§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, we can now get back to the subject of the debate and I should like to start straightaway by saying—not for the first time in my life—that we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popple-well, for having once again introduced this subject. The noble Lord said that he hoped we would look at the problem as a whole and that a fully integrated transport policy was what was wanted. I welcomed those initial words, but I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that I feel that his background unconsciously pulled him towards what he was condemning; that is, the railway lobby.
Everyone concerned with the future of transport in this country will have read the Consultative Document with great interest. I feel that it is clear that, whatever one's views as to the quality and comprehensiveness of its individual sections, it is a wide-ranging and serious contribution to public debate. My first thought on seeing what I thought was to be a Green Paper was one of regret that the Government should have turned a Green Paper into a shade approaching red. However, I have since learned that we owe this change of colour to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, whose good taste is surely beyond question. It is gratifying to know that, at least where the noble Baroness is concerned, aesthetics rather than politics will govern her Department's choice of colour schemes.
It was perhaps inevitable that a document which has been so long in gestation 1189 should arouse expectations which would unavoidably be disappointed on its appearance. I must confess that the Document cannot really be said to have satisfied all one's reasonable anticipations as to further information. For instance, let us take the British Rail deficit. The railways are now costing the taxpayer approximately £21 every second of the day; that is, if provisions for investment are included. That is equivalent to a total of some £650 million a year. It is a terrifying large sum, especially when we are in the midst of a public expenditure crisis. Yet the sections of the document which deal with railway finance are sparse in the extreme. Indeed, there is a reference to £100 million of "unallocated overhead costs". That the Government should acquiesce in such a large sum remaining unallocated is, I suggest, rather deplorable. We need to know where all this money is going and how it is being spent because, unless we have that sort of information, it will be impossible to undertake the kind of rigorous advance planning which is so desperately needed to ensure a viable future for our rail network.
I believe that there is no doubt that, over the last few years, the morale of railway employees has been seriously undermined. We see the consequences in occasional difficulties in industrial relations. It is very easy to sympathise with the railwaymen and the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, in opening the debate, showed great understanding of this problem. The rail unions co-operated to the full in the post-Beeching reorganisation: for instance, the workforce was halved in little more than a decade. Yet the railways are still faced with enormous deficits and, despite all the sacrifices which the rail unions have already made, the question of overmanning on the railways is still a major point in the debate. With the workforce down to 230,000 and some 70 per cent. of all trains now run by single men and the other 30 per cent. only being double manned for safety reasons, British Rail and the unions argue that there is not much scope, in their opinion, for further reduction of manpower unless there is increased investment for such improvements as automatic fare collection, better signalling equipment and better permanent ways.
First, the railwayman must know where he stands. No one can give his best at 1190 work unless he feels that, for the effort and hard work, he will achieve a secure livelihood. However, the rail unions must also recognise that the railways must become viable if they are to have a sure future. By viable, I do not mean profitable. I mean that the railways must be able to convince the community at large that they give value for money. I suggest that it is therefore to be regretted that the Consultative Document contains no concrete proposals for the improvement of the network, although it argues that the rail subsidy is unjustifiably high. It also suggests that, given international comparisons, productivity on British Rail is unjustifiably low. It was, of course, inevitable that this kind of critical comment would, in the absence of concrete proposals, lead to the kinds of rumour about cuts and closures that we have seen in the Press. I suggest that the Government should get together with the rail unions, the travellers' associations and the Opposition Parties to undertake the kind of evaluative studies which are necessary, and should produce a good 15 year strategy for an efficient and cost-effective railway system. That would be a process of the utmost complexity, I agree, and I do not propose to try to anticipate it here.
I wish to suggest that future rail policy should have as its objective a fusion of the best tradition of the railways' past and the technology of the future. Anyone who has talked to the older generation of railwaymen will not need to be told about their pride in their craft and their traditions. The man who finally graduated to driving a Coronation class locomotive between London and Glasgow after an apprenticeship of shovelling coal into that insatiable boiler would feel a pleasure, indeed a thrill, in his job that, alas! cannot easily be recaptured in today's trains. With the passing of the age of steam, I fear that some of the romance has gone out of railways.
It was rather sad for us the other day to read in the papers of the French Government's intention of building a marvellous new railway line between Paris and Lyons which would utilise to the full the resources of modern transport research to create a railway which would not only provide the highest level of service at previously unobtainable speeds, but would pay its way, as well as fulfilling a social need. My Lords, if only we had 1191 had the Channel Tunnel, how the British railways would have been able to take advantage of improvements of that type on the Continent.
There was a time when we in this country yielded to no one in our rail know-how. The advance of railway development in the 19th century brought together the boundless self-confidence of the Victorian age and the new technology of the Industrial Revolution. After they had created our own domestic network, British engineers found new fields for endeavour abroad, and indeed laid railway lines all over the world. In fact, I can think of few groups in all history who exported themselves more widely than British railway engineers. They have, I imagine, to concede first place to those Irish Roman Catholic clergy, hut not to many other groups. In fact, my great-grandfather, a Scotsman, undertook much of the building of railways in Mexico, and therefore I also know about that. It is a matter for sadness to recall that we are now apparently being surpassed in railway technology. This is the more regrettable because, as the figures in the Consultation Document make clear, it is our inter-city network which is nearest to profitability; and our high-speed train and the advanced passenger train must have considerable export potential if they are imaginatively marketed, which would not only greatly assist British Rail's finances, but also would help the country's balance of payments.
My Lords, British railways have lost the past and have not yet really found the future. It is a matter of the greatest concern to all of us that this ambiguity, this transitional stage, should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. It is also necessary that the Government, I suggest, should examine the corporate structure of British Rail. I have already spoken of the proud traditions of a previous generation of railwaymen. I have heard it said that the present general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen describes how his father stood a good few inches taller when he put on his company's full livery. As he says, it is one of the ironies of the present situation that the rail unions are now calling for greater investment in the industry in the full knowledge that this will actually lead to reductions in its own 1192 manpower. Few managements have had a more difficult role than British Rail's, but I think we have to give fundamental consideration to their capacity to respond flexibly and effectively to the problems they will face in the future unless they get clear directions from Government as objectives.
Another important section of the Document deals with the bus industry. As regards the finances of that industry, it must, regrettably, be said that the Document is even less informative than it is on the railways. No attempt is really made to provide a breakdown of the £130 million and upwards spent annually on supporting the various bus companies' operations, with the exception of the 15 million or so paid to the National Bus Company. Again, this kind of information is indispensable if we are to have a proper debate on the future role of the bus industry. The vagueness, or indeed the non-existence, of the sections on financial information is perhaps the weakest part of this Document, even if this is only a sin of omission. It is so grave in its consequences as seriously to lessen the worth of the Document as a whole.
To secure value for money is surely a prime objective of Government policy, and it should be, I suggest, wholly unacceptable that a major Government document on the future of a major area of policy and expenditure should fail even to provide elementary information on finances and spending. This point is absolutely basic; it requires no re-emphasis or elaboration. But there is, to say the least, considerable public scepticism as to the cost consciousness of some of the nationalised industries.
Apart from its silence on the question of finance, there is another fundamental area on which the Document is weak. I quote from the second paper in the second volume:How much net benefit an individual using a subsidised service genuinely obtains raises complex issues that this paper does not attempt to resolve.I would straight away concede that the issues involved are indeed complex, but it is precisely because of that complexity that one would have expected an attempt at serious discussion of them in this Document.
1193 One major theme implicit throughout the Document is a tacit repudiation, though, of traditional Labour Party attitudes on public transport, which one could describe, I suppose, as a belief that one can never have too much of a good thing. But if one grants a particular service unlimited subsidies, the first thing that happens is that one ossifies it, which means that one preserves in aspic the technologies and the systems of the previous generation, and one insulates them from change, even if they are no longer meeting a real need, and even if they do not cater for the new needs of this generation. What the public wants is a service, not a system, and yet while we are spending even larger sums on public transport systems, many members of the community are experiencing a drastic decline in the level and range of services available to them, to the point at which they are virtually deprived of public transport altogether.
I refer specifically to the problems of rural transport which, as the noble Lord reminded us, we discussed thoroughly only last March. There are some encouraging noises in the Document, which must have raised hopes. I shall quote a couple of these. The first one is this:There needs to be much more willingness to try radical solutions and new ways of meeting their needs through unconventional forms of service have been tried out, but more will have to be done.This analysis is all very well, but useless without the promise of action. I am afraid that one can only lament the complete absence of suggestions for action.
The fact is, my Lords, that the problems of rural transport are the easiest, not the hardest, of transport problems to solve, if the present inhibitory licensing system was scrapped; if the local garage owner, who could see a way to helping his neighbours and adding a little to his income, is allowed to buy a mini-bus; if—most important of all—the considerable resources already tied up in providing transport in rural areas could be utilised. I refer to school buses, the Post Office vans, to non-emergency ambulances, many of which are already engaged in providing transport of certain kinds for exactly those members of the public who are without other means of transport: that is, the elderly and the disabled. To put matters 1194 simply, if we could use imagination, diversity and individual initiative in the solution of these problems, then I am firmly convinced that we could bring the greatest benefit to the countryside.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the Traffic Bill 1973 of my right honourable friend Mr. Peyton. It contained many provisions which would have helped, and I would still recommend it to the noble Baroness and the Department to see whether they could not incorporate some of the very sensible ideas in that Bill. The present position of rural transport is a paradigm case of the weaknesses of our present approach to transport. We have a system which is striken by inertia, besotted by subsidy, and yet for want of a little free enterprise many rural areas are facing a virtual cessation of public transport. Public transport will never pay all its way. Those genuinely in need of transport must be provided with it, but this does not happen at the moment. The indiscriminate subsidy to transport leads to a barren, endless vista of losses, cuts and shabby rundown services.
We must all acknowledge the economic importance of road freight. If ton-miles are used as a yardstick, some 85 per cent. of all freight travels by road, and as the Document recognises, there is no real possibility of moving any significant portion of this on to the railways. Indeed, the Document dismisses the whole notion of such a transfer as a pipedream. It seems to me, my Lords, that two points follow from this. First, there is no justification whatsoever for subsidising any kind of freight transport; and it is encouraging that the Government propose to eliminate the subsidy to British Rail freight, and it is to be hoped that they will ensure that the National Freight Corporation makes an early return to profitability. Secondly, while it is perfectly reasonable to insist that the road hauliers cover their costs, there is really no justification for piling extra costs on road haulage. Furthermore, to do so would, I suggest, be very highly inflationary, because the increased charges would immediately be passed straight on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for nearly all the goods in our shops. Therefore, I earnestly hope that the Government will think again on their proposals in this field.
1195 Now, my Lords, to turn to the question of roads. Easily the most important postwar development in transport in Britain, as in other countries, has been the enormous expansion of private motoring. Strangely enough, my Lords, for some reason much of this took place in the years 1951–1964, when the number of cars on our roads actually tripled and private motoring, hitherto available only to the better off, came to be within the reach of almost every family. When we turn our attention to those sections of the Document dealing with road transport, it is encouraging that the Labour Party, or at least those sections of Labour opinion represented in this Document, have now apparently fully come to terms with the basic economic and social reality underlying our transport policy today, which is (let us be quite honest) the primacy of road transport. It would be hard, indeed, to do otherwise. As the Document acknowledges:Private motoring, measured in terms of passenger kilometres travelled, is nearly four times as important as public transport. It predominates for all lengths of journey, and for both business and leisure.Later on the Document goes on to say:The Government fully acknowledge the importance of motoring as the main form of passenger travel, and would not lightly contemplate proposals which would lead over time to an increase in its cost.The Document's basic analysis is therefore beyond dispute; but, my Lords, the logical corollary of the recognition of the primacy of road transport is the recognition of the importance of the future roads programme. It was therefore disturbing, I found, to read in paragraph 9.14:… it seems right to take a cautious view of the growth of traffic and to accept the risk of under-providing for the future".My Lords, such a policy is, I would think, very likely to repeat the mistakes of earlier years, and to cause the problems of overcongestecl roads, including the serious accident risks, to be even greater in the years ahead.
We all acknowledge the need to cut public expenditure, and I could not agree more that it would be foolish to suggest that this can be done without sacrificing projects which would be highly desirable were circumstances more favourable. But projected future expenditure on roads has already been cut by 40 per cent. over 1196 the last three years—easily the most severe cut-back to any major area of Government expenditure. It must straightaway be acknowledged, I also agree, that not all of these cuts were the outcome of rational planning. It has to be recognised that there are powerful political temptations to sacrifice the roads programme. First, this is the one area which is under the Government's complete control. If a cut is decided upon, there is no difficulty in implementing it; the tap can be turned on and off at will. Secondly, putting scissors to paper is, of course, much easier than bringing to an end something which is already in being.
But, my Lords, a high-quality interurban road network is of vital importance to the economic life of this country. The rapid and reliable movement of goods and persons is an indispensable part of the infrastructure of modern society. To make severe reductions in the road programme is dangerously close to eating the seed corn. Our roads are already more crowded and less developed than those of our major industrial competitors, and we are in the midst of a recession. When economic activity eventually picks up, we are going to be even more than ever aware of the deficiencies of our roads.
Given the need to cut public expenditure, it is probable that no Government programme could have remained immune, but if one were drawing up an order of priorities surely it would be decided that economically beneficial activities should suffer the minimum cutback possible, and it is reasonable to consider expenditure on roads as analogous to industrial investment. It should also be noted that although we have abandoned the concept of the road fund, there is a very considerable surplus of revenue from taxation over expenditure on roads, even if the absolute maximum number of items is added to the debit account. I think the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was a little one-sided in his arguments on this, because the Government are taking out in one form or another, I would suspect, probably over £3,000 million, and if anyone were to tell me that we are spending more than half of that, or at the most two-thirds, on every form of road maintenance and building I would be very surprised.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
My Lords, does the noble Lord doubt the figures that I 1197 used? Because there is documentary evidence available for every one of them.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
No, my Lords; I do not doubt for one second the figures that the noble Lord used. He spelt out in detail every little subsidy to a road and every cost of a road built, but what he did not do after every other sentence was to remind us that there was a surplus of over £1,000 million coming from the motor industry. That is the only point I was trying to make.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
The noble Lord should get his figures right. What I said, I think, was that £968 million was surplus revenue over collection costs.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
Yes, my Lords; all I am saying is that the general effect of the noble Lord's speech was to draw it out, £1 million by £1 million, £100 million by £100 million, until it appeared that the Government were featherbedding the roads, whereas the railways were getting a very hard deal. That was the general message, I think, that the House received.
The second aspect of the Document's proposals on road traffic which I am afraid caused me concern was the suggestion that parking charges in towns and cities should be greatly increased. No one is arguing for subsidised parking; it is quite reasonable that the urban motorist should be required to pay the full cost of his parking. But the Document fully admits that he does so already. Also, the Document points out that nearly all the cars in nearly all conurbations move faster today at nearly all times than they did in 1963. It would have been far more to the point, I suggest, if the Government had announced proposals to ease licensing restrictions and insurance regulations to encourage the maximum use of the cars on the roads. We all know that unofficial car-sharing schemes are very widely organised. It would have been far better if these were put on a regular footing. It obviously makes sense to have three or four people in a car going into London, rather than just the chap actually driving. As a final point, we cannot ignore the legitimate aspirations of the vast majority of our people, and it is undeniable that the vast majority of the adult population in 1198 good health either own a motor car or would like to do so.
I am conscious that in this speech I have by no means done justice to the Consultation Document's contents. I would indeed commend it to your Lordships as interesting reading material. It is lucidly and indeed felicitously written, and contains a great deal of meat. It does not need saying that the matters it treats are of the greatest public concern. I would add one final comment, and that is that it would be a great pity that such a well written document, which obviously took a great deal of time and effort to prepare, should not lead to positive beneficial action.
There is clearly no immediate prospect of any significant increase, in real terms, in spending on transport. This makes it doubly important that we use the limited resources that are available in the most cost-effective manner possible. There is a great need for a new framework for British transport planning, so that we can achieve as many as possible of our desired objectives at minimum cost. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that we have, as a matter of urgency, sensible proposals for sensible action, for it is by that standard, my Lords, that the worth of this Document w ill ultimately be judged. If it fails in that respect, it will be commemorated merely as a monument to Mr. Anthony Crosland's prose style.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord CHAMPION
My Lords, I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in thanking my noble friend for initiating this debate. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, opposite, I must say that I thought his one of the best speeches he has ever made. He has the advantage of saying it in Opposition, and, in a critical examination of this Document, he was able to say many of the things that he might have helped to put into operation when he was sitting on this side and when he bore some responsibility for transport. This is one of the joys of Opposition. I have sat over there myself and savoured the fruits and pleasures of making such speeches as his. But it was an excellent speech. It was critical of the Document in some places, and appreciative of it in others.
1199 My noble friend who initiated the debate—and it is a debate on an industry upon which the prosperity of this country very largely depends—gave the House a mass of facts and figures in connection with transport, all of which are worthy of our consideration. But even I, a transport man, will have to read them in Hansard to grasp their full import. It is difficult to grasp the import of such a mass of statements in a speech listened to in this House.
My Lords, we are considering today the latest in a long procession of documents dealing with transport. Report has followed report, White Paper has followed White Paper, on the nationalised transport undertakings, on the railways, on the urban bus services, on the rural bus services, on the motorways, on the roads, and on school transport. Just to recite the titles of all of them would occupy a large part of the time that I propose to take up in this debate this afternoon; and merely to summarise their contents would require at least a full Parliamentary day. I can think of nothing in our national life that has been responsible for a greater production of words and a smaller amount of satisfactory action. This leads on inevitably to the question of what we can expect to get from this Document that we are considering this afternoon, a Document which has been impressed on us as being a Consultation Document and not a set of proposals. This we have to keep in mind in connection with the Document.
I am not so critical of the Document as was my noble friend Lord Popplewell. Altogether it seems to me to set out fairly and squarely the nature of the problems facing transport; and it asks the question: Where do we go from here? But it does more than that. I think it sets out also fairly and squarely the economic and financial framework within the confines of which the solutions have to be found. That is important. What emerges from an examination of this Document and study of the history of transport since 1945 is that there is a clear necessity for a longterm comprehensive plan which will have a chance of survival under successive Governments and ever-changing Ministers. If the managers of the transport undertakings, both nationalised and privately-owned, have suffered from anything at all, 1200 it has been from the changing policies which followed one on the heels of the other with bewildering rapidity. As an illustration of the changes that have taken place, Sir Richard Marsh, in a five-year term of office as chairman of the Railways Board, has served under four Secretaries of State and three Ministers of Transport.
The Report of the Railways Board for 1975 illustrates in moderate terms what that Board is up against. I quote:Uncertainty about the Board's long-term objectives was increased in October 1975 when the Minister of Transport confirmed that investment levels, accepted by both the outgoing and incoming Governments in 1974, would be reduced. There has been, therefore, an explicit abandonment of the interim rail strategy propounded by the Board in the Rail Policy Review presented to the Minister in December, 1972, which formed the basis of the Railways Act 1974. Unfortunately no alternative strategy has been agreed with the Government, though short-term financial objectives have been announced.In the Board's Report for 1972 Sir Richard Marsh, after referring to the growth of private car owning, the increase in road haulage and the rise in foreign travel, said:We can now see how the country was surprisingly ill-prepared for such developments. Perhaps consolation to be drawn from these comparisons is the expectation that the nation will never again allow itself to be guilty of lack of foresight in planning for future transport needs.That was his hope in 1972. One is inclined to say, somewhat sarcastically, "What a hope!" But we can hope that from consideration of the Consultation Document that we have before us we shall not again be guilty of a lack of foresight in planning future transport needs. That is my hope, certainly, that we should not again be caught; but "I hae me doots", about some of them.
My Lords, let me turn to the Document itself. I welcome the statement in the Introduction that,despite the advances made in the 1968 Act we still appear to many to lack a proper framework for the co-ordination of transport policy both at national and local level. The authoritative Socialist Commentary report reflected the widespread view that pricing and investment decisions for each mode were not taken within the framework of an integrated approach, but in almost total isolation.I particularly like the way the word "integration" is used in that sentence. For so long, so many of us have used "integration" as a sort of blessed word. 1201 We have waved it about on every possible occasion without ever defining exactly what we meant by it or how we thought it might be achieved. An integrated policy—or, perhaps a better way of putting it, a co-ordinated policy—is essentially practicable; but an integrated transport system is not, in our form of society. There is a difference here and we must keep that difference ever in mind.
In Chapter 4, the Document admits that there has been too little co-ordination and coherence in transport policy in recent years, and the conclusion it reaches is that on the wider issues it is for the Government and Parliament to assess the wider issues but always remembering, I trust, that too frequent changes can be disastrous for the industry. It is because I accept that that I go along with the document in about the only positive statement it makes; namely, to reject the idea of setting up a new National Authority—" National Authority", of course, with capital letters. Turning to the objectives of a transport policy, however much in times of economic crisis we feel that we need to cut public expenditure, we must never lose sight of or fail to make provision for those without access to their own means of transport, and particularly in the rural areas.
A Committee in 1961, reporting on our rural bus services, pointed out with real understanding that in this connection there are two influences operating in opposite directions. On the one hand, as more and more people in an area acquire their own means of transport, the number of persons inconvenienced is correspondingly reduced. On the other hand, the effect of that is to reduce still further the number of buses serving that area and so increasing the hardship or inconvenience suffered by those without the advantage of private transport.
The General Secretary of NALGO, who has sent me that union's policy statement on transport, uses a telling phrase in this connection when he says:The value of transport cannot be comprehended solely in monetary terms, for without it the country would be reduced to a well-nigh medieval state of immobility.An excellent phrase. That certainly is the case in parts of Wales, where remote communities have in recent years been without public transport, or transport 1202 of any kind, partly as a result of the loss of 70 per cent. of railway route mileage, and partly due to the other factors that I mentioned a short while ago. In the same chapter on transport policy, under the heading, "Choice and Local Democracy", strongly support the passage which says:Although there are social, environmental and resource grounds for intervention in the market, we shall not solve our problems by the administrative direction of particular movements of people or goods to particular modes of transport. It is an essential objective, in transport as in other activities, to preserve as much freedom of choice as possible within the regulatory and fiscal framework.Later it says:Many transport problems and priorities can only be settled at the local level by democratic decision.In that connection, it seems to me that to take decisions as near to the ground as possible is right; but one is immediately conscious of the difficulties, for transport services must by their very nature pass district and even county boundaries. In the NALGO policy document that I mentioned earlier, that union proposes a system of regional passenger transport authorities covering the needs of a number of district council areas, and it goes on to say that the RPTAs would be organised on broadly similar lines to the passenger transport executives of the Metropolitan areas. Despite some difficulties experienced by the PTEs, it can be claimed that they have had some success and, given reasonable resources and a suitable framework within which to work, RPTEs could do a useful job nearer to the ground than the Government or a national body. Also, they could be fitted into any regional bodies which might follow the setting up of regions as a part of a further stage of devolution in this country.
Generally, I would say that the objectives of transport policy, as set out at the end of the third chapter of this Document are unexceptionable, and those of us who regard ourselves as transport men must not run away from sub-paragraph 7 on page 19, which says as an objective:Public expenditure: to recognise the need to restrain public expenditure and in particular to confine subsidy to the areas of greatest need.Mostly as politicians we tend to say, "make cuts, cut subsidies and so on in the areas in which we have no particular interest but leave our interests alone". 1203 This is typical of politicians, certainly in both Houses. I have heard it here and I heard it so often in another place.
In present circumstances, or indeed in any circumstances, we must face up to the fact that the public purse is not bottomless. One is bound to support, although very reluctantly, the Government's intention to place some constraint on concessionary fares. What I would urge in that connection is that in the examination which is to take place in the Joint Working Party with the local authority associations, in that consultation an attempt should be made to ensure that there is uniformity over the whole country, for it seems to me to be unfair that the concession to the poorer members of our country should be dependent on where they happen to live. This seems to be all wrong. It is the case at present that in some areas you have a concession and in others you do not. That is unfair to many people, and older people in particular.
Lastly, I turn to British Railways and, as a railwayman, I am bound to say that my first reaction is to assert: "Not an inch off the existing track and not a penny off the subsidies", for that would be the easy and perhaps popular way with those with whom I served on the railway and in my old trade union. But it would be running away from the problem that railways have had to live with since the inter-war years when the appeal was for a square deal for the railways in the face of the competition of the expanding road haulage industry and the later difficulties caused by the massive expansion of the private ownership of cars.
I would support the general statement that the more that can be achieved through higher productivity on the railways, the less need there will be for cuts in the railway services and for higher fares, and the surer will be the future of those still working on the railways. These things must remain matters for discussion with the appropriate unions. I do not think that the unions can be said to have been wholly obstructive in this. The figures of the decline in railway employment given in Chapter 7 show a decline of 245,000 between 1963 and 1976. It must be pointed out that if you take the 1204 figure for 1948 the decline by 1976 has been 419,000. That means that not much more than one-third of the number employed in 1948 is still employed on our railways, and this reduction has been achieved without a single national strike on this issue over the whole of that period. This is to the credit of the men employed and the unions that represent them.
Perhaps I ought to add that I would be chary about drawing conclusions from the figures of the relative productivity comparisons given in the Annexe as between this and other countries, unless I had at the same time a statement of the capital equipment behind each employee on the relative undertakings. This is a tremendously important factor, as it is in the motor car and other industries when comparisons are made. What is the capital behind them? What capital does each man employ in the work that he is doing? One cannot hope to deal with every option or every conclusion mentioned in this chapter on railways, but in all honesty I am bound to say that I accept the main conclusions mentioned in paragraph 7.63, and the very acceptance of those conclusions answers most of the questions posed at the end of the chapter. I shall not quote them because time will not permit.
I end on the note of integration; that is to say, integration of transport policy and not of the transport system. I would accept that this means increases in taxation of heavy lorries, charging more for parking, restricting non-residential private parking and the more effective taxation of the private use of business cars. I would think there ought to be new initiatives regarding rural bus transport, more Government grants for private sidings to assist railway freight—this was a point made very strongly by my noble friend Lord Popplewell—and temporary grants to assist British Rail and the NFC while in deficit. This note of integration is stressed in the conclusions to be drawn from the comprehensive review of transport policy as a whole in chapter 13. What is desired, I am sure, by most of those concerned with transport is that from a consideration of this Document there will emerge a proper framework for the coordination of transport policy at both national and local levels. I certainly welcome this Document.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I join in a debate on such a technical subject as the one we are discussing. I do so not because I am a person with any technical knowledge of railways, but because there can be few of your Lordships who use the railways more than I do. I spend certainly two nights of every week during the Parliamentary Sessions in a sleeper on the railway, travelling to and from London, Edinburgh, Carlisle or Berwick. So now when I ask for a sleeper to Edinburgh I am always given the same one, coach J, number 5. So I have got practically a permanent room in a railway train! But I am no expert and I speak here only as a user, and a very enthusiastic user, of railways.
This Document deals with all the transport in the country and, if I may, I will speak for a short time about other forms of transport; but the one form in which I am particularly interested and—I will not attempt to disguise it from your Lordships —the one that I am greatly biased in favour of, is the railways: hence my distress when, some seven or eight years ago, the railway in my area in Scotland, which was known as the Waverley line, was axed by Lord Beeching. In this connection I should like to acknowledge the great help that I got from the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, at that time in trying to preserve the line. I firmly believe that it could have been run much more economically had the Railways Board wanted to keep it going. However, it got the Beeching "axe", and that was the final result.
I should like to say just a few things about this Document, and to welcome it. It is a most interesting Document. It does not, of course, point in a direct way as to where and how we should go but, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, we have had many reports on railways and if we could not find an answer to the problems from all these, how can one document in 1976 be expected to provide a complete solution? But the Document offers some interesting comments and lays out a picture of considerable interest.
I wonder whether I might just ask one or two questions about railways, because, as I said at the beginning, I am a great supporter of them. I think they are excellent. 1206 The lines I travel on are rarely late; they are always comfortable and well manned; and the people who look after one in these great inter-City trains are extremely helpful. But they are very expensive. Is there any possibility of reducing the expenditure in some way? I think the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that higher productivity was the way to look at this matter, if we possibly can. Are there, for instance, too many stations? Has a detailed survey of all the stations ever been made? Could we cut down on some of them? When I was struggling for the retention of the Waverley line, I remember that I counted fifteen stations between Carlisle and Waverley station. I suggested that that number could easily have been cut down to three or four, although that would have meant that some people may perhaps have had to cover ten or fifteen miles by road. The railway could have been run much more cheaply on the basis of stopping at only two or three key places, and perhaps the train could stop at certain intermediate scheduled places if a special request was made. Of course, that could not be done by the inter-City trains, but there are still other train links with those in some rural areas.
I should like a study to be made of how to keep railways but cut down on expenditure. There are lines in some places, I believe, although I have no experience of them myself, where scheduled stops are made on request. These stops are not manned. I do not know whether or not they work well, but I think such an arrangement would serve a useful purpose in the rural or semi-rural areas where some transport is needed.
The Document is rather gloomy on the subject of freight traffic, and I wonder whether that might not be looked at again. It seems to me that certain non-perishable goods could well go by train—for instance, the usual ones such as coal, iron, steel, timber and chemicals. I live in an area where an enormous amount of timber will very soon have to be transported and at the moment it would all have to go by road. One of the arguments I put up in favour of retaining the Waverley line was this. Would it not have been possible to use it for timber transport? Timber is not spoiled by being transported by rail. Of course, it is easier to handle when it can be picked up on the spot and there is no need to transfer it to another wagon. 1207 However, one might have been able to transport it by using the type of wagon that is used today in sea-going transport, where freight is transferred on to roads in bulk carriers.
Obviously, there is a certain class of traffic for which door-to-door transport is vital. I cannot imagine what chaos there must have been in the old days in a market town on a market day, when all the animals were driven along the roads to the market. It must have been a nightmare. Today, the lorry that comes to your farm, loads your animals, takes them straight to the market and unloads them there, is absolutely indispensable. But there are goods, such as non-perishable goods, for which that service is not absolutely necessary. Can we not try, even at this late hour, to divert some of those types of goods to the railways? I agree, of course, that the report is rather pessimistic about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Champion, spoke about the rural areas of Wales. I should like to say something about the rural areas of Scotland, where I live and which I know extremely well. Last year, we started to use post buses for services in the very rural areas and they have been a tremendous success, and could be greatly developed. I do not know why on earth they did not start 10 years ago. The mini-bus is another excellent idea which, again, is used only very little. Surely it is possible to encourage its use, not necessarily for the nationalised transport service, by allowing individual people with enterprise to run them in a given area, under the control, to some extent, of the local authority, so that there are not too many minibuses competing on the same routes.
As regards school buses, one often comes across these with empty seats because there are not enough children to fill them. They could easily be utilised in rural areas. Every time I want to travel by air or rail, there is a 50 miles drive to the station or airport and a 50 miles drive back, and I suppose that the situation is the same in Wales. If one does not want to drive there are the buses, but they are so slow, they stop so often and are so uncomfortable that many people do not use them at all. If the buses that are supposed to replace the railways—I am not talking about the 1208 rural buses which simply pick up people and take them to the nearest village or small town—were faster, then they would be used by more people.
There could also be closer liaison between the bus services and the local railway stations. I do not know whether there are car parking and bus facilities at every railway station, but people would use buses more often if they were run in conjunction with the railways. They seldom are. I do not know why. I should like to commend most heartily the fare concessions which have recently been made by the railways. They are an enormous success. Admittedly, they cost a lot of money but they enable people to use the railways and they get motor cars off the roads. I entirely agree with the noble Lord who spoke about the enormous increase in the use of cars and lorries, and anything one can do to prevent that is to the advantage of everybody, particularly to those people who care about amenities. It may well be that as a result of the fare concessions more people will use the railways, and their profitability may he slightly increased.
Perhaps it is selfish to say this, but I feel that one ought to discourage people from bringing motor cars into great towns and cities, such as London, Manchester, Bristol and so on, where there are excellent city transport services. I have not used a motor car in London for the last 20 years or more, and the services in this great city are such that it seem quite wrong to bring a motor car here unless it is absolutely necessary. I should like to stop people bringing motor cars into cities. The difficulty is that in medium sized towns people use their cars to do their shopping, so that improved car parking facilities are extremely important. Some places are very backward in that respect, and in the integrated transport scheme I should like to see more car parking facilities, particularly at stations. If one can leave one's car for two days at a station and pick it up again on one's return, that is an enormous help.
In the rural areas that I know best, a great deal of factory transport is provided because the industries import many workers from the country. Some of the buses used are only half full, and I wonder whether it would be possible 1209 for local county councils to arrange with factories for their buses to be used not only by factory workers but also by the public, with a due fee being paid to the factories. There are probably reasons for not being able to do that, but it is something which is well worth considering.
Finally, Chapter 12 of this Document refers to Scotland. I entirely agree that there is a very varied picture there, and it is difficult to see how the services can be made to pay. But this Document makes many good suggestions, and it deals very fairly with the problems of areas of that kind. There are the shipping services, which are essential for the Highlands and Islands, and huge rural areas with a very sparse population where public transport would have a very difficult problem in getting buses around. The shipping services will never pay; they have not done so for many years. Then there are very good and useful air services to the Islands, but because the population is so small it is impossible to make them pay. So that, as the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said, these facilities have to he treated as a service, and not as a commercial enterprise from which there will be returns. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that we should make inquiries into these aspects.
I am afraid that my suggestions are all very amateurish, but they are the suggestions of someone who has worked for many years in local government. I have tried very hard to provide services of this kind and I know how difficult it is. But if, as both the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, have said, we are to have a definitive integrated policy for transport, this Document forms a very interesting basis, and I hope that after the policy is worked out we shall have something which lasts longer than the previous seven or eight Documents to which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred when he talked about his long service with the railways. So, my Lords, I support this Document and I hope very much that we shall be able to go a good deal further on the lines indicated.
§ 5.l0 p.m.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Popple- 1210 well, for opening this immense subject. When one reads through the papers before the House one realises that if we were to do justice to this subject our speeches would all be quite unconscionably long. Therefore one must exercise restraint. For that reason I shall not be taking up the points made by preceding speakers, although I should love to answer my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood because I believe that I know the answers to most of her problems. About 20 years ago the late Lord Swinton said to me: "What I really fear is that we shall be paying sixpence on the income tax to keep the railways alive". I do not think that he was far wrong. Indeed, I am not sure whether he underestimated the amount.
One has to consider that there is a mental disease known as "railitis". The essence of the disease is that the victims of it believe that railways represent the summit of man's creative powers and must be preserved at all costs to give a living and pleasure to the operators. A great many railwaymen are a little dotty in this direction. I knew two general managers who used to play with toy trains in their spare time. I rather think that the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, is not quite so immune from "railitis" as some other railwaymen such as the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
May I make one point to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. If the noble Lord gave me the pleasure of coming to stay with me, went out in the rush hour to watch working men in their own cars pouring into Crawley New Town from every direction and considered that it would be impossible to move them by train and quite uneconomic to move them by bus, I think he would realise that the private car has a very important part to play today in industry.
I should add that I have not been immune from "railitis". For a dozen years of so I was on the board of an overseas railway company and met many people suffering from the disease, and about 20 years ago I wrote a memorandum and presented it to the Minister of Transport suggesting that we should put down fares and put up season tickets. I expect that the memorandum was torn up or that it still rests in a pigeon-hole there. At any rate, no notice was taken of it.
1211 I wonder whether or not that ploy would be relevant today. I know that the Consultation Document says that to put down fares would decrease revenue, but what in practice are British Rail doing? They put up their fares sky high so that a great many people cannot afford to pay them, yet day after day British Rail are producing new and different forms of concessions. There are short weekends, long weekends, midweek fares, tickets bought three weeks ahead, excursion and cheap day tickets, old age pensioners' half fare mid-week second class travel, old age pensioners' half fare all week travel, second and first class, accompanied children, unaccompanied children. And there may be more of these concessions. What are British Rail doing but raising their fares too high and then finding that they have to give these concessions in order to get anyone to travel? Why not have a straightforward, cheap, basic fare for all travellers, including seasons, and then charge extra for special trains, as they do in Italy and in other countries of the world, too?
My other point is that, as my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood has said, the long-distance fares to Scotland are quite prohibitive. Why should not we have more telescopic fares? After all, an appreciable proportion of the cost of conveying a traveller from London to Glasgow consists of popping him into the train in London and taking him out of that train in Glasgow, and the cost of doing that will remain constant. Therefore it would be quite logical to reduce the cost of travelling the intervening distance in order to try to get more people to use the service.
If we turn to the question of taxes on travel to work, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he is going to tax business cars in some way or another. But whatever he does, in terms of the extra administration I have not the slightest doubt that the recipient of a business car will be better off than the person who has to buy a season ticket to travel by rail. I believe that season ticket holders who buy tickets covering an appreciable length of time—a minimum of one month or something like that—ought to be able to allow some or all of that amount to be set against taxation. It 1212 would be part of the package deal that if the ordinary rates were put up that blow would be softened. However, to a large extent season ticket holders are a captive trade, and one wants to encourage them without killing that trade.
So much for the revenue side. At the moment, roughly the entire receipts of the railway go towards pay. This is a quite intolerable situation. In a book by a retired locomotive engineer which I read the other day, after saying how skilled was the driving of a main line Pacific locomotive and how skilled and how hard was the labour of firing it, he continued:90 m.p.h. is regarded as normal for an unromantic Deltic snorting across the country With nearly twice the power of the Pacific, demanding no special effort from its driver and no exertion at all from its redundant second man".Those are his words, not mine. I know the arguments about training drivers, career structures and all that kind of thing hut we simply cannot go on paying three men to drive a loose-coupled freight train. If one speaks to railwaymen, they nearly always say that there are far too many superintendents, and I think that this may well be the case. I have a feeling that the railways have discarded more staff on what one might call the manual than the office side, and I think this is something that ought to be looked at. Certainly the author of my book, who was writing about ten years ago, said that there were more superintendents in certain workshops—I will not mention their names—and no greater output than there was when he was an apprentice there before the war. I think that that may well be true. If, therefore, there are to be any reductions—and there must be further reductions—the office grades must be looked at as well as the outside work people.
Turning to loans, during 1975 British Rail appeared to have taken up £72 million of loans at a rate of nearly 15 per cent. This is a crippling rate. You cannot expect profitable investment at this kind of rate and it will not come down until Her Majesty's Government stop trying to mop up every penny that they can borrow. Dear money suits the banks, the pension funds, the insurance companies and the charities, but it is extremely bad for all forms of capital investment by services such as the railways or by industry, and Government borrowing must come down.
1213 We must recognise that the railways are a sponge for unlimited capital investment. We could go on putting £500 million a year into railways for 10 years and at the end of the time we should have a more beautiful system; it would be faster, it would be cleaner and more comfortable than at present; a delight to all the victims of "railitis" and the people who run it but used by probably precisely the same number of people who are using it at the moment and at no higher fares, and we should have to service the £5,000 million capital out of the same amount of money. So all capital expenditure on railways should be looked at not through the eyes of a railwayman but through the proverbially jaundiced eye of a Scottish accountant. The high-speed train projects ought to be looked at in this light. It would be very nice to get to Plymouth in two and a half hours and to Glasgow in three and a half hours, or whatever it may be, but will this entail huge expenditure on track and signalling? If so, will there be sufficient growth in traffic to be able to service that huge expenditure? I am inclined to doubt it. People speak about exports, but where are the countries in the world who can afford to invest very heavily in track and signalling in order to put an extra fast train on the line? I do not know where they are.
All in all I do not believe that British Railways can pay and it is unrealistic to expect them to pay. On this I differ from my noble friend on the Front Bench, but I think that the subsidy ought to be cut very considerably. In my view, something between £100 million and £200 million is quite enough to pay for the running of it. I do not think that they will get an improvement in their situation by putting up charges because they are too high at present. It can be done only by persuading the unions that it is better to reduce numbers voluntarily than to have them automatically reduced by savage cuts of the mileage.
We could of course do without railways except for the suburban services. Indeed, some people say that we could do without them, but I do not agree. In the United States of America railways had almost faded out, but they are coming back a little now. It would be most inconvenient to do without them in this country and I should be very sorry to see it happen; but it is far better to keep the existing 1214 system going by the more efficient use of manpower.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has identified the disease of which I have an attack—that is, "railitis". We should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Popplewell for calling attention to the Government's Consultation Documents on Transport Policy, even though these are not the easist times in which to rationalise or make improvements in co-ordinating different kinds of transport. It is the same today when we discuss the difficulties of any large industry. The causes usually hark back to inadequate investment and short-sighted planning in past years. The two Consultation Documents are full of information and statistics, but neither of these documents is reassuring—I suppose because as a country we are going through hard times.
I was surprised and rather shocked to read that by 1973 80 per cent. of total domestic passenger mileage was in cars, 12 per cent. in buses and coaches and only 8 per cent. in rail. At their best, the railways are the smoothest and the most civilised form of transport. They allow people to work, study or read for pleasure while being transported. Meanwhile the suffering which people in the cities continue to endure from congestion and noise of cars and lorries increases every day. Private mobility inflicts a real punishment upon us.
The arguments contained in Document No. 1 do not hide the many disagreeable effects of car travel, but this does not lead logically to a strong case for an upgrading and strengthening of the public transport system, especially the railways. There is the argument against tackling, for instance, the freight problem, which would benefit the railways financially by shifting freight on to the railways; and I have noticed that there have been 50 private sidings established in 1974. It is admittedly a difficult problem but it is left in the air and I think it should be given a higher priority when our economic position has improved.
I do not think that a bright future lies in a gigantic traffic jam of cars enclosing the circumference of the whole of the 1215 British Isles, which is what we may come to sooner than one would expect. I can find no firm attempt in the Consultation Documents to stress the important role of the railways and to condemn the rundown, despite a rather mandarin phrase that—and I quote:the Government cannot absolve us from the need to examine in the most vigorous fashion the proper function of the railways in a modern transport system".Because the railways have experienced successive financial crises and have had to be rescued by the taxpayer, this does not justify the savage cutting out of railway lines or a drastic reduction in staff. Both these measures might produce a situation which required to be rescued by the taxpayer, as the railways were rescued before.
The Government should be looking at other means of dealing with the growth of road competition. There are other means and the Government should be taking them up. In the Documents, the private car and the lorry form of mobility is absolutely sacrosanct and everyone assumes that this will go on for ever. It is a thoroughly defeatist attitude. It is of course true that railway subsidies have risen dramatically from £75 million in 1970 to over £400 million in 1975. But this might require some reorganisation rather than just relying on financial constraints.
Financial constraints are not a major strategy for the integration and coordination of all the modes of transport that are needed. After all, British Rail have made large manpower economies of about 7,000 in staff, at a time of high unemployment. The truth is that few of the financial economies proposed at present take into account the long-term plans for the railways. Railways are crucial for the movement of freight, especially coal, for the inter-city passengers, for London commuters, and for the major commuter network in the South-East. If none of these is profitable at present, surely much of the blame rests with the under-investment of past years.
Co-ordination and integration is the key to any solution of transport problems, and the foundation for a healthy transport policy. Whether it is for a transport authority or a transport council, only experts can judge. Whichever body the 1216 Government accept for discussion of their proposals, there should be full involvement with the trade unions and the consumers. We need to extend public transport, not to shrink it. Socialist Commentary had an exhaustive and interesting study of transport in April 1975, and whether or not we all agree with everything that Socialist Commentary suggested in its serious study, we surely can agree with its conclusions. It says:A transport policy must bring about a more rational allocation of traffics and the co-ordination and integration of the transport service".
§ 5.32 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, before I address your Lordships on this matter, may I offer an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. because I was unable to be in my place when he commenced his speech. However, I find I was greatly in support of much that he said. May I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that whatever lie may think, I am not a member of the railway lobby, although I am a great supporter of the railways.
My Lords, these two Documents, Transport Policy, are splendid documents, which generate thought. Volume 1 in particular gives food for thought. Not being particularly well educated. I find Volume 2 rather difficult to digest in some of its technicalities. The words I found most interesting of all in Volume 1, and they were in brackets, were these:First, as car ownership increases (and should increase, for personal mobility is what people want, and those who already have it should not try to pull up the ladder behind them)…".If one is going to consider these documents in such a way one has to consider the individual. One must start off with the man who wants to get from here to there, or the business which wants to move something from here to there. Ultimately, whatever is decided by the Government, the economics of people's pockets will be the decisive factor in what ultimately will be decided. If one accepts that, then one must take a very long-term view of these things. and not look at them from what I call the tramway mentality. One must not look at the matter from the mentality of what is happening today, or even what will happen in five years' time or ten years' time, but probably long after I 1217 and most noble Lords present will he dead. That is the viewpoint from which I try to look at this transport policy.
On what is the future of transport being based? In rural areas, the motor-car is an absolute essential. Within what I can see of the future, the motor-car must be the method of transport of people who live away from bus routes, railways, and everything else. Bearing that in mind, any Chancellor imposing taxation to try perhaps to control the growth of motor transport must never, never forget the people who are compelled to use car transport. Having said that, let us look at the bulk of the users. The present economic circumstances probably have slowed down the expansion of transport of all kinds, and maybe will continue to do so for some period of years. But as the standard of living of people improves again, the desire for mobility will increase, whether it is mobility which they control or mobility which is provided. I may be entirely wrong in this, but my view is that demand for personal mobility in cars is going to far exceed capacity on the roads which we are going to be able to produce in the time, so we shall have all these vehicles on the roads. We are going to be forced, just in order to keep people mobile, to have more and more regimentation. We have enough of it now. Legislation flows through Parliament daily to regiment the private motorist. Everywhere he turns he is told he cannot do this and he cannot do that, he has got to do this or he has got to do that; hut, nevertheless, he continues on the road, in a large proportion of cases ignoring the law entirely.
If we allow things to proceed as they arc, we shall have not only regimentation by law but regimentation by use, because we shall have traffic on the roads piled up nose to tail, travelling only at the speed of the slowest. Ultimately we shall get outselves so congested that we shall not be able to move. Drivers of vehicles are individuals, just as the train driver is an individual or the pilot of an aircraft is an individual. But the driver of the vehicle on the road is an individual who wants to get from one place to another, and he will get there whether anybody likes it or not. Half the trouble, the damage, the danger, and the accidents are caused by ill-tempered people who cannot stand congestion on the roads. If we cannot produce roads where they can travel quickly we shall have 1218 more and more danger. I get the impression from these transport Documents —although I may be wrong—that there is a tendency to think that road transport has got to be the ultimate, and that rail transport is merely to be added on the side as something to use to take a little of the surplus. I do not like to accept this and I do not feel we should accept this.
Something which congests our roads today, and will do if we allow it to continue, is the enormous heavy super-vehicle, multi-wheeled vehicle, yards long, which in my youth we would never have dreamt of even being able to see on the roads. Behind them you get the tailback of traffic, with people trying to pop in and out here and there. Must we accept this? We also see our motorways: people go up and down them, heavy vehicles go up and down them. What do you find? As an example, take the exit from the M.6 to Blackpool; you hear on the radio the police saying, "Please try to avoid the exit to the motorway at Preston going to Blackpool, because the traffic is tailed back for miles". What on earth is the use of building these stupendous motorways so that people can get somewhere quickly, when they have to sit at the other end and make up their minds whether to go on the normal road. This will get worse, not better, if we have all these vehicles on the roads. If I was going to Blackpool, I would make a beeline for the nearest train and get in it, because at least I would know I would get to the other end at the time I was supposed to get there, rather than sitting and waiting for a load of people to get off the motorway.
Another thing I dislike intensely—and it frightens me and it is getting worse—is that there are a number of commercial vehicles which use our roads, motorways, main roads, everything else, which are loaded with deadly acids and things like that. They are potential disasters going up the road the whole time. Something of which I am absolutely petrified is hearing of a pileup on the motorway in the winter. I always think, "Please, do not let there be one of these appalling vehicles in it which has spilt everything." Not so many years ago a woman went to help a driver and just vanished. These are disaster vehicles. I know that, and the noble Baroness is going to tell me, there is a voluntary code of marking of these vehicles, but it has one basic fault; 1219 that is, the markings are very small. People do not know about them; they do not know, if they see a marking, whether it is a vehicle they can go near if it has an accident. These vehicles are absolute disaster potentials. In my view, and I am putting it forward purely as a personal view, all these loads should go to the railways. They have a system for moving them. They know where they are. They know what they are doing. If anything happens to them, they know what to do about it, and they can do it quickly and efficiently. These chemical loads, these danger loads, should never be allowed on roads. I am going to be told that at the end of this you have got to take them off the railway to move them somewhere. I entirely agree. Let us fix distribution points for them. Let us use smaller vehicles which are so easily recognised on the roads that everybody will stand back and let them go. But do not let us have those enormous bulk vehicles.
This, in my view, can go for a lot of commercial traffic. If we put the bulk loads, which can be container-built, back on to our railways, took them to distribution centres and put them into smaller vehicles when they got there, I am sure we should do far better. I am sure we are ultimately going to be forced to do it, purely by the congestion on our roads; it is in that way that I think our railways are going to triumph.
When it comes to people, to the individual, I have a feeling that over the past few years we have got the impression that the people who work on the railways, and for that matter on the buses, have forgotten that they are providing the public with a service. The railways and the people who work on them are earning a living from providing the public with a service. They are not there by right; they are there because they provide a service, and if they do not provide a service they should not be there. I would ask the unions to bear very strongly in mind that they are providing a service, and that if they do not provide a service which the public want they will not have a job. For the future that has to be very closely borne in mind. At any time from now until the year 2000 the public will have a choice as to how they move from here to there; commercial people will also have a 1220 choice as to how they move, and they will move where the service is quicker, more economical, reliable and convenient, for them, and not for the people who are operating it.
I have spoken for too long. What I think one should study over the next few years is this. If we put an equal investment of public money into the railways and into the roads, which would produce the results quickest? I back the railways every time. The people who are running them depend on them for their livelihood. In the case of the person who produces a road, his livelihood depends merely on whether he has another road to make later. I feel that we must try to get more commerce off the roads and on to the railways. My noble friend Lord Hawke lists all these concessional fares and everything, but they get people on to the railways. What is the use of running trains if people do not travel on them? If they can get them there, let them get them there any way they like. They provide a superb service. Unlike my noble friend Lady Elliot, I do only a short run; I use the Inter-City service from Birmingham to London. I think it is a superb service. It is very much better than any bus service I know. You can roll up, and every half hour there is another train. They can do things well, they will do things well, and I will support the railways every time. I think far more should be made of them in the future.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question before he sits down. I am entirely with him that we should get traffic off the roads and on to the railways. But does he realise that at this moment British Rail provide the worst services to the public in the whole of Western Europe?