HL Deb 07 March 1973 vol 339 cc1148-262

2.46 p.m.

LORD POPPLEWELL rose to call attention to the problems of transportation, with special reference to the railways; and to move for Papers. The noble Lords said: My Lords, as all will be aware, the Government have under consideration a Departmental report on railways. According to a leak in The Times some little time ago, there is very great concern about what is in that Departmental report. It would appear, according to the leak, that one of the matters embraced in the report is a further reduction in rail traffic. This is reminiscent of the document entitled Trunk Lines for Railways which was published in 1965 and then rejected. This visualised a still further big run-down in the railway system.

Present financial considerations compel the Railways Board to consider separately each unit of their undertaking, whether it be branch lines, railways shops, or whatever it may be, and these must be established on a strict actuarial basis as being profitable or otherwise. In consequence, with this financial obligation laid upon the Railways Board, we have seen the considerable run-down that has taken place not only in branch lines—and it is possible that many of your Lordships will have a lot to say about this run-down in branch lines—but in the feeder services to factories and commercial undertakings, and in many other ways. With such a policy it is understandable that after short recoveries the Railways Board commenced to run into a deficit again. I think that is what is taking place this year and what took place last year.

Under the present set-up, the Railways Board have had to establish many different companies, and many of these undertakings have been established as separate companies, where the profitable lines ancillary to the railways have proved themselves down through the ages under the old private enterprise system. Whereas at one time it was possible to trace a profit or loss account or to have a statement published so that accountability could be traced, to-day many of these companies that have been established no longer have to submit accounts for public accountability. So long as they conform and publish their accounts in the ordinary company way, that is sufficient. This is a considerable set-back on what was envisaged. With the serious cutback that has taken place there is a growing change of opinion in the country. Many eminent people, many organisations, are seriously perturbed because of the present lack of transport facilities. Among these people are many local government authorities. In their desire to provide country services for many areas they have had to enter into undertakings with bus companies and are subsidising them in order to keep some semblance of a rural service.

In addition, transport authorities themselves are concerned. On the whole a change of official thinking in transport needs is required. I hope the Government will take careful note of this debate to-day with a view to having some new thinking, as distinct from financial accountability. Many of your Lordships will have heard of the campaign, "Transport 2000", which ended in Central Hall last night. That hall was three-quarters full last night, which shows the great enthusiasm people have for getting some improvement in transport as a whole. This indicates the change that has taken place and the public's desire for a more efficient transport system. I understand that within the Ministry of Transport only a small section deals with rail planning and the general outlook, compared with a large section for the road interest. In the interest of the whole nation this problem has to be looked at again with a view to improving all transport.

Your Lordships will remember that a week ago to-day we discussed energy requirements. One of the cardinal facts which arose from that discussion was the complete lack of a fuel or energy policy. I suggest to noble Lords that it is exactly the same with transport. Each section of transport is looked at separately—whether it is roads, inland waterways, coastline shipping, the development of new aircraft, the development of a new aerodrome at Foulness, or whether it is a question of embracing the Channel Tunnel. This is not in the best interest of the nation. In my opinion, there is an overwhelming case for a complete overall transport policy. At the present over 15 million motor vehicles are on the roads. By the turn of the century the figure will have more than doubled. What will be the fate of our towns and cities unless we take some drastic action to deal more effectively with motor vehicles? We allow heavy lorries, juggernauts, to travel on our roads, which in many cases are not built to carry them. The juggernauts create environmental difficulties; they destroy the foundations of many buildings which reflect our ancient heritage. York Minster is a case in point. Heavy traffic ceaselessly flows by and in my opinion that has had some effect upon the foundations of York Minster. The cost to industry of delays on the roads has been estimated and various figures, even up to as much as £700 million a year, have been put forward. It is difficult to obtain accurate figures. In many instances there is a very good rail service which is under-used and could carry much of the heavy traffic now on the roads.

We have the problem of parking. We build motorways, we allow speedy, quick transit by the motor vehicle along motorways. But when a vehicle reaches its destination what happens? We all know the chaos in our towns and cities caused by problems of parking. We know of the senseless driving round we motorists do in order to find a parking place. Once we get in a car—I include myself—we become selfish individuals: we want to step into the car at our home and arrive at our destination with the minimum of difficulty. Consequently, we find our streets in towns and elsewhere cluttered with parked cars. Roads are being built now at heavy cost in order to ease traffic flow, in order to keep traffic moving. But what happens? Streets are cluttered up with parked cars. We have established parking meters; we encourage motorists to add to the congestion instead of sensibly arranging for park-and-ride facilities at the peripheries of towns for long-stay parkers. In the towns, multi-storey car parks should be used for the short-term parkers. Motorists should be able to park cars in the multi-storey car park inexpensively. This, however, involves heavy expenditure so far as land is concerned—this is a pet theme that I have enumerated on more than one occasion—and therefore the nation should come in to help the local authority provide multi-storey car parks near shopping centres or business centres for short-stay parkers. The long-term parkers should be prohibited from entering the towns. A cheap, or even a free, public service should be provided to bring them into the towns from the car parks on the outskirts.

There is also the problem of congestion on roads, the problem of pollution and the problem of social dislocation. There is the destruction of houses and shops; there is loss of land for food production. There are the high cost of land and the increasing death and accident rates on our roads. These factors have created an environment difficulty of increasing magnitude. We as a nation must face up to these problems; they are the problems of real life. Transport is an essential characteristic of our life. We venture on to space projects, we venture on to the Concorde project, and the prestige involved is highly desirable, but I suggest we have our priorities wrong. First we must deal with the problem of transport which is so necessary to our way of life.

Again, in my view—and I believe this reveals itself in the thinking of the remit to the Railways Board—transport is not in itself a production unit. Transport does not produce commodities; transport does not produce anything for sale. Transport is a service, a point that we often overlook. Transport as a service must make itself efficient. This represents a tremendous problem. A large number of vehicles must be available to deal with commuters in the rush hours. Many different vehicles of various kinds must be on hand for goods traffic, but these vehicles cannot be used to maximum capacity because we have rush hours in our conurbations—in London from seven o'clock until nine o'clock in the morning, and again in the evening. A large number of rail coaches have to be provided for the rush hours, but for most of the day-time they are unproductive.

The same observations apply to heavy goods vehicles. Each particular industrial undertaking has to provide its own goods vehicles but often they are not used to maximum capacity. In addition to the difficulty in regard to the transport service there is the labour force difficulty. I suggest to noble Lords that because it is a service given to industry and commerce, and also because there is a social need involved, it is essential that all forms of transport should be co-ordinated to obtain maximum efficiency. There is a growing demand for improvement in both the quality and quantity of public transport. Our rail city to city service, the extension of London's tubes, and vast road schemes is our present answer to the problem. The London "box" scheme, the Layfield scheme and similar ring roads in other areas are palliatives that I suggest would be most costly and not in the best interest of the nation. What happens? We find that where we develop these ring roads and the additional urban motorways they are self-generating in regard to traffic and within a short space of time—a year or two, or three years—we find congestion on those very roads that have been so expensive to produce.

Therefore, there must be new thinking in connection with this problem and I suggest that the amount we are spending on some of these roads would be better spent in establishing more adequate parking arrangements and taking the cars and lorries off the roads completely, thus allowing the roads to be used for the purpose for which they were built. Then too, in many of the conurbations, particularly in regard to the long distance travelling, there is an overwhelming case for providing some motorways underground. Experiments are taking place in the development of underground services in most of the big cities and towns throughout the world—Berlin, Munich, Paris and also in America. This development is taking place in those places, whereas we appear to be almost afraid to tackle it.

Another important factor in adding to the congestion is the withdrawal of feeder services by rail to industry and commerce. It seems senseless to pay lip service to the development areas and to attract industry into various areas in order to provide employment, yet not to consider what is to happen to the product produced. The only alternative is to send the goods by road, thus cluttering up the roads even when commercial and industrial undertakings are actually beside the railway lines. In many places the railway sidings have been taken up and all the heavy traffic now goes on the roads.

If I may quote a personal experience, in my own little village of Sherburn-in-Elmet there is a gypsum factory which is developing the largest gypsum bed—it extends, I am told, right to Poland—and is within a few hundred yards of the railway. In 1954, when first this project was agreed upon an agreement was made for a branch railway line to go into the factory when it commenced production. Production has now been in progress for some four or five years; there are no railway lines, and these heavy gypsum lorries, long vehicles weighing 20, 30 or 40 tons, travel from the centre of Yorkshire down to the South Wales ports and elsewhere. Over 60 per cent. of their product travels long distances. This situation seems to me to be entirely fantastic. Naturally, from the people producing the gypsum there was a call that the country roads in the surrounding area should be strengthened in order to carry their vehicles. It seems to me to be common sense that a railway loading bay should have been established so that this product might travel by rail.

Of course the Railways Board is in a difficulty because in the self accountancy of every phase of its undertaking there is nothing allowable for the freight side. Some allowances are made with a view to keeping some of the branch lines open. The assessment is based on passenger takings, and a subsidy being given for that. But even a small branch line, costing a few hundred pounds, is probably not immediately financially viable although of course the Railways Board know that financial assistance is given to them in that case; in consequence, they are deliberately refusing goods traffic because they cannot deal with it.

If we look at a table that has been produced, in the United Kingdom there are some 62.6 vehicles per mile of our roads; in Italy the figure is 56, in West Germany 55, in the United States of America 28, in France 28 and in Japan 24. These figures indicate that we are the most densely populated in terms of motor vehicles per mile of road. It is time for some fresh thinking on the problem. Under the 1947 Transport Act provision was made for an outline national plan co-ordinating road, rail, inland waterways, coastal shipping, and so on. Under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb—who we congratulate on achieving his 90th birthday only a few days ago—


Hear, hear!


—at that time a beginning was made on developing a co-ordinated network. That development was continued under his immediate successor, Lord Robertson. But then the blow fell. With the Government at that particular time under the Marples régime, what did we get? We got the Beeching Plan and the noble Lord, Lord Beeching—Dr. Beeching at that time—had to work under the remit that was given to him by the Government. He carried that out according to his lights at that time. In consequence, we get the terrible mess that we are now in so far as transport is concerned.

We need a system of transport for carrying people and goods in safety, and comfort, which is reliable, with a good interchange and with reasonable speed. We can achieve that, in my opinion, only by a careful examination of all our resources and by assessing the energy facilities and environmental needs. We are, as we all know, a small, densely populated island. Our economy is severely strained in many instances. Therefore we must prevent sectional interests from dominating our transport requirements and allow the most efficient form of transport to develop. Imported hydrocarbon fuels have been lavishly used to the neglect of our own indigenous energy-producing fuels. An outstanding example of this waste was the conversion of our railways from steam to diesel instead of to electric power. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, at that time proposed electric traction for main line running and diesels for branch line running. That suggestion was overruled. Eventually we got the electrification of the North-Western route. It went as far as Crewe and was hung up for some years before being completed. That was a deliberate policy. Now that that route is fully used, we have found that the increase in traffic due to electrification has increased by approximately 150 per cent. since its installation. In a reply to me some years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said that for a diesel-electric locomotive of similar horsepower to an electric locomotive, the cost was £25,000 more per locomotive. Although there is the very heavy capital cost involved in erecting overhead electric wires, the maintenance was only two-thirds that of the diesel and the life of an electric locomotive is much longer, to say the least. By producing our own electricity, that is something that we could have used instead of depending upon imported oil as we must to-day.

For the reasons I have given, we find that transport is a problem for all nations, and all nations heavily subsidise their transport system in some way. So far as our own railways are concerned, they have to meet the cost of their own track maintenance, signalling and policemen, all of which are a direct cost to the railways. They have interest to pay on any capital expenditure on these things, whereas the nation provides the roads, the policemen and the signalling for roads. The estimated cost involved here is terrific. That seems to me to be rather ridiculous. The most recent figures for capital investment for rail, according to the 1971–72 1976–77 forecast in the public expenditure figures, comes to about £100 million a year. I am subject to correction on those figures but it is somewhere in that vicinity. Yet the railways have interest to pay on the whole of the capital that they use for that purpose. The cost of roads is somewhere in the region of about £1,000 million. Here we see a contrast: a congested road system against a good, viable rail system that is there but under-used.

We have had a considerable rundown in rail traffic. Between 1962 and 1971 were was the closure of 5,228 road miles; 4,025 miles of passenger road; 685 marshalling yards; 3,909 stations were closed; locomotives were reduced by 8,500—very understandably, from steam to diesel; we had 15,000 fewer passenger coaches; 196,000 fewer wagons; and staff were reduced by over 40,000 in that particular period. Those are the reductions that are taking place, particularly on the freight side, where wagons are being put out of commission. Of about 300,000 railway wagons in existence now, many are obsolete. They are not equipped to come into the rail service and to run on the same tracks and alongside the new high speed or advanced passenger train that is to be developed. That is something that the Railway Board simply have not the facilities or capital to do.

On the investment side—and I have the correct figures here—we find that, in 1972 according to Command Paper 4829, the investment for 1972–76 was £456 million, but in a later Command Paper, No. 5178, that figure was reduced to £361 million on gross fixed investment. The infrastructure grants increase the figure, but that is what is actually taking place. There is a considerable reduction there. On branch lines, my Lords, I do not want to say very much. I feel certain that many other noble Lords will have a great deal to say. But between 1964 and 1972, 3,553 miles of branch sidings were closed. We then have the particular difficulty of the commuter problem, with 1¼ million people making journeys into London between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.—the rush hour period. Of those, 40 per cent. use British Rail, 34 per cent. travel by Underground, 14 per cent. by bus and 12 per cent. by private transport. Still our streets are cluttered up with parked cars. If we take the commuter traffic coming from outside London of a quarter of a million people, 83 per cent. use British Rail, 4 per cent. travel by Underground, 2 per cent. go by bus, and 11 per cent. use private transport. I feel that these are figures that we ought to take more seriously.

In the last three or four years we find that additional goods traffic has been generated to the degree of some 400 million ton miles. Of course much of that is the "daily delivery man", and no one wants to interfere with him in any shape or form. But over 150 million ton miles is run on distances of 55 to 60 miles. This is a type of traffic that should be brought back to rail. It is ironical that we spend the amount of money that we do in development areas, with this neglect.

The estimated benefits, using the recognised social benefit criteria, of the electrification of the G.N. section coming into London, are: £11 million value of relief to road congestion; £5 million reduction in journey times; £2 million additional revenue to rail, and £0.8 million reduced road charges. Here, by the electrification of that particular area, is a saving of no less than £19 million. We talk about the Layfield Report, while British Rail have many plans for extending their rail system, not just to the main stations, Victoria, King's Cross and elsewhere, but by branch lines right into the city itself. This would be a very big step forward to ease the burden considerably, compared with what is taking place.

In connection with this subject, I urge that the Government should do some completely new thinking. The piecemeal development that is taking place is strangulating our cities and bringing our national life to a standstill. We have all experienced the hours of waiting in motor queues, the congestion that is taking place. I sincerely urge the Government to have another look at this problem and to have a comprehensive approach to it. Get the experts, not just from rail, not just the oil and gas and electricity people; get the inland waterways—there is a vast job for the inland waterways to do in carrying heavy, slow-moving bulk loads. This was visualised under the 1947 Act. Sooner or later we shall have to get back to the principles involved there, because, as I indicated at the commencement of my speech, there are over 15 million vehicles on the roads to-day, and by the turn of the century, at the present rate, there will be 30 million. This will bring our national life to a standstill, unless we have this new thinking and a new line of approach. I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, we all know the lifelong interest of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, in the railways, and I am sure I speak for all your Lorrdships in thanking him for introducing this timely Motion to-day. What with one thing and another, it is a possibility that by the time we reach the end of this debate there may not be a train running to take the noble Lord home; but I should like to give him an expression of my own gratitude by assuring him that if that were to be so we should be very glad to provide him with a bed tonight in Westminster.


My Lords, I have already booked in the hotel.


That is very prudent. The debate to-day is over-shadowed by the threat of a one-day strike to-morrow and by other acts to-day of non-cooperation by ASLEF members. At the outset of this debate I should like to say, on behalf of the Government, how deeply we regret the large amount of discomfort and hardship that is being imposed upon the long-suffering travelling public, and I hope all Members of the House will join with me in appealing to ASLEF to recognise, before it is too late, the lasting harm that they are doing to their own industry, to call off their industrial action and to seek solutions to the very real problems which everybody acknowledges of restructuring, but through agreed negotiating machinery.

I want to start this debate by saying something about the broader context of the environment in which, as the noble Lord says, our whole comprehensive transport policy has to be set, before we deal with the specific matter which in the terms of his Motion we shall we dealing with primarily to-day, namely, that of railways. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, rightly said that transport is not a unit of production, and I would add to that, nor is it an end in itself. I agree with him that it is there to serve, and to serve as a means towards the fuller and richer quality of life. People expect to be free to move about, to have more and better goods brought to them, some to the door, others to their shops. What we have to deal with in the first instance is the fact that these freedoms can conflict with other freedoms and rights, such as the right to peace and quiet and safety; so an environmental balance has to be struck right away between our individual personal priorities in order that the overall quality of our life together does not suffer but rather is enhanced.

Safety, for instance, is more important than speed. The means by which we satisfy our transport needs, whether by road vehicles, by aircraft or by trains, must be developed so as to minimise the damage which they cause to the environment and to reduce the danger to which they expose people. On safety grounds the railways score extremely well. In the two years 1970 and 1971, the last two for which statistics have been published, a total of five passengers were killed on the railway systems of this country, compared to 15,000 on the roads. That is something we have to take in and keep in the front of our minds—five to 15,000. During those years, the number of passenger journeys on British Rail and London Transport amounted to 2,964 million and the total passenger mileage amounted to 44,000 million miles. That, to my mind, is a remarkable safety record, and as well as pointing to the inherent safety of rail it reflects very great credit on those responsible for operating the train services.

Safety is not the only advantage of rail. The trains, when they are running, are by far the most efficient way of providing services for commuters. This, perhaps, is not the day to make that point. In fact it is only trains that can move large numbers of commuters into densely packed urban areas without totally wrecking the urban environment. Rail is also well adapted, as the noble Lord rightly stressed, to heavy, regular flows of freight. Merry-go-round trains link collieries and power stations moving large quantities of coal in a single, continuous and largely automatic process, providing valuable revenue to the Railways Board and, by moving coal cheaply, helping to keep down the price of electricity—and a whole lot of other things which rely on it. All of us in your Lordships' House to-day will have experienced the fast, comfortable and convenient travel which rail can provide on inter-city trains, although, not I think, without wincing a bit at the price of our tickets. So, my Lords, these are the strengths of the rail system.

However, it is no good glossing over the fact that the system has weaknesses, too. Rail cannot collect or deliver goods or passengers door-to-door without expensive transhipment costs and delays, not all under the control of the consignor. Worse still, the operation of rail services is not under the control of the user—we shall all feel the disadvantages of that to-morrow. Indeed, as we are now seeing, the entire network can be denied to would-be users in a way and to a degree, and alas! with a frequency, that car drivers and lorry operators hardly ever have to face. The basic inflexibility of rail means there are areas where it is inevitably less efficient than road.

In 1962 a major attempt was made to treat the problem of the railways on a national scale. The intention was that, by writing off capital debt and extinguishing the railways' liability to pay interest, conditions would be created in which they could become financially self-supporting; but they never did. The 1968 Act, the most recent attempt to put the railways on a sound footing, was a departure from previous thinking. But despite a further write-off, grants for unremunerative passenger services and for infrastructure projects bringing benefits to urban areas, as well as a number of other less important forms of specific assistance, the railways are in the red yet again. The Board incurred a substantial deficit in 1972. There present deficits are met from the Exchequer and, if present policies were continued, there would be no prospect whatever of the Board's attaining viability. So we need to look once again critically at the present policies, and the Department and the Railways Board are accordingly engaged in a far-ranging review covering the whole field of railway policy. This review is giving full weight, as the noble Lord rightly said it should, to environmental issues, so this is not another "hatchet job" designed merely to minimise the level of public support, with no thought for the environmental damage which the decimation of the railway system would cause. I must stress that this exercise is going on not in the Ministry of Transport but in the Department of the Environment where, I hope, we are as fully alive to these environmental considerations as anybody else.

There has been a lot of talk in the Press recently, and some of it rather alarmist, about supposed plans for drastically slashing the rail network. One Sunday newspaper published a document, one of a number of studies of the future of the system, in such a way as to suggest that it represented the Government's firm intentions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have to recognise that journalists are noted for their powers of imagination, and the map purporting to show the network was a good illustration of this particular talent. There was, in fact, yet further speculation in the Sunday Times last weekend about the nature of the work now going on within the Railways Board and the Department to evaluate the alternative options for the future of the railways. Again, the report lacks authority. I know your Lordships will be patient and allow my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport Industries time to make a thorough investigation of these difficult and complex issues which he considers to be necessary following the initial presentation to him of the Board's ideas. There is no question of British Rail and the Department getting out of step. The joint studies—and I would stress they are joint studies—are proceeding along agreed lines, and they will enable my right honourable friend to submit fully worked out proposals to Parliament in due course. Until we know more about the fact, it would be wrong to form any premature judgments.

We all know that in considering the future of the railways we must find what is right for the community as a whole and the environment as a whole. This involves using railways to do the things that railways are good at doing. It involves a sensible financial structure for a continuing railway system. But there is no getting round the fact that there are severe and so far intractable problems to be faced. Some unremunerative passenger services are undoubtedly very lightly used and very expensive to subsidise—probably over £70 million in this year alone. Obviously, we shall eventually have to take decisions on their long-term future, but for the moment we are keeping options open. We recently announced that all grants for unremunerative passenger services were being renewed for 1973.

Let me turn to London and the special problems there. Your Lordships will be aware that the Panel of Inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan, headed by Mr. Frank Layfield, reported recently. The Panel recommended, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already accepted, that public transport in all forms should be given higher priority than was proposed in the Plan, and that it must be reliable, convenient and comfortable—it certainly is not those at present. The Panel also recommended a re-examination of the investment proposals of the Railways Board as incorporated in the Plan and we agree that this is needed, and have accepted a suggestion made by the Greater London Council that there should be a joint study of the London commuter services to be carried out by the Department of the Environment, the Greater London Council, the British Railways Board and the London Transport Executive, under the direction of an independent chairman, Sir David Barran. This study will not, however, hold up in the meantime urgent improvements that are justified in their own right.

I mention London, which is perhaps the urban area where the problems such as these are most acute, but it is by no means unique among the big cities. It is not the only place where an integrated approach to transport planning and provision, making proper use of the strengths of the various transport systems, is necessary. The Government support the Passenger Transport Executive concept as a means of ensuring that the various components in the transport investment mix are properly related, and here we have comprehensive transport planning in action. We are encouraging all authorities to adopt a comprehensive approach to their transport planning—that is what the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was urging us to do. We pay a 50 per cent. grant towards approved transportation studies and the Department give guidance to local authorities on traffic management techniques, road design standards, pedestrianisation, systems for giving buses priority, and other measures which in one way or another help to ease the urban transport problem. We also make specific grants for transport infrastructure, and we recently approved a grant of £50 million for the Tyneside Rapid Transport Rail System. I think that is rather more than lip-service to a development area.

So far I have spoken mainly about public transport—I think that is what the noble Lord wanted us to concentrate upon—and about the way in which we make the best use of the existing rail and road transport infrastructure. But we have to recognise that, however much we may recoil at the thought (and some of the extremists positively shy off the process of thinking at all), most roads inside towns will continue to be needed and more will have to be added, and we really cannot get round that. Therefore, we must concentrate our efforts and thinking on fitting these roads better into the existing environment, and we certainly believe that that can be done. The Urban Motorways Committee specially set up to go into this matter has examined the various problems in great detail. It reported to the Government last year. We have accepted the Committee's recommendations and have encouraged local highway authorities to conform with them in designing and constructing their new schemes. The Committee's recommendations will, I am sure, ease the hardship and the injustice which has hitherto been occasioned by new and improved roads in the past.

Outside and between towns more new roads will also be needed, and once again there is no getting round that. Here again we are equally concerned with seeing that they too are properly fitted into the environment. The Government's plans for further new trunk roads and motorways were announced by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in June, 1971. They initiated a new strategy for constructing a 3,500 mile high quality trunk road network by the early 1980s, including large quantities of motorway. We aim to speed the flow of goods to the ports, thus making our exports more competitive and bringing economic advantages to all of us. We shall be taking through traffic out of town centres by providing by-passes for relief roads, and in other cases the provision of an alternative main trunk route on the same axis as an existing trunk road will cause a significant reduction in through traffic. The effect of the M4 on places lying on the A4 is an example. Outside the main urban areas there are at present 530 towns with a population of over 10,000. One hundred and five of them already have by-passes or high quality relief roads catering for the needs of through traffic. In addition, 149 towns will be relieved of through traffic by the 1980s following the completion of schemes which make up the network that is now in preparation. We are giving particular attention and priority, as your Lordships know, to by-passing historic towns.

In designing new roads just as much care is taken in the country as in the towns. The Landscape Advisory Committee is invariably consulted on major trunk road schemes, and a considerable body of skill and expertise has now been developed in the field of road design and landscaping. I think that your Lordships can judge the success in this field by comparing the bottom of the M1 with the top of the M6 and the quality of the design of the two. Four of the Department's road schemes won Civic Trust Design Awards in 1972: The design of M6 in Lune Gorge, Westmorland; the Scammonden and Pennine Way footbridges on M62, and the Washington/Birtley motorway service area on A1 motorway section in Durham.

It is often suggested—I think it was rather implied in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, that nowadays we could cut down the volume of resources we devote to new roads as well as secure immense environmental benefits, by transferring back to rail much of the freight that now goes by road. Indeed, rail must carry all the freight and all the passenger traffic that it can carry efficiently; nobody gainsays that. But the two systems, road and rail, are complementary and not alternative—or only in a minor degree—and this is the point I would ask your Lordships to take in and digest. A 50 per cent. increase in the amount of freight carried by rail, even if it were possible to achieve that—which I am sure would not be practicable—would amount to only a 2 per cent. reduction in road freight. That is the balance and proportion to bear in mind. Or to put it another way, it would take up rather less than one year's increase in road freight traffic. So however successful the Railways Board are in getting freight back on to their system—and they could never be so successful as to take 50 per cent. more than they are taking now—new roads will continue to be necessary, at least until the proposed new network is complete.

In deciding how much money to spend on the roads programme and where to spend it, the Government pay full attention to the overall effects of each new scheme. We do not concentrate exclusively on the economic savings which the scheme will bring, although that is one factor, but we take into account the broader social and economic considerations which constitute an important part of the case for building new roads. The roads programme already brings widespread advantages to all of us, whether we live in the town or the country. The growth of the programme has done much already, and over the next few years will do more still, to relieve areas which at present suffer far too much from heavy lorries being in the wrong place. It also provides a reliable, countrywide and cheap system for moving goods, beyond anything that the railways ever did or could do. We all recognise the environmental damage that is done when more heavy lorries are being driven on roads and through places to which they are totally unsuited and which were never designed to take them. The new road network will remove many of them from these places. But there is no one solution to all the problems of heavy lorries or of too many cars. The balance between the need to move about easily and deliver goods economically and conveniently, and the need to protect the environment and people's safety, peace and quiet, must largely be worked out locally. The trunk road network is only part of the total network.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that a 50 per cent. increase of rail freight traffic would only mean a 2 per cent. reduction in road traffic. Can he say how those figures are arrived at? Do they take into account the latest proposals of the Railways Board which were leaked in the Sunday Times on Sunday?


My Lords, I do not think that the system is relevant to the point I was making. What I was saying was that the balance is such that if you add 50 per cent. to the freight the railways are carrying and you subtract the same tonnage from the road system, the reduction on the road system would be 2 per cent. I just mentioned that to illustrate the balance between the two. I hope that what I have said is enough to satisfy most of your Lordships at any rate.


My Lords, on this question of transferring traffic, which is most important seeing the noble Lord is making a big point of it, is it not more honest to say to the House that a lot of this traffic is short distance delivery traffic within a small radius—and everyone will agree that that is much more suitable to road, and no-one would want to interfere there—and would it not present quite a different picture to break the long-distance traffic down into ton miles?


My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in his desire, which is our desire, that the railway system should carry as much as possible of the traffic for which it is suited, and heavy regular freight traffic is in that category. I was trying to deal with the rather more extreme views (which the noble Lord did not put, but which nevertheless often are put), that we can do a great deal for our environment by shifting massive amounts of freight from the roads to rail. First of all, it is not practical to do that for the reasons that the noble Lord has just given, because a good deal of the road freight traffic—in fact some 85 per cent. of the total—is going only a distance of 25 miles or so. Therefore, it is not practical to do it. Even if it were possible, a 50 per cent. increase in rail freight amounts to a 2 per cent. decrease on road.


My Lords, not on long distance?


No, my Lords.


My Lords, the question is, do those figures relate to tonnage, or to tonnage multiplied by miles?


No, my Lords, just freight tonnage. May we leave this point now? I was making the point that we have to look in a comprehensive way at the steps that are taken to protect the environment from the effects of our transport policies, and that applies not only to my own Department's trunk road network, but to local authorities as well. Our job is to provide the right framework for them to take their decisions. We also have to provide, and I think we do provide, advice based on research into new technological solutions of the transport problem, funds for schemes related to the national transport network and powers so that local authorities can introduce the measures appropriate to their particular local circumstances.

Local authorities already have wide powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 to restrict the movement and the parking of heavy lorries. But there are often practical difficulties in implementing these restrictions, particularly in advance of there being alternative routes. Proposals for strengthening the existing powers and for making them more effective are now being discussed in another place, and we look forward to the opportunity of debating them in your Lordships' House quite soon.

But a good deal can and is already being done under existing powers. The moving lorry may be banned from going through residential areas and through town centres, and we know of proposals in Central London. My right honourable friend is considering the issuing of further advice to local authorities to remind them of the steps which may be taken and the essential consultation and other processes which should accompany them. Parking by heavy lorries, particularly overnight in residential areas, is a serious problem. Traffic regulation alone cannot solve that, but before bans are introduced adequate off-street parking must be available. The police cannot be expected to prevent lorry drivers from parking their vehicles in restricted areas unless they can direct the drivers to somewhere else appropriate. The Government are taking their part in all this: £10 million has been allocated for setting up a national network of secure lorry parks to cater for long-distance lorries in transit. It is essential that local authorities should take their part and provide other parks for locally based lorries where they cannot be accommodated in the hauliers' own depots.

My Lords, I have stressed that it will continue to be important to build new roads. But the question is, how we will use those roads when we have them. That is important also, and the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was right in saying that we must not start using them as car parks. I want to say something about what we are doing for rural transport, since lack of transport in country areas, with the consequent isolation of one community from another, gives rise to great hardship to some people. All bus services currently benefit from relief from fuel tax and from the system of grants for new buses; but additional and more specific help is needed to ensure the continuance of the least remunerative but none the less socially important country bus services. Local authorities are empowered under Section 34 of the Transport Act 1968 to pay grants towards individual rural services, and where they do so the Government pay half and the remainder qualifies for rate support grant. Specific grant payments for rural bus services have now increased to some £1.5 million a year.

How services are operated is as important as who pays for them, and we can see that conventional services may not always be the only possibility. As your Lordships know, we have undertaken studies in the more remote parts of Devon and Suffolk and the results were published a year or two ago. They brought out the possibilities in certain circumstances of using mini-buses, Post Office buses and so on, tailored to local requirements.

My Lords, I referred earlier, by comparison between the road and railway system, to the appalling number of people who are killed on the roads year by year—over 7,000. I now want to say something about the work we are doing on road safety because this is a field in which research is of very great importance. The causes of accidents are so complex and varied that it is only by very painstaking analysis of statistics that it is possible to assess the relative importance of various factors. The eminent position achieved in the analysis of accident statistics by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory will be well known to your Lordships. I know that several of your Lordships have visited the Laboratory. The Laboratory also does valuable work in three fields in which improvement must be sought—the vehicles, the roads and the drivers.

Improving the roads and the vehicles is something on which some progress will always be possible, but it is increasingly true that we must seek to improve driver behaviour for any substantial reduction in the slaughter on the roads, which really is very serious indeed. The T.R.R.L. devote more and more of their resources to behavioural research. They have recently developed a method of assessing the accident risks attached to a given road configuration by the study of "conflict situations". They have shown that there is a correlation between the occurrence of such situations and the frequency of actual accidents. This enables the accident risk to be measured without having to wait until accidents actually occur. It promises to be a useful research tool.

My Lords, we have heard much in the past, and the noble Lord has mentioned it again, about the need for a co-ordinated transport policy. We do have now a co-ordinated Department and we have been able to produce a co-ordinated policy, not only for transport but for transport in the environment. We do not favour, however, rigid policies which would needlessly remove choice from the individual transport user and needlessly reduce people's freedom to choose the mode of transport best suited to their needs and to their pockets, though some restraint is certainly necessary. Such a set of policies, rigid in that sense, would not serve the best interests of the community or a free society, but I can and I do claim that our comprehensive policies for transport in the environment are fair, just, sensible in themselves and related in a coherent way to our other environmental policies. I submit that they give good value for money, are well designed to reduce danger to people and to minimise damage to the environment as well as to contribute to the quality of life for everyone.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I think we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for initiating this debate to-day. I am particularly grateful to him because it gives me an opportunity for speaking about a matter which I regard as of vital technological and economic importance. This is an opportunity that I intend to take, my Lords, but before doing so I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for something which he probably did not expect to be thanked for. When I read his Motion on the Order Paper, "To call attention to the problems of transportation", I wondered whether I should dare to remonstrate with the noble Lord about the use of that awful word; but since he wrote his Motion down, clearly he has seen the philological light and he did not use the word once: throughout his excellent speech he used the word "transport". The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, only failed once in that respect. We have an unfortunate habit, my Lords, of copying some of the worst American customs, one of which is using long words when short words with the same meaning will do; but from now on in the field we are now discussing I hope we shall take the excellent example of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, continue to refer to "transport" and restrict "transportation", as it has always been in the past to the penalty of transferring overseas people who have offended against the law.

But, serious as these matters of linguistics are, the matter to which I want to refer is more serious because it is more urgent. I shall not this afternoon be following the noble Lords who have spoken in a broad approach to the problems of transport; I shall talk about one matter only, because I believe it is of primary importance. I refer to what is popularly known as the hovertrain, and the chief purpose of my remarks is to induce the Government to reconsider their policy for the future of this project.

There are several ways in which the train of the future can be held above the ground. It can be supported on a cushion of air, on wheels, by suction from above, by magnetic repulsion, by magnetic attraction. But with all of them there is likely to be in the train of the future the same method of propulsion—the linear motor. If the Government feel that support on an air cushion, despite recent demonstrations of its great merits, need not be developed further for hovertrain purposes at the present time, then I shall not quarrel with them unduly because I believe that there is an even better method of supporting a tracked vehicle, as I shall explain, and because there are other opportunities, notably in the sea-going hovercraft, of developing the air cushion principle. But if the Government are only lukewarm, as the insignificant aid which they are at present proposing suggests they are, in their support of the method of propulsion which has been used in the hovertrain and which has been brought to a high pitch of development—I refer, of course, to the linear motor—then I shall quarrel bitterly with them. For in the linear motor, as developed in this country by Professor Laithwaite and his colleagues at Imperial College, and by Mr. Fellows and his team in Tracked Hovercraft Limited at Earith in Huntingdonshire, we have a national asset of the first order. To fail to exploit it to the full would be a grave error, my Lords, a very grave error indeed.

Government have a poor record in their attitude to the development of inventions. I do not mean this Government in particular or the last Government, but all British Governments in this century. There seems to be a chronic inability in high places to appreciate the economic and technological merits of new inventions. I could refer at length to opportunities that have been thrown away, but I should be weeping bitter tears and that would embarrass your Lordships as much as it would embarrass me. I would only say that the great Whittle invention of the jet propulsion gas turbine would have withered on the vine except, when at its last gasp, for the threat of war. It had the great demerit in official eyes of being unconventional, and despite the economic benefits which we in this country manifestly have gained, notably in the last century, from British technological initiative, innovation and invention, we now seem reluctant in times of peace adequately to support novelty even when we have, as I believe we have in the British version of the linear motor, an obvious winner. I can say without a shadow of doubt that the German linear motor system, the Japanese system, the American system and the French system, all of which exist, are inferior to the British linear motor system. They are years behind and they will in the end, if they can, copy ours.

It is possible that there are one or two noble Lords who are a little vague about what a linear motor is, so perhaps noble Lords will bear with me for a minute or two while I attempt an elementary explanation—elementary, I hasten to say, not because I believe noble Lords would not understand a complete and scientific description, but because an elementary exposition is all I am capable of. The common electric motor, with which most of us are familiar, is a circular, or, to be more precise, a cylindrical device in which a central core spins within a statutory ring. If you imagine cutting this machine from the periphery to the centre and unrolling it, you will then have a linear motor. The stationary part can be extended indefinitely in either direction and the moving part, with a bit of reorganisation, will move horizontally—linearly—along it. The linear motor is British to the very core of its windings. It was described by Wheatstone in 1843 and, two years later, one was built by that amazingly gifted amateur, Fox-Talbot, who was the father of modern photography. The father of the modern British linear motor is Professor Laithwaite, who gave an amazing demonstration of its powers at the Friday evening discourse of the Royal Institution on February 2. I had the privilege of being in the chair on that occasion. Some of us, too, have been privileged to see the vehicle which Mr. Fellows and his team developed down at Earith, in which he used the linear motor for propulsion.

We have already gone a long way, and the most notable advance has been in supporting the vehicle by electro-magnetic forces. This is the method that I described as being better than the air cushion. We are not alone in this. The Germans and the Japanese are experimenting, too, but we are much further advanced than they are. Professor Laithwaite divides electro-magnetic supporting systems into two classes: those which in principle are magnetic, and those which in principle are electric. The bigger you make the former, the less efficient they become, but the bigger you make the latter, the better they become. To take an analogy, I mean by this that if you have a 1 h.p. motor of the magnetic kind and multiply all its dimensions by two, it will then be eight times as big but it will give considerably less than 8 h.p. But if you do the same with an electro-magnetic 1 h.p. motor, it will give considerably more than 8 h.p. The leading German suspension system of Krauss-Maffei is, very oddly, of the first kind and, in consequence, is encountering serious problems in application. The British and Japanese suspension systems are of the second kind, but the Japanese one is wickedly complex and ours is devastatingly simple.

But the British system is not only simple; it is Protean. Certainly, the foreign systems achieve suspension, but it is necessary with all of them to have, in addition, linear motors for propulsion and apparatus for stability. They are like our present hovertrain, which has one system for support—the air cushion—and another for propulsion—the linear motor. But the British linear motor in its latest form, without needing any addition to the energy required for propulsion, provides its vehicle at the same time with levitation and automatic stability. This is invention on the grand scale, and it would not be wrong to mention it in the same breath as Perkins' aniline dyes and Whittle's jet engine.

The time has come to demonstrate this splendid device on the full scale. This was indeed a plan of Mr. Fellows and his team. We have the vehicle at Earith; we have the track. The minimum that is need is to take out the present air cushion apparatus and put in the latest form of what I have called the moving part of the linear motor. The fixed part is there; it needs a little change, but there it is. This is why, on February 15 last, I asked in a supplementary question in your Lordships' House whether the track at Earith had been maintained. For a really complete demonstration, the track should be extended from the present one mile to three miles. That has long been planned by Tracked Hovercraft Limited. In fact, the material exists there; it is in store. If that is not done, then it will not be possible to demonstrate the full performance of the vehicle.

My Lords, if the Government still maintain, as I believe they have maintained, that they see no application in this country for years to come, I shall disagree. The advanced passenger train will not seem all that advanced in ten years' time. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, spoke eloquently about the effect of transport systems on the environment. Here we have one, my Lords, which cannot pollute and is virtually noiseless. For urban and inter-city travel, what a priceless boon! I cannot believe it has no future here. But even if that were true, very high-speed, noiseless, fumeless transport is an absolute certainty in many other countries. To have propulsion, levitation and stability in the same electrical machine is amazing and unique. The others will want it. We have the patents and the know-how. The export potential in material and in technology is, I suggest, manifest. My Lords, when you have good stable information, which we have in this case, you can be pretty sure of backing winners. I implore Her Majesty's Government to take their courage in both hands and to back this technological Brigadier Gerard with a really significant investment.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could tell us what would be the cost of getting this system beyond the experimental stage. I think this is extremely important to all of us who are at this moment frightened by the cost of Concorde and what that has meant to our economy.


My Lords, to do what I was proposing—namely, to convert the vehicle and adjust and extend the track—would cost, I suppose, subject to correction, about £3 million or £4 million.




Exactly. But I have not done a precise calculation, which could be done quite readily.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I think I carry the whole House with me when I say that we have seldom listened to a more informative and more interesting speech, with all its possibilities, than the one to which we have just listened. We live in a period, as the question posed by my noble friend on the Front Bench exemplifies, when we have begun to be afraid of new designs and new inventions because of the cost and the charge upon the taxpayer. If the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has just quoted are anywhere near reality, then this is a matter which I should have thought ought to receive the most urgent attention of the Government and of the public at large.

I fear I must now revert to some rather more humdrum matters, which is no sign of disrespect to the speech which has just been made. They concern the speech which has been made by the noble Lord from the Front Bench this afternoon, which quite frankly has appalled me. I am well aware of the fact that his advisers will have provided him with a brief that should support the general contention he has made that the Government accept the need for a complementary transport system. All I can say is that it shows what power has been exercised by the road transport lobby in its influence on thinking by the public and by people whose duty it is to advise the Minister. Because I do not see that the Minister's speech this afternoon was really a demonstration of the need for a comprehensive system; rather it was a demonstration of how utterly hopeless and uncompetitive railways must remain unless they are to be cut down where they no longer provide an adequate service to the public.

I do not understand, basically, why it is that it has taken so long for the public to be better informed. Take, for instance, a comparison of the subsidies paid to railways and to the road interests in this country—and I do not mean motor-car manufacturers; I mean road users' interests. For the year 1971, as I read the figures, grants to the railways amounted, in the first instance, to £63 million; and then, because of a further deficit, a supplementary additional grant of £15 million became necessary—a total of £78 million. In that same year, total Government expenditure on roads amounted to £812 million, from which, of course, should be deducted the revenue secured by road vehicle taxation, which in that year amounted to £432 million. So the National Exchequer (that is to say, the taxpayer) had to find, for the provision of what was considered to be an adequate road programme, the sum of £380 million—very considerably more than was paid in subsidies to the railways.

What has been the main feature of the discussion so far in this debate, I would suggest, is that the real loss element on the railways is the loss of freight; and it is very curious to notice the position in other countries comparable to our own. I take West Germany as a case in point—and I say West Germany because many people now have in mind the old, overall Germany. The West German figure for freight shows that 40 per cent. of all goods are carried by rail. In this country, the comparable figure is 23 per cent., and I am not persuaded that different geographical and other factors lend to these two figures a distortion which makes the comparison unreal. We are the only European country which, between the years 1950 and 1969, actually had a decrease in freight carried by rail. Indeed, freight per ton mile between 1956 and 1970 decreased in this country by 24 per cent.

But there are other misapprehensions in this country about the tendencies of railway traffic, not specifically concerning freight. For instance, journeys have increased fairly adequately over the years. In point of fact, between 1969 and 1971 the number of journeys increased by 2.3 per cent. and, in spite of the disincentive of fare increases, fares actually increased by 45 per cent. in the same period. I therefore put it to your Lordships that public thinking needs a bit of readjustment. People still think in terms of competitive transport systems. I would suggest that the Government have a job to do in educating the public, bearing in mind particularly the commuter public, on the need to realise how their money is being spent with this disparate expenditure on the two systems of transport. I think that in this debate a great disservice would be done if anything that I or anyone else should say were converted into an argument of one system against the other. I am pleading for the public to be better educated so as to realise that there is justification for giving a greater slice of the national cake to the railway system.

I can give to the House the amount of subsidies paid to the railways in other countries. In Germany, for the last period for which I have been able to secure information, the annual subsidy has been running at the rate of £700 million a year; in France, at the rate of £400 million a year; in Japan, £300 million a year direct subsidy plus £500 million a year capital expenditure, making a total of £800 million a year. In the United Kingdom the grand total including grants and capital expenditure plus interest is £150 million. Is it any wonder that recently in this House a Minister on the Government Front Bench said that he was not prepared at that point (this is no criticism) to answer a supplementary question I put to him on this matter? The question was this. Is it correct to say that in about 10 years' time we shall have running on our main lines trains comparably technical to those existing now in Japan? This is the sad thing one must accept—technical ability based on national subsidy.

One need not be ashamed to ask for a subsidy for the railways to produce comparable technology when other countries are doing precisely this. It may be asked why we should slavishly follow the practice of other countries. I suggest that if one thinks deeply enough one concludes that transport costs are fundamental to the economy of any country and especially to those competing in the world on exports. I should have thought that we should think more in terms of the paying ability of the railways in the United Kingdom, and of whether British Rail under their present rules and practices are really getting down to obtaining the optimum benefits from the subsidies they get or from the technical know-how at their disposal. Incidentally, is it not curious that in our society we lose in tax revenue something like £1,000 million a year out of company car provisions under the existing taxation system? It is a bait, well known in employing circles, that in offering a man a job you can reduce the salary by offering him a car on which you obtain tax relief. This is a very substantial sum of money. It should be set against or added to the subsidy being paid to the road element in our transport system.

To speak in general terms of a system for the whole of the Kingdom can serve a useful purpose only if the effect on it of the more local transport problems is also considered. I make no apology for introducing a local transport problem which affects those of us in East Anglia. I am referring specifically to the line from Ipswich to Lowestoft which from year to year is threatened with closure and where from year to year the grant payable under the 1968 provisions seems to increase. This year the subsidy under the Act will amount to £371,000. I can assure your Lordships that it is difficult to understand where all this money is going to. The freight loss alone on that little line (which is not taken into account in providing the subsidy for passengers) is added to by the deliberate policy of British Rail—and this is the only criticism that I shall make of them—of not taking on certain freight jobs. I was very interested to read a note, received through their courtesy, about the loss of sugar freight which has been experienced in East Suffolk for the last 12 to 15 years. In East Anglia there are 17 plants refining crude beet sugar. Most farms are within 20 miles of a refining plant, all are within 40. It has been calculated that to bring the sugar beet to the refining plant is not economic; although the finished product, and the animal feed that results from the pulp, goes out by rail freight. I wonder whether this calculation has been recently computerised and whether mechanical handling by the railways' own plant and transport facilities has recently been taken into account.

All your Lordships will have noticed the huge loads that travel; along the motorways of this country and will have asked yourselves the question, "Why is that going by road?" From the nods of assent by various noble Lords I see that I have made a point. The fact is that the convenience factor in being able to load a huge freight lorry, a juggernaut, at the factory production point is an overwhelming argument for its use. I can see that. But is there not a case for giving inducements, as was done in the past, to route such freights on to the railways? Here is something which surely justifies an outside technical and economic appreciation so that we can be sure that British Rail are using the right sort of information and making the best use of their plant and equipment.

The subsidies paid on the passenger traffic only on these branch lines are now computed by the so-called Cooper Brothers formula. The factors of this formula were given in a Parliamentary Answer in another place in February last year. It is a very difficult formula to understand. Certainly that Answer did not give the actual weighting given to each factor. I hope I am not being discourteous to anybody, but I wonder whether, however well qualified chartered accountants or a specialised firm may be, they really appreciate the benefit of securing a computerised assessment of these problems. I believe there is a great degree of insensitivity about the usage of these lines and about the data collected on that particular line. At one time a survey on passenger usage was carried out during the school holidays. Immediately, therefore, one factor was never taken into account. Why it was timed for that period I cannot imagine. Again on that particular line I myself had to draw attention to the fact that one little train of four coaches had two coaches with locked doors and therefore unusable. You could hardly stir in the remaining two and the ticket collector himself told me that so great was the congestion that he did not have time to collect the fares before he got to Ipswich. I should have thought in those circumstances that it is illogical to criticise railway workers when they take industrial action to try to obtain better wages.

This is not the time or the place, and I am not the person, to argue the case for railway workers against other workers. The fact is that in this country wages paid for such categories of railwaymen as top-grade locomotive drivers, signalmen and length men are below those paid in France and Germany. When I hear the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, talking about the speeds which we may achieve with trains in future I should like to know what is being done to assess the physical ability of some drivers to cope with these increased speeds? It is not their fault if they are not capable, any more than it is the fault of B.A.O.C. pilots who are pronounced unfit. The time may come when a driver may not be suitable for driving a train at these great speeds. I think that a matter which should be looked at. In France, top-grade drivers retire five years earlier than their opposite numbers in this country. The State pays them a good pension, and we should pay our drivers a similar pension. My Lords, I have rambled a little, I must confess. But we who try to secure a readjustment of public thought about railways are absolutely convinced that a great many road users, and for that matter railway users too, need better information on the subject. They have no idea of the great imbalance of Government subsidies. They should be brought to face the facts of life, and to see that our railways are given proper support and equipment and that manpower is used to the best advantage.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, on introducing the subject of transportation. I make no apology for using that inculcatory term, even though it may be more than three syllables. It is high time that we had a chance to discuss this matter. I have been in your Lordships' House for five years, and apart from the debates on the Transport Act of 1968 I do not think that we have had a debate on it. We have discussed important subjects like pensions, but this is the first time we have been able really to get down to the subject of transport. The noble Lord has given us every opportunity to do so. While he concentrated on the railways, he touched on every aspect of the subject.

I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, who said that my noble friend Lord Sandford emphasised the need for a road transport system. I did not get that impression. I thought that my noble friend was most impartial in his references to the railways. There is one point I should like to make before saying anything specific about transport; it is the point that was brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, when he referred to the need for an integrated transport policy. I am all for competition, but when it comes to competition between forms of public transport—buses, railways and aircraft—they are all rather like top football teams; for example, Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa. They vie with each other to try to be the top team without getting down to the specific problems and working as one unit.

My Lords, I wish to discuss the railways from a local aspect. I live on the South Coast, at Hassocks, which is between Haywards Heath and Brighton. There the railways are a very sore point. The passengers are very much subjected to delays, but I do not propose to go too much into the industrial dispute side of the matter. An astronomical number of passengers travel on the London to Brighton line, and commuters in particular have to suffer delays, hold-ups, breakdowns and cancellations by no means all of which are due to industrial unrest of one sort or another. That is the position now, and there is to be a large population increase in the Crawley, Horsham, Haywoods Heath and Burgess Hill area. This is why it would be a very good thing to consider the problems of transport and environment together, so that we might discuss them under the same heading and come to some understanding. The increase in the population will add considerably to the pressure on an already overcrowded line on which there are one or two potential hazards, such as the Balcombe tunnel and the Ouse Valley viaduct.

If the Government are prepared to meet the influx of potential customers I would ask my noble friend whether they will consider constructing double tracks from the North side of Balcombe tunnel to Brighton. I am aware that that would involve vast capital expenditure. Three new tunnels might have to be constructed, and a new bridge. No one quarrels with the idea of building motorways all over the place or with catering to the needs of road transport; but I do not think we ever hear of a major construction on the railways, though it would be much easier to carry out construction work now than when the railways were first built. When one reads the history of the railways and the railway "navvies", it is apparent that the construction which took place in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s stopped in the 1890s when the Great Central Line was built, and now one never hears of capital expenditure on such projects.

My first point is that we should have an alternative to main lines. I will continue to use the South Coast area as an example, although this situation could arise all over the country. Referring to the Uckfield to Lewes line, I gather that there is a scheme of electrification to extend as far as Uckfield from South Croydon. If the passenger traffic figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, could be increased 100 per cent., the line would more than pay for itself, and I hope that the Government will pay some attention to that aspect and will hasten this experiment. The alternative train route to Brighton would be via Littlehampton and Horsham which adds a great deal of time to the journey. On December 16, 1972, there was a crash at Copyhole Junction, Haywards Heath. I would hasten to add that no one was killed, which brings out the point that it is much safer to travel by rail. But thousands of people were greatly inconvenienced and normal services were not resumed for nearly a month. The cost of this must have been prohibitive. The crash resulted from purely a human error, and it is a matter of extreme luck that such a crash had not occurred before. The driver concerned did not shilly-shally about the matter, but said that his mind was on other things at the time.

This brings me to another point upon which I would touch gently; namely, the psychological effect of driving a train. The noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, mentioned the pay of railway men. A driver may join the railways at about 18 years of age and I think that the footplate section experiences very little turnover in manpower. Their turnover in staff is probably less than that in any other occupation in the country. I do not know the figures, but many people join at an early age and retire on pension. Engine drivers are to a great extent shielded from the public. I feel that it is necessary that they should come more closely into contact with the public. Since railway guards have become responsible for collecting tickets they have become very much "public relations" experts. When there are delays they walk through their train and explain to the passengers what is happening. If a guard sees people who he knows will be inconvenienced by the delay, because they will be unable to catch a connection, he will inform the signalman, and the managerial staff of a station will meet the passengers' requirements.

I know it is difficult for drivers. It used to be rather different in the days of steam, because then they were there to he seen; the driver and the firemen were on that splendid vehicle and one could say, "Good afternoon" or, "Thank you for a nice journey." It was all cosy, and we knew where we stood. Now this man stands in this miserable little cab; he arrives at a station and lie might see hundreds of angry faces. His job is just to take them from A to B. The only thing lie wants to do is to finish his job and get hack to his garden, or whatever it may be. There is no incentive or feeling of achievement, and no satisfaction. I believe that where railway drivers are in contact with the public in an open diesel vehicle, they get to know them and understand them. I know that when I was driving a bus one felt shut off from the passengers; one got the most horrible feeling, and sometimes one became bloody-minded (if I may use that un-Parliamentary expression) for apparently no reason at all. I do not say that railway drivers are like that. A friend of mine on the buses would say: "I have got to go and pick up my next load of offal now." Quite often, when you see the facial expression of a driver when he pulls into a station, one feels no more than a piece of lice, or a piece of kidney, or I do not know what. My noble friend mentioned the behavioural effect on motorists. I should like there to be a study of the behavioural effect on railway drivers.

My Lords, I wish now to move to another subject; that is, fuel tax so far as it concerns road transport. I reiterate the fact that we are looking for an integrated services. Road and rail use identical fuel now, which is rather hard to imagine, because once one used coal and the other used petrol. Now they all use diesel oil. The railway pay 1p per gallon tax, whereas buses pay for stage services 10p a gallon. My noble friend mentioned that on rural services the Government were helping, but I gather that they still have to pay 10p full stage. But any other type of public service transport has to pay 22½p per gallon, and apart from the express motor service, this includes school transport and contractors for factories. Also, special trains are used for pleasure, and that has been a great thing with the railways. I am sure that this will bring back the pleasure traffic on mystery trips, where people can travel at little cost and have a jolly good day out 200 or 300 miles away. The railways pay much less for fuel than road transport. It must be borne in mind that a public service vehicle is the most economical road user of all services, and it must be in the national interest to make it a reasonably cheap and efficient service.

It has been argued that the distinction between fuel tax for road and rail services is justified because infrastructures used by road transport are largely provided at public expense, whereas the railways have to provide and maintain their own infrastructures. In view of the massive Government support which has been given for rail electrification schemes, this argument is hardly logical. And what about those pleasure boats on inland waterways? It is not denied that it is in the public interest for the railways to receive financial support, and one hopes that this will be so when one hears about the possible closure of a line in East Anglia.

As has been stated, no distinction is made between business and pleasure travel by rail, yet this distinction is made—though, in practice, on a totally distorted basis—for passenger road transport. There are services offering exclusive holiday travel under a road service licence for stage carriage operation; there are other essential services, such as school and works contracts, which do not qualify for the same grants as these so-called stage services. The same distinction extends to the new bus grant, where grant-aided vehicles are being used to compete quite unfairly with operators who cannot receive such assistance. It is repeated that the public interest demands support for public transport; moreover, the basis of the present discrimination is no longer relevant to circumstances to-day. The fact is that all forms of public transport should be enabled to give the best possible service.

Passing mention has already been made of school transport, and at the moment the Secretary of State for Education has a Working Party studying this situation. But it must be hoped that the educationists will not regard their transport requirements as being distinct from those of the community as a whole. The practical solution is to place all such requirements under the control of a transport co-ordinating officer who will act for his local authority on all transport matters arising from the 1972 Local Government Act. I suppose that we shall he seeing that in a year or two's time. These co-ordinating officers can see the problems from the point of view of the public, road and rail transport operators, and their own councils can do more than anyone else to overcome the transportation problems being debated.

My Lords, to wind up what is perhaps a somewhat inadequate speech, I am grateful for the privilege of batting in such a high position as No. 5 in the debate. I hope that the Government will pursue a policy on all sides of integration so that in the years to come public transport will speak as one voice: and road public transport is contributing to that effect with the express coach service. Long ago railway branch lines went by the board and the coach services took over. We shall see the day when the roads are utterly choked up, and therefore the capital expansion of the railways, adding to the paying trunk lines, is essential.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for introducing this debate on a most important subject. Before I go further, I must apologise both to the noble Lord and to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, because owing to a previous engagement I may not be in my place when this debate winds up. As I understand it, the Board of British Rail is one of the agents of the Government in carrying out their transport policy. It cannot of itself determine or formulate policy. Consequently, the Government retain the options. As has already been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Popplewell, and Lord Sandford, at the moment this Board is busily engaged in preparing comprehensive schemes and plans as to how British Rail is to be developed and marketed, both in the short and in the long term. Can we be told that, when the Minister and his advisers have had time to digest the plans, before seeking to implement them, either by amending the 1968 Act or by a White or Green Paper, or some other Government document, we shall have full opportunity in this House to debate what has been recommended? It is perhaps a little premature to ask the noble Lord who is to wind up whether he has any idea when we might expect such a thing.

At present the development of projects and programmes of British Rail is strictly regulated and restricted to the terms and conditions and limits of the 1968 Act. That Act prescribes that British Rail must conduct their affairs on a strictly commercial basis. As regards new projects and developments they are, to put it mildly, somewhat in a straitjacket. They are urged to avoid embarking on new businesses or continuing with old ones if these show a loss: hence the closing of branch lines, which has already been mentioned. Mention has also been made of the desirability of inducing more freight traffic off the roads and on to the rail. Of the total freight traffic carried in this country only a comparatively small portion offers a commercially profitable proposition for the railways. All those loads carried on innumerable local delivery vans—milk, bread, laundry or whatever it is—and the small lorry travelling possibly 20 miles, do not offer a practical commercial proposition to the railways.

Even so, there are still heavy loads that could be off-loaded from road to rail but for the strictly commercial restriction. As an example, I would give the case of those big bulk shipments that arrive in our ports from trans-oceanic freighters. Owing to weather and multiple other causes, these often arrive at the destination port several days late. Meanwhile, British Railways have arranged for rolling-stock to meet them. But the ship arrives late, so the rolling-stock remains waiting for a load. At the factory the load arrives off schedule and so the trucks are again kept waiting until something happens. As I think your Lordships will know, there are few things that run away with money faster than a transport vehicle of any kind which is not going somewhere with a paying load. Such a business probably falls outside the strictly commercial bracket, and so the railways do not cater for it and therefore it stays on the roads.

However, even in its straitjacket, I think we ought to congratulate British Rail on the many improvements that have been made in the last few years: the recent electrification, which is still a long way off completion, the Inter-City expresses, the introduction of welded rail, the developing of new high-speed trains and modern rolling-stock, and the rebuilding of so many of those rather sordid, tumbledown relics of Victorian railway stations which we see scattered about the country, especially in the suburbs. It is interesting to note that with the introduction of the Inter-City trains between Euston, Manchester and Liverpool the traffic in the first year jumped 32 per cent. Inter-City traffic has always had alternative means of travel, so there had to be a major development in speed and comfort to induce so much of it back on to rail. But this is not true of the commuter traffic which, too often, like it or not, has little alternative but to use the rail, public transport being too often unavailable or inconvenient. The only alternative available is the motor car, if the commuters can afford it, and of course the motor car is now the subject of considerable blame for cluttering up our city streets and suburban roads.

There is a great deal to be done. New stock and retracking to cope with increased speeds, the rebuilding of some stations—these are not the least of the problems. There are also peaks in traffic to be considered, and in most businesses and from a strictly commercial point of view a sure way into losses is to cater fully for peaks of any traffic. To cater fully for the commuter traffic must mean that at off-peak periods they will have a large amount of stock lying idle in some siding. Are British Rail to be allowed properly and fully to provide for these peaks and so induce the traffic off the roads and on to the railway, or do we again come up against the straitjacket?

I am told that the forward plans which British Rail are now preparing for the Minister include within their orbit the real possibility of a rail connection to the Continent through the completion of a Channel Tunnel. Such a development must surely mean a major breakthrough for all types of traffic, even though in the initial stages the passage through the tunnel itself might have to be restricted to special types of rolling-stock until the demands and difficulties of the loading gauges on both sides of the Channel can be met fully. We should think here in terms of through traffic from, say, Edinburgh to, say Turino or between Bristol and Antwerp, and not just as between London and the Continent. Eventually it should be possible for these loads to travel right through, avoiding London, without intermediate change of vehicle. That would mean that much of the heavy traffic now travelling on our roads, at least in the South East, should go by rail and be taken off the road.

I would urge that in considering the development schemes that are being prepared for them, the Government should, as a first consideration, take British Rail out of its present straitjacket of strict commercialism, because unless this is done British Rail must be considerably hamstrung in its project developments and may lag behind its opposite numbers in the Common Market, through no fault of its own. The prospect of a Channel Tunnel makes this doubly important. I would further urge that in all new planning there must be real and full coordination between the development of the road systems, the canals, the internal air services, coastal shipping and the rail systems. This has been mentioned by every noble Lord who has so far spoken, and it is covered by the general word "environment" which is a portmanteau word. It needs to be specifically set down so that all the different sorts of transport systems are taken into consideration when these plans are considered, and the matter is not dealt with piecemeal.

My Lords, I have some figures which may be slightly at variance with those given by the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood: we may not be talking about the same period, perhaps. I am credibly informed that during the years 1971–72, £810 million was invested in road development but only £108 million was invested in British Rail. Government research in aviation is running at about £300 million a year, but only £3.5 million is spent on railway research. It may be of interest to note that in 1971 Germany spent about £700 million on its railways and the French spent about £500 million on theirs. I believe that, apart from ourselves, the Swiss are the only Western European nation who do not fully subsidise their railway system, and that is because they have plentiful and cheap hydro-electric power available. In conclusion, my Lords, I would urge the Government to take British Rail out of the straitjacket and make it absolutely clear that all forms of transport should be co-ordinated properly when planning is done.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, at this stage in the debate there is no further need for me to stress the size of the problem of our transport systems, and as the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said, this is the second debate at Westminster on this subject in the past 24 hours. There was a meeting, as he said, last night; and I received a copy of this green pamphlet—I believe sent out by the N.U.R. Perhaps rather surprisingly, I found myself in total agreement with almost all of it. I believe that the solution to many of our problems is the more intensive use of the railway system, which in turn would help in the improvement of our environment. I sat last week for nearly two hours in a traffic jam at the Southern end of the M.1. This was the day after the train drivers' strike. During that time I counted about 10 or 11 trains on the adjacent parallel railway line linking St. Pancras and the Midlands. There must be something wrong with a situation like that, with the road congested and the railway so little used.

I have just driven down the M.1 from near Derby where the M.1 cuts through my farm. In my view one motorway is enough, for once you let the planners build one, you tend to get a proliferation. I am now threatened with at least two motorways crossing my farm, one of which is the M.1-M.6 link. The countryside is at present being cut to ribbons, and although this may be all right for giants from outerspace playing noughts and crosses, it seems to me fatal for the prospect of future generations to see anything at all of England's green and pleasant land. I fear that the Department of the Environment all too often does not give enough consideration to this aspect.

We must do more with the railways; as the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said, they tend to be a declining industry with declining investment—£108 million in 1971–72. The public image is regrettably bad, and I believe the morale is low. Yet from my experience—and I travel on the railways quite a lot, and on the staff of the railway meet people whom I regard as friends—the men themselves seen to be fine, typical, down-to-earth Britons, always extremely helpful, interested in things like sport, gardening and so on, that everybody else is interested in, and friendly to everybody. I cannot see a lot wrong there. One has to look at the overall organisation, the management, and, indeed, at the accounts.

It is possibly fair to ask, after 26 years' experience: Is a total State control and State monopoly in this field the best way for all concerned? Does what appears to me to he the present amorphous and impersonal structure give the customer any choice? Does it give the staff a feeling of remoteness and despair which is incompatible with their individuality which I have mentioned? When one compares this situation with the obvious throbbing success of many private road haulage firms, one yearns to see an experiment in a private enterprise company operating a complete road-rail system. I believe that this can be a way of integration and co-ordination—perhaps a different solution from those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, but, nevertheless, one well worth trying. I believe that would break the inflexibility, which my noble friend Lord Sandford mentioned, with which we are at present faced.

I wish now to move from that brief railway excursion in the realms of speculation and surmise more towards a few hard facts. I would ask your Lordships to consider the position of those people in society who have the greatest problem of transport or transportation of all: I can loosely term them, the least physically agile. These include three million impaired people over the age of 16 living at home, a lot more temporarily disabled people with broken bones, those who are pregnant, et cetera, and I suppose to a certain extent the one in six of the population who are elderly. One can claim to talk for a large proportion of the community. Adapting transport systems to assist the physically handicapped, even if it costs money in the short term, will help the able-bodied as well, people with parcels, babies, and so on, and should increase use and therefore profits.

I was glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in his place a minute or two ago. He would probably remember during the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act through this House in 1970 I withdrew a clause imposing obligations on transport operators to provide access for the disabled, on the understanding that the Department of the Environment would distribute a circular to public transport operators and vehicle manufacturers. Discussions about the content of this document have recently been going on between the joint committee representing the disabled and the Department of the Environment. I know that a draft has been agreed. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton comes to wind up he will say when this is to be published. It is eagerly awaited, and it is nearly three years since this campaign was started.

In the meantime, I should like to report a little progress, as I see it, in the various forms of transport with this aspect in mind. I suppose I should not do this, but I cannot resist at the outset saying a few words about one of the most ancient and enjoyable forms of transport which I have recently enjoyed—that is, the horse. I will not recount all my recent experiences, because they are rather large, but the subject is fresh in my mind because I suffer from a fairly well bruised elbow encountered last Saturday. Any of your Lordships who has ridden a horse downhill at a fair speed with the wind behind it, seeing a road at the bottom of the hill, will realise that this poses certain problems of transportation. In my case the problem ended with a painful and hard encounter with the road.

This is a digression; I suppose in the days of William Cobbett, the greatest rural rider of them all, it was a more practical method of transport. Certainly he made sure that his views were recorded, even if not heeded, by being the originator of Hansard. I suppose that Dick Turpin's reputed 16 hour journey from London to York would not be considered rapid even in to-day's congestion. So reluctantly I must pass from this theme to the horseless carriage, or private car, which, at any rate so far as the less agile are concerned, is usually the most convenient form of transport. The great difficulty here is that those in charge of traffic management policy in London, and other similar places, are bound to do all they can to keep cars out of metropolitan areas. So with public transport being at present so inaccessible, it could easily happen that the disabled will be rendered almost immobile.

In the field of public transport, I regret that there is not much progress as I know it with the adaptation of buses or the underground system. The London Transport Passengers' Committee were approached in October 1971 and made aware of the problems; but I regret that none has yet been overcome. On the other hand, the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association have been in touch with me and other representatives and have asked for views about future design. I wish to thank them very much for this invitation, which of course will be only too eagerly taken up. I remember speaking here once before and being a little bit sharp with the taxi drivers' Association, but now I think we are liable to become very good friends.

Aircraft I have mentioned here before and they have always been pretty good. One gets a little healthy competition between airlines and a little gentle blackmail is sometimes helpful. So I return to the railways, and after nearly 20 years of travelling in guards' vans I am beginning to see a ray of hope of improvement. I believe that a wheelchair-bound person can expect to enter the passenger compartment of British Rail's new Mark 3 carriage, anyway the first class one, and could enter the second class with minor alterations. I believe this also applies to the advanced passenger train—A.P.T.—which the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, mentioned.

What all this amounts to is that we must in some way make the public transport system more flexible, convenient and accessible. This will help all, and will make all systems more widely used and profitable. Finally, the increased efficiency must reduce the slaughter on the roads and the ruination of the countryside.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with practically everybody who has spoken in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for having introduced it, because so far it has proved to be most constructive and interesting. I must begin, however, by apologising both to Lord Popplewell and to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, for having to leave very soon after I have made my speech, simply because there is some problem about whether I shall be able to get home to-night, as I travel by railway. However, there is not always trouble on the railways and I am very much in favour of spending more on them and bringing them up to a greater state of efficiency. We once had the finest railways in the world and with a little thought and a little more money spent on them I think they could easily be so again.

I am going to divide my remarks into two sections, the first goods, and the second, passengers, because I think the two problems are rather different. Our system of goods transport on the railways is now hopelessly outdated. We still use the old marshalling yard, the old loose-coupled stock, which I think is now dated. I believe we should go over to fast-coupled stock, and possibly even to trains running to timetable. One of the main objections to goods transport by rail is that of loading and unloading at stations, which involves extra labour. That difficulty could perfectly well be overcome—and I believe it is true to say that in one or two cases it has been overcome—by using the roll-on roll-off system whereby the lorries simply drive on to the train and at the other end are driven to their destination. Of course this would apply mainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, implied, to long-distance goods traffic: short distance deliveries would be chiefly by road. But it is the long-distance traffic that we want to get off the roads. Incidentally, this would have one very advantageous result: it would force the lorries to conform to the railway loading gauge and therefore they could not be either too high or too broad. If one were to have goods depots at fairly frequent intervals around the country, one need not be more than, say, 40 miles from the nearest depot and one could travel across country with a very short road journey and a long rail journey. That seems to me to be perfectly practicable. Most certainly it would not be cheap to begin with, but on the other hand in the end I believe it would pay for itself head over heels.

To come to passenger services, I admire very much the advances that have been made on the inter-city lines of British Railways; the much higher speeds and the greater comfort. But those are for long-distance travellers only; they are not for us poor commuters who come from about 15 to 20 miles outside London. I think the average train traveller wants comfort more than speed; he wants to feel that he is being looked after, that the train staff are interested in his welfare, and that while he is waiting for a train he is waiting not in some horrible, cold, stone dungeon with no heating but in a comfortable waiting-room with upholstered chairs.

Incidentally, could we not make our railway stations a little more attractive? I should not have thought that it would be beyond the wit of British architects (though I must say I rather despair of British architects at the moment) to design a railway station that did not look like a sawmill, or something of the sort. I do not expect the platforms to be covered with red carpet, but surely railway stations could be made a little more attractive. I know that one of the objections to making waiting-rooms more comfortable is the fact that they are so easily destroyed by hooligans. That of course points to one of the great disadvantages the railways suffer to-day, that of under-staffing. Possibly this is a case where a little extra grant by the Government could help. If a man could be in attendance in the waiting-rooms, perhaps serving drinks or something like that, one would not get that destructive hooliganism.

The two stations which I use most are Waterloo and Victoria. Noble Lords will be surprised, unless they know them, to learn that neither station has a waiting-room at all. That is a surprising thing for large London termini, is it not? Waterloo had one a few years ago, but it was destroyed in order to build a large ticket office with about twelve positions, although I have never seen more than three open. That is another example of under-staffing, of course. I believe that many more people would use the railway if they felt that it was going to be more comfortable, and, incidentally, more pleasant. Too often have I asked ticket collectors at the barrier which platform my train was going from, and have received the answer, "I don't know; why don't you look at the board." That does not make for pleasure in travelling by rail. They should know more than that.

One final point on branch lines. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who said that long ago branch lines went by the board. I am afraid that I cannot agree with him. Branch lines are very much wanted. After all, they are tributaries to the main line. What would the Thames be, for instance, if it were without the minor rivers which flowed into it? The same applies to the main lines and the branch lines. There is no doubt that some of them do not pay. I understand from a letter that I had from Mr. O.H. Prosser, who is a very keen railway enthusiast and who writes to me on these occasions, that the right honourable Minister in another place, Mr. Peyton, said: All renewed grant undertakings"— that is, for branch lines— have been limited to a period of one year since from January 1, 1974, financial support for loss-making railway services will be made mainly under E.E.C. Regulation 1191/69. That is another area where we are not being allowed to rule in our own country. However, be that as it may, I cannot see any reason why a State-owned railway and privately owned branch lines should not run side by side. They do it very successfully in Switzerland where there are many privately owned branch lines, but the State railways are among the most efficient that I have ever come across. I cannot see why, if British Railways feel that they do not want to run a private line, they cannot sell it to some undertaking which will run it and run it efficiently. All these things are worthy of consideration.

Now may I say one word about the railway driver. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, who brought up the matter of driver behaviour. I have twice had the privilege of having a run on the footplate and I know what the driver has to go through. To my mind, they are among the finest class of men in the country. They are responsible to the nth degree. They have hundreds of peoples' lives in their charge but they never take the slightest chance. They are almost 100 per cent. safe. Therefore, I feel that we are doing them a very great wrong in rating their pay below that of somebody who just makes a part for a car or something like that. I believe that needs very serious consideration by the Government. My Lords, I feel that the railways can be, with improved design and improved services, what they once were and more.

I should like to end by commenting on another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, apropos of electricity as against the diesel. I thought his remarks were particularly interesting in view of what was said yesterday during the debate on the Coal Industry Bill. Coal is plentiful. Oil by the year 2000 at any rate, is likely to run out; but coal is not and coal makes electricity. Therefore I feel that electrification of our railways, though expensive at first, is the only logical solution in the end.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for introducing this debate. He made an excellent speech covering so much ground, in fact covering rather more ground on the roads than on the railway. However, I feel that the railways are such an important subject that I shall concentrate on them alone. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, made a few rather sad comments about current statistics—closures and all the rest of it. I am fully aware of these as they are written up in such excellent documents as the British Railways own document for the Senate Hearings in 1971. In dealing with that, it is a pity that there is not an up-to-date version of that document for your Lordships in the Printed Paper Office. It would he rather nice perhaps if British Rail could be invited to prepare a presentation for your Lordships as opposed to the United States Senate.

Passing on from that, I found the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, a little depressing, I have to confess, when he said that the remarks in the article in last Sunday's Sunday Times did not have any truth in them. That was rather sad, because I thought that it was the most hopeful thing there was. I believe that the railways must—and I repeat "must"—have a bright future because of the impending energy crisis which we are told about from time to time and because of the railways environmental cleanliness. It is ridiculous for us to have 30-ton individual loads of freight thundering down the roads and having to compete with road users who need to go from point to point. I believe that this is even more dangerous, and is borne out by a document which has been prepared by the Transport and General Workers Union, which was raised in the March 1 issue of The Times, where the Transport and General Workers Union said that there is an urgent need for clearer legislation for the transport of dangerous chemicals and better training for the drivers of lorries carrying them. We have seen a number of very sad disasters on the road where these chemical lorries have been involved in crashes and it is said that these lorries have to travel on the same roads with ordinary drivers.

I wish to develop the point of individual loads and the railways and freight later on in my speech, but may I point out that at present 75 per cent. of passenger miles travelled are by car. Only 9 per cent. are by train. One can understand the reasons: one of which of course is cost. We know that railway fares are now extremely high but the convenience of high speed travel is evidenced by the dramatic increases in passenger miles travelled on the Manchester route. This has gone up and up. Freight at the moment is 61 per cent. by road and only 19 per cent. by train. The roads use up so much of the precious land we still have; in fact one mile of trunk road takes up 40 acres. We hear about there being more roads. I am rather sad about this because we have an enormous and to a large extent unused network of railways. A lot of these lines are unused. I hope that these will not be sold off, because I think there is tremendous potential for these lines.

It is obviously unworkable to legislate freight off the roads. You can keep it out of the centre of towns. I have an interest in this, because I have freightliners passing my own house in central London. An economic incentive has to be offered to freight users, and only by a tremendously large investment in the railways can this be done. I feel this is going to be necessary anyway. The first thing that is needed is the electrification of the routes which were mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, spoke in some detail about the magnetic levitation system and the hovertrain. If we have concrete lines—that is, using the new slip form paving techniques—the railway lines could in fact be adapted later on to take a magnetic levitation system. It may still need pick-up points, and therefore the high-level wire system could be used as well. Therefore, I feel that investment now, which is very necessary because of the future energy crisis, could also take on development for magnetic levitation trains in the future. Although the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said this was not going to be proceeded with, or possibly might be partially proceeded with, the estimated cost of electrification of these routes would be £1,500 million. This is obviously a vast sum of money, but at the same time a cut-back in our rail system would cost us considerable sums of money as well.

I believe that what we really need is very heavy investment in research and development now. We see the possibilities that there are with magnetic levitation; we see what could be done with A.P.T., which should be running by 1976, and that is expected to last for 10 years. After that we shall obviously need much more sophisticated methods of transport. Research and development could do a tremendous amount for us on the freight side. British Rail have already investigated the possibility of the autowagon; that is a self-propelled single or multiple wagon operating without a crew. These systems are computerised. The trains run round the systems without having to be looked after, apart from the computer control. I appreciate that this would cause a number of staff problems, but let us look at the staff side of British Rail. Back in 1948 there were 648,000 people employed. Sadly, in 1970 there are only 250,000. One can understand the unions' anxiety about jobs. I feel that if we could take the bull by the horns and formulate an integral transport policy now, with a planned heavy investment programme, the railways could be our salvation in the years to come. The expanded system would offer many new jobs. Unfortunately, a certain amount of growing up will have to be done on both sides, both by the Government and the unions. I think the N.U.R. might appreciate it. ASLEF at this moment might not be so keen to look to the future in this way, but there will obviously have to he a different sort of job.

The noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, spoke about the problems of drivers on highspeed systems. Well, the systems that have now been developed in fact make it unnecessary to have a driver. It is unnecessary really to have a driver on the Victoria Line. I appreciate that this is a jump forward which the unions will not readily accept, but in time to come this is the system which will probably have to be developed. Certainly a driver cannot function on his own at high speed without very advanced signalling systems. These systems obviously naturally lead on to totally automatic control. There is probably need for a driver as well, for the reassurance, anyway, of passengers.

I think that research and development can offer many more exciting prospects as well. As I said, there is this enormous unused railway network. Some are closed lines; some are lines which are now only operating two lines on the whole route and have closed down the other two. Research and development can produce lots of wonderful ways in which these could he used. For instance, there must be a way of integrating the lorry with the railway. We have talked about roll-on roll-off—the noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned this. I think even more sophisticated systems of roll-on roll-off could be used.

The next thing is this, I think, exciting prospect of the A.P.T. I see the British Rail advertisement says, "Fly British Rail", I like the idea. It reminds me of the story of the not so intrepid little old lady who said she wondered why we had any need to fly as God had given us the railways. Perhaps she would have been confused by British Rail now. The A.P.T. offers us immense possibilities. It can in fact reduce costs, provided that it is operating on an electrified system, and provided also that we have the concrete lines, which require far less maintenance. British Rail's existing R. and D. budget is £5 million. Just recently British Rail have started to market their R. and D., which is most imaginative of them. So far it has produced £280,000 return this year, but next year this should he £1.5 million. This could finance considerably more R. and D., which in the end would be the salvation not only of this country's transport problems but also of the world's.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I was beginning to feel rather disheartened at the knowledge that has been shown by all the speakers. I happen to have with me a list of the speakers in a debate on transport (not transportation) in 1960 when I made my maiden speech, and there is nobody in the House now who is named on that list—but three minutes ago the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, slid quietly into his scat. This gives me such heart that I think I shall be able to get through what I was going to say.

I speak as one of the last splinters from the boards of the old main line railway companies which were broken up at the end of 1947. I thought I might risk a few remarks on this most baffling subject, although I can throw no light on it, far less offer any solution. But I am standing here partly in gratitude to my noble friend (if I may call him so) Lord Popplewell, and partly to give one sad "toot" in memory of the railway of which I was lucky enough to be a director—the old Great Western. First of all I want to make a very swift sketch of the railway decline over the past fifty years, because I think it is rather important to know how this all came about. It happens to cover my own adult lifetime. The story may not be so familiar to most of your Lordships and I think it should be generally known and understood. Soon after the end of the First War, long before we started to go spiral and lose control of things, the dozens of private railways were consolidated into four great railway systems. They were called the London Midland and Scottish, the London and North Eastern, the Great Western and the Southern—in order of magnitude that is; not nationalised you understand, but with boards of directors and stockholders, and everything correct as of old.

Of course, it is easy enough to laugh backwards at people who are trying to squint forwards, and they laid their plans as well as they could, based and calculated upon figures of traffic before the 1914 war, I suppose inevitably because they had nothing else to go on. In those days, public opinion was really afraid of the power of the railways. I remember it well—in the Press all the directors were regarded as bogeys. Therefore, it was ruled that the companies were compelled to carry all traffic offered to them—I think the technical term for that is "common carriers". That is a very important point. They had to carry traffic at fixed rates of carriage which were to be published for all to see. That is the start. These rates were calculated so that raw materials had to be carried below cost and finished goods had to be carried at well above so as to afford a profit on balance for the companies and an advantage for the trade of the country. I am afraid I cannot remember where the passengers were to get in—first, second and third class as we had in those days—but it must be remembered that in the years between the wars the revenue from freight was always much larger than that from passengers, at least on all the systems except the Southern.

So in 1921 all seemed set fair. I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has just come in, because he will be able to correct me if I get any of the old facts wrong about the start of the railways after the First War. All seemed set fair, or what my friend the late Mr. Randolph Churchill used to call, with his wide command of English, "tickety boo". I was glad to learn, by the way, last week when some of us in this and the other House were most charmingly received at the headquarters of British Rail, Marylebone Road, by Mr Marsh, his board and officers, that they are now allowed to take or reject whatever freight they please. My Lords, just think of it! It took forty years to set the railways free from that commercial tourniquet. No one would listen to us in those days. What happened? The thinkers had left the nonexistent lorries out of their reckoning. There were none to speak of before 1914; there were very few motor-cars on the roads in 1921—nor many good roads, either. I remember potholes. But very soon appeared thousands of ex-Army and other lorries whose owners were entirely free to study the published rail charges and underquote them to scoop as it were the cream, the profitable part of the traffic, which they did for the next 18 years until the Second World War broke out and once again made nonsense of commercial statistics. That unfair competition by the roads was the reason for the railways campaign for what was called a square deal to free them from these mandatory restrictions. Add to this fact a short boom in trade in 1919 until about 1921, followed by a very long slump, with worse to come in the form of what was sometimes referred to as the world economic blizzard of 1931, and that is quite briefly the inter-war tale of our long-mocked rail system.

In 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, the Government took over the railways and for the next six years a very grand profit indeed was had by all—hundreds of millions of pounds, the old modest pre-war average annual earnings going to the stockholders and the enormous remainder to the Treasury. The end of 1947 saw the end of private ownership of the railways. I have no opinion about that except to say that, in view of subsequent events, the stockholders, who were thought by many to have been rather meanly treated, can count themselves lucky to have escaped with what they had.

This is such a big subject that I will take only two points—one on freight and the other on passengers. Incidentally, I read in Whitaker's Almanack the other day that gross receipts for passenger traffic in 1971 greatly exceeded those for freight, which is a reversal of the situation before the war as I knew it, and rather significant, I think. With regard to freight, I must go back a bit. When I used to work in a lowish position in the iron and steel trade, the period when I was most closely involved was from 1925 to 1935. At our rural canal-side steel sheet and blackplate works almost all of our raw materials came in horse-pulled barges and we had the choice of despatching the finished goods either by rail a couple of miles away or by road. I might mention here that the barges, usually carrying steel bars or coal, took quite a long time on their way between us and Wolverhampton, a distance of some 30 miles to the North; there were 50 locks, 21 inside Wolverhampton itself, I believe. I do not know why, but I always remember some amateur had painted on one of the old barges the name "Madcap". My job in those days had to do with not what came into the works but what went out. I had to deal with impatient customers, plaintive customers, angry customers, hysterical customers, and I had to give them promises. Trade being very hard to come by in those days, I had to keep those promises.

My Lords, much as I love the railways and admire the men who operate them, I learned my lesson there on the manufacturing spot: that I simply could not risk our steel sheets becoming, as they often did, buckled, rusted, delayed or lost on the complicated journey, when by using our three or four small lorries (they were only about three-tonners at the most, probably with solid tyres, or I am fantasticating? I have the feeling they had solid tyres) these bright and smooth steel sheets of ours would get to their destination in the same condition in which they had started, and at twice the speed or better. There was no question about it. I blame no one for that. As we used to say in the Forces, it was the system. When I read, as I did last week, in a pamphlet I was sent called Transport. It's your Choice, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, referred, I caught my breath when I saw at the end of its powerful message the words: Solution. The answer lies in"— among other things— the transfer of freight from road to rail". I thought, "Just try telling the trader and his customer what form of transport has to be used, and see what happens—that's all". I suppose the jargon-mongers would say my experience so long ago was traumatic.

As for passenger traffic, I choose one event out of many to make my only other point, which is that I do not think it wise to order British Rail to prune its costs quite to the quick where the passengers suffer hurt or deprivation. They can probably put up with lack of luxury. But I know a bridge, a small but important footbridge, over the main line at a country station that I use from time to time across which have to trudge all passengers bound for London. Until about six or seven years ago this bridge, with its roof and sides of corrugated iron, gave protection from rain and snow, if not always from wind. These sheltering sheets were getting a bit rusty, I suppose—I ought to know; I may even have made some of them—and were judged to be dangerous, and so they were removed. The bridge remained at our service, but coverless.

After some months like this, it began to look as though there was not going to be a replacement of that cover. It seemed incredible, and there being no station master (they took him away long ago) I asked our favourite porter—he has been retired, by the way, since then, in full health and strength—whether my fears about the bridge were correct. He said that he was afraid so, and I said that I thought that I might ask Paddington the reason for this. There came upon our porter's face a look of roguish pathos such as an ex-sergeant (which is what he was) can sometimes assume when he begs some doubtful favour, and he said, "Oh, don't do that, sir. I made me a lovely chicken house out of that roof." Of course it was not the chicken house aspect of the affair that one found so depressing—indeed, that was the only cheery part of the picture. It was that our old Great Western successor had sunk to so poor a state as to confess, albeit silently, "We simply haven't the cash to waste like that on passengers. They've umbrellas, haven't they?" Surely, my Lords, this is going too far. You cannot treat customers like that if you want to retain their business.

What are we doing since nationalisation? We have had in control of the railways men of absolutely first-class quality, full of hope, and with money, in the rapturous early days, to spend on a scale that the old directors never dared to think of. Yet the job defeated each one of them in the end. The other day I came across a passage in a letter to the Minister, written by the Chairman of what was then the British Transport Commission. I kept it at the time because it had startled me when I first read it five-and-twenty years ago. It said: We remain completely convinced that by modernisation and rationalisation our railways can be made to pay their way. It is the key. My Lords, it should indeed be the key to any ordinary lock, but not to this one. I think everybody knows that now. What nobody knows is what has happened to the lock. Most of us believe that we still need the railways. I think they should be carried on as a public service, but with a little less parsimony, please.

Like Mr. Justice Shallow and his cousin Silence, I seem to be living on memories this afternoon. I hope your Lordships will allow me one more. It is of an elderly town major of one of the ports in North Africa during the last war. He had a forbidding mass of little town problems to deal with, and he said to me one day: "It would be the gravest possible mistake to go to the office this morning. Let us take a walk along the seashore." I cannot remember what I was meant to be doing at the time, but we took that walk and it cleared the old man's mind wonderfully. I am elderly, too, now I suppose; and I find that, when thoroughly stuck for a solution, the weaker brained among us tend either to sink back upon a cushion of cant and repetition or to seek temporary refuge in hilarity. I am sure, therefore, that your Lordships will not consider me gratuitously saucy if I end my rather fugitive remarks by quoting—with your Lordships leave—something written by my great-aunt Aggie to her brother-in-law, my grandfather, on his having been elected to the chairmanship of the Great Western Railway in 1905. He was Member of Parliament for the Bewdley division of Worcestershire, and she was the wife of the President of the Royal Academy and therefore perhaps overbold in stepping outside her artistic sphere and offering advice on railway economy. I must condense it slightly.

She wrote: My dear Alfred. Of course I am only a woman I know, and therefore may make a mistake at times (or appear to do so), but I have, in my limited way (or what may be thought so by a man), thought a good deal about your recent appointment to the Chair on the Great Western (Eastern, is it?) Railway line (and, of course, as you seem pleased we are all pleased, so far as we understand). I hear it is a very high Chair and I hope you will not let it get into your head. I have been trying to think of some way for you to distinguish yourself while they keep you on, but no doubt (being as of course I am aware, only a woman) you as a man may not at once see what a change you would work in the Railway world; you would never be forgotten. My idea then is (ideas often bring fortunes and I should patent it before the other Railways hear about it) for you (you need not say I suggested it) to have a universal penny fare available for the whole Great Eastern (Western, I mean, but it is all the same) system, all over England and Wales, or Paddington to Edgware Road, so that people having paid their penny could choose when they had sat down in the railway carriage, and had time to think where they would go; so much better than when leaving home in a hurry. You might on Bank Holidays run the trains on to Dublin, then you could charge a 1½d. return instead of 2d. I can promise you the trains would be full. Of course, you might lose a trifle on each ticket in an ordinary way, but on half a million passengers at holiday times there would be a huge profit. I feel sure this proposal would make a great sensation You would never hear the last of it. If you cannot do the whole thing at once, you might try penny fares to Kidderminster as I am often coming to see you, and we can talk it over. I feel sure (though only a woman) that I shall win you over to my way of thinking Your affectionate sister in law, Aggie. Of course that was a bit crudely thought out and not up to masculine standards, but it still has a kind of wild relevance; anyway, it is not much sillier than a policy of continually increasing fares and decreasing service in an out-of-date determination to make the unpayable pay. Besides, it is making all the people who work for the railway so unhappy. I am not thinking of wages and strikes; but once upon a time, my Lords, of all the lines the Great Western was, I think, the happiest, as well as, I fear, the proudest. And now there is scarcely a pin to choose between one drab Region and another for torpor and dismay.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for one moment in view of the reference of my noble friend Lord Baldwin to myself. I always found the Great Western Railway a very agreeable line to travel on. They carried me to all the places I most liked. I also found them a source of ideas, and I did not realise that they had a library of correspondence such as that from which he has read, and from which ideas, economic and otherwise, may have filtered into the minds of some of their managers. On his very brief reference to what happened to the railway during the two wars, I confess that I do not feel able to correct anything that he said except on one point; it fell to me to liquidate, if that is the right word, the old war agreements for the control of the railways in the First World War.

It is quite true, as he says, that the drift of trade freight traffic away from the railways to the roads began with a great many lorries of all sorts getting into the hands of private operators who had very little in the way of resources and who often cut the railway rates to pieces. What he did not say was that the railways might have bought all those lorries if they had been prepared to pay a more reasonable price. I attempted to sell those lorries to the railways, not to the Great Western in particular but collectively, and they were not all as proud and haughty as the Great Western was apt to be. But their engineers all looked down their noses on these lorries and said, "Those are not the sort of thing we can really add to the rolling stock of this magnificent institution", and they refused them. They might have had them. I dare say if they had bought them up they would have been accused of merely doing so in order to spite the competition. They would not have run them as lorries. They probably would have scrapped the lot. What would have happened then I do not know. But they had the chance; they did not take it, and other people did. That is one thing that makes one wonder whether there is not some virtue in the small man and the private operator after all.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention. May I first apologise to Members of your Lordships' House, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, if I am not in my place at the end of the debate, due to a prior engagement out of London.

My Lords, may I say how disappointed I was in the charge of the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, that the road transport lobby influenced advisers in the transport section of the Department of the Environment to such an extent that this was reflected in my noble friend Lord Sandford's speech from the Front Bench this afternoon. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, saw no such preference. In fact I surprisingly found rather too much said about the worth and wealth of the railways and its particular part in the transportation system.

My Lords, in considering any kind of transportation policy there are four modes of transport which have to be considered: air, sea, road and rail. Notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, had to say about the hovertrain and hovercraft—I am not sure into which category they fall—it must reasonably be accepted that neither air nor water transportation can make a significantly greater contribution to the whole than they do at the present moment, so that one falls back on the road and rail situation. At the end of 1971 we had left on the railways only 11,643 route miles as against some 210,000 miles of roadway. This seems to me to crystallise the long distance, the inter-city situation.

The problem then divides itself largely into two parts, that of moving people and that of moving goods. In the first group, the people problem is essentially an urban one. There is no great difficulty in moving people long distances; the congestion occurs, as has already been said, in the commuter traffic, the cross city traffic. There are few I think who would disagree that an integrated public service, a city transport system, is probably the best answer. It is not a question of forbidding, either by purse or by legislation, the use of motor cars inside an urban area until such time as a public transport service, however it may come about—underground, tramways, buses or what have you—is properly effective. Already we can see some city centres being denuded of commercial activity due to the shortsighted action of local authorities in preventing traffic coming in and so prohibiting commercial activities to continue. Indeed, the reverse is very likely to happen. In my own home town a large discount store development is being permitted some six miles away from the city centre, and it is held that there is ample parking space. This then will bring some 40,000 vehicles each week to a part of the country which so far has no traffic problem at all. All the people currently shopping in the shopping areas are to be tempted away to an area which has no such facility, which is essentially residential, and it is this kind of attitude which so many local authorities have towards the motor vehicle that will itself destroy the very thing they are trying to preserve.

On price restrictions, it is shown that any competitively freed forms of transport have very little effect on the private car user. They do not know how much a bus fare is, how much a train fare is; they do not care. What they do care about is that the bus or train or tram is not at their doorstep precisely when they want it, nor will it take them back to their doorstep at precisely the time they want. If there is to be a limitation on car entry into urban areas by price the rich are likely to be the only people to afford it and if as the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, has suggested, so many motor cars are supported by companies for tax advantage that additional cost will make very little difference to the real operator of the motor car.

My Lords, much has been said about the question of carrying freight, and I suppose in any debate on transportation within the context of the environment it is the lorry that provokes the most hatred and bitterness and most vociferous condemnation, probably because over half the households in Great Britain have the use of one or two motor cars but very few have the use of a motor lorry. Nevertheless, out of some 16 million road vehicles in use to-day only 1.6 million are commercial vehicles; and of that total 4 per cent. of the whole are heavy goods vehicles, that is over one-and-a-half tons unladen weight; and the proportion of eight tons unladen weight, 32 ton gross vehicles, is even smaller, though it must be admitted in fairness that that section of the commercial vehicle market is growing. In 1980 it is estimated that there will be 23 million vehicles on the road. It is equally estimated that there will only be 1.8 million commercial vehicles. If one looks back over the last twenty years one finds that the commercial vehicle population has only doubled, whereas the private car population has very nearly quadrupled, and that kind of extrapolation will continue right through until the year 2000. So that the bogey of the commercial vehicle menace really pales into insignificance against figures of that kind.

Commercial vehicles carry 80 per cent. of the total goods tonnage in this country, leaving 20 per cent. broadly, for other services; that is, about 1,710 million tons by road, 196 million tons by rail, 51 million tons by water and 54 million tons by pipe-line. There is a paragraph in the British Road Federation publication, Finance and Roads, which I received only two or three days ago, which rather refutes the implied condemnation that if 50 per cent. of the volume of increased traffic on the roads transferred to rail, it would result in only a 3 per cent. reduction in road traffic. It was either the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, or the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, who suggested that we should talk not in tons of goods but in ton miles. I quote here: The latest information available shows that of 1,657 milion tons of goods carried by road in 1967–68 1,172 million tons"— that is, just 70 per cent.— travelled under 25 miles, while only 107 million tons"— that is, 61½ per cent.: involved a haul of over 100 miles. The Chairman of British Rail stated in October last year that the railways are interested only in goods carriage over 100 miles. So if one does a quick arithmetical sum one finds that 6½ per cent., or 107 million tons, of road freight transferred to rail would increase the railways' share by only a minimal amount. Therefore, it is fairly reasonable to suggest that rail has to look elsewhere for increased usage. An economic rail load is around 200 tons, but that is an enormous amount of goods to be assembled. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, questioned whether 30 ton loads should rumble down the roads, but goods in this country are measured in loads of tens of tons and not hundreds of tons, so it is only reasonable that road transport with its greater flexibility should take the bigger share of the market. Even if some of the road freight traffic transferred to rail, it could not be a clean transference; it would be a transference from road, to road and rail, because British Rail have only 600 collecting and delivery points in the United Kingdom. Having got your goods, after perhaps three days on rail, to a collecting and delivery point, a road vehicle has to pick them up and take them on, but because most of these collecting points are within urban areas the traffic generated by putting more goods into them will increase the congestion. It seems to me reasonable to suggest that on the 210,000 miles of roadway, 3,500 of which will be main trunk routes by 1980, there should be many more collecting and dropping off points which do not add to congestion. Surely, my Lords, while exploring other avenues—


My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken about 210,000 miles of roads, which of course is quite correct, but will he also say how many thousands of miles are what might be termed uneconomic, kept up by local ratepayers, compared with the uneconomic branch lines on the railways which have to be closed? Secondly, as regards the increased volume of traffic carried by heavy lorries, is it not correct to say that there has been an increase of 817 per cent. in the number of lorries over eight tons in the last six years?


My Lords, I would not contest the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, about railway track. I shall accept what he has said because I cannot challenge it. What I can say is that, essentially, there are only 3,500 miles of Class I roads and motorways out of the 210,000 miles. But I have already admitted that the problem is an urban one and not a long-distance one, to which the 3,500 miles relate. I would challenge the noble Lord, although I am open to be corrected, on the growth of the heavy goods vehicle over 8 tons unladen. I believe that the true figure is an increase of not 800-odd per cent. but of 400-odd per cent. Perhaps we could exchange figures on that. Certainly, let us accept that that kind of commercial vehicle shows the largest increase.

The noble Lord has led me on to discuss, quite briefly, some of the problems associated with this class of vehicle, because it is this class of vehicle which causes the most concern. There are Acts, measures and regulations controlling them—the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Act 1972, the Highways Act 1971, anti-pollution measures, and other measures which the Minister outlined in his speech. As these measures bite so will many of the problems associated with the heavy goods vehicle be minimised. They will certainly not disappear, but they will be minimised. There is only one way to make that process complete, and that is by a properly designed and quickly built road system, so that those vehicles are transferred from the congested urban ways on to the roadways designed specifically for them and where provision has been made by local authorities to provide overnight lorry parking, facilities for drivers and so on. It is quite lamentable how few local authorities have done anything about it, pleading that the land is scarce or is not available, or that it comes in their longterm transportation planning. I can only hope that, with the reorganisation of local government, the fewer transport authorities—46 in number—will take a larger and better grip on this particular problem.

My Lords, there is no doubt that local authorities, in whom lies most of the power for urban motorways, have failed lamentably to provide adequately for the kind of traffic increase which has been forecast for years and years. If the railways seek to attract more business, there is little doubt that they will have to charge a more economic price; and I do not go along with the noble Lord who suggested that passenger rates are high; I think they are extremely low and highly competitive with running a motor car. If there is a greater frequency and a better utilisation of those things they have, they are bound to get a bigger and more profitable share of both the passenger and the freight market that is available.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, we can all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Popplewell for his Motion. I can think of few subjects more pressing to-day and more deserving of a long-term planning approach by the Government than transport. This debate has been conducted not on Party lines at all, and I have enjoyed many of the speeches, particularly the speech of my noble friend Lord Popplewell, with whom I am in entire sympathy, and the brilliant speech of my noble friend Lord Burntwood. But there have been speeches on the other side which I have enjoyed, too, especially the enchanting reminiscences of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin.

My Lords, few subjects need a greater understanding and participation by the general public than these growing problems. In spite of a greater awareness of the social and environmental discomforts and dangers of many transport services, in every crisis we still concentrate on the narrowest—not just the narrow, but the narrowest—economic approach, as with the Beeching Report. Here I mean no disrespect or criticism of Lord Beeching personally. He was given the Government's terms of reference and, so to speak, the public was served with a cheaper cut of the joint. Some of us, from both Houses of Parliament, heard an excellent account of the present position and the potential of British Railways given by Mr. Richard Marsh, the Chairman. Mr. Marsh was at great pains to say that he was not speaking as a social reformer but as a loyal employee of the Government. All the same, his analysis of British Rail's problems and accountancy, and of the enormous opportunities for progress, revealed that the purely monetary criteria of demand and supply are inadequate to-day. Real social needs have to be taken into account, and true social costs of damage to the environment and even danger to life when, let us say, we are comparing the danger from railway travel and congestion on the roads.

It was the chief engineer of the Automobile Association who said that in 1967 road accidents cost £250 million, and he estimated that in the next 30 years, if we continued as at present with a free-for-all on the roads, half the population of this country was likely to be injured—a very macabre estimate. However, the motor car has its attractions as well as its dangers, though if we are to transport most of our citizens to work or for leisure we must rely on public transport, as most of the speakers in this debate have said—our tube trains, our buses and our railways. To improve these should be our main concern. Road transport should not be expanded to the point at which it reduces the resources we need for public transport. Fortunately, we are becoming increasingly aware that we live in real danger of destroying our environment by ignorance and by affluence. Large sums are being spent by the Government to attract investment and so help relieve unemployment in the regions. These areas are in Scotland, Wales and the North East. Investment will be attracted to where there are good communications, and railways are essential to industrial development in these areas.

Nothing has driven all this home to people in this country as much as the multiplication of private cars and mammoth goods lorries which slow down traffic to the speed of a conveyor belt. Roads and rails should be part of a unified strategy in an overall transport policy. The most recent inquiry, the Layfield inquiry, was set up to analyse the development plan for the Greater London Council, and it was given very wide terms of reference, including predictions about future population, employment, housing and, last but not least, traffic problems. The Lay-field Report is a juggernaut of a Report, and I am not going to pretend that I have read it all; I have simply read the summary of its recommendations. These are well-intentioned though not very original—rather pedestrian, in fact—but the Report urged a greater reliance on public transport. It also stressed that provision for new roads rested on restraint of traffic, mainly by control of parking in the centre of London.

However, something must have gone wrong with the steering of the argument, for it has recommended Ringway One, a six-lane motorway through inner residential London. It is the most controversial and the most expensive recommended road, with estimates of the cost varying from £600 million to £2,000 million by the year 2000. My Lords, there is something about astronomic sums of millions of pounds that mesmerises a committee. They lose sight of the people who must pay for or suffer from their gigantic plans. Mr. Rippon, the Secretary of State, has accepted in principle that Ring-way One should remain in the plan for Greater London. I hope we shall have an opportunity to debate the Layfield Report and question the predictions and statistics on which it is based.

However, I find it difficult to understand why Mr. Rippon and the Government have gone so far as to accept such an unpopular decision, not just because it is unpopular but because such an acceptance delays a comprehensive and long-term approach by the Government and the Community, which is so close to his heart. The overall performance of our railways, despite the setbacks of panic economies over the last decade, compares very favourably with the performance of the railways in the European Community countries.

Personally I am not so much concerned about the allocation of freight to the railways as about the great benefits that rail transport gives the ordinary people for work and for leisure. There are opportunities here for really wise planning to increase speed and comfort that cannot be achieved on the roads by private cars; and so long as the planning is not left to the bureaucrats I think we have a hope. I sometimes think that the most dangerous animals roaming through the economic jungle of our densely populated cities are the bureaucratic planners.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I too must add my thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for initiating this debate. It seems that we are having many arguments on the merits of road and rail travel. I am definitely in favour of rail. I suppose I am prejudiced because I can claim that railways are in my blood. I am proud to be a member of the Pease family. An ancestor of mine, Edward Pease of Darlington, was one day writing in his house alone but for a manservant. The servant came to him and said that two men from Killingworth Colliery had called to see him about a matter of business. At first he did not want to be disturbed; but being a devout Quaker he thought that the good Lord may have sent the men for some special purpose and he let them in himself. He gave them a cup of tea on the kitchen table. George Stephenson was one of these men and he said, "Mr Pease I understand that you have been trying to organise a tramway to carry coals from the colliery by horses drawing trucks running on rails." He said he had found a machine that could draw many trucks also on rails. From that conversation there came into being a few years later, in 1825, the Darlington and Stockton Railway. One of my earliest memories is of seeing the first steam engine of that line, "Locomotion No. 1" in operation. Before any noble Lord tries to tax me with having lived so many years longer than I have, I will say that this was in 1925 when I was boy of 3½ years. The occasion was the centenary of the Darlington and Stockton Railway. "Locomotion No. 1" had been taken from Darlington Station and made to draw a train, a replica of the first one, with passengers dressed in the clothes of 1825.

There can be no excuse today for British Rail to rest on any laurels. We have enough arguments about strikes. They seem to be all that we read in the newspapers and hear on the radio. British Rail may still have to be "pruned" a bit, but it has many qualities that we should try to retain. We find plenty of room to criticise but there is much on the credit side compared with other railways. It strikes me that the worst type of our second-class carriages is more comfortable than many first-class coaches abroad. The vast network of commuter railways in the South may not be exemplary but it is certainly commendable. One often is annoyed at a train's being late or cancelled but it may not be long before the next one comes along. Our railways are also a good tourist draw. Many visitors coming from abroad, particularly North Americans, want to travel on our trains. By the time a summary is made of this debate perhaps we shall have found some cause to praise British Rail and not to bury them—perhaps not "bury" but rip them up.

My Lords, there is talk of the closing of lines and I am concerned about this in view of a few Scottish interests that I have. There is talk of closing lines in North and West Scotland. The Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line is said to be unprofitable but it is a vital link with the West coast. There is a line I use myself in my home in Argyll, the line from Glasgow to Fort William. I get off at Arrochar. Then there is a line from Fort William to Mallaig. I believe it is still under consideration that Fort William may remain open. I hope it will not be merely a short reprieve but that it will be kept in use; because it is a vital link. May I ask the Government whether, after all the arguments it is considered necessary to close a line, the track can remain for some short period of time to make sure that the line could be opened again? I know that the sight of a disused and rusting railway track with grass growing between the rails is unsightly, but I think it is much more inexpensive to put back the old track into service than to resurrect one which has been totally destroyed.

I have tried to say something favourable about the railways and I now want to draw your Lordships' attention to another form of transport, one which I mentioned at the end of January in a debate on the quality of life in urban environment. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, spoke with concern about the amount of traffic on the roads and about heavy lorries, and asked that more freight should be put on the railway or on the canals. I pointed out the potential of some form of freight transport by air in a new design for airships. I recalled a speech on aerospace made by the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, in a debate a year ago in which he outlined the possibility of new airship development. As I did in the previous debate, I mention a small personal interest. It was about two years ago that I asked my stockbroker whether he could find out whether there was any truth in the talk of revival of airships. He told me about a shipping company named Manchester Liners who were a subsidiary of Cargo Airships Limited. I became a small shareholder in the shipping company.

The word "airship" still conveys the horror, so much publicised, of the accidents of the R.101 and the Hindenburg. The word "airship" is at present the only word available to describe this means of conveying freight by air; but it is not the old type of Zeppelin or dirigible that I wish to advocate. The word we need is something to convey a new form of aircraft producing a new medium: the air-orientated cargo system; not the old type of airship, but the rightful successor to it. Those who are still with us who worked on those former airship designs may see in it something on what they originally worked bearing fruit. It is something that could produce a new, revolutionary and highly beneficial result to this country. I mentioned successors. I also mentioned my family connection with George Stephenson. If somebody were advocating the resurrection of the steam engine he would not think of getting back to the "Rocket" or to "Locomotion No. 1" but to their rightful successors. Today's Britain Rail are the rightful successors to what the Stephenson Brothers thought up; but the successor is different from the original conception.

On the matter of air transport, it is a return to the first principles of flight. There are two kinds of aircraft; the lighter than air and the heavier than air. Aircraft that are lighter than air are inherently safe and become more efficient as they become bigger. The old zeppelin structures were laborious to construct. Today they would be prohibitively expensive. They were fragile and flexible, and in flight they needed skilled and gentle handling. They needed huge sheds to house them on the ground and an army of men, or winches, to hold them steady. The new form of structure would be of the monocoque type. The strength of the aircraft would be in an outer shell made from stiff lightweight alloys or composite, rather than the skeletal framework of girders as with the zeppelin. Such structures would not only be inherently strong and more streamlined but also they would have less "drag" and consequently would need less engine power and fuel for propulsion. Less manual labour would be used in their construction and they would lend themselves more easily to mass production techniques. The gas used would be the nontoxic, non-flammable type, helium. When nuclear engines are developed for such aircraft the airship could have an unlimited range and endurance, and landing would become necessary only for maintenance. Cargo and crews could be transferred in flight. Helicopters and tanker airships could be used for this function.

Recalling the famous R.101 disaster, some of your Lordships may have seen the recent reprint of a 1930 newspaper containing a report of that disaster. Covering the newspaper was a double sheet that bore a design of a new form of airship. I have in my hand a reprint of the magazine Enginering, of June, 1971, on the front page of which the same picture is shown in colour. I cannot show it to all your Lordships, even by holding it up, but if any noble Lord would like to see it later I should be only too happy to show it to him. Inside there is a diagram which looks rather like the London Underground system in colour, showing how the author, Mr. Max Rynish, the managing director of Cargo Airships Limited, visualised the transport of freight at about 500 tons at a time at a speed of about 100 miles an our between Britain and the Continent.

This is not an attempt to usurp the position of the aeroplane. That worthy aircraft will still play its part for many years to come in commercial and military value. But in addition there is the possibility of a form of aircraft that can take on and discharge a considerable amount of cargo fast close to towns and factories, and which does not need the immense space and facilities required by aeroplanes at modern airports. The diagram shows some interesting connections between the Continent and this country. There are routes from Hull to Groningen, with connections to Bremen and Hamburg; from Lincoln to Amsterdam and on to Hanover, Brunswick and Berlin; and from Norwich to Rotterdam and on to Germany, down to Munich. Those three suggested routes could bring new life to the Midlands and the North of England. Routes to the West could touch towns like Leeds, Barrow-in-Furness, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool.

At the same time that this magazine was published the Financial Times of Monday, June 7, 1971, contained a headline "Airship chief plans air-railway cargo system." The opening paragraph reads: A railway system of [...]e air with airships shuttling back and for[...] on fixed routes at 100 miles per hour with pay loads of fifty 10-ton containers is outlined by Mr. Max Rynish, managing director of Cargo Airships, the Manchester Liner subsidiary. On February 27 I attended a meeting—which has been mentioned in this debate already—at British Railways headquarters where a number of your Lordships and Members of another place gathered together. We had some talks and a very delightful buffet luncheon. We were shown some films, one of which accentuated the benefits of the Channel Tunnel. I hope that we shall see this wonderful project in operation before long. A map showed a link-up of the railways in this country with those on the Continent. The potentials of such a link-up are vast. Looking at that map it was seen that there was the possibility of a gigantic bottleneck as trains from all over Europe converged on the region of Calais to go through the tunnel, and then had either to pass through, or by-pass, the network of the London railway system. All this was pointed out in the film. Not much of the railway system near London could take the fast trains coming from the Continent or en route to other countries. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton can give us information about what the Government may have in mind for a railway system coming from the Dover area and taking fast trains into the Midlands and the North; and whether there is any possibility of linking up this with plans for a ring rail system round London.

The magazine New Society of March, 1973, gives the proposed track as Westcombe Park, Blackheath, Clapham, Earl's Court West, Willesden, West Hampstead, Vale Royal, Stratford and West Ham; and joining West Ham and Westcombe Park with a new track with a tunnel.

Considering my argument in favour of new air transport, I hope that I shall not cover too much track—that was an unintended pun—in discussing the advantages and disadvantages of road and rail travel. To make a quick summary, road transport gives a door-to-door service; it cuts handling charges and the lorries are the replacement for the old horse and cart system. Due to increase in manufacture and trade, road traffic has increased; road systems have been improved at great expense, but the improvements are not able to keep pace with the growing volume of road traffic. Goods lorries must share the roads with private cars, both of which are increasing in numbers, and the traffic problems are worse in the centres of towns laid out in times when road traffic was considerably less than it is now. Now it is necessary to cut new motorway boxes through towns in the hope of speeding up traffic. This causes much dislocation and sociological and environmental disturbance, as was emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. The overall result is that congestion is increased, traffic is slowed down and transport charges escalate.

The roads are land hungry. They require intensive capital to build; they are expensive to maintain. All this is passed on in taxation to the users. Transportation charges for manufactured goods, and particularly for food, are passed on to the public. Large lorries are threatening the foundations of towns and there is pollution and noise. Larger lorries are needed to cut transport costs. I may be prejudiced in favour of railways but they have their disadvantages. Railways are fast and they carry heavy loads, as we would all agree. But they require much indirect labour, such as signalmen and platelayers. Tracks are expensive and cost far more than roads to maintain. Railways do not provide a door-to-door service. Stations are often in the wrong places. New track would be impossibly expensive, and the rising cost of the land required for this is a major factor. Railways have been losing freight to the roads until escalation of costs brought the charges of road transport closer to those of rail. The advent of containerisation has also helped the railways. Railways are very suitable for carrying containers of manufactured goods from inland manufacturing areas to ports and vice versa, and also for long distance internal traffic. Railways do relieve the pressure on the roads, but not to a significant extent. No large-scale expansion of the railway system can be foreseen. The system is liable to diminish further owing to high operation costs. But there is some future for inter-city passenger services as speeds increase and rolling stock is renewed.

My Lords, let me sum up and try to make out my arguments for a new form of cargo transportation. Cargo transport underlies the foundation of economic power. Economic power is dependent on the other two forms of power—military and political. Without an efficient economy and some surplus of wealth nations cannot afford armed forces and have to depend on others for protection. Without military power, because of lack of economic power, there is no political power, and in a country in such a situation the politicians would have no external influence. Wealth and economic power depend on trade, and trade depends on transport. It is as simple as that. There is the matter of the growth in the population and the movement of population, and this has to be considered with transport. I should like to recall an article written by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale entitled The New Geography of Growth, which appeared in the Sunday Times Business News on April 12, 1970. In this article my noble friend wrote: It should be remembered that the movement of people and industry is in part a function of the lines of communication. The study should chart the physical geography of freight desire lines across our value added entrepot economy. It should regard new transport techniques. The study was referred to as a full-scale new look at regional growth.

Your Lordships' House is not a Chamber of dreamers, but sometimes dreams can be aired in it. With all the expert knowledge available, any Member who thinks that his dream may be a good idea can either receive encouragement or be told sympathetically and with all kindness that it is not likely to work. I have presented to your Lordships a dream of a new form of transport, one in which I know I am not alone. I see it as a way to new prosperity. Shipping and shipbuilding companies, and the areas dependent on them, could become prosperous centres, particularly where they have been hit by hard times in recent years by the conversion to constructing airships. Britain has a chance now for new powerful leadership in the world of commerce, a leadership that may be far more beneficial than its former Empire. But action must be taken soon if that leadership is to be gained. We have the opportunity and the technology. Already other countries are considering a new form of transport on these ideas. However, I leave the airship dream or idea, call it what you will, for your Lordships' earnest consideration: and let us hope that if the idea is good, it will not suffer too many obstacles in order to become a fact.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for providing us with the opportunity of debating this vitally important subject which affects all of us in our everyday lives. I feel that I might easily be in danger of repeating many of the things that other speakers have brought up, because I find I am totally in agreement with 10 out of the 13 noble Lords who have already spoken. I also feel rather like the vicar in his local parish church, where his normal congregation was about three, and he got into the pulpit and harangued his faithful three about the evils that would come upon those who did not attend church. This was all very well but he was saying it to people who were there who attended every Sunday. He needed to go and tell the people who were not in church. I think the same thing slightly applies to us here at the moment. Most of us here seem to be very much in favour of utilising our railways to a greater extent, but I am sure that there are many people who are not here who are busily working away trying to see how best they can expand our road system. So I wish to give my support to the cause of the railways, and to oppose those who may destroy our country with concrete and motor vehicles.

In 15 years our motorways system has continually spread—and I accept that motorways play a vital part in our method of travel. But I think they are now beginning to threaten our social lives, not only in the countryside, but also in our cities. I feel that the time has come for serious consideration to be given to limiting any further growth of our motorways system than is absolutely and vitally necessary, because it is an established principle (as has been mentioned already, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and it was clearly illustrated in the Observer of February 25 by quoting the case of the closure of the Albert Bridge in London) that roads generate traffic, and the traffic will always adjust to fill the road space provided. Are we to continue blindly investing thousands of millions of pounds in a system which will never achieve its ultimate goal? The existing systems, even with possible extensions, cannot be sufficient by themselves to compete with our road transport requirements if allowed to proceed unchecked—that is say, in 10 years' time.

Already, my Lords, we know that the M.1 from Watford Gap to London is at times used nearly to saturation point. The M.6 link has aggravated the position. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, has already commented on his unfortunate position the other day. So what is to be done? Already a second M.1, to run parallel with the existing one where it only has dual four lanes, is proposed. There can be little doubt that in time, and not so far distant, this must be extended to the whole of our motorways system. Can your Lordships imagine that? It cannot be hard to imagine the additional complications that the doubling up of our motorways system will produce when our existing system is already causing a good deal of complication by the necessity of having a motorway box in London, which is causing a lot of concern and unrest to a great many people. Nor, indeed, is it difficult to imagine that London will not be the only city requiring a motorway box. In time, motorway boxes will be needed in nearly all our major cities, with all the misery and disturbance that goes with them. To add more motorways, destroying the social and environmental needs of the countryside, confiscating yet more of our diminishing agricultural land, which as a consequence will hinder the growth of our agricultural industry at a time when, as we all know, there is a world shortage of essential food, cannot be allowed to take place.

Not only do motorways cater for a volume of traffic but they also are built for the growing evil of the monster juggernauts. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has stated that vehicles over an unladen weight of 8 tons have increased by 817 per cent. Perhaps I might be permitted to give a few figures of my own. Between 1956 and 1968, lorries of over 5 tons increased in number from 34,000 to 150,000. In 1956 there were only 6,000 vehicles under 8 tons unladen weight, but by 1970 these had risen to some 55,000. Of course it is quite understandable that companies should use these vast vehicles. But they are by no means confined to the roads built for them. After all, if one can get double the amount of freight on one lorry, it must be more economical than using two lorries. As I have said, these lorries are not confined to the roads which were built for them. They have to get to the motorways. They use, freely and frequently, small country lanes and they go through the centres of small historic towns, to the detriment of both. Complaints are then made of the unsuitability of such and such a road, and the road is then widened and made faster, and so a once peaceful countryside becomes a threat and a danger to man and beast alike.

I might add that these country lanes were there long before any form of road traffic, or indeed almost any horse traffic. Roads were created by the farmer to drive his cattle from his farm to the market. They were created by the agricultural industry, such as it was in those days. They are now being taken over by these monarchs of the road. Further motorway building can only increase this evil and thereby continue the destruction of what was once rural England. The expense of the motorways and the cost of building them are well known. There is the compensation to be made, the purchasing of land, the actual cost of building and the cost of maintaining them. All this expense seems to me too high a price to pay when with imaginative thought and planning there could be possible alternatives.

To start with, we must by law dampen the increased enthusiasm of people to use their private motor cars in cities, thereby making more road space available for essential motor traffic. It is primarily the commuter traffic which must be curtailed, and also lazy people who, like myself, choose to drive from Yorkshire to London instead of using a perfectly good railway system, where it exists, because one thinks that it is more convenient and cheaper to drive. If I may just comment on the wincing of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford—that is, his wincing at the price of rail fares, a point which was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—the cost of a first-class rail journey is only about 3p per mile. The cost by motor car is probably 6p or 7p a mile. We only think motor travel is cheaper because we fill up with petrol at our local filling station and then we fill up when we get to the other end and we say, "Ah, that has only cost £2"—whereas in point of fact it has cost much more by the time all the other things, such as insurance, depreciation, the cost of tyres, wear and tear have been added on, and the time wasted when you ought to be doing other things.

The Layfield Committee, on whose Report I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, hopes we might have a debate before long, have already considered the system of road pricing under which motorists would be charged a fee for entering the central area of London. This scheme, in my view, could and should be extended to other cities which also have serious traffic congestion. I understand that the Layfield Committee is enthusiastic about the scheme, but I also understand that it could be at least ten years hence before such a scheme could be put into practice because of technical difficulties in developing meters which would record entry into the central areas. I am certainly enthusiastic about such an idea, and I think it would undoubtedly reduce the volume of traffic, and not only of traffic entering the city but traffic passing through it.

Why should we have to wait ten years? Could we not start by having a road pricing system? That would apply to any vehicle actually parked in the central areas, whether it be at meters, in company car parks, in underground car parks, or elsewhere. Anyone who knew that in the course of a year he was going to use his car in a city would, on application for his road fund licence, pay an additional sum. That sum must be substantial if it is to have the desired effect. He would be issued with a card allowing him to park in that particular city. If he wanted to go to another city, he would have to pay an additional licence fee which would be applicable to that city. Anyone who wanted to bring his car into a city without making such a payment could of course do so. He could perhaps purchase a yearly ticket from a post office or from a traffic warden, who would take his particulars and advise the motorist on where to forward his payment. Obviously if a car was parked at a meter, or where-will-you, without the motorist having paid the necessary fee, he would have his name taken and would have to send the money off in the normal way. Quite obviously, there would have to be exceptions, in particular in the case of people who were resident in any particular city. They would be allowed a "res-park", similar to that at present in use in certain areas.

I should like, if I may, to comment on the "res-parks" for one moment. In my view, these "parks" ought to be free. I see no justification for penalising people who live in a city and are obliged to park their cars outside their front doors by making them pay more than the normal road fund licence, while those who live in the country can park for nothing outside their houses. It does not seem to me to be fair. We each pay the same road fund licence and I think we ought to be entitled to keep our motor cars outside our front doors. Equally obviously, disabled people, delivery vans of all kinds, service vans used by the electrician, the plumber and the like, would have to be excluded from payment. This could be put into practice almost straight away. We have traffic wardens; we have the people who issue road fund licences; so why not try it? It is not going to cost very much. If this by itself fails to curb the growth of traffic, particularly in Central London, then and only then must consideration be given to a complete ban on all private cars and lorries in London, except those used for justifiable purposes—and I will not bore your Lordships by suggesting what justifiable purposes are: we can all use our common sense.

Several taxi drivers to whom I have talked feel very strongly about it. After all, they earn their living by providing an essential service to all. When there is, as happens now almost daily, severe traffic congestion, their turnover drops by almost half. It is not difficult to see what the net result of that is going to be. They will either go out of business or, what is more likely, increase their fares to stay in business. It does not seem to me that that helps anybody. I am sure that your Lordships could find all kinds of objections to a suggestion of this nature, but I believe that a scheme such as I have suggested would help considerably towards easing the appalling traffic congestion in our cities and which can only get worse by an expansion of the motorway system. A further conglomeration of traffic will mean that eventually each and every one of us will come to a grinding halt.

Secondly, we must take urgent steps to get the movement of freight off the roads and on to some other means of conveyance. I think that has been mentioned already several times this afternoon. We have this figure of 50 per cent. which has been given—50 per cent. on the railways would only mean 2 per cent. off the roads. This is relatively easily understood. It was pointed out, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that 300 million tons were conveyed by road in 1968. This was in journeys up to 24 miles. According to my figures, which are slightly different from those the noble Lord has, there are only about 58 million tons of goods to be transported in journeys over 50 miles. It is perfectly obvious that it is going to be quite uneconomic to try to put on the railways journeys of under 24 miles because they are such short distances. Conversely, it must be economic to have long-distance freight traffic sent by rail rather than by road. In 1952 37-ton miles went by road and 44-ton miles went by rail. But in 1971 63-ton miles went by road and 18½-ton miles went by rail. This comparison shows that an increase of 100 per cent. of ton miles on to the railways would not be impossible. Such an increase, I am given to understand—and I cannot substantiate my figures—would reduce freight ton miles by 30 per cent. That is a very different figure from what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, led us to believe earlier.

To achieve these objectives we must have a fuller comprehensive public transport system. We have one of the finest comprehensive railway systems in the world. This system is slowly but surely being eradicted. It has been the "Aunt Sally" of the nationalised industries for years, and the potential of its usefulness to the betterment of our environment has never been accepted, even if realised. At present there are some 11,500 miles of track, and yet we hear suggestions that this might be reduced to some 3,000 miles. That surely must not be allowed to happen, otherwise any hopes that may exist of providing a national transport policy must go straight out of the window. What on earth would happen to industries which have been deliberately attracted to places like Inverness, with no railways at all? And, mentioning Inverness, we have the Highland Tourist Board trying to attract people to Scotland where at present, even with the existing limited railway service, the main roads are virtually choc-a-block throughout the summer. Without railways I have no doubt that many people would just give up trying to get there. What is the point of trying to develop an area without adequate means of communication, as without such means any attempt must surely be doomed to failure? Any new area should be planned to include rail access. What is the point of developing the Advanced Passenger Train—an excellent idea in itself, but again pointless if there is not sufficient track left on which to make full use of a sufficient number of them to make the case for development worth while?

Planning for the future of the railways must be one of the most important tasks facing any Government. Further closures of lines must be halted now. This will at any rate give the Government time to think again, as they are bound to do in view of our debate to-day and the strong weight of opinion against any further closures of railway lines. Serious consideration might be given to reopening lines, a far cheaper, in comparison, and less damaging exercise than building motorways. Those who have been discouraged from using the roads in their private cars to the degree I have outlined earlier, would more readily turn back to travel by train, so long as there were adequate car parks at all stations at one end, and good enough in-town transport at the other end. On Merseyside, for instance, a scheme has been introduced whereby free parking has been offered at the station to those who wish to travel by train. As a result, the use of these trains has nearly doubled. Why cannot we have that over the whole country? We might even find ourselves short of trains rather than short of roads. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot—and I may have misunderstood him—referred to engine drivers' poor respect for their passengers. Perhaps if more passengers would show more respect to their engine drivers, and say "Thank you" for a journey carried out with speed, efficiency and safety, the relations between British Rail employees and their customers would be greatly improved.

So much for passenger transport, but what about freight? Here again, in order to contain our expanding motorway system, we must take steps to encourage more heavy freight to be sent by means other than road transport. Unfortunately the cost at the moment of sending freight by road is, more often than not, cheaper and possibly quicker and more convenient than by train. As an exercise, I discovered the other day that to take 100 tons of timber across the North of England from Newcastle to Liverpool was £1.50 per ton more expensive by tail than by road. My Lords, I ask the question: Is this difference in price really justified, or is it so much more expensive because the elephantine organisation of the railways consumes so much expense in overheads? The noble Lord, Lord Somers, said that the railways were understaffed. Maybe in some quarters they are, but in other quarters that is not so. To cut costs, staff should be more evenly distributed and used more efficiently. For instance, why is it necessary to have my ticket looked at and punched no fewer than four times by four different people in a journey from Kings Cross to Harrogate: once when one goes on to the platform, once on the train, once between Leeds and Harrogate and finally to have the ticket taken at the other end? By that time it looks a bit like a sponge. It seems unnecessary.

If we can cut our overheads, should it not be possible to investigate ways and means of making our railway system more streamlined and more efficient, and try to cut these expenses? Would it not be right, in principle, to consider subsidising the railways to an even greater extent than at present in order to enable them to compete more closely with their competitors? For instance, manufacturers should be encouraged by means of a Government grant to build private sidings to handle their goods. I should like to see, if it were possible, more rail heads at our ports, and much more use made of the "ship to rail" container services for conveyance of a particular cargo to a distribution point by rail rather than road. There are places where this has been planned for, but they are being only partially used. The Harwich Parkstone Quay is a railway-built port extensively modernised in 1968–70 at a cost of about £5 million. It was estimated that this port could take about 75 per cent. of the throughput of the whole port. According to British Railways it is taking only some 50 per cent. Why is this? Is it bad salesmanship, or bad public relations? I do not know; perhaps someone can tell me. But it is wrong whatever the reason. The remainder of transport is conveyed by road. The result is obvious: there are complaints that the road from Colchester to Harwich is inadequate. Demands are made for road improvements which will cost £20 million—four times the cost of modernising the rail port. The answer to these demands needs to be a firm "No", and, at the same time, somebody should see to it that the freight is put back on the railways where it belongs. This could, of itself, also cut the costs in our docks, although I am aware of the difficulties between unions and their members regarding redundancies caused by such ideas. These are, however, difficulties which I believe in the country as a whole would have to be faced with logic and determination, and understanding and trust between the two sides. By such a system surely the requirement of road transport to convey hundreds of different goods each day on our roads could and should be reduced by siphoning them off on to our railways.

As your Lordships will know, railways are not the only means of transport. What about our inland waterways?—so long forgotten and neglected and many now, as a result, downright dangerous for those who live near them. Either these canals must be used or they must be filled in. The cost of filling them in is four times as much as that of restoring them. Surely the restoration of these canals must be a most important task, for they are capable of carrying hundreds of tons of freight, and if they were restored and the need for additional motorways was thereby obviated the saving in money alone would be colossal. For instance, I understand the canal from Hull to Leeds might cost in the region of £2½ million to restore, for a distance of some 50 miles. For a motorway connecting the two cities it would cost a great deal more than that, as we all know. Freight is not the only use to which these canals might be put. Many of them pass through very attractive countryside and if we spent money on these waterways we could, at the same time as we provided alternative facilities for the transport of freight, provide facilities for many people who would gladly use clean and pleasant canals to holiday on in boats, or to enjoy generally and appreciate in many areas of this country which so many people do not even know exist. This would indeed be a most satisfactory achievement.

I had intended to mention coastal shipping, but I have taken up enough of your Lordships' time so I will sum up by saying that I speak for a very large section of the community who do not want any further motorways, and therefore my view is that the restoration of our railway and waterways systems will provide for the needs of industry, together with the control of the commuter traffic. The cost of this will not by any means be cheap and I hope that due note will be taken of our remarks and that this day will see the beginning of a new national transport policy.

There are always many people who are ready to spend many hours trying to find reasons why things cannot be done. Could we not, just for a change, spend our time getting things done? We are always being told of the world shortage of fuel. What happens when motor transport, as a result of fuel supplies running out and nothing to replace them, becomes as obsolete as the railways are in danger of so becoming? It may be said that this will never happen—I have no doubt that a hundred years ago people said that of the railways—but if ever it did, let no one imagine that the motorways could be as easily torn up as the railways have been. They could not; they are there forever. It will be argued that the railways never paid their way, but does that matter? Do motorways pay their way? This cannot be judged very well as road users are not asked to pay interest on the money invested in road construction. The cost of road construction falls squarely on the taxpayers. What are the road costs in relation to rail cost? When working them out we must remember the cost of accidents, as has already been mentioned—£250 million per year; congestion, £2 million per day; pollution, law enforcement, provision of parking areas, social costs arising from noise, damage to buildings by direct collision or vibration effects. All these facts must be taken into account when comparing rail and road costs.

The annual cost of subsidising railways would be cheap compared with the initial cost of building motorways, apart from the cost of the maintenance, to say nothing of the fact that railway travel happens to be the safer and more relaxing, and that travel on roads is the most hazardous and tiring method of travel. Even if the cost of subsidising a comprehensive railway system were high, I have no doubt that most people in this country would accept it as a necessary expenditure for the peace and quiet of the country, the preservation of rural England, and the betterment of society.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I first offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for initiating this debate, which has been most useful. May I also take this opportunity to vent a few ideas, hopes and criticisms in the field of transport as it affects my hill-country area? This seems to be a little out of the general run of events to-day. With the apparent probability of discontinuing even more railway routes throughout the United Kingdom perhaps we should ponder awhile in order to take stock of the results.

In the West Highlands we have the West Highland Railway, running between Glasgow and Fort William (with a continuation up to Mallaig) which, we are told, may well be in imminent danger of closure. I plead that this may not take place. Quite apart from its scenic route and obvious charms, its abolition would mean many more motor cars flooding into the area at holiday times, dragging huge, unwieldly caravans and trailers, many of which their owners cannot reverse in emergencies; blocking our already inadequate and narrow road system, partly because we are very badly off for roadside vehicle accommodation and partly because we have no by-pass lanes that we could use to avoid congestion. Then, if oil comes to the North-West coast of the Highlands we shall need our railway even more than at the moment—and even if it does not arrive there are the few factories around Fort William which must depend upon a reliable entry-exit, open to free flowing transport at all times, which nobody could say would be the case with the roads.

I do not think that the Government will—or can—order the closing of the Glasgow-Fort William line, although I am not so sure of their decision for the track between Fort William and Mallaig. Instead of the Fort William town council "raising Cain" among themselves at their recent meetings, it might have been more helpful and useful if they had discussed their worries with me or others. I am the only representative in central Government for that area, apart from Inverness County's Liberal M.P., who must be terribly overworked because he is also part of the E.E.C. across the Channel! That, and the bad Press coverage given to West Highland Parliamentary affairs whenever my noble Scottish friends and myself toil to better the lot, can be a little disheartening after our efforts. Nevertheless, we shall keep trying, despite the odds.

At the moment the chance of the Fort William line remaining open seems to be somewhat stronger than that of the Kyle line, although I certainly hope that the latter will survive this storm, too! It occurs to me that if the case for the retention of the Kyle line is slim, then it could well be strengthened if the track could be retained as an experimental steelway for steam or the prototype hovertrain which is already in existence, thus allowing a route to be kept open for a type of maxi-taxi, formed and constructed by the inventors and innovators themselves. In the case of the hover-train the rails could well be rebuilt in stacked formation, partially to emulate its own track, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton.

The destruction of our railways in the very rural districts of this kingdom should never extend as far as actually ripping up the tracks (at vast expense) whatever might happen. Britain has for many years led the world in fascinating innovations, such as the hovertrain, which in this case could easily be adapted (now that it is no longer to have Government support) for light transport on one of the condemned island routes, as it needs the minimum of rail maintenance, due to its design.

Since the hover system is based on elevation designed to minimise friction between metal and metal, metal and water, metal and other forms of substances, the wearing down (with the exception of water!) of some sort of guide rail, as well as distortion of it, would be minimal and therefore it would be far more economical than might at first be obvious. Thus, keeping this in mind, there is surely a case for preserving the existing railway rails as an experimental track which could also double as an iron road for the people of the scattered communities thereabouts. British Rail's change of national policy since last year (due to public outcry) is remarkable. However, apparently their attitude has not changed so far as the Highlands are concerned, judging by recent maps of go-ahead electrification plans which all appear to stop at the Scottish industrial belt level, with their hideous overhead gantries, though Inverness may be included.

So if British Rail intend to desert the Highlands as their deliberate intention, perhaps they would have the grace to leave their rails in situ so that private enterprise may be allowed to rent or buy them at an economical rate in order to provide a paying service carrying freight and/or passengers. With three Highland lines in the balance: Glasgow to Fort William; the Crianlarich-Oban leg apparently due to close next year; and the scheduled closure of the Kyle line to go ahead on January 1 despite protests; surely if the worse comes to the worst they could at least defeat us with honour by giving us a legacy by which a viable form of transport could be introduced. I am informed that if all else fails, steam engine enthusiasts are very keen on acquiring the Kyle line as a passenger-carrying operation. It is said that they have been asked for £750,000, a ridiculously high figure and one guaranteed to oppose initiative and the betterment of a nation in distress. Transport is not a game, as many people are finding out as a result of the present rail strikes. So before British Railways are instructed to axe the Highland ones just let the London-based deciders consider their action. No doubt the British Railways Board have a brief that says that their trains must pay. Most directors of business have the same outlook. But if in this affair the Railways Board have no soul, perhaps they should show a little bit of heart, for this is a case of a lifeline—not one of several. Cut off a right hand and the left will seek justice, but cut off a head and the body will die.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like also to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for initiating this extremely interesting and important debate. Many noble Lords have spoken and given figures of the advantages and disadvantages of road and rail transport. Other noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, have spoken of the general social and environmental aspects of the problem. All in all, it is apparent that the transference of as much of the heavy freight traffic as is practicable from the roads to the railways would in some measure alleviate the social and environmental problems. For that reason alone, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and would think it folly to contemplate further rail closures. Had the noble Viscount been in his seat, I should have liked to tell him that along with many other regular passengers, when we arrive at Norwich on time I tap on the window and say, "Thank you" to the driver. But I must confess also that when we arrive 30 minutes late none of us does that. However, in all fairness, that is not the driver's fault.

The closing of so many of the branch lines, even though uneconomic in themselves, was a great mistake. At a meeting that I attended last night, Sir Sidney Greene said that the capillaries which were feeding the arteries had been cut off, and it must have been wrong. These branch lines feed the main lines and enable them to be more profitable, allowing for a far more attractive service to be given. However, there is still a national network of the railways and they are making a valuable contribution in commuter and inter-city passenger traffic; and I am sure could be used to even greater advantage in the heavy freight traffic. They are there and I feel that we should make use of them.

For instance, possibly far greater use could be made, as other noble Lords have said, of transport to and from our ports in the heavy container lines. It is wrong that road and rail traffic, and for that matter air and water traffic, should be in direct competition. I feel in some measure, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, that they must be complementary to one another and for our mutual benefit. That I know has been stressed by many other speakers. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it is impossible and uneconomic for all goods to be carried by rail. We have to live with and provide for the heavy road transport. We must have it.

If I may be allowed to become a little parochial, I should like to make a few remarks to your Lordships about the transport problems of East Anglia, and more particularly of Norfolk. Britain's entry into the Common Market has given East Anglia a new perspective. Although many of us living there would be happy for it to remain much as it is with its relative peace and quiet, we need to keep our young people there and work must obviously be found for them. We cannot and must not endeavour to retard progress, and there is in Norfolk considerable development potential. But that development should be, and I hope will be, of the type preferably ancillary to our basic agricultural industry: light industry, agricultural machinery and food processing and packaging spring to mind and most of that type of industry is dependent upon an efficient and sensible road system. In any case, in North Norfolk we no longer have any rail system, so it has got to be.

May I quote an example? There is in the small town of Fakenham an excellent food processing and packaging firm which obtains 90 per cent. of its produce from the area around. Some 180 to 200 people are employed. That is exactly the type of industry and development which we need. That firm's sales cover only about one-third of the country and there is obviously a possibility of further expansion, so improving the lot of the Norfolk people. But that, I feel, could be hampered by the inadequacy of the roads in the district. If I may quote the general manager when he was commenting on this, he said: I do wish roads into and out of Norfolk were better for lorry transport". I personally look forward with keen anticipation to the new Southern by-pass of Kings Lynn. That, I understand, is to be a dual carriageway with a new superb bridge over the River Ouse. That will eliminate a terrible bottleneck and will ensure swift and safe passage of transport around Kings Lynn and must be the right sort of development from both a practical and environmental aspect. But why are not roads so constructed elsewhere in the region? One appreciates the tremendous cost involved. One appreciates the usage of our most valuable asset, which is the land, but surely improvements that will be adequate in the years to come and not only in the very short term must be more economic than the piecemeal improvements which are perhaps inadequate for the fast flow and volume of traffic which they will carry upon their completion.

I am mindful of improvements which have been made or are designated which, although possibly alleviating the urban environmental problems, are now totally inadequate for the volume of traffic which flows on them. When travelling from Dereham to Norwich along the main A.47 I am very conscious of the frustrations caused by slow moving, heavy traffic, the inability to pass, even upon so-called improved stretches of road. A vast amount of heavy traffic from the rapidly developing trade of our East Coast ports, Felixstowe, Yarmouth, Hunstanton, Kings Lynn, will travel along this road, and dual carriageways are, to my mind, absolutely essential. The Dereham by-pass, scheduled for commencement, I believe, some time next year, is to be a single carriageway. Again this will to a certain extent eliminate the misery of the heavy lorries grinding their way through the centre of the town, but I think it must undoubtedly be inadequate in the future for the through traffic which will inevitably pass through.

I believe the estimated figure of expenditure for the trunk road construction in Norfolk for the period 1970 to 1975 is something in the region of £15 million. This seems to me a very small percentage of the national allocation. We badly need improved road transport; we need a better road system and we need infinitely better road connections from our ports to the industrial Midlands. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, when he sums up for the Government, if there is any possibility of any reconsideration of this figure.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for rising at this late hour, but I do not propose to keep your Lordships for more than a few moments in what I have to say. I rise chiefly for the purpose of supporting the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, who introduced the Motion which is giving rise to this interesting debate, that there should be some new thinking on the matter. It seemed to me implicit in the speech of my noble friend Lord Sandford that there was not much to be done in relieving the roads of freight traffic by transferring it on to the railways. I do not believe that is the case, and I want some new thinking on that subject.

I will give an example of what I mean. There was an article in the Sunday Times, and I will give a brief quotation. It said: It is perfectly possible for small groups of self-powered wagons even single wagons, to route themselves through the railway system under computer control, at a cost well below that of manually driven lorries, and giving equal or better service over any distance. I quite realise that to introduce a system of that sort, or even to introduce experiments for it, leads to staff problems. They will have to be faced. But the plea I want to make to the Government is that there shall be some new thinking on this question of transferring freight from road to rail; otherwise, in a few years' time the roads of this country are going to become impossible. As I say, it seemed to me implicit in the speech of my noble friend earlier that the Government have rather given up the idea that anything of this sort is possible. I would deny that, if there is new thinking given to the problem; and it is for that reason, to press for new thinking, that I have risen at this last moment.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for not having given notice to speak and also for not having been here at the start of the debate. I was moved to get on my feet by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who recollected a debate which we had in this House in 1960. Quite a lot of water has passed down various rivers under various bridges since those days. It is from the point of view of Wales that I should like to speak for just a few minutes. Like the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, I remember the days when the railway companies were still in being, when the Great Western Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway each had their territories, which overlapped somewhat in certain parts, and especially in Wales. The Great Western Railway generally covered the southern half of Wales extending to the Cardiganshire coast, and the L.M.S. extended its tentacles down from Shrewsbury into central Wales and indeed as far as Swansea.

Though your Lorships might not believe this, I can remember the time when one could get into a through carriage which started at Swansea and finished at Euston, having gone via Shrewsbury. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Champion, looking slightly incredulous, but I can assure him that that was so; I remember well travelling on such a train. In those days there was a network of little lines all over Wales. They were very useful; they served a very useful purpose during the war when petrol was short; and they were, incidentally, very useful to me as a boy travelling up and down the Wye Valley to spend the day with friends, complete with my bicycle.

But now the rail network in Wales is just a shadow of its former self. Only two main lines remain along the North and South coastal belts, one to Holyhead and the other to Fishguard. In between there is what one can only term a transport desert. It is relieved only by the central Wales line which I have just mentioned, from Shrewsbury to Llanelli, and the other line via Machynlleth to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. If you have to get to London or to anywhere else you have to get to a main line station. In my case, my nearest main line station is Hereford, and that is a drive of 35 miles. The service on that line, in my opinion, has deteriorated to such an extent that I long ago gave it up in favour of the South Wales line, which means a drive of 45 miles to Newport. I have to get that "under my belt" before can get a train to anywhere.

Even in these days not everyone owns a car. Your Lordships would be surprised how many people in the rural parts of Wales do not own a car. They stand on the road and get a lift into town on market day. They catch a bus if there is one, if they are lucky, or they get a lift with a friend. They even come into town on their tractor, perhaps. There is a surprising number of people who still do not own a car and are dependent on public transport or the goodwill of people they meet on the roads. Buses are very infrequent, and their movements seem to be cloaked in such secrecy as would do credit to M.I.5. It is extraordinarily difficult to find out what buses go in what direction and at what time. The Severn Bridge and the M.4 motorway have been an absolute boon to anyone travelling to South Wales and the southern part of Mid-Wales, and having at one time travelled quite regularly by train from Newport, I find now that I can drive to London via the M.4 in practically the same time in which previously I could drive to Newport, park the car and catch a train to London.

The motorways and the main railway lines are nearly all directed at London and the Midlands, for obvious reasons connected with industry. The internal communications within Wales are woefully inadequate. The geography of the country, of course, has a large bearing on the subject, but, even so, it is surprisingly difficult to net by road, and next to impossible by rail, from North to South Wales without going over the Border. My Lords, that is all I wanted to put before you—the needs of the people in the rural parts of Wales to get to their county town on market day and to get about generally, and the inadequacy of the existing services, both train and bus, for those who do not own their own car. I hope very sincerely that the existing rail services in Wales will not be depleted any further.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I thank my noble friend Lord Popplewell for having given us the opportunity to debate this whole problem of transport with its special reference to railways, and for the comprehensive way in which he opened the debate. It has been a very worthwhile debate, marked by a knowledge which one tends to find when discussing transport, because transport touches our lives at so many points. This is almost inevitable. I remember when I first got on to the local council, we then had three undertakings: gas, electricity and transport. At the first council meeting I attended I found the minutes of the committee which dealt with electricity passed through in about two minutes flat. The minutes of the gas undertaking went through at the same rate, but when we came to transport we took an hour and a half to get over the transport minutes. I wondered why, and turning to the gas manager sitting next to me, asked him. He was a Scot and he said, "Oh, they're all ruddy experts on transport". And that was the answer to the problem—we are all experts on transport. I must say that this debate would still have been worth while if we had had only one speech, that of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, with its recording for posterity of the gem of his Great-Aunt Aggie's letter. This was indeed a delight, and I am sure I shall refer to it from time to time.

My Lords, I very much pity the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, who has to reply to this debate. Speeches have been so good that he will scarcely dare to leave one out, but if he does touch on all the points that have been made he will be here until ten o'clock at least, if not much longer. Transport debates normally are a male preserve which made the speech of my noble friend Gaitskell all the more welcome. I must say I remember her pressing, through the usual channels, the necessity for a debate on this topic. I would have thought she will be satisfied with the outcome of her pressures and the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, took them up.

The Roberthall Committee on the transport needs of Great Britain in the next twenty years, in 1963, said that two fundamental problems faced the Ministry of Transport. First, what level of investment is called for in transport as a whole? How should this be divided between road and rail? How should road investment be divided between urban and inter-urban roads? Secondly, how should the growing traffic problem of towns and cities of varying sizes be tackled? These still remain the fundamental problems, but within them and impinging on them are a number of factors not so obvious at the time of the Report. There is the revolt of the people against the juggernauts; the widespread opposition, mentioned by several noble Lords, to covering the countryside with ever-lengthening and widening strips of concrete. There is a threat to our cities and towns of motorway-type roads with spaghetti junctions and other horrors. The reaction of people to these things and to the acknowledged danger of fumes and noise and, of course the appalling casualties on the roads is becoming more obvious with every day that passes.

It seems to me that there is a wider recognition of the social consequences of the closure of little used railway lines, and particularly that experience has shown that bus services provided initially as an alternative to the lines that were closed down soon die for the same reason that the branch line dies. What is left in many cases is a community composed very largely of old people who have no way of getting into the towns. This is one of the great problems caused by the closing of the branch lines.

Emotive language is much a part of the language of the politician, and "juggernaut" is very much an emotive word. Whoever seized upon it for use in connection with forty-ton lorries was not far out, for a juggernaut is defined as an irresistible, relentless, ruthless force which destroys all that comes in its way. By sheer weight and size alone these lorries constitute a menace, shaking historic buildings, rendering almost uninhabitable people's houses through cracked ceilings and so on, and by their noise they shatter peace where peace existed before; by their fumes they poison the very air we breathe.

Of course, I admit that not all the casualties on the roads are due to lorries. But a report in the Sunday Times in September last showed that every two seconds of every day a heavy lorry starts out somewhere in Britain with a load heavier than the law permits, yet the average fine a lorry owner faces if caught is only £10. The same report stated that frightening defects were found in a check on the A.40—defects which might have caused complete loss of control over steering. The very high standard of rail safety would disappear entirely if railways adopted the same sort of standards of engine preparation and examination of rolling-stock as seem to satisfy very many, too many, lorry owners.

I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for having placed on record the figures on road and rail safety that he gave to us at the outset of the debate, and indeed for his very well balanced speech. We have to-day 208,000 miles of road for 15 million vehicles; by the year 2010 it is estimated that we shall have 40 million vehicles, and for the same ratio of vehicles to road space we shall need 550,000 miles of road. Just imagine what is going to happen to our countryside, to our towns, when we have over half a million miles of road in this country. And of course the pressure now is for wider roads, more lanes to the roads, more width, and more countryside taken away from us.

We are spending £500 million a year on maintaining and building roads. We run great concrete swathes through our lovely countryside and through our towns, destroying houses and everything that comes in the path of their progress, and overtopping houses in building these huge and unsightly spaghetti junctions. The question we have to ask in this connection is, what could not be done in the way of modernising our railways if only half that sum were spent annually for a few years on track, on signalling, and on modernising rolling stock on our railways? Incidentally, if only a tiny portion of the money spent on Concorde had been devoted to railways, something of value would have been created, for who really cares if an hour or two can be cut from the journey to New York?—I certainly do not. What people care about, especially if they are commuters, is getting home a few minutes earlier in something like comfort. If we really want high speeds, let us have them within this island by the development of the advanced passenger train—although I must admit to feeling that existing rail speeds on the inter-city services are high enough for me. Perhaps I have that feeling because it so happened that a few years ago, after having left Derby and passed through Burton-on-Trent at a speed of 60 miles an hour, the engine went off the track and turned on its side. My coach went off the rails and that gave me my feeling that 60 miles an hour is just about the limit for me.

For how much longer are we going to persist in the prestige folly of Concorde at the expense of people and their comfort? I must admit that here is a difficulty. We have to some extent to develop our inventions. I thought that there was a great deal in what the noble Lord said about the linear motor, which I believe runs on a sort of magnetic system which propels it along. It would still be a tracked system, but nevertheless it would perhaps be worth while attempting a development of this kind, provided that it does not cost anything like the Concorde. We do not want any more of that development for some time. As an example of what could be done, it is estimated by Mr. John Ogilvie, who has looked at this matter, that a reconstruction of Southern Region's major approaches and termini could revolutionise the reliability of commuter services, and enable them to integrate with London's buses. What could be done for the South could also be done for the North, the East and the West of London, and at a trifle of the cost of the destruction of existing houses and properties required for the London motorway plan, which is estimated at some £1⅓ thousand million or £1½ thousand million. How much I agree here with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, who I must say seemed to me to be more pro-railway than I, a railwayman.

With their existing rights of way, railways are capable of moving large numbers of people and masses of freight. It has always seemed to me that if it makes good sense to build roads on stilts in our bigger cities, it would make good sense to build railways on stilts but over existing railways, so that you would add to the amount of traffic that could be carried into London and into the existing London termini. Everyone who has ever looked at the movement of people in and around towns is convinced that only by strengthening, improving and expanding the public transport services can we hope to cope with modern requirements. That means the maximum use of existing railway systems and their potentialities, both underground and overground; the speeding up of bus movements by bus lanes; and some restriction on the use of the private car in town centres, where so often they take up very nearly a bus road space, with one person being conveyed as against a possible 50 or 60 in a bus. This is a thought, and one to which we must always pay attention when we are thinking in terms of transport.

We—that is the public—must make up our minds as to what we want our railways and bus services to do. At present they are struggling to reconcile two mutually contradictory objectives; namely, to provide a service for the public and to pay their way, and they are doing neither satisfactorily. I must admit to favouring the imposition of some form of commercial discipline on our railways and bus managers; but the problem is, and it must be, how to reconcile a monetary discipline with the provision of a social service. The 1968 Act went some way towards this, but the real solution of the necessary capital investment problem has still to be solved. The answer must depend to some extent on a cost benefit analysis, which would evaluate the effects of road building and road use on the environment as well as social costs as a whole.

On the question of the investment of capital, it must always be remembered that the railways are the high productivity form of transport. This is because they are potentially the cheapest mass producer of transport facilities, but only if highly mechanised. Here I support what the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, and others have said: there must be a lot of research here. We know the difficulties that that will cause, among them staff problems. Nevertheless, I think that the future necessitates a great deal of research on this aspect. I do not know whether there are any really reliable estimates of the cost to the nation of road congestion. One sees figures from time to time, and I believe that the Road Research Laboratory has produced an estimate which shows a staggering figure; the saving of a portion of this amount, if applied to our public transport system, would relieve that congestion with advantage all round. I am bound to admit to a fear that the pressures of land for housing may cause Governments to bring too much pressure on to the Railways Board to sell off railway owned land which might he required for future railway development, particularly as local authorities under the pressure of road congestion tend to ban cars and lorries from town centres. Many noble Lords have in fact referred to this fact.

My Lords, I am a railwayman, but not a fanatical one blind to the advantages of the use of the internal combustion engine in a freely moving vehicle. We cannot go back to the horse and buggy and railway era such as we had in the last century. People who have experienced the advantages of the greater mobility brought to us by the car, or who expect to enjoy its advantages, would not stand for too great a restriction on its use; neither can we contemplate forcing all freight back on to the railways. The greater flexibility of road transport is a decided advantage for it brings transportation nearer to the ideal of one integrated movement from origin to destination, with consequent speed and the minimum of breakages. Freight liner development is bringing the railways nearer to this ideal, and more and more research and capital must be devoted to its improvement and expansion. The essential requirement of a highly industrialised society such as ours is to be able to compete successfully against other highly industrialised countries, and for this purpose transport, which enters into practically every cost in an important way, must be an ever present consideration.

I doubt very much whether manufacturers and others have any particular desire to own and run their own transport if specialist undertakings could meet their requirements of relative cheapness, freedom from breakages and speed in transport from source to delivery. If railways cannot provide just that, more heavy lorries will find their way on to the roads with increasing demands for more stepping up of a road building programme, demands which, in the context of our economic relationship with the rest of the world, it is difficult to refuse. I recognise the Government's difficulties in this respect, and indeed those of every Government. By the way, I thought that the figures of what would be the result of increasing freight traffic by 50 per cent. tonnage transferred to the railways from the roads which were given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, were perhaps a trifle loaded. He said, I think, that if you transferred to the railways an additional 50 per cent. of freight traffic it would only take 2 per cent. off the roads. The really important figures in this connection surely are ton miles; in which case, if you added 50 per cent. to the ton miles carried by the railways, you would take 14 per cent. of the ton miles off the roads. This would be an important figure, certainly much bigger and more important than the figure of 2 per cent. mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.

Perhaps as a railway trade unionist, I should comment that railwaymen must not dodge their responsibility for providing a reliable service and by their actions drive more and more people to cars, and here I support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. The car, to which we are likely to drive more people, is something which gives people the feeling of being masters of their own movement, despite the fact that so much time in cars in towns is spent fuming with the vehicle at rest in modern traffic conditions. But I must add that railwaymen who have seen their numbers reduced from 455,000 in 1962 to 200,000 in 1971, with their productivity increased in terms of passenger and freight movement, cannot be expected to stand on one side and see others streaking ahead on wages with differentials being widened between their industry and others, because the railways provide a service and not a product the labour and production costs of which are easily passed on to the consumer. That, of course, is very much at the heart of the problem we were discussing in this House on Monday last.

My Lords, reference has been made to the publication by the Sunday Times of the so-called official plan which would reduce the 11,600 miles of railway network to 6,700 miles. I accept completely the assurance that that plan was merely a hypothetical statement of a possibility and not a probability, but the publication of that certainly had the worthwhile effect of arousing public opinion. On the possible further contraction of the railway network and particularly in connection with branch lines in Wales which I know, as does the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, I welcome the undertaking given by the Minister of State, Welsh Office, that he could expect the same number of grants for unremunerative lines in Wales to be made in 1973 as in 1972 and that a Cambrian coastal line will be kept open for the whole of 1973. This will at least give an opportunity for further consideration of the whole position in Wales, as indeed it will in England, because I believe the same conditions will apply.

The only specific questions which I wish to put to the Minister who is to reply to the debate are these: what is the present position in relation to the Graham Rees Study and the pattern of communication throughout Wales and the future needs of Wales, and the relationship of that Study to the wide-ranging review of the long-term prospects of British railways which the Minister for Transport Industries said in July last had been put in hand? Who is conducting that wide-ranging review, and when can we expect to get a report on the range of courses open to the country?

I have one more specific question on a topic mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst. On Friday last the Minister for Transport Industries said in a Written Answer that he hoped to publish a Green Paper later this month on the proposal for a Channel Tunnel and those interested would I am sure like to know whether the body conducting the wide-ranging review of long-term prospects for transport in this country is to give special attention to the development of the railways so as to converge on the tunnel from all parts of Britain and not only from London. If use is going to be made of such a tunnel, we do not want everything to be channelled towards it through London, with all its consequent difficulties.

My Lords, I most certainly support those noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Popplewell, who seek a national plan, rendering to the road that which is suitable to the road and to the rail that which is suitable to the rail—and that is the root of the whole problem. How can we, in fact, achieve that? I also support wholeheartedly the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, with his deep knowledge. I respect the fact that he was once a director of the railway on which I was working, the Great Western Railway. I am glad that I never had to appear before him for any reason, for any dereliction of duty or failure, though I imagine he would have been as kindly as we know him here, if that had in fact happened. But the fact is that he was my boss at one time.


My Lords, I must say that the noble Lord would have liked it if he had done, because we had some very happy relations with people who appeared before us. It was in the pensions committee and the appointments committee, in particular, where we saw people. We were the most human railway of them all.


My Lords, I suppose that I can only say "Amen" to that. That really sums up the feeling that we all had about that railway of ours. What the noble Earl said was that he hoped there would be a little less parsimony by the Government in their consideration of the necessary capital for our railways. I think I can sum up what this debate has been all about, by saying that the essential requirements of the country in terms of transport are the maximum efficiency, tempered by respect for the people and their environment.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, at this hour, after some 19 noble Lords have given the House their views—and what a wealth of information and thought-provoking challenges we have had !—your Lordships will not want me to answer every point in detail, always assuming that I could do so. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his sympathy in my efforts, and what I shall do is lightly to pick up a few of the threads from the tangled web of transportation, and gently look at them in the light of noble Lords' speeches. We are all in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, as we so often are on these occasions, not only for having raised the subject but for having covered such a wide field in his speech. If I may criticise the debate in just one respect I feel that, whereas in so many debates we label people "Government" or "Opposition", there has been a slight tendency to-day to label people "railway" or "road", and we have had some notable protagonists on both sides. Equally, we have had some very statesmanlike speeches and the last one, with its well-balanced views, was one of the finest I have heard on the subject.

I hope that I shall not have to repeat the points made by my noble friend Lord Sandford. Although certain noble Lords did not like the facts and figures presented by him, if they will carefully read the report of his speech they will find in it a lot of impartial facts which do not weigh down the scales on one side or the other. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, began by saying that, like so many other noble Lords, he had been upset by the closure of run-down branch lines. That is indeed a matter which has caused much sadness on the railways, and I do not suppose any Minister has enjoyed giving his consent. But, as a matter of fact, when the noble Lord's Party were in government some 2,680 miles were closed down, and since we came to power two-and-a-half years ago only 300 miles have been closed down. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and my noble friend Lord Sandford said, my right honourable friend in another place has given the assurance that grant-aid for certain lines will continue this year, and that is an important point.

The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and my noble friends Lord Gainford, Lord Rankeillour and Lord Swansea spoke very feelingly about Scottish and Welsh railways. It so happens that I still have in my head an Answer that I gave last week to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull—who regrets that he was not able to stay to make his speech—about a Light Railway Order in the case of the Central Wales line, to which my noble friend Lord Swansea referred. We have said that the light railway can continue for another year, as it is recognised that it is socially necessary. It is actually costing £464,000 a year to run, and the takings are only £45,000 but because it is serving a social purpose it will continue. That is an example of what we are doing. I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, when he said that to look separately at each form of service is bad. Each Department and each board has been expressing its feelings, and we shall have the policy review which many noble Lords have asked about. We do not yet have the policy review, but we have an outline and the officials are still battling with the main document. But in due course it will come before the Minister, and when he has given it more weighty consideration it will be put before Parliament and debated.

The parking problem was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, who pointed out that the centres of the towns are becoming blocked, which is not good either for the people in the towns who have essential work to do, or for those trying to get in and out. Only the other day, I made the point that 700 people coming into London by car travel in 500 cars. If those same people came in by bus they would need 14 buses, and they could all come in on Lord Popplewell's train. Trains for commuter services are very important and have a useful place in the economy. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, mentioned new development industry roads, and went on to say that his little village of Sherburn-in-Elmet, which I know well, has had its railway station closed. The only business connection I had with Sherburn-in-Elmet was that, when I was a farmer, I used to send many pigs to the bacon factory there each week. Had I relied upon the railways I should have had a very busy time taking my pigs by lorry to my local station, having them shunted to York and then put on to another train. It would not have been as convenient or as quick as a lorry. That is a small matter, but it illustrates the point of the noble Lord that in order to he efficient you must look at what people need.


My Lords, the point about Sherburn-in-Elmet is not so much the bacon factory. I agree that it is important, but there is also the question of the gypsum.


Yes, my Lords. I take the noble Lord's point on that. Our roads carry the highest density of traffic in Europe, but it is fair to say that there has been some slight exaggeration about hidden subsidies on roads. The fact is that in motor fuel tax, in licensing duty and in purchase tax on new cars we take a good £2,000 million a year, against the £1,000 million which goes out in all expenses on roads. Of course, that does not take into account all the indirect taxes, which also come into this question of the roads; so I think one must bear that in mind. As regards the railways, the annual grant which the Government are now giving to the railways is, as has been said, about £140 million a year. This, of course, is on top of our having written off £3,000 million over the last 10 years.

Perhaps I may here deal with one other point. There has been a great deal of confusion about percentages. I do not think they are vital to the argument, because the country needs both systems: we must have cars and we need railways. But as to the figures of metric tons carried by road and rail, just in tonnage my information is that approximately 90 per cent. is carried by road and 10 per cent. by rail. If you break it down into metric tons per kilometre, you then get about 78 per cent. being carried by road and about 22 per cent. by rail. I think that gives it approximately. So it is roughly double when you do it on the mileage basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, took us right out of our depth and into the future. His was a speech which was way beyond my personal knowledge. We were also taken into the future by my noble friend Lord Redesdale. Perhaps I might say a word about what our ideas are on this business of the future by way of faster travel. We have all been attracted by the idea. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, is perhaps a little bit fearsome of it, as even I am occasionally when I go on these trains and they rock from side to side. But when these speeds are achieved by new technology which has been developed in this country we are even more pleased. But the case for new and faster surface transport systems depends in this country to-day basically on the inter-city passenger transport. That is where the main use is at the moment. The Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry have both carried out a study of the growth of the market overall, and how it is likely to be divided between the various modes—rail, road and conventional and short takeoff and landing aircraft.

This study took specific account of tracked hovercraft, as well as of new types of conventional trains being developed by the Railways Board. We decided there is no market in the foreseeable future for the tracked hovercraft development because the cost, we estimate, would amount to £4 million over the next three years, and it would have involved extending the test track to three miles and testing the motor at speeds of up to 200 miles an hour. Even with this amount of expenditure, the production part of development would not have been reached by that time. In the interval, the Board's high-speed diesel train will be developed and we think a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour by the end of the 1970s will be achieved with the Advanced Passenger train. The Railways Board plan to introduce this advanced passenger train on electrified routes first at this maximum speed of 125 miles an hour and then later at 155 miles an hour. The Railways Board's proposals for this high-speed transport would therefore envisage successive cuts in journey times on the major inter-city routes over the next 10 or 15 years.

These studies of the market for intercity travel showed that a tracked hovercraft system in this country would not be economically viable before 1985, whereas the diesel high speed ones would. Furthermore, I am advised that there was no specific overseas interest in the British air cushion vehicle which had been shown, and it was on these grounds that we decided, therefore, not to go ahead with that major expenditure.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord there? The noble Lord was referring to the air cushion vehicle. I specifically spoke about a vehicle which was supported by electro-magnetic forces.


Yes, my Lords, I am coming on to that. It is possible that in the very late 1980s and in the 1990s there might be a customer requirement for a system requiring new infrastructure, such as we have been discussing. The Government's present policy is to continue with the development of those elements of the project where further research can be justified at the present time, including the linear induction motor and magnetic suspension and guidance systems, about which the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has so eloquently spoken. We are supporting that; and the research is being done by Hawker Siddeley to the tune of some £600,000 over the next four to six years. We are also supporting research into magnetic suspension at a rate of £150,000 each year for the next two years.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that there are a number of Japanese gentlemen in the country at the moment examining what is going on at Imperial College?


Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that.


My Lords, I have not taken part in this debate, but I came in especially to hear the answer to that question (not that I am technically informed on it) and I am rather chagrined to think that we are losing the spirit of adventure. Surely it is worth putting a few millions in at this period to see whether there is anything in it. It would be money well spent, I think, and the public would welcome it.


My Lords, I have no doubt that if my right honourable friend is advised that more money is needed to be put into this research he will consider it, and I am told that that is what he is doing at the moment.

We then had a strong speech from the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, who took us to task. He drew attention to the fact that Germany and France both subsidise their railways to a much greater extent than we do. One must not forget, my Lords, that earlier, before the road programme got going, we carried out a heavy investment programme on the railways in the first years after the war; so that has been built in already. I should like to point out also that the rail services in France and Germany are much greater than they are in Britain. In France they are, I should think, about twice our size, and in Western Germany about half as big again. I do not make any particular point about that—


But it is a rather important point, my Lords. I am sure the noble Lord does not want to mislead anyone, but in actual fact immediately after the war years we did not invest in the railways. We had run down the railways during the war years anticipating that they would have money put into them after the war, but it just did not happen. It was not until some years after the war that we commenced to do anything at all with our railways. We should not get a wrong impression.


My Lords, the war seems so long ago that I was using the term "after the war" rather loosely. We had an investment programme in the railways, if I remember rightly, of £1,660 million. I agree that it was not immediately after the war. At any rate, as to the subsidies abroad, everyone in this debate has been assuming that if you put money into a railway then ipso facto it becomes somethinp much better. What we have to ask ourselves is: are all these countries necessarily doing what is best for the transport system of that country? We have yet to find out. We have had speeches from several noble Lords, particularly from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, pointing out that if it did not serve the purposes it was wanted to serve, no amount of money poured into it was going to be of much avail. So I think we should wait patiently to see what is going to come out of the policy review.

We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, that rail-users were not educated in subsidies. From that, I took it that he means that if they were more educated they would probably pressurise their political friends and opponents to subsidise the railways more. As I say, I do not regard that as a particularly valid point. We are subsidising the railways at the moment. We are keeping uneconomic lines going, and we are keeping all options open. Then we come to my noble friend Lord Teviot, who wanted to increase capital expenditure. This, again, is the same problem. I will write to him about the Lewes-Uckfield line, if I may. I do not think the House will want to hear about that now, but I have the answer for him. We are actually investing in new railway schemes as well as supporting the day-to-day running. I would mention the £50 million that we have contributed to the Tyneside scheme which is going to cost £65 million. Fifty million pounds has been produced by the Government in the last two years.

The study of behaviour of drivers, bus, train or lorry, is a matter which is continually being studied by many bodies; and alterations in the law and agreements with the unions concerned are continually being made. He mentioned that diesel charges for buses were more expensive than for diesel trains. I would point out to my noble friend and to the House that on stage services, out of every 22½p, 12½p is reimbursed. The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, made a wise speech. He regretted not being able to remain here to the end. He put his finger on what is a singularly hopeful matter, about people wishing to see freight put on trains. He asked about the Channel Tunnel. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, also asked about that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. I can say something about this proposal. As your Lordships know, we are awaiting a decision shortly which I am not able to anticipate but which has to be made this summer. At that time the details will be set out in the Green Paper which is to be published shortly and which I think your Lordships will find fascinating reading.

Supposing the Tunnel is built, it would give British Rail and the National Freight Corporation a tremendous opportunity to develop freight services between centres in Britain and on the Continent. As the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, said, not just between London, Dover and Paris, but from Manchester to Paris, Glasgow to Milan, over these longer routes of which so few are available in this country, rail freighting has a much greater economic advantage. Both full trains and liner type container services should be attractive to the customer, to whom the Channel Tunnel should offer greater security, frequency and reliability at lower cost. The provision of direct rail services from these regional centres to the Continent will give industries in the regions better access to their markets and reduce any disadvantages of remoteness. We should all benefit if substantial volumes of freight were transferred all over the country and in particular from congested roads in the London area and the South-East as a whole to the purpose-built rail systems and then the Undergrounds this side of the coastal towns. There is a real possibility of British Rail beating the juggernauts at their own game. This is a distinct possibility if we go ahead with the Tunnel in the near future. When it is built this will happen.

There were, I think, questions asked about routing and building of rail link roads. I have no doubt that British Rail will be able to route lines so that they do not go through the centre of London. The Tunnel will also be served by the M.20 and the M.25 Motorways which would keep motorists from going through London. There is a distinct and exciting possibility that the Tunnel will give railway enthusiasts a real economic jump ahead in their freight traffic.

The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, also wished the railways to be taken out of the straitjacket a bit more. We all sympathise with this view. I hope that the Policy Review will prove productive on that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, drew attention to this green and pleasant land being cut to ribbons. We must have a little common sense here. We have already 200,000 miles of roads and we have 11½ thousand miles of railway. To talk about the great road programme that we have undertaken by the 1980s to have three and a half thousand miles of good motor and trunk routes, when of these three and a half thousand miles, there are to be involved only—


My Lords, I know that my noble friend is doing us very proud and passed me by two or three minutes ago but he has not yet come to the traffic lights. One point I mentioned was a catalyst for the railways. What I wanted was to point out about the Brighton railway which is a line of proven strength and profitable. I should like it to he strengthened more because if not it will become weak and withered like the other lines he has spoken about. He spoke about the 12½ per cent. subsidy to the stage services. This is only bringing fuel tax back to 10 per cent. on road transport where the railways pay 1 per cent. That concession is merely a paper thing and does not mean anything at all.


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. About the Brighton matters, I thought I answered that question when I said that I would write to him. When the noble Lord intervened I was saying that out of the three and a half thousand miles of motor and trunk roads we are completing by the 1980s, it will involve over the coming decade only a further 1,000 miles of road. When we talk, as Lord Crawshaw did, about cutting the country to ribbons, we are only adding to about 200,000 miles 1,000 miles more. Added to that is the fact that we have these roads as well landscaped as possible. While they are being built it is a misery for about two years, but when they are landscaped—and, as my noble friend said, we have several civic awards for good design—they serve a purpose. I would say to my noble friend, Lord Crawshaw, that he need not worry too much about that.

About the disabled and elderly people I think I will not weary your Lordships with the details but will write to the noble Lord on the points he raised. The points about the disabled do not differ very much from what was said in the relevant debate in this House. He gave the reports on procedure and how far we were going. He was pleased with taxes and various things, I will write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, like many others, favoured spending more money on the railways. The goods yards are outdated. He was a hit hard on British Rail. He spoke about the goods yards and stations as though they were Victorian slums. I think that British Rail have done a good job. There are new stations going up in many places. I have seen goods yards in Yorkshire, London, Lancashire and Scotland. I think he was over-yolking the pudding when he described the goings on. I could not agree more with one thing he said. If you make the railways more comfortable, of course this is going to help to attract passengers. Roll-on and roll-off is a point that British Rail are aware of. There is no objection to their going ahead with this. If they can get the business, it is theirs.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made his usual charming speech. He raised the point of dangerous chemicals and this is one we had from the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, only last week. I have a Question to deal with next week, so we will be hearing more about that. It is sad to see them on the roads if they have an accident. It would be equally sad to see an accident in which a train was involved. The Government are watching out for these problems. My noble friend Lady Young dealt with this point the other day and I do not think that I need to say more about it. I was glad that he drew attention to the British Railways £5 million research and development budget. He said it was successful and useful, and I would endorse that.

We had the slightly nostalgic speech, containing a note of pathos, from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, who introduced us to the redoubtable "Aunt Aggie". Like the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I shall think about her for many weeks to come. Her advice of, "A penny fare for all" would have been splendid if it had been practicable. Anyway, my Lords, the Great Western Railway went on happily, I hear. The noble Earl, speaking as a manufacturer dealing with freighters, felt that the railway enthusiasts were rather putting the cart before the horse. You have to find people willing to take the horse and cart, even if you cover the cart with gold and have it drawn by a racehorse. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke for the "Road Lobby" as vigorously as one might expect. I do not think I need to answer him, as he mostly made statements. We know that State lorries are unpopular, but they are essential. Local authorities can divert them from the roads as soon as by-passes are available and take them away from centres of population. My right honourable friend will give his consent where that is suitable.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, discussed Mr. Marsh's analysis. He is a very enthusiastic backer of his own views and I pay tribute to him and his Board for the way they are handling the present unpleasant situation in which they find themselves. As a Member of Her Majesty's Government, I do not think that I can be expected to comment on the views which Mr. Marsh is trying to put before the public. We shall consider them, and the views of the Board, in the Policy Review.

The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, took us back to George Stephenson. We have gone in this debate to the far future and also we have gone back in history. The noble Lord made an interesting point about cargo airships. I was aware of this. As he told us, there has been a resurgence of interest in this matter. Three groups are working on the question of large rigid airships for cargo carrying. The attitude of the Department of Trade and Industry towards airships has been neutral. The research and development element was thought to be small compared with the construction cost, and the intention of the firms involved has been to build for their own use rather than for sale. But we are interested, and we have assisted with technical advice as part of our general support for the aviation industry. We are in close touch with the companies working on this matter. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary made a statement about this last May.

I must apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, because I was out of the Chamber when he made his speech, but I have a note of his remarks. I do not know whether British Waterways would approve of his idea of filling in the canals. I think they may have views about the environmental pleasure which the canals give to many people, either for fishing or boating. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, wished for more containers to be used and spoke about East Anglia and Norfolk. He made a speech which I might describe, without punning, as worthy of his name. I cannot promise that there will be any priority for Norfolk, but no doubt my right honourable friend in another place, and the Department, and also the local county council will note his remarks.

My noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury came back to the Sunday Times, which in the Department has been known in the past as "the paper of science fiction". Like the rest of us, he will have to wait for the full Policy Review. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, made a charming speech about Wales which would have done Lord Davies of Leek's heart good. I dealt with the points raised by the noble Lord in my reply about the Central Wales Railway. Internal communications in Wales have always been bad because of the mountainous terrain and we have to make the best of conditions.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, spoke about "spaghetti junctions" and the dangers on roads in general. We must remember that, despite the fact of a few horrible accidents in fogs, the accident rate on the M. roads is lower than on other roads in the country. I think it is hard to pick on "spaghetti junctions" because not so many accidents occur there. The noble Lord also discussed juggernaut lorries. I do not think I want to go deeply into that matter. We are fighting the E.E.C. intention to increase axle weights and also to stop lorry weights going up to 40 tons. But the axle weights do the most damage to the environment. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, we have passed various Acts of Parliament and Regulations recently which are now beginning to "bite". Lord Champion's point about many of these vehicles being in bad condition and overweight will be dealt with under that legislation. More inspections are being made; there are more people at the ports and we are getting to know more about the tricks that have been played in the past. We have not had legislation before which would enable us to deal with them.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to the Research Laboratory, and I think that some of their suggestions about savings are very interesting. The Government are looking at this. I think that the noble Lord really put the subject of the debate in a nutshell when he said that we must make up our minds what service we want. We have to reconcile a monetary discipline with the provision of a social service. I do not think that anyone could have described the nub of this debate in a better way. I do not need to say more than that, because that is what the Policy Review is all about.

The noble Lord also asked about Professor Graham Rees who has been making a wide-ranging study on the pattern of public transport in Wales which was commissioned by the Welsh Council; and the Secretary of State for Wales contributed some money towards the study. Although we are expecting reports during this year and next year, I think the noble Lord will agree that the Government must be free to act as is necessary in the interval. We cannot be committed to holding up decisions until Professor Rees has finished his work, although we shall take into account anything which is reported in the interval.

My Lords, we have had a long and interesting debate—I apologise to your Lordships for having spoken for so long—and have covered a considerable number of the aspects of transport which impinge so greatly on our daily life. We have gone from Aunt Aggie's advice to the Great Western Railway chairman and memories of George Stephenson, and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, looked at the 1980s. We have reviewed the difficult and complex problems which arise from the dramatic growth of road transport, both by the individual in his use of the private motor car for social and business purposes, and by the industrialist for the movement of goods. As we have seen, this has created great problems for the long-established public transport system provided not only by the railways but by bus operators throughout the country. But it is the railways in particular which have felt the full force of competition, as shown by the substantial financial losses they have incurred since the mid 1950s, despite massive capital investment in modernisation programmes and considerable assistance on revenue account, which amounted in all to assistance by the rest of the community of over £3,000 million.

What we now have to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, is to assess the sort of transport system we need for the 1980s, after taking account of social and environmental factors as well as economic issues. Given good will on all sides, I am sure that between us we shall evolve a transport system which meets as fully as possible the needs of the community throughout the length and breadth of the land.

9.2 p.m.


My Lords, there is little for me to say, but I should like to express gratification at the nonpolitical line that has been developed in this important debate. It has been most interesting to see the unity from all sides of the House in expressing the view that something must be done to deal with the difficult position on our roads and to get traffic back on to the rails. I hope the Secretary of State will read carefully what has been said here to-day, and will ensure that, in the policy review which we understand is now taking place, the rules of the game will be changed a little and easement given to the financial control: in other words, the Railways Board must be taken out of the straitjacket and allowed not just to keep the traffic they have, and certainly not to have that traffic reduced, but to go ahead and get traffic back on to the system. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and I sincerely trust that some good will come from our deliberations this afternoon. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.