HL Deb 14 June 1972 vol 331 cc982-1052

2.50 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER rose to call attention to the state of road traffic at present and in the future in the light of the forecast of the number of vehicles in Great Britain up to the year 2010 contained in Table 8 of Road Research 1970; and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, I want to make it clear from the start that it is not my intention to criticise anyone, except where there is selfishness and irresponsibility, nor to suggest quick and easy panaceas to problems which I am well aware are intractable. I know of the continuing care and research exercised by Her Majesty's Ministers and their Departments in matters which concern the roads and the traffic upon them. I recognise the excellent work that is being done by such organisations as ROSPA and the Pedestrians' Association for Road Safety, of which I have the honour to be President. I respect the responsibility of the motoring associations, though I do not always agree with their views. I value the work done by local authorities and their safety committees. My purpose in opening this debate is once again to state some of the facts lest they should be forgotten, and to ask some questions lest they should go by default.

I begin by observing that the roads of our country have become highly dangerous and frequently very unpleasant places. I need do no more than appeal to the experience which has become so familiar to all of us. Despite the stupendous achievement of the motorways, the building of bye-pass roads and other improvements, we all know the misery and frustration of traffic blocks, sefish driving and danger, which is the frequent lot of every motorist and of every pedestrian. These are accentuated at times of national holidays, when even the motorways are unable to contain the load of traffic upon them; but they are increasingly becoming a daily experience. I do not doubt that when your Lordships go home to-night you will spend a good deal of time sitting in road blocks. Most of us all too frequently find ourselves in queues seven or eight miles long on motorways only because repairs are being carried out. I did so this morning on the M.6 in coming to London, and so I speak with feeling. Frustration and irritation are all too familiar. So also is fear; for no one can venture on the roads in these days without a lurking suspicion that he may very well be killed or maimed. If your Lordships' experience is the same as mine, one cannot take a journey of any distance without the repeated experience that had things gone a little differently one would have been involved in a serious accident.

This fear is borne out by the proved statistics. In 1971, 7,696 people were killed on our roads; 6,733 were adults, 963 were children; 344,390 people were injured. In all in 1971, 352,086 people were killed or injured. In the terrible pit disaster last week at Wankie some 400 men lost their lives. In the flood disaster at Rapid City over 200 people so far are recorded as having been killed. We are very properly shocked and dismayed at such calamities; yet in 1971 on the roads of our country some 640 people were killed each month. Let us open our viewpoint a little wider. In the last 10 years, from 1962 to 1971 inclusive, 74,100 people were killed on the roads. That is about 1¼ times the population of the City of Chester. In the same period of 10 years 3,654,000 people were killed or injured; that is about six times the population of the City of Manchester. It needs little imagination to appreciate what those figures represent in human suffering and in waste. And so I note in passing that the Road Research Laboratory has recently calculated the cost to the economy in 1970 of a fatal accident to be £19,000, a serious accident £1,400, a slight accident £250, and damage to a car on average £100. Those figures are likely to rise by some 3 per cent. per annum.

We can take some comfort from the fact that the record in this country is not as bad as it is in some other countries. In fact we come out rather well in the international league. So also the rate of accidents has not risen proportionately to the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads. But this I suggest is cold comfort. It smacks rather of the clergyman who in reporting to his Bishop a falling off in the size of his congregation, added: "I am glad however to report that the Methodists are doing worse."

The plain fact is that, however they may be assessed, these are terrible figures, and we must not be complacent or fatalistic about them and I hope we shall bear them in mind during this debate. For, as the Department's report Road Accidents 1970 points out, in a period when the population has increased by about 10 per cent., road deaths have increased by 57 per cent. If any of your Lordships are betting men, it may be of interest to you to know that the odds against an individual losing his life on the roads have shortened from 150 to 1 to 100 to 1.

In the light of this situation I ask your Lordships to consider three points in particular about the present position and then to take a look at the future. I mention first the question of speed. The assertion that speed contributes to accidents is sometimes contested, but I believe that such contesting of the figures is false, and I would quote in my support the opinion of the Road Research Laboratory Report for 1970, on page 44: A study of some 50 references to research in other countries on the effect of changing speed limits, with no other major change, has shown that where there was previously no limit the mean and standard deviation of speed, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the limit, and the speed below which 85 per cent. of them travel, arc all lower with the limit. The accident rate per vehicle/kilometre is lower, particularly that for the more serious ones. For instance, the French speed limit of 100 km/h introduced in March, 1969, led to reported falls of 36 per cent. in deaths, and 40 per cent. in accidents, and the 90 km/h Swedish limit produced an economic saving in accidents exceeding the increased cost of slower travel. After limits are removed or raised, mean speeds and standard deviations generally rise as do accident and injury rates. In any case, it can hardly be contested that speed gives drivers and other road users less time to act in an emergency and makes accidents much worse when they do occur, and the fact that in 1971 there were fewer accidents but more fatalities suggests the bad effect of speed. Also, the rising figures of fatal accidents among children, which rose from 882 in 1970 to 963 in 1971, suggests that cars go too fast in areas where children are frequently on the road.

My Lords, we have speed limits in this country, and in many cases they are flagrantly and cynically disregarded. Sometimes this is due to obsolete restrictions which create exasperation in the driver, but more often it is due to the selfish flouting of the law. I hope the noble Lord will be able to assure the House that there will be a re-examination of existing restrictions to ensure that they are up to date, and also that means will be taken to ensure that the law is properly enforced. I see no reason why there should not he a specialist branch of the police devoted to road control. Traffic wardens have graduated very successfully from dealing with parking offences to undertaking traffic control. Why should the system not be extended to provide regular supervision of the roads, and why should there not be plain-clothes patrols?

But, more basically, we need to educate the public away from the idea that the main purpose of an automobile is to go fast and that the highways can be treated as speedways. Surely 70 m.p.h. should be fast enough for anyone to travel. Yet the general public is bombarded by propaganda encouraging fast driving. The worst offenders are the makers of motor cars, who constantly extol their wares by pointing out in advertisements that the car can go over 100 miles an hour or move from 0 to 50 m.p.h. in 6–8 seconds. An advertisement by B.M.W. describes their "aggressive" 2 litre engine as giving "the exhilaration of commanding so much unexpected power". It is "neatly predatory in traffic "—a rather sinister commendation, your Lordships may think—and "uninhibited on the open road". We are told that it will "sustain precise cornering control at any speeds". The Triumph, we are told, "will get you past those endless-seeming camions on the Route Nationale 7 in a flash. And you can go creaming it down the auto routes at 118 m.p.h."

This kind of advertising was subject to a Parliamentary Question in another place. The Minister declined to take action, saying that the purchaser may want to know how close he is to the maximum speed of the car he is driving, and there is also the question of exports in many countries which do not apply our speed limits. I confess that I find this answer unsatisfactory. If buyers want that sort of information it is better supplied in technical specifications, not in advertisements in a country where it is illegal to travel above 70 m.p.h. I hope that in his reply the noble Lord will indicate Her Majesty's Government's disapproval of this form of advertising and will discourage it.

Related to speed is the question of the drunken driver. It seems likely that the cutting edge of the Road Safety Act 1967, with the introduction of the breathalyser test, has become blunted. To take one instance, the Chief Constable of the Liverpool and Bootle Police Authority, in his report for 1971, recorded that is was necessary to make 1,224 requests for breath tests—an increase of 73.1 per cent. over 1970. Action was taken against 676 persons—an increase of 277 over 1970 and 360 over 1969. Convictions were recorded in all but 48 cases. I would ask the noble Lord to assure the House that this matter is being examined and that possibly random tests or a lowering of the alcoholic content of the blood would provide an effective boost to the value of this measure. I hope also, in relation generally to high speeds, now that we can travel very long distances at speeds—from London right through to Carlisle—he will initiate some research into the effect on drivers of speed over long distances and that if necessary he will provide compulsory stopping places and car parks on the motorways, other than at service stations, where people can stop if they feel they are in need of a rest.

I turn now to the question of the centre of urban areas. The problems posed by traffic in cities are so familiar that they need little elaboration. Considerable progress has been made by a number of local authorities, but it seems that too much depends on the initiative, or the lack of it, of local authorities, many of which do not possess the resources to employ the necessary expertise. In the construction of New Towns—I am thinking particularly of Runcorn New Town, which is familiar to me—it is possible to plan effective control ab initio. It is more difficult in established cities, but it is not impossible, as one knows that great advances have been made in such places as Leeds, Exeter and Norwich. But much remains to be done, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to assure the House that new efforts will be made to dissuade the private motorist from corning, into the centre of towns unless he has a right to do so or it is absolutely essential for him to do so.

I should expect to see the construction of big car parks on the periphery of cities, where private cars can be parked, and a regular and extended system of public transport to carry passengers into the heart of the city. This would depend in large measure on the regularity of public transport, for the private motorist can hardly be blamed for getting into the habit of taking his car into a town for work if from time to time he is inconvenienced by the consequences of industrial action. Indeed, the need for an overall policy for public transport is urgent in view of the increasing isolation of country districts. Many of them have lost their local train service. Many communities are some miles away from the nearest bus service, and the only means of conveyance for great numbers of people in rural areas is the private car, which they bring into the towns for their shopping. They need the help of a planned service much nearer to their homes. Meanwhile, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do something more than is being done to cope with the nuisance of the loading and unloading by very large vans, which in ancient towns especially block the streets, park on the sidewalks—though they are not the only offenders—and force other vehicles to pass by driving on to the pathway. The practice of parking on sidewalks is particularly dangerous, since as well as being an infringement of the rights of the pedestrian it frequently forces him to walk on the road itself, with all the attendant dangers from passing traffic.

I come now to the question of commercial vehicles. One of the main sources of danger and of frustration is the combination on our already overloaded roads of fast private vehicles and the slower—but not always much slower—very large commercial vehicles. One cannot blame commercial interests for wanting to send their goods by road for, from their point of view, road transport is cheap, efficient and reliable. But were we not so familiar with the combining of so many types of vehicle on our roads, we should appreciate how ludicrous it is to imagine that there can be a satisfactory state of affairs when private cars compete with huge commercial vehicles on the limited space available. Things are bad enough on the motorways. They are very serious indeed on other highways.

Two years ago, the Civic Trust published its Report, Heavy Lorries, pointing out the extent of the invasion on the convenience and the amenities of citizens by these very big, heavy vehicles. They block our streets, they keep us awake at night, they shake and damage our buildings, they are a danger to life and limb. The Minister is to be congratulated on refusing to accede to the blandishments of those who want larger and heavier vehicles. I hope that he will continue to be firm in the face of pressure from the European Economic Community to increase the axle weight of commercial vehicles to an extent which we can neither accommodate nor afford.

I would also draw attention to the grave potential danger created by the thousands of tankers carrying each day their loads of highly dangerous chemicals. An article in the colour supplement of the Daily Telegraph of May 26 this year, drew attention to the hazards which they create. Is the noble Earl satisfied that regulations are sufficient to act as a safeguard against the potential dangers that these lethal loads create?

It appears likely that this problem will increase rather than decrease unless drastic action is taken, since in the first three months of this year the number of commercial vehicles licensed increased from 58,660 in 1971, to 66,485—an increase of nearly 8.000. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the noble Earl will be able to give the House some assurance that every effort will be made to get the heavy commercial traffic off the main roads, and on to the railways and canals where it rightly belongs. Will he also assure us that strict rules will be enforced to route these vehicles on roads where they will create a minimum of inconvenience to the general public? Will he, in particular, forbid passage wherever possible through the centre of towns and villages? And will he give us an assurance that he is satisfied that the schedules of work required of heavy lorry drivers do not require driving at speeds beyond the legal limits, and that payment of drivers by the load, which is one of the factors which naturally encourages speeding, will be banned?

My Lords, the problems of the present are forbidding enough in all conscience, but my Motion directs attention especially to the future which presents even more alarming prospects. The Annual Report of the Road Research Laboratory is a highly technical document, illustrative of the immense care and skill of its research, but in many instances it is beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. But one of its tables, at least, is understandable, for table 8 is a forecast of the number of vehicles to be expected up to the year 2010. in 38 years' time. It tells us that in 1969 there were 14.8 million vehicles licensed in Great Britain. In 1980, there will be 23 million, an increase on the 1969 figure of 55.4 per cent.; and by 2010 the number of vehicles will have risen to 36.2 million, an increase on the 1969 figure of 144.6 per cent. In 2010, the number of heavy and medium goods vehicles will have increased from 0.6 million to 1.2 million; that is, an increase of 100 per cent.

The prospect of an increase of nearly one-and-a-half times the number of vehicles on our roads by the turn of the century is, I suggest, one which raises issues of the utmost importance and urgency.

Basically, we have to ask how many vehicles can be contained, and how much land can be provided, in an island which is already over-populated and insufficient for the needs of so many things which require accommodation. What is, at any rate, clear, is that either there must be a limitation on the number of vehicles, or there must be far more drastic planning and control than anything that we have yet contemplated. Indeed, it may need a radical change in our whole outlook and behaviour as we equate ourselves to the automobile era, if it should come.

Already the warning notes are being sounded. I take three instances at random from documents in my possession. The Friends of the Lake District have commissioned a Report on traffic management in the Lake District, in order to ensure, if possible, in the words of their President, the Archbishop of York, that disaster shall not befall the area whose beauty and general welfare the members have at heart. Secondly, moving to the other end of England. the document produced on the South Hampshire Development Plan Your Choice, Your Community, taking note of the prediction that the traffic in that area will have increased four-fold between 1966 and 2000, states: These predictions alone will cause concern, but the real significance and full implications cannot be properly appreciated until it is realised that under present circumstances the rate of new and improved road building cannot match the increase in traffic. Unless, of course, we are prepared to pay handsomely by way of huge rate and road tax charges.

Thirdly, a reputable statistician has recently computed that the five million visitors per year from abroad to the United Kingdom will probably have risen to 25 million by the year 2001; and may even, according to one set of figures, have risen to 100 million. Presumably, most of them will bring their cars or they will come in coaches. I am aware, of course, of the efforts of the Department of the Environment to face this challenge, and I recollect the Minister's Statement a year ago that he was to add a further thousand miles of motorway to the existing thousand miles, so as to meet the challenge of 22 million vehicles by 1980. But in another 30 years after that, by the year 2010, there will be another 14 million vehicles on top of the 22 million, and it is for figures of that sort that provision should now be made.

There is practically no aspect of national life which will not be touched by such an increase of traffic. It will affect the character of towns, for, certainly, they can carry no more vehicles. It will affect the countryside, for we have to ask how much more of our land we can surrender to the concrete of the motorway. It has its æsthetic and historical aspects, for, though a motorway need not be ugly, yet experience proves that their construction requires the destruction of much that is of æsthetic and historical importance. It has its medical significance, for what of the effect of noise and pollution of the air? It has personal implications, for increased traffic is bound to increase the impact on persons, the destruction of their homes, the bringing of motorways to areas which were once remote and quiet. It will have widespread effect upon the economy, both in terms of expenditure and on the future of the motor industry. The implications of these forecasts are so far-reaching that they ought to be subjected to the scrutiny and judgment of a Royal Commission and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will agree to such a proposal.

My Lords, I ask your indulgence to add one more point. It has been suggested to me by some of my friends that it is rather odd that a Motion of this nature should emanate from these Benches. "Anyhow", they say, "you can do nothing about it. People are going to demand and to have their motor cars whatever you or any Government may say, and to try to limit or control the increase of motor vehicles is as hopeless as was King Canute's effort with the sea." I make no apology for raising these matters, however insufficiently I may have done so. For the prospect before us typifies one of the most profound issues that face mankind.

What is going to determine man's fate? Is he going to control the machines which he has invented or are the machines going to control him? There is an unlimited number of motor cars and vast areas of motorway. Is this the kind of life we want and, if we want it, is it the kind of life we ought to have? I hold that the motor car can he a great blessing or a great curse. If it is not controlled it will gradually but ruthlessly destroy the things in life which we value most greatly. I believe that man can control a machine which he has made and that he ought to do so. But I believe also that we are at a moment in history when, if we do not act swiftly, we may very well lose the battle. Therefore, my Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, we are deeply indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for introducing a topic for debate which is in every way a suitable one for this House at this time. We are grateful also for the excellence of his speech. But as a Methodist I very much doubt if his story will please the ecumenical movement very much. I suspect that it will have some little effect upon the proposed merger between the two churches. We are grateful, too, to the right reverend Prelate for his close and continued interest in the Pedestrians' Association for Road Safety of which he has been President for a long time. Surely it was right that he should devote a large part of his speech to this aspect of the work of the association.

The figures he has given of the casualties on our roads indicate the need for such an association and for the watchful care of Parliament. All of us, motorists and everyone else, need to be reminded from time to time of the dangers on the roads. I was shocked the other day to read in the national Press that two toddlers had gone through a wire fence on to a railway line and had been killed by an express train. That the report appeared in the national Press was because it was a very rare event. The killing of our children on the roads of this country is such a commonplace happening that, unless it happens in a multiple crash or something of that sort, we never hear of it. To find the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads in the course of a year I had to dig in a speech of the Under Secretary for the Department of the Environment on 19th May. He said: Over 2,600 children aged four years or under are killed or seriously injured in any particular year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 19/5/72; col. 924.] I cannot recall seeing that shocking statement mentioned anywhere in the national Press, even as a statistic, for death on the roads is such a common occurrence.

The right reverend Prelate's Motion is a very wide embracing one which calls for an examination of the existing difficulties and dangers on our roads and a visualisation of what this country might look like and what it will be like to live here in forty years' time when the projected figures in the road research table of 30½ million cars and 36 million motor vehicles are seeking road space. But over and above trying to visualise he is calling upon us to examine possible trends in the next forty years, to see where the balance of advantage for the majority lies and to take such steps, starting from now, as will make life bearable for those who will then be living here. Despite the obvious difficulties the attempt has to be made for it is an absolute certainty that if we do not make preparations now urban chaos will increase and become even more terrifying with every year that passes.

If we had been able to look into the future forty years ago and if we had had the necessary research facilities and foresight to enable us to foresee the tremendous growth of the road haulage industry and, above all, the explosion in the number of cars on our roads I doubt if we would have allowed many of the difficulties to arise. Would we have permitted the centres of our towns and cities to become choked with fumes from stinking and polluting vehicles and the creation of conditions in which shopping has become a great hazard? In our residential streets two-thirds of the road space provided at public expense is being used not for the passage of vehicles but mostly for overnight parking in flagrant disregard of the Highway Code's instruction that a vehicle must not stand opposite another parked vehicle if this would narrow the road 'to less than the width of two vehicles? We all know that this happens.

Would we have allowed totally inadequate roads to be infested with the juggernauts of the road haulage industry? Would we have let our railways decline to the point at which only 205 million tons of freight per annum are being carried by rail while 1,670 million tons are being carried on the roads? This is disgraceful. We have to recognise that these things have crept up on us. A couple of cars are left standing in the carriageway overnight. It is seen by new car owners that those who do not buy or rent a garage can avoid paying £20 or £30 a year in rates and more in rent and yet nothing is done about it by the police. A couple of cars can become a couple of hundred with in places double banking and parking on pavements. This is now so prevalent that it is too late to act. The lorry crept up on us in weight-carrying almost hundredweight by hundredweight, inch by inch in width, foot by foot in length, almost unnoticed. The bus widens a foot and we tend to say, "What does such a trifling increase matter?" even although we all know that it will make buses almost impossible, and certainly dangerous, to pass on so many of the roads of this country as they exist today.

In 1914 there were 24,000 miles of railway. What does it matter if 100 miles of main line or a couple of branch lines are closed here and there? But, my Lords, it brought the total route mileage down bit by bit to 18,000 miles in 1961, and it has declined further since that date, for 1969 was pre-Beeching. It is still going on, and it will continue to do so for just so long as the railways have to work in the context of an Act of Parliament which lays a duty on railway management to secure that their revenue is not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another. In 1960 the instruction of the then Prime Minister was: "First the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular, the railway system must be remodelled to meet current needs, and the modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape."

In the context of that instruction to meet current needs, Beeching was obsolutely right to recommend the streamlining of the railway system. But, my Lords, in the context of the years up to 2010, which we are examining to-day, the paring down of the railways, the selling off of railway land, the ripping up of tracks, the pulling down of bridges and the neglect of tunnels to collapsing point is, I assert, a form of madness. I am as positive as one can be that we shall have to return to the steel rail and the flanged wheel of the railways or some such form of transportation long before the year 2010 is reached.

My Lords, we have the worst traffic conditions of any country in the world, and we must spend thousands of millions of pounds on the improvement of existing roads and the building of new ones. But before cutting wide swaths through towns and laying thousands of miles of concrete in them—much of it on stilts overshadowing people's houses and homes and at the staggering cost of to-day's land prices—let us at least try making vast improvements in public transport, providing shuttle services to and from the centres of towns from car parks on the periphery, and banning the private car from our town centres. This is a difficult thing to do but it will have to be done—and I very strongly support the plea that the right reverend Prelate was making in this connection.

We must also do something about improving the quality of life in the towns by the creation of many more pedestrian-only areas, on lines already proved to add to amenity—and here again I am supporting the right reverend Prelate. Twelve million cars to-day; 30½ million by 2010. One wonders 'where they are going to be parked, for there certainly will not be room for that lot in our residential streets, not even by using more of the pavements and with treble parking. If you are going to permit that number of cars, begin to do something about the preparation of places where they are going to be put when they are on our roads.

For the immediate future, tell our Common Market friends that, no matter what they do, we have no intention of permitting the overall weight of vehicles on our roads to exceed the present 39 tons limit, and that we will certainly not permit here an increased axle weight, with its grave risk to bridges, roads and old buildings in towns and villages through which they would rattle on their journeys to and from the ports. Already our lorries have passed safe limits of weight, length and width, and I was very glad to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Moybray and Stourton, on Wednesday last that the Minister has taken some notice of our debates on the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Bill and is considering allowing these juggernauts to go only on roads designated as suitable for them. We must press the Minister of the Environment to get beyond the consideration stage, for time is running out.

Also for the immediate future, we must tackle the problem of pollution caused by the internal combustion engine. I read recently that a special study prepared in the United States of America found that in many large cities auto exhausts cause 90 per cent. of carbon monoxide, 80 per cent. of hydrocarbon and 70 per cent. of nitrogen oxides. The last two are the major polluting ingredients in smog that increasingly envelopes large cities. The truth of that finding can be tested here by walking along, say, Oxford Street when that street is full of vehicles and the air is still. Let us make regulations immediately for the inclusion of a catalytic converter in the exhaust systems of every new car turned out by the industry. We must also improve and set new noise limits for cars and lorries; and, having set those limits, having made those regulations, we must see that they are carried out. When the silencer goes—as they do much too often due to the inferior metal put in them in these days—ensure that prosecution follows the use of a car with a faulty silencer. So many of the cars I hear about our streets today, even with present regulations, are in breach of the law, but nothing at all is done about it.

My Lords, these are some of the things to which we have to address our minds and for which we must make our preparations for the year 2010. The right reverend Prelate has mentioned many more, and I cannot think of a single sentence in his speech which I did not find myself supporting. My Lords, we must not let the dangers and difficulties of the present blind us to the fact that we must begin to do the things that have to be done in order to avoid the catastrophic situation that we shall be in when the year 2010 is with us if we do not. What I am doing—and with this I end—is asking: when are we going to have the guts—and political courage of a very high order will be required—to stop the decline of our railways; to direct much of the freight traffic to where it belongs, on to the railway and off the road; to ban the choking of our cities and towns with stinking, polluting vehicles; to cease trying to meet the demands of the ever-increasing number of motor vehicles on our roads by destroying the quality of life in our towns by tearing out whole neighbourhoods and communities and running through them miles of concrete slabs with fascinating but hideous spaghetti junctions? If these things are not tackled now, future generations will curse us for our neglect.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, it is nice to follow the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I wish to echo his support and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his opening speech. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned pollution. The right reverend Prelate covered the whole facet including urban congestion, road safety and so on. This debate is about the future, and I think we shall all, in the year 2010, be living in a city or an urban situation of one sort or another and it is for this reason that I have concentrated, in my brief intervention in this debate, on one aspect only, the situation of the motor car in an urban environment. The influence of transport has affected the quality of life in all our society. The invention of the motor car at the beginning of this century caused a fundamental change in our life pattern, varying from drive-in banks to our courting habits as well as a decrease in our life expectancy.

This process of change is still under way but the disadvantages of the motor car are fast overtaking the earlier advantages it gave to those fortunate enough to possess one. Up to now the roles of public and private enterprise have united to provide a reasonable transport system for the ordinary citizens of the Western world. The public sector has provided the services such as roads, bridges, motorways and the private sector the equipment and the vehicles. The reason for this debate to-clay indicates that the broader effects of this policy appear to be in question for the future, and having listened with great attention to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and anticipating what a number of other noble Lords are going to say, I think there is truth in that there is no market for a silent, odourless truck or bus or car because customers will not pay extra for these refinements even if they desire them. The private sector will not provide them unless directed to do so by the Government. The red flag, the silencer, the comprehensive insurance, road tests, the Highway Code, speed limits, and so on, were all brought about at the instigation of governments and not by the manufacturers or by the road users themselves.

I should like to look at the motor car itself in the city. It is a remarkable engineering achievement and it also provides social benefits by its ability to take people to work or play in comfort both in winter and summer. It also provides a means of escape from urban overcrowding and the tensions of work. On the other hand it can kill, maim, disfigure, pollute the atmosphere and reduce the quality of life wherever it is taken. I wish to deal in this debate only with the question of urban pollution by the year 2010 and suggest alternative means of propulsion to the internal combustion engine in order to relieve the problems of to-day and to-morrow caused by the motor car in cities.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned motor manufacturers advertising. I have never seen a manufacturer advertising a motor car's performance in cities. It is always on motorways or when overtaking. I have never seen a car which has a terrific performance in town, or advertised as such. No wonder, within the urban environment the internal combusion engine—I will call it the I.C. engine—becomes highly inefficient and dirty in terms of energy conversion. When a car is standing still you are still using fuel, the pistons go up and down and unburnt gases are still escaping into the air. Few machines produce this effect so ineffectually. The I.C. engine is at its worst in the city in terms of energy conversion compared to the external combustion engines or electric motors doing the same type of job.

To give an example of this, the maximum starting torque of a 400 cubic inch I.C. engine is approximately 350 ft. lb. A D.C. motorised vehicle of the same equivalent horse-power would be approximately 700 ft. lb. and an external combustion engine could be as much as 1,105 ft. lb. These are not theoretical figures. A 110 cubic inch steam car built in 1967 by the late Calvin C. Williams of the Williams Engine Company, Hatfield, Pennsylvania, exceeded this figure. An electric vehicle tested by the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory in Virginia, indicated the figure given under test, and he figures for the conventional motor car are taken from the hand book. This is just an example for us to consider as an alternative means of propulsion for a city vehicle. It is questionable to my mind with my amateur scientific knowledge—many noble Lords will know considerably more than I do—whether the I.C. engine should be considered at all for private or public city transport in spite of the current developments made to improve it. In the United States 75 per cent. of total emissions to the atmosphere, excluding carbon dioxide, come from the transportation system.

Perhaps I may have over-simplified this, but the legitimate products of oil companies and engine manufacturers are mainly responsible for these appalling figures. I should like to think in the future that the oil companies could make a big contribution towards improving this by providing lead-free petrol which I believe could be available tomorrow. The Government could do this for themselves. They have oil on their doorsteps and perhaps by building their own refinery, preferably in Scotland, could produce this high quality fuel, this lead-free fuel for use in urban areas. The motor companies, by increasing the use of fuel injection, after-burners and catalytic heat exchangers could make their contribution too. This can and should be done but is it going to be enough to prevent some of the things which we are anticipating, I hope wrongly, in the year 2000 and after?

The biggest contribution could be made by the Government in the form of a massive research programme into the practical development of external combustion engines designed for urban use or engines designed to run on hydrogen, electric propulsion, or encourage the use of natural gas as a source of energy for urban vehicles. I travelled recently in a taxi powered by natural gas and the driver told me that not only was there minimum emission but that engine wear was greatly reduced. It cost £130 to convert it, and running costs were the equivalent of approximately 9p per gallon. I have not been able to check these figures; these are those of the taxi driver.

In view of this I find it difficult to understand the Government's attitude towards pollution, for if I have interpreted the 1971 Finance Bill, Clause 3, correctly, it appears to penalise gas-powered vehicles by charging a rate of duty equivalent to the rate of excise duty on hydro-carbon oil. I should like to think that this is a mistake, and that the Government are determined and sincere in their intentions to improve the quality of life in our cities as they appear to say, and that they will encourage conversions of this nature rather than discourage them. I hope that this can be achieved tomorrow. I have already travelled in a vehicle in which this conversion has taken place. I feel that these things can be done now, and I do not think we should waste time. I make no apologies for specialising on one aspect only of this very wide ranging debate.

To sum up, I would say that anyone who has driven through the chaos caused by a visiting dignitary to our capital, like yesterday, must recognise that we do not have to wait until the turn of the century before these predictions come true. They are nearly upon us now, and I hope that some of the suggestions put forward in this debate will find acceptance or be given serious thought by the Government in its future policy towards the environment and the motor car, our freedom, safety and comfort.



My Lords, I must start by thanking your Lordships for the sympathy and encouragement I feel as I make my maiden speech from this Dispatch Box; and, with my L-plates only, I am afraid, too apparent, I set off towards the "Gravelly Hill Interchange" of this fascinating and intractable topic. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester will not take it amiss if I say that as well as being grateful to him for raising the topic I am also a little jealous. I planned to raise it myself from the Back Benches and I had some pretty excoriating things to say to whatever luckless Minister might have been standing where I stand now.

My Lords, if this seems ambivalent of me I believe that we are all rather in two minds about that mechanical Circe, the motor car. I did not notice that your Lordships parking lot, a unique privilege of your status, was peculiarly empty this afternoon. Tony Aldous, Environment Correspondent of The Times has called the motor car "This wonderful, deplorable machine" and I cannot better that. In the next 20 minutes I hope to outline to your Lordships how the Government look at motor vehicles, the great benefits they confer and the great difficulties they bring. When, if I get your Lordships' permission, I come to wind up the debate, I hope to deal with as many points of detail as have been raised, or at least as many as I can. If I am unable altogether to startle your Lordships with any very radical solutions or departures from previous policy, I hope to be able to offer you two items of critical importance to the future, and this Motion is of course in part directed towards the future.

The first is a matter of recent history. For the very first time the effects of the motor car on the environment and on society are being quantified under one roof, or perhaps, to be strictly accurate, I should say under three parallel roofs. For the first time the totality of these effects is the public responsibility of one man. This is the first step towards a policy for the motor vehicle and for motor traffic. The second item naturally follows. It includes what we are here to do to-day. It is that the Government are listening; not only to this debate—though certainly and with the closest attention to this debate—the Government are listening also to the vast plurality of interests and concerns which the invention of the motor car has given rise to; listening to the claims of safety and convenience and economy; to the claims of the habitat, whether in town or country; to the conflicting claims between individual choice and the social necessity, work and leisure, and to that desire for future improvement which is a part of our living tradition.

I do not expect your Lordships to take this on trust or to rely on your traditional courtesy alone. I want to convince you that this is the case. If you are convinced you will agree that we have simultaneously taken a second step towards a policy for the motor vehicle because we also recognise that any such policy must rest on consent from our community and on the effectiveness of what I might call internal control. Legislation, whether local or national, and the operations of the courts have, and always will have, a huge part to play in transport matters. But motor vehicles and motor cars especially are, it seems to me, a cultural rather than a political phenomenon; and it is the culture in the long run which will have to accommodate them or set limits to their accommodation. That, my Lords, is why it is so important for Government to listen as well as to direct.

My Lords, may I say a few words about the nature of the beast or about the nature of "Circe", if you prefer that figure. My own ambivalence is fairly clear. When I moved to London I gave up smoking and the motor car on the same day in a virtuous attack, but a move to the country may mean surrendering again to the latter's embraces at least. Whether or not we are beginning to criticise as a society the doctrines of economic growth, we are still committed to a considerable degree to those doctrines: to the part growth plays in raising living standards and increasing leisure. We are committed to mobility on a corporate scale and to personal convenience on a corporate scale. Motor traffic is a prime example of the benefits and problems thrown up by economic growth—and your Lordships will be aware that in the West, of course, it is a prime mover in that story of growth. The car and the lorry have so much to offer in terms of availability, convenience and flexibility. People may not love the heavy lorry but neither would they love the heavy prices that less flexible forms of haulage are bound to bring, and this is regardless of Government direction in the matter. Everyone hates traffic, but nearly everyone likes cars. I do not know whether we, in your Lordships' House, have the desire, or the claim, to call ourselves "upper class" any more. But we are all bourgeois, we arc all middle class. We should therefore be very sensible of the good advice given by Mr. Anthony Crosland when he suggested that it was not right for the middle classes to pull the ladder up form under them and to deny to other sections of the community a right which they had long enjoyed.

A car has become to nearly all the developed, and in many of the developing countries, a symbol of mobility as a human right. And it is of course much more than a symbol. It is an extension, it seems to me, of the human body. The sensation of driving a car or motorcycle is, more than with other machines, the sensation of oneself moving at speed: a blissful experience and one which proved, your Lordships may remember, the undoing of Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows. That book was written in the Edwardian era and could even include a chapter called "The Open Road". Nearer our own day, your Lordships will perhaps also recall that great "civil servant", Mr. James Bond, whose Bentley "went like a bird and a bomb" and was loved "more than all the women in his life rolled into one". More seriously, it was, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Clark, in one of his lectures who suggested, and very sensibly, in my view, that the last 100 years were primarily the era of engineering and that part of the appeal of the motor car lay in men's ability to experience the miracles of engineering at first hand and through their own bodies. And so we do need to consider very carefully what would be lost if the motor vehicle were not available to us.

I do not believe it is too much to say that the present concern with environment, with the conservation of fine towns and beautiful countryside, is in part a result of the new mobility which the motor car has brought. There are sad ironies in this, because of course the growth in numbers of vehicles is what raises (as we are raising) the great problems of their effect on the environment in both town and country, on congestion, pollution and, above all perhaps, as the right reverend Prelate has shown us, On human lives and safety. And it is because of this growth that a policy on the motor car is inexorably being forced upon us.

My Lords, few of us doubt that this growth is taking place and that it is likely to continue. But while this is so, we must also—and here I return to the specific terms of the Motion—be acutely aware of the difficulties of forward projection. The forecasts contained in the Report Road Research 1970 of course depend on certain assumptions about growth in population and gross domestic product. These assumptions may be wrong. Some earlier forward projections have already needed revisison. Nor is vehicle ownership the same thing as volume of traffic on the road. Indeed, it seems likely that traffic will not increase as fast as ownership, if only because at higher traffic volume many people will be deterred from using their cars, at least for some journeys. However, it is not my intention to cavil. The figures to which the right reverend Prelate has so ably drawn our attention appear to be a decent gauge of the probable increase in traffic.

This brings us to the heart of the matter, at least where the future is concerned. These figures assume that policy in this field of transport will remain unchanged. My Lords, motor vehcles, like the railways before them, have brought new landscapes and townscapes and new patterns of social and economic life. It is incredible that they should not impose new long-term policies as well.

My Lords, let there be no doubt that the Government recognise the need for long-term policies. I have already mentioned the essential first step towards providing them—the creation of a framework within which almost all the relevant factors can be considered and brought together in the one Department. I shall touch on this again, if your Lordships give me leave, when I come to wind up. This framework is essential if we are to have a total approach, a creative and flexible mix of systems, to transportation in the next fifty years. But since, as the two previous speakers have recognised, the explosive growth in the ownership and use of private cars, as well as the growth in road haulage, is altogether modifying our approaches to the future form of city life, the new framework must be accompanied by a rethinking of regional policies. The proposed changes in the organisation of local government involve the creation of powerful county and metropolitan councils. Many existing local authorities have already been encouraged to carry out comprehensive land-use transportation studies affecting both private and public transport. The proposed county and metropolitan councils will have real powers to evaluate and control traffic demand in their arenas. Comparison between systems will be both possible and practical. These powers and this need for making evaluations under the co-ordinating eye of one Department are lynch pins of any long-term management of the environment and that is pre-eminently long-term management of transportation.

Noble Lords opposite and on the Liberal Benches, even on this side of the House, may quarrel with points of detail where local government reorganisation is concerned. But I believe that they will agree with me—if I may borrow the words of the Department of the Environment's Stockholm Document—when I say that, "How we get to work, how we carry our goods and passengers from one part of the country to another, in particular in and out of the conurbations, can no longer be regarded as a relatively simple matter of building roads or providing trains. Transport to-day is an integral part of land-use planning, of local authority finance, of pollution and of regional development."

My Lords, I have talked, as the terms of the Motion require me, about the long-term and the moves that have been made, and are being made towards a motor policy. But your Lordships are only too well aware, as citizens of what the A.A. calls "a nation on wheels", as well as Members of this House, of the burning, perhaps I should say choking, problems of the short term. I should like to turn to some of these briefly now. I shall then listen with care to any suggestions which subsequent speakers may wish to make on points which they may wish to take up and deal with these, if given leave, when I come to wind up.

I believe that few of your Lordships will doubt that the perennial and immediate anxiety is safety. Against the effection which people have for motor cars, and the employment and social mobility derived from them, we have to set the tragic consequences of road accidents. I do not suppose that there is any Member of your Lordships' House who has not in some manner been involved in, or who has not known someone involved in, a serious road accident. Yet because road accidents have been with us for a relatively long time, there is a danger of regarding them as less serious and pernicious than other dangers. As the noble Lord. Lord Champion, reminded us, only motorway pile-ups appear to excite widespread public dismay. We have heard the figures—the tragic and shocking figures—from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Every day more than 20 people are killed on the roads and nearly 100 injured. Last year 7,700 people were killed, over 90,000 seriously injured, and more than a quarter of a million slightly injured in road accidents. It is true—again the right reverend Prelate's point and mine overlap here—that by comparison with other highly motorised countries our record is quite good, or, I should say, quite considerably less bad. Whereas our death rate per 10,000 vehicles is five, the comparable figure for France is 8 and that for Germany 11. I am aware of the dangers of international comparisons when different conditions obtain and I also agree with the right reverend Prelate that all this is cold comfort. Apart from the sheer suffering involved, road accidents cost money in terms of medical services, the services of the police, and lost economic output generally. In 1970 the minimum figure—the minimum figure, my Lords—for the gross economic costs of accidents was £350 million.

Were these trends to continue, total casualties could reach half a million by 1985, and 140,000 of these could be fatal or serious. Deaths alone could top the 10,000 mark. The largest increases forecast are for those classes of road user which loom large in the present total—pedestrian fatalities and serious casualties rising from 28,000 to nearly 40,000—of which nearly half would be aged under 15—and car occupant fatal and serious casualties doubling from 40,000 to 80,000.

The problem is one of complexity as well as of sheer size. Accidents often do not have a single cause: factors relating to the road, the vehicle and the driver can all contribute towards the accident situation. And any road safety programmes which are to have a chance of success must cover all aspects of the problem.

The increase in the pedestrian casualty rate in recent years is really disturbing—children and old people are particularly vulnerable: I have already said that nearly half the pedestrian casualties are under 15. In the past five years more than 56,000 child pedestrians have been killed or seriously injured in road accidents; half of them were between 5 and 9 years old, and a quarter under 5. Almost all of the child pedestrian accidents occurred in urban areas; 85 per cent. occurred when the child was simply crossing the road. The high pedestrian casualty rate amongst old people is to some extent influenced by natural factors—slower reactions, less physical strength. That makes them of course no less terrible. Since 95 per cent. of all pedestrian casualties are in urban areas, the greatest long-term improvements here should come about from the physical segregation of vehicles and pedestrians as opportunities are taken for replanning towns.

This will take time and, in any case, will not be possible everywhere. But already new markings are being introduced at zebra crossings to indicate bans on overtaking and waiting by vehicles and areas where pedestrians should not cross. Also, Parliament will soon be asked to grant enabling powers to ban waiting at or near all urban junctions. We believe that 2,000 fatal and serious casualty savings may be envisaged. Nor should we underestimate the contribution to a reduction in road accidents which new roads make through the higher safety standards built into them. Thus while 4 per cent. of traffic is on motorways, only 1 per cent. of fatal and serious casualties—publicity notwithstanding—occur here. In safety terms, the Government programme under which expenditure on road building is up by £1 million per week on last year's figure makes, we believe, an enormous contribution; and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will endorse this with me.

While major schemes are expected to yield major gains, quite minor road improvements can also yield very high dividends if based on close analysis of accidents. The Department's road safety units have assisted local authorities in techniques of accident analysis and working out highly effective remedial measures, and the Minister for Transport Industries announced last year that the first legislative opportunity would be taken to impose a statutory road safety duty on county authorities.

I should say a word or two following on the right reverend Prelate's remarks about speed. Speed is, of course, a factor in some accidents, though most occur in urban areas where speeds are relatively low. However, speed limits have a useful role to play in road safety, though an important factor in their success is the recognition by drivers of the appropriateness of a speed limit; otherwise, they raise an almost impossible enforcement problem. Many speed limits are the responsibility of local authorities, but the Department have laid down criteria with the aim of ensuring that the limit on each length of road is appropriate to conditions there. A great deal of research is done by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory into driver behaviour, including the effects of speed.

The question of a specialist branch of the police for road control has been raised by the right reverend Prelate. Effectively this already exists, in that all constabularies have a separate traffic section responsible for this side of the police's work. Much, too, can be done to promote road safety by education, training and intensive publicity. The recent introduction of the Green Cross code led to a 4 per cent, reduction in child pedestrian casualties last year; and following the success of earlier publicity campaigns, the Department are now spending £2 million a year on these.

Another most important aspect of safety on the roads is the vehicle itself, both in preventing accidents and in mitigating their effects when they regrettably do occur. Much has already been done by regulation of vehicle standards, by testing, by—a recent example—rear markings on heavy and long vehicles. Burst-proof locks and collapsible steering columns will be required on vehicles built after next month. Much research is going on here, too. The United Kingdom is participating in the experimental safety vehicle project, and we are here concentrating, too, on aspects where quick and important results seem likely: for example, energy absorbing bodywork.

My Lords, it is my personal belief that it is possible for Government speeches in Wednesday debates to be too detailed. I have gone into close-up on matters of safety, however, at the risk of bludgeoning your Lordships with figures and information because I believe that, even in a debate on a general strategy for road traffic policies, the House would wish me to give chapter and verse on the Government's immediate safety programme. It is too important not to risk, indeed it invites, the closest scrutiny.

I must pass quickly on to other items, but before I do so a few words must be devoted to two of the most effective weapons in the fight against accidents. I refer to the use of the breathalyser as a deterrent against driving under the influence of alcohol, and to the question of safety belts. Road safety is not a matter of Party politics: the very fair speech of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was ample demonstration of this. It would be obscene were it to be so. The Government salute the pioneering work in testing drivers' alcohol intake which the right honourable lady Mrs. Castle introduced under the last Administration. The breathalyser has proved itself; the test rate is increasing; we are determined to go on with the policy.

As to safety belts, I should like, if I may, to use this opportunity to send a message, loud and clear, to the world outside this Chamber. The Government are in posession of all the facts concerning road accidents. They are in a unique position to correlate them. There is absolutely no doubt as to the effectiveness of safety belts. Their use greatly diminishes the incidence of fatality as well as of injury. The Government have not closed their mind to compelling their use. But, as with all matters connected with motoring, we would rather persuade than compel. We ask the public to wear safety belts, and to wear them on all journeys, however brief or local. We believe that one of the reasons why belts are not more widely used may be that people find them complex and inconvenient. Accordingly, from April 1, 1973, all new cars will be required to have safety belts which can be connected by using only one hand. If I may risk seeming schoolmasterish for a moment, I hope that all your Lordships will set a good example and wear your safety belts at all times. They are designed to protect you; and, my Lords, they do.

The House is concerned about safety, but it is also concerned about the effect on our environment of noise and exhaust emissions from vehicles. Noise we are determined to control. A first round of decibel limits has already been introduced, and the Minister for Transport Industries is this week discussing this problem with his European colleagues in the European Council of Ministers of Transport to ensure that action is taken in a European context. Your Lordships will be aware of how important it is, in an age of intercontinental road haulage, to be in a position to fight for and obtain Community agreement on these questions. The same applies to vehicle fumes, which can be offensive and occasionally dangerous. Regulations have recently been introduced on diesel engines, and consultations are now beginning to deal with European standards for petrol-engined vehicles.

In sum, my Lords, there is every probability that much can be done in these areas of safety and pollution to minimise the effects of the growth in numbers of motor vehicles. But, as the terms of this Motion insist, there are also areas where it is the numbers themselves that really create the problems. I am thinking of our towns, those of historic interest especially; of motorised tourists, be they native or foreign; or our National Parks and all the areas of countryside which act like honey jars upon waspish machines; of the huge problems of providing parking facilities and enforcing parking restrictions; of reconciling the unpopularity of road haulage systems with the almost universal acceptance of economy-by-simplification; of separating motorists and pedestrians without too much prejudice to either; of what J. K. Galbraith, in a memorable phrase, calls "private affluence and public squalor"; of the perennial smothering, through intensive road use and construction, of new modes of transportation—the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, talked about this—and of facing up to the clash between a labour and earnings intensive piece of hardware with the soft machine Man and his environment.

We have the structure to confront these problems and we have the will or, in the words of Lord Champion, "the guts". We are working on them with an eye to the future, as well as in the light of present exigencies. But where the future is concerned, your Lordships will appreciate that durable changes will derive from the citizen at the wheel rather than from the Government on point duty. It is for this reason that we welcome debate, questions, controversy and that we wholeheartedly congratulate the Bishop of Chester on the timeliness of his Motion.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords who have spoken in giving thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for having raised this subject to-day. I feel it is one that cannot be given a public airing too often, particularly in view of the figures quoted by the right reverend Prelate. Although it is difficult to see quite which way to turn—and I think the noble Earl who has just sat down sees that difficulty as clearly as I do—it is equally clear that we must do something.

I have been looking at the Report which is the basis of this debate. The Road Research Laboratory certainly do an immense amount of research, some of it highly technical. I must confess, however, that although some of it is necessarily of value, that is not true of it all. For instance, I do not think that a large amount of research into the question of whether de-icing salt corrodes a car body is of great importance with regard to road safety—though it may be in the end, if the motorist is not looking after his car properly. The Report includes a long section on road surfaces. On the whole, I think, road surfaces in our country arc pretty good. There are a few exceptions, but there need not he a great deal of research about that subject. The research that is most needed concerns the driver himself. A great deal has been said about the motor car being a menace in this age, but I venture to suggest that it is not the motor car that is the menace but the man behind the wheel. A motor car which is properly driven is a very splendid thing and bestows a very great advantage on the driver in every way. But, my Lords, what proportion of motorists on our roads could truly claim to be good drivers? I know that all of them do—that is easy enough—but I wonder how many can do so truthfully.

I should like to look into that aspect a little. First of all, we must examine the driving test. The test is not a very satisfactory one. It is very brief: it teaches the new driver how to make the car go forwards and backwards, and he also learns how to do a three-point turn in the street. On the other hand, the test and tuition do not get the new driver very far once he is on the main road. For one thing, most of his learner-driving tuition was probably carried out in a built-up area, where he could not exceed 30 m.p.h.; and probably he was driving a smallish car without a great deal of power. None the less, when a man has passed his test he is legally perfectly free to sit at the wheel of a large powerful car, such as a Jaguar, go on the motorway and drive at the legal limit of 70 m.p.h. Yet lie may not be in any way qualified to do that.

Apropos of that, I should like to take up something which the right reverend Prelate said on the question of speed. I am totally in agreement with him that speed limits are necessary, and I also agree that when accidents occur high speed makes them far worse than they would otherwise have been. But I do not agree that speed, in the right hands and used at the right time, is necessarily a danger factor. The trouble is, of course. that too many people use speed when they are not qualified, or when the road conditions are not suitable. One has to be a very experienced driver before it is possible to drive well at high speeds.

The trouble is that there is nothing in the law to prevent a man from going at full speed the moment he has passed the test. That is why I have many times urged in your Lordships' House the introduction of a probationary period of not less than a year after having passed the test. I suggested that during this period the newly qualified driver should be required to carry a "P" plate on his car, and that he must not exceed a speed of, say, 45 m.p.h.; and if by any chance he was found guilty of causing danger, or even of offending against the Highway Code, during that period he should be required to pass the test again. That, I think would be a great deterrent, because it hits at the one thing which really hurts the motorist—and that is his pride. That is why this system, which is already in use in Northern Ireland, Australia and also, I believe, in France, is an ideal one. I think that the sooner we can introduce it the better it will be. In the light of that, it is worth mentioning that anybody who happens to be interested in the Institute of Advanced Motorists will be pleased to learn that the Institute are considering the introduction of a still higher advanced test of not less than three hours, including driving on motorways. This is a sign that they too realise that one's ability rises by stages and does not suddenly and miraculously come by passing a test.

I turn now to driver behaviour, a subject that has been mentioned by one or two noble Lords. Of course a great deal of publicity was given to the question of driving under the influence of drink. I agree that it was an excellent thing to introduce the breathalyser and I am entirely in support of its continued use. But statistics have proved that driving under the influence of drink is not in fact one of the major causes of accidents, because the reduction since the breathalyser was introduced has been only minimal. Before that, your Lordships may remember, there were the three-yearly (later made into yearly) tests of cars to prove that they were roadworthy. That step, too, has not reduced accidents by any perceptible amount.

The real cause of accidents, my Lords, in my view, is what some people might to-day call "driver psychology", though I will call it by a more understandable phrase; namely, what the driver himself is like: is he bad-mannered, or considerate and courteous? Unfortunately, it seems to me from what I have observed on the road that the vast majority of motorists are very lacking in good manners. They are highly unwilling to give way to anybody else, and they push past at the slightest opportunity; they are considerate to nobody but themselves. I say "the vast majority"; and of course I exclude the really good drivers, who are not at all like that. But when one considers the total number of cars on the road, "the vast majority" represents a considerable number.

How is one to get over that peculiarity of human nature? I believe that education in such matters has to start in the schools, at a very young age. It seems to me that there is something wrong with our system of teaching to-day, in that it neglects certain aspects of character which reflect themselves when the person comes on to the road—aspects such as consideration for others and the desirability of good manners. Have you ever heard of a young person being taught to stand up and give his seat to a lady in the Tube, or anything like that, to-day? I never have. That sort of thing reflects itself in behaviour when the person gets behind the wheel of a car and drives on the road. I know that the theory has been put forward that a man's character changes the moment he gets behind the wheel, but I do not think there is anything in that. His character has been there all the time. It is only when he gets behind the wheel that the worst aspects of it come out.

I should like to make one or two comments on driving into London, a subject which has been mentioned. There is a good deal to be said for the idea that one should have only electric runabouts, or something like that, in London, but there are certain problems to be dealt with here. A great many people live in London and they may want to go on a holiday. Are they to be prevented from keeping their cars in London? Will they have to drive their electric runabout to a parking area in the suburbs and leave it there while they use their car for their holiday? That would be absolutely impossible. I do not think one can ever prevent the London resident from having his car, but one could prevent the commuter from bringing his car into London. The commuter should leave his car at a car park on the periphery, as has already been mentioned.

I should like to say a word on the subject of the number of children that have been killed in road accidents. These accidents are tragic; but I would, for once, say a word for the motorist here. It is not always the fault of the motorist. Children are entirely unpredictable, and if they see something on the other side of the road that interests them they will dash across without stopping to look in either direction. They may see a friend waving to them on the other side of the road. A car may be travelling at no more than 20 miles an hour but a child may run straight underneath it. The right reverend Prelate said, quite rightly, that many cars are driven in built-up areas much too fast. I can confirm that. because I live in a suburban road and I have seen motorists travelling along at about 50 miles an hour, and there are plenty of children running about. I am only surprised that I have not seen more disasters.

I should now like to deal with the aspect of fog on motorways. A great deal of publicity has been given to what is known as "motorway madness"—driving at 50 miles an hour through fog when you cannot see ahead. But there is another aspect to be considered. I was discussing this subject the other day with my noble friend Lord Hanworth, who is a very experienced motorist. I am sorry that he cannot be here to speak to-day because he told me some very enlightening things about driving in fog. It is true that, as he pointed out, if you are in a fog where you cannot see, the only way you can feel safe is to keep within sight of the tail lights of the vehicle in front of you. That vehicle may be moving much too fast and so you have to move much too fast, too. If you lose sight of the vehicle's lights on a big three-lane motorway you are absolutely lost. You do not know where you are going, you cannot see the road. The only possibility would be to have the lanes marked by two rows of electrically lit cat's eyes. They could be put in those stretches of motorway where fog is most frequent. As an experiment, they could be put in just one stretch of motorway to see if the system worked. The lights could be switched on in foggy conditions and a motorist could drive slowly and see that he was in the right lane.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, with whom I was discussing this problem yesterday, pointed out that this method would be a highly expensive affair. It would, but, on the other hand, would it be more expensive than the destruction of lives that occur now? We have spent a good deal of money on other things; for instance, we have spent quite a lot of money on the Concorde. I do not want to down pedal the Concorde at all; it is a magnificent achievement of engineering. But who is going to benefit? It will be just a handful of people who can afford to ravel in it. But such an aid in foggy conditions could save hundreds of lives. I should have thought that it was well worth spending some money on that. and I hope that the Government will consider it.

There is another possible aid in the case of fog: it would be possible to have an audible signal within the car which was tripped off by a radar beam going across the road. Visible signals are only too easily missed by the average driver if he happens to be looking at something else or keeping his eyes on the car in front. He can miss these visible signals, but an audible signal will catch his attention at once. If every car could be fitted with some device which would set off a siren, or something like that, when the car went through the radar beam, that would tell the driver that fog was close ahead. That would be a possibility worth considering.

We have heard the figures quoted by the right reverend Prelate and I can confirm them, because I also received them this morning from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I believe he or the noble Earl quoted the figure of 20 deaths per day. How many people have been killed while we have been debating this matter? We do not know. My Lords, surely it is worth while spending a little money to avoid that.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I will not take up much of your Lordships' time. The right reverend Prelate, when he put this Motion down on the Order Paper, was looking into the future to the year 2010 and has opened up a subject which prophets of the future, such as Jules Verne or H. G. Wells could well have expanded upon to envisage what will be happening in 38 years' time. The present state of our road traffic is most apparent. Masses of vehicles rush into our large cities and towns in the mornings and rush out again in the evenings. Great load-carrying lorries, which are getting larger, heavier and faster stream up and down the motorways and through our towns and villages at ever increasing speeds. You have inhabitants of rural districts going about their business as well as conditions will allow in winter months, and during the summer being driven mad by holidaymakers who are creeping about the roads, very justifiably, enjoying the view and the historic surroundings while the inhabitants wish to go about their business. Daily we go about our business in big cities and we smell evil fumes from vehicles, proceeding nose to tail, polluting the atmosphere with burning petrol, diesel and oil. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, we choke our road spaces with permanently parked cars that have no garages. We make poor use of our road space.

This morning just outside your Lordships' House, in the space of five minutes, out of fifty-eight private cars which passed, forty-one had only one passenger; fourteen had two; and three had more than two. If you work that one out with a crystal ball such as some of your Lordships have been using in the last twenty-four hours, you will find that approximately 700 square yards of area were being used by forty-one single persons. All those forty-one could have been accommodated in the area taken up by just one bus.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I wonder whether he has stopped to think that of course not all those people were coming from the same place or going to the same place. It is not always easy when one is coming up to town to make a round robin in one's area to find out how many people want to share one's car.


My Lords. I could not agree more with the noble Lord. The point I was trying to make was not that they were all going to the same place or coming from the same place, but what was the necessity of having forty-one cars on the road in that place? There must be other methods which can be used. This situation obtains not only outside your Lordships' House but all over this City of London. This is the situation with only 13 million cars on the road at the moment. The mind boggles to think what will happen with 30 million private cars on the road in 2010 unless some action is taken.

I should like for a few moments to look back the length of time which we are being asked by the right reverend Prelate to look forward, to see what changes have taken place. This could, if we use our technical abilities correctly, give us great hope for what could be done. In the air, who thirty-eight years ago could possibly have envisaged the Concorde flying at twice the speed of sound? Who could have envisaged inter-city electric trains running as frequently as buses up to the Midlands at average speeds of up to 80 miles an hour? It would have been unbelievable. Who would have envisaged the technical ability of building 100,000-ton tankers to be on the sea? We would never have dreamt of those things in those days. In fact, thirty-eight years ago I was endeavouring to bend my mind to how we could get an improved traffic light compared to those we then had, which had only recently been introduced. I therefore would suggest to your Lordships that, having had the present motor vehicle for a long time now, we must he coming close to the point where we shall have a break-through into a different type of transport altogether. And very well we could do with it!

When one comes to think what the motive power of vehicles of the future is to be, I am greatly attracted to the use of electricity. Electricity presents us with no atmospheric pollution. It always astonishes me, in view of all the uses to which we have put electricity, that we have not yet found an efficient use for it in vehicles. We have seen it doing the most spectacular things with vehicles on the moon, but we cannot see them down here. The most spectacular vehicle motivated by electricity that we have seen down here, I suppose, is the humble milk float—which, due to its restricted speed, has probably had as many rude things said about it as the Industrial Relations Bill. Cannot we envisage a future where the centres of our cities are free of individual owners' vehicles; where public service vehicles, propelled by electrical power, serve the main thoroughfares to central disembarkation and embarkation centres, and people walk under cover to and from them? I can see that the centres of population will be protected from the appalling air pollution threat from the present vehicles, and areas of only electrically driven vehicles in the densely crowded cities will be permitted. By smokeless zones we have now cleared our atmosphere in big towns of the appalling emission of coal. Why cannot we do it with vehicles? In fact, I suggest that we must do it with vehicles. I can foresee a time when, if you are permitted to bring your vehicle into a city or town, the parking meter fee, which undoubtedly will still be with us, will automatically entitle you to a charging boost to your batteries.

When we turn to the motorways, we are in a very different situation. At the present moment it is very difficult to see how we are going to stop these tremendous pile-ups in adverse weather. Man is a frail creature subject to human failings and no one person has the same outlook as another. I suggest, therefore, that you cannot make him conform to your rules and regulations; he must be put in a position where he cannot break them. I believe we shall see on our motorways three lanes controlled electrically at consistent speeds—fast, medium and slow. I believe that certain experiments have been made towards this end already. Vehicles of all categories will be held to those speeds and kept at correct distances from each other. The driver of a vehicle, once on a motorway, will virtually lose control of his vehicle, except to change lanes or to leave it, and there manœuvres will be safeguarded. This also will be controlled electrically. He will in fact be on a motorway and he will be kept in order.

It may well prove that as British Rail improve their services it will not be worth owning a private vehicle except for those living in rural areas. We might well see all round main terminals parks of vehicles for hire, owned by British Rail or the city or town council, which could be hired like taxis for trips into the country when you arrive.

One could go on for hours speculating about what might happen. Ali that is certain is that we cannot go on as we are, fouling our atmosphere, choking our movement and killing and maiming our people. Somewhere there are young scientists who have the answers to these technical problems. Let us hope that when they come forward with them, industry and Government will not try to choke them off because of financial interests.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, speaking as a Devon Nationalist—in other words, a bloke who comes from the most neglected neck of the woods roadwise in this country—I cannot be too grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving us this opportunity to air our complaints.

In recent years it has become a national sick joke to see on television each year at holiday times pictures of the Exeter By-Pass choked with cars, nose to tail and not one of them moving. It is not a sick joke. It is a reality which for so long we in this part of the world have had to suffer. We have been promised a by-pass to by-pass the by-pass for as many years as these pictures have been shown on television, and now we are promised that we shall have one in 1975. One has only to look at the bottlenecks to appreciate that it is vital.

A group in Devon has been studying the problem of traffic. Its forecasts appear in table 8 to which reference has been made, but they grossly underestimate the difficulties with which we in Devon will have to live. It is vital to take into account the nature of our terrain; our narrow country lanes, Dartmoor, Exmoor and the coastal tourist attractions, along with the depressed areas into which industry is being attracted.

I wish at the outset to take the noble Earl on a car trip to visit his father-in-law, who lives on the edge of Dartmoor. By making this trip I can point out some of the road problems that face us. As he and your Lordships who have studied the various maps which have been produced from time to time by Governments in recent years will know, the route designated by successive Governments is the line of the A.303 from the M.3, which is this, the London, end, to a mixture of the A.30 and the A.38 at the other end.

First of all we must get out of London. As the M.3 does not at present start until Bagshot, we must go out on the M.4, which is already grossly overcrowded and during the recent go-slow on the railways I measured a non-moving 4¼ mile queue of vehicles on the M.4 alone, and that is a motorway. Thus, the first lesson we learn in our journey is that the M.3 route in and out of London must he completed, and I mean fast. I should like to know when and where that will be done.

To get from the M.4 to the M.3 I leave it at Exit 11, which is south of Reading, and I join the M.3 at Hook, which is Exit No. 5. I do this because it is the closest point between the two motorways. I see from the look of recognition on a certain noble Lord's face that he knows that I made a mistake the other day on the M.3, and that cost me a £20 fine. Between those two motorways is a narrow road which can take only one line of traffic each way, with double white lines. One's speed is therefore greatly reduced and it takes as long to do that 10¼ miles as it took one to do the previous 35 miles.

After the M.3 extension there is a slight gap of dangerous one-lane-each-way road until the Andover By-Pass, which is how the road should be the whole way to Exeter. Last week in answer to a Question I was told that there was no hope of that happening until the 'eighties, and that is not good enough. The Wylie bottleneck, we have been told, will be by-passed. In the holiday season this holdup causes probably more nail-biting, if not accidents, than any other stretch of road. When will it be by-passed? From then on, across Salisbury Plain, there is very little, if any, dual carriageway on which one can overtake with safety, and from Mere westwards it is a complete nightmare.

The counties of Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon should be given strict instructions to start straightaway building their roads on this route, providing dual carriageways from east to west. What are they doing, and what have they been doing? They take a small stretch of road and spend anything up to a year tearing it up, perhaps straightening it or otherwise working on it and may be providing one extra lane. This is dangerous because with so much traffic on the roads there are always people overtaking in each direction and therefore competing for the centre lane. Consider what happens soon after these road improvements are unveiled. The councils must return within five years or so to make them into dual carriageways, which is what they should have done in the first place. Unless proper roadways are provided initially the work becomes progressively more expensive as each year passes.

We are now wending our way from Mere to Exeter. We are so exasperated by the slow moving milk tankers marked "St. Ivel" that we vow never to touch the firm's products again. We are next blocked by a "Harp" Lager tanker and this time we make a resolution to accept that product only if it is paid for by somebody else. By the time we next grind to a crawl we see in the middle distance two caravans, nose to tail of course, with another two in front of them. All this is bad enough, but worse is to come. Four of the new designated "long vehicles" are crawling along, again nose to tail, making it impossible for anyone to overtake. Eventually a young fool can control himself no longer, takes the risk and pulls out to overtake. There is an accident and we are held up yet again.

Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, as I asked last week, issue orders that on all non-dual carriageway roads these monsters must, first, not travel closer than 100 yards behind each other—I refer to the designated "long vehicles"—and, secondly, that when a queue forms behind them, they must pull into a lay-by once every five miles to let other road users by? If we had dual carriageways this problem would not arise. I should like to clobber the interests which forced such monsters on us, shaking our villages to bits, but I appreciate the expense of rail transport and the fact that the railways cannot compete in this context from the economic point of view.

A couple of miles before Ilminster—we are anxious to complete our journey—we come to a stretch of road which has a series of 20 or more holes, evenly spaced apart. These holes are dug up and filled in again every year, generally during the busy season. At this time this stretch of road is controlled by traffic lights and noble Lords can imagine the pandemonium. This has been going on regularly each year for at least the last six years. The object of this action on the part of Somerset County Council can only be to try the patience and Christian fortitude of their fellow countrymen—and perhaps also provide more repairs jobs for the garages. After another half-day we cross the frontier into Devon over a temporary bridge. It has been temporary now for five years, since the previous one was washed away in a flood. It has a limit of 5 m.p.h. and two minis can just get past together. Eventually, we arrive at Exeter, having the only good stretch of road—the Honiton By-pass—and when we get there we get bogged down again, and shall be until 1975 when the M5 gets there.

Now let us consider the effect—and this is where, from a prediction point of view, the numbers are so much worse in our part of the world than elsewhere. When the M.5 is completed to Exeter, quite apart from the natural increase in motor car numbers, a further 18½ million people will then be within 3½ hours' driving time of Exeter, at the present rate of population increase. I see the right reverend Prelate shaking his head. As I happened to get these figures yesterday from the County Surveyor, I would refer the right reverend Prelate to him. Added to that, of course, we have our depressed areas where these extra industries are being encouraged. That is perhaps, as they are wont to say in the history books, a good thing, but it will also add to the number of bigger vehicles on the road; and unless the Government do something quickly, very quickly, traffic will not be able to move from the end of the M.5 when we get it in 1975. Personally, I would favour a one-way route ending over the cliffs at Land's End. That would solve our traffic problem, but we should probably then be accused of sea pollution.

My Lords, added to that extra 18½ million people, we also have industrial progress. If we arc to believe Mr. Jones and Mr. Scanlon, by the year 2010 we shall probably have a 20-hour working week and a 4-day weekend. If we add that, and consider what that part of the world is to the extra 18 million and the extra vehicles we are talking about, then all I can say is that the devil will have plenty of idle minds to make work for. And, without having any direct interest—though I am open to offers—in the tourist industry, I am afraid that the idleness will increase the pressure and chaos already developing on our coastline and in our national parks.

At this stage, however, I have an interest to declare, in that I am currently the chairman of the Devon branch of the Country Landowners' Association, and our interest in the agricultural areas and the Dartmoor National Park is in seeing that our members can get in and out of their farms and go about their legitimate business. Already, especially on Dartmoor, there are times and places where such movement is impossible. Our roads will have to be improved and adjusted—and quickly. My Lords, we have the plans but we need the assistance.

There are other areas, especially on Dartmoor, where there will have to be a complete prohibition of large vehicles, buses and charabancs. These large vehicles, caravans and so on, should be restricted to a few main roads and holiday areas which have been called locally "honeypots". If only the county had had the sense to build its main reservoir at Swincombe, the most dangerous and useless bit of bog in the land, proper facilities could have been built around it for all this seasonal traffic and so stop the blockage which we have at the present by cars and charabancs, nose to tail, and of people just gawping at Princetown Prison. As the vast majority of the population never move more than 200 yards from their cars they should be directed to such areas along a limited number of roads improved for the purpose. The remainder of the roads in those areas should be made adequate for the preservation of the rights of walkers, riders, fishermen and, most important, those whole livelihood depends on the area—the farmers, commoners and the foresters.

Around where I live the lanes are only just wide enough for my landrover. If one meets a lorry, or even a bus, as often happens, it means backing for half a mile; and that is rather difficult because our lanes do not go straight. It is important to conserve the character and atmosphere of the coastal areas by the planting of caravan parks and so on in non-obvious places. I personally long for the day when the Chudleigh by-pass on one side, and the dual-carriageway of the Exeter-Torbay road, on the other, are completed. At present, during the season my woods are public lavatories and dumps for mattresses, television sets, prams and contraceptives. I have every sympathy for "little Willie" who has not "spent a penny" since leaving Birmingham, but I would rather the authorities bore the burden of the result than the impoverished farmer or landowner. Broken milk bottles thrown over hedges can cause the death of a cow: a rather expensive item nowadays, with the price of beef as it is. Then the selfish practice of having midnight motor rallies through this type of countryside should be prohibited forthwith and the R.A.C., which supports these noisy, dangerous and polluting habits, should be told to go and jump into the lake. Finally, new roads should be built over railway lines so as to save good agricultural land from being taken. I am informed that that was one of the proposals of the new communications set-up for Foulness.

My Lords, with the arrival of the M.5 in the Exeter area there will be an almighty snarl-up unless the adjunct internal systems can be adjusted in the way I have described. We cannot afford to wait to see what will happen; we must act now. And that means one thing only; more Government money. Devon and the South-West have been for far too long the Cinderella of our major road systems. We have a plan to cope with the problem. I suggest to the noble Earl who is answering the debate that he persuades his right honourable friend, a West Country Member, to right the balance; but quickly please.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like wholeheartedly to congratulate the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. He established a number of fears, or concerns, as it were: the fear of the individual; the fear of traffic congestion; the fear of accidents; the fear of the casualty lists; the fear of speed, and the fear of drink. How well did the right reverend Prelate put those fears, along with many other parts in his speech, and draw attention to this real problem that is affecting our life to-day! It would appear that the motor car is a most useful servant; but the motor car to-day and the internal combustion engine generally are, I would suggest, getting nearly out of control. The motor car is becoming, our master, because in our way of life it is so highly convenient that we do not like the idea of putting ourselves to any trouble to meet some of the fears which the right reverend Prelate mentioned.

In my Parliamentary life there nave been many debates upon this particular subject, both in the other House and in this, and we all pinpoint the difficulties that are inherent in this method of life that we have selected. Most of us know that the problem of meeting all the modern requirements of this method of transport centres on costs as a whole, and the Government of the day, no matter what Government it may be, must establish its priorities as regards the financial obligations it has to meet. We can press for more modern roads, we can press for parking places, we can press for all the improvements that have been enumerated here this afternoon. But, I suggest to noble Lords, there is one thing that we must look at a little more than at these financial needs. We must look at what this small island of ours is capable of.

This island of ours is something like 93,000 square miles, or 59 million acres, with a population now of some 56 million. At the present rate of increase that population will he nearly 70 million by the year 2,000. If we work those figures out we shall find that in effect they will demand land space for something like 12 more cities the size of Birmingham. This is a real problem. It alone will consume something like 6 million additional acres. These are the problems that we must face, because alongside them we see what is developing in so far as the motor vehicle is concerned. According to the figures published in the Board of Trade Journal for May this year, Table 115, in 1966 there were 9,500,000 cars, in 1971 12 million cars; the estimate for 1980 given by the Road Research Laboratory, Table 8, indicates that there will be 19 million cars, by the year 2000 27 million cars and by 2010 30 million cars, plus other road vehicles. This will bring the total from 13.286.000 in 1966 (Board of Trade Journal, Table 115) to the estimate in the Road Research Table 8 for 2010 of 36,200,000. If we take this tremendous increase in the number of cars and align it with the land space available, we must do something much more than express platitudes and concern about road congestion and road casualty lists.

The road casualty lists show that in 1966. according to the Board of Trade Journal, Table 117, 7,985 people were killed; in 1971 there was a slight reduction to 7,696. The casualty lists show 392,000 in 1966 and 352,000 in 1971; the number of children under 15 years of age injured in 1966 was 61.948 and in 1971 62,776; that is the highest figure since 1966. Therefore, when we speak about these things we must bear in mind how they affect our daily life, how they affect our possibilities and how we can deal with them in the space available. Are we going to be content with the motor car as our complete master, up to the saturation point which I have indicated.

I would look at another set of figures—and I apologise to noble Lords for using so many figures, but I think they are essential in a debate of this description. If we take the figures of miles of travel by a goods vehicle in 1963 as the base of 100, in 1968 the figure is 140 miles, and in 1971 162 miles. Breaking those figures down to ton-miles carried, we find a similar increase. This indicates the volume of traffic that is now passing on to our roads and the estimate for the future. If we take another Table, from Road Research, page 38, we find that an Italian survey, carried out some little time ago with 6,000 different types of question material, indicated that the value of time lost to-day in the course of work was £3 per hour; travelling to and from work represented £0.90 per hour, and overall other services £1.25 per hour. That is a waste product that is being brought about by our way of life. We must not just refer to it in platitudes; we have to do something real about it.

Another item in Road Research 1970 gives the total cost per accident on urban roads. This is on page 40, Table 7. I ask noble Lords to remember the total number of accidents. The figure per accident on urban roads is given as £1,400. I would remind your Lordships of the heavy casualty list in 1971–352,000. I am not quoting actual accident figures, but according to the research people accidents on urban roads are costing £1,400 each. In the rural areas the amount is £2,300 per accident. On the motorways it is £3,500 per accident. We must all be staggered by these figures. Motorists, including myself, are all becoming slaves to our cars. We want them no matter where we travel. I should like to mention the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, who expressed the view that we have become different characters, or, as he put it, we revert to our natural character once we become drivers of motor cars. I believe this is typical of us all.

The Government must do something more tangible than express platitudes. It is not sufficient to say that more motorways should be built or that every two-lane road must have a hard shoulder. Neither is it sufficient—I have made speeches previously about this—to provide additional; parking places in our towns and cities. A favourite theme of mine is that we must provide parking places in the centre of our cities. The central Government should assist in the purchase of land, and the local authorities should provide short-term parking. The long-term parking must be kept at the periphery of the city and cheap public transport must be provided from the periphery to the centre of business, shopping and pleasure. That is not sufficient. We must take a more comprehensive look at this. Instead of running down our railway services in the way we have been doing we should develop our freight and goods services in line with the inter-city services.

I should like to make a short analysis. One rail service can carry as many passengers as 18 motorways, based upon 187 people per foot of the carriageway. A rapid-transit rail service can carry 2,900 people. These are rather complicated figures, but they indicate the type of thought that we must give to this problem. I should like to mention the dieselisation of the railways and to express the hope that the railways will be converted more to electricity as time passes. One has to consider the amount of oil consumed in moving quantities of freight or numbers of passengers. One finds that the oil consumption for a 1,000-passenger train is roughly one gallon per mile. These are staggering figures when one thinks of what is happening in relation to travel by car. Generally people have cars just for themselves and their wives. Cars are convenient. We enjoy having our cars. I am one of the most selfish in that direction; I admit it at once. Most of us are car owners. Looking at the problem from a national point of view and bearing in mind the figures I have quoted, some very serious and deep thought must be given to the situation unless complete strangulation is to be our fate.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to apologise to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for having had to leave the Chamber for a meeting at four o'clock. I shall read with the greatest interest what I missed. I apologise for having had to go. Like other noble Lords, I welcome this debate most heartily and should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on his speech, which struck me as being a masterly coverage of the serious situation which so many noble Lords have expanded. The right reverend Prelate dealt with the subject with great economy of words.

It is only right that this grave subject should be debated in your Lordships' House at least once a Session. The gravity of it, as developed by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is such that it is proper we should do this, because its very gravity is overlooked by many. In a measure the Press is to blame for this. I welcome these debates, constant in the belief that your Lordships' deliberations on this subject make, and have made in the past, a significant contribution to remedying what is a major blot upon our civilisation—namely, the carnage on the roads. These debates also serve to feed ideas, if ideas are needed, into the Road Research Laboratory, to which organisation I am sure all Member of the House will agree the warmest congratulations are due. I look forward to its 1971 report, which should be with us fairly soon. Your Lordships are aware of the calculations in terms of money lost to the economy which sterns from road accidents. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has given some of these details in terms of cost per accident. Every effort must be made to ensure that this incidence does not grow pari passu with the growth of the traffic density to which this Motion refers. The cold figures of financial and economic loss, which total over £300 million per year as a result of road accidents, render no measure of the accompanying terrible strain in terms of personal grief, pain, tragedy and desolation to individuals which was touched upon by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester.

Despite the fact that Britain probably leads the world in having the lowest rate of fatal and serious accidents in relation to traffic density, the prospects envisaged by the growth figures make the future pregnant with alarm. Many noble Lords have already mentioned various aspects affecting road safety, from seat belts to fog and from breath tests to speed limits. I do not propose to refer to them, but peering into the future, as we are doing, I am tempted to contend that there is a major problem of strategy which is closely connected with the prospective growth of traffic, and I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down that some effort must be made, and made now.

The problem which I have in mind leads me to congratulate the Department of the Environment on setting such store by the need for orbital roads which bypass towns and cities. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said in a debate the other day, the Department has this matter very much in mind, and that is all to the good. But should not the process he accelerated? I feel that orbital highways should be completed long before the heart of a town is torn out by developments, such as we have seen taking place in some of our cities to-day. I myself have this bee in my bonnet about my native city of Edinburgh. I was impressed by what the right reverend Prelate said about city traffic.

One point which has been made in the debate leads me to say that another advantage of the well-designed orbital highway is that it provides the perfect peripheral parking location for commuter and public transport traffic, from outwith the area as well as from inside the city. But is it possible that when priorities have been considered a vital point has been overlooked? Although I think it is accepted that orbital highways are bound to be universal some day, it is not until they are complete and in operation that their true effect on city traffic can be gauged. Meanwhile, the internal planning of cities proceeds apace, but it must inevitably be based on conjecture, on prognostication, which, if erroneous, may mean wasteful expenditure and irretrievable damage to living communities and foci of trade and to centres of learning, with all that that connotes, including the destruction of priceless historic and artistic assets—Oxford, Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, York and so on.

The time will come, and will come soon, with the increased size, length and weight of freight vehicles, when they will have to be segregated, and I am glad to note that several noble Lords have mentioned this fact. I believe that they will have to be confined to specific classes of road. There is thus an urgent need for modern orbital roads because they are an absolute necessity to our economy. If heavy vehicles are to be confined to certain roads, then there must be a through-system of those roads, as otherwise the economy will inevitably be affected. In a related way, I foresee that city centres will have to exclude all but public transport and special vehicles—probably electric, as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, pointed out. Developments are in fact ahead of what he suggested, and I believe, with the noble Lord, that the electrically propelled vehicle is the future private transport for cities. Only when that is adopted will the present pollution—in every sense of the word—of our surroundings be held at bay or abated, and the toll of life and limb of pedestrians kept within proper control.

By all means let us, by subsidy or regulation, return as much traffic to the railways as we can. However, it is as well to remember that this country suffers under the disadvantage of having a limited gauge; I refer to the gauge in terms of tunnels, bridges and the like. That is one of the penalties of pioneering. But I should like to know, and perhaps the noble Earl will be able to tell us when he replies, whether special low-load wagons which could carry the largest containers can be designed and constructed, so that some of these vast containers can be used on our railways. This same problem of the gauge affects the consideration of water transport. So it must be borne in mind that this disadvantage may prove that our roads must carry a very large proportion of the industrial freight of the nation.

We have to be thankful for a number of factors, in addition to the services of the Road Research Laboratory. We have our police, and the more traffic police of the present calibre we can afford, the better we shall be. There are very great pressures on medical, hospital and surgical resources and, although one noble Lord opposite once contended that the incidence of death on the road was as high in 1933 as it is to-day—which, in a measure, is true—that is because the modern techniques of surgery, blood transfusion and post-operative care were not available in the days of horse transport. There is also the insurance industry, to which I feel we should pay a compliment. But before I come on to that aspect, I should like to refer to the design of motor cars. The designers of vehicles, and particularly the tyre manufacturers, often do not get the praise they deserve. My mind turned to that fact when I heard a noble Lord speaking about the high speeds which are advertised for vehicles. I agree with him that it is a great pity that vehicles are advertised for their speed. But acceleration is another matter, because with acceleration has gone enormously improved braking. The fact is that manoeuvrability makes a contribution to road safety, as does the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, which is quite fast enough on a road system such as our own, although cars for export—and I think the B.M.W. is German—have to cater for Continental roads.

I think we forget the contribution which the insurance industry makes in terms of research into the whole problem of road accidents. It is as well to remember that if ever there was a group of organisations who benefit from a reduction in accidents it is the insurers. They have made a great contribution in wise husbandry, but, all the same, they always seem to get "knocked". There are the problems of selective underwriting, research into the cost of repairs—which is now at an advanced stage—and the provision of statistics which will augment the factors on which the Road Re- search Laboratory bases its research. We even have to thank the industry for bailing out "cheap-jack" insurers.

One hesitates to "mix it" with Bishops, but recent correspondence about driving at night leads me to make a strong appeal that we should eliminate the words "headlights" and "sidelights" from our vehicular vocabulary. Instead, they should be termed "driving lights" and "parking lights". When I say "we" I mean all concerned—the trade, the police, Parliament and the Press. Only in this way can we approach properly the problem of the use of driving lights in poor visibility in towns at night and in fog.

But, as has been said before, the remedy for most of our ills lies in the behaviour of drivers. Would it be possible for the Church to do more to bring a Christian attitude to others to hear in the case of the motorist? I trust that I do not offend if I confess that I often paraphrase to myself some parts of the Lord's Prayer. Let us take the word "trespasses", which is not the word we use in the Church of Scotland. If we think of "trespasses" as the passing of vehicles, then we might say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that overtake us. Lead us not into the tempation of driving too fast, and deliver us from evil if we do."

In conclusion, my mind goes back with gratitude and admiration to the late Marquess of Aberdeen who so regularly contributed to our debates on this moral plane. He used to quote a specific prayer on the subject. There is no factor which can compare in importance with the responsibility that rests on every individual to drive with consideration for others.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, on one of the older bridges which cross the older part of the M.1 motorway there is a remarkable piece of graffiti. It has been there for many years and has defied the weather and no doubt the attempts of the Department of the Environment and the local authorities to erase it. Letters a foot high proclaim, "Marples must go." There is something in this, because it is the thinking that originated at that time that we are talking about to-day. We have heard speaker after speaker in your Lordships' House ask for the railways to be brought back into our calculations. Noble Lords on both sides of the House, certainly on this side, feel that the Beeching axe did more than prune; it damaged. Running through the Government's thinking is still this dangerous seed of thought that we must follow, rather than lead, in approving forms of transport to be used in this country.

In his remarkable and wide-ranging speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester touched on nearly everything that anyone in your Lordships' House would want to say. I wish merely to emphasise certain of the points he brought out and perhaps put them in slightly different perspectives, which the Government must take into consideration when they look at an integrated transport system for this country. It was the right reverend Prelate who first asked in this debate for an integrated transport system. Transport is concerned with the movement of goods and people, and therefore I welcome the Government's statement that it is part of land use planning. It begins in land use and in where we put people and goods. The problems of transport have developed with the development of our industrial system.

For instance, there used to be a boot-maker and a tailor in every village. Today, to buy one's shoes or get one's jacket or pair of trousers one has to take one's car or get a bus and go to the nearest shopping centre. This is something that has to be reckoned with, because if we concentrate our shopping centres too much and plan our living areas without sufficient shopping centres and sufficient services for people, we create a traffic problem. This is part of planning just as much as the size or shape that a house or factory should be. Therefore, I welcome the Government's statement that transport planning is all part of their general planning programme.

I am concerned, however, that the Government might be hoping to pass the buck to local authorities in regard to roads. Please, can we have in Government thinking an integrated attitude to all transport problems? Do not let us think of roads as being separate from railways or from air transport or indeed from canals and coastal shipping. They all bear upon each other and each contributes to solving transport problems.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said that railways would cost more than lorries. I would question that because it depends on what figure one uses in one's calculation. The proposition put by the right reverend Prelate that the cost of a fatality multiplied by the number of fatalities which take place and then looked at in the light of the safety of railways compared with that of roads leads one to think that all of the calculations arc not being used in producing this kind of thinking.


Would the noble Lord give way?




I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It is not always a matter of cost; it is a matter of who is going to meet the cost.


The cost is met by all of us and by some of us in tears. It is a mere excuse to say that cars are cultural. The thrill which Mr. Toad got from the open road is not one that we should like to see proliferated. It is derived from a selfish and dangerous misuse of the motor vehicle and is no different in essence from the thrill got from holding the ribbons of a slap-up pair in tandem. It is the same sort of thing; it killed people in the days of the horse and cart. It is the selfish attitude that we have to discourage and encourage the proper and safe use of all our transport systems.

The motor car, to paraphrase the words of Lord Lundy's Grandpapa the Duke, is not a toy. It is a means of transport and should be our servant. We want better roads and better planned roads. The road is an integral part of an integrated system. If we are going to shift large quantities of goods by rail and by pipeline—and this possibility must he considered in the light of North Sea oil and gas—and large numbers of people by rail and air we are going to have to have vehicles to receive them at the other end and get them to their destinations. This will still have to be done by roads; it will still have to be done by some form of convenient transport from the termini. Therefore, we want better roads, and we want them better planned. This, again, is where integration comes in, because we have to have the dispersal of the people from the termini integrated with what is going to arrive there.

In Scotland we still have comparatively open roads, but we have to see not only that these are kept open and kept at the standard at which they now are—a standard at which they can be both safe and enjoyable to use—but that they are improved to deal with the increased demands of tourism and of growing industry in places like the North-East of Scotland, where North Sea oil is becoming a factor. For instance, in beauty spots we should have proper parking facilities, and we should have places where people can get off the road and put their litter, and so forth. Small improvements are a help, but they must indeed, as I say, be integrated.

Now much has been said in this debate about speed. In my view, speed is a very relative matter. At 70 miles an hour, a mini can be a dangerous motorised tin can. At 70 miles an hour, James Bond's Aston Martin would be comparatively slow-moving and well within its capacity. What really matters is the speed differential. If you are driving at 20 miles an hour through a lot of pedestrians, you are in an extremely dangerous position. If you are driving at 70 miles an hour on a motorway, what becomes dangerous is the slow-moving side of the motorway. I should like to suggest that the Government might well look at this question of speed differentials with a view to bringing bottom speeds up on certain roads, such as motorways, where people intend to travel at a fairly high speed for fairly long distances.

I feel that perhaps we are not using the motorways as we originally intended to or as they should be used. The other day I saw somebody parked on the grass at the side of a motorway having a picnic by himself in his car—just sitting there, on the grass, drinking tea out of a flask. It says at the entrances to motorways, I believe, "No stopping—No U-turns". It is absolutely incredible the number of people you see stopped on motorways. I cannot believe they are all breakdowns. The number of people you see stopped on the hard shoulder is quite surprising in view of this notice. I feel one should not enter upon a motorway unless one intends to use it as such. But I think you would go a long way towards making the public wish to adhere to limits if you could remove from the travelling public the frustration which they so often suffer; and on motorways especially, I think, this could be done by trying to keep the speed differential as small as possible between the left-hand and the right-hand lanes.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has said that the Government have the will and are listening. I hope they are not like the old boys sitting on the bench outside the pub, who sometimes sit and listen and sometimes just sit. I hope that they will get up and do somethig about this problem. I hope they will try to integrate our railways into the transport system, and will recognise that they have a great value and a great part to play in it. I hope they will listen to what has been said about the roads, and particularly about road safety; and also about city centres. I hope they will listen to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Tanlaw about the pollution in our cities. It seems ironic that we should have smokeless zones and then pollute them, as has been said by other speakers, with unburnt hydro-cardons, and so forth, from our car exhausts. I hope they will give us at least a start on an integrated transport system to move goods and people safely and without frustration. If they do, then I think the right reverend Prelate can feel very proud to have initiated this debate, and I shall feel proud to have joined in it with him.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, if I had any disappointments during this afternoon's debate it would be at the almost universal condemnation of the commercial vehicle, variously described as a juggernaut, a monster, a stinking, polluting vehicle. Its very benefit to our economic survival appears to have been overlooked. Noble Lords may recall that some 85 per cent. of the nation's goods are carried in these vehicles. That they shake the foundations of old and historic buildings, that they cause noise, that they cause smells, is hardly the fault of the user. Indeed, motorways are of some prime importance in getting the nation's goods for export from the factories to dock or railhead for exporting on: yet only 1,000 miles of motorway have so far been built. This year's grand total is going to be something like 100 miles. By the mid-1980s we shall have only 3,500 miles of motorway, trunk and principal roads.

Even taking those motorway, trunk and principal roads that we have to-day, there are so few facilities for the drivers of these long-distance vehicles that they have to pull in to towns and cities for the simple reason that there are no lavatories anywhere else for them. Noble Lords may smile and be slightly disbelieving, but in fact I asked a lorry driver in Winchester City exactly what he was doing there. He said, "I have gone to the lavatory in the bus station because, you see, from the beginning of the A33 to Staines there is not another one ". Despite the fact that last year the Government passed with some acclamation the Highways Bill, so far as I know there is only one local authority which has spent any money on providing adequate parking and facilities for lorry drivers.

My Lords, so far as noise and pollution are concerned, there is no doubt whatsoever that English motor vehicle manufacturers could provide an immediate answer to both these problems almost overnight, provided we were prepared to pay the cost—and the cost is in terms of hard cash. We could, of course, have restricted the size of vehicles, and I wonder then how the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, would have felt if, trunk by trunk, the timbers of his forest, or, churn by churn, the produce of his dairies, were taken down his narrow roads by one man on a handcart, manpower being very expensive. He now has a modern lorry to pick up all the churns or a modern, large semi-trailer unit to carry his trunks of timber away, at considerably less cost to him than the alternatives.

Noble Lords have spoken about the use of railways. In the past 15 or 20 years the railways have been a contributory factor to city centre congestion, because all the railheads are in the city centres; and if anybody were to send major goods by rail, road transport would have to drive into a city centre to get the goods away from the railhead. I believe there are only four centres in the country specifically designed for container traffic which are away from a city centre. Nothwith-standing that, were I to put a container-load of spare parts from a Coventry motor car factory for shipment to anywhere—Southampton, domestically, or Europe or America, shipping out of Southampton—that container would be carried by lorry from Coventry to Birmingham; from Birmingham it would come to London in a railway train; in London it would then be transferred by road to another point of despatch where it would again be loaded on to a railway wagon and come in to Southampton. I think it would take about 2½ to three times as long to arrive. Transhipment costs would far exceed the cost of driving one lorry those miles, although I am prepared to accept that the actual cost per ton mile would be less by rail than it might be by road.

If the railways are to be better used in alleviating any confusion in city centres between commercial vehicle traffic and private car traffic I think that a massive injection of money must be made and a tremendous expansion of railway activity take place with a view to the maximum utilisation of what disappointingly appears to be a wasting asset, and I do not believe it can be done purely by the Railways Board. I believe, as other noble Lords have said, that the Government must take a lead in this matter in attempting an integrated goods traffic service.

It is disappointing that so many local authorities have failed to take advantage of unused road space. Many have attempted engineering projects—traffic engineering not road engineering projects—to alleviate congestion, and so often they have introduced "bus only" lanes. Would it not be a good idea if "bus only" lanes were also used for commercial vehicles? The competition which the right reverend Prelate described—and I think he used "competition" in a rather different context—between the commercial vehicle and the car would be to some extent eliminated. I hope that is the context in which he used that description.

My Lords, if one turns to Table8—and I will not go over the figures again—it is sufficient to say that there are virtually two groups of traffic. The commercial vehicle and the motor car are going to double by 2000 and the rest are going to remain substantially the same. Certainly the commercial vehicle figure may he curtailed and I should like to set the right reverend Prelate's mind at rest on the very large increase in commercial vehicles in 1972. I believe that this is in large part due to the fault of the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Transport in their failure to implement that part of the Traffic Act dealing with operators' licensing. This has not proved effective—the Minister himself admitted this in May in a public speech—and has encouraged, because of the loopholes in this Act, a number of ill-equipped and ill-advised people to enter what they believe to be the highly lucrative market of hauling goods.

Most noble Lords have discussed this 30 million motor cars in the year 2010 within the context of the motor car as we now know it. I think it was only the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who suggested alternative motor cars. It has been the desire, ever since the motor car came into our world, to own one, and nothing, my Lords, is going to discourage a person from owning his own piece of personal transportation. It is just about the only thing left to him that gives him freedom of choice, where he can go and when he can go. It may well be that the second and third cars in a family are of exactly the same type as the first car in a family, in essence, something between 850 cc and 1,850 cc—very much the same type of motor car, with four wheels rather than three, four doors rather than two, the engine in much the same place and much the same kind of things happen. Why is this so? Purely and simply because it costs very nearly the same amount of money to run these vehicles. There is no tax advantage in terms of the Road Fund licence, in terms of petrol tax, in terms of garaging or repairing. There is very little difference in the cost of running this type or that type of vehicle so one plumps for the mass produced popular type of car.

Were there a licence differential that would encourage the wholesale production and sale of, let us say, a solar powered vehicle with three wheels that could turn through 360 degrees in its own length, carrying four people for no more than 3½ hours. Very many of the second motor cars in a family travel only 3,000 to 7,000 miles a year, and even to make up the national average of 12,000 miles per year there are the 30,000, 40,000 and 50,000 miles a year drivers. It is this kind of encouragement that I believe the Government should give, in monetary terms, to institutions such as MYRA, and the Road Research Laboratory, who, bless them, produce an enormous amount of information and do a tremendous amount of good work on the smallest budget that anybody could conceive.

My Lords, I do not believe that the amount of money which road transport provides for the Exchequer, some £2,000 million, can be considered as being due in part or in whole to come back to road transport and/or its problems. I am a believer in the principle that the road user should pay for road using. A motor vehicle licence is not necessarily a licence to use the road; it is only a licence to keep and own a motor vehicle. I believe that when we get 3,500 miles of motorway, trunk and principal roads we could introduce some segregationist policy for vehicles which, by virtue of toll roads, may have to pay a premium.

I cannot sec anything wrong with paying a premium to use a road which is going to save petrol, fuel, driver's time and money. Some of that money could go back, and if one had had a toll road On some of the motorways some of the most ghastly accidents could have been prevented. A toll road in itself provides a check point. Certain vehicles could be refused entry by virtue of their visual condition; certain people could be refused entry, and the very tragic death last year of a young woman driving with her companions from London back to the Midlands who was killed because a car came down the motorway on the wrong carriageway, and, so far as my investigations have gone, the driver came down that way as a result of a "dare" after an evening out, could have been avoided. Traffic could be segregated physically by slowing it down and allowing only certain groups of vehicles to travel at certain time intervals.

I should like, finally, to comment on a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie: that with the projected change in local government organisation much benefit will accrue to roadwork, traffic and transportation generally by virtue of regional policies. I would suggest to the noble Earl that more confusion will occur by having regional policies. In my belief, it is the fact that we have no national overall policy for roads, road construction, engineering and lighting, coupled with the way in which various cities will be by-passed and certain groups of traffic will move through and about various regions, that has led to the kind of confusion that we have today. I support other noble Lords who have suggested that we should perhaps have a Commission of some kind or a running inquiry into the whole position of traffic and road transportation, not as has happened but as will happen; also the suggestion that a good deal more money should be found, either from existing tax sources or from road users, so that we may have a better transportation system in this country whereby every national asset may be utilised to its full.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I promise to be brief, having not put down my name to speak in this debate. But I want to say a word about the important speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester regarding the by-passing of historic towns. I have for some years, together with other noble friends and Members in another place, been pressing to get by-passes built in East Anglia, and I congratulate the Government on the fact that they are now going to build these by-passes. One, around Bury St. Edmunds, has been started. Others are needed in the area of Cambridge, where big containers rattle through, and at Newmarket and Stowmarket. I am glad to say that a start is to be made next year. There is also the great problem presented by Ipswich. I was told the other day that something like 400 containers a day go through Ipswich to Felixstowe and the docks.

We have to face the fact that containers have come to stay, and I am sure that as soon as possible we must provide roads to speed up this traffic and to by-pass historic towns, not only in East Anglia but also in other parts of the country. There must be more roads connecting East and West; and in the area around Hull and Grimsby there is a particularly urgent need. I was glad to read recently that the Secretary of State for the Environment will concentrate on trying to get these by-passes built. Something like 97 per cent. of heavy goods is conveyed by roads, and this procedure will not be reversed in five minutes. Many of the railway centres are in the middle of our big cities and I do not think we shall be able to use them to reverse the trend. We must try to cater for the big containers, but keep them out of our towns; and the sooner we can get by-pass roads built, the better it will be for the country.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of my opening speech I congratulated the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on the timeliness of his Motion, and everything I have heard subsequently tells me that I was altogether accurate at least in that prediction. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this significant debate for their contributions and to assure them, on behalf of the Government, that we shall look very closely at what they have had to say. There have been repeated calls for action. It is always tempting, and occasionally wise, not to do too much. Traffic congestion, for instance, could be left alone to act as its own regulator. Where I live in Soho this obtains in some degree. Our cities would not as is too frequently suggested, grind to a halt. When congestion reaches an intolerable level, people look for other means of making their journeys. I would remind your Lordships of a curious factor about America where I admit that different conditions obtain; that is, that the present level of vehicle ownership in New York is the same today as it was in 1929.

Nevertheless, my Lords, congestion imposes severe economic and social losses on the community, and we acknowledge this. It retards or deters necessary journeys along with the unnecessary. It handicaps buses; it mars the atmosphere of our towns, especially our historic towns (many noble Lords have made mention of these), and it encourages traffic to divert through residential areas, through unspoilt villages and along minor roads which are quite unsuitable for such traffic. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made an excellent point that orbital highways need to be developed long before the hearts have been torn out of our cities to accommodate unorbital highways. There is no doubt that tighter measures of traffic restraint are going to be required. The objectives are clear. They are—echoing what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—to move more people and goods in a smaller number of vehicles; to improve the efficiency of public transport by priority measures and by discouraging the less essential private traffic, and to lessen the impact of traffic on the environment. I listened with care to the thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, on these aspects of integration.

My Lords, the means adopted will vary according to circumstances, and we must acknowledge the claims of circumstance. I should like to point that out to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, whose speech otherwise I very much enjoyed. In the countryside, the car threatens the very beauty which it gives millions the opportunity to enjoy. This is the central paradox in the nature of the beast, as I said earlier. A successful approach here, in terms of total traffic and environmental management, has been the experiment in the Goyt Valley of the Peak District National Park, where, beyond a well-designed car park, the roads are closed to traffic except for a minibus service which circulates from the car park. The same principle can be seen in some of our cities—for example, in Leeds, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, where one or two shopping streets are preserved for pedestrians except for a minibus service which links the rail and bus stations with main points in the centre. I feel that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, did me less than justice in casting me as "Mr. Toad" in this debate because I was trying to give the point of view of "Ratty" and "Badger" as well.

Many towns are introducing, or plan to introduce, pedestrian precincts and pedestrianised streets served by car parks and public transport. These form a physical constraint on traffic and enhance the quality of urban life. Shopkeepers used not to like this; they feared loss of trade. But it has been found in practice that those fears were groundless; the traders have changed their minds, and traffic-free pedestrian shopping areas are increasingly finding their way into the town plans of local authorities.

I could say a lot more, but these are some of the main measures which the more progressive authorities are using to mitigate the effects of increasing volumes of traffic and which the Department are urging the less progressive authorities to adopt. They represent a step towards a total approach—and this again, I feel, answers the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—to problems in this field which will be further met by the bringing together of responsibilities for planning roads and co-ordinating public transport in the forthcoming reorganisation of local government. I do not think attention to different needs and different environments is to any degree at variance with the national policy in this respect.

A further step was taken last week when the Department of Environment began discussions with representatives of local authority associations about a possible new structure of transport grants that would largely replace the existing specific grants and, we hope, remove most of the difficulties in adopting a common approach to transport problems across the board to which the present system of specific grants gives rise. We hope this will gratify the noble Lords who have consistently asked for a common approach. The Department are also initiating two sets of studies, and there have been calls for research: one set to develop the total approach by looking at the environmental management of towns as a whole; the other to look particularly in 3D, as it were, at the environmental problems of three inner city areas and the possible courses of action to deal with them. It is hoped to announce by the end of this month a selection of the towns where these studies are to take place, and I regret that I cannot do so at this point.

More is also being done in the larger towns to examine and develop existing rail networks and explore the possibility of new rapid transit systems. At present the first stage of the London Transport Board Fleet Line, as well as a considerable programme of investment in the existing British Rail network, is in hand in London. On Merseyside, work has begun on an underground rail loop in the centre area, and in Manchester planning is well advanced on an underground rail link between the main stations. Elsewhere, special "busways" have been developed, as at Runcorn New Town, another town mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. Much more can be done along these lines, and in time some of the research which is going on into moving pavements, more flexible forms of rapid transit, mini-trams and other developments. may bear fruit and be brought in as a further aid. It would be appropriate for me at this point to add my tribute to the work of the Road Transport Research Laboratory and all they are doing to improve our environment and to aid our total approach.

I should like to come to the nuts and bolts of individual speeches and do what I can to answer them. The right reverend Prelate, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, acknowledged, raised almost every point that could be raised, and other speakers, in a really excellent debate, have been singing decani—or is it cantaris?—to his lead. I tried to deal in my opening speech with one or two things which he brought up, but I should like to say a word about the advertising of fast cars. Like it or not, we live by exports and among our principal exports are, of course, motor cars. Moreover, different speed limits obtain in different countries. It is also reasonable in an intercontinental age that more people are using foreign motorway systems and the like and they are aware that cars are able to perform at speeds not permitted in this country. This is no criticism of our determined policy to hold speed limits in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made the point that high performance cars were a sort of unfair fact of life; that they are perhaps doubly safe at low performance rates but that there is no guarantee they will be so driven. As I have said I am, for once, virtuous in this respect because I have given up cars; at least for the time being. I once owned a B.M.W., and one could certainly not have a safer vehicle than that.

On the question of drunkenness and driving, the right reverend Prelate (again I dealt with this in my opening speech) suggested random tests. We will look at the suggestion. Our worries here are questions of public acceptability, which make enforceability rather difficult, and also the difficulties of enormously upping the load of the police. But where the question of the lowering of alcoholic con- tent is concerned, I would point out that only, I think, Norway and Sweden have lower limits than we do; and those limits effectively preclude all drinking and driving whatsoever. This sounds an admirable idea—and indeed is an admirable idea; but at present we have no evidence, in so far as one can make comparisons, that the casualty rates in Norway and Sweden arc appreciably lower than ours. But there is no complacency about this matter. Our policies in terms of prosecutions and maintaining breath tests have, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, increased and we are not going back on them in any way.

I agree with so much of what the right reverend Prelate said that I feel I almost owe it to the Government to point out one small contradiction in a speech of such brilliance. He referred to the loading and unloading of large vans in towns and the problems for shoppers and the like that are so engendered. But shops have to be served, and the alternative, it seems to me, is to operate on a network of supermarkets, sited, let us say, on super-highways, on the orbital roads about which we have heard so much—in effect, a move away from the urban environment, the local environment, as the major shopping centre. This would seem to me—and I have some experience of life in America—to be a pity. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate acknowledged that one cannot blame commercial interests for refusing, in the cost situation as it now obtains, to send their goods more by rail. Lorries, of course, have come in for almost universal odium, and although he disagrees in some respects with Government policy I have to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, upon sticking to his commercial guns and pointing out the valuable role of commercial vehicles in keeping our prices down. They now carry 61 per cent. of all annual ton mileage, and it is no easy matter to reduce this figure, given an expanding gross national product, the flexibility and convenience of the motor lorry and the absence of any alternative in urban areas where the problems arc must acute. To the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I would say, as other noble Lords have said, that trips might easily be compounded without the use of the lorry, and that, in turn, would give rise to further congestion.

The right reverend Prelate asked me about the problems of conveying dangerous chemicals about the country. The industry has taken steps on this matter and we feel that the record is good, though clearly it is right that when something goes wrong the maximum publicity—even if it is sometimes a distortion of the facts—is given to any accident. Drivers of dangerous goods have special training and the industry uses the "Tremcard"—transport emergency card—system whereby a card in the vehicle indicates in what way the load is dangerous and what precautions should he taken in the event of an accident. Chilling though the thought may be, I would point out that thousands of tons of chemicals, potentially dangerous, are carried safely every year.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford entertained and excited our imaginations by going into realms of science fiction not so far distant as to preclude all hope of its becoming science fact. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned the inefficiency of the internal combustion engine—this was spiritedly contested by Lord Lucas of Chilworth—in an urban environment. The Government do not entirely disagree with his assessment but in some respects we feel that cheap national gas from the North Sea might be more likely to run out before supplies of oil, were all cars to be converted to natural gas. As to the point about the Finance Act 1971, I am afraid that that is not one I have up my sleeve and we shall have to write to him.

We acknowledge and are pleased that the electric vehicle is attracting increasing attention throughout the world. The key to the widespread use of electric vehicles is the successful development of the lightweight battery. In the United Kingdom the Department of Trade and Industry have supported research into advanced batteries, and expect to initiate further development programmes; and these of course the Department of the Environment completely welcome as a further instance of integration. The Department of Trade and Industry have also commissioned the manufacture of two electric city centre buses. These are being evaluated at present in Leeds and Liverpool, and mention has been made of them in the debate.

As the right reverend Prelate said, the pedestrian precincts that have been established in Leeds, Norwich and Exeter are very much to be welcomed. It is within these precincts that trials with the electric bus are being carried out, and it is proving very popular. There are even a number of problems to be overcome on the right side of the environmental fence. One of the most interesting is that the bus is so quiet that pedestrians are not warned of its approach. I understand that this noiselessness is being rectified as pleasantly as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, talked, too, about steam cars, and I understand that he has personal experience of these. I look forward to talking to him privately about his experiences.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, raised many points, perhaps too many for me to deal with, and if he feels that I have left any out unfairly I will of course write to him. He took up the question of probationary driving licences, and it is pleasant from this Box at this time to be able to acknowledge an admirable contribution by Northern Ireland in this respect. But there are difficulties from our point of view both in cost and in the amount of extra examiners involved. However, we will look closely at what the noble Lord has had to say.


My Lords, may I interrupt for one moment? There would not be any extra examiners. There would be no examination at the end of the probationary period.


I apologise to the noble Lord. I am obviously confusing this point with the suggestion that I think he made later, that if one behaved badly on the roads one would be sent back very smartly for a test.


That is so.


I am sorry for that confusion. As to higher tests for faster cars, we do not feel that there is evidence that the problem of moving from a low to a high-powered car is in itself a significant factor in accidents. I cannot stress too frequently that most accidents occur at relatively low speeds and in urban environments.

It is right to say something about the heavily publicised problem of fog on motorways. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to special lighting on fog-prone lengths of motorways and to audible hazard warnings. The Government are considering seriously what steps are necessary—and these include lighting—to reduce the hazards created by fog on motorways. I should like to point out that we already have a programme of erecting safety barriers along the central reserves of major motorways. As to audible warnings, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which I had the privilege of visiting this month to see some of these things, is currently conducting research into this matter.

I should be delighted at any time to take a trip into the West Country with the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and whatever frustrations that might occur en route, I am sure they would be admirably compensated for by his company. I would just ask the noble Lord how he feels that Devon will cope with the extra traffic that he envisages when our splendid schemes are put into effect—schemes worth £350 million currently in preparation or under construction. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made interesting points about traffic density and city by-passes, and I have already said something about his reference to orbital roads.

My Lords, it is now high time for me to try to find my way out of Spaghetti Junction, especially as I feel that a Rolls Royce in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is trying to overtake from the left. It was, I believe, another Cross-Bencher, and one critical to the industrial life of this industrial country, the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, who once spoke of road haulage as being bedevilled by politicians who seem to get industries, ideologies and ideas all inextricably intermingled. The noble Lord's ire led him ruthlessly to empurple his prose. I have not tried to avoid controversy, but I hope none the less that such ire will not be directed towards me. For I must close by saying that, fascinating and seemingly intractable as are so many of the problems posed by motor traffic in this country, we in the Government are obviously and critically indebted to the British motor industries and their leaders. We are proud of their achievements in design safety. We urge them to read what the right reverend Prelate has had to say. We ask them, too, for help in translating some of the problems into creative and progressive action, in much the same way as we ask for your Lordships' help and for the help of the motorists of this country. In the meantime, lest intractability prove too abstract and too gloomy a phenomenon on which to close, may I remind your Lordships that many of the problems with which we have been dealing are not so very new. In the first century A.D. the municipal Government of Rome was obliged to relieve congestion to its streets by restricting vehicular traffic (with the exception, I regret to say, of chariots and state vehicles) to the night hours. Plus ca change, my Lords. May I thank you once more for your indulgence?

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the many noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and ask them to forgive me if I do not comment in detail upon their speeches, because the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has done that so adequately. Indeed, their speeches have only served to fill in the many lacunæ that there were in my own speech. I thank them most warmly for their contributions. I should like, therefore, to confine my closing remarks to one or two of the aspects of the two speeches by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. May I first of all say that if this debate has done nothing more, I am at least very proud that it has brought the noble Earl to the Despatch Box for the first time to reply on behalf of the Government. He has fulfilled his duties not only with great efficiency, but also with great elegance.

I was particularly interested in the noble Earl's opening penetrating analysis reminding us of the way in which in these days the motor car has become so much identified with the person. It is, I think, that very fact that makes it so difficult for controls to he imposed in order that we may all be able to use the motor car. I must express one or two disappointments about the speech of the noble Earl, though I do so with great reticence, because he has not answered some of the major points that I put to him in my speech. He has not, for instance, given me the assurance I asked for: that if there are to be restrictions upon speed on the roads the law will be observed and enforced. I cannot believe that it is a good thing, either for the law or for society, to have speed limits which are in so many cases so completely disregarded.

I was disappointed that the noble Earl dealt in such a lukewarm fashion with the matter of advertising motor cars. It is not only a matter of advertising a motor car that goes at 100 m.p.h.; it is the general tenor of so many of these advertisements which are presenting the motor car as a status symbol, as something which will elate the ego in a way that is undesirable. I must repeat: does the noble Earl really think it is a good thing that motor cars should be advertised as being "neatly predatory in traffic or" will sustain precise cornering control at any speeds" or that they will "cream down the autoroutes at 118 m.p.h."? I hope that the noble Earl on some occasion will indicate discouragement on the part of the Government towards this general attitude in the advertising of motor cars.

Then, I do not think the noble Earl has dealt with the importance of a really concerted effort to get a good deal of the commercial traffic off the roads and on to the railways or the canals. I hope that he will be able to give some indication that the Government will speed up the work of local authorities in getting control of traffic in the centre of towns. Of course, we in Chester need no incentive towards understanding about shopping precincts, because the Romans did that for us. We have The Rows, which are precisely the things which all the experts are now saying ought to be built in all the cities. Our only trouble is that our streets were built for chariots and they cannot, therefore, carry the kind of traffic that we have at the present day.

As regards this matter of loading, my point is that as a result of, I suppose, economic factors, these very big lorries are being used to go round towns. They come to Chester and go on to Wrexham, Oswestry and Shrewsbury. I could take the noble Lord and show him at certain times of the day streets which are completely blocked by these very big lorries. Surely there ought to he some sort of marshalling yard from which smaller lorries can take the goods and deliver them with much less general discomfort. Finally, the noble Lord did not respond to my request that there should be a Royal Commission or some comparable body such as that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to go fully into this problem. The wide variety of problems raised in the speeches of noble Lords to-day surely shows us how many interests and concerns are involved in this matter. I feel there is a place for something like a Royal Commission—for a body to take the very difficult decisions that I believe must be taken. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, somebody must have the guts to do it.

I will close by saying that I am sometimes regarded, together with those who think like me, as being an enemy of the motor car. I am nothing of the sort. Nor should I wish the motor car to be confined, as was suggested earlier, to the middle classes. I know the value and the joy of possessing a motor car and the liberalising effect that it has had on my own life; and I should like everybody else to be able to enjoy the same things. But the issues are so great and the consequences for the future are so tremendous that I am afraid of a Micawber-like attitude of saying, "They are so difficult we must hope for the best, and something will turn up ". I hope that this debate will have cleared some of those issues and that there will again be some creative thinking on the important points which have been raised. If we may have that assurance, I beg the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.