HL Deb 04 December 1974 vol 355 cc227-90

4.15 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I hope I am not being too quick in getting back to transport. Our debate today on traffic in towns was almost sure to begin on a note of frank frustration, but frustration is not enough. Indignation may produce some short-term palliatives, but the congestion, delays, accidents, noise, irritation, smell and general hassle that we are talking about today will yield, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, only to balanced, comprehensive, expensive, unpopular policies consistently and sensitively applied over a long period in our great cities. So I should like us to endeavour today to take a step or two along that long, hard road, voicing such indignation as we feel we must at the vices and aberrations of others, but making as much as we can of the good progress and the fair prospects that can be discerned, and encouraging virtue and vigour where they may be found.

I have said that the manifold problems of urban transport will yield only to comprehensive and balanced policies. But until recently it has been impossible to develop such policies. Now—and this is what makes this debate of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, so timely—it is, thanks to the reorganisation of local government, possible to do this because author-ties with the spread of responsibility and power to cover the whole of our great cities are in existence for the first time. The metropolitan counties of Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands, are now in being to join with the Greater London Council in overall responsibility for transport over the whole of these great urban areas for which they are responsible. But it is a mere seven months since they assumed their duties; and Strathclyde, with Glasgow at the heart of it, has yet to follow suit next April. Again, until recently it has been an almost universal practice to have the government of each borough arranged on strictly departmental lines: one department building roads, another managing traffic, another planning redevelopment. Ideas of corporate management of local affairs which are now being introduced are still a novel experience for many local authority officers and members.

Thirdly, up to this moment the financing of each aspect of urban transport has been fragmented into different budgets: one grant for buses, another for bus lanes, another for bus staff, another for highway construction, yet another for police and wardens, and yet another for British Rail. This financial fragmentation is now ending and we have instead, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has reminded us, a single comprehensive annual bid by each transport authority made up of all their transport policies and programmes—the TPPs—on the basis of which the Secretary of State for the Environment pays a single block grant towards their transport budget. So by these three separate innovations, among the first fruits of the new Department of the Environment, the geographical, the departmental and the financial divisions which have prevented the formulation of proper planning and provision of urban transport have been ended.

However, the new era has only just begun and there are severe teething troubles. There is severe inflation and there is still more to be done to get the total approach right. My own view is that most of the remaining work on the total approach now needs to be done in the field of training for the professionals and education in the schools, and the School of Advanced Urban Studies, under Sir Colin Buchanan at Bristol, is a good step forward in this respect. It caters mainly for people in mid-career, and in due course we shall need more of such schools elsewhere. But we need also to establish urgently an "A" level examination in environmental studies in our schools, from which can be derived courses which are suitable for younger and less able children and by way of which a growing number of young men and women can pass on to universities and polytechnics to qualify as civil engineers, architects, planners, surveyors, landscape architects, traffic managers and so on. At present there is no common course of background knowledge against which professionals such as these who are working in our cities can view their common problem.

So much, my Lords, for the approach to these problems. Before coming to the problems themselves, may I offer a few favourable factors which will, perhaps, cheer us up. First of all, may I offer my congratulations to husbands and wives for a long series of statistics which show that fewer babies are being born into this hard-pressed, tightly-packed Island. Therefore, in the most densely packed and congested bits of all—namely, the great cities and the big conurbations—in all but one of the conurbations, the West Midlands, and in all the other big cities except two, the populations are now falling. This fall is no longer a centrifugal movement from the inner to the outer city—a movement which generates more, not less traffic. In fact, in London at the moment populations are falling both in the inner and in the outer city areas. Journeys to work are falling, not rising—and falling twice as fast as was expected ten years ago. Furthermore, although the Inner London population owns 22 per cent. more cars than the more numerous population which was living there ten years ago, this larger number of car owners is undertaking a smaller number of journeys in the congested inner area; so hurrah for that too! Incidentally, it is thanks to the Greater London Council's own Intelligence Unit that these local facts and figures can be deployed. It is the absence of such up-to-date figures elsewhere about which my noble friend Lady Young was castigating the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, at Question Time on Monday, and it is the lack of these figures—


My Lords, is not the noble Lord drawing an incorrect conclusion from the fact that there are fewer people in London? The fact that there are fewer people in London is not necessarily totally connected with the fall in population figures; it is connected very strongly with the fact that housing is not available for people to live in London.


My Lords, that may be so, and it makes it all the more urgent that we should have statistics for the rest of the country such as those which the Greater London Council's Intelligence Unit have made available. Then we should know exactly what we are talking about.

One final factor which I think is of interest is that we are now in the last month of the first year of high-priced petrol. Although it is early days to form judgments, the fact is that this year car registrations are running at about three-quarters of the corresponding numbers in 1972 and 1973, and it looks as though it is just possible that another long term trend which would be favourable for dealing with urban transport is beginning to develop. Thus the main underlying factors affecting the problem of congestion and movement in our large cities are going in the right direction. It is a question of guiding them in the way they are going rather than a question of turning them round.

My Lords, I should like to turn now to three problems—traffic management, road building and road works, and public transport. May I deal with traffic management first—that part of the total approach by which traffic is encouraged on to routes and systems which are best suited for it and is restrained from travelling by routes and on systems that cannot cope with it. At least we in this House can discuss this unpopular subject without the embarrassment of having provided ourselves, at the heart of Central London, with a car park for 500 places at a cost of £2½ million to the taxpayer.

The popular part of traffic management—really, it is the only popular part—is curbing the heavy lorry which is called for this purpose a juggernaut. It is popular because lorries are larger, noisier and smellier than cars; but it is popular chiefly because there are so many more car drivers than there are lorry drivers, and curbs on somebody else is something which we all want. But in fact the three-ton and larger lorry carries 85 per cent. of the country's freight, and two-thirds of the lorries that we see in London are either delivering food, or disposing of refuse or delivering building materials. These journeys cannot easily be dispensed with, let alone diverted. They can be confined to particular routes, and this is the object of current studies and consultations. However, the routes that can take heavy lorries are the same routes as are also needed for bus lanes, and already these routes carry a good load of lighter traffic and pass through already congested shopping areas. There is not, therefore, a great deal of scope there. Nevertheless, traffic management in all its forms, whether it is re-routeing heavy lorries, curbing commuters' cars, licensing car parks, providing lorry parks, diverting through-traffic and protecting pedestrians can produce very good benefits in relation to their cost, and I am encouraged to hear about the progress which is being made.

Nearly 700 different traffic management orders in London alone have been made in the last two years; 70 bus lanes are now in operation; a reduction of 8,000 on-street car parking spaces in the Central area is intended in the Greater London Council's latest TPP and this is to be extended elsewhere in Inner London. But much of this needs enforcement, and enforcement needs police and wardens. The police already need 5,000 and the traffic wardens 1,000 extra staff to bring them up to the establishments which have already been authorised for their present roles, and you may say that those present roles are exacting enough already.

One serious loophole in the fixed penalty system for car parking offences will be closed by the legislation which we introduced to make owners as well as drivers liable for the penalty, and I should be glad to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate when it is intended to start to use this legislation and make it effective. Could the noble Lord also say when his right honourable friend intends to introduce general legislation to give power to other authorities besides the Greater London Council to license off-street car parks? We look forward also to hearing from the noble Lord of progress in the provision of proper lorry parks. I hope that the noble Lord has received notice of all those questions.

My Lords, I turn now to the surgery of urban transport—the really unpleasant and painful business of road construction inside towns. The real surgeon approaches his job by first putting his patient to sleep. In urban surgery, first we make the patient as irritable and sensitive as possible by the process known as public participation—a necessary process but one which does not make the job any easier. To transpose the metaphor, I think we on this side of the House can take credit for having found some worthwhile relief from the pain of this wretched business of urban road building in the Land Compensation Act, following the White Paper Putting People First, by which those affected by road works have a better deal than they had in the past.

The indispensible place of road building in urban transport can, I think, be illustrated by the saga in London. The Greater London development plan, probably the most ambitious venture ever in urban planning, contained proposals for three ringways and a dozen connecting radial routes. One might call it the last testament of a school of powerful borough engineers who have left too much of their mark on too many of our great cities. Three-quarters of the 28,000 objections to the GLDP were directed against these road proposals when they were subjected to public examination before Mr. Layfield and his panel. The panel recommended, and the Secretary of State at the time, Mr. Rippon, provisionally agreed to substantial reductions in the network, including the elimination of that part of Ring-way 2 known as the South Circular. That was before the GLC elections in 1973. At that election the Party opposite returned to power over London with a fanfare of Homes Before Roads and announced two months later in July 1973, that they were abandoning the ringways while accepting that they had to put a realistic policy in their place.

Now of course no one wants to see any new urban roads built unless they are necessary, and no bigger than are necessary. We no longer build roads in towns to cater for the forecast peak demands unrestrained by traffic management. But it is not sensible or honest, or helpful in the long run, to talk of abandoning ringways, even if it is the policy of your political opponents, until you have a realistic policy of your own, properly worked out, to put in its place.

Now in fact a year further on, even with all the emphasis that the present GLC have rightly put on curbing cars and lorries and promoting public transport, the actual proposals they have put up to Her Majesty's Government in their own transport policies and programmes have this to say about ringways: the whole of Ringway 3, which the GLC neither has to pay for nor accommodate if it takes the line of the South and North orbitals, they now want proceeded with, with all dispatch. They want just as much of Ringway 2 as has already been agreed by the Layfield Panel and Mr. Rippon, and the so-called abandonment of Ringway 1 now includes completing the East Cross route, joining it to the Dover radial and finding a way round Greenwich, safeguarding the West Cross route, bringing the line of the M3 up to the A312 and continuing to safeguard the line of Ringway 1 all the way from King's Cross to Hackney.

All this is prior to digesting the reports of their consultants on the practicalities of further traffic management of heavy lorries on the existing London road network. So in practice it turns out that with the best will in the world to "put people first", and to provide "homes before roads" (all of which one wants to give three cheers to) some surgery is sometimes unavoidable and to the general good, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise. As I have said, we take pride in having provided a legal code in the Land Compensation Act and a practice code based on the Urban Motorways Committee Report of 1972 which takes some of the pain and injury out of such surgery and makes it less intolerable to citizens and less damaging to the character of towns, but I am afraid we cannot do without it altogether.

In conclusion, I turn to public transport and, on what might be a slightly critical note, applaud the fact that we can now record agreement between all three political Parties—I was not sure, until the noble Lord, Lord Byers, spoke, whether it covered all three—to promote public transport. From the Tory side, this means abandoning any aspiration that the systems can be made to pay their way in any narrow economic sense. On the labour side, I think it means recognising that however much you boost the buses and transform the trains, neither can beat the private lorry nor the private car for convenience and flexibility. But we all agree, I take it, that a well-run, properly staffed, clean, convenient, regular, reliable public transport service is an indispensable part of the quality of city life, as the noble Baroness herself said.

It is so much in the interest of the community as a whole that there should be good public transport and that as much as possible of it should be made use of, that some at least of the cost should be borne by the citizens at large and not all by the users. Furthermore, it is so patently impracticable for everyone who has a car to use it in a town whenever he wishes that he should be restrained in various ways, including taxation, from making full use of it. The short-term advantages to the individual all lie with the car; the long-term advantages to the community all lie with the bus and the train. The balance between the two can never be struck by the use of market forces alone. Taxation of the car and its fuel, and subsidy of the buses and trains and their fuel must both be invoked to do the job. Accordingly, we welcome grants for British Rail in the Railways Act of 1974, grants for rural bus services, grants for new buses and subsidies for bus fuel.

There is no complaint from this side of the House in regard to the emphasis on public transport in the TPPs that have been submitted by the metropolitan counties to the Secretary of State, though trimming the requests from the counties down from the 38 per cent. increase in transport which they represent over their previous expenditure will lead to some very difficult choices. We welcome the London Rail Study, published last Thursday, and thank the chairman, Sir David Barran for it; not so much for what it recommends but for taking into one comprehensive review the entire network of underground and British railway systems that serve London and showing just how priorities for investment and development can be assessed.

As traffic managements depend on staff to enforce it, so public transport depends on staff to drive it. And they are not there. The underground needs 190 more men (or perhaps women) to man its trains and London Transport buses need 3,200 more staff—14 per cent. more—to man the buses; or it would do if 400 of the buses were not unable to take to the roads because they were unserviceable or were late in being delivered. My own view—and I take it that the noble Baroness shares it—is that it is top priority to get and to keep this missing staff. Pay is obviously important and the improvement in recruiting, which everybody has been glad to note since the summer, and staffing shows that that is so. Nevertheless, I think much more should be done to compensate for working in unsocial hours which is required of transport workers by housing them conveniently close to where they begin and end their day's work.

It is of course right that our social policies should reflect compassion for Asian refugees from Africa, coloured immigrants from the West Indies, the unemployed from Ireland and so on. But where it is agreed and recognised that the quality of city life depends on certain essential services, they in turn call for essential staff: dustmen, bus drivers, train drivers, nurses, social workers, teachers, and so on to be housed conveniently near their work. It is folly not to see that their claims—the claims of these essential services—on our housing stock are met as a matter of priority.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will forgive me if I interrupt him. I think I may have misunderstood him. Was he putting those as alternatives? Was his point that housing priority should be given not to immigrants, but to transport staff? If that is the point which the noble Lord was making—and I will not take him up on it, because it is not part of this debate—is he not aware that many of the people staffing our public transport are not necessarily immigrants, but are possibly people born here and who are coloured, with immigrant antecedents?


My Lords, if they come into both categories, so much the better. But the important point I am making is that within our overall housing policies, which should properly reflect compassion for people who, for one reason or another, find themselves homeless we should also make provision where required for the specific needs of people manning esential services. If we do not, we shall be trying to provide for all sorts of special needs, such as I have mentioned, in a city which is failing to "tick over" properly; for example, its essential services are 14 per cent. short of bus drivers. To conclude, my Lords, I ant glad to acknowledge the vital role of public transport. But what is wanted today cannot be provided on the cheap as a low-cost service. What we need is to rescue public transport from its long torpor and low morale, so that it can provide services in which those who work in them can take pride, and those who travel can take pleasure.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by apologising to your Lordships, because this evening I have an important engagement which I entered into before I knew of this debate. Therefore, I may not be able to be present for its concluding stages. I cannot help feeling, despite what I have heard this afternoon, that we still need a more imaginative national basic traffic policy. In recent years we have made very considerable progress, but my feeling is that while we have done this we have not proceeded fast enough, and have only been keeping up with the traffic pressures. My feeling is that even if the trends to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred come to pass, there will still be for many years a need to relieve a situation which is very often intolerable. The nature of these extra changes and additions to policy, which I would like to see, will, I believe, be expensive.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, deplored the fact that there had been little—and, perhaps he said none—innovation on the traffic scene since the 'thirties. That has not been for want of ideas. There have been many ideas, but insufficient implementation of them. The noble Lord also referred to the need for a committee, perhaps a Select Committee of this House, to give the whole matter thought. But it is only fair to say that there have been committees in the past, which I believe have done excellent work. The result of what they have done has regrettably been minimal. There are a great many people who have given a great deal of thought to the problems of urban traffic. Most of them who have been concerned in developing new ideas are disappointed at the impact which they have succeeded in making.

My Lords, in June, 1964, the noble Lord, Lord Marples, who was then Minister of Transport, set up an organisation to follow up the famous Traffic in Towns investigation, for which Professor Buchanan became so famous. That consisted of a Steering Committee of which I had the privilege of being Chairman. I had a most distinguished team. There was a Working Group under the chairmanship of Mr. Garlick, then of the Ministry of Transport, who did an incredible amount of work under our general guidance. The work of this organisation became known as the Cars for Cities Study. Obviously, as well as studying cars for cities, it had to study the means by which they go about, the roads on which they run. I believe the work of that Committee has been largely ignored, and that is a very great pity.

The Committee reported in October, 1966, to the right honourable lady Mrs. Castle, who at that time was the Minister of Transport. I still believe that the conclusions of that Report are valid and are worthy of the closest study today. I would urge the Government, the Greater London Council, and the metropolitan counties to obtain that Cars for Cities Report, published in 1967, and probably still available—I have at least one copy here. They should examine the discussions and data which stand behind those conclusions. I hope your Lordships will not mind if I mention some of these conclusions. They are as good today as they were eight years ago, and they are eight years more urgent.

My Lords, the Report emphasised that traffic congestion is greatly exaggerated by the low level of expenditure on new roads in towns—at that time lagging, it was said, behind all other advanced countries with traffic problems. I believe that it is still lagging behind. The Report further stated that while planning and highway solutions alone cannot cope with all our traffic problems, they are the most important factors in resolving our traffic congestion. The other factors are represented by the vehicles which use the roads. Naturally, we gave a lot of consideration to the cars which gave the title to our studies.

A most important conclusion, and one which should and could be worked on immediately, is that while using very small cars will obviously be advantageous, the advantage is not striking unless some system of segregation of the small, and if possible uniform, vehicles is arranged. If small cars, such as the Report showed in outline and such as the British Leyland Company showed at the British Motor Show just over a year ago, run in their own traffic lanes, this could increase road capacity to over twice the current level. Possibly a slightly different factor would operate today when the situation is rather worse than eight years ago.

The motor car has come in for some commination today. There has been a strong suggestion that we should depend more on efficiently run systems of public transport and with this one must agree. But there will always be cars in the cities. The work which has been described in this Report, which shows the advantage of the small car properly segregated, is something which should be given the closest consideration. There should be every encouragement to the automobile industry to produce vehicles of this character and this is something well worth aiming for. Obviously, it is something which cannot be achieved overnight, but improvement could be achieved quite quickly. The target of doubling capacity is possibly a decade away.

My Lords, I should like to quote from the Steering Group's Report. It says: For any given space, the extra number of people that can be moved compared with what is achieved under the present vehicle and traffic patterns, by having an integrated design of car, roadway and parking space is very large, an increase to more than twice the present level. This is a big gain. Although there would be considerable difficulties in achieving it, the benefits are so great we think it vital to make a real effort to do so. We are convinced that this overall approach is essential if big savings are to be achieved in the space needed by individual cars The roadway design would have to be as imaginative and as ingenious as the cars. In this Report, there is discussion of lightweight "overways" or elevated roads as part of the scheme for segregating lightweight cars, and there are many other valuable ideas. For example, there is a development of the idea that has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, this afternon of a more flexible system of bus design. There is a variety of buses discussed and described, and suggestions made for the more efficient kind of service which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has in mind. Indeed, in the Report of the Working Group there are very many valuable ideas; they are deserving of the closest study, and I hope many of them can be implemented.

It has already been said this afternoon that the sort of things we would like to do, even the conventional ones, are likely to be expensive. But we must give the most serious possible consideration to the additional expenditure that would be represented, because I think the gains would be so enormous. I think everybody must agree with that. They are difficult to quantify, but the amount of effort at present wasted through traffic congestion, the amount of time lost, if not calculable, must be enormous and economically damaging.

Perhaps I am now going into the realms of fantasy, but in the transport field I believe we have, by the abandonment of the Maplin Airport scheme, made a great saving in potential expenditure. Still in the field of transport, I think we will save a great deal of money by either not having or by postponing the Channel Tunnel, a scheme from which I feel the dividends for us would not have been very great. I should like to think that because of these potential savings we might feel we could spend rather more money in future than we were intending to spend for the lifting of the traffic congestion from London, using the ideas in tills Cars and Cities Report which I have been boosting this afternoon, improving on them, adding to them and working on them. I should like to add to them in one important respect which was outside the purview of the Report. I think we should try yet again to use the River Thames for passenger traffic. Despite the failures of the past, I believe an effort on the right scale could succeed. I know that there is passenger traffic on the Thames, but the scale of the operation is very small.

If any of the ideas which I have adumbrated were to come to pass, I think it could only be through the setting up of some body which would consider all the possibilities once again, whether a Select Committee of this House or something else. But I feel that it should have some assurance that any plan which it produced had some chance of being followed up with the necessary expenditure. To have further examination of all that has been done and is being done, to spend a great deal of time on that and then once again to be ignored, is, I think, too much to ask. So if there is to be another body, it must be assured that its Report will receive not only attention but implementation.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is agreeable to someone of such a contentious nature as I am accused of having, to be able to participate in a debate upon which there is so much unity, even if it is a unity of misery; I believe, too, there is a unity of aspiration. But the most discomfiting thing, of course, in a debate of this kind is to follow four such speeches as we have had this afternoon crowded with facts and statistics, so that people like myself, who have decided they would come in on those parts of the subject which have not yet been touched on, are at a very considerable disadvantage. I was tempted by Lord Sandford to stand with him at the graveside of those circular roads for London in defence of which, I might say, I once risked my political future.


They are not dead yet!


But we progress, and I would not at this moment take the stand that I did those years ago. I would, however, agree with the noble Lord, as I understood him, that the need for an outer orbital road still remains so long as we continue to be oppressed with the lorry problem. I am sure the GLC are conscious of the need for radical provision to deal with this lorry problem. It is not only brought home to the individual motorist but to all road users, including the trade drivers themselves. I believe we have been promised that that matter is receiving urgent attention across the river.

Ever since I have had, perforce, through family and other reasons, to take an interest in transport, it has always seemed to me that we have been embarrassed by too many cars and too few men. The chronic shortage of manpower in London itself has been the bugbear of all management, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, indicated by the figures he quoted. May I bring home to your Lordships how severe that shortage is even now, though the removal of certain restraints on salary and wage increases has meant an upward trend in recruitment. Even today the shortage of drivers on the London underground means a severe curtailment in scheduled services. I am told this is particularly true of North West London surrounding an area, Neasden—which some people think of only as a music hall joke, but it is a real place—which, I am told, has a large number of people whom one would have thought could have been attracted to the public transport service. Because of this, 10,000 leaflets were distributed on a home-to-home basis. And the result was one recruit. Not to be defeated, of course, London Transport has made arrangements that every morning a bus leaves Barking and that area at 5 o'clock, and it goes round the North Circular Road to deliver its newly produced recruits at Neasden.

That is not the only problem. The provision of homes for people who have to work these unsocial hours becomes more and more a pressing need. I hope that the London boroughs will accept their duty in this respect, a duty to their own citizens who are so dependent upon public transport. But apart from that we have the real problem, have we not, of the recruitment of drivers for our buses? I checked these figures this morning. I am told that it costs £550 to train a driver of a London bus. He becomes a very skilled man, attaining a skill which is very much sought after outside the public transport system. The public transport system, in London at least, is suffering from the fact that quite naturally, the people in private industry are recruiting, and attracting out of the public service, men so recently trained at the public expense for £550.

I have little more to say on that subject. There is, however, another subject on which I should like to spend a moment or so. I, with most of my colleagues on this side of the House and, I think, most of those on the other Benches, welcomed the fact that a publicly-elected body like the GLC was to take over London Transport. We thought then that an elected body in the position that we understood the GLC would be occupying, would be very sensitive to the needs of the customers, the users of transport, and that one would be able to communicate with them much more easily than one could through the old bureaucratic system that we then alleged existed. I do not think that the arrangement of responsibilities between the GLC, the elected body, and the London Transport Authority itself is final—it is certainly not ideal. I have complained about this elsewhere, but it was always felt that the relationship should be on the basis that the GLC and its members should have no immediate concern with the day-to-day running. Perhaps on broad lines that is a good idea, but I have to tell your Lordships that my own experience is that the frustrations that you and I may feel are much greater for a person who is perhaps not quite so articulate, not such a good letter writer, as we are, and that person does not know to whom to convey his complaints.

We brought into existence some years ago the London Transport Passengers Committee, on which there are nine representatives of local authorities here in London and 14 others. At that stage I believed that the composition of that committee was decided on the wrong basis. I believed that the natural home for a complaint for a person living in Islington was Islington town hall; the natural place for a complaint about a public service, or even any other provision in the consumer field, for a person living in Kensington was the local town hall. I urged at that time that each borough in London should have inside its own building, its own town hall, someone who would be a recipient of complaints, a local Ombudsman, not only for transport but for other matters as well, and that there should be over London as a whole certainly an advisory committee composed of direct representatives of the boroughs. I did not get my way when I made that proposal, but the events since then have convinced me that I was on the right lines.

I still believe that not nearly enough people who have justifiable complaints, and whose complaints together would make a formidable case for improvement in this or that direction, know to whom to complain. I am told by the Advisory Board, which does a very conscientious job, that they put out 6,000 pamphlets a year advising people in London. The result is that they get complaints. But what happens to them? Do not forget that this working person is probably tired by his efforts at work, and is possibly not used to letter-writing to the extent that your Lordships and I are. The complaint goes in to London Transport, and they send back a reply; and if we are not careful that is where it ends. But if you are persistent, you send it back to the London Passenger Transport Committee. In a year, 100 complaints from all these millions of miles of passenger journeys are dealt with. They are dealt with once every two months. Over 100 newspaper men are invited and, on an average, five turn up. So you see, somehow or other, the justifiable criticisms of our fellow citizens are buried because there is no publicity.

I was told that there is an annual report. I have the annual report. We do not expect the majority of our fellow citizens to indulge in this kind of Sunday reading. We need to bring back to the people of London a sense that this matter is in their hands, that it is a popularly managed concern—when I say "popularly", I am sure the House will understand me—and that they can influence it, otherwise frustration continues: and, in the end, frustration means continuous, negative quarrelling among people in the bus queues, and that we do not want.

I am glad to have taken part in this debate. I apologise to those noble Lords who will be speaking later for the fact that I shall not be here to listen to them. However, as there seems to be such a large element of agreement among us, I am almost certain to be in agreement with whatever they say.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I start with almost the words used by the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, in that I apologise that, owing to an engagement this evening, I shall not be able to stay very long. My remarks will be brief, and I can assure the Government that they will be uncontroversial. Therefore, I do not feel that it is very important that I should stay. There are some questions that I want to ask and, as I have given notice to the Government of those questions, I hope that I, and other people, will find the answers to them in the noble Lord's reply.

On 7th February 1973, I initiated a debate about London traffic, and on that occasion I raised a number of matters to which my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton gave a sympathetic reply. Eighteen months and more have now passed, and I am anxious to know to what extent effect has been given to the undertakings—I think I may call them that—which the noble Lord then gave. Since then there has been a change of Government, and if not since then at about that time there was a change in the majority on the Greater London Council, so I feel that there has been an opportunity for both the new Government, and the new majority on the Greater London Council, to take a fresh view of the whole matter. Speaking on that occasion, I referred to the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee of the House of Commons dealing with urban transport planning. I agree to a large extent with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that at the present time I do not think there is need for a Select Committee of this House to investigate the general problem. It was examined with the utmost care by that Select Committee of the House of Commons. I am also much interested in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, about his Committee and the sub-committee dealing with this matter and his complaint that very little effect has been given by subsequent Governments of both political Parties to the; recommendations which were made. I do not wonder that the noble Lord said that if another Committee were to be set up it would certainly require a promise that some attention would be paid to its recommendations.

Anyone who has been long in public life will know that that is a complaint of almost all Government Committees and Royal Commissions. They spend an immense amount of time with great conscientiousness investigating matters and they make recommendations which go straight into pigeon-holes; only years afterwards are they taken out at which time they may or may not be put into effect. I remember being asked to pre- side over a Committee. Before I agreed, I asked for some assurance that attention would be paid to its recommendations. The promise was given, but it was not, in fact, redeemed. I welcome the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to the problem of urban traffic congestion. In particular I was glad to hear her say that the present Government consider that the destruction of large numbers of buildings for the sole purpose of facilitating the movement of motorcars is really unacceptable. Of course for a long time it has been obvious that such plans would be ineffective in achieving their purpose. Almost the first result of widening roadways is to increase the amount of traffic using them.

I am very glad that the Department of the Environment is giving attention to traffic management, especially at the present time. I hope that we may be told something about what organisation exists in the Department of the Environment for dealing with this matter. I certainly recall that in my time in the Ministry of Transport we began to work on the idea of what was then called "traffic engineering", which is, in fact, traffic management, but I do not believe we carried that work far enough. I very much hope to hear that in the years since I had some familiarity with these matters a great deal has been done. As my noble friend Lord Sandford has said, the action of the last Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, in creating the Department of the Environment, enables the problems of traffic road building, housing and all the other connected subjects, to be dealt with by a single Department. That is an immense step beyond the state of affairs which prevailed when one Department dealt with housing without really giving any attention to the problem of the traffic that would be created by the building of new housing areas.

My Lords, I venture somewhat to disagree with what I understood the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to say in what was a very constructive and useful speech. He suggested that traffic should be viewed, and perhaps controlled and managed, in a more central way than is done at the present time. I doubt whether that is possible. I think that it is necessary to keep the three matters entirely distinct, although, of course, there has to be proper co-operation between the authorities. There is long-distance traffic and the trunk roads which it uses. Secondly, there is local traffic and minor roads. Finally, there is enforcement. I think that the first area must be the responsibility of the transport section of the Department of the Environment. Local traffic must remain the responsibility of local authorities. Of course, the whole question of enforcement must remain with the police.

It is of the utmost importance that the police should remain on friendly terms with the public. When I was at the Ministry of Transport and we urged parking restrictions to be more rigidly enforced, I well remember that it was pointed out to us that as there were no adequate legal parking spaces it would be almost intolerable for the police to be asked to enforce rules which inevitably were extremely burdensome upon the public. One cannot escape the fact that there are these three entirely different functions, although of course it is extremely important that they should be co-ordinated.

For example, it must remain the responsibility of the Department of the Environment to try to ensure that long-distance traffic is confined to suitable trunk roads and does not pass through residential areas which are the responsibility of local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that the private car is the culprit. I think that public opinion has increasingly come to regard that as being the case. Perhaps the word "culprit" is not the right word because no moral obloquy attaches to driving a motorcar, although it is certainly an extremely uneconomical way of using road space. I recognise that there is the old argument as to whether one can or should impose further restrictions upon private motorcars until one has improved public transport. Public transport will not be sensibly improved so long as it is possible for so many people to use private cars in unsuitable areas of towns for no adequate purpose. I think that it will be necessary for the Government and the local authorities to take steps in the direction of further restriction upon the use of private cars.

I recognise, of course, that authority cannot go much faster than public opinion; equally, it should not go much slower. I believe that public opinion is now ready for a considerable further step in that direction. The restriction on cars will certainly be helped by the great increase in the price of petrol and—as I think is likely to become inevitable in the next few months—probably by petrol rationing.

My Lords, I hope the Government and local authorities will be bold and courageous in this matter. At the risk of repeating myself, may I indulge in one reminisence. I think that it was in 1957 when my right honourable friend and I—we were responsible for the traffic Bill which introduced parking meters as an innovation—were warned by the Whips (those shrewd observers of Parliamentary opinion) that we must not nail the flag of the Government to the mast about parking meters, since they thought it was extremely likely that there would be a Back-Bench revolt and we should have to give up the idea. So we were prepared, if necessary, for a strategic retreat. After the most menacing speeches at the beginning, nothing very serious happened. Despite threats from the motoring organisations to make parking meters impossible by organising the invasion of London by vast numbers of motorists, in point of fact, when that legislation was passed scarcely a dog barked. I think that almost everyone—except, perhaps, the noble Lord, Lord Somers—is of the opinion that parking meters have made a most useful contribution to the solution of the problems of London traffic.

My Lords, there are three minor matters about London to which I should like to invite the attention of the Government before I sit down. I had correspondence with the last Greater London Council about the appalling traffic congestion at Covent Garden in the evenings, and at that time it was felt that nothing effective could be done about it. The Market has now left Covent Garden and gone to Nine Elms. There is a great danger that the traffic congestion in and around Covent Garden will not be improved, because now that the place is more or less empty there has been a tremendous increase in the number of empty cars being parked there. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will represent to his political friends on the Greater London Council that this is an opportunitly to do something really effective about traffic congestion in London, which has really been a public scandal for a long time past.

I should like to know to what extent the experiment of closing Oxford Street to private cars has proved effective. I believe that enforcement has been found to be very difficult. It may well be that it is no use imposing a restriction on a thoroughfare like Oxford Street if nothing adequate is done to restrict the use by private cars of Wigmore Street and other neighbouring streets. I also feel that something should be done about large public demonstrations taking place in the middle of London during congested traffic hours. I had the experience on a Friday afternoon of being held up in a bus for an almost incredible period of time. The conductress told me that they had been obliged to leave their normal route and to leave a large number of people waiting for a bus at the end of the day's and the week's work because of a demonstration by students from all over the country who had come to London. As the Home Secretary has some indirect but real authority over the holding of demonstrations, I hope that some thought will be given, when issuing permits for these demonstrations, to ensuring that they do not add further congestion to an already congested capital.

My Lords, I have therefore only these further words to say. I welcome the general tone of the noble Baroness's speech. I hope that we shall have an indication from the noble Lord when he winds up that further steps will be taken on the lines of the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee of the House of Commons. One great step was taken by Parliament in legislating for keeper liability for cars, and I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked, that we shall be told that that will be put into effect in the reasonably near future.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should begin by surprising your Lordships with the news that, God willing, I intend to be present at the end of this debate. I will not take very much of your Lordships' time. I want to ventilate only one narrow point, which is a complaint which I think some commuters justifiably have at the way they are treated by British Railways. But I should like to preface that by saying that as a regular traveller on the Eastern Region I find that, at any rate in times of industrial peace, the service is extremely good. The trains run much more punctually than they used to, and I would never willingly make any long journey by car if I could find a convenient train.

My Lords, the history of what I am now going to refer to briefly, starts in 1968, when British Rail discovered that there was a quite prevalent practice among some second-class season ticket holders of travelling first-class as a matter of course and of paying the difference between the second-class and the first-class fare only if the ticket inspector happened to come round and catch them. In order to deal with them, a new condition was introduced which said that if you travel first-class with a second-class season ticket you are not caught just for the difference between the second-class and the first-class fare but have to pay a full first-class fare. My Lords, I hold no brief for these joy-riders, but, of course, this new condition penalises the virtuous, law-abiding second-class commuter, who is only too pleased to travel second-class if he can find a seat but who, if he cannot find a second-class seat, does not particularly want to stand in the corridor and, if he can find an empty first-class seat, is only too pleased to occupy that and contribute a bit more to British Rail's revenue by stumping up the difference between the second-class and the first-class fare; and, being a bona fide traveller, he strongly objects to being required to pay a full first-class fare having already paid a full second-class fare. It is true that if you decide before you board the train, at the barrier, that you are going to travel first-class you can at that point merely pay the difference between the two fares, but that does not help you much because it is not until you reach the train that you discover whether or not your second-class seat is going to be available.

My Lords, this rule applies only to season ticket holders. If you are an occasional traveller with an ordinary second-class ticket you can change your mind as much as you like. You can go and sit in a first-class seat, and when the ticket inspector comes round he charges you only the difference between the first-class and the second-class fares. So what are British Rail doing, discriminating in this way against their regular commuter season ticket holders and in favour of the occasional traveller who buys just an ordinary second-class ticket?

My Lords, there is one further point. It is that the full first-class fare is demanded to the ultimate destination which is shown on the season ticket. The effect of that is that, supposing he boards the 17.18 train at King's Cross with a season ticket to Huntingdon, he knows, and the ticket inspector knows, that that train stops first at Stevenage and carries 200 commuters to Stevenage; and that after Stevenage the train travels half empty for the rest of its journey. The passenger knows perfectly well that he is going to get a second class seat quite easily from Stevenage to Huntingdon. He regards it as most unjust to be required to pay a full first-class fare to Stevenage; but he regards it as monstrous that he should be required to pay a full first-class fare all the way to Huntingdon, when half the journey is going to be in a half-empty train.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider these points and will use their influence with the British Railways Board to ask them to see whether British Rail cannot be persuaded to deal a little more fairly with their commuter customers who do not break the rules.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to have this interesting debate. I was beginning to think I was going to be the lucky one in that very few people before the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, had dealt with rail traffic. This will be the main part of my own remarks.

I want to concentrate on the transport services operating in the South-East, and, in particular, North-East Kent where I was the Member for Chislehurst for 20 years, and was at the receiving end of constant delegations and protests about the transport facilities. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Castle, aright (and I agreed with him) when he complained that the channels of complaint are not local enough in the set-up which provides the general Greater London Transport Committee. I believe that I heard him say that they received a hundred complaints over quite a considerable period of time. I can tell him where the other complaints went: they went to the MP on Saturday morning or in the mail. I checked yesterday and discovered that in the parlous state of the railways last autumn I had no fewer than 200 letters in 4½ weeks—rather more than the whole of the London Transport Committee apparently received from Greater London.

It is part of the way of life of sprawling Greater London that people commute long distances to their work. There is no other area in the country which attracts commuters so far and in such numbers to so large a centre of employment as is provided in Central London. It is within my experience that, long miles from London, when a factory has been moved from perhaps a congested town centre three or four miles out to a new and much more modem industrial centre, the work-force have refused to change their work to that site unless coaches are provided—so unused are they to travelling such distances to work as are commonplace with people who live in Greater London. Good luck to their getting their coaches; but Heaven help us if every employer in London had to provide individual coaches for the flocks of people coming to work in Central London!

With this enormous demand pouring into London, we suffer in North-West Kent in that we are the only county of the Home Counties that has no underground at all crossing the Kent border for any distance to hive off the shorter runs; yet they have them in Surrey, in Middlesex and in Essex. Despite this enormous demand, the local services over the many years I represented that area, appeared to me to be the Cinderella of British Rail. They are at best inadequate; and at worst, chaotic. In fact, I marvel at the stoic patience with which passengers endure the endless delays, the cancelled trains, the strikes, and the quite intolerable, regular overcrowding. We have a very active rail-passengers association, with a journal called Commuters' Voice —and in a period of what was supposed to be normal scheduled travel, not in a period of strike, in nine working days, exclusively at peak hours, they registered 57 trains as being what is euphemistically called "casually cancelled".

My Lords, it is not casual for a weary person who has already struggled perhaps by bus from Oxford Street to some of the Eastern termini, to have to wait angrily while train after train is cancelled and they are likely to be an hour or more late home. When I put a question to British Rail, I was informed that on the South-East (or North-East Kent) circuit, 39 per cent. of all passengers carried during the hour and a half peak in the morning and the hour and a half peak at night had to stand—and if you are on the "wrong" side of the carriage, crammed in with 24 others, you have to buffet your way past twenty pairs of feet to get out on the platform on the other side. Any other service which denied fare-paying passengers their right to a seat would be "hauled up" under the Trade Descriptions Act.

My Lords, we are equally concerned that the prototype train, PP prototype, which I know has had many test runs, is said to have gained common approval. It may have done so in less congested areas; but the passenger associations in the area in which I have been interested have most emphatically protested, not only in isolation as a Committee, but after having given their commuters a questionnaire to fill in and having analysed them most scrupulously, because they discover there will be fewer seats on these trains and that even more people will have to stand. When they took that up with British Rail, the reply was a classic: Passengers will be able to stand in greater comfort. It really is not good enough, my Lords! We are charging ever-increasing fares on this harassed and terribly overcrowded network in South-East London. In North-East Kent we have no first-class trains; and year after year successive Governments have poured more and more money into British Rail; year after year passengers pay more for their fares, and there is still no improvement in this particular section.

I will accept at once that in the Midland and Inter-City Services British Rail have made enormous improvements in speed and comfort; but it is no comfort to a London commuter that on most days you can get from Euston to Coventry quicker than, on many occasions, you can travel one-eighth of the distance, say, from Sid-cup to Charing Cross. The North-East Kent services are Cinderellas in another way. As I have said, they have no firstclass service, and the rich haul of business inter-city trains seems to have encouraged British Rail to give priority to these services over and above the million or so people who commute every day to their work into London. Further, we find that in that comparatively short-haul commuting over distances of 12, 15 or 20 miles, the "per mile" season ticket charge subsidises those season ticket holders who may travel a hundred miles on a much more comfortable and faster train and get a seat.

There is a popular myth—and here I join forces with the noble Lord who spoke before me on some of the queer things done about first-class passengers—that every first-class passenger is claiming his fare on his company and there was no publicity when British Rail stealthily removed the concessions of cheap day, cheap week-ends and excursions from first-class tickets. One used to be able to go to Brighton on a Sunday excursion first-class at a concessionary rate. I fail to see why people travelling to help the railways at off-peak times—possibly visiting relatives at week-ends—and prepared to pay a little more for extra comfort cannot share the same proportion of concession on the standard price of the ticket as those who travel second-class. What is even more infuriating is to find, after paying nearly three times the second-class excursion fare and having travelled one way first-class, that one's train back is exclusively second-class and that one has a time schedule which does not permit one to wait an hour for another train.

My Lords, I believe that, overall, the regular London rail traveller, particularly in this area, suffers far more from the appalling services than anywhere else. His employer loses many working hours because of the delays. For weeks last year, my secretary, who logged her travel time one week for a journey of 14 miles, which should take 28 minutes from the station to the terminus, spent three to five hours travelling every single day. Thousands of other people did the same. They get a little bored with the Tannoy voice which says, "British Rail regrets the 8.50 will not run".

On the question of fares, I wonder whether noble Lords have estimated the amount lost by the early closing of booking offices down the line. I have on many occasions got into a train at Chislehurst or Sidcup and found already in there from a long way further down the line crowds of people—they are quite often youngsters—who, when they get to the termini, insist that they only got in two stations back, having very astutely found out which are the nearest stations to the termini which have a closed booking office after 7 o'clock. I wonder how much money is lost in this way. Here, I should like to pay a tribute to the poor, harassed, late duty ticket collectors who have to deal with hordes of people who have been unable to obtain a ticket from a closed ticket office. The ticket collector is expected to have an unlimited amount of change in his pocket and to know the fare from every individual station down three or four lines and quite often he is cheated and abused by people who are getting a kick out of doing down British Rail. I believe that it is very important that something should be done for the harassed people and the difficult times suffered by commuters in this Cinderella area of British Rail services.

My Lords, I should like to raise just one point on the question of bus services. Again, they are better, but not much better, than British Rail services and the more fares go up the less scheduled runs are provided. When a 20-minute service becomes a 40-minute service and retirement pensioners leaving their tea club in order to catch the bus before the factory comes out find it half an hour late so that they are jammed in with 3,000 employees coming out of Kolster-Brandes, one would think that someone would use the initiative to ensure that the buses which are intended to fetch the children from their schools and to take the old people from their clubs got there on time so that these people do not stand tangled up in jostling crowds of people coming out of factories and trying to get home. Time and again we are told that this is due to shortages of staff. Why, then the resistance to employing women in London? We have just had the White Paper on Equal Opportunity and a Bill is forecast to be ready by Christmas so that the legislation will be implemented in keeping with equal pay at the end of the next year. Women could drive ambulances through the "blitz" and the bombs and it will be interesting to see whether they can contribute some comfort to the long-suffering commuter.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by paying my meed of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for giving us the opportunity to air our views on this very topical and important subject. I want to make only three main points, all connected with road travel. The first concerns the necessity for our road authorities to adopt a three-dimensional policy. Crossroads in this day and age are an anachronism, even with stop-go lights. Roundabouts are not really very much better, because they involve vehicles weaving at slowed-down speed but all on the same plane. What is needed is a widespread over-and-under system, like that in Paris and other cities overseas, where there is a constant flow of traffic. I believe that a system of this kind could be developed with a comparatively small expenditure by making use of something like the wartime Bailey bridges. Those systems of quickly erected structures would make a big improvement to the traffic flow.

Many of us can remember, when the Hyde Park underpass was being built, the erection of a temporary bridge of the Bailey type which dealt very well indeed with the traffic situation. I notice that in Birmingham and other cities, and at London's own Hogarth Corner on the outlet to the West, structures of this kind have been put up with markedly good results. Admittedly, my Lords, they are not pretty, but I think that in these days we must put up with a somewhat utilitarian aspect. After all, it is easier to look at cars in motion going over a bridge than it is to see, hear and smell them all static in a quivering traffic jam. Of course the underpass part of a three-dimensional system is a simple matter of digging up a couple of declivities. Every city nowadays should have a road system something like a spider's web—a complex of radial and circular roads with, everywhere they cross each other, an under-and-overpass system so that traffic flows instead of going in jerks.

My Lords, we ought to be able to afford these developments. In 1953—over twenty years ago—motor taxation yielded £361 million; ten years later it had gone up to £737 million; and last year it yielded £2,121 million, yet the number of motor vehicles has increased only about three-fold in that period from five million to 17 million. Another interesting figure is that expenditure on roads rose from £85 million in 1953 to £878 million—over a ten-fold rise—in 1973. But your Lordships will notice that the yield from taxation in 1973 of £2,121 million was a great deal more than the road expenditure of £878 million.

On this question of urban roads, we have to make up our minds whether our cities are to be centres of commerce or centres of ceremonial pageantry. London is a particular case. Every time some ceremonial event takes place or some Head of State does us the honour of visiting this country, the consequential dislocation of traffic, wasting thousands of man-hours and with a corresponding loss of vehicle utilisation, to say nothing of air pollution from static exhaust systems, is something that really ought not to be tolerated. Surely, except for the really regal occasions, much of the ceremonial activity could be accommodated at Windsor or elsewhere, so that it would not involve so much inconvenience to the trade and commerce of the Capital city. I sometimes think that we pay a very heavy price for our ceremonial activities. You find in Pall Mall, not now only in the summer but all the year round, enormous passenger coaches picking up and setting down overseas tourists, These, mixed up with heavy trucks and articulated lorries of more than 30 tons carrying capacity, really ought not to be using a street system which was originally designed for sedan chairs, hansom cabs and landaus.

Viscount de L'ISLE

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but was the Mall designed for landaus and sedan chairs?


No, my Lords, I am talking about Pall Mall and not the Mall. My third point is that we have adopted a system of self-inflicted traffic frustration. Parking meters are set up on roads that are far too narrow for them. Within walking distance of this House is King Street, St. James's, where cars are legitimately parked on both sides of the road, leaving a very narrow space for the two-way traffic in between. Let us face it, my Lords, roads are only pipes for a fluid known as traffic to flow through. Everybody knows that if pipes get furred up the flow is reduced ultimately to choking point, and that is what will happen to our cities unless something is done quite quickly. Already it needs only a shower of rain in London now to reduce traffic of all kinds to a dismal crawl, largely induced by parked cars. That shows how sensitive is the situation at the present time.

Why cannot we have more urban multiple-storey car parks so that on-street parking is substantially reduced? In several cities in the Mid-West of America they have these multiple-storey car parks. Admittedly, the price of parking is high, but the resulting revenue makes them worth while commercial propositions and they gather as much rent as an office block on the same superficial area. I think we have come to the point where we ought to put a ban on street parking and literally drive the parked car off urban streets. We shall not achieve this object simply by putting up the price of parking space because so many parking meter charges nowadays are paid by firms, rather than by the individual motorist. As one who has spent a great deal of his life in the motor manufacturing industry, it might sound to some people as though I am talking against my own interests; but I would rather be obliged to get off the urban streets, except when my car is actually moving, than clutter up the way for other, moving cars.

5.54 p.m.

The Earl of DENBIGH

My Lords, while accepting that much of urban transport does not come under the direct control of the Government, I feel that this is a debate which can be of enormous value and help to the growing number of people who find getting around our cities and major towns an ever-increasing nightmare. Indeed, if the centres of our towns are not to become over-polluted and totally congested, the only solution is to encourage more people to share the public transport facilities available to them. With the ever-increasing costs of running a motor car, the high cost of city parking and the frustrations of rush hour travel, the car is quickly becoming a less attractive proposition for urban travel than ever before. Obviously, in any town or city centre the private motorist must have the right to drive his car, but inevitably at some stage in the future his access to certain parts of the city must be restricted. In certain towns there are already traffic-free pedestrian precincts with access for buses only. This makes life more tolerable for the individual, whether he or she be a shopper, businessman or tourist.

What we must plan for in the future are lines of communication between these shopping and business areas and the areas in which we live. This is particularly important because three-quarters of our population live in urban areas and nearly one-third in the major conurbations. Already we are seeing an increasing use of bus lanes to speed their progress at peak travel times, and my noble friend Lady Seear will be elaborating on the use of these and also on the use of bus-ways, which are basically roads for buses only. My noble friend Lord Byers has also alluded to these.

The main problem with all urban transport arises during the rush hour. I am told, for example, that London Transport carry in the region of 1 million passengers to and from work every day; but this is mainly during a two-hour period in the morning and a two-hour period in the evening. Consequently the actual overall seat occupancy of London Transport during its annual operation is only some 20 per cent. of the total number of seats available. The really horrifying fact, however, is that this year there will be a London Transport deficit of £40 million, and I am told that next year there will be an even bigger deficit of some £127 million, unless there is a substantial fare increase in the near future.

Who is to pay this Bill? It will have to be met at some stage. I appreciate that this is a GLC matter, but figures of this magnitude must be of concern to Her Majesty's Government, as indeed they are to us all. It would seem that either a substantial fare increase or a subsidy must provide the answer. I, for one, believe that it is no good completely sheltering people from the true cost of urban transport systems. There is, however, a point in favour of perhaps imposing an extra rate on commercial property in central areas, whether it be office blocks, shops or factories. As the capital value of such property is dependent to a certain extent on the ability of public transport to attract people, it would not be totally unfair to ask them to share the ever-increasing cost of running these transport systems. I believe that there is more justification for this approach than for asking for a subsidy from the private householder, whose rates, in many cases, are already intolerable at the moment.

However, subsidies to public transport in times of inflation have led to no great alteration in methods of travel adopted by the public. Indeed, in the last few years we have seen the price of petrol escalate enormously, yet people still use their cars for commuting and social activities very much as before. There has been no great saving to public transport because of these increased motoring costs. What must be done, therefore, is somehow to make our public transport systems more efficient and more attractive to the travelling members of our communities and to try to make sure that we get the best use out of our energy resources.

Something I should like to see is more standing room made available on central urban transport systems. This would alleviate the delays in waiting for buses and would benefit the underground in particular. As I have mentioned earlier, London Transport sell approximately only 20 per cent. of their total seat availability. This is because of the large number of seats available at off-peak travelling times. I am a great fan of the double-decker bus, but surely it would ease the rush hour burden if there were much more standing room available as the main space on the lower level, with seating upstairs for people who make longer journeys. As in France, on the lower level there could be a few seats specially reserved for pensioners, expectant mothers and the physically handicapped. This would enable each bus to carry more people at peak periods with greater profitability, and possibly with a lower total number of buses needed on the roads, while still providing enough seats for the off-peak travellers. The same is true also for the underground, especially on the Circle Line, where no journey is likely to be very long in terms of time. Congestion on the underground at peak travel times, as has already been mentioned, is alarming, despite a large number of trains running at frequent intervals.

From the point of view of relieving simple urban congestion, one of the things that has always amazed me is the fact that more development is not carried out over main line railway stations. When Euston Station was rebuilt a few years ago, it seemed to me ridiculous that no office block and shopping precinct was built above it. I know that this has been done in Crawley, and I believe at Cannon Street, too. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to encouraging more development of this nature.

I have just two more points, my Lords. First, could the sharing of cars by commuters be encouraged? I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and my noble friend Lord Byers mention this. I believe that the difficulties at the moment are in relation to insurance, but if these could be overcome it would mean a significant reduction in peak period congestion with a consequent speeding up of traffic flow. As my noble friend Lord Byers mentioned, if cars with four people were allowed to use bus lanes that would be an encouragement for people to share their transport.

Secondly, I should like to see the licensing restrictions lifted on the use of mopeds. For local commuting and shopping expeditions these are ideal. At the moment, if you have a full car licence you can ride a pedal-assisted motor-bike not exceeding 50 c.c. But if you have no car licence you have to go through the rigmarole of provisional licences, L plates and tests. Yet some of the simpler mopeds are no faster than a bicycle, and indeed are no more difficult to ride. Obviously, multi-geared high performance mopeds require licensing control, but surely not a single-speed moped capable of only 25 mph. The free use of low-powered mopeds is common in many European countries and I should like to see it extended over here. Urban transport is an extremely complex matter that requires an enormous amount of study and planning, if our environment in the towns is to be made more bearable. It affects us all and I beg the Government to give the problem their urgent attention.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this important debate and I will in a very short intervention talk about one small facet of it; that is, bus transport and the shortage of staff. We have heard from many noble Lords this afternoon about some very grand ideals and things to work on, with ideas for the future of public transport, but, unfortunately, none of these could possibly work in the situation of a gross lack of staff. The figure given by my noble friend Lord Sandford for shortage of bus drivers was 14 per cent., though in some areas it would probably be as much as 25 per cent. and in rural areas probably very much less. That situation is contributing very greatly to this problem. Basically, one reason for this—and I apologise for having to hark back to it—is the Government's policy between 1945 and 1950 when people were encouraged to work in factories, and transport workers who enjoyed a higher standard of life before the war have never caught up. Unfortunately, in 1974 that is still a major reason for the shortage. The other reason is the basic dislike of shift work, for which there are various reasons, one being the popularity of the media and people wanting to be at home with their families watching television.

One or two noble Lords have said that people who give their considered opinion on Government committees work very long hours and very little comes of it. Perhaps there have been too many committees, but it might be a good idea for a Select Committee to look into public transport working—and, in particular, bus working—to consider the various ways in which bus companies organise shifts, and to analyse the reasons why some companies enjoy a low staff turnover rate. At the moment, it is largely a matter of hit and miss.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, said in his opening speech that there is incompetence in bus organisation. I do not entirely agree with him, because I think the companies have a very difficult role. This brings me to my next point. The ratio of management to workers employed in bus companies is very small. The work is not very attractive and there is not a large salary to go with it; there are very few company cars and expense accounts. Those who work in bus management are, on the whole, very dedicated people and sit up for long hours trying to make their services more economic.

The other element in making public transport more efficient—and this goes for railways as well as buses—is the human one which one can never get over. There are always some people who are slow and some who are fast, and that no doubt accounts for the bunching-up of services which is so frustrating. I suggest to people who have waited for buses or trains that they should not get at the crews who run them. I know it is very easy to do this and one always wants to find a scapegoat. But that only makes matters very much worse and could have the effect of inducing people to give up the job, with the result that there would be one more bus or train missing the following morning.

I should like to pay tribute to the local radio services, which have helped by telling people every morning of the services that are not running. I live just outside Brighton and from about 6.30 a.m. onwards at half-hour intervals people are informed of what is happening on British Railways and on the buses, which helps people to make alternative arrangements. Another point is that even in areas of high unemployment people will not rush to work on public transport or in any of the service industries. In many cases they would prefer to go on the dole rather than do such work, which is a very unfortunate state of affairs. I also feel it would help if people had some line of promotion or a career structure with more future attached to it. If you sit at the wheel at the age of 25, it is not a very promising prospect to be doing the same thing for the next 40 years. Mine has been a very short intervention, but I hope we will have more debates on this sort of subject, perhaps on a specific aspect like public transport. The slight fault in this debate is that the subject has, on the whole, been too wide. We have been talking rather about ideals whereas we should perhaps have been more specific.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having introduced this debate. It is a subject that badly needs talking about. Anybody who uses public transport in London regularly, as I do, knows that it is no transport of delight. I have suffered endless delays through waiting for buses which never come. When I have made inquiries as to why this should be I have merely been told that there is trouble at the garage. I am afraid that as a mere layman one does not know what that trouble may be; all one knows is that the bus does not come. It seems to me that with the high rate of unemployment which we have in our country at the moment it is very strange that there are not more applicants to work on the buses. After all, they are quite adequately paid so far as I know, yet the buses are so extraordinarily under-staffed.

Another source of annoyance is when one waits 20 minutes for a bus on a particular route and then four of them appear together. That I think is due to a particular fault in the London bus system: most London bus routes are much too long. Many of them run from the extreme East of London to the extreme West, or from the extreme South to the extreme North and it is impossible under present day traffic conditions to keep a proper timetable. It would be much better if the routes were in shorter sections. It would certainly mean that the passenger who was going a long distance would have to change, but long distance bus travellers are few and far between. I do not think that on a bus in London you would find many people who have travelled more than an 8p fare. Therefore it would be better to divide the routes into short ones and to have a flat rate fare. That would save time. Then we could have one-man buses, which would make for greater efficiency and less loss of time.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke of the planning of cities on a radial basis, like a spider's web, with radial roads and circular roads and under-passes. If I were designing a new city that is precisely the plan on which I would design it. But we cannot do that with a place like London. We cannot remove all our ancient and historic monuments because we want to run a radial road through where they stand. Therefore, very desirable though the plan is, I am afraid it is not practicable in London. We have to do what we can in the way of isolating the buses into bus lanes and possibly banning cars. The banning of private cars in certain areas is an unfortunate necessity. I think that exceptions will have to be made for those who actually live in central London and who own cars. They will need some special licence which will enable them to use their cars from their homes. Other than that, I cannot see any solution by any major road re-planning which would lessen the traffic flow in London.

I think that the staff of public transport should be chosen a little more carefully. I have walked through a ticket barrier on the underground a number of times and shown my ticket only to observe the ticket inspector staring down at his knee reading a thriller, or doing something like that, being totally unaware of the fact that I had passed. He knows I cannot get away with anything because I have to give up my ticket at my destination. Incidentally, when a horde of people passes through the barrier at the destination, it is impossible for the inspector to look carefully at each ticket to see whether it is of the correct value and to hold up the traveller if it is not. The inspectors do not look at the tickets, they just collect them as the people come through the barrier. Therefore staff should be a little more carefully chosen.

I do not think one can do anything more on the underground so far as the rush hours are concerned, because trains are already running within sight of each other, and unless we build a second track, we will not be able to improve matters. I have travelled on the underground at the very peak of the rush hour, when to force one's way on the train is almost worse than playing in a rugger match; but forcing one's way out is even worse. At the moment I cannot see any solution to that problem until we get a better bus service; and then perhaps more people will opt for travelling by bus.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, at this hour and after so many speakers have spoken, nearly all the points I had intended to make have already been made. This is the inevitable fate, I suppose, of those who come towards the end of the list of speakers. However, I want to sound a note of considerable urgency. There has been a great deal of agreement about things which need to be done, about the fact that public transport is not as good as it ought to be, and that it ought to be improved. But the general tone of the debate has been that we will gradually make things better and time is not really of the essence. My argument is that time is very much of the essence. I speak, unlike most of your Lordships, and unlike most notable Lords who have spoken in your Lordships' House today, as a non-motorist. I am a non-motorist for a variety of reasons—not least because I am extremely inefficient at it. But I am a continual traveller. I seem to spend a large amount of my life travelling on London Transport in one way or another.

I want particularly to say a few words about London Transport this evening. I realise that the noble Lord who is to reply will remind me that the Government are not responsible for London Transport but that it is the responsibility of the Greater London Council. As the previous speaker remarked, London Transport covers a wide area. It is a matter of very great concern to the capital as a whole, and a large number of people visit London from other parts of the country; and of course London Transport serves our very important tourist trade which comes to see London. It is a matter of national concern as well as a matter of London's concern. Admittedly, this has been a problem for a considerable length of time. But my argument is that it is now reaching crisis proportions. Urgent action is needed; not reflection on the state of transport; but consideration of what we are going to do now to get it better.

There are two major problems; they are distinct but related. There is the problem of the acute discomfort—and that is putting it mildly!—of travellers on London Transport during peak hour traffic. Not infrequently the London Transport tube that I use in the rush hour is a solid mass of human flesh. I am glad to say that I am tall enough to raise my head above the bodyline. But others are not so fortunate. I travelled only the other day in the company of a child who was submerged below the human beings who came together above the child's head because of the congestion in the tube train. Sooner or later there will be the most hideous accident on London Transport's underground service. People cannot get in or out of trains easily, and the atmosphere is exceedingly disagreeable. On the whole, London Transport travellers are reasonably patient, but tempers are now beginning to get very frayed indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, said that the trains came in one after another. He is a great deal more fortunate than I am. Even in rush hours I frequently have to wait for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and then the trains are so intolerably packed that travelling in them is extremely unpleasant. It is a truism to mention it, but if animals were treated in this way there would be the most appalling outcry.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment? I was only speaking of the District Line; I was not speaking of the tube trains.

Baroness SEEAR

Well, my Lords, mine is the Bakerloo Line, but I do not suppose there is a great deal to choose between them. I regard this as a matter of considerable urgency affecting large numbers of people.

Another noble Lord said that the position would be difficult to quantify. It would indeed be difficult to quantify the cost of the inadequacy of travel in London. Consider, my Lords, the time wasted. I counted, through the tiny bit of train window through which I was able to peek on a recent morning, 20 people left behind on the platform; they had already been waiting a considerable time for the train to come in. Consider the amount of lost time, the amount of lateness for work, the extent to which people arrive weary, jaded and cross because of their travel experiences. There must be a monetary figure as well as a human figure which can be put on this situation—and it is getting worse.

A related problem is that of cost. My noble friend Lord Denbigh referred to the fact that London Transport, instead of making a surplus, is making a loss this year; and the forecast, as your Lordships are no doubt aware, is that there will be a loss by London Transport of £125 million. That is what is forecast—a loss of £125 million. My Lords, this is a loss of crisis proportions. It is not something that we can afford to leave, and hope that if reasonable attention is paid to these problems they will get better. Where is that money to come from? The Greater London Council have said that a 36 per cent. increase in fares will provide £35 million. That will not meet the loss. Of course, people will say, "Subsidies". But we are beginning to realise that subsidies do not provide us with anything free, because they have to be paid for out of rates and taxes. This is well-known, yet people speak as if, somehow, subsidies were the solution to the problem.

I question whether the use of subsidies to any great extent is a fair and proper way of dealing with the deficit of London Transport. After all, the great mass of people who use London Transport, certainly in the rush hour, are earners, people who are getting something for the journeys they take. Subsidies have to be paid for by the people who are not earners, by the old and all the rest, through rates and taxes. I doubt very much, as my noble friend Lord Byers pointed out in regard to the survey which has been done in another country, whether the kind of redistribution which we ought to support is to put the cost of moving people about in London on to the general taxpayer and the general ratepayer.

I urge the Government to look at the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Denbigh, that some money might be recouped from special charges on finance and commercial establishments, particularly in the City of London where property values and rents have gone up very considerably. Those properties would be of little value if people were not able to reach them, and to do so by London Transport. It would not be unreasonable to recoup some of the additional costs from such a source.

Let us look a little more closely at some of the suggestions put forward, and I should like to add one or two further points to the many useful ones which have already been made. Undoubtedly, there is agreement in your Lordships' House, and growing agreement in the country, that a great deal of trouble arises from excessive use of the private car, and that there is a need to revive and improve public transport in London, particularly the bus. I would make one point which perhaps is not very well known—cer- tainly I did not know it myself until I saw a recent report. It is a minor point but we cannot afford to ignore minor points when considering how, in the immediate future as well as in the middle distance, we can improve on the present position.

There has of course been a reduction in the numbers of people using public transport, not solely because, and I suspect not mainly because, of the increased use of the private car. In the years from 1963 to 1973 the numbers using the underground between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., which is the crucial time, fell by 58,000 approximately; for British Rail the figure was 23,000; and buses, 43,000. Motor cars in that time increased by 16,900 and that figure has been matched almost exactly by a fall in the number of people using pedal and motor cycles—a fall of 17,400. Plainly, one of the events which have taken place is a move from cycles to cars, and a rejection of the bus.

Many people have pointed to the importance of bus lanes. Would it not be possible, as a matter of urgency, to develop more bus lanes to attract people back on to the bus? A great many people would use buses. I myself would use buses, if the service were improved. I used buses for the first ten years of my working life. I gave them up because I could not rely on arrival within half an hour of the planned time. If more bus lanes were provided and one knew within a reasonable degree of accuracy when the bus would arrive, I believe a great many people would return to the bus. Bus lanes would not carry the private car, or certainly not unless it was fully loaded, but could they not also be used by motor-cyclists and pedal cyclists?

It may be a trivial point, but I believe that many people in London, especially with the increasing cost of petrol, would use cycles again if it were possible to use them with reasonable safety. If the motor car was not allowed on the bus lane but the cycle was, we could reverse this move from the bicycle to the car which has taken place over the last ten years. We could also reverse the use of the car to the use of the bus, and we should get a certain number of people off the greatly overcrowded underground on to the buses. Of course, at present buses are also overcrowded at the rush hour, but if they could travel at greater speed, and if their number was increased in response to demand, I believe that as a short-term measure this would do more than any other single factor to relieve very acute congestion.

The peak hour is really the crux of the London problem. Half the traffic is carried in four hours of the day. That lies at the heart of the problem, in terms of both cost and discomfort. Is there anything we can do about the peak hour congestion? A noble Lord who spoke earlier said that the question of adjusting work time is a matter for firms and employers in consultation with their employees. I wonder whether that is all that can be done. Could not the Government give tax encouragements to companies not to operate, not to open and shut at hours that involve their employees travelling at peak travel time? If the tax concessions were substantial they could be shared; the advantages could be passed on to the employees who accepted the need to change to different working hours. It would make a great deal of difference if we could have "flexitime" working in a large number of places, and people not starting work at approximately the same time, or with the same hours of work, in the same area. Surely some kind of encouragement, a proper tax encouragement, from the Government could make a positive move in this direction.

Then there is of course the question of staff. The shortage of staff on London Transport has been referred to again and again, and of course there is the extreme loss that arises if additional staff are employed in order to provide extra services during the peak time, but are not needed when the traffic load is very much lighter. I know that your Lordships will think I always come back to this question as a solution, or part solution, but we really must urge London Transport again to look at the more effective use of women.

One of the problems is that one cannot recruit people to London Transport because of the housing situation, but a great many women are living already in the London Transport area. They do not have to have housing found for them so that they can be employed by London Transport. However, I obtained figures this morning from London Transport about the use of women to drive buses. This matter has been pressed for months and months. We have had White Papers; we have had promises from both Governments that they are entirely converted to the idea of the use of women, equal opportunity, et al. What do I find? I find that on London Transport this morning there were six women drivers—six, my Lords. There are three more—this is great progress—in training, and the final triumph is that four more will start training next week. I suppose it helps, but women are not a new discovery, and when one takes into account the shortage that we have talked about it is quite ridiculous that today we should have only four women bus drivers—three in training and four proudly starting work next week.


My Lords, nobody has greater respect for the woman driver than I have, but is this not a matter of pure physical strength? I have no experience because I have never driven a bus, and I do not know the answer to that question.

Baroness SEEAR

No, my Lords, it is not. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, pointed out earlier in this debate, if women could drive ambulances during the blitz they can drive buses in London. There is another way in which the use of women on London Transport could help very considerably. We know that people hate split shifts, and with reason. If one wanted to employ people to cover the peak periods in order to help overcome the shortage of staff at peak periods, this would involve split shifts. There is a tremendous demand among women for part-time work, and the large increase in the employment of women in recent years has been in part-time jobs. There is a great shortage of well paid part-time work.

I understand from London Transport that we are approaching the £3,000-a-year bus driver. I think that is fine, but a part-time job for a woman at that rate for four hours a day would be very attractive indeed. Women are still averaging only £25 a week. If they were paid part-time at the rate of £3,000 a year for driving a bus, women would be doing very nicely compared with what they earn in most other jobs which are available to them. What is there to prevent London Transport from having women drivers and conductors who work part-time and give us an additional service during the peak hour period? Surely this is an obvious way out of the problem of providing extra services for the public during the rush hour periods.

We are told, my Lords, that there is a great shortage of staff on the underground and that this is the reason why there are long delays between trains. A letter to London Transport about the use of women to drive underground trains produced the following reply: The position of some trade unions on the question of employing women as underground train staff is such that a good deal of negotiation would be required before such a step could be implemented. This factor apart, there is a practical difficulty in that the use of female staff on such duties would involve the duplication of existing facilities, for example, wash rooms and toilets, and this in itself would be difficult and expensive at some locations. Facing a deficit of £125 million, it seems that they cannot stand the cost of putting up a few more lavatories in order to obtain extra staff to make the service more efficient and more profitable. One despairs if the writers of letters of that kind, representing London Transport, have so little imagination that they cannot think up a better reason for not employing women. This is the oldest card in the pack to produce as a reason why women should not be employed.

My Lords, that is not the only way in which we can get out of the difficulties, but it is, I submit, a very important point to look at when we know that we are so short of staff. The Government have shown a genuine interest in improving the position. They now have an opportunity to do something about it. If they are really behind the Home Secretary's White Paper, let them show that they are behind it by leaning on the London Transport Executive in the interests of the traveller, by showing that they really mean equal opportunity and that they mean it now. There is no need to wait until the end of next year—when we understand that this legislation is likely to be enforced—in order to bring about these changes.

My Lords, London Transport is, of course, a monopoly. Another way in which alleviation could be given would be to permit private operators. I realise that the noble Lords on the Benches opposite will not like the idea of private operators, but the needs of the public should be paramount. If, after all these years, London Transport has not been able to move the public of London around as it needs to be moved round, then the question of private operators should be looked at again, because it is the interests of the travelling public, not the interests of London Transport or even the interests of the people who work in London Transport, which should be paramount in this regard. This raises the larger question of where the consumer makes his voice heard in monopoly organisations of this kind. Would not it be reasonable for there to be a consumer representative on the Board of London Transport Executive so that the interests of the consumers could be properly voiced at the proper time and in the proper place when decisions have to be made which affect London Transport?

Lord HOY

My Lords, I do not mind the last suggestion which the noble Baroness has made about consumer interest, but when she threw out the suggestion of the use of private operators inside London I am certain that she did not do it without thinking out what she was saying. Therefore can the noble Baroness tell us what she means when she speaks about private operators being used in London for transport purposes?

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I know it is a sacred cow that there must be complete monopoly control over the provision of transport in London. However, I do not think that any consideration should be barred, even to the extent of private enterprise buses being provided in those areas and at those times when London Transport is failing the public.

Lord HOY

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for yet another interjection. I do not object to that, either; it is a suggestion which has got to be considered. But surely the noble Baroness has not thrown that as a kind of sop into this debate without thinking it out? And I want to know what her ideas are about an alternative to the London Transport Executive. All I am doing is giving a great deal of credence to the argument of the noble Baroness in saying to her that she has thought this out and that your Lordships' House would like to know tonight what are her ideas regarding the alternative.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I did not say, "instead of". I said, "in addition to". I have been speaking for 22 minutes, and I sensed that there was a certain amount of pettiness occurring. Therefore I put this in my notes. As the noble Lord must well know, this is not a new idea. The suggestion that it is possible to allow private concerns to run buses on routes at times when the public is inadequately served by London Transport is not, I suggest, an idea of such novelty or such difficulty that it needs greater elaboration at this time. If the noble Lord wishes me to go into the matter I will do so, but I doubt whether it would be the wish of your Lordships' House that I should do so after I have been holding forth for 23 minutes.


My Lords, does not the noble Baroness remember that at one time there were private undertakers in London, and that they used to race each other to stopping places, at great danger to the public? That is why the monopoly was introduced. That practice was, and still would be, extremely dangerous.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, if that is the only objection to them I am sure there are a great many ways in which the danger of excessive speed on London roads could be overcome. I should have thought that the existing weight of transport would prevent any excessive speed. Indeed, a great many of us would welcome a little excessive speed on London roads at the present time!


My Lords, it was not only a question of speed; the buses used to run into each other.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I am certain that the police are quite capable of seeing that buses do not run into each other on London roads. I realise that noble Lords opposite are devoted to the idea that there must be a monopoly control over transport. I think we have shown in this debate that we are greatly concerned that the public should get a good service. In many respects London Transport does give a good service, but it has been the universal testimony today that it is not adequate and I am putting forward this suggestion as one way, among others, in which it can be supplemented. Perhaps we can settle with the noble Lord in this way: if he will see that these buses run by women employed part-time are available during the peak hours, then I will compromise on the subject of the private buses.

Finally, to reiterate what I just now said—because it is not a throwaway line but a serious suggestion—in organisations concerned with services which so deeply affect the ordinary lives of ordinary people every day some representation of the consumer interest on the controlling board is long overdue.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an extremely wide-ranging and interesting debate. I think I can say that without fear of contradiction from anyone. If I may, I should like to discuss one or two points in rather more detail than my noble friend Lady Birk had time to do earlier, and I will of course try to answer some of the points that noble Lords have raised during the debate. I am sure noble Lords will not expect me to take up every point that has been raised, but I hope that I shall be able to talk about some of the main themes that have emerged from speeches made by noble Lords this afternoon.

It should be obvious to all of us from this debate that there are no easy solutions to the problems posed by the large numbers of people who want to travel into and out of and around our large urban centres. Particularly at the moment, when we are in a period of severe financial stringency, the Government will be forced to look for solutions which are not going to cost a great deal of money. This really means that we must learn to make the best use of the resources already available to us, and that no magic fairy or technological innovation will suddenly appear on the scene to solve all the problems we have heard so much about this afternoon—not even a feminine fairy. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and others who have spoken all stressed this point.

There is much talk of advanced technology, and the different possibilities, which seem to be endless, from systems involving capsules moving on belts at different speeds in Japan, to the proposed Toronto system involving magnetic levitation. But the technical problems, and rising costs, sometimes seem to be endless, too; for example, the technical problems with automatic control systems such as those that seem to have arisen with the Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco. The ever increasing cost of new technological developments is something that all your Lordships will be all too familiar with, and I will not belabour the point with illustrations.

My Department has done its share of research into advanced systems, ranging from the personal rapid transit system, Cabtrack, to the "minitram" proposal which is being considered in the context of a possible demonstration system in Sheffield. But we really must put our major effort into existing technology. In the first place, new technology is costly and we do not want to increase public expenditure. Secondly, public transport must be reliable, in varying traffic and weather conditions, in the peak hours and late at night, day after day, year after year. High technology remains to be proven in these demanding conditions. The time scale is also important. New technology may have a part to play in the longer term. But for today's problems we must depend on solutions which already exist, and I will return to that theme in a moment.

First, if I may, I will attempt to answer some of the points raised by noble Lords in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, raised several points to which I shall return later, including the need to improve public transport, especially bus services, and to restrain the private car. On public transport, in London particularly, my noble friend explained how hampered the operators have been by staff shortages, though there are now welcome signs of improvement in the situation. I should not like your Lordships to think that the picture is one of unmitigated gloom, and this has already been stressed by my noble friend. The Government have stimulated, through infrastructure grants, a large programme of capital improvements. New signalling in the Feltham area will help to make trains more reliable; new rolling stock is being introduced on the Northern Line and on some of British Rail Southern Region commuter services. Works in progress include the construction of the Fleet underground line, the electrification of the suburban services into King's Cross with a new direct route into Moorgate, the extension of the Piccadilly Line to London Airport and new rolling stock for that line. There will also be a new-track layout and new signalling at London Bridge which should do much to improve the punctuality and reliability of the South-East services, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, spoke so eloquently. I can tell her that the new scheme should be completed in 1976.

I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that improvements are in hand at several of the places in London that he mentioned. The rebuilding of London Bridge station, which my right honourable friend authorised a few months ago, will include more convenient and weatherproof access to both the underground and buses. Advantage is being taken of the building of the new Fleet Line station at the Strand to provide a new subway for pedestrians under that road to Charing Cross. Bond Street station is being improved. I find it hard to believe that it actually takes seven minutes from the main line station at Waterloo to the underground platforms, and I doubt whether a travellator would be practicable; but the noble Lord will doubtless know that new escalators are being put in there and that access to the underground station is being improved.

However, there are limits to what can be done in the way of better interchanges and more subways in London. We have to live with our inheritance. We cannot alter the positions of stations and railway lines. An exhaustive study of interchanges by the London Rail Study showed that in many places improvements were physically impossible, and that where they were possible the cost of them was often prohibitively high, especially in relation to the numbers of people using the facility. It boils down to value for money, a consideration which is all the more important when financial and other resources are severely strained, but I can assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to give financial support to the maintenance and improvement of the fabric of London's transport.

On mouches and jitnies and other strange things to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, drew our attention, my own experience of mouches in Istanbul was that no more effective method of killing and maiming and deafening pedestrians could ever have been devised, but I would certainly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said and say that our own approach to public transport should increasingly be a flexible one and not confined to the rigidity of stage service buses and trains. I shall be referring later to the steps which the Department is taking to sponsor demand responsive systems, such as the dial-a-ride scheme in Harlow.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, raised in particular the question of lorry parks. There are very real difficulties in establishing a network of lorry parks to the standards laid down in the Report on Lorry Parks published in 1971. Some of these difficulties relate to the actual finding of suitable sites, but at the present time their main problem is the lack of commercial attractiveness in view of the increasing development costs. This does not mean that the need for lorry parks is not as great as ever. With lorry routing proposals being prepared, it may be even greater. What has to be done is to find the best way of meeting the need. With this in mind, my Department has recently held a conference with the interests concerned in the provision, operation and use of lorry parks, and the Minister will give very careful consideration to the views and suggestions put forward.

At the more local level the provision of lorry parks is a matter for local authorities, who in preparing their TPPs will doubtless consider whether sufficient parking is available in their towns. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, asked me, at rather short notice, to comment on some figures of local vehicle registrations. I would be happy to write to him about that if he would like me to.

To turn for a moment to housing, a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and others, I would say that workers in many vital industries, including public transport, will never be able to afford to live near their jobs in inner city areas until we provide municipal housing, or housing association accommodation for them to live in. I fully agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Castle about the importance of housing for London Transport staff, especially for those working unsocial hours. My noble friend Lord Castle also raised the deep question of the relationship between London Transport, the Greater London Council, borough councillors and the consumers, the passengers. Part of the difficulty here is the size of London and the need for one major operator who must seem remote from the average passenger. I accept that those responsible for public transport must be sensitive to the views of passengers. I am sure that London Transport do their best to meet justified complaints. But there are dangers in allowing too many hands on the London Transport tiller.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, raised three points on which I should like to comment. First, there was the question of parking in Covent Garden. An Order is about to be made to control on-street parking on all except private market roads in the area. This will come into effect on the 23rd December. The local authorities concerned are investigating measures for controlling parking on the private roads as well. In the longer term, the Greater London Council are preparing an informal plan for that area, which has been designated as a comprehensive development area. In preparing this, it is for them to consider the local needs of traffic and pedestrians, and to devise appropriate traffic management measures and parking controls.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, then raised the question of the Oxford Street traffic scheme. As your Lordships will be aware, the Greater London Council, who are wholly responsible for this traffic scheme, made their first experimental traffic order banning through-traffic, except buses, taxis, emergency and delivery vehicles from the Western section between Oxford Circus and Portman Square on the 1st December 1972. The experimental scheme successfully fulfilled its aims, and in July 1973 the Council decided that it should continue permanently. At the same time, the Council decided to extend the scheme to the Eastern section between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. The second experimental Order came into effect in March last.

The Greater London Council are now assessing the effectiveness of the experimental second stage before deciding whether it should continue permanently. Two disappointments of the overall scheme have been its failure to reduce the total number of pedestrian/vehicle accidents in the area, although the number of fatal and serious injuries has been greatly reduced, and the lack of enforcement to make it fully effective. But the Greater London Council are considering possible remedies in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and the Westminster City Council. Despite these weaknesses, I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that the scheme has improved the environment of that part of Oxford Street, particularly for the thousands who every day use the shops, and that it has speeded the flow of traffic along what was the most congested street of our city.

The noble Lord mentioned the frustrations caused, particularly in London, by demonstrations that take place on weekdays. He suggested that such marches should be permitted only at weekends. Contrary to popular belief, organisers of processions do not need police permission to organise such events, although in almost every case liaison is established between organisers and the police so that useful arrangements can be made to accommodate both the demonstrators and the general public. Wherever possible the marchers are marshalled in blocks to allow traffic to flow across the line of the march, but much depends on the type of demonstration and the prevailing traffic conditions. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some inconvenience occurs on these occasions. But I can assure your Lordships that the police and most organisers do everything possible to reduce that inconvenience to the minimum. Be that as it may, it is a long-established right in this country to hold public meetings, or to organise processions in a public place. I am sure your Lordships would want to think seriously about this before interfering with such a basic, cherished and vital democratic freedom.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, drew attention to the problems of the second-class season ticket holders who, for lack of second-class accommodation, find seats in the first-class section. The questions raised by the noble Lord are primarily matters of day-to-day management for which the British Railways Board is responsible. For this reason, it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene, or, indeed, for me to defend or criticise the policy of the Board in this debate. I am sure that the Chairman of the British Railways Board and his fellow-members will study what has been said today, and take note of the points made. The services in Kent, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, which have no first-class carriages, are at least spared this problem.

The noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, raised the question of car-sharing. There is a problem over insurance in relation to car-sharing, as he said. At present, the difficulty has been suspended by the Order relating to fuel saving. Ways of dealing with this permanently will be considered by the Government, but this is connected with the licensing regulations which relate to vehicles plying for hire which are not simple. As my noble friend said, in general we are in favour of car-sharing and will do what we can to encourage it. The noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, also spoke about mopeds. As a regular moped rider myself, I can sympathise with his remarks. Indeed, I am shortly to take my test on my moped. I am not so certain that I agree that a moped capable of 25 mph is no more difficult to ride than a bicycle. Frankly, I terrify myself fairly regularly on my moped, and I am glad to think I shall have to take a test.

The Earl of DENBIGH

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, whether he actually rides a bicycle as well?


My Lords, I have ridden a bicycle in the past, but unfortunately I am unable to run two machines. But I am glad I will have to take a test before I can carry passengers on my own moped. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned the question of tickets not being looked at very carefully at the barrier. Again, my own personal experience is the reverse. This may be because I travel often on the underground with a dog, and therefore present two tickets at the barrier where there is only one person, the dog usually being invisible in the crowd. My experience is that the people examining the tickets take a great deal of trouble even when they are given more tickets to inspect rather than less.

Turning to some of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I do not want to get drawn into a long—and I am sure it would be long—debate on private enterprise versus public enterprise. But private enterprise does exist in urban centres in the form of private transport, and people are quite able to take advantage of that sort of private enterprise if they wish. The noble Baroness also mentioned women. Of course, there has been some resistance to the employment of women drivers, both as part-time and as full-time employees. I think it is fair to say, however, that attitudes are slowly changing. But attitudes have to be changed among women as well as among employers. In some instances, there has been real difficulty in getting women to come forward for some of the jobs. I think that is really the answer to some of the points raised by the noble Baroness. There will have to be a fundamental change in the attitude of the whole of society to women in general, not just picking out particular jobs where it is thought it would be useful to "bung in" a few women to plug the gaps. This fundamental change should be helped by the White Paper which the Government have published.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I do not think many women would object to plugging the gap for four hours a day at the suggested £3,000 rate. I was really asking whether the Government will take some positive action to see that women are made use of.


My Lords, as I have said, the Government have published a White Paper on the subject and are taking positive action in this sphere. But there are real difficulties. I am sure noble Lords and the noble Baroness would accept that

Looking at urban transport in general, and saying that we must make the most of the facilities we already have, does not necessarily mean that the solutions we come up with will be any worse or less effective than some of the very expensive proposals that have been made in the past. For many years, as I understand it, the planning of urban roads has been dominated by the philosophy of a roads system which would cater for rapidly increasing traffic flows. It has always been recognised that this was a long-term objective and that it called for radical and costly road construction schemes, often combined with re-development.

Today, in the tight economic situation, it is clear that the completion of schemes of this nature must be very many years in the future. Moreover, public opinion has turned strongly, and rightly in my view, against environmentally obtrusive and disruptive road schemes within towns; and I think this has been supported by most of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. The emphasis is changing, therefore, to making better use of the roads we have, spending the money that is available for road building on doing away with bottlenecks in the system, and building new links only where these will bring such benefits as enabling pedestrianisation and traffic management schemes to be implemented, keeping heavy lorries away from sensitive environmental areas, and speeding up bus services. These are the new objectives that road building must serve, not the old objectives of the unobtainable, and probably undesirable, provision of free-flow conditions for all traffic.

Our existing road network has a lot to recommend it. It is already there. No homes and shops have to be destroyed. Existing roads can be used by public and private transport, from large lorries to bicycles, and they are available day and night and in almost any weather. It is still possible to get around Central London fairly quickly, if one is prepared to work at it, on a bicycle, or, at this time of the year, to brave the cold and rain on a moped or motor bike. Which recently published some research on journey times around London. For the research they used a car, a motor bike, a bicycle and public transport. Motor bikes and mopeds were the fastest, both during rush hours and at other times of the day. The bicycle turned out to be the most reliable form of transport in terms of achieving consistent average speeds in all conditions. So there is something which a great many of us can do to speed up our travelling around cities, while, incidentally, saving fuel and causing less pollution. But, my Lords, we are all agreed that there are a very large number of things that need to be done to improve urban transport, particularly public transport, and we are all users of public transport to a greater or lesser extent.

The Department of the Environment has sponsored a series of bus demonstration projects to illustrate ways of improving bus services. They include bus priorities, including bus lanes, within a comprehensive traffic management scheme in Reading; a bus feeder service to a commuter rail station at Formby; and measures to give buses quicker routes through one-way systems in Manchester and London. Other reports on demonstration projects still in preparation will cover the use of mini-buses in a pedestrianised central shopping area, the selective application of parking restrictions along a bus route, and bus priority measures within a radio controlled system.

The new town of Runcorn mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, provides an example of a complete road system reserved for buses only and connections with residential areas, industrial areas, town centres, schools and so on. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, about the need to learn from experiments like the Hampstead Garden Suburb and Harlow dial-a-bus projects. The Department is evaluating dial-a-bus. This is a new flexible form of public transport in which mini-buses are used to provide a doorstep service in response to a request by telephone or other means. This is being evaluated as a form of public transport. The Department is joining in the sponsorship of an experiment at Harlow, which is the first such system in Britain to operate throughout the day and gives the higher standard of service of a larger system.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, also mentioned the GLC programme for bus lanes, to which again the Government are making a substantial financial contribution. Some people consider bus lanes more of a hindrance than a blessing. Of course, they tend to make conditions a little more difficult for other traffic. They are, after all, intended to speed up buses on critical sections of their journeys. A recent survey by the GLC of the first thirty-three bus lanes which they installed showed that their benefits significantly outweighed their disadvantages. I am glad to say that their observance by other vehicles has also shown a marked improvement, though in some cases observance is still bad.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, also raised the question of bus lane enforcement. The Road Traffic Act 1974 applied the fixed penalty system to the offence of driving in bus lanes. When introduced, offenders will be issued with notices which allow them to discharge their liability for prosecution by payment of the fixed penalty, which at present stands at £2.


My Lords, would it not be possible to enforce that more strongly by building kerbs between the bus lane and the rest of the road, as in Piccadilly?


My Lords, I have already referred to some places, mainly New Towns, where these separated bus lanes have been used. The difficulty is that if you are trying to have a bus lane on an existing road network it is impossible physically to separate the bus lane, because the lane has to be used by other traffic, either pulling in to the kerb or turning left or even right across the lane. I think I am right in saying that the practical difficulties in physical separation are, on the whole, too great to be overcome on existing road networks, although it is a possibility if you are starting off a road network from scratch.

I was talking about the fixed penalty being introduced for offences in bus lanes. This system will, of course, reduce the work load for the courts and the police, but it does not assist the detection of bus lane offences, which is the main problem in many areas. The Government are looking at the possibility of extending the functions of traffic wardens to deal with bus lane offences. This would require an order of the Home Secretary and is under consideration by the Home Office in consultation with the police. It would be controversial, since wardens would be empowered to stop vehicles, and this would be the first time that such powers were granted to enforcement officers other than the police.

My Lords, I should like to say a brief word about bus fares, particularly in view of the discussions there have recently been of such possibilities as flat rate fares and free travel areas. I think the flat rate fares were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. The evidence suggests that low fares have relatively little effect in attracting passengers from car to bus; nor are they an effective means of helping the worse-off sections of the community. I think that in saying that I am agreeing with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seears, said before me. In line with their overall policy of seeking to limit public expenditure, including expenditure by local authorities, the Government's aim is that bus operations in general should move closer towards a position of commercial viability.

We have heard this afternoon that there is a lot wrong with our public transport system. I do not find that surprising in view of the domination of our lives by the private motor car. Most people in this House own private cars or have one at their disposal, although I must say that in the case of a large number of people who have spoken this afternoon that does not seem to be so. While it remains the case that most, if not all, of the rich, powerful and influential people living or working in urban areas own or have the use of a motor car, I cannot help feeling that there will be a tendency for us all to look after the facilities for private motorists, while not nearly enough is done about the state of our public services. It seems to me that here there is a parallel with both the National Health Service and our educational system. While we have private beds and private schools, the public sectors will inevitably have less pressure exerted on their behalf, because the private sectors tend to cream off many of the country's most influential consumers. If all the bus shelters in Camberwell were closed down I doubt whether we should have a passionate debate in your Lordships' House about it, as we did about the withdrawal of check in facilities at the Cromwell Road Air Terminal.

Let me stress straight away that I am not suggesting the abolition of the private car, and I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about the convenience of cars for the disabled and other special groups. But this afternoon we have been discussing in part the frustrations caused by congestion in urban areas, and my noble friend Lady Birk has already identified the main culprit as the private car. At present the control of parking is the main weapon that is available to local authorities. They can restrict the number of parking spaces, change the time of their use, and vary the charges. They can restrict car commuters by increasing charges for long-stay parkers, while leaving the shoppers and other short-stay parkers at a relatively low charge.

Until recently policies were restricted by the application of the Price Code to parking charges, but in the revised code proposed by the Secretary of State for prices and consumer protection there is an exemption for all on street charges, and for long-stay charges which are four hours or over in local authority off-street car parks. So, in the interests of traffic management, authorities will be able to carry out parking policies without hindrance.

The Government have provided new weapons for the police in their continuous battle with those who evade basic parking controls. The difficulties faced by police and traffic wardens are well known. The introduction of owner liability, following this year's Road Traffic Act, should help the police very considerably in tracing offenders. To reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, it is the Government's intention to introduce this part of the Act in the second half of 1975. The ability to increase the fixed penalty also provided by that Act should make this deterrent bite.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, could he explain why it is necessary to wait another six months? Can he also answer the question, whether, by general legislation, the Government intend to extend to all authorities the power, which at the moment is held only by the GLC, to licence off-street car parking, the subject that the noble Lord was just talking about?


My Lords, on the first point, I think that the main difficulties arise from the computer situation. No doubt that is an excuse which is often heard by noble Lords for delays in introducing things, and indeed for explaining away problems after something has been introduced. However, there is a considerable problem in transferring to the computer the details that would be necessary to make owner liability work properly. Of course, it is only because all this is dealt with by computers that the system works at all at the moment. I am coming to the second point in a moment or two, and perhaps I could deal with it in my own time.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, suggested that we should impose much tougher penalties on motorists whose cars are towed away by the police. Vehicles removed by the police are put in a police pound. When claimed by their owners the police at present cannot hold on to them even if the appropriate charges for removal and storage in the pound are not paid. This has led to considerable work for the police in chasing up unpaid bills, and many have had to be written off. Powers were taken in the 1974 Act, Section 19, for the police to retain custody of such vehicles until all the appropriate charges are paid, and it is hoped to bring this system into force early in the New Year. There are no computer problems there. There are, however, no powers for the police to penalise drivers by retaining custody of vehicles after the charges have been paid. This would require new legislation which would need careful consideration by the Home Office, in view of the possibly controversial implications of retaining property after charges have been met. I would think that the best solution to the point that the noble Lord raised would be to step up the initial charges for the towing away and any fixed penalty payment.

Control of public car parking and better enforcement may not be enough. For one thing, there is the problem of private car parking spaces in offices, warehouses, and other premises. This provides 30 per cent. of total parking space in many towns, and in some it rises to over 50 per cent. It is extremely difficult to deal with this problem. For example, about one-third of the parking spaces in central London are privately owned. The GLC has no powers over them, although through planning powers it can and does restrict the amount of parking space provided in new developments. But for public parking space, whether on-street or off-street, the policy is to tip the balance more towards the short-stay driver and against the all day commuter who is adding to the amount of traffic on the roads at the critical peak periods. At the same time the GLC has declared its intention to add another 25,000 parking places at suitable railway and underground stations on the periphery of London to encourage car commuters to park and ride. There are already some 15,000 places at stations in Greater London, and many more at commuter stations further out. A start has already been made on this programme with financial support from the Government.

Another possibility would be supplementary licensing. This is a system which has been considered by the GLC by which all vehicles, except those specially exempt, would have to pay a daily or period charge for entering a specified area of London. The GLC studies on this are not yet complete. If it wishes to go ahead, there will need to be legislation. As to the noble Lord's question about extending to other authorities the GLC's power under the Transport (London) Act for licensing privately operated public car parks, this is an option that the Government will certainly consider. The GLC has not yet employed these powers, and it might be preferable to wait until it has done so in order to benefit from its experience.

There seem to have been three themes that have run through the debate today: first, the need for comprehensive transport planning; secondly, the need to improve public transport; and, thirdly, the consequential need to restrain the private motor car. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, gave as his first proposition that our main objective ought to be to make public transport so effective that there is a real incentive for the motorist to use it. That may be putting the cart before the horse. It is very difficult to improve much of public transport in urban areas until private transport is curtailed, especially when it is being used by people travelling to and from work. Where there are a great number of people living and working on top of each other, it is my personal view that we are all going to have to think of each other a great deal more than we do at the moment, and think a great deal less about our personal convenience. We cannot just sit back and wait for public transport to be brought up to some level that we find personally acceptable. Many of us will have to be prepared to sacrifice some advantages that are personally convenient, so that living and travelling in urban areas can really become a less frustrating experience for everyone.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my personal gratitude to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I think has been a very useful one, and particularly to the noble Lord who has just wound up for the very full answers that he gave to all those who have taken part. We have covered a good deal of ground in a relatively short time, which is proper and appropriate for a debate on urban transport. I want to end by reinforcing what my noble friend Lady Seear said about the sense of urgency which has been injected into this problem. May I thank your Lordships, and ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.