, and that clearly introduces a contradiction. I believe that we need to decide what we really want to do about these areas which still remain remote and wild.

The National Parks Commission and the park planning committees have in many cases pursued a policy of keeping parts of the National Parks for pedestrians. In Scotland the approach is different. In Scotland there are much more extensive areas of unspoilt country, and Scotland lives by the tourist trade to a considerable extent. There are many arguments for opening up the Highlands so that more people can enjoy going there on holiday. In some areas of scenic beauty roads should be made to enable people to enjoy those areas by motoring to them and through them. In others—and I am sure that there ought to be some others, and that they should be designated before they have ceased to exist—roads should be available to those areas but not driven through them. In other words, they should be left as accessible only to pedestrians so that their character should not be impaired.

Some such areas have been already designated in England by the establishment of National Parks. I do not suggest that in Scotland designation should necessarily be effected in the same way—namely, by the establishment of National Parks in Scotland, too. But, unless some far-sighted measures are taken soon, gradually and in course of time there will be little unspoilt country left with this particular character and unaffected by artificial influences. I think, for instance, of two areas where serious consideration should be given to the arguments on both sides. One is the prospect of a road from Rannoch station to the top of Glencoe. The other is the prospect of the establishment of a hydro-electric scheme in one of the finest glens of Scotland, Glen Nevis. I am very glad indeed that the National Trust for Scotland has these issues very much in mind and is taking a lead about representing the various factors that are involved.

There is a link between the arguments which I would submit for Norwich and also for the remote or wild areas. We need foresight and consequential planning by which we can secure for the future, and before they are destroyed, some of the benefits which are inherited from the past, whether in buildings or in countryside, side by side with the developments in resources, interests and activities which the future should bring to our society according to the tastes, fashions and genius of our successors.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, when I spoke on the Beeching Report last May I said, if your Lordships would allow me to quote a few lines [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249, col. 265]: … if we had a report on the roads we could probably be more constructive in our criticism of this Report on the railways. I feel that if we had had a report on the economic and social aspects of the roads there would be some very red faces in some of the road organisations. The Government have produced this Buchanan Report on which they are to be congratulated. They are now undertaking a national travel survey. We have not had all the results of that yet, of course—it will take some time, but I hope that in this national survey Her Majesty's Government will spare no expense in employing the best economists and the best statisticians, because, though the Beeching Report was an absolutely masterly Report from an accountant's point of view (I am not an economist, but perhaps an extremely amateur one) I think it would fail to pass the scrutiny of our best economists; but that is a personal opinion.

As several speakers have said, until we have a full picture of all our transport needs we cannot plan economically or socially, because we have to make decisions without the necessary knowledge. If we have to carry out road alterations—which we do every year, a great deal and in increasing number—and have to do so before an overall survey is carried out, it is quite possible that we may aggravate the problem. For instance, the Hyde Park underpass, I am told, and I have also found so from my own experience, appears to set up a good deal of congestion at Hammersmith. The underpass is very useful if you are going not as far as Hammersmith but just two or three hundred yards, perhaps to Harrod's; but if you go further, you find that it dams up the traffic. Probably that is owing to the fact that we have not had a survey of the whole traffic problem of London.

The Buchanan Working Group say that we have to plan till 2000 A.D. They are quite right there, if it is possible to plan as far ahead as that—I do not know—but we certainly want to plan ten or fifteen years ahead. The suburb of Cowley, in Oxford, was planned, apparently, with no shopping centre at all. The consequence is that there is tremendous traffic congestion, because everybody has to journey out from Cowley and home again in order to shop. It is absolutely hopeless to try to plan new development sites if you do not at the same time realise the transport implications. Some noble Lords mentioned the problem of the land user in relation to the development of transport. I have certain views on that subject, but from the point of view of the community as a whole I think the land owner, as has happened, for instance, in America, must give way to the overall position of the community.

As I have said before, I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the setting up of the National Traffic Survey and the production of its Reports, but what is vital, as other speakers have said, is to have a thorough economic analysis of the cost of road transport. We are inclined to take roads for granted. The Buchanan Report, speaking of the cost of road transport, stated—it is, I understand, largely a guess—that road casualties in 1963 cost probably upwards of £250 million. What we really want is an analysis to find out exactly the costs of road transport from every aspect, economic, social, and so on.

I have always been rather an admirer of the railways so I feel rather strongly on this subject, and I hope I am not being too biased against the roads. To say that the railways lose money is, of course, a serious thing from the accountant's point of view, but it does not really touch upon the question. If you go by rail you go into a booking office, pay your 10s. or whatever it is, and that is that; it is just simple accounting. But if you go by road you have no equivalent of a booking office. There are no means of telling, for instance, the capital cost of the car or bus, the cost of fuel, the wear and tear on the road and on the car, the millions of man-hours lost in traffic blocks, the damage to health through noise and fumes, the spoliation of the countryside, the casualties and the destruction of agricultural land. We have no analysis of all this, and from the point of view of the community and the national economy it is extremely important.

There have been these line closures. I quite agree that, from the accountant's point of view, they are extremely necessary; but has anybody worked out the cost to the national economy through more traffic on the roads owing to these rail closures? We have to remember—and no speaker has mentioned this—that as regards road traffic we have now entered the law of diminishing returns. Having extra cars on uncrowded roads is all right, but, in comparison, every extra car we have on crowded roads increases the problem one hundredfold. The last Ministry of Transport Census, for 1963, shows that we now have in this country 11½ million motor vehicles, an increase of 8 per cent. over the corresponding period of 1962. The majority of these extra vehicles are 800,000 private cars. I think the number of lorries amounts only to an extra 60,000. The day is surely coming—as quite a number of speakers have said—when we shall really have to restrict the number of private cars driving into centres of our big cities every day. We can perhaps cope with them in the open country by new motorways, but it will be quite impossible to cope with them in the centre of London, Glasgow, Birmingham and other big cities.

I am personally convinced, although probably some noble Lords will think I am completely mad, that if railways had not been invented, and if a man suddenly came along to-day and invented them, he would be hailed as a saviour of the country's transport problems. We have this wonderful rail system. You can travel in comfort; you can do your work; you can eat; there is no damage to your health; there is a very low accident rate. All this appears to be overlooked. As I pointed out in our last debate in May, in our factories (I have a small factory, so I have a slight knowledge of this) we are now trying to install automation, and we are having automation to a certain extent. But if you have automation in your industry, you must have automation in your transport; otherwise it becomes a complete bottleneck. You must have the proper handling and movement of goods.

As I said in our last debate, the heavy, long-distance haulage lorry is out of date. There is one man driving ten tons. But you can have 2,000 tons on the railways with probably in the future one driver or perhaps no driver at all. There are also the waterways, which I am not going to speak about because I know very little about that subject; but there again is an excellent medium of transport for heavy loads, if speed is not the essence of the operation. Of course, it is true that before the railways can carry the great bulk of long-distance freight now yon the roads they will have to improve their marshalling yards. It is only a question of finance—I know it is easy to say "only". However, the railways own a great deal of land in our towns, and if they have up-to-date marshalling yards I think the railways are the proper medium for long haulage of heavy freight.

The other question which has been mentioned and is extremely important is that of adequate car parking facilities for passengers. In this question of transport we are lagging behind the Continent. The United Nations publication on transport statistics shows that on the Continent the railway and waterway freight is increasing with the increase of industrial expansion, but in the United Kingdom it is the other way round. I do not intend to delve into the reasons for that, because time is short, but it is probably owing to the fact that we have some rather lopsided subsidies.

I do not know whether any of your Lordships have read this book by an author named Roger Calvert, Inland Waterways of Europe. He points out that the cost of the roads—and he is extremely fair in his analysis—is £495 million a year (this was two years ago) and the receipts from road tax, excise and so on was only £481 million. There is also to be taken into consideration the capital value of the roads, which he puts at some £40,000 million, and if you take, say, 2 per cent. interest, it represents an interest charge of £800 million, which of course road users do not have to pay.

I feel it is essential for the well-being of the nation that we take off some of this ever-increasing pressure on the roads. I do not believe that the 100 per cent. answer is more and more roads, because we are only a very small island and it is going to destroy our country. We must have some clean air to breathe and some land on which to grow our food. We have to live with the motor vehicle, but, for heaven's sake!, do not let it make our lives a living hell.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased to rise immediately after the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, because I agree so strongly with practically everything he has said. In fact, I am glad to say he has enabled me to throw away a very considerable part of my speech, which is always a very pleasant thing to be able to do. My approach to transport is to get down to first principles, because I find that is the easiest way to think. And the obvious first principle in transport is that things really must travel by the method which is most suitable and most economic, and there I greatly agreed with many noble Lords—the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, mentioned it and I think practically every other noble Lord has mentioned it. It is really highly important that things should travel by the most economic method. We are a country which depends enormously on buying and selling things, and transport is a very considerable factor in the cost of those things that we both buy and sell. To push things on to transport in a way that will make them uneconomic is really the worst thing we could do for this country.

But that is precisely what we are doing now. I have spoken recently with various gentlemen who have to do with the transport side of various large businesses, and they are unanimous that road transport for their business is becoming more uneconomic every day. It is becoming more uneconomic because it is taking longer and longer, and costing more and more fuel, to deliver each particular load from one of their depôts to another. The railways are shrinking—indeed, they are being deliberately shrunken—and our present waterways are small and badly in need of re-equipping if they are to do anything in this matter.

There is another principle which I think ought to be enunciated—namely, that we really must keep these various forms of traffic from getting in each other's way. We have already heard a great deal of how the commuter traffic is getting in the way of practically everything. I am not going into that, as other speakers have done so much better than I could do this evening. But we really must keep the heavy goods traffic from getting in the way of the passenger traffic. We can move the heavy goods on to other forms of transport. If we really believe that we intend the private motorist to have any liberty, we should at least try that. It may, partly at any rate, prevent us from having to put on restrictions. Restrictions may well be necessary—I personally believe that they will—but let us not pretend that we like them.

There is another principle which I have always believed to be most important in transport—namely, that one should, if possible, prevent trans-shipment from taking place. Trans-shipment is an enormously expensive process because it involves people doing work. It also involves considerable slowing up. It is because it needs no trans-shipment that road traffic has been so successful: stuff has been able to go directly from door to door. So long as those doors have no other form of connection, either land or water, it is hard to see what one can do about it apart from road traffic. But let us not forget that it is possible to connect those doors by other methods, either by rail or by water. Again, in that case, one has no trans-shipment, and the economics of the process are immeasurably better.

Apart from the transport of people (which, so far as I am concerned, at any rate, we have debated sufficiently this evening), the main quantity of goods moving about is that coming into or going out of this country. Its movement is comparatively simple. It almost all comes by ship and arrives at a port. The ports are some of the most sensitive spots in our economy because trans-shipment occurs at them, and the slowing of, or any form of difficulty in, that trans-shipment causes enormous financial waste, suite apart from the fact that loading the stuff on to road vehicles in crowded towns—and big ports are almost all crowded towns—is exceedingly bad for the rest of the road users. It would pay us well if the goods which arrived by ship could be made to stop at the port and to go no further. But, of course, we cannot have all our factories lining the wharves; it is physically impossible.

The best thing to do is what is being done in Europe now—to elongate the ports inland so that the really heavy industries which use a heavy volume of goods could be down at the waterside. Your Lordships may believe that this is Utopian. I wish some of your Lordships could have stood where I was a few months ago, in one of the great control rooms of the machinery controlling one of the big new French locks on the River Seine. Down below, coming through the lock, was a cargo of 3,000 tons of sand. That sand was coming right the way up from the coast into Paris. What is more, they did not consider even that good enough. Alongside the lock they were commencing works in order to build a second lock which would take 5,000-tonners. There is no waterway of any length at all in this country which will take vessels of over 250 tons. That, for a seagoing nation, is to our shame. It would be quite possible for us to do what the French have done up the Seine to Paris, both up the Severn to Stourport and up the Trent or an artificial waterway to Nottingham. Neither of those towns is higher above sea level than is Paris. Paris is 56 feet above sea level; Nottingham is just about the same.

Furthermore, we ought to have what the Europeans now have in regard to their inland water transport. They have standardised on a vessel of 1,350 tons, and they are building a waterway system to take those vessels all across Europe and, indeed, connecting up with a canal between the Rhine and the Danube which will take them through to the Black Sea. Those vessels are mainly inland vessels, but there are also coasting vessels of the same size, able to take these waterways and capable of crossing the North Sea into such of our systems as they can get into. We cannot build canals of the old style of that size in this country, for a quite simple reason—we have not got the water supply. We cannot possibly have the water supply to work locks big enough to take those craft.

Of course, they are facing that same problem over much of Europe. Their solution is to build a canal on a single level, on a high contour, and to drop its ends by lifts and inclined planes down into the lowlands where the big rivers can provide the water supply for locking through the major craft. That is perfectly possible in this country. By a most extraordinary geological phenomenon, we in this country are blessed with a heavy layer of clay on the 310 foot contour level covering most of the country in our industrial areas. It would be perfectly possible to build what that great water engineer Mr. Pownall has suggested, a contour canal which would in fact be capable of covering our entire central industrial areas on the 310-foot contour level, and to drop its ends by lifts and inclined planes down on to the major rivers—the Trent, the Manchester Ship Canal, the Severn and the Humber.

That would be at once the most economic method that anybody could possibly conceive of moving heavy goods. There would be shipments from the factories in Europe by boat, directly through Europe and across the North Sea to factory wharves here. It could not be beaten by any other form of transport known to man. What is more, it would give us a bonus by providing a fresh water supply system right across this country, supplying our southeastern districts with the water they so badly need. This system may strike your Lordships as being fantastically expensive. But one has to realise that the tonnage we shall have to move in the future is going to be much greater than that we are moving now. To begin with, the number of people in this country is going up, and the tonnage of goods per person rises as the prosperity of the country increases.

There are other factors at work, too. Ores and raw materials in easy positions for working out are slowly being exhausted and we are having to carry materials greater and greater distances. What is more, because of greater technical efficiency and because mines are using their better stuff, ores are becoming of lower grade, so that for a ton of steel or any other commodity one produces one has to use a bigger tonnage of raw material. To add to this, the tonnage of waste being put out both factory and domestic waste, is also in- creasing enormously. And now, as we know from this debate, there will be a fresh impetus to the movement of great tonnages of material—sand, cement and building materials—for the great roads which are proposed and for the new cities which we shall have to build. All this stuff will have to be moved—and Heaven forbid that we should try to put it on to the roads!

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, most of this extremely interesting debate has related to the larger towns, and has dealt with vast sums of money. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to range further afield, to a part of the British Isles which is equally affected by the whole transport set-up, or lack of it, but where the sums of money involved are not so great. However, wherever there are people they will need transport.

Since I last spoke in your Lordships' House—and on that occasion I dealt with the railways—there have been a good many changes. I think much to the surprise of the Minister of Transport (he may, indeed, have been rather annoyed about it) there was a violent reaction in Scotland generally, and in the North in particular, to the proposed rail closures. As a result, it looks as if there is to be a breathing space before our railways North of Inverness are closed. We must be truly thankful for this. But, after all, it is only a breathing space. It also looks as if our Secretary of State for Scotland has made up his mind that we are right, and that he will not just weakly follow the Minister of Transport—a Minister who, to us at any rate, gives the impression that he really intends by all means in his power to close our railways.

If people who do not know very much about our country and our conditions can get away with it, I am sure that it will be only the first stage and that, before we know where we are, the railways North of Perth will be closed, too. The effect of closing these Highland lines, without any adequate alternative transport, would be as effective in clearing the Highlands as were the clearances of unhappy memory. We have been to some extent bedevilled by masses of figures which are quite beyond me, but Dr. Beeching has been taken to task by some clever people. It seems that his figures have been questioned; and indeed, most of us know that figures can be used to prove almost anything.

When I last spoke in your Lordships' House I hinted, as has been done by others since, that there appeared to be a tendency on occasions for British Railways to drive people away from the railways and to force would-be customers on to the very overcrowded roads. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to read a few sentences from one of our local papers, the Ross-shire Journal: Last week Mr. Angus MacDonald, Stornoway, who is a member of the County Council and Chairman of the Lewis District Council, strongly criticised British Railways for their failure to provide enough livestock wagons at Dingwall Station."— Dingwall is one of our largest markets— Because of the lack of wagons, Mr. MacDonald had to leave 120 sheep he had bought at Dingwall Marts in the town for over four days. He needed three wagons for his consignment, but on four consecutive days his dealer was told at Dingwall Station that no wagons were available at all. Mr. MacDonald stated that he had eventually to transport his sheep by road. This meant he had to pay more than he would have had to with the railways, and he also had to pay for grazing. Mr. George McCallum, Managing Director of Messrs. Reith & Anderson, Auction Marts, Dingwall, stated last week that he had three different farmers complaining to him that they could not secure wagons from the railways on the day of their sale. Mr. McCallum added that, according to figures obtained by the Institute of Auctioneers, the number of livestock wagons in use by British Railways in 1962 was 3,000, but now they only have half that number. A British Railways official stated that it was the case that the wagons had been in short supply recently, but that it was just in line with the policy of British Railways. My Lords, I do not think I need comment any further. There are more ways of killing a cat than by drowning it. With that kind of thing going on, it becomes increasingly evident that we have got to watch and guard against services being reduced behind our backs, and against general inefficiency in the areas with which we are concerned. That is all I wish to say about the railways, for they have been well covered in this debate.

There are, of course, other forms of transport in which one is equally interested, and I should like to turn next to the subject of roads. Since 1939, 121 miles of new roads have been constructed in the huge area north of Inverness. In 1963, with much ministerial back-slapping, a new tourist road was opened, costing £367,500 for 7½ miles at the Balgy Gap. But it would seem that, welcome as is this new tourist route, we have got our priorities wrong. Further West lies the beautiful peninsula of Applecross, which contains ten communities with no road at all, although to my knowledge they have been asking for one since before the war. A sick person can be taken only by sea, in an open boat, to an ambulance—and the Atlantic, as we all know, can be rough, sometimes too rough for a boat. All stores have to come by fishing-boat or rowing-boat. The only vehicle that can tackle the track which passes for a road is a motor-cycle.

We have had the gross impertinence of a suggestion made by those who should know better that these people should be evacuated from the homes and crofts which they have inhabited for countless centuries. With modern methods, the land worked by these men and women could be greatly improved. The soil is not barren, and much of the grazing is extremely good. But to take advantage of this, proper access is essential. Why should these people be turned away from their homes? They are a proud race, and I myself am proud to bear the same name as many of them. They have served their country well, at sea and on land. Surely they deserve at least the same consideration as the people of England. I stand to be corrected, but I doubt very much whether there is a single village in England that does not have a road. If there were, I feel that Governments would fall and ministerial heads might roll. Your Lordships may say, "This is only an isolated case". But that is not so: there are similar cases in the Western Highlands, in the North and in the Islands of the Hebrides.

The deterioration of communications is particularly tragic at a moment when, particularly in the Isle of Lewis, there is a resurgence of activity, especially in land reclamation. Much of it is being done by the crofters themselves, ably supported by the Crofters' Commission, the College of Agriculture and the High- land Fund. Is this all to be thrown away simply because a Government in London do not care sufficiently to spend, not a vast sum of money but sufficient to provide ordinary access roads which could mean survival to these people? I gave your Lordships a big figure for a motor road just now. The roads I am asking for would cost, in the majority of cases, under £10,000.

Now, my Lords, I turn once again to the Islands and to many of the coastal communities on the Western seaboard. How are they served by MacBrayne's steamer services—which, as your Lordships know, is to all intents and purposes a Government-subsidised monopoly? I am afraid that this is not working well, either. The pre-war alternative services are practically extinct, and on every side one hears of greatly increased freight charges, with a curtailment of sailings. So far as I can see, this company is hoping to concentrate on revenue from the tourist traffic, but at the expense of the crofters, farmers and others who depend utterly and entirely on the company for the transport of livestock, feedingstuffs and every kind of stores. My Lords, I may have been fairly strong about this matter, and I hope that you will forgive me if I have been overmuch so. But I think your Lordships will agree that the time has arrived for a comprehensive view by the Government of all means of transport for this threatened part of Britain.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all agreed that we have had a most interesting debate, covering Buchanan, Beeching, the waterways of Europe and the revitalising of the canals in this country. But the Government really cannot take much heart from the debate in regard to their own actions towards transport in this country, because, apart from the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, who praised the Government a little but then, like Oliver Twist, turned to ask for more, every speaker in this debate has in one way or another, and in varying degrees, been critical of the Government's attitude towards transport.

Before I forget, may I join with others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, on his maiden speech in this House. Together with others in this House we spent many hours—I was going to say happy hours—opposite one another in another place. He referred to his excursions into the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning on the Statutory Instruments in another place, but I hope he will not bring those bad habits into this House. We are getting a little late now, so I intend to be briefer than I otherwise should be.

In his delightful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, referred to the Victoria Tube. The fact is that the Victoria Tube was ready to be started over ten years ago. All that London Transport were waiting for, or arguing about, was whether or not it had to be viable, the attitude of the Government being that the new line should meet its costs. My Lords, it cannot meet its costs. No new Tube can meet its costs, unless the cost of that transport is so high that the commuter using it will immediately start wanting additional wages, and so on.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester: the Government have never really got down to deciding whether transport is to be regarded as a social service or as a viable industry. The right reverend Prelate called attention to the social consequences of putting all forms of transport, particularly rail transport, on a viable basis. He referred to the human need and the necessity adequately to meet that need, including the need for the transport of schoolchildren. My Lords, that is a glorious example which can be repeated not only in Hampshire but in Hertfordshire. Near places like Brickett Wood and Watford children are being taken into school. That is a social need. But a railway system that must use a train twice a day for about two hours a day, and leave it standing for the other twenty-two hours a day, cannot make a profit on the basis of its capital utilisation. Therefore the social aspects of transport have to be dealt with.

The social approach to transport was also dealt with by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich. I ought, as a railwayman, to express appreciation of the enthusiasm for railways of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. Here again, the noble Viscount called attention to the fact that the actual costing of road transport has never been undertaken in this country; and of course, unless one gets to the basis of actual costs of road transport—not only financial costs but social costs—comparisons with railways on the basis of viability are not fundamental, from the point of view of an adequate transport system.

In the last speech we had some reference to the Highlands and Islands. Here again, the question is whether transport is to be treated as a social service or as a viable industry. On the basis of its being regarded as a viable industry, the North of Scotland, Mid-Wales and many parts of England can never have either a bus service or a train service. That means, as my noble friend Lord Stonham said, that unless a person has a car he has no availability of transport at all. On the economics of providing a service, it is strangely true that where a branch rail line does not pay, neither will a bus service pay, and mainly for the same reason: that the vehicle has to be standing for quite a proportion of the time. The only thing that can be said for the bus versus the branch line, is that in fact the loss on the bus is less, mainly because the taxpayer and the ratepayer bear the "permanent way" charges on the buses.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, really set out our complaint about the Government—and the complaint that we have has been supported by practically every noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon. He said that the Government had deliberately refrained from having any inquiry into transport as a whole, and that that was the deliberate policy of the Government. He referred to a number of Committees that have been set up—and I will give him his due here: he gave us only five, but there are three or four others that he could have mentioned. The general attitude of the Government has been, or appears to me to have been, "When there is any problem, let us have another Committee, on the basis that another Committee will not do us any harm because, in any case, we shall not take any notice of what they say and shall not implement what they say". But he made a valid point, and I shall try to deal with it in the few minutes that I intend to speak.

However, before going on to that, I would say that there were many references to the Buchanan Report. I do not propose to deal with them, except to call this to your Lordships' attention: that the Buchanan Report is necessary because private enterprise, free enterprise, or whatever you like to call it, has made a mess of our cities, and as soon as private enterprise has made the maximum profit it can and made a complete mess of the social system then it is public funds that are required to put matters right—and noble Lord after noble Lord on the opposite Benches has said that we cannot afford not to implement Buchanan. My Lords, it is a simple question, and perhaps the noble Viscount who is going to reply can tell us, whether or not, in implementing Buchanan, the Government will take some of the profits from those who have made them, particularly in big cities like London, on increased land values.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, put the very fair question: "What is your policy?" I will agree with him right at the start that, so far as the function of transport is concerned, there is not a great deal of difference between us if he really means what he says. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but as I took them down he said that the function of transport was to move passengers and freight with speed and safety. My Lords, we agree with that entirely. He also said that it can be done effectively and efficiently only if you use the right vehicle for the right traffic and the right journey; so he was relating the traffic to be carried and the journey to be made with the vehicle that was to be used. My Lords, there is no one in transport whom I have ever come across who would in any way dissociate himself from that statement: so, on the two fundamental points, we agree.

I should like to say, particularly as it is well known that I earned my living as a railwayman, that the railways never claimed, nor have they claimed since the end of the last war, that they ought to be run just for the purpose of finding railwaymen employment, or at the expense of other forms of transport. It has always been appreciated that road, rail, inland waterways, coastwise shipping and the air have their place in the transport system of this country. Where we differ from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, is that our claim is that those forms of transport are an industry as a whole, and should be looked at as a whole, and that, wed together, they can serve the nation best. I am quite open about it so far as I am concerned: that transport, if it is going to be effective and efficient, has to be a monopoly. The difference is that that monopoly might be a public monopoly or a private monopoly. Where there is a monopoly, I always believe in a public monopoly rather than a private monopoly.

Therefore, the policy of the Labour Party is that before we dismantle the railways of this country we ought, as many noble Lords have said here this afternoon, to look at the problems of transport as a whole; not only transport as a function of moving freight and passengers, but transport in relation to physical planning and the distribution of industry and of population. I will be quite blunt about it: so far as the Labour Party's policy is concerned, it would mean an extension of the activities of B.R.S.; the taking off of the restrictions which the present Government put on them under the 1953 Act; giving them a free hand; relieving them of the necessity, which they now have, to go before the licensing courts to get an extension of a particular licence for a particular route; and a linking of the national road services with rail services, in that way getting an integrated road and rail system.

The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, was quite right in regard to the evidence of the T.U.C. to the Geddes Committee. Here again, the Government have admitted that the present licensing system of road transport is at fault somewhere; otherwise, they would never have set up the Geddes Committee. The T.U.C., in its evidence to the Geddes Committee, pointed out that there ought to be a restriction of the "C" licence, the ease with which a "C" licence can be obtained being one of the danger factors so far as road services are concerned; and that would have to be looked at.

The fact that the Government have not looked at transport as a whole has brought about a number of immediate problems. The noble Earl who has just spoken referred to the Highlands and the Islands, to the difficulties arising there, and the depopulation which is going to take place. One has only to refer to the line from Mallaig to Fort William, which was scheduled for closing. I may have the name wrong, but I think it was the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) which persuaded the pulp mills concern to go to Fort William, but they would go only if the line remained open. Of course, the Government, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, gave the undertaking that the line would remain open. So your Lordships will see that unless there is going to be this looking at the problem as a whole in relation to planning and the decentralisation of industry, that sort of thing is going to happen all over the place—and if it had been two or three years later the paper mills would not have gone to Fort William.

I turn south from Scotland. The Government are spending millions of pounds, quite rightly, on the development of the North-East Coast area. At the same time, the Government, through Dr. Beeching and his railway closures, have made that development more difficult. Here may I say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that no one in this House or anywhere else ought to criticise Dr. Beeching. He is an instrument of Government policy. He was appointed by the Government, and he was given a job to do by the Government. If he has given the wrong answers, it is because he was given the wrong questions to answer—and on that basis it is a policy for which the Government have to take full responsibility. But it is little good pouring money into the development of factories on the North-East Coast and at the same time closing down the railway services in that area.

My noble friend Lord Stonham referred to commuter services between Southport and Liverpool which take 100,000 to 150,000 passengers a week. Here, again, is shown the complete lack of a plan of any kind whatever. Of course, Dr. Beeching can make a case out of the commuter service between Southport and Liverpool. But there is not a single commuter service that pays. None of the commuter services of London pays. They do not pay because we are using the capital—the engine, the coaches and the track—for only four hours and letting them stand idle for twenty hours. In so far as London is concerned—more than Southport and Liverpool—when we bring passengers into London there is a dead haul out for ten, fifteen or sometimes twenty miles into sidings and a dead haul back at night to connect them up. If, in fact, we stopped the London commuter services, then the capital would be at a standstill.

So far as Liverpool is concerned, the problem of the roads between that town and Southport has never been looked at. But these roads just could not carry the buses needed as the result of a rail closure. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, what is the use of making a Report, and of the Government supporting that Report to the extent that they are going to have in inquiry in regard to closure, upon which the Minister is going to make a decision, when in fact they know at the start that the traffic could not be carried by road in any case. As usual, the problem has not been looked at as a whole. As I said a moment ago, so far as I am concerned, and so far as my noble friends are concerned, there is no complaint about Dr. Beeching and his Report. It is a question of the Government's implementation of that Report and their having instructed him to compile it without having looked at the problem of transport as a whole.

Dr. Beeching was not asked to deal with the social need, with industrial development, with congestion and with uneconomic working on the roads. He was not asked to look at what would happen if traffic now taken by the railways was to be diverted to the roads so that road traffic became chaotic. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that so long as the Government deal with various sections of transport in isolation, transport will be chaotic. The only sane and effective policy is to look at all forms of transport and to treat them as a whole. If they are looked at as a whole, they can serve the nation and the people of this country effectively and economically. If treated individually, it will lead to chaos and, in many circumstances, to loss of life and limb.

7.54 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, that this has been a very interesting debate; but I must say that I had hoped to hear from the Benches opposite more constructive ideas as to the alternative policy the Labour Party wish to pursue. We have had only inklings of this in a few casual remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, who did not use the word "nationalise" but said that public transport should be a public monopoly, and that the activities of B.R.S. should be extended; but he did not go any further than that. If the noble Lord wishes to interrupt now, he can do so.


My Lords, my point was that effective transport and economic transport must be a monopoly, and that monopoly can be either a public or a private one. We prefer a public monopoly.


My Lords, this is a positive statement. From this I assume that the noble Lord is talking about nationalisation of road transport which, in fact, no other noble Lord speaking from the Benches opposite had done. In fact, I thought that the noble Lords had been reading their International Socialist Journal which appeared last week. In that it was stated that the Labour Party's lack of a clear pattern of policy is clearly intended (and anybody listening to the debate would agree) to inhibit the scope of the attack of the Conservative Party and damp down some of the expectations of the convinced activists. I think, frankly, that the speeches of noble Lords opposite have not made clear what their policies are. They have produced criticism; but they have not produced the constructive answer that I thought this House has a right to expect.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, on an extremely good maiden speech which we all enjoyed. Unfortunately, the noble Lord could not remain; but he has apologised for his absence. But I should like to join in the tributes that other noble Lords have paid. The noble Lord asked me how much the Government are doing to cut down the time taken between a decision to go ahead with the road development work and the start of the work. This is not as simple as the noble Lord imagines. The time taken is not because of administrative delays, but because procedures must be followed before the Ministry of Transport or the local authorities can step in to acquire land and build roads. Of course, we could (although I am sure this is not his intention) ride roughshod over individual rights and move quickly; but we do not think—nor, I believe, will he, on reflection—that is the right way to get it done. We are attempting by long-term planning to make sure that schemes are brought forward sufficiently early to leave enough time for all statutory procedure.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt too often, but as his noble friend is not present, I would say that I do not think that that was quite his point. His point was the one of the London County Council, and it is one that is common to all local authorities: the time that elapses between provisional approval of the scheme and the approval of grant by the Ministry of Transport. In Hertfordshire, for instance, we have half a dozen schemes for which approval has been given by the Minister two or three years ago but we do not know whether we are going to get the grants for them.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will be interested in the help which the noble Lord has given him; but there are a number of other questions that I want to answer. First of all, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in an extremely friendly and moderate speech—and when I say "moderate," I mean moderate in tone, and not in quality—dwelt on the recommendations of the Buchanan Report. I am glad to note that he accepts this Report in principle, as he knows Her Majesty's Government do. He had a number of criticisms of detail, some of which I will try to answer. In particular, he made play with the fact that neither the Buchanan Report nor the Steering Committee Report gave any estimate of the costs of implementing the proposals.


Nor do the Government.


I will try to answer this criticism. The noble Lord drew a comparison with a Minister submitting a proposal involving large expenditure to the Cabinet for approval. I do not think that this is really what Buchanan is about. Buchanan emphasises throughout the Report that in fact he is not proposing specific solutions to the problems of particular cities, but is more concerned to establish the best method of tackling these problems; and he has applied his ideas to a number of towns and cities to see whether those ideas make sense. He has not intended that they should provide the blue prints for redeveloping these particular examples into which he has gone. In these circumstances it would not have been proper to give figures of costs, as if he had been submitting proposals for approval.


My Lords, if I may say so, the Report has diagrams and coloured pictures, particularly with regard to the Tottenham Court Road area, Newbury and Leeds. Does the noble Viscount tell us that the Government have accepted in general the Buchanan Report and have an idea what the cost is going to be? If so, what is it? Or have the Government accepted the Report in general, without the slightest idea of what the financial consequences will be?


My Lords, until all this preliminary work is done, neither Buchanan nor the Government can give any accurate estimate of what the cost is likely to be. I am trying to explain to your Lordships, in answer to the question put by the noble Lord, that the Buchanan Report is based on working out the methods and means of dealing with the problems of traffic congestion in our cities.

The noble Lord also wanted the grants paid by the Ministry of Transport, at present restricted to highway development, to be extended to cover associated town development. All I can say on this is that the Minister of Housing stated on February 19, during a debate on the Buchanan and Crowther Reports, that the Government accept the need of overhauling the present system of highway grants in the light of Buchanan, and that this matter is at present being examined by the Departments concerned. The noble Lord further suggested that private motorists may have to prove their need to come into town. I do not question the need for some limitation, but we believe that the limitation can best be achieved by seeing that the private motorist pays the full cost of bringing his car into the city centre and parking it all day. The alternative, we think, would be a large administrative organisation to deal with licences or exemptions, rather on the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was very cautious about how he felt progress should be made. To paraphrase what he said, an experiment should be started in a small town. We are going further than that. Our traffic surveys are to cover London and all the other great conurbations, and we are encouraging other towns to press ahead with individual surveys. Every town will wish to map out its own future. In this respect, I think that the words of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich will be of considerable interest to that city, when the authorities there are getting down to working out their own plans. But until these surveys are completed (and this brings me back to the first point I was making in answer to the noble Lord), Professor Buchanan himself emphasises that one cannot decide the shape and size, and therefore the cost, of redevelopment.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and also the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to the fact that the Government had not accepted the Crowther Steering Group recommendation on the creation of regional development agencies. The two noble Lords took opposite views: the noble Lord, Lord Henley, felt that we should have done so, but the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was, on the whole, in sympathy with the line that we have taken. I will not repeat the arguments, but the basic point is simple. Should the integrated process of planning for traffic and land be done by the local authorities, or should new agencies be superimposed on the existing organisation of local government? I should have thought that this problem was at the very heart of the whole process of local government.

The planning process arising from the Buchanan Report would affect not simply the physical development but also the whole quality of life in our towns and cities, and the complete process must cover many facets of planning and development which fall within the responsibilities of local authorities, and they are the people who should make the local choice for the alternative plans which, as Professor Buchanan himself emphasised, will be necessary. Therefore, the Government believe that the local authorities are the best people to do the job. We are sure that, strengthened by the reorganisation which the noble Lord knows is in process of taking place, and with help and guidance from the centre, the local authorities will rise to meet the challenge that is presented to them. Knowing, from my early days in politics, of the noble Lord's great interest in and affection for local government, I am not surprised that he took a different view from that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. In his autobiography, Lord Morrison of Lambeth wrote: The trend towards centralisation of government at the cost of prestige and independence in the Town Hall and County Hall is, to my mind, to be regretted. I agree with those sentiments, and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, like other noble Lords, expressed great concern about the procedures under the Beeching Plan, and I should like to say something about these procedures. There is a complex and carefully worked out procedure to ensure that adequate alternative services are seen to be available before a passenger closure takes place. First, and most important, there is the question of individual hardship. The T.U.C.C. goes into this in the minutest detail, and when my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport comes to decide on a closure proposal, he knows whether four schoolgirls are going to have trouble in getting to school on time, or whether a bus has to be diverted half a mile off its normal route to take villagers to market on Thursday. This detail is carried right through into the conditions which he attaches, if he decides to give his consent to a closure.

As your Lordships fully realise, it is not only personal hardship with which we are dealing when considering these closures. Many other factors are relevant: the development plans for the area, the location of industry, and the condition of the roads over which any alternative bus service might have to run. My right honourable friend, for instance, receives a special report from his local road engineer in every case, and he knows what the closure is likely to save the railways in terms of hard cash. I would emphasise that these savings, by reducing the deficit on the railways, would directly benefit the taxpayer. All these factors are assessed, and the advice of the local authorities and the Minister's colleagues are taken into account. There is special consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Welsh Affairs over proposed closure in those parts of the country. And only after the fullest consideration of all these factors is the decision taken.

Closures in urban areas represent a special problem. Dr. Beeching recognised this, when he said: It is not thought that any of the firm proposals put forward in this Report would be altered by the introduction of new factors for the purpose of judging overall social benefit. Only in the case of surburban services around some of the larger cities is there clear likelihood that a purely commercial decision within the existing I framework of judgment would conflict with a decision based upon total social benefit. The Beeching Report accordingly does not propose closures in the main urban areas except in those cases where the Railways Board think that no amount of external considerations could affect the issue. But the Government will take great care to see that even those few proposals that do affect urban areas are properly looked at. If we find, in the light of the Buchanan Report, that the right course is to refuse consent to closures, we shall not hesitate to do so—in fact, as noble Lords know, in two cases this has already been done.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, whether I would say that no action would be taken on the proposals relating to Liverpool, Stockport, Manchester and Buxton. All these proposals must go through the machine, but these considerations that I have mentioned will be taken into account when they do.


My Lords, will the noble Viscount say what possible Justification there can be for putting local authorities to the trouble, time, expense and anxiety of going through the procedure when everybody knows that a closure of that kind could not take place—it would be lunatic?


It is difficult to draw a fair dividing line, and I think it is much better to do what my noble friend has done and that there should be no exceptions to the rule.


I must press this point, because I am talking about closures into conurbations. Surely that could be a dividing line. You have these great conurbations of London, Liverpool, Glasgow and so on. Surely those cases should not be submitted for closure.


My right honourable friend has taken a different view on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, spoke about Scotland, and I should like to say a word about this area, because the noble Earl spoke with great feeling and sincerity. I would not suggest that there are no differences between Scotland and the rest of the country. Certainly Scotland has a Secretary of State sitting in the Cabinet, and he has at his disposal departments dealing with development and growth; and as both noble Lords know, there are Scottish institutions which have no counterpart South of the Border—I refer, of course, to the Scottish Council and the Highlands Transport Board. We should be foolish, when we are considering closures in Scotland, not to take advantage of the help that bodies like these can give. But this does not mean that the principles to be applied should be any different from those appertaining to the rest of Great Britain.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport consults with the Secretary of State for Scotland on these closures, but the decision rests with the Minister and not with the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Minister will in all cases apply the same careful consideration which I have tried to outline to your Lordships, whether the proposals relate to Scotland, Wales or England. So there is no reason, in principle, why the pattern of closure decisions in Scotland should be different from the rest of the country. It may prove to be different—there is no preconceived idea about the pattern of decisions—but that will emerge only from a detailed consideration of each case.


Since every case is to be the subject of detailed consideration, and the decision will always be that of the Minister, how is it that the Secretary of State for Scotland is in a position to say that a number of threatened lines in Scotland will never be closed, and that others will not be closed for years?


I think my right honourable friend was speculating on the likely outcome of the examination of these particular cases.


Does the noble Viscount mean that one Minister openly and publicly speculates about another Minister's powers and responsibilities? Is this the way to run a Government? It is as bad as your transport system.


I happen to think that our transport system and our Government are both very good.

My Lords, I want to try to answer as many questions as I can. The financial figures given to the transport users' consultative committees are given at their request as background information, and primarily to help them in making proposals about alternative services. In view of the criticism about this procedure—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made some criticism to-day—my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport decided to ask an independent accountant for a report. At the suggestion of the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, he asked Sir William Carrington to undertake this task, and a copy of his Report was placed in the Library of this House last Autumn. Sir William's main view was that the financial information supplied by the Railways Board to the transport users' consultative committees was appropriate for the committees in carrying out their duties, and that the basis of the procedure is sound in principle. Therefore, I am sorry to hear the comments of the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, quite clearly feels that the motor vehicles should be taxed more highly, because they pay too little for the cost of the roads and so compete unfairly with the railways. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, would follow Lord Stonham in this argument. I am not going to reply to that. As the noble Lord said, there has been a discussion in this House before; and he did not go into detail about the figures, which he has given your Lordships before. But I think the costs we have considered are the costs of road maintenance, renewals and traffic control; the cost of a large part of lighting and road administration and of road accidents not covered by road insurance; the cost arising from noise and dirt, and the cost of capital investment in the roads. The Government are doing their sums and taking all these items into account. We are satisfied, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, feels, that the total revenue for motor taxation exceeds the present cost of the road system.

I should now like to say something about roads. My noble friend Lord Gosford was, I think, very fair. He speaks with considerable vigour and determination, and he said that we should not be laggard in our efforts to provide the extra roads that this country certainly needs. Naturally, like every good advocate, he is not entirely satisfied with what we are doing. However, he was not all that unfriendly, but, quite rightly, wished to keep up the pressure.

A NOBLE LORD: Where is he?


My noble friend kindly gave me a note to say that unfortunately, owing to a previous engagement, like many noble Lords opposite, he was not able to be here. The Government's action in recent years demonstrates the great importance we attach to highways and the need to see that this road system is up to modern requirements. My noble friend Lord Chesham produced these impressive figures—and they are good figures for noble Lords who belong to the Labour Party to remember: in 1958–59 Central Government expenditure on roads in Great Britain was about £47 million a year. This was a great improvement on a few years before, and especially on the £3 million spent by the Labour Government in 1951. To-day the amount has nearly trebled and is running at the rate of £124 million, and will continue to rise to over £200 million in 1968–69.

This is no meagre effort, and I think fair minded people can see for themselves the fruits of this expenditure. If they use their imagination, they will see how this is going to develop in the future because, of course, in future years we shall devote more of our resources to modernising the road systems in our towns and cities. But, in the meanwhile, we have no intention of easing up on the motorway problem. Some people have tried to argue, from the basis of motorways completed in recent years, that we shall not reach the target we set ourselves. The momentum of the whole problem is building up. The next five years will see the completion of many more miles of motorways than the first five years, and we shall certainly stand by past statements that we expect to complete the first 1,000 miles of motorways in the early 1970's.


My Lords, will the noble Viscount forgive me for interrupting. Have the Government assessed the loss to the country in food producing land through this tremendous road programme? Have they offset that at all against the expenses on these new motorways and road widening? I understand that about 20,000 acres of agricultural land a year is now being lost.


My Lords, it is regrettable that good agricultural land must be used for this purpose, but we cannot have the roads without doing that. I think nobody is against the need for completing this very extensive programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids (and I am afraid I was not in the House when the noble Viscount made his speech, but I was given an account of it) touched on the waterways. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, welcomes the Report of the British Waterways Board and I believe this was in the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. This is, of course, an interim report, but I think noble Lords who are interested are pleased to see that there definitely seems to be a future for the waterways which, up to fairly recent years, have been written off with far too little regard to their potentiality.

I apologise for detaining your Lordships for so long. I think the difference between us is that there is this divergence of view as to whether transport should be a subsidised service. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said it should not, whereas some of his noble friends said that it should. This is not necessarily an argument between the Parties. The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Winchester, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, felt that transport should be a public service, subsidised on the same basis as the Health Service. That is not the view we take in the Conservative Party. We feel that our policies are producing a good and suitable transport system which will be suited to the needs of this country at the present time, and in the future that lies ahead. I think the Labour Party are being very mealy-mouthed in not giving out more clearly what their policies are. We may have an Election at some time—


What do you mean by, "we may have"? We shall have, surely.


I said "we may have" jocularly. In fact it will be in the year 1964. But I would suggest that the people of this country have a right to know what the alternative policies of the two Parties are. If the Labour Party cannot do better than they have done to-day, I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves. How can they, as an Opposition Party, challenge our Government's policy when their own policy is so hopelessly vague? Do they or do they not intend to re-nationalise road haulage? What do they intend to do about the private "A" and "B" licences? Would their distance limits be the same as the previous 25-mile radius? If this is so it would represent, I think, nationalisation by strangulation.

What of the "C" licences? What is the Labour Party policy towards them? I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in his autobiography, which I find very good reading, reveals that in 1947 he was in favour of bringing the "C" licences into the public service, but he was defeated by the Co-ops. and by Douglas Jay. What is the present policy of the Labour Party concerning these 1¼ million vehicles? It has been reported that the Labour Party have recently been consulting various unions on aspects of their policies. Have they been consulting the Co-ops. on their reactions to restrictions on "C" licences? These are questions about which the country wants to know, and I hope that when we have another transport debate the Opposition will produce a strong, positive policy, something which they have absolutely failed to do in the debate to-day.

8.26 p.m.


My Lords, not for nothing is the noble Viscount Chairman of the Conservative Party Organisation, paid for out of public funds, which is a scandal—a wicked scandal. He has finished with a peroration, a copy of which has been supplied to him by the Tory Central Office. He has the bright boys in the research department, the back room boys, who have an extraordinary capacity for becoming successful Parliamentary candidates, and they have supplied him with this stuff with a view to his trying to embarrass us. What is the good of him, in the last five minutes of his speech, after the whole debate has taken place, challenging us to take another hour, two hours or three hours answering the questions he has put?—because I am not going to answer them in a sentence; not at all. It is well known that we are in favour of long-distance road haulage being made publicly-owned and fitted in, with proper co-ordination, with railway services—perfectly well known.

As to the other questions, which are questions of detail, it would be quite inappropriate at this time of night for me to answer them. But who is he to talk about wanting answers? What answers have we had from the Government about their policy? What answer have we had from the Government about finance? What answer have we had from the Government about implementing the findings of these numerous Committees to which my noble friend Lord Lindgren referred, when he said that the Government had so many Committees that they got into a state of mind that "another little Committee will not do any harm"? In fact, their Committees, in their judgment, are so good that they can be used again. What is he going to do about these Committee reports? No answer. If these clever questions from Smith Square—not my part of Smith Square—were going to be put, why were they not put by the Parliamentary Secretary? Is it because he is not a Tory Central Office hack and, therefore, does not like to stoop to those depths? Whereas the noble Viscount, as Chairman of the Party organisation, poor devil!, has to stoop to those depths, otherwise he will not hold the job until the General Election. This is all good fun. Nobody is the worse for it, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chairman of the Conservative Party Organisation, paid for out of public funds, is no better for it, either.

There is just one point. I do not want to make a speech at this hour of the night—as noble Lords used to say at seven o'clock "at this late hour". We do not want to stay any longer, but we are getting dangerously near the hours of the other place, which I did not come here to observe, I must confess. There was one point upon which I should like to put the noble Viscount right. It is not a highly controversial point. I said that I thought that if the Buchanan Report was to be experimented with, a small town like Newbury or a middle-sized city like Norwich would be the kind of place to try it out. This was the Buchanan Report, which means physical changes. It means building these pedestrian platforms, and all that sort of thing. It is the physical changes the Buchanan Report recommends to which I was referring.

The noble Viscount, completely misunderstanding the position—I appreciate that he may not have been briefed on this particular matter—brought in a totally different item and said, "Yes, but we must do the big cities. Are we not having a traffic survey in London?" I referred to that myself. But the traffic survey is about where the traffic comes from, where it goes to, and why. It is not like the Buchanan Report, which is concerned with physical changes which the Working Group considered desirable in order to improve the traffic situation. The other surveys were of traffic facts and were totally different propositions. I think that the House as a whole would agree with me that the way to try the Buchanan system out, if you are going to try it out, is not by spending an enormous sum, as you would have to do in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool or Birmingham, but by trying it out in a small place like Newbury or a moderate-sized city like Norwich, or both of them. This was the point I endeavoured to put. It did not seem to be understood by the noble Viscount, and I was rather surprised at this.

We have had a good debate and I am much obliged to noble Lords in all parts of the House who have taken part. It has been a useful debate, especially coming at this time, and I am grateful for the way in which it has been received. Having said that, and not wishing to keep your Lordships longer at this late hour, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.