HL Deb 17 May 1976 vol 370 cc1220-54

Does not the noble Lord think that ought to be put right?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, does not travel between the places I travel between, because I think that British Rail produce a tremendous service. If anybody can take himself over 112 miles in a car in one hour 25 minutes, as happens regularly with me, I shall be most surprised.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, may I first pay my thanks to my noble friend Lord Popplewell for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject today. Transport policy is the concern of all citizens, whether as private travellers or as business people. Above all, it is not a subject which should be left only to the self-styled experts, whose theoretical plans have in the past all too often ignored the reality of how people behave and what they actually want. I therefore welcome the Consultation Document as a valuable basis for the discussion and consideration of transport problems and priorities. That it covers the entire range of transport facilities, both public and private, and that it is so clearly addressed to the public at large, means that when a policy does emerge at the end of the discussion it will enable us to plan for the 1980's and the 1990's, confident that all who wish to do so have had the opportunity to make their views known.

In certain political and planning circles there has been for a long time far too much prejudice against the motor-car and far too little appreciation of the benefit it brings. I am therefore especially pleased that the Document places such strength on the role of private motorised transport. It is certainly right that road users should pay the full economic, social, and environmental cost which they impose on society, and we must ensure that they in fact do so. That said, however, there should, as the Report says, be no attempt to check the growth in car ownership, and the use of cars should be restricted only in congested urban areas. Those who argue otherwise ignore the simple fact that people want social mobility. Though there may be certain benefits to be gained from reducing society's dependence on the car these are, in my opinion, only one side of the coin. I am afraid that the pundits seriously underestimate the advantages that the car has brought, not least in broadening the horizons of so many people. Personal mobility should not be undervalued, and those who enjoy it should not wish to deny it to others.

The topic of personal mobility brings me on to the particular point of detail which I should like to raise; that is, the shopper and the journeys she, or he, makes to shop. These journeys are mostly made on foot, by car, or by bus. Journeys on foot are obviously mostly made to what are known as neighbourhood shops, and are often made by housewives who do not have the use of a car, at least during the day. Car shopping has increased with car ownership, but where stores are located in town centres can often have disadvantages. Traffic congestion may slow up journeys, and car parks may be sited far away from the stores the shopper wishes to visit. The car parks may be full, and, even if they are not, are frequently difficult to enter or leave, particularly the multi-storey variety. Nor is bus shopping at all convenient. Bus journeys are often slow (an important consideration for the busy housewife), and carrying heavy shopping bags on buses is neither easy nor enjoyable, especially if you have a child or two in tow.

So I believe there is a strong case for the edge of town store, and here I had better declare the interest that my name makes obvious. Such stores are mainly devoted to frequently purchased goods—that is, foodstuffs, and items such as cleaning materials. Their immediate advantage, as your Lordships will already have realised, is in relieving traffic congestion in the town centre. In the town centre are found shops selling consumer durables —clothing and fashion goods, all of which are less frequently bought, and these shops will, no doubt, continue to flourish even after edge of town developments have received planning consents. Only at the edge of town store is it possible for the retailer to provide extensive ground level parking. I cannot overstress the importance of this. Between 1970 and 1974 the proportion of grocery expenditure brought home by car rose steadily from 24 per cent. to 32 per cent. The trend was not affected by large increases in the price of petrol since the end of 1973, though the length of the journey may have been affected.

The habit of car shopping will undoubtedly continue to grow in line with the growth of car ownership, and if I tell your Lordships that a week's shopping for an average sized family weighs no less than half a hundredweight I am sure you will realise. Why many supporters of the anti-car lobby I mentioned earlier will now be saying, "Edge of town stores may well help the motorist, but what about the large minority of the community which does not have access to a car—the old; the infirm; the poorer sections of the community; the single person households, as well as those who quite simply choose not to have a car?" To the anti-car lobby, I would say that as many people live within ten or fifteen minutes' walk of an edge of town store—I am not talking about hypermarkets in the middle of the countryside—as can walk in the same time to the centre of a town.

Moreover, in a town with several edge of town stores, a great proportion of the population will live within walking distance of at least one large modern store, certainly more than can easily walk to the town centre. Car-less families, hitherto forced to rely on local stores, which have a restricted range of goods at generally more expensive prices, will thus benefit from the construction of edge of town stores. In addition, land is cheaper on the outskirts of towns than in town centres, as are building and operating costs, and ground level parking can be provided without difficulty at less cost and can also, of course, be used by motorists attending other activities outside shopping hours.

All these factors mean that the retailer can give his customers what they increasingly want, which is good stores, easily accessible by car, and, because of lower costs, goods at cheaper prices. At the same time, the retailer will be making a valuable contribution to solving some of the problems of transport and congestion in our town centres. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the construction of edge of town centres, which can become the focal point of local activities, is the only alternative to the massive and costly reconstruction of many of our existing old towns and city centres. I believe that there is no case, either on economic or environmental grounds, for the latter course. In my opinion, land usage and planning consents cannot be separated from transport policy.

One of the weaknesses of the Document we are discussing today is that it fails to recognise the importance of this fact. I hope that when the Government come to publish their proposals for the future development of the transport system, they will take note of this important link between planning and transport. I have touched on one small aspect of a vast problem in the solution of which social, economic and environmental considerations have to be reconciled. I hope that my remarks will have been of some slight interest to your Lordships.

6.4 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, like previous speakers, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for having made this debate possible. He may not remember that over a cup of tea last week he encouraged me to take part in the debate, so I am doubly grateful to him to be on my feet today. Like other noble Lords, I have found this Document extremely interesting and I am grateful to the Government for having published it. We must recognise that transport all over the world is in a difficult situation. We remember the Penn Central crash in America about the time when we had a little trouble with a firm called Rolls-Royce. It is a world problem. Sometimes, however, one can learn a little from the experience of others, and perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I remark on experiences in Northern Ireland.

In 1920, bus companies sprang up and gave a surprisingly cheap and efficient service. This of course was a signal for the bureaucrats to intervene. An official from London came over and advised that a Northern Ireland Road Transport Board should be set up modelled on the London Passenger Transport Board, despite the fact that there was no relation whatever between London and Northern Ireland. It was of course an outstanding failure. I remember in particular when I was nine or ten years old watching with great thrill the marvellous buses which were run by the Catherwood family—Sir Frederick Catherwood's father and his uncles—as they thundered past our gate at 70 mph between Belfast and Londonderry, and they made a handsome profit despite the fact that their strict Protestant principles would not allow them to run their buses on Sundays. All that was swept away and the companies, including the Catherwood family, were heavily compensated, and so far as I know the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board never made a penny and gave a far worse service. After the war, not content with all those experiences, a juggernaut was set up called the Ulster Transport Authority, which swept all the railways under its umbrella as well, and that of course produced an even worse system at even greater loss to the public. I will leave Northern Ireland now; I thought that your Lordships might be interested to hear of our experiences.

The problem—several speakers have dealt with it today—of road versus rail must receive our consideration. Some people are jealous of the success of road transport and feel that additional taxes should be placed on it; on the principle, I suppose, that if anything succeeds it should be crippled. But in Britain, with our present troubles, we should reinforce success. We should not tax it. Having had the good fortune to visit America frequently in the last 20 years, I have a suggestion to make which I am sure will prove impossible but which we should consider in the difficult economic situation in which we find ourselves. Other noble Lords who have had the good fortune to go to the United States will know that the New York throughway, which goes through New York, up-State and North towards Canada, was built on the system that one pays something every 25 or 30 miles; one slows down and throws a quarter-dollar into a steel basket and then drives on again. At first I was rather horrified at the system. I had never seen anything like it and I thought that our system was so much better. But when one bears in mind the fact that we are paying for our motorways through taxation, I am not sure that that system has not something to offer us.

The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was pointing out that it could cost up to £3 million a mile to build motorways and, if economies are to be made in this country —as I think they will have to be, as indeed is already happening—I doubt very much whether some of the motorways planned for the next few years will ever be built under the present system. So I throw this out as an idea which has worked well in America. Your Lordships may ask what a lorry or a car which decides not to use the motorway because its occupants do not want to spend, say, 50p for 100 miles will do. They can go by the old roads if they do not want to pay the extra 50p. I believe that this is something which should be looked at, even if it is eventually discarded, because otherwise I do not quite know how we are to complete our motorway programme.

I should like briefly to move on to freight. In my view, it is not possible in the 1970s to force firms to use the railways when they are making satisfactory use of road freight. I shall never forget opening an extension to a factory in Northern Ireland where I saw containers being loaded with merchandise and was told that they were going over by the ferry that night and that the merchandise would be in Manchester next morning at nine o'clock. The roll-on/roll-off container service operating today between Northern Ireland and England has made it possible for new factories to be established in Northern Ireland.

Your Lordships may say that this system would apply only to somewhere across the water, but I do not accept that. I feel that, if a firm can load its own containers and have them driven, for example, from Manchester to Devonshire on a motorway, it will know that its goods will arrive when it wants and that there will be no pilfering on the way and no hanging about in stations and sidings. It is the modern way of transport and no amount of pressure to drive the goods back on to the railways will, I fear, work. I am very sorry because I know that the railways always used to carry freight, but I believe that the new system has come to stay and that we must recognise and make the best of it, despite the fact that the railways would like to have it all back again.

I should now like to say something about air fares. Page 81 of the Consultation Document deals with the air. I wonder whether those of your Lordships who do not live in the North realise what is the return fare between London and Glasgow, and London and Edinburgh. It is £48. It is actually £50 to Belfast, which is closer, but we will leave that on one side. Then one opens one's Sunday papers and sees an advertisement which askes, "Why not have five days in Majorca all found, £30 return? "Some of your Lordships may have been reading about a little problem with regard to the air fares from London to Portugal. I do not want to say anything which may upset British Airways, but I have read in several papers that British Airways have, wittingly or unwittingly, been overcharging.

The other day my wife and I thought of visiting relatives in Portugal and I went to a travel agent to ask what was the return economy fare and was told that it was about £190. I looked very surprised indeed and I was then told that of course if I liked to go for longer than six days it would be only £119, not £190. I said I certainly wanted to go for more than six days, and, on that basis, I made a provisional booking of two seats. In the end, we had to cancel, but that is neither here nor there, but, as I was leaving the travel agency, a very charming lady behind the counter said, "Of course, if three of you go, it will only be £56 return." I am sure that there is a moral in that tale somewhere, but I was very interested to see from the Sunday Press that there is now quite a row going on about the matter. This is the kind of thing that happens when one has a monopoly in public transport.

Finally, I cannot restrain myself from reading out the final paragraph of the first page of the conclusions to this very interesting Document. It seems to me to he pure Conservative doctrine. It reads: But there is no doubt at all that public expenditure is under severe constraint; and this fact alone will entail the most rigorous reappraisal of priorities within the total of public spending on transport. We must re-examine the role of indiscriminate subsidies which tend to benefit the better off more than the poor …". I shall not bore your Lordships with any more, but that paragraph struck me as being pure Tory doctrine and I cannot help thinking that people live and learn.

The other paragraph which struck me was in the middle of the next page of the Document. It was paragraph 13.9 which deals with what is perhaps the chief recommendation contained in the Document, that is, the recommendation for the setting up of a National Transport Council. On paper, that seems a sensible and excellent idea and I am sure that if only the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, were here she would be delighted to see that consumer interests will be represented on that body. However, if it is set up, I hope that it will not turn into nothing more than a talking shop. It is amazing how people talk and talk and nothing ever gets done. Nevertheless, that seems to be one of the main recommendations of this most interesting and excellent Document. Once again, we are most indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for otherwise we should not have had the chance of taking part in today's discussion. I was also delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury—and if it was not he but some other speaker, I apologise—say that this matter should not be left to the experts. I quite agree. I feel that we ordinary, unlettered folk should be allowed to have our say on this most important matter.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for having initiated this debate on transport. It is a most important subject and the debate will enable us to discuss the matter very fully before any legislation is proposed. I am indeed glad to know that Her Majesty's Government realise that rural transport needs to be improved and that they intend to give it priority over other forms of transport. As the Document says, there are a large number of persons, including old-age pensioners, who do not own a car and who are dependent upon public transport. I am one of them, having no car and, owing to the expense, rarely being able to afford to hire a taxi except to take me to the station. I am dependent upon trains and buses for travelling purposes. Even if a family has a car, the husband may go to work in it, leaving the wife stranded. Mothers with small children, as well as old-age pensioners, need to get to the shops and to the doctor; they need to go to clinics and possibly to visit those in hospital.

All these things are important, but without adequate transport it is impossible for the country dweller to enjoy them. A network of buses is required, radiating from some central county town or provincial city to the outlying villages. Different types of buses may be needed for different areas, depending on whether the area is thickly or sparsely populated. A double deck bus would be needed for the former, while the latter might do with a single deck, run be a combined driver and conductor. Lastly, there is the minibus. Small, scattered villages might do with these, and here parish councillors should be consulted. They are in a position, if asked, to find out how many persons would be likely to use a bus and what would be the most convenient time for it to run. It may not be necessary to have such a bus running every day, but merely so many days a week.

Buses are needed for what I call every day travel in most places for short distances. I do not favour them for lengthy journeys—say above 20 miles. They are slow, and after a few miles one finds the jolting rather tiresome. In winter, they are very cold and draughty. Trains are much to be preferred for longer distance travel. They are more comfortable and are usually heated in winter. Some form of heating is provided in station waiting rooms, too, whereas bus shelters are few and far between on country roads and this often means waiting by the wayside without any shelter at all, in all weathers for a bus which sometimes fails to turn up! Where I live, the buses have recently been rerouted and this has improved the service enormously. I am very glad to say this, and I trust that this state of affairs may continue. For some time old age pensioners and others eligible for a reduction in fares have been able to travel at half price. But next month this ceases and some other form of fare reduction scheme, with tokens, is to be tried. Exactly how this is to work remains to be seen.

Passengers other than the old age pensioners grumble a good deal about the cost of fares. I note that on page 35 of the Document it says: … wage costs which represent 70 per cent. of all bus costs have increased sharply. A little propaganda is needed here, as the general public do not understand that the constant rise in wages for the bus staff must mean an increase in the fares. Often there is a gap of months between the wages increase and the rise in fares, so the public cannot relate the one to the other. If the bus services are to be maintained, these increases are inevitable, but they should be explained.

Turning to trains, I do not pretend to know how the railways are run, and can look on them only from a passenger's point of view. It seems to me that it would be an enormous mistake to make drastic cuts in rail services, causing much depri- vation to the inhabitants of small towns if their stations are closed and the rail tracks done away with. Buses are a poor substitute for those who are used to rail travel. The question of luggage also arises in this context. Very little luggage can be taken on a bus. Let us suppose that a mother, with a small infant and perhaps two other children, wants to travel. She will have suitcases, a pram, a cot and all the paraphernalia which a baby needs. All this could never be taken on to a bus. Only a train can serve the needs of this family. Then there are those who are confined to wheel chairs. They expect to be able to travel around these days—and it is quite right that they should. It must not be forgotten that it is easier to get them on to a train than into a bus.

I notice with concern that the Consultation Document seems rather biassed against those persons who are referred to as "commuters". But nothing should be done to discourage these people, because those who travel to London each day are, mostly, those who work in the city—bankers, stockbrokers, insurance brokers, et cetera—who produce the invisible exports which are of such enormous value to our country's finances. I am glad that the Inter-City trains are such a success and are to continue, as they must be a great help to those who work in industry and commerce.

I suppose that a few branch lines could be closed without undue hardship, though probably not very many. But I hope that it will not be necessary to close many. Surely it is better to keep the trains moving on tracks which are already there, than to build more great trunk roads, thus taking up more agricultural land, every inch of which is needed for farming. The effect on the environment must also he considered, though I know that recently these roads have been rather well landscaped.

There is also the prestige point of view regarding railways. A country without a good railway system is indeed a poor-spirited thing. Have we really sunk as low as this?—to talk of doing away with our railways or with much of our railways. If these facilities are to continue, how are they to be paid for? Some Government subsidies will be needed for the buses; this is inevitable. But the local authorities must do their share by making economies, by not starting more or new, social services which would require more money and more salaries for the extra officials needed to run them. It must also be remembered that education takes up so much of the funds of the local authorities. Can economies be considered in education? Perhaps not very many economies can be considered in that direction, but what I call the frills of education might be cut; no more sending school children on cruises abroad. Such things are very nice for them, but are not, I believe, suitable in these hard times. Roads to by-pass some of our ancient towns and villages—and thus save them from destruction by the constant flow of heavy traffic through them —will have to continue to be built. But, if no more trunk roads were constructed, much money would be saved which could be used to subsidise the buses.

The railway deficit seems rather appalling, but the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has given reasons why this is so. If we wish to keep our rail service in good order—I think it vital that we should do so—and, if, after some economies, investment and subsidies are still required, where is the money to come from? Will it be from Government saving? Will they save? Will there be no more nationalisation? They might save there. Will there be no more taxation? We could not stand any more. The only other source of revenue that I can think of would be obtained by cutting out aid, not trade, to the so-called undeveloped countries. As a poor country we cannot afford to give millions in charitable aid when we need it for our own purposes here. The savings would surely provide money for investment and sufficient to put our buses and our railways in good shape, so giving this country a transport system which is both efficient and viable, and of which we can be proud.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, like other speakers, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for introducing this debate. However, I hope he will not mind if I do not follow the last speaker but confine myself to commenting on the Document as it affects London. The Government's first comprehensive review of transport policy since the late 1960s has been conducted against a background of pressure for cuts in public expenditure in a depressed economy. The shape of transport policy is crucially affected by the amount of money available. The Document outlines social, environmental and financial objectives, and contains suggested policy developments for roads, traffic restraint and management and freight upon lines which are broadly in parallel with the policies of the Greater London Council; and it sets out much factual comment which is not in dispute. But on public transport it is on less sure ground. While the Document implies priority for public transport, in many instances this must be seen against a background of proposed cuts in public expenditure on transport of 8 per cent. between 1975–76 and 1979–80 and a cut of 22 per cent. in the previous forecast figure for 1978-–79 in last year's public expenditure estimates.

So far as London is concerned, the crucial questions are: what level of public transport is to be provided? What should be the balance between bus and rail services? What resources are needed to support the desired level of service? And how should the services be both planned and run as an integrated whole? As to the level of public transport service, it is worth noting that against a background of decreasing patronage due to falling population, switch to private transport and change in employment locations, the total level of service has remained relatively static. But within this total the bus service is declining and the underground service is increasing. An improvement in public transport is essential for London, but the expenditure proposals indicate a cut of 11 per cent. in capital expenditure on the underground up to 1979–80 and of 40 per cent. in operating subsidies over the same period.

My Lords, the consequences of allowing a decline in public transport services in London would be more cars on the roads and more congestion, with its attendant environmental and economic costs and demands for more road space—or, of course, journeys will not be made. People cannot be forced on to public transport; they must be attracted to it. The very minimum requirement must be to maintain the existing level of service in the short-term and to increase it as soon as financial circumstances permit. The proposed capital cuts will seriously interfere with the programme of essential renewals on some of the underground lines, with the prospect of badly impaired services as a result; and the cut in operating subsidies will necessitate some substantial increases in fares at the existing level of service or, of course, a cutting down on the level of service. There are strong arguments against this, especially as the underground is well used by all classes of Londoners and not largely by the better-off, as has been implied about the rail services. The Government should therefore reconsider their total financial priorities, and at least maintain a reasonable level of capital expenditure and operating subsidies.

As to the balance between bus and train services, the Document's bias is in favour of support for bus services at the expense of rail, but this is at variance with London's requirements. Buses may be the principal form of public transport in most cities, but London's size and complexity would never allow for a rundown of rail services in favour of buses; and the maintenance of Central London's prosperity depends on the ability of the railways to bring and take nearly a million workers to and from work each day. As for the resources to maintain desirable levels of service, although bus subsidies are said to be fairer than rail because a far higher percentage of lower-paid workers use buses, they are planned to be substantially reduced while subsidies to British Rail are maintained at the present level in spite of the planned elimination of grant for inter-city and outer suburban services.

It is obvious, my Lords, that the size and distribution of public transport subsidies will be a major policy issue. This can be inferred from the fact that the public expenditure estimates show a sum of £60 million for all passenger transport services other than British Rail, whereas the Greater London Council alone paid more than £90 million towards London Transport's operating deficit in 1975–76, and it is estimated that in 1976–77 it will be about £80 million; so there are obviously going to be some difficulties somewhere. If the level of service remains the same and subsidies plummet down, then rapidly-increasing fares are inevitable and this, in turn, means a significant loss of patronage. The lost passengers will either take to their cars or not make the journeys. My Lords, I should have thought that both consequences are in conflict with the Government's objectives.

Now for the co-ordination of public transport. The Government advocate the formation of a National Transport Council for monitoring developments and for examining pricing and investment strategy over the whole field of transport. It is important to know more about this. Like the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, I should like to hear from the Government exactly what they have in mind. I should like to know how independent of the Government it is going to be; how efficient the Government hope it will be; what power it will have; and at what stage it will in fact be consulted and to what extent it will be listened to. I am quite sure that authorities like the Greater London Council would need to know these facts before they can decide whether or not it is a council with which they wish to be associated. For London, the crucial question appears at the bottom of page 59 of Volume 1 of the Document; it is quite straightforward. It is: How can the Government and Greater London Council promote the integration of bus and rail services in the London area to give a better service with less need for financial support? That, I think, is the crucial question.

The Document discusses the Rail Advisory Committee and whether it should also cover bus services. But I think that the more fundamental questions are whether a new organisation concept is required and how it should be financed. Between £200 million and £250 million a year are being spent by the Government and the Greater London Council on British Rail's London network and London Transport. The question that needs to be asked is: Should the responsibility for ensuring that the money is spent for the benefit of London as a whole and that the public transport services are run as a whole be unified? On the face of it, the answer I would give, the answer that I think comes out most clearly is, Yes. But I recognise that there are problems to be overcome. One of the things that I hope is that this consultation process, in which the Government will have the opportunity of hearing the views of all interested parties, including the Greater London Council, will point the way ahead. I hope that this Consultation Document will enable us to get an answer to this particular question. May I say at this stage that, of course, the Greater London Council has not yet discussed this Document. What your Lordships are getting is the first reaction of a member of the Greater London Council who is a member of their transport committee.

My Lords, before I sit down may I comment for a moment or so on roads and traffic. The greater part of the proposed reductions in expenditure on new road construction and improvement is in local government expenditure. The consequence of that is that a growing imbalance is being created between road expenditure in London and trunk roads in the South-East. Although London's first priority is for improved public transport, the need for some road construction in London will continue. A reappraisal, therefore, of the total roads investment programme is called for to ensure that London and other metropolitan areas have a fairer allocation according to their needs. In spite of proposals to reduce the overall allocation in road maintenance, there are no grounds for reducing maintenance where traffic is heaviest. I am afraid that that includes the majority of London's network. London, therefore, the other main cities and the main trunk roads should have priority for the more limited allocation of funds.

Comments on traffic restraint do not generally bring out anything new; although the forthcoming document on the question of controlling private non-residential parking space is to be welcome. The Greater London Council have already put forward proposals for control and in the light of this Document we shall be looking to the Government for support. The Document also urges full use of traffic management techniques. In London we are ahead of the field, but further extensions of traffic management measures depending on enforcement are likely to be limited, particularly in view of the Government's reluctance to increase the manpower required for this purpose. I hope, therefore, that the Government will also look at this one in that light. I hope that my comments have been of some value and that the Government will bear some of these things in mind—plus the Memorandum they will eventually receive from the Greater London Council when it is finally deciding on its transport policy.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, may I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, on the very experienced speech he has made on the Document we are debating this afternoon. It was a speech which we thoroughly enjoyed. In case noble Lords are wondering about the enormously large papers in my hand, I may say that, last night being unable to find any notepaper, I "grabbed" my wife's typewriting paper (to her fury) and proceeded to write over it. No doubt I shall have to pay for it at another time.

I was interested in the Foreword to the Consultation Document and, if your Lordships will allow me to do so, I shall be delighted to read the first few lines: In past ages, the subject of transport by land was never much debated. No doubt (or so historians tell us) the invention of the wheel, the introduction of the camel into Africa, and the importation of the horse into the Americas were events of momentous significance. I should like to see added to that list the high-speed train now about to go into operation on the Western Region.

We are debating a subject of vital industrial importance, that of our transport system. If your Lordships turn to Chapter 7.3 on page 49 of Volume 1 of the Document, you will read of some of the difficulties that the railways have been going through since the 1950s. I quote: Since the early 1950s the railways have experienced successive financial crises and been rescued by successive subventions from the taxpayer. There has been policy review after policy review; the Beeching Report, the Railway Policy Review of 1967 and latterly the 1973 Review. All have failed to provide a stable financial framework for this important national asset. Each of us this afternoon has tried desperately to find an answer or to query the Document to prove that something can be rescued from the dangers apparent in our transport system. The problems go on and continue year by year. Now we are at the crossroads. Passenger and freight continues to suffer enormous losses. The Document says in Chapter 2.14 on Page 6: … since the 1950s despite revenue and capital grants and capital write-offs over the last twenty years totalling over £3,000m in current prices. Under the Railways Act 1974, following the breakdown of the financing system established under the Transport Act 1968, the Government gave financial support to the whole of the rail passenger system. The Act set aside a total of £1,500m for this purpose, which was intended to cover a period of five years. When that was dealt with in 1974, within a short period of time it was established that the money was not enough. Again, the Government had to step in with further subsidies. Reading on, one sees that the freight also now contributes a £17 million loss as well. The railways required in 1975 a subsidy of no less than £400 million.

Looking also at a further depressing and serious side; that is, the staff, one sees that in 1963 there were over 476,000 employees. Since then, of course, we have had the Beeching "axe" and stations have been closed, trains taken off and we are now down to just over 235,000 employees. I notice from the Document that the railways are seriously considering further redundancies in staffing. Wages and salaries account for more than two-thirds of the cost of operating the railways. That is only one part of what we are looking at. There is the cost of inflation; the cost of raw materials; the cost of oil, and so it goes on.

My Lords, we can easily understand why the staff are so demoralised. The demoralisation affects only the drivers, signalmen and the people who actually operate the railways as a whole and not, as I see it, the management. I certainly believe that there is overmanning in the offices with inexperienced young men and women who have not been there long enough for them to have had a proper training. I believe that the staff who operate the trains, signals, lines and so on, fully realise that whatever they do—and they are very proud people—they are always combating the feeling that there are odd instructions coming from the offices. I believe that on the railways—which is the transport I always use—the management should be looked at thoroughly. To do so would encourage those who operate the trains.

On top of this depression we have the feeling that we cannot any longer send certain freight by rail and the industrialists or people who want to use the railways are being turned away. So we are looking at a very unhappy picture. I fully understand that no railway in Western Europe is in fact making a profit because of inflation and because the passengers, the public, request better services.

We are trying to keep the passengers on the railway, but with heavy increases in fares (and in 1975 they amounted to 50 per cent.) I do not believe anyone will be able to continue travelling by rail as in the past. I know that there are certain concessions to pensioners. Leaving that aside, there are the self-employed who have to use the trains and they are finding it increasingly expensive for them. By increasing the fares, you are driving people on to the bus services. Fares cannot be reduced, but I feel that they could be frozen for a period so that the travelling public regain confidence in what they are paying for when they travel by rail.

Unfortunately, against my argument page 54, paragraph 7.33, states: In the present situation then, further increases in fares must form part of a long-term strategy. We had a 50 per cent. fares increase in 1975; we are probably going to have further increases towards the end of this year. Are we really going to have increases annually? That is defeating the object and the public are not going to continue to travel by train.

The Document is interesting, giving varied information over a large area. I doubt whether any of us have been able to take it all in immediately. On page 2, at paragraph 1.11, it says that the idea of the Document is simply: to stimulate discussion, not define hard and fast solutions". I do not think we have the time just to stimulate conversation or discussion; this year we must get down to a proper solution for the next 10 to 15 years. We cannot go on as we are. The Document goes on to say: The Government now seek the views of interested parties and (just as important) the interested public on the facts and ideas set out in this document". I go partly with the idea that the public should have its say. It will take the area managers a great deal of time to sift through some of the arguments put forward by the public. My Lords, is there any one of us in this Chamber who could really say, "I have my train; I am not interested in your train"? But some of the public selfishly—if I may say so—worry only about the train they want and not about anybody else.

I know that on the Western Region they are now adjusting the timetable for the high-speed trains. This year, high-speed trains from Paddington to Bristol will run at a speed of 125 mph. I am given to understand that at the moment they are only being tested; they are not at their full pace. The timetables which are being brought out at the moment are designed so that the 125 mph high speed train can travel at that speed without crashing into the back of an ordinary express train travelling at 70 mph. The public do not realise this at the moment.

I understand that we are to change over to the way lines are used on the Continent. In other words, a train will he able to move to another track to overtake. If the Government or the railways want to ask the public to voice its opinion, I suggest that they get the best public relations lecturer to go round the areas to describe the technical difficulties that would arise if the public were allowed to have its complete say in running the railways. In any case, I feel that this Document should be explained by a lecturer, who should go to the women's institutes, visit stations, junction stations, and so on, to describe what is really going on. At the moment, even in my area nobody seems to know how long a station will remain open or what is going to happen. I know that the noble Baroness has to attend a further engagement and so I will not speak for too long, but I felt that the rural areas needed mentioning.

At this rate we are becoming increasingly isolated, and I notice in the Document that licensing for buses was to be reviewed again. I think we need this restriction eased, so that more buses can take over where trains are taken off. There is little we can offer on the financial side. Trains are running at a loss of something like £500 million a year. We have to encourage the Board to inspire the men to work harder and enjoy their work. I am sure there could be ways other than just bringing in subsidies from central or local government to help the railways, and using those subsidies to keep the railways going. My Lords, I am cutting short my speech in order that we do not stay too long this evening. I will conclude by saying that I think this is the first opening for us all to begin to understand the difficulties of transportation in this country.

7.1 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I apologise for addressing your Lordships without having put down my name to speak, and I apologise also to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, because I was not in my seat to hear his speech. I hate to tell him that that was because the train I came here on was, quite exceptionally, 50 minutes late in arriving in London. I say "quite exceptionally" because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, that we have a splendid railway service. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, at all. Certainly in the West Country we have a splendid railway service, and it is very rare indeed that a train arrives late, as mine did today.

I promised the noble Baroness who is to reply that I should be short, and I can be short because I agree with almost everything the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said in his speech, and he put very much better than I could myself almost all the things I wanted to say. I find myself in almost complete agreement. I differed from him only on one very small matter, and I will just mention that. He was anxious that the concessionary fare arrangements should be the same all over the country. I understand his feeling about that, but, on the other hand, if the belief is that these things are better done by local or regional decision, there is no real meaning in regional democratic decisions if everybody has got to decide the same thing. This is one of the dilemmas we meet over the whole idea of regionalisation and devolution. If it is to be the real thing, there will be different conditions in different areas. Some regions may like to give free bus transport to elderly people, and so on, while others may like to give concessions in a different form or, indeed, very ill-advisedly, they may decide to give nothing at all. But if democracy is real, we must accept there will be different decisions in different places.

I should like to turn to one point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and with which I very much agree. While it is right to seek for an integrated or co-ordinated transport policy, that is quite different from an integrated transport system. The latter, as the noble Lord said, is something that is really not attainable. Indeed, even if we could attain it, I am not sure that it would be desirable.

A number of speakers, and especially the noble Baroness, Lady Berkeley, have referred to the problems of rural transport. This seems to be one of the most difficult areas to be tackled in this whole subject. Unless I misheard him, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, seemed to be saying he thought it was quite easy to solve this problem. I must confess, if that is so, I wonder why the previous Conservative Government did not do something about it when in office. Quite frankly, I think it is a difficult subject. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said that cars were essential in rural areas, but it appears from these reports that one-third of families in rural areas do not own cars and have to manage without. This is something which must be tackled, probably again locally, because the right solution for one place may not necessarily be the right solution for another.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to rural Wales, to which subject we shall be returning on Thursday. What he said is true of many other rural areas in this country, including Devonshire, which I know well. I have sometimes wondered whether some difficulties could be overcome—although this is perhaps going a little wide of the mark—by arranging for some of the social services to go, as it were, on circuit. Instead of sitting in the towns, they might perhaps go out to the villages one day a month, rather than requiring people from the villages to travel 30 or 40 miles into the towns.

I am endeavouring to be brief so as to help the noble Baroness. I was interested in the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that in certain conditions season tickets might be subject to tax rebate. I do not know whether the noble Lord was in his place when the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, spoke, but I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that such a system would benefit the better off more than the poor. I understood from the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, that this was something the Conservative Party thought was wrong.

Finally, I want, rather boldly, to differ from the noble Lords, Lord Sainsbury and Lord O'Neill of the Maine, over the suggestion that this is a matter not for experts but for the ordinary man in the street. I venture to disagree completely with that. The problems involved in transport are exceptionally difficult to solve. Of course, because they have an immediate impact upon us we all think we know the answers; but in fact this is an area in which the answers must be found by people with a deep knowledge of the operation of different kinds of transport, both railways and road. Therefore, while no doubt all the people who want to express their views will express them to the Government in reply to the suggestions made in these documents, I hope the Government will listen to them but will listen much more to the experts, because these are the only people who will find the right solution to this problem.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: It is hatter to travel… than to arrive". I have often felt that, but certainly this evening I feel rather pleased that we are now getting towards the end of what has been an extremely interesting and, I think, extremely valuable debate which has been initiated by my noble friend Lord Popplewell. It is the first occasion since the publication of the Consultation Document on Transport Policy that it has been debated in Parliament. I welcome the debate, because it has been of great interest to us all, and not only to me, to hear the views of your Lordships. I can assure my noble friend Lord Popplewell that the Government will be resilient and listen to the arguments advanced. There is no rigidity at all injected into this operation.

I do not think anyone will expect me to answer all the points, or indeed any of them, since they are now part of the consultation process. What has happened —it has been absolutely fascinating—is that we have had this debate and now there will be a total of some 14 points of view covering a vast number of subjects going right through the whole Consultation Document. These will be fed into the whole consultation machinery by way of the record in Hansard tomorrow morning. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Pitt that his references to London were just a trailer to the submissions the GLC will later be making to the Government. I was also delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is prepared to answer any of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, so I can leave that over there.

At this stage, the Government are asking the questions rather than answering them. That is why it is a consultation paper dealing with what I like to call the crucial Ps of transport—problems, priorities, planning, participation and preferences. All of these have been raised in one form or another this afternoon. The noble Lord. Lord Mowbray, has now rejoined us and I should like to say to him that my first choice for the cover was a bright, cheerful lettuce green. But the argument against that was that the Government were so anxious that it should not be felt that this was a Green Paper in the formal sense with a policy laid down to discuss, but was something thrown open to discussion, that I got my second choice of tangerine.

What we arc trying to do, at a time when transport is quite literally on the move, is to marry two themes—the economic, social and environmental needs of society, with people's preferences. I believe that choice is a basic tenet of democracy, so how far in a democracy should people be forced to send goods by rail, or to use passenger trains, or to forget about their cars, regardless of cost or convenience or their own idiosyncrasies? The hard fact is that the scope for transferring freight from road to rail or waterway is limited, and we have heard this argument backwards and forwards across the Chamber this afternoon. But as the economy picks up there will be more goods to be carried by rail and road. We expect car ownership to increase, and those who try to go by car from door to door should not try to pull the ladder up behind them.

On the other hand, I can see very clearly the problems that arise. Those of us who live in London, or any of the other big cities, are very conscious of the congestion whether driving ourselves or being passengers, and I have sympathy with what my noble friend Lady Gaitskell said on this matter. However, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury and the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, both put the other side of the picture and spoke about the important part which the private car has to play in industry today. It is perfectly true, particularly when one gets outside London, that so many workers—and here I am not referring only to management or employers—are dependent on their cars for getting to work, and finding this very sensitive and delicate balance is what part of the discussion is about. How far could or should personal preferences be overridden for the social and economic good? I think your Lordships will agree that we should live in a fantasy world if we ignored the difficult questions and the distasteful facts of contemporary economic life.

But the Consultation Document, rightly, does not evade them. It supports a transport system based on a managed market with significant Government intervention, which will guide rather than compel transport users. Our object is to secure a transport system that meets social as well as purely commercial objectives, and takes account of the growing concern for the environment and the quality of life. Therefore, it is vital to have a transport industry which is both efficient and cost-effective, and which also provides a flexible service which is responsive to changing social needs and allows the consumer a choice.

As has been recognised by almost every speaker, one of the basic problems is that our resources are not unlimited and this is particularly acute at the present time. Two very significant paragraphs in the introduction set the scene. Between 1968/69 and 1975/76, transport subsidies more than doubled and public transport investment increased by 50 per cent. Yet overshadowing everything is the present public expenditure situation, and the Document reiterates the Government's decision expressed in this year's White Paper that higher priority must be given to expenditure designed to maintain and improve our industrial capability. The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, seemed to find this rather amusing as he equated it with Tory policy. It means a painful reappraisal of the priority for transport. I do not always know quite how painful the Tories find this kind of social reappraisal. Certainly, we on these Benches lead the way in that area, because it is very much more difficult to try to sort out these extremely intricate problems and achieve our economic ends, when one is also trying to do the compassionate, concerned and socially most beneficial thing.

The Government have not only to plan our priorities in the short and middle terms within the current financial straitjacket but also to keep within range the longer term where we have to plan ahead. So we have not made any short-term panic cuts in investment which would prejudice the future. Public spending on transport, currently £2,400 million at real prices, is at a record level and it is something of which we ought not to be ashamed or even be modest about. Even by 1979/80, expenditure will be £2,000 million in real terms which is a lot of money. The trouble is that transport's share of the national cake cannot be increased, unless the resources to do this are cut from other equally essential slices of priorities. But which ones? This is always the rub.

Within the global budget there is, however, scope for reallocation, and this Government have already gone some considerable way in changing the spending pattern of transport. Less is being spent on roads and more on public transport, and I think my noble friend Lord Pitt referred to this when he discussed the problems of London. It is easy to argue that we should stop building roads and spend the money on the railways; or, alternatively, abandon the railways and concentrate on buses which, of course, need roads. Yet, as the TUC say, road versus rail is a barren argument. So if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, was wrong when he said he felt that the Government were very biased against the railways.

Money is not the only problem. Implicit in the Consultation Document is the limit on short-term dramatic changes that can be made. We are tied not only by our geography: "If I were going there, I wouldn't start from here", as the Irishman is supposed to have said in answer to a lost motorist. That is how I feel about our transport system. If we could wipe our island clean, tailor railways and terminals to our society, and put roads where they fulfil functional and environmental requirements, the whole system would be more responsive to our economy and social needs; and that, I am sure, is the transport system we deserve. But life is not like that. Our major cities, industrial areas and transport networks are fixed, and it is this which makes our transport system so heavily dependent upon roads.

To get our priorities and planning right for an integrated transport system—and I very much liked the distinction which my noble friend Lord Champion made between an integrated system and a coordinated approach, which it is very important to bear in mind—the big three policy determinants are vital. These are economic policy, social policy and environmental policy—the main themes which constantly run through the Government's review. We are pledged to maintain and develop the basic transport network for people and industry for their work and leisure. Many people, as has been pointed out, have no cars. In fact, 45 per cent. of households do not own a car, and even in car-owning households many people never have the use of one when they need it, or are either too sick or disabled to drive. As has been said by many speakers, they are dependent on public transport, and hopefully on adequate public transport services, with costs kept as low as possible so that fare increases can be kept down. This is essential.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is certain of the figures that she has just given? I think I am right in saying that the figure I was given showed that in cities the ownership of cars per family was 55 per cent., and in the country 70 per cent. Therefore, the noble Baroness's figure of 45 per cent. overall seems, on the face of it, to contradict that.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I understand that this is the correct overall figure. In one place the Document refers to "rural areas" and in another to "other areas". Also there is a difference between households. I am assured that the nearest to correct figure which I can give is the one that I am using. It is 45 per cent. of households.


My Lords, is it not, therefore, 45 per cent. per head?

Baroness BIRK

No, my Lords, 45 per cent. of households do not own a car. It is not 45 per cent. per head. I said that many people within car-owning households do not always have the use of a car when they need it, or may be unable to drive one.

In spite of alarmist reports—and one of the most unfortunate and dangerous appeared in the Daily Telegraph of 5th May—the Government have no plans for railway line closures. While some closures may prove necessary we see no case for substantial, certainly not massive, changes in our present rail network, and it would be a great pity if alarmist reports like these got around and worried people unnecessarily.


My Lords, if that is so, will my noble friend explain how she expects the railways to be more solvent financially unless branch lines are closed or there is a very steep increase in fares. That article in the Daily Telegraph, which all of us saw, pointed to astronomical branch line closures and has created quite an amount of concern.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, the reason why I mentioned it was the unnecessary concern. Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to continue, since I shall be discussing the question of subsidy. In the long term we have to be prepared for some increases in fares. However, I am referring to the almost panic reaction to large railway line closures, which, following the discussions and talks about it, is entirely different from finding the best co-ordinated system and the best integrated approach.

The plain fact is that the overall quality of railway services is not declining. In fact, there have been very significant improvements in recent years. My noble friend Lord Popplewell mentioned one of these improvements. In addition, there has been the rebuilding of Blackfriars and London Bridge stations, the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Scheme, the new rolling stock for the Liverpool Street-Shenfield service and the work being done on Merseyside on the Loop and Link.

Both we and the Board wish that wholesale and immediate improvements could be made, but we simply cannot afford to allocate the very substantial additional resources needed to make across-the-board improvements at once. Despite recent economies, subsidies to the railways in 1976–1977 will take about two-thirds of the total subsidy available to inland transport. British Rail investment, currently running at a higher level than at any time since the mid-1960s, will amount to some £260 million. This represents over 20 per cent. of public investment in surface transport and is spent on a network of 11,300 miles carrying about 8 per cent. passenger movement and 18 per cent. freight, compared with 200,000 miles of road. I think that my noble friend Lord Champion was absolutely right when he referred to the need for increased productivity. Again, this is one of the features which should eventually improve the viability of the railways.

Outside London, however, especially in rural areas, public transport generally means the bus. Twenty per cent. of all journeys to work arc by bus; 40 per cent. of all journeys to school; and 25 per cent. of all shopping trips. In many areas there have unfortunately been substantial increases in bus fares recently, but bus operators' costs, like other costs, have been rising and can be met only by higher fares or higher public subsidy. Yet the current provision for bus revenue support at the end of the decade is still three times the amount spent in 1973–74 in real terms, and any further increase now means transport cuts elsewhere. This is part of the answer to one of the many valid points which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. Public transport, being highly labour intensive, is getting more expensive. If, therefore, we are to get value for money, subsidy must go to areas of greatest need. It has to be more specifically directed rather than open-ended and general. The noble Viscount, Lord Long, suggested the freezing of fares, but I would point out to him that the only way to freeze fares while costs continue to rise is to pay a bigger subsidy. Then the question arises; where does the extra subsidy come from? Does it come from housing, hospitals, or schools? I am afraid that we are in this awful circle, unless a way is found to break out of it; and that is the object of this very intensive exercise.

Our social policy, therefore, must be to concentrate Government help where it is both most needed and most effective. An example of this is the concessionary fares, which again my noble friend Lord Champion highlighted. We spent £60 million last year on concessionary fares, and also on Inner London commuter services and buses in rural areas which are the other high priorities. The transport drought in rural areas which has been referred to by most noble Lords is why we are looking at possibilities for experiment. Although there will be concern on the one side, or enthusiasm, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for relaxing bus licensing, both the concern and the enthusiasm are understandable. We have no intention, however, whatever happens, of letting in cowboy bus operators.

If the impression is that the Government believe that all commuters in London and the South-East are rich, this is totally wrong. The noble Baroness, Lady Berkeley, feels that the Government are biased against commuters, but I should like to put straight her misapprehension. In general, the statistics show that people in the high income groups use the railways most for work and business and that the less well-off use trains less frequently. This means that blanket subsidies on fares go relatively more to the better off, although the less well-off commuters also benefit. All commuters benefit to some extent from the Government subsidy and many London workers living outside London receive London allowances. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, was quite right when she stressed the number of special offers and concessions that the railways make for day trips and weekend and other travel. This does not mean that there are no cases of hardship.


My Lords, the noble Baroness used emotively insulting words by referring to "cowboy" operators. However, since she used those words she has confirmed that the Government give concessions, quite rightly, to commuters where they can. To use this insulting word "cowboy" in connection with licences is, with great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, insulting. The freedom to make licences easier for minibus operators should not be denigrated in this fashion.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is getting excited quite unnecessarily. What I said was that, on the one hand, there was some enthusiasm for relaxing bus licensing but there was also concern on the part of other people. My words were, "the transport drought in rural areas is why we are looking at the possibilities for this experiment". If we thought that the experiment was in the terms in which the noble Lord described it we should not be looking at it at all. All I am saying is that one has to be cautious in this area—whatever I say the noble Lord will take offence, I suppose—and not allow the very slick pirates to operate. Perhaps "pirates" is a better word than cowboys". I am not a cowboy, but I do not think that "cowboy" is an insulting word either. If I were a cowboy I should feel very insulted at what the noble Lord said.


My Lords, "cowboys" and "pirates" presume profit and there is no great profit in this exercise.

Baroness BIRK

Really, my Lords, I think we have had this rather silly little argument long enough. All it means is that when one is making this sort of relaxation one has to have some conditions and work it out very carefully. That is all. All that the noble Lord has said has only made me feel more strongly that we should take some care about it. To return to the general point of subsidies, does it really make sense to use the blunt instrument of subsidising everyone, including the well-off, to help families on low incomes? This is the problem we are coming to, because there are other ways of doing this. Yet I am sure that currently it is socially right to continue to give priority to those rural areas where subsidies are needed to keep services for men and women wholly dependent on the bus to meet their transport needs. I think that was the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon.

There has been a halving in rail manpower since 1963. It has dropped from 476,000 to 230,000 and any further progress must be in full consultation between management and unions. I think we should congratulate the rail unions on the efforts they have made over the past ten years. When the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, makes some strictures on the railwaymen I think he should remember what in fact they have voluntarily done over these last ten years.

One of the high social priorities which I do not think has been mentioned today is safety. Nothing must be done to impair safety on rail. We have already made progress in cutting down road accidents, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, that there is a great deal more to he done in connection with road behaviour. Seat belt legislation will help even further in the area of safety and, as we all know, there is the new report by the Blennerhassett Committee on drinking and driving. On this there will be separate consultations before a Government Statement is made later in the year.

We are concerned not only with finance and efficiency but with the quality of life where transport is an essential factor. The heavy lorry—which has received a fair bashing this afternoon—is being civilised by cutting down noise and fumes and providing lorry routes. More attention is being paid to the visual impact of roads by better design and landscaping. I think the interest that people are showing and the number of complaints about these matters are extremely good, and it is inspiring for our society that they want the environmental issues taken into account with all the other factors that make up our transport. Traffic congestion is a blight on urban life, and the Document outlines possible measures to deal with this, including restraints on parking and the many other points which are set out in the paper.

The advocates of severe cuts in road building often forget that many schemes achieve environmental objectives. For example, by-passing historic towns. The point may come—indeed, it may already have come—when further cuts in road expenditure would be counter-productive even in the limited environmental context —I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, is friends again because there is a smile on his face. Railways are not unequivocally better in environmental terms. I think we are sometimes inclined to feel that there is the straight alternative, but this would be rather simplistic. Building private sidings is sometimes opposed for environmental reasons and railway termini are often awkwardly sited in town centres, which again adds to the congestion, noise and general frustration when goods have to be collected by lorries travelling down narrow urban streets.

The Document has been attacked for suggesting that heavy lorries might be made to pay for the environmental damage they cause. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, has suggested that we are being unfair to the freight industry. This is a point that probably comes more under the economic considerations of road resources than perhaps the environmental or even social. Increased freight costs will make the goods we buy in the shops more expensive, but like so many other transport issues and those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, it concerns all three considerations: economic, social and of road resources than environmental. None has absolute priority. What we must do is to bring together all these aspects. Some have suggested a national transport authority.but there are powerful arguments in the Document against transferring —and I think this is the most powerful—to a non-elected body like an authority or agency sensitive to major decisions affecting transport policy.

We do want to hear views on how to establish a proper framework for the co-ordination of transport policy nationally and locally. Our proposals for the NTC are set out in the concluding chapter of the Document, where not only its role as a high level forum, on which wide areas of interests would be represented, is outlined but also the range of its work. I think I am right in saying that it was the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who said that the Government had come to a decision about this—or perhaps it was the noble Viscount, Lord Long. In fact if he reads the actual words referring to the National Transport Council—

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will give way for a moment, what I said was that this seemed to me to be the most important proposal in the Document. Both the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, and I asked what this body would do, and I expressed the hope that it would not be a talking shop.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think it must have been the noble Viscount, Lord Long, who referred to it as well. The point I was making was that the Government proposed to discuss with those concerned the formation of the Council. This was in reply to a comment to the effect that it was already cut and dried, and I wanted to stress most emphatically that this is not so. We certainly do not see it as a talking body but as a working body. But when submissions are put in and opinions given, the Government hope that on this particular issue views will be given. I hope that the door is not shut on this, either.

My noble friend Lord Sainsbury is quite right in pointing out that the Document as published does not make a point of the relationship between transport and land use planning. I think we agree now that this should probably have been mentioned in the Document. The theme will be developed during consultations and many organisations and institutes will probably deal with it in their comments. It is of course a basic theme that the Department of the Environment has been pursuing in its structure planning, transport policy and programmes and in regional planning. In fact, it is an essential dimension in DOE policy, and I can assure my noble friend that we will see that it is covered in the Statement that is issued after the consultation period after the Recess.

Finally, having published the Consultation Document, our major concern is to get views on it. It has been criticised for not making up its mind, for being long on questions and short on answers and also for pre-empting decisions. In fact, what it has done is to set out the options, giving a lead where restraints on resources or facts justify it, but reserving decisions until after the consultation period.

The Secretary of State has extended the consultation period to the end of July, and this allows more time for the internal processes which many organisations will have to go through before giving their considered comments. This is why, as we expected, we have not had comments from many of the major organisations up to the time of this debate. However, we have had a number of letters from individuals, and the majority of them so far indicate concern about the area of public transport, both the facilities, as your Lordships might imagine, and fares. I hope we are to receive comments from sources even if they have not yet been specifically consulted; I hope they will write in themselves. I also hope that amenity groups of a wide conservation and environmental range will join in the big debate, and also those statutory and voluntary groups who cover the special human needs, and with whom so many Members of this House are associated. We also want more letters from individuals.

Ministers will be meeting personally the major organisations and industries at the stage that the bodies themselves find most useful. These will be in addition to a heavy programme of meetings at official level. The predominant reaction in Parliament, Press and the transport world has been that the Consultation Document is realistic in its analysis, has set out most of the salient facts, some of them unpalatable, hut that, in going reasonably enough for an evenhanded and balanced approach, it did not announce conclusions and decisions. I think this is not too bad for a start. Those who rightly press for greater co-ordination and integration at central and local level should not criticise the Government for not imposing their own prescription.

It is still early days, but the initial reactions show concern about the future of public transport and its cost. These views, along with points made in today's debate, and other comments which will come in during the consultation process, will be taken into account in preparing for the Statement which the Government have promised after the Recess. Then, no doubt, we shall have a further debate, and no doubt we shall hear many of the noble Lords who have spoken today, including, I hope, my noble friend Lord Popplewell.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an extremely useful debate, and I am sure my noble friend Lady Birk and her colleagues will read very attentively in Hansard the observations made today, because I am sure they will form the basis of many other observations coming from more powerful bodies who are interested. With that, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, and I ask permission to withdraw the Motion

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.