§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Viscount Sidmouth rose to call attention to the need for a transport policy, with particular reference to long-term investment; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in thanking those noble Lords who are to speak in this debate, may I refer in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who was successful in the ballot for the debate next Wednesday with a Motion on somewhat similar lines to today's Motion. I am sure the House will appreciate his action in withdrawing his Motion in order to prevent duplication of the subject.
§ In keeping with the times, my Lords, this debate will be primarily about money. Last Thursday, in a television programme which was dealing with the subject of investment in the railways, the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary stated—and indeed repeated several times in forceful manner—that we must first make the money before we can spend it. That is clearly excellent advice to the great majority of us in our private capacities, and was so even before it was enunciated by Mr. Micawber; but I submit that it is too simple a view when one is dealing with private or national business. If we are seeking an authority in this context I believe that the parable of the man who received one talent is more appropriate. The hard fact is that in business it is sometimes necessary to spend money in order to make money, however convenient it might be the other way round. Today, we are all aware of being in a severe worldwide recession, but so long as we are looking to a more prosperous future this is not necessarily a time to cut back on investment, provided it is productive or is seen to lead to productivity.
§ In a private industrial business I believe there would be nothing inconsistent in the chairman, in order to meet hard times, cutting back on his dividend or asking the staff to accept reduced wages settlements, while at the same time announcing heavy investment in some new factory or process on which the future prosperity of the company could be based. This would apply even more so to some national businesses because the public sector happens to provide a number of the essential services or infrastructure for the economy as a whole.
§ I am aware that the public sector is at all times a sensitive area, particularly at present when the public sector borrowing requirement appears as the touchstone of national success. Without doubt, there is a strong measure of support throughout the country for this to be contained, and indeed reduced; but most people would believe, as I do, that we should steer towards a reduction in current expenditure. Unfortunately, that is a vessel very slow to answer the helm—more of a supertanker than a yacht. But as a number of noble Lords will be aware, in order to show some reductions in the public sector it is quite common to achieve them by deferring, or even cancelling, approved expenditure on capital account.
§ I do not suggest that even such expenditure should be sacrosanct, merely that the productive parts of it should be given the highest priority. For example, we might say "yes" to railway electrification, even if this meant saying "no" to sonic new town halls or offices.427
§ Certainly strong distinction should be drawn between capital and current expenditure if only because, as I have endeavoured to show, very different criteria can apply as between the one and the other.
Indeed, it has been suggested that investment expenditure of this sort should properly be excluded from the PSBR entirely. It might be that this would savour too much of changing the rules in the middle of the game, but at least it could be drawn out into a separate heading so that it could be recognised for what it is. I seem to recall that some years ago, when the balance of payments was the focus of interest, it was important to know how much of the deficit was caused by hardware for the North Sea as opposed to Japanese television sets or motor-cars. As the Financial Times pointed out in a recent article:
It is necessary to abandon a political illusion, that profitable investment undertaken by the public sector is somehow less productive than profitable private investment. This idea is particularly damaging in Britain at the moment because several of the 1980s most dynamic industries, which in other countries are investing heavily despite recession, happen in Britain to be wholly or partly in the public sector".
§ The wording of the Motion at least implies that the Government may not have a transport policy, at least in a positive long-term sense, though I hope that the Minister when he comes to reply will be able to refute that. Obviously they are in that business, in that at regular intervals road construction programmes are introduced into Parliament, running into billions of pounds. Quite right too, because in this country by far the greatest part of all traffic, whether passenger or freight, moves by road. Indeed, the proportion of freight moving by road in Britain is easily the highest of any major country in Europe, probably in the world. In the case of passenger traffic, only West Germany has a fractionally higher proportion on its roads, but in that country car ownership per head is much higher than it is here. Or, again, a major policy decision still to be taken is in respect of the maximum permitted weight of lorries, on which the Armitage Report, recommending the highest possible limit of 44 tonnes, was laid before the Minister last month. Quite apart from the environmental disadvantages, which are very great, such a decision would inevitably involve very substantial expenditure on roads and bridges.
§ These are policy decisions, but to what extent are the prospects of other modes of transport—railways, waterways, coastal shipping—taken into account when they are made? Questions in Parliament or elsewhere about railways or waterways are usually deflected to the British Railways Board or the Waterways Board, on the ground that decisions rest with them. This is fair enough so long as they refer to commercial or operating subjects, because the boards are set up and are fully competent to deal with such matters. But when it comes to investment they are very much in the hands of Government, which is and must be their banker of first resort.
§ Noble Lords will be aware that institutions in this country, especially perhaps the clearing banks, have been criticised for their failure to become more involved in the affairs of the companies they are financing. This is compared with successful Germany, where the institutions are very much involved. I cannot believe 428 that the policy of the Government is so laissez-faire that they would allow the railways and waterways to sink or swim regardless of long-term policy considerations. Yet that is the impression they often give.
§ Now that we are really launched into the 1980s, it is high time—some would say overdue—that decisions are taken about the transport pattern for the end of the century and beyond. Very substantial projects and expenditure are involved, and they will of necessity have to be spread over a comparatively long period of time. First and foremost, can or should the almost total commitment to road transport be maintained? Already 93.5 per cent. of all passenger kilometres, and 83.2 per cent. of all tonne kilometres (in 1976 figures) are moving by road. Is it wise to have so many of our eggs in one basket? And what about environmental and energy considerations? Again, noble Lords will have heard from Government spokesmen on transport the view that it is no good seeking to transfer any traffic from road to rail, or waterways, because the latter have not got sufficient locomotives and rolling stock, barges and locks to handle it. Naturally, if they do not obtain the investment finance they need even to maintain their present services, then they will wither on the vine, and eventually phase out altogether.
§ Other speakers will no doubt develop this point further. I will draw attention to just two areas in which rail transport can be seen to have a continuing, and increasing, role to play. On the passenger side, there is the need to relieve the ever-increasing dependence on the motor-car, and particularly to improve and extend the suburban services. In most places, the commuter has faced a deteriorating service at increasing cost. Twenty-five years ago passengers on the electrified routes of Southern Region enjoyed a service which was outstanding for punctuality and reliability—so much so in fact that their performance figures were, to my knowledge, quoted overseas as an example of what could be done. Unfortunately, with deteriorating rolling stock, track, and signalling, this is no longer the case; but the potential is still there, given the will and the finance.
§ On the freight side, it is possible to identify several traffic-flows at present passing by road which are suitable for rail transport, and of which perhaps the most outstanding is international traffic between this country and Europe. This has, of course, increased greatly since we joined the European Community, and being long-haul traffic it is particularly suitable for rail. Yet at present, British Rail has only a 2 per cent. share, which compares with 22.3 per cent. in Germany, 62.8 per cent. in Italy, and 20.9 per cent. in France. It would, I think, be widely agreed, not only by those who happen to live in Kent, that this traffic could, and should, be transported by rail.
§ I believe that there are several good arguments for a cross-Channel rail link, which would bring not only British Rail, but the country as a whole, into physical contact with our partners in the Community. For this reason, I hope that the current scheme for a Channel tunnel will soon come before Parliament as a viable and urgent project. The accretion of both passenger and freight traffic it could bring to British Rail would go a long way towards solving its financial problems.429
§ In the last century it was said that the situation in Schleswig-Holstein was understood by only two men, one of whom at the relevant time was dead. It may well be that only two men understand the capital investment position of British Rail, and I am certainly not one. But it is possible to see some of the problems. The Government of course fix an overall ceiling figure, and within this limit a sum to be allocated to investment is determined annually, taking into account the amount to be contributed by Government. In arriving at this figure, allowance is made for anticipated revenue, and also for any contribution expected during the year from increased productivity. Unfortunately, revenue may fall short, as it has this year, and increases in productivity all too often fail to materialise. When this happens, either investment has to be cut down, or the Government are faced with what must seem to the Treasury a dangerously open-ended commitment. This has led some authorities to comment that the Government dare not advance any more to British Rail, for fear it would simply be used to pay next week's wages. It is hard to believe that a more effective way for earmarking specific investment funds cannot be found, as has been done, I believe, in France.
§ Much needs to be done, and the active co-operation of the unions is an essential ingredient. No doubt this was made clear by Sir Peter Parker in his meeting with ASLEF last week. The present investment figure for British Rail is some £250 million per year, and, as I understand, this will not enable them even to maintain their present level of activity. Indeed, by their calculations it falls short by some £100 million per year at mid-1979 prices—and it is important to specify what date one is referring to with all these up-dated figures—from attaining a so-called "steady state" situation. It certainly does not provide adequately for a major project such as the electricfiation of the system.
§ As it happens, the final report on British Railways electrification by the Joint Steering Group of the Department of Transport and British Railways Board, is in print, and about to be published. Leaking, of course, is out of order, but it is reasonable to presume that, in addition to the many practical advantages of electric traction, the group has been able to perceive a considerable improvement in the straight financial case. This arises from current thinking about the price of oil, which is expected to rise more sharply at the end of the century than the cost of electricity, as the latter becomes increasingly generated from coal and nuclear power. I believe that this programme should be undertaken, and soon.
§ In conclusion, may I call you Lordships' attention to numerous debates, both in this House and the other place, on the use of revenue derived from North Sea oil? It was, I believe, common ground among all parties that it should not be squandered on, for example, imported consumer goods, but should be invested in building up a solid infrastructure for our industry and commerce going into the 21st century. As I understand it, this non-renewable source of revenue will soon be approaching its peak, so that now is the time for those undertakings to be fulfilled. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.430
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am certain that noble Lords will be most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, for placing this Motion on the Order Paper, and also for the lucid arguments that he has put forward for the case for an investment policy for our transport system. I am grateful to him for his kind remarks about the withdrawal of my own Motion which was to do with British Rail.
The subject is very wide-ranging, dealing with the whole question of transport policy for the carriage of freight to meet the needs of industry and passenger transport to meet the social needs of the public. It is a policy which must take account of environmental considerations—congestion, pollution and noise—and safety standards; and energy conservation.
Although the county councils have responsibility for transportation policies at local level, a national transport policy is absolutely essential. That requires an integrated and co-ordinated transport system taking in the various modes of transport. It cannot be looked at piecemeal, arising from the urgings of the various pressure groups. We on this side of the House believe that it would require a national transport authority, but undoubtedly that would need to await the election of a new Administration. Each mode of transport has a part to play and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, has said, road haulage takes the overwhelming proportion of the movement of freight.
The Armitage Report has stressed the benefit to industry of the development of fast-moving lorries, with door-to-door service. It is not my intention to deal with the Armitage Report, for I understand that the Government have not yet made up their mind on the recommendations. But I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, who is to reply, will be able to give an assurance that there can be a full debate in this House on the whole subject of the Armitage Report.
However, it has been stated that a gallon of diesel fuel would move 190 tonnes of freight one mile by rail. but at best only 60 tonnes could be moved by road—that is a third. British Rail told the Armitage review that there are 40 million tonnes of long-distance freight going by road which is suitable for rail. That would represent only 2.5 per cent. of all present road freight. But, as the noble Viscount has said, that would be significant if transferred to rail, because it would add a fifth to existing rail freight which at the moment is only 10 per cent. of all freight movement. If the railway was used to its full capacity for the movement of freight there would still be the major place for road haulage.
Increased freight traffic by rail would be energy-saving and there would be obvious environmental considerations. There is need for further development by British Rail of its door-to-door Freightliner system and its fast moving Speedlink wagon system. It is encouraging to note that in 1979 road haulage was among Speedlink's best customers. The co-ordination between road feeders and long-distance rail is to be encouraged. As has been mentioned, the 5 per cent. carriage of freight by inland waterways must not be overlooked.
Transport is the lifeblood of the nation and there must be a planned road programme when we are considering the whole question of transport. Trunk 431 roads must not be allowed to deteriorate for that would bring serious problems for the future. The emphasis must be on developments which meet the needs of industry and those which would remove serious congestions and which have important environmental considerations.
But what is the Government's attitude? Is that reflected in the answer given by the Minister of Transport on 5th November, when he was asked whether he was satisfied with the co-ordination of policy of transport by road, rail and water? Mr. Fowler replied:… my policy is to create conditions in which full and fair competition between those different modes of transport can flourish ".—(Official Report, Commons, 5/11/80; col. 1264.)He was asked in a supplementary question to give one concrete example of those conditions, and he said:The conditions that we have created in relation to new coach services on motorways is a dramatic and pleasing example of what can happen not by the introduction of some enormous national plan…but by the removal of restrictions to allow competition to take place ".—(Col. 1265.)As welcome as that may be, the new increased express road traffic represents only 1 per cent. of all the passenger carrying buses. There is nothing in that reply to those two questions about co-ordination. There is nothing about energy saving; nothing about environmental considerations and nothing about meeting social needs. The difference between these Benches and the Government was evidenced in the debates on the Transport Act 1980 when we were dealing with road passenger transport.
Of course, as the noble Viscount has said, there must be efficiency in all forms of transport. There must be, wherever possible, increased productivity. But to some extent it is now generally accepted that market forces and the profit incentive cannot be the sole means of achieving a transport system which meets the national needs. That is recognised by the public service obligation, through which British Rail receives a substantial grant towards the cost of socially needed rail routes, and also by the transport supplementary grant by which the counties and the GLC may make payments to bus operators in revenue support. We also have the recent example of the decision of P & O to cut off, without warning, the essential boat ferry between Liverpool and Belfast, which has happily now been replaced. But that was a problem for the community, not just with regard to the market considerations.
I want now to deal with bus and rail transport. Despite the Minister's optimism, I am sure that serious problems will arise on bus transport as a result of the 1980 Act. The recession is already leading to a drastic drop in the number of bus passengers, with fewer people travelling to work by bus and with other journeys being cut as household incomes shrink. I understand that in 1980 the National Bus Company had a drop of 8 per cent. in the number of passengers it carried, which was a loss of £40 million to the National Bus Company. We read report after report of operators, both public and private, who face a serious drop in revenue. Without adequate revenue support, operators will be forced to cut out some unremunerative routes and reduce the frequency of 432 service on other routes. Some operators are being compelled to increase fares, and this will lead to a vicious circle, with the loss of still further passengers.
The counties are finding it difficult to give additional public support because of the financial pressures which are now being placed upon local authorities. As I said during the debate on the order relating to the decrease in new bus grants and their eventual phasing out in 1984, that will be an added burden to be carried by bus operators, which can only lead to a further decline in bus services. We must also consider that any drastic curtailment in new bus building will be an obvious problem to be faced by the manufacturers.
In particular, the outlook for many of the rural areas is very bleak indeed. There are still some half of British households without cars, and often the cars that are in the households are not available during the daytime for those who wish to travel. Of course, there must be experiments; more experiments with the post bus service and the development of the rail-bus, which is a distinct possibility. But for many the only satisfactory means of travel in rural areas is that which should be provided by the bus. Despite the Government's optimism, car-sharing will not be the answer to this question. In the conurbations cuts in services and higher fares tend to force more people to use cars. This adds to traffic congestion and environmental problems.
The noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, referred to British Rail in particular. British Rail faces problems. It is generally agreed that British Rail has made some excellent progress in recent years. In 1979 nearly 20 billion passenger miles were travelled, which was last exceeded in 1961 when the rail network was 30 per cent. greater and when there were only 7 million cars on the road—half the number that there are today.
However, as with bus operators, the recession is causing a setback both in passengers and freight carried by rail. Some say that the answer must be to cut out some routes, increase fares and have the possible closure of some stations at weekends and in the evenings. That is shortsighted and only tinkering with the issue, and does not face the essential needs of the future.
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way and before he leaves that point, I have been listening to such speeches for over 30 years and there have been several opportunities for Governments to set up this wonderful body that will co-ordinate everything and tell everyone how to do it, but no one has succeeded in doing so. How does the noble Lord think that he will do it?
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the noble Lord has not been listening to speeches from me for 30 years. I am explaining the policy of the Labour Party. There are reasons why certain things have not been achieved, but I hope that this will not be a party political issue. We are concerned with the needs of the nation for a transport policy, and we must all try to ensure that such a policy is worked out.
The noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, referred to the problems of British Rail. Let us take a look at them. Most of the rolling stock was replaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the rail modernisation plan; 433 but most of it is now becoming out-of-date. Of the nearly 11,000 diesel and electric motor units, some 7,000 were built between 16 and 25 years ago, and some 13 per cent. are between 25 and 40 years old. British Rail stated that in one week in December no fewer than one in four of their units were awaiting repair. Nearly 4,000 passenger coaches—about two-thirds of the total—are over 16 years old, half of them being built before 1960.
Signalling on 7,000 miles of track is now 40 years old and Sir Peter Parker, the chairman of British Rail, said as recently as 19th November that some 3,000 miles of track are at risk because there is insufficient money for maintenance and repair. In this connection we had the report of the Department of Transport on Safety on Railways, which must give us cause for concern. But we must keep in mind by and large how safe rail travelling is compared with the 6,300 odd killed on the roads and about 328,000 who are injured in road accidents each year.
Then there is the Monopolies Commission report on the conditions on the railways of London and the South-East. British Rail is absolutely indispensable to this part of the country, and the commission described the rail network as the social railway. That rail network is said to be the most complex in the whole world. Each weekday over 1 million passengers are carried in London and the South-East in 8,000 train journeys. In the rush hour each weekday morning some 250,000 passengers arrive at London termini. In fact, London and the South-East provide a good example of what public transport means. Each day no fewer than nearly 900,000 passengers are carried during the rush hour period into central London by British Rail, and by London Transport's rail and bus services.
In 1979 the revenue of British Rail was £800 million, but only 42 per cent. was derived from full fares; 22 per cent. was contributed by season tickets, and no less than 35 per cent. was obtained from the various types of reduced fares. I think that most noble Lords will applaud the innovations of British Rail as regards reduced tickets. This indicates what might be achieved if there were maximum flexibility in fares.
Britain needs the further development of the highspeed train and the advanced passenger train, and, as the noble Viscount has said, the extension of rail electrification. We hope that the Government will give serious attention to the interim report of the joint working party when it is published at the end of this month and also the British Rail development plan; because Britain has only 21 per cent. of its rail routes under electrification—the lowest of most European countries.
Public transport—bus, coach and rail—cannot be looked at only from the commercial and market attitude. Public transport is not, as one of the Ministers of Transport in the present Government said, just another business; it is of vital importance to the nation. Many people will use public transport, particularly for journeys to work, if the services are there, if they are efficient and frequent. More and more countries are now recognising the need for investment in all forms of public transport, particularly the United States, which is carrying out a reversal of its previous policies. Why must Britain lag behind?
434 Emphasis has been laid on the need for investment. British Rail has the lowest Government support of all but one of 10 European countries and, with the exception of Sweden, British Rail earns a higher proportion of revenue than any one of those countries. But British Rail also has the lowest capital expenditure of those European countries, and it is that low investment and inadequate Government support which is the major problem facing British Rail.
There must be a firm basis for future investment for future years so that British Rail can plan track renewal, rolling stock replacement, modernisation of signalling and, I hope, planned electrification. All this would arouse demand for manufactured goods, which would have the effect of giving much-needed employment and leading to a reduction of benefit payments, and the losses of taxation which there are now would also be avoided. This is the time for decision making for transport as a whole. If we neglect to move today then it may be too late to improve and make a great benefit to our public transport system, particularly the railways. I hope that noble Lords will support the plea that public transport must not be looked at just as a nationalised industry. It is a national undertaking which is vital to the needs of this country.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, first I must regret that my noble friend Lord Simon, who is temporarily indisposed, is unable to take part in this debate, which is about a subject dear to his heart. We on these Benches are most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Sid-mouth, for introducing the Motion at this time. The fact that the terms of this debate call for a transport policy implies that it is far from clear what Her Majesty's Government's intentions are with regard to a current transport policy and, more particularly, their objectives for long-term investment. But it should be made quite clear that for some time we, from these Benches, have called upon successive Governments to outline and implement an integrated transport system, and that Government transport policy should be directed towards achieving an energy-efficient society by the year 2000.
I should like to put before the House today just one area where I believe clarification is needed of the intentions of the Minister of Transport. It is, without any surprise, the same area which has been chosen by the previous two speakers, the long-term investment programme for British Rail—and I assure the House that there has been no collusion between us so far—and in particular the main-line electrification and essential capital replacements discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The total for these investments is approximately £2,000 million, to be spent over a 25-year period.
I ask the noble Minister in his reply to take up the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, that he is not merely going to say that there is not enough money out of income to justify long-term capital investment. That is the schoolboy howler of confusing revenue with capital, and I am sure that he is not going to follow that particular line in his reply. The answer the Minister gives the House for this example will be equally applicable to the other sectors of the transport industry. Therefore, it may be worth while 435 just to touch on a bit of back history of the working report that has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.
The noble Minister will no doubt be aware that as far back as May 1977 the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended that consideration should be given to further electrification of the main-line routes of British Rail, taking all relevant benefits into account. Later on that year the Government of the day responded by agreeing to review with the British Rail Board the general case for main line electrification. As a result of that, a booklet, Railway Electrification, which is a sort of preamble to the working party's report, was produced in May 1978. Since then the steering group has undertaken a very full review, including a financial assessment which considered energy savings, environmental effects, the balance of payments and export opportunities for the whole of the rail industry.
Phase I of that report was accepted and has justified further study for implementation of main line electrification. The details contained in Phase II included a deep financial appraisal, with full implications for resource and revenue as well as the wider effects of electrification. All these facts have been before the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport for some considerable time and are still awaiting his decision. Furthermore, my right honourable friend Mr. David Steel called earlier on this year for an immediate go-ahead upon these recommendations by the British Rail Board even before the working party has made its report.
The conclusions that I believe will be reached in this report will clearly show the benefits of electrification, including that of fuel oil substitution. Forecasts indicate that the real cost of electricity may rise between 20 per cent. and 110 per cent. in the years between 1978 and the turn of the century, while diesel oil costs for the same period could rise by as much as 90 per cent. to 170 per cent. However, for most of the calculations agreed figures of 130 per cent. increase in diesel fuel and 65 per cent. increase in electricity costs were used respectively.
It is interesting to note that diesel oil prices have already risen by more than 40 per cent. in the last three years. If the electrification scheme as outlined in Option V of the report were adopted, 120 million gallons of diesel fuel oil could be saved each year. In straight energy terms 30 per cent. more energy is consumed by diesel traction to achieve the same performance as an electric system. There are many other good reasons to justify this particular capital programme scheduled under Option V of the Rail Board's recommendations. I do not want to go into them now, but this full electrification programme of 5,810 miles would achieve electrification of 79 per cent. of the total rail system by the year 2005.
The cost of this long-term investment programme has been estimated at £960 million, but this sum is less than half of the total long-term capital requirements for British Rail spanning the next 25 years. I shall suggest later to the noble Minister how these sums can be raised without upsetting further the current imbalance of the Government's public borrowing requirements, as mentioned by the noble Viscount in his opening 436 speech. There would be no point in the British Rail Board putting forward the electrification programme unless it was in conjunction with the pressing need for the implementation of its capital replacement programme of locomotives and rolling stock. Again, these facts have been before the Minister in another place for some time and await his decision.
It is because of this lack of response by the Ministry that I should remind the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has done, that the present locomotives and rolling stock of British Rail have already exceeded, for the greater part, their written-down life of 25 years. It must, therefore, in terms of extra running costs and the need to maintain a scheduled timetable, be a false economy to maintain this old stock. The massive capital replacement cost of £1,100 million must be sanctioned and implemented without delay if serious breakdowns over the entire rail system are not to be experienced in the next decade.
To put this in another way, many rail travellers feel that they are paying second class fares for third class travelling conditions. What I am saying is that in five or six years' time they will, if this programme is not implemented now, be paying the equivalent of first class fares for fourth class travelling conditions. I feel that the Government will have to live with this decision unless they decide within, I would say, a matter of months rather than years to put this programme into effect.
I have spent some time on presenting the details of these programmes to the House because it may be said by the Minister that in the present economic circumstances expenditure on this huge scale cannot possibly be justified. I am suggesting, that this argument cannot be accepted when the capital markets of the private sector have already indicated that these sums could be raised without much difficulty for cost-effective investments of the kind that the British Rail Board has specified.
Raising funds in this manner would not cost the taxpayer one single penny, and would require only the signature of the right honourable Minister to underwrite the repayment of the funds at the end of the 25-year period. It would be most helpful if the noble Lord in his reply could tell the House why this method is not acceptable to this Government, which has indicated a clear desire for the private sector to assist and participate in the nationalised industries.
Another point relevant to this is that once it has been recognised that long-term capital requirements of this nature are not related to the day-to-day cash flow problems the Government are experiencing, and can be funded without cost to the taxpayer, there must be a very clear reason why they cannot be activated now. So far, we have not heard anything to alter our view on this matter and I hope the pleas that there are no funds will be seen to be simply not valid. In fact, we on these Benches cannot see what justification there is for holding back on these programmes at the present time.
It is a mistake to look on a decision for a long-term investment programme as something that can be put off for the future simply because the lead times are so extended. There is a real danger that if programmes of this nature are delayed much further, many parts of them may not be capable of being fulfilled by 437 British engineering companies because they may not be in existence at the time when they are called to submit their tenders. In my view and in that of many others, this would entail needless unemployment and more purchasing from abroad if and when the Government are prepared to put forward contracts of this kind.
It would be nice at this stage for me to be able to declare an interest, in that I run perhaps one of the smallest companies that does work for British Rail, but, like many other engineering companies large and small, we have no work to look forward to, not only from British Rail but from other parts of British industry. We are still awaiting this great move from the Government to keep our machines and men at work. The result of what is happening is that we must seek work abroad, and what kind of work is that? It is for long-term capital rail programmes put forward in America, Australia and Sweden. If the Minister in his reply talks about there being a world recession, very well; and we go outside this country to other parts of the world where we find that, in spite of the world recession, other more enlightened countries and Governments are spending money on their public transport systems and in particular on their railways. I hope the Minister will explain why we in this country are in such a happy position that it would seem, from what was said in answer to Questions earlier today, we can afford to ignore our railways for some years in the future.
It may not be fully appreciated that there are other attractions, besides stimulating the British engineering industry, for this method of funding long-term investments through the private sector. First, unless programmes were cost-effective and soundly based, private sector money would not be there in the first place. Secondly, once the loan terms have been agreed, these funds will become dedicated to the projects for which they were raised and will therefore remain unaffected by changes of Government or Government policy during the whole of the 25-year period. It is perhaps this aspect of long-term funding which has not received proper attention in the past and has created piecemeal programmes which have been interrupted or altered during their implementation. This in turn has resulted in increased cost to the taxpayer coupled with unsatisfactory schemes on completion or, in many cases, incompletion.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to illustrate one point? I am all in favour of his thesis, and the money is to be provided by private persons who presumably will provide it at the interest rates of the day. Is the noble Lord satisfied that a capital programme can make such savings today as will pay for the enormous rates of interest extant in the market today?
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, if the noble Lord reads the papers he will see that the merchant banks have already offered complete private finance for the Channel tunnel, and that is one project. Secondly, regarding interest rates, if these are the interest rates under the present Government, then if this Government are allowed to remain in power much longer, I do not know what they will be in five years time; I am not 438 entirely sure whether they will be as low as they are today, so who can say what interest rates will be in the future? A capital programme is worked out on a long-term discounted cash flow basis and once the funds have been provided for that capital, the revenue coming from it will automatically increase if the interest rates are increased because inflation will also have been increased. Therefore, any business which looks at a long-term capital project cannot start siting it on the interest rates of today or tomorrow, especially when it is a programme covering 25 years.
My remarks prior to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, are relevant to the Transport Bill which will come before us shortly and in which the British Rail Board will be empowered to sell off some of its non-rail and fixed assets. I sincerely hope it is not the Government's intention to raise capital for long-term investment programmes such as I have mentioned by this method. First, the capital raised may be quite inadequate for the purpose and, secondly, it is bound to be available only as and when assets are sold, which may not be at the time when the capital is required. We shall, however, be looking at this aspect of the Transport Bill more closely at an appropriate time in this House.
Meanwhile, it is also relevant to ask the Minister if it is the Government's intention to provide an integrated transport system for this country, a question which was asked earlier. And will the Minister give an assurance that it is the Government's policy to provide an integrated railway and bus terminal system wherever possible? I have a fear that governmental pressures on the British Rail Board to raise capital funds in this way may result in the sale of property adjacent to railway stations throughout the country which could be suitable for combined use as bus or trolley bus stations. It would therefore be extremely helpful if the Minister could indicate to the House that that is not the Government's intention and that it is intended to look closely at this aspect of public transport. We as a party have received complaints from all over the country that many bus schedules are not properly synchronised with railway timetables, and indeed in some places they would appear purposely designed not to connect up at all; and that might explain some of the falling off in passenger loading as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.
It is possible that in his reply the Minister will say that the property in railway station areas is really a matter between the Railway Board and the local authorities, and of course I shall accept that, though at the same time I shall be apprehensive lest the current financial pressures on local government could well put a very low priority on projects of this kind. Therefore, will the Minister concede that some direction, as well as financial incentives, may be needed from central Government to encourage local authorities and the British Rail Board to put aside or protect suitable properties of this kind for bus and trolley bus terminals? In those areas where the Public Transport Executive has certain powers I would be more hopeful that a sensible solution will be found. However, there are large numbers of areas affecting many millions of people which are not covered by these bodies, and I imagine that this needs to be rectified if such an integrated transport policy is to be successfully implemented.
439 To sum up, it is not my intention to put forward a brief for the British Railways Board. Their chairman is more than qualified in business matters to do that. I have used British Rail's long-term investment programme merely as an example in an attempt to discover the attitude of Her Majesty's Government with regard to funding any cost-effective long-term transport programme through the private sector. The Minister's answer to this will be eagerly awaited not just by the transport industry but by all those men and women who make use of it and earn their living from supplying its equipment.
§ Lord Kaldor
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I draw his attention to a point following his remark that other European countries such as France, Germany and Sweden have extended capital investment programmes in spite of the recession? Would it not be more accurate to say that they have done it because of the recession rather than in spite of it, because in all those countries the Governments are conscious of the real side, as distinct from the financial side, and wish to be sure of being able to make use of unutilised resources when they are available? Further, is the noble Lord—
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, will not extend his remarks too long. Interventions are very acceptable, but not speeches.
§ Lord Tanlaw
It was a very welcome intervention, my Lords, and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said.
§ 4 p.m.
My Lords, I want to speak about one point only. It involves tens of millions, rather than hundreds or thousands of millions, but none the less I submit that it is important because it affects the general public, as well as passengers, staff and customers. I refer to the policing of road and rail systems in this country—something that affects us all. The road network is policed by the county forces, with 50 per cent. of the cost recovered from the central Government. The railway network, docks and harbours, were policed traditionally by a number of different forces that are now formed into one highly efficient force, the British Transport Police, with the cost borne wholly by the British Railways Board, with contributions from Docks and from London Transport. I saw in a paper the other day that it is estimated that in 1981—this year—the cost will be £27 million. It is of course still rising, and it would rise faster if the establishment were increased.
Policing today is a very expensive service, but none the less a very important one. Last May that fact was recognised by a conference that was chaired by two members of the Government, the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport, following trouble on London's Underground. I believe that at that conference it was accepted that the strength of the British Transport Police was too low to provide the cover which passengers and staff would think adequate. 440 The Ministers' statements have referred to what they might one day do, but as yet we have had very little detailed information—and eight months have already gone by. I hope that it will not be long before we can be told more. I do not expect the Minister who is to reply this evening to tell us all, but I hope that he will inform his right honourable friend that it would be very welcome if we could soon be told more.
I should like to think that the total cost of the service was shared 50 per cent. from British Transport funds and 50 per cent. from the central Government, just as county forces are funded. That would relieve British Rail of a charge which in my view is today unfair, however justified it may have been 100 years ago.
All too little is known by the general public about the British Transport Police. It operates to the same standards as our other forces. It has the same pay scales, and I would submit has more comprehensive initial training because it is a more specialised job. I would go further and base my plea not just on what ought to be clear to every passenger—and I have noticed a number of heads nodding in your Lordships' Chamber while I have been speaking—but also on my experience when serving for a short time, and serving proudly, as a special constable with the British Transport Police. It was not for long, but long enough to show clearly to anyone so serving that the duties today are for the greater part normal police responsibility, not least duty concerned with public order, and are only in small part specialised duties arising from the running of major transport undertakings.
To draw a line between those two would be extremely difficult. I suggest that your Lordships apply your minds as to how to split the cost between the railways and the public after an operation combating disorder on London's Underground. That is virtually impossible. I would therefore submit that to split the cost in the same proportion as the county police costs are split is only fair. We have already had one precedent referred to during the debate: the railways already receive a subsidy for socially necessary lines. If that applies, I should have thought that there is an even stronger case for trying to ensure that the police cover on the transport system, which is good today but is none the less too thin, is where possible made better, and this in the interests of us all.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, this is not a subject on which I would normally consider myself in any way qualified to speak, but the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, reminded me recently that together more than 40 years ago we served an apprenticeship on the North-Eastern Railway, and he seemed to think that that experience would entitle me to speak and to express some views. My recollection of a brief railway career in the 1930s is of an industry which, despite the depression, consisted of a dedicated and even enthusiastic work force who had a great sense of loyalty to their individual company and to the public. They were not very commercially-minded, and were more interested in playing trains than in making money. I do not know how far those attitudes have persisted, though I guess they have now been eroded.
At that time British manufacturers supplied almost all the railways in the world with their equipment, and 441 set standards which all followed. I have no doubt that today British Rail still has more experience and expertise than almost any other national railway company, but our equipment manufacturers no longer dominate the world. In taking part in the debate I must declare an interest in that I am now associated with one British company which manufactures railway equipment and with another British company which manufactures road vehicles; but any views that express in the debate are entirely personal.
In entering into this discussion I start from the following basic and I believe indisputable facts—and there are five of them. The first is that no significant industrial or agricultural country can prosper without a first-class railway system. It is necessary economically and it is necessary socially. The priority given by any Government to the transport industry should reflect that indusputable fact. Secondly, the United Kingdom was a pioneer in transport industry—rail, road and air—and in those industries it is at no technological disadvantage. It is not a question of an industry which has been overtaken by competition.
Thirdly, our overall energy supplies are adequate, but economy in fossil fuels is of course nevertheless essential. Fourthly, investment in both rail and road transport is now manifestly not keeping up with present, let alone future, requirements. That fact can be demonstrated statistically, as it was by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, as well as by the unsatisfactory service which is now being offered to the public in certain areas. For example, on the basis of present plans, the planned availability of locomotives is totally inadequate, and if it remains unchanged, it will require massive importation of locomotives in the mid-1980s. The situation in regard to electric cars in South-East England will be especially serious in the next few years.
Fifthly, worldwide there is a vast expansion of railway development occasioned not only by the high price and shortage of oil for road vehicles, but also by the vast development in the third world of mineral resources. This year, according to the Financial Times, the market for railway development in the world is £14 billion, and we must have a share of that market.
Those five factors, if one accepts them as true—and I think that they are true—demand certain action. First, they require a bigger programme of long-term investment in British Rail. The expanded programme should be co-ordinated with private industry so that our domestic and export requirements can be simultaneously met. Secondly, such an investment programme would require strong Government initiative, intervention, and subsidy. It would involve private British companies co-operating in areas where they had previously competed. It would involve co-operation between nationalised workshops and private manufacturing companies, and in the export field a degree of united effort between Government, industry and finance, which has not always been forthcoming in the past.
Thirdly, it would require looking at the transport problem as a whole from a domestic and global point of view, and I know of no organisation in this country doing that adequately at the moment. It is a good thing that the Minister of Transport is now a member of the Cabinet, but the transport industry spans several important departments of state, the nationalised 442 industries and powerful independent companies. Does anyone really see their right hands knowing what their left hands are doing?
What conclusion do I draw from all this? First and foremost, that the transport industry should be accorded its deserved priority. This would of course be hotly contested by other industries, by the social services and so on, but I believe that the transport case is undeniably strong. From the correct priority would follow the necessary finance and the necessary governmental and industrial organisation. This would of course involve a sharp change in Government policy, and I know how difficult that is; but failure to change must inevitably be costly and will, with certainty, impede our recovery when the upturn comes. Indeed, a new policy would surely advance the advent of the upturn.
I should have liked to deal with other aspects of transport policy, but there are many speakers this afternoon. I should have liked to speak about the road programme, which clearly must be maintained and expanded; and I should have liked to deal with the possibility, which I do not think is very great in spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, said, of transferring large amounts of traffic from road to rail. I should also have liked to speak of the Channel tunnel and the desirability of British road transport operators buying British road transport vehicles. But there is not time.
Lastly, nobody who is based in London can take part in this debate without a plea for the London commuters. Trouble arises from lack of investment, from out-of-date equipment, from staff selfishness and indiscipline, and from public violence, to which the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, referred. All these contribute. Nothing would make a greater contribution to the morale of this capital city than the improvement of its public transport. For the majority of London travellers the day starts and ends in misery, and it is an intolerable situation which those responsible must remedy.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Granville of Eye
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, for introducing this debate, and also for his very interesting speech, with most of which I heartily agreed. I have to apologise to the Minister for the fact that, owing to a previous engagement which I cannot cancel, I shall not be able to stay to hear his reply, because I always like to hear his speeches in this House. I agree with the noble Viscount that the Government may have to look at the Channel tunnel again in the near future, if only to relieve Heathrow and other forms of transport. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, who has just spoken, that it is a hopeful sign that the Minister of Transport is now in the Cabinet, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, that we are going to get a Transport Bill.
With regard to the noble Lord's interjection, I think that when, in your Lordships' House, we are discussing expenditure or paying our way out of a crisis, and are comparing the present with the 1931 crisis, we are apt to forget that 1931 was a crisis of deflation, where expenditure on public works and so on was 443 vitally important, whereas today it is a crisis of inflation.
My Lords, the noble Viscount said that this debate was mainly about long-term investment in transport. I believe that when we emerge from the Victorianism of Marx and Engels to the silicone chip society, we are going to have to take a fresh look at long-term transport investment problems. With the great industries languishing, particularly in the North of England, we claim that service and consumer goods industries are going to take up the slack. If they do not, we shall not be able to maintain our present standard of life. But this changeover to what is called the silicone chip society, will, however it is planned, in all probability mean extensive unemployment in some of the larger industries which have not been modernised. Realising how much this problem is going to cost this country, ought not the Government to have a forward planning team for this and similar problems which will arise in the great changeover which is coming perhaps far sooner than we really imagine? I hope that they will certainly not, as has been suggested, appoint another Royal Commission to go into the whole problem of investment and the development of our transport system.
So, if this changeover from our great exporting industries—steel, and all the rest—to service and consumer goods industries happens, in all probability long-distance loads will decrease and the shorter deliveries will be very much increased. I must say that I always marvel that in this overcrowded island of (what is it?) 56 million people, the transport system conveys the means of life to almost every doorstep every morning. It is a fantastic piece of transport organisation.
Of course, if this change is going to take place all this is going very greatly to affect railway investment. I should like to ask the Minister this question. Do we know whether, in the many debates on inflation which we have had in your Lordships' House and in the other place, it has been said that transport costs have greatly increased inflation and the cost of production of our goods? I have never heard it referred to, and I do not think I have ever seen a figure given. I am not talking about the "cowboys" who are earning £180 to £200 a week driving lorries around the place at breakneck speed; I mean the whole transport industry. Have we any idea that the cost of this may be adding to our inflation problems far more than we realise?
Then there is this other problem which has been referred to: in a consumer society, if that is what we are going to become—service and consumer goods industries taking the place of the great national industries which maintain us—are we going to be choked on the roads, certainly south of the Trent, in what is now called a four-wheeled democracy, in which everybody runs a motor car? How far is this going to involve Government estimates and planning in relation to the cost of maintaining the roads at the present time? We are not able to deal with speeding cars, either on the motorways or in the urban areas. We are not able to deal with lorries which roar by with faulty exhausts and tear up the roads because the drivers are 444 probably on piece-work; nor with motorcycles which roar by without any exhausts at all.
I live in an urban area where there is a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. It is not a road; it is a race track. Nothing is done by any of the authorities to enable old people to cross the road in safety. This is one of the problems. The noble Lord asked what it is costing now to subsidise the railways. I should like to ask what it is costing to subsidise the Black and White and National coach systems. How much was it last year?—£300 million! The railways give some kind of help to senior citizens but the National coaches give none. I agree with the noble Viscount. I think we are going to have to look again at the Channel tunnel.
My Lords, we are perhaps now living in an age when no one cares a lot about overcrowding on the road, the accidents, the traffic chaos and the bad roads we have to put up with. I wonder sometimes whether we are even worried about air and railway accident prevention at all. Hostages—52 American hostages—are world news; but 390 people are killed in an airliner crash and it is taken off the newspapers the next morning. In conclusion, I would say that the Government really have got to look at this now and consider whether it needs a forward-planning team—not to worry about what is happening at the present time; but to plan for the future, so that we can realise that transport has now become a vital thing in our way of life.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to all the very interesting speeches and I want to speak not about transport policy in general but about the railways, about transport by rail, about British Rail. I do so because in company with others of your Lordships I use the railways almost as much as, or perhaps more than, anybody in this House. I do so because I travel every weekend of my life back to Scotland and come down to London: and always on the railway, and I like it. I like the railways; I like the services they give us. I think the railways are a great asset to this country. But I think there are a lot of things we could do to help the railways. I hope that this debate, which has been so ably opened by the noble Viscount, will give some ideas which will be of help to the Government and also to the railways.
The recent developments which have been most successful that I know of are the Inter-City trains, which have made long-distance travel so very much faster and so very convenient. The fact that they are so often very full, packed in fact, shows how much the British public appreciate them. I realise that there is a tremendous problem of commuter services into London; and while I know nothing about this—I have never been a commuter—I was amazed to hear that over 900,000 people travel on the railways into London every day. This is a terrible problem. Again, the fact that it is catered for and managed by the railways is very much to their credit
The railways suffer more wear and tear from the public than does almost any other service. I wish the public would care more for the equipment, carriages and coaches that they use every day. After all, they provide the most important part of the traveller's 445 life. Nothing hurts me more than to read of vandalism and the way the public misuse the equipment on the railways. That must be a very expensive item for the railway in endeavouring to keep up the standard.
Speaking as a taxpayer, I feel I would rather contribute to the upkeep of the railways in the best way than almost any other thing I can think of. No railway system makes money. They are all subsidised. All the European systems are subsidised the American railways are subsidised. We subsidise our railways slightly less than any other nation. But still, I think it is a responsibility which we taxpayers must accept. Obviously, there is some capital investment which will pay very much better than others.
I was sent by the Railways Board a memorandum for this debate and one or two things in that memorandum I should like to note. First, I think we are all agreed that electrification has been enormously successful, and the more electrification we can adopt the better. It provides better performance for the trains, they carry heavier loads, they go faster, they are less liable to break down, the maintenance costs are lower than with the old trains, the diesel trains, and the crew costs and the vehicle refuelling and so on is much less expensive. The cost of fuel is lower.
I was horrified to read in this note that taking the cost of diesel oil in 1978 (which is the figure I have here) and carrying it on to the year 2000, the difference in the cost of diesel 20 years hence would be from 100 to something between, at its lowest, 190 and at its highest 270. The cost of electricity judged on the same basis and taking 1978 as 100, would be 120 at the lowest and 210 at the highest 20 years hence. This is very much less expensive than diesel oil, and it means that diesel oil can be used for other things for which possibly it would be more valuable.
With our recent experience so fresh in our memories about oil and the countries dealing in oil, I think it would be an excellent thing for us if we could run as much of our transport as possible independent of oil; and if electricity is cheaper than oil then let it be electricity. This means that we could sell more abroad of our own North Sea oil, which is very valuable, because we would be more self-sufficient here. Equally, when we are thinking of replacing our engines and our equipment, that will, as I think one noble Lord has said, provide employment in the steel industry because the steel industry is essential to the making of equipment on the railways.
I think another speaker also said that there is quite a considerable demand for investment in railways in the world to-day. We could export our own engines or make engines for other countries. This would be of great assistance in the development of the steel industry, and would also be of help to our own railways. I think that for all those reasons, continuing investment in electrifying our railways will be something of benefit not only to the railway system but to other sections of our industrial development.
Speaking again from one's own experience of the railways, one can criticise them. There are moments when one sees things which could be better done. I am thinking particularly of when I get on one of the long distance trains and suddenly find that the buffet service is not being manned. Somebody tells you over the loudspeaker that there is no one to man it, 446 but you know there are people although they are not on your particular train. That is a bit irritating. On the whole, the services which are given to passengers on the trains are extremely good. From my own experience, the staff in the railway stations, particularly in the big centres from which I travel if I am going on long distances, are extremely obliging and very nice.
I travel twice a week on night sleepers. Very often I am in what I call my rolling room, since it is all arranged and so well heated before I get into it. I now know all the attendants and they are extremely obliging and always anxious to help in any way. All those things are a great asset and I should like to pay tribute to that. I hope that this debate will be read by railway people and certainly by the nationalised Railways Board.
I suppose I cannot complain now about one experience that I had. Your Lordships will remember that some years ago we had a tremendous railwayman in Lord Popplewell. He and I got together on one occasion when a railway which he knew very well and had worked on, and I lived on—namely, the Waverley line—was done away with under the economies of Lord Beeching's report. I still think that a railway of that kind could have been run far more economically by closing down a great many of the stations, and by running it on the basis of a diesel coach which stopped when it was asked to stop and otherwise went straight between Carlisle and Edinburgh—the only railway that goes across the Borders. It could have been run more economically. However, in spite of the fact that he did what he could on his side, and I did what I could on my side, that line was done away with.
Now there is not a single railway line within 50 miles in the Borders unless one goes up the West coast, Carlisle to Glasgow, or up the East coast to Berwick and Edinburgh. I realise that probably it had to be done, but I still think that there are many economies and simplifications on rural railway lines which could be carried out by far less manning and much simpler organisations. They would serve the rural areas.
Possibly I may be wrong because rural areas are now covered by buses. Buses can be very convenient, but they can also be extremely inconvenient. They are very slow compared to the railways. I would always back a railway system before I supported any other form of transport. Once a railway goes you cannot put it back. I hope that British Rail will not take away any more lines unless they absolutely have to. I am quite sure that this is a real service to the community.
I should like to congratulate the Railways Board on the many imaginative things they have done to popularise and to improve the railways. I have spoken about the long distance lines, and I do not know how many of your Lordships travelled or saw the travellers on the lines before Christmas when a £1 ticket for old-age pensioners was the order of the day. The trains were packed. The £1 ticket was a roaring success. I hope that the people who travelled on those days will travel on the half price ticket which we can all travel on if we are old-age pensioners, as I am. That may popularise the railways. However, I should like to congratulate the Railways Board on the way they organised that, and also for the family tickets which are extremely important and enable 447 families to use the railways. These show that we have an imaginative group of people at the head of our nationalised railways, and I should like to pay tribute to them.
I have spoken about the vandalism on the railways. It is absolutely intolerable to read about the football specials, and so on. I would not blame the railways at all if they withdrew the football specials, if the trains are going to be as damaged as they are by football supporters. They certainly do not help the railways.
One query which possibly I ought to know the answer to but do not is why it is that we have three railway unions? I have made some inquiries about railways in other countries. Usually there is one large railway union. I am entirely in favour of that—there must be a railway union. But it seems so difficult to have three unions. One does not want to go out on strike but the other two do, or two do not want to go on strike but one does. It must make it extremely difficult both for the unions and for those who manage the railways. I wonder why we cannot have one railway union which would work very closely with the Railways Board. That would be very valuable indeed.
Freight is very important. I am highly prejudiced. I always fear these vast motor vehicles and diesel vehicles which are on the roads. We are being told that we have to have larger ones because that is what is required within the EEC. Why can we not have freight on the railways? I should like to see more freight on the railways and less on the roads. I know that certain types of freight must go from door to door and must be carried on the roads—animals, for instance. For taking animals from farm to market, or from a market to somewhere else, it is far better to use a motor vehicle. But I think one should take other freight, such as timber and things which do not spoil, on the railways. I advocate more freight to be taken on the railways.
I have made one or two suggestions and I should like to congratulate those responsible for the way the railways are developing. The Government could count on the support of the public if they invested more money in the railways. It is an investment which is going to pay. It must be done before the rolling stock and the lines become too worn out; it will thereby be far less expensive and far more valuable. In spite of the economic situation, I should like to urge the Government to realise that this is an investment which is going to pay off. If it is not done, then we are going to be in a very bad way indeed.
§ 4.40 p.m.
The Countess of Loudoun
My Lords, it astonishes me that at a time when construction and expenditure on roads is at a minimum there appears to be a policy encouraging an increase in road transport. Despite all protests, our roads remain the same size but the volume of traffic increases in the carrying capacity of lorries and in the competition that is being encouraged between long-distance bus services and the train. When there are, say, 20 or so trains a day going from London to Glasgow, there is still an enormous volume of traffic roaring northwards up the MI, floated there on a river of oil.
Surely, in the national interest, we must have a 448 co-ordinated policy that will eliminate waste. I cannot believe that the only criterion for judging a nationalised industry is financial. An efficient and reliable railway service is essential to our society. How could this City of London work without well-organised public transport? Do I need to say that the flow of commuters into working centres is the lifeblood of the nation?
I do not believe that the functioning of the railway system, so vital to the nation and to so many of us who have travelled here by train today, should depend on such fund-raising efforts as the recent £1 concessionary fare for senior citizens, though it did fill the trains and enabled many to visit families and friends in other parts of the country. But the actual value of the exercise in relation to the financial demands of the railways must surely be nominal.
So much money is spent by the railways in collecting money that is insufficient for its needs that in the long-term I should hope to see a more logical approach to fund-raising. The first thing we have to do is to use the railway system to its fullest capacity. I see no advantage to the nation in a fully-charged lorry or a loaded bus chasing an empty train. Yet the railway system can operate efficiently only if it is related to a road system capable of feeding custom into or out of it, without becoming liable to the imposition of heavy economic penalties on industry and commerce should this inter-action fail in any way.
I should also like to see more schemes for transferring heavy bulk transport from land altogether and put on to water, by developments such as reopening the Trent—at least as far as Nottingham—to coastal vessels and large barges. Our system of waterways has, in my opinion, great potential but at the moment it is under-used.
I live at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, where the main direct Birmingham to Nottingham road, A453, crosses the A50 from Leicester to Burton-on-Trent and the Potteries. That the traffic on these roads required a by-pass round the town was recognised 50 years ago. The war, of course, delayed action, but since then there have been many schemes. These public inquiries and private discussions as to whether we should have the blue route or the red route have become such a permanent feature of life in the area where I live that it has become a latter-day "Jarndyce v. Jarndyce" in the Court of Chancery, as in Dickens' Bleak House: only the mad Miss Flite expects judgment. The inhabitants of such places as Tamworth, Measham, Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Castle Donington—all on the route from Birmingham to Nottingham—apart from damage to their properties, are being subjected daily to the noise, filth and danger of an enormous flow of industrial traffic down streets that were built for country folk, sheep and horses.
We must not exclude from our consideration here the man behind the wheel, with a good job. We might want him out of our streets but not out of work. In the last three years the employment situation in Ashby and Coalville, my home area, has gone from a shortage of workers to an unemployment figure in December last of 1,946. It is an area of tremendous industrial activity and change, bounded by Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham and Leicester. Some of the older coal seams are nearly worked out. There are open-cast 449 mines in the area, involving changing volumes of heavy traffic, and there is the prospect of the new seam in the Vale of Belvoir. To add to this, there is the proposed enlargement and development of the East Midlands Airport at Castle Donington. These roads, the M42 and the A50 by-pass, are needed not just to relieve human misery, which cries out to heaven for relief, but in vain to the Ministers who have been in office for the last 30 years, to give new impetus to the flow of goods and the growth of industry.
Finally, I should like to prod the Minister very firmly with the three points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, in his recent article in the New Civil Engineer. The first is that the construction industry is labour-intensive. Secondly, any expense does not affect the balance of payments, in that it is not dependent on international trade. Thirdly, there are some 224,000 unemployed construction workers who are suffering the miseries of unemployment when they could be earning their living and working in the national interest.
In the long term we must avoid wastage of national resources, but this will be achieved only if a better relationship between the different elements in our transport system is established and the maintenance of the transport system is kept at a high standard: otherwise the whole system will collapse in chaos. Long-term planning and the day-to-day execution of plans are not independent factors; we must improve the latter if we are ever to enjoy the former.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilvvorth
My Lords, I must say to the noble countess, Lady Loudon, how much I enjoyed the latter part of what she had to say. I nearly leapt to my feet in dismay at her opening remarks, which I think might well remain for me to argue with her on another occasion on another day.
When the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, opened the debate, he said he thought it was perhaps more in the realm of a money debate but, as he closed, it seemed to me that he raised three main points. The first was: Have the Government got a policy? The second was: The Government have to make decisions on transport patterns. The third point he raised was: Should roads continue to dominate? Of course, it will he for my noble friend Lord Bellwin to answer in detail the first part of that; but certainly I would have suggested that the Government do indeed have a policy and, in essence, it is a policy that transport should he the free choice of the user and should be self-paying.
In no way do I think there can be a case argued that Government's role is to divert and direct the areas of transportation. In fact my noble friend will probably recall that laws have in the past been made in an attempt to direct and divert modes of transport. The first one was the 1933 Act, which was essentially a rail protectionist Act and which failed completely. It came about because of the unemployment situation, with the return of soldiers who had learned the new craft of using lorries and motor transport. In later years we have had the ill-fated 1968 Transport Act, introduced by a Labour Government, which had in it special authorisation clauses which were designed to divert traffic from road to rail. That itself failed, and failed miserably. I do not think that the special 450 authorisations were ever used and it was the Conservative Government's Transport Act 1980 that abandoned that particular matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, started by saying (I paraphrase) that he believed we needed an integrated and co-ordinated policy, probably under a national transport authority. That may illustrate the fundamental difference between his outlook and mine. God preserve us from a transport overlord, with the bureaucracy and dictation as to modes and ways that that would bring! I cannot think of anything worse. There is no doubt that we have an integrated system now, and he would be the very first to admit that rail cannot work without road.
He demonstrated during the course of his speech that, in fact, the road haulage industry is one of the biggest users of the railway system. At the end of the day, it is the customers who choose and it is the customers who pay for their choice of transport. There is no denying that the individual will not forgo the convenience of personal transport, and that is why we have so many motor-cars per mile of road in this country.
It may be argued that the freight mover, who prefers road, is not paying a fair share. That I would not deny, and nor indeed has my right honourable friend the Minister denied that. In the proposals which are currently before the other House, he sets out quite plainly who is to pay—for instance, the heavy lorry—and who will not pay. There will be increases. The haulage industry will undoubtedly howl with rage at this, because in this recession they are as hard pressed as any other industry. But at the back of their minds they know full well that they must pay their fair share, in both cash and environmental terms.
The railways were praised by my noble friend Lady Elliot, but I think that she perhaps got hold of the wrong end of the stick, when she was talking in terms of energy saving. In fact, transport uses about 22 per cent. of the total energy consumed in this country, though, admittedly, road transport will take up the majority of it. But in the event of even more passengers or freight being transferred there will be no great savings in pure energy terms.
The railways have made huge improvements in their productivity, and I must confess that I wonder just how much further they can go in reducing their labour force. An instance came to my notice only a short while ago, which indicated to me that perhaps the Railways Board are hammering labour productivity a little too hard. I believe that in the S and T division at King's Cross and Finsbury Park, there are 50-plus Indians and some nine chiefs; that is, nine supervisory staff for 50-plus productive labour. I should have thought, if the railways were looking for greater areas of saving in labour costs, they might look at supervisory levels rather than at productive levels.
While on the subject of the railways, Sir Peter Parker was reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday in this way:On freight, Sir Peter believes that by far the most urgent need is to win back between 40 million and 50 million tons of manufactured and semi-finished goods now moving distances of at least 200 miles by road".I can remember our having a debate of this nature when Mr. Marsh (as he then was) was the Minister.
451 The railways said, quite clearly, that there was only one additional type of traffic that they could carry in terms of freight, and they were talking in terms of a tonnage and distance factor. That they may have lost more is very largely their own fault. If, indeed, Sir Peter and his colleagues arc able to recover these 40 million or 50 million tons, it will make but 2½ per cent. difference to road freight. It will not, in fact, make a huge difference to the number of lorries or to the distances that they travel. We have to recognise that the main modes of transport—road and rail—must have complementary positions. Each is absolutely dependent upon the other.
It is rather surprising that one of the most successful areas of British Rail's operations is road transport, through Speedlink, Freightliners, National Carriers, Roadliners and, until disbanded by the 1980 Act, the National Freight Corporation. Each is dependent one upon the other, and each is very dependent upon the private haulage industry. Moreover, each is dependent on the choice of those who use and buy the services, whether they are passengers or movers of finished produced goods. They will take the best value for money. That is not price and price alone; that is service, convenience and all the other factors. So, it is up to each industry to provide. The fact that the road industry has happened over the past 30 years to be the least expensive to operate—of course, the railways are more expensive—does not hold much water now.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who drew our attention to a common factor between road and rail; that is, the terminal. It is surprising to me that we have allowed road transport to use the terminal of the street and the housing estate, from which it can operate its vehicles. We have allowed railway land to be used for all kinds of purposes associated with transport, other than those associated with the railways. It seems to me that, probably, this is largely the fault of the planning authorities who allow bus and coach depots, transport depots and so on to pop up in the most odd and obscure places, where a deal with the railways would be mutually rewarding. As to the environmental arguments between one and the other, there is not a great deal to choose. Railways go thundering through cities and most of them stop pretty well in the middle, where road transport takes over. I cannot see any way of altering that.
The overriding factor in this afternoon's debate is that we must determine that transport is an integral part of living and working. There has been—and this is still continuing—an absolute decline in investment in the whole field of transport. I should not like this evening to choose between the various modes. But in the Government's programme, transport accounted for 5.4 per cent. of total expenditure in 1974–75, while in 1980–81 the figure is down to 4.2 per cent. It was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who asked why, in terms of investment, Britain must lag behind the United States. Why indeed, my Lords? it is probably because the priorities for public expenditure have been thought to be different. For example, in the period from 1974–75 to 1980–81, social security expenditure rose from 20.2 per cent. of the total to 27.6 per cent. In Northern Ireland the figure increased from 2.7 to 3 per cent.; health and personal social 452 services rose from 11.9 to 13.1 per cent. I take these figures from the official Command Paper. I repeat: expenditure on transport is down from only 5.4 to 4.2 per cent.
If we want to spend money on education, health, social services and the other very justifiable claims, then we have to create more wealth. In so many debates on the economy, on trade, on all sorts of subjects it has been said that transport is an important part of the wealth creating process. It cannot be ignored. It should not be denied its fair share—and who is to say what is fair: this side or that, you or I?—of the money that is available for investment in the public services. I close by saying to my noble friend that we cannot afford the continuing erosion of the proportion of resources devoted to transport.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, I do not follow the noble Lord who has just sat down in his most interesting speech except to support his conclusion that we cannot afford the erosion of the resources given to transport. May I begin by paying tribute to the admirable speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, and my noble friend Lord Underhill who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. I want to support their plea for new and larger investment in the railways system.
I support what other noble Lords have said about the Channel tunnel. I first spoke in another place in favour of the Channel tunnel in 1929. I reflect today what enormous benefits our nation would have had if the Channel tunnel had been constructed then. I support what noble Lords and noble Baronesses have said in favour of more investment in railways and also in waterways. I believe that our inland waterways could carry a much larger traffic, as they did during the Second World War. Every diversion from road to water is a national gain.
I want particularly to talk about two reasons why investment in railways and in water would pay a handsome dividend: about two heavy burdens on the national economy, two sources of colossal waste for the nation as a whole. The first, to which other noble Lords have already referred, is road congestion. As noble Lords have sat in their motor cars—five minutes, 10 minutes, or longer, standing still in a traffic jam, moving forward slowly, by yards, with their engines running, along with scores, perhaps hundreds, sometimes thousands of vehicles with their engines running, exuding evil fumes, wasting petrol, diesel, lubricating oil and involving the deterioration of the engines and wasted time—have they thought about what is the cost to the nation of this appalling waste?
During the last war I served in Sir Winston Churchill's Coalition as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of War Transport. In that capacity I asked the London Passenger Transport Board to make an estimate of what they lost by traffic jams, by road congestion. They carried through a striking operation. They estimated the average speed of all the vehicles under their control: omnibuses, vans, lorries, Green Line coaches serving destinations far outside the city. They calculated the average speed of all the vehicles under their control on all the routes they served. It came out at precisely 10 miles per hour. They said that if they could raise the average speed by one mile 453 per hour, from 10 to 11, that would give them a saving of £3 million. I have no means of using that figure to calculate what traffic congestion costs us today but, with the vastly increased number of vehicles on the road and with congestion covering the country as a whole and not just a small part of London's wartime traffic, the figure, in cash, must be in hundreds of millions of pounds. It is a figure which we should try by every means radically to reduce.
I pass to the second reason why railway and water investment will handsomely repay the sums invested: the far graver question of road accidents to which one of my noble friends referred. Road accidents have been, for long, one of the gravest, if not the gravest, social evils of our time: worse than alcohol, worse than tobacco, worse than drugs—worse, even, than slums. Let the stark figures tell their black story. I give the figures for 1978 but today the picture is roughly the same.
In 1978, 6,900 people—men, women, little children—were killed upon the roads. That is almost 20 a day. What would happen if 20 people a day were killed upon the railways? There was a regular furore a year or two ago when 10 men and women were burned in a sleeping car which had been unwisely locked. It was the gravest rail accident for many years—10 dead. But every day there are 20 dead upon the roads. As we sit here now, a death is happening somewhere in the country.
Far worse than the deaths is the figure of the seriously injured. Would you believe it?—83,000 in 1978; 83,000–1,300 a week—almost 200 a day. Serious injury can be worse than death: broken backs, broken necks, broken legs and arms, damage to the head, facial disfigurement, injury to the brain. Every such injury can be a human tragedy.
I had a friend at Cambridge, a very able man. When he came down he married and had three children. He supported them by self-employed work which involved his moving from place to place every day. He could never stay at home. When the children were seven and five and two years old, his wife was knocked down by a car. Thereafter she could only lie helpless on a bed. He had no relative to come and help; he had to stay at home and nurse his family. His work collapsed and he was soon in dire financial straits, in which, alas! I could not help him. That human tragedy is being repeated 200 times a day.
My Lords, have you thought what is the cash cost of road accidents? The loss of the wealth of the victim who is killed or mutilated; the wreck of the vehicles involved; the work of the mechanics who do the repairs; the work of the doctors and hospitals who nurse the victims; the work of the police, who give far too great a share of their total time to road accidents instead of working otherwise to uphold the law. There is also the cost of the law courts who decide who is to blame for the accident and who assess the damages, if any.
In 1943, I tried to get an answer. I asked two sets of independent experts to assess the cost of road accidents over a year: A party of economists under the Professor of Political Economy in the University of Leeds, and His Majesty's Chief Accountant. The Leeds party brought out the cost—this was in wartime traffic in 1943, when vehicles were relatively very few— 454 at £70 million a year. His Majesty's Chief Accountant made an estimate of £80 million. Broadly, the two exercises supported each other and as vehicles increased after the war, as accidents increased, so the cost went up. I think it was in 1971 that the Road Research Bureau said that the cost was approximately £450 million. Should I go seriously wrong, if I said that 10 years later—now—with many more vehicles on the road, with inflation, the cost is probably almost a thousand million pounds a year?
Two special causes of road accidents can be identified. One is drink. I believe it to be true that a very high proportion of fatal and serious injury accidents is due to the bad driving of people who have taken alcohol before they set out upon their journey. Scandinavia deals with this problem far better than we do. I believe our laws should be much stricter. I believe that a man who drives and has an accident when he is drunk should serve a long term of imprisonment. That would teach him not to do it again. The second special cause of serious accidents is the heavy lorry. In a report by the road safety officer (I think in 1978) he said that in proportion to their numbers heavy lorries of 1½ ton net deadweight caused almost twice as many fatal accidents as light vans and cars. The Road Research Bureau, I believe, has shown that 40 per cent. of deaths on the motorways result from collisions with heavy lorries.
These are reasons why we should invest in railways and I want to urge most strongly that the Government should listen to the noble Lords who have appealed to them this afternoon, that they should restore our railways to their former greatness, when they were the best in all the world. The Government should now re-lay the branch lines that they destroyed. That was always an economic error of a most serious kind. They should reopen the local stations and the goods depôts, placing the goods depôts at points around the towns where they will have the best advantage for transport now. I believe we should start the manufacture of special lorries that can drive their loads on to a railway truck so that there would be door-to-door delivery of the goods, the long haul taking place on rail. I believe that policy would help to reduce the number of road accidents and also road congestion.
There is something else that the railways might be encouraged to do. In the last three years, Sweden has carried through an experiment of the highest interest. In 1978 they reduced their railway fares by 40 per cent. In three years they have gained an increase of passenger traffic of 38 per cent. Inquiry has shown that those who travel by rail have done so instead of travelling by coach and by car, and that many of the new rail passengers have begun to travel although they never travelled before. Family reunions and family holidays have increased. For many Swedes the quality of life has been improved.
By way of contrast, in a recent year British Railways twice increased the passenger fares, and by an odd coincidence the percentage decrease in passengers was 38 per cent, the same as the percentage increase in passenger traffic in Sweden when the fares were reduced by 40 per cent. I believe a low fare policy in this country would handsomely succeed, as it has succeeded in Sweden in the last three years. I believe that our railways and our waterways can play a splendid part 455 in the economic and the social life of our nation if we give them the investment they urgently require. And looking back again at the annual holocaust of death and mutilation the roads, surely we must conclude that the time is now.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, thanks to the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, we have had an opportunity this afternoon of listening to some really splendid speeches, and I think your Lordships will agree, with particular reference to the last one, to some moving speeches. I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, in giving further encouragement to the use and the bringing back into use of our neglected inland waterways system. I was not going to touch on this subject, but it seems to me that this afternoon there has been a predominance of support for the railways. I myself am extremely keen about the railways, but I feel this emphasis has been slightly at the expense of the inland waterways system. I very much hope that the Government will be able to see their way, if there is money available to invest in a transport policy, to direct it towards the renewal of some of our neglected canals.
Many of these canals are filled with rubble, broken bottles, glass and what will you; other canals have no water in them at all and are a haven for rats and create a health hazard. I am sure that many of your Lordships will have had the pleasure of going on a holiday on the waterways and canals in France and will readily realise that our inland waterways in this country could be just as beautiful and attractive as those in France. They would provide not only a means of transporting more freight but also a further amenity for the people who wished to usethem. So much for the canals.
I really wanted to confine my remarks purely to the interests of our sometimes much maligned and always under-used railway system. I hope very much that at the end of this debate the seeds that have been sown to encourage further investment in our railways will not fall on stony ground but will blossom in the fullness of time and bring forth fruit. I am not at all embarrassed to confess that I am a complete railway enthusiast. Any reasonable suggestions put forward, not only for the maintenance or improvement of our existing railway system but preferably for the extension and further use thereof, would have my wholehearted support.
I should like to see a substantial reduction in the use of bigger and heavier lorries for the conveyance of goods, and a climate introduced which would make further use of the motor-car for long-distance travel less attractive. The reason why I say that is this: if any investment policy is going to succeed it must have the maximum amount of help it can get. Therefore, the greater the incentive and encouragement given to the public to use their public transport and their railways more, the better. One of the ways in which this might be done is to make the use of motor-cars rather less attractive. I have two suggestions that I should like to put forward which I feel merit a certain amount of consideration and which might go some 456 way to achieving that end. I also think they follow on well from what the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, was saying and perhaps they might help to achieve what he is wanting.
The first idea I should like to suggest is this: would it perhaps be practical to think in terms of having a sliding scale of motor car taxation? With the ever-increasing need for conservation of fuel, and with the ever-increasing amount of pollution generated into the atmosphere by exhaust fumes from motor cars, it seems to me very unfair that people who go out of their way to try to buy cars which are smaller and less expensive to run and maintain, and which in turn use less fuel, should have to bear the same rate of taxation on their car as the person who chooses to buy a large car. By "large" car, I mean one with a large cylinder capacity, in litres or whatever it is. There is already a sliding rate of taxation on lorries; that is, the larger the lorry the more tax it pays. On the Continent large cars bear a higher rate of tax than smaller cars. I feel that those in this country who choose to buy large cars should pay a greater rate of tax, and those who choose, because of the limit of their own pocket or because of considerations of fuel saving, or for whatever other reason, to purchase a smaller car should benefit by paying a lower rate of tax.
There is an additional spin-off, in that there are many thousands of people who are obliged to run some form of transport, usually small and therefore more conservative in the use of fuel, who live in outlying rural areas, and who depend upon their car for their livelihood because at present the public transport provided is not adequate or is probably non-existent in many places. Contrary to popular belief, it is sometimes much more expensive to live in outlying places in the country, because of poor communications, than it is to live in the cities. To have the added burden of high motor taxation makes matters worse. Obviously this is not the moment to go into detail, but at present levels of taxation I should have thought that, say, £25 a year for a car like the Metro ranging up to £150 a year for, say, a Rolls Royce would perhaps be equitable. I realise that this sort of suggestion would be pretty unpopular with the manufacturers of Rolls Royces and other large cars, but I think it is rather more important to get our investment policy right than to have regard to other considerations. It is, of course, the larger car that is generally used for long distance travel. Therefore, if we penalise the larger car by heavier taxation it could be that more people would be encouraged to use an improved railway system.
The other point that I should like to put forward for consideration is that some action should be taken to discourage people from bringing their cars into our major cities. Traffic congestion, as your Lordships all know, is getting continually worse year by year, not only in London but also in other large urban areas. Already those who live in such areas, particularly London, are obliged to pay more for their cars, in that they have to purchase the right to park their car outside their front door. That, I feel, is perfectly iniquitous and quite wrong, because a person who has by choice, or even of necessity, to live in a city, has as much right to park his car outside his front door—that is assuming, that he can ever get anywhere near his front door—as those who live anywhere else and 457 park on the public highway or in the street. The idea of residents' parking areas arose only because over the years more and more people have brought their cars into the cities for day-to-day commuting, shopping, visiting friends or any reason except necessity.
Therefore, I feel that residents' parking places should be reserved free for those who actually make their home in large cities. Those who wish to use their car to visit these places should be required to pay a substantial sum for the privilege of so doing. That would not be difficult to implement. For instance, if a motorist knew that he wanted to use his car on a fairly regular basis in, shall we say, London, and he lived outside, he would, on applying for his motor tax disc also apply for a 12-month licence for the parking of his car in London. He would then be issued with a suitable coloured disc indicating that he had paid the required amount. If it were another city that he wished to enter on a frequent basis, then it would not be difficult to have different colours for different cities and there are not all that number of different cities to which this scheme need perhaps apply.
On the other hand, if a motorist wished to bring his car into one of those cities only occasionally, then it would be up to him to purchase a day or a week ticket, or whatever system might be devised, at, say, a post office. If a traffic warden found a car parked in a city without the necessary entrance tax having been paid, then that car would get a ticket in the same way as it is supposed to get a parking ticket these days. The boundaries of the cities could be easily defined. For instance, in London anything found inside the inner ring road would be for the high jump. Owners who live in the cities would be issued with their annual tax disc and an exemption disc for their car to indicate that they were residents in that particular city.
I know that that is only a broad outline of the type of idea that I have in mind. Obviously a good deal more thought would have to be put into it before it could be implemented. Obviously there would be people who would certainly qualify for exemption, such as doctors or disabled people. But I feel that the two ideas that I have put forward could go a long way towards relieving the congestion in our cities and, at the same time, encouraging further use of public transport in which one hopes very much that further investment will be made to co-ordinate a successful transport policy.
§ 5.34 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I wish to address the House this evening on the subject of the waterways. Therefore, I wish to support the noble Lord who has just spoken and the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, in their pleas for the waterways and the railways. However, as regards the waterways I should like to make some slight changes to their remarks.
To begin with, I wish to talk about the narrow waterways owned by the British Waterways Board, not because I believe them to be the most important part of the subject, but simply to get them out of the way of my main argument. The narrow waterways have many purposes and there are many reasons why they should continue to exist. But serious cargo carrying is no longer possible on them and no attempt to revive it will have any major success. They are, however, 458 used for so many other purposes and so very difficult to get rid of, except at enormous cost, that there is every reason why we should keep them. However, there seems no reason why we should spend vast sums on them and all that I should like to say about them this evening is that there seem to me to be one or two ways in which they could actually be made to run more cheaply.
The Government have cut down very severely on the monies provided for the British Waterways Board to keep its system working, although I observe with pleasure that I believe they are increasing the board's borrowing powers. But, in doing so, in some cases they have forced the board to leave undone various serious works and those works are not only becoming in a dangerous state and will have to be done some day, but some of those works when they are done will be far more expensive because nothing is being done now. It would be worth the Government's while to go into the matter with the British Waterways Board and ask them which works it would be an economy to carry out soon rather than leaving them for a later period. I do not say that it includes much of the works of the board, but there are a number of points where this is important and which could be looked at with advantage. It is a minor point, but I think that the Government should look at it.
There is another matter. The board is keeping a large part of the system open for pleasure craft, and that I applaud. However, it has always puzzled me and I have never understood why anything capable of actually going along the waters of the canals is, in fact, permitted to use them. In the first place, these canals were not built for powered craft at all: they were built for horsedrawn traffic. When the canal proprietors in the very earliest days found themselves faced with powered craft they, in many cases, denied them the use of the canals, not because they had any enmity towards them as vessels, but simply because they would damage the waterway.
In fact, some of them do damage the waterways The modern motor cruiser is not deliberately designed to travel at low speed and many of them are, I regret to say, driven at considerably in excess of the speed which they ought to be going along our waterways and causing bank damage. And, of course, the material from the banks goes into the centre of the channel and silts up the channel. There is a great deal more wear and tear taking place on the waterways than there should be if the British Waterways Board took more care over what navigates the waterways.
My feeling is that we ought to switch to electric craft. In fact I am putting my own money where my mouth is by having my own motor cruiser converted to electric drive for the deliberate purpose of sticking my neck out in the way in which I so often do and getting something done about it. I believe that it might be a very good move on the part of the British Waterways Board if I say—having said what my own interests are—that possibly they offered reduced licence fees or something like that either for electrically driven craft or for craft of suitably approved shapes which did not damage the waterway. This is a minor matter and I throw it out simply as a suggestion for the smaller waterways. However, in spite of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, and the previous speaker, I do not 459 think that these minor waterways will carry much cargo, whatever we may do about it. They cannot be enlarged, for the simple reason that the reservoir space fed by small streams would not be enough to provide water for the locks and we could not make the system work.
A completely different argument applies to the bigger and river-fed canals. They are in the same technical position as the major canals of the rest of Europe, where there is an ample supply of water to work their locks. As it comes fresh down a river, you do not have to pay to impound it in reservoirs. The whole business is cheaper and easier. There are considerable arguments in favour of enlarging our system in the same way as is being done over the rest of Europe.
I am glad to see that at last the present Government have done what needed doing; they have provided money for the expansion of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire waterway, which is already showing itself to be a considerable success. When we have had a little more experience of that and can show that expansion of the waterways can, indeed, bring more traffic—and more economic traffic—I think that we could go ahead with much more confidence and do what is being done over the rest of Europe. It is no good saying that our waterways are fairly short. That is true, but they are not detached from the rest of Europe. The North Sea is comparatively narrow. A number of inland waterways craft can actually make the crossing on their own bottoms.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, if the noble Viscount will give way, I know that he is an authority on canals, but the transport policy report does not say that the Government will give help to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation. It says here that after an exhaustive study they failed to identify traffic likely to use the improved waterway. At the moment the Government are saying that they are unable to approve the proposal to improve the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation. Does the noble Viscount have later information than that which is contained in this White Paper?
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, it says that the Government were unable to approve the proposal to improve the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation. There is much more, but I do not want to delay the House. This is Command Paper No. 6836.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
It is dated 1977. I want to know whether the noble Viscount has more up-to-date information.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, money has, indeed, been provided for this work, which in some cases is well advanced. I understand that there is already an increase in traffic.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I am not contradicting the noble Viscount; I am asking for information.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, if this brings an increase in traffic, we shall know the answer because, as the noble Lord has said, it has been controversial as to whether any fresh traffic would be generated. Some have said "Yes" and some have said "No". It appears as though fresh traffic is coming.
What is more, our waterways are not detached from Europe; they are, in fact, attached by the North Sea. Craft able to navigate inland waterways can cross the North Sea on their own bottoms. In addition, there are barges which can be carried across the sea by various forms of barge-carrying craft. Those craft can be carried across and, with suitable sized waterways, they can carry cargo not only throughout Europe but as far as Asiatic Russia, so it is a fair distance.
Apart from that development, which looks as though it will be a success, there is one strange stumbling block, which I cannot understand. The figures that, in company with all our European partners, we submit for cargo carried are totally wrong. All our European partners give figures for tonnage carried on their inland waterways, which include all their waterways. For some extraordinary reason our figures encompass only the tonnages carried by the British Waterways Board. The British Waterways Board has the largest mileage of waterways, which are mostly the narrow canals which mainly carry pleasure craft. Nevertheless, it has some waterways which carry a fair tonnage, but even those are greatly outweighed by waterways in other hands which carry much larger tonnages and which do not seem to be counted in the figure.
I should like to take a few absurd examples. The Grand Union Canal, which is owned by the British Waterways Board, carries no great tonnage, whereas the Manchester Ship Canal, which is not owned by the board, carries enormous tonnage and its tonnage is not included in the figures. The River Severn, which is controlled by the British Waterways Board, carries a small tonnage; the River Trent, worked by the British Waterways Board, carries a fair tonnage; but both are enormously outweighed by the River Humber, which carries a vast tonnage, which is not included in the figures. The River Thames, which still carries quite a large tonnage in its lower reaches, is not counted in the figures; nor is the River Medway.
The effect of these extraordinary omissions—and one cannot understand it—is that the figure that we give to our European partners is understated by about two-thirds. This must make it extremely difficult to assess what sort of transport policy should be carried out. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has just returned to his seat, because I was about to quote something that he said. He quoted a figure for tonnage as a percentage of the cargo carried which is the official figure and which gravely under-estimates the amount that is carried because, for some reason, we give only the figures for the tonnages carried by the British Waterways Board. There seems to be no reason for this. One cannot understand why the other figures are omitted. The other countries do not leave out any tonnage figures for any conceivable reason. Why on earth should we?
It looks as though it is merely a bad habit, and 461 if we are to have any serious integration policy we must get these figures right before we can understand what we are doing. These figures can be dug out; they are not difficult to find. It would not take any Government Minister very long simply to add the figures for the Manchester Ship Canal and the major rivers to the figure of the British Waterways Board. This ought to be done and is an easy problem to solve.
With the success of the expansion of the waterways in Yorkshire, which I think we shall see, we ought to go ahead, as other noble Lords have suggested. I believe that that is the real way in which to save money, at least on the heavier side of our national transport.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him two questions. First, would he favour modest investment in the narrow waterways in order to improve them for recreational purposes? They might serve the most important interests of those who like to be on water. Secondly, would the noble Viscount think it still practical and advantageous to do what we used to urge during the war: link the Trent to the Severn by a wide "narrow" canal bypassing Birmingham, and link the Severn to the Mersey by a new wide canal which would join up the North-Western traffic centres to Birmingham and Nottingham and the East?
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord for these remarks. To begin with, I do not think that at this moment, as we stand with the country's economy in its present state, we ought to spend much more money on work on the pleasure waterways. I should like to see it done myself. I would say a personal "hurrah", but I am afraid my answer to that at this stage must be no.
On the other matter, I would have encouraged those improvements at an earlier date when they were first suggested, but I think we can now say that cross links like that do not in fact produce much extra traffic in the way of cargo. They would certainly carry pleasure craft, but I cannot see that they would have much value for cargo. Therefore, regrettably, and as a great friend of the waterways, I must tell the noble Lord that my answer to that one also is no. I regret it, but there it is.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Gainford
My Lords, it also gives me great pleasure to join in this debate initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, particularly as he is my successor as president of the National Council of Inland Transport. As may be expected, I am going to speak in support of the railways. I agree particularly with British Rail's advertisement, "This is the Age of the Train". Given the choice, I would always choose rail travel, unless some other form of transport was definitely more convenient for a particular occasion.
Because of my Scottish connections I have had to travel north of the Border a lot over many years from London or the South of England, although not as often as my noble friend Lady Elliot. Sometimes I have to go to Edinburgh, but usually to the west side. The electrification of the main line from Euston to Glasgow has been a particular blessing to me. True, I enjoy nostalgia for the days of steam, but in those 462 days the journey to Argyll from London was one of a certain apprehension. Would the night train from Euston get to Glasgow Central in time to make the connection in the morning by bus or steamer to Argyll? The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned the difficulties with buses connecting with trains. Of course, with the coming of diesels the journey was speeded up, but now with the 5½ hour journey by modern electric train all that apprehension of the journey beyond has been removed.
On a personal basis as well as on the facts I am in favour of any policy to increase electrification. We have had the facts given to us again by my noble friend Lady Elliot about performance, the economy of maintenance, and lower fuel costs. In addition to reliability, the servicing of the locomotives is easier, and the turn round requirements at each terminus do not take nearly as long. The saving of oil has been mentioned, and the cost of that.
A matter that has not been mentioned is that by planning ahead for further electrification there is going to be a considerable demand for steel for the pylons to carry the overhead cables, and that demand will assist in more employment for the steel industry. I have been informed, and I have no evidence to the contrary—but if there is, please correct me—that if more pylons for overhead electric cables can be manufactured in advance they can be easily stored for their future use.
There has been mention of rolling stock. I agree that at present the Inter-City trains are very comfortable. Perhaps I have been lucky in my journeys, but I have found little to complain about. Some of the suburban services are good and some need helping a little. I should like to say a word about a very good service I have recently used when I was in Scotland in Argyll for the New Year. Coming back I travelled on a train I had not travelled on before from Balloch at the south end of Loch Lomond to Glasgow Queen Street, where there is an electrified suburban service of British Rail known as Trans-Clyde. The timetable showed a very adequate service, and the trains were smooth and comfortable. This is another example of what can be done.
Only two days ago I asked a Question in your Lordships' House about commuter services, and received quite an adequate reply. Further on commuter services, I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister who is to reply will have any information about the possible use of one-man trains on suburban services. It seems that the crews of trains in the future may need only one man; the driver, with all his electrical equipment to tell him that the doors are shut, the platforms clear. The one-man train could possibly provide an increased and faster service.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the need for new rolling stock. I certainly support that. I had the good fortune a little while ago to see the department at Swindon where rolling stock is both manufactured and repaired. It was quite impressive. There was, as the noble Lord pointed out, a great boom in production at the end of the 1950s, but that is now over 20 years ago and in a few years' time these carriages are going to show their age. If we are not careful, the feast period will be over and we shall find ourselves in a period of famine.
As regards raising money, mention has been made of 463 the fact that the best and most obvious source of income is the user. Mention has been made of the interesting results of that £1 ticket for old age pensioners, and the trains being crammed with people. We have heard that commuters could not get a seat on their usual train because so many of these old age pensioners were taking advantage of their £1 ticket and they were literally buying up all the space available. Now British Rail cannot afford to give everybody such economy, but once they can convince future passengers of value for money, and with any encouragement from reduction of fares, they are going to find their income coming in.
I now turn to features which worry many people. First, the closure of certain lines. It seems that whenever a line has to be closed, or the Government think it has to be closed, everybody always thinks that it is their particular line that is going to be affected. I mention again my concern about Scotland, and I am constantly concerned about the future of some of the lines there. I have with me a photostat of an article in a magazine called The New Civil Engineer dated 27th November 1980 containing a map of possible line closures. It seems to suggest that if one drew a line from Glasgow to Aberdeen, every line north and west of that is in danger of closure. I certainly hope that is not true. I know something of the lines north of Inverness, but also the Glasgow to Fort William line and on to Mallaig. These lines must be considered not just on the basis of facts and figures—how few people might be using them—because for the few people who use them, these railways are an absolute lifeline. Remove them and the areas they serve are affected dreadfully because the line is not only the means of communication across, say, the lonely expanse of Rannoch Moor, but the Highlands could be in great danger of becoming a desert.
I hope the Minister can allay my fears over another suggestion regarding the closure of any further lines through the Pennines. Some time ago I tabled a Question about the Sheffield to Manchester line through the Woodhead Tunnel. There are three other lines as well; they take passenger services, while the Wood-head Tunnel takes freight, and that freight is dwindling. There was once a line which went over the Pennines—Darlington via Barnard Castle to Kirkby Stephen and Penrith—but that was closed some years ago; it was difficult to keep up in the winter months. However, if it must be closed, let it just be a case of mothballing because in the future there might be a need to re-activate it.
I have in the past been able to travel abroad a great deal and I have seen many railways. The Swiss railways made a great impression on me. In the United States I travelled on Amtrak, which is becoming very successful, and I travelled on one of their special trains on what was called the Metroline between New York and Washington. I have seen how much other countries invest in their railways. In this country we grumble a lot about our railway services, and I think one reason for that is that we know the high standard they can maintain and we want that standard to be kept up.
I am of course prejudiced for railways. As some of your Lordships will know, it is my privilege to be a member of the Pease family, who put George Stephen 464 son on the tracks, as it were, with the Stockton-Darlington Railway, and therefore it is in my blood. However, the time has come when we must make sure that the standards we are proud of are not only maintained but improved.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. One of the problems with a discussion of this sort is that we can reiterate time and again what is wrong with everything. In fact, we are after investment and the question is: From where are we to get it? I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, for initiating the debate and for his constructive speech, if I may say that without condescension, because he gave a good guide to the House. I also wish at the outset to say how much I thought the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches, Lord Tanlaw, put forward a constructive point of view.
When I was a youngster one of my favourite books was Moleskin Joe—I do not know if any of your Lord-ships have read it—who helped to build the Woodhead Tunnel about which the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, spoke. It was built by him and men like him and the women who followed the navvies from one end of Britain to the other. Indeed, that job was greater in terms of shifting cubic yards of earth than the building of all the pyramids. Unfortunately, Beechingitis de-stroyed it without a treble thought; they may have had a second thought, but they had no courage to take a third look at it. Some of the railways could have been put in mothballs, instead of tearing up the embankments and sidings.
One such line that was torn up ran alongside an old Welsh farm that my grandfather had. The train would chug along at night and I could look out of the window of my little Welsh bedroom hoping the fireman would open the firebox, whereupon the little cottage would be lit up. I would sometimes lie in bed listening to the whistle as the train made its way along the line. Marvellous sounds they were, sounds that made life worth living. What do we have now? We have grim-faced drivers making their way along the tracks to the House of Lords—traffic looking ugly and making ugly signs—and we see daft notices here and there: "Honk if you want to funk". Somebody is going mad because of the tensions in the society in which we live. Let us slow it down a bit and start living. I want in the six or seven minutes I intend to delay your Lordships—I will try to restrain myself to that—to try to spike down some of the problems.
My noble friend Lord Noel-Baker made a marvellous speech full of reality, but let me give him one figure concerning traffic in London in 1938; noble Lords can look the statistics up for themselves because they are all in an interesting book entitled Metropolitan Man. Traffic jams alone cost London £38 million in wasted petrol, oil and other fuels back in 1938. I mention that to illustrate the fact that when we talk about future investment we must not forget an important lost calculation, which is the cost in real worth of the thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries on the roads of Britain every year. That is wealth lost to the nation. If we had fewer accidents, there would be a pool wherein we could dip for future 465 investment. The modern accountant produces his slide-rule and does not allow for the human factor and the reality of effort in the world today. That involves much more than slide-rule calculations; one must look at the social health of the nation.
That leads directly to another sad aspect of the matter affecting rural England, Wales and Scotland. There are lonely people in villages and rural areas throughout the country. Indeed, in many ways they are more remote now than they were in the days of my great great grandfather. If they cannot afford a car and they are in hospital or have a relative in hospital, they can either beg a lift from a local farmer or wait for the local bus, which may come only once a week. That is not living. I am not accusing the present Government of being the cause of this state of affairs; it has been going on for a long time because all governments have neglected the reality, but it is time we gave attention to it.
Earlier I quoted to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, the White Paper on Transport Policy, Command No. 6836, and I do not intend to bore the House by quoting chunks from it. It cites on page 217 three objectives of economic growth. It says transport policy is needed for economic growth, and that is axiomatic; secondly, that it increases prosperity and meets social needs, and I am sure that is agreed; and thirdly, that it minimises the damage to the environment, and that is a difficult one in view of the size of lorries we have today. Do not get worried, my Lords, I have only two more sheets of notes here—
§ Lord Davies of Leek
"Three", said he in dolorous tones. I want to point out that the axle weight, the 44 tonnes, may in fact be less if it is spread over more axles; but unless we do something in this regard the sewage system in the cities of this country will be destroyed. In Manchester and in Stoke-on-Trent road surfaces are continuously upset by the weight of traffic, all traffic. Something must be done about it. People are talking about a nuclear war and defence. What is the matter with people? I believe that transport should be part of a policy of defence.
Like others in this Chamber, I was involved in various activities during the war. One was helping to get children out of London to remote areas. We had to move people, we had to house refugees from Hitler's Europe, and we needed transport. We needed roads and rolling stock. What are we doing now? If we now had to defend ourselves against nuclear attack, we could not move the people out of London in two or three days; it would take weeks. The roads would be jammed; we would not have the necessary railways and rolling stock.
Your Lordships might ask what is the point of the argument that I have just made. The point is that transport should be classed as part of the expenditure on civil defence and national defence. In other words, a good transport system would also be a system of security for Britain if we had to face a war. Consequently, instead of spending money on missiles that may go the wrong way because they have not been properly tested, while we have the opportunity let us 466 ensure that we are able to move people from the urban and city areas to the rural areas, by roads and railways. At the moment we have not the rolling stock.
It is no good blaming the chairman of the railways board, or the national road system, if the money is not there. That is the problem that we should be facing in this House. That is the problem for which we want answers not only from the present Government but also from any future Government, of whatever political colour. The problem is not of 12 months' duration. It took 10 years to get over the 1931 crisis. I consider that, despite what might be said by all the boys who bring out their slide rules, it will take us six to eight years to get anywhere. I hate the word "normalcy", which I think was invented by Hoover; it is a terrible word. It will take us between eight and 10 years to get back to normal so far as economics are concerned.
We should look at transport as part of our civil and national defence. Whatever politics we may have on either side of the House, we should impress on the present Government that money must be found for the essentials involved in moving people if necessary. The doctor will know about this. I want to refer to the misfortunes of this systalitic economy. It is as though the heart were not palpitating properly. The body politic is unable to think clearly because the heart is not pumping blood to the top of the party in power.
I come now to my last point. I have been speaking for nine minutes and I am sorry to continue, but I must complete what I want to say. The other day in a supplementary question I asked what is to be done with manpower, such as that which I saw in Wales: lads who went to the sixth form of the grammar school, who had better IQs than mine, who finished up beating their brains out, and who lost all interest. They were destroyed as human beings because of years of unemployment. What can we do at present when we are looking for capital. Capital without labour is not much use. Instead of merely paying out dole money, let us have a muscles and shovels policy. Get these people to work on road building and railway track laying, and so give them dignity and the joy of living, as they help to rebuild Britain. I come now to my last sentence. If we are looking for investment, those are the areas to consider because transport is essential; to use Kiplings phrase, "Transport is civilisation".
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to say that I was not sure whether I had made myself quite clear when he intervened during my speech. The paper that he quoted is thoroughly out of date. The investment mentioned was made in the Sheffield and South Yorkshire waterway. It was this Government who did it, after many previous Governments had failed to do so. That did not quite make me a Tory, but it confirmed my belief that in some ways their hearts were very much in the right place.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
As I said when I interrupted earlier, I was not contradicting, I was asking for information; and I have now received it.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, it is always absolutely delightful to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down, even though he goes at a rate of three thousand revs to the minute with the choke out. If one tried to follow him, one would fall on one's face very quickly, and so I was grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, for providing a slight pause. To turn to my own speech, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, for putting down this Motion. We need a transport policy. We also need a clear-cut Motion—such as he has given us—to get our teeth into. It is most refreshing to be able to let one's thoughts and emotions go in a debate like this when we are discussing transport policy and we are not being ruled by the narrow confines of proposed legislation, such as the transport Bills of recent sessions. We do not want to discuss those arguments again in any shape or form.
I enjoyed the noble Viscount's speech. I believe that he mentioned Southern railways' timekeeping, and as a regular traveller on that railway may I say that I think he will probably find that the timekeeping is being improved by means of new signal boxes at London Bridge and Victoria. There is an extensive programme in hand, and I think that it is pointing in the right direction. It is delightful to join in a debate introduced by a noble Lord who is descended from such a distinguished Prime Minister, who served his country at a very difficult time in its history.
Because transport is a service industry, we perhaps tend to underestimate its significance compared with manufacturing industries. Transport is a field where so many people think themselves experts, but most see only the petty points which they perceive to affect their convenience, which is at best a restricted view. In transport, apart from self-motion—that is, walking from one place to another on one's two feet—we have to be conveyed by means of a combustion engine or whatever. Likewise, everything that we eat or use has to be moved—transported. So transport is vital to us all, and it is for your Lordships today to see the true complexity of this many-sided industry and approach its diverse problems in a positive manner.
Governments—and this point has been dealt with by many previous speakers—too often have had transport policies ruled by conflicting political doctrines, rather than realities. Therefore, I feel that if there is any message that one can try to give from this debate, it is that of the need for a stable approach to transport. Remember, that whatever policy one wishes to adopt, some years are likely to go by before it shows its true effect. So, in the past 13 years, to my knowledge we have seen a great deal of "Boxing and Coxing", but these changes have achieved little beyond confusion and instability.
That leads me to my personal interest, which, as your Lordships will know, is the public road transport industry. A great deal has been said about railways and inland waterways—a lot of what might be called nostalgia has been indulged in with regard to the railways—so it is quite apt for me now to discuss road transport. Like many Members of your Lordships' House, I recognise the importance of rural transport; the needs of those who, for one reason or another, cannot have the use of a car. In humanity we must 468 consider, and respond to, their problem. When we consider the also-important economic arguments, our thoughts turn to the towns and cities, where the great majority of the population live and, consequently, the great majority of passenger journeys, not to mention goods deliveries, are made.
The problems of traffic congestion, et cetera, must be tackled. Here, I agree with my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, who mentioned that matter. A lot of us have private cars, and there are these splendid people who think that private cars are the be all and end all. But I think that as a nation we have got to act responsibly in this matter. If I can digress from my speech—like noble Lords who have spoken previously, I am very conscious of the time at this hour of the day, and I am probably not going to go much more than about nine or 10 minutes, five of which I have had already—we can cast our minds back to one or two particular situations. One does not want to regard the time of Suez with any great excitement, though it was an excitement—in some ways, it was the time of our lives—but that was the last time, I believe, we had petrol rationing and I can remember that London was almost empty of traffic apart from public transport and buses were able to move around. They were very full, and they were dragging the road because they had so much time. One does not want a national disaster, or an international disaster, as that was, to make us look at this matter, and we must discuss it responsibly.
Here I note with satisfaction—and this is a point that follows on—that the Transport Select Committee in another place is launching an inquiry into urban transport. These new Select Committees are to be welcomed on two counts. First, they introduce a bipartisan element into policy-making. Secondly, speaking as one who tries to keep in touch with as many practical operators as possible, this is something I particularly welcome. They bring into consultation the professionals from industry—the men at the sharp end, when all is said and done. Sometimes these professional views may require a pinch of salt, but they must not be ignored by we amateurs in most industrial fields.
I would stress the importance of urban transport and, as an aside, following a recent discussion with the managing director of London's buses, say that I would be glad to introduce a short debate on this subject if noble Lords support this idea. Here, I should like to mention another point for if and when one debates this matter. My noble friend Lady Trumpington came and asked me a few minutes ago about the idea of introducing a system of, let us say, discs and standard fares. Of course, that is a subject to be dealt with in another debate, but there are so many innovations that one can bring into the realms of transport to make things very much easier, and to encourage people. At the moment, all I shall say about this is that, with all its implications, it needs greater investigation.
Reverting to the Select Committees, it seems to me that they have followed the approach in other countries to the formation of policies. That shows that we can and must be prepared to learn from others. Transport is a good example of this. Take France. In Paris, the authorities have taken what was an aged and decrepit system and made a success of it, leading the 469 public to choose to leave their cars at home and travel by bus, Metro and RER. Other western countries have also come to see the benefits of public transport to their people. They see the positive value of investing their national resources in improvements to their transport systems.
Some Presidents take a personal interest in what they must see to be a vital subject. Fifteen months ago the immediate past-President of the United States said:Public transport is one of the keys to the future of the United States of America. We can no longer afford to think of public transportation as something that we might some day get around to developing adequately once all the super highways and cloverleafs have been completed. We must address the problems of public transportation now".I do not say for one minute that we in this country have let our public transport system go as have the United States of America. Also, we are a small and highly-populated country; but that is a very good example to follow. In so many ways we lead the world. As to whether we lead it in the forms of public transport, we should like to think we do but it is a very good case in point.
This is a practical problem because there must be a policy framework—and that is what this debate is all about—which will state the objectives for private and public transport. For the busmen there must be stable financial guidelines which will help them to know where they stand for the foreseeable future in drawing up their own plans for levels of services and fares. The way in which the fare scale is drawn up—and this depends on the level of central and local government support—will decide whether fares revenue can be maximised. A finely graduated scale is more effective than a coarse one, or flat fares.
The fares system enables decisions to be made about ticketing, one-person or driver-conductor operation and other procedures. Ticketing equipment is now expensive and needs to be seen as at least a medium-term investment. These factors also affect vehicle layout and design specification, which involve related considerations of speed over the route, time taken at stops and so on. These in turn influence decisions on maintenance requirements, labour and staffing generally. Without a stable transport policy the bus industry cannot adopt any policy. It must hedge its options, and its efficiency is reduced by things outside its control. But who gets the blame? It is the busmen, of course—and, ironically, he is even be-laboured by the Government, of whichever persuasion, who have actually set the scene for this debacle.
There is need for a review of transport policy, and I sincerely hope that the noble Viscount's initiative will lead to positive and ongoing action. That must of course embrace all modes and aspects of transport. I trust that I have not seemed too narrow in concentrating on one particular line of transport. I recognise the role of other fields and the need for freedom of choice, which must not exclude co-ordination. I think co-ordination is rather more important than integration. Integration is a word which can be misused, but co-ordination is very important. So we need a national transport policy based on practical realities—but, also, do let us avoid gimmicks.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, and I am very grateful indeed to my noble friend for having introduced it. In forming any transport policy, one must of course take all forms of transport into consideration—road, rail, waterway, air and sea—always being careful to apportion to each particular form the traffic which is most suited to it. Let me say from the beginning that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that road transport and rail transport are dependent one upon the other. But what he meant, I think, was that rail transport is dependent on road transport. I would point out to him that the way he put it also means that road transport is dependent on rail transport, which I personally think it is. For long distances there can be no doubt that rail transport is far and away the best, and, what is more, the most economical, since it is a scientific fact that steel wheels on steel rails giving a minimum of friction are the least consuming of energy.
That is why I am going to concentrate tonight chiefly on the railways because I feel that so much traffic has gone over to the roads which ought really to be taken back to the railways. We have a marvellous railway network in this country. So far as I can remember, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, described it as the most complex in the world. So it is. It is an extremely efficient network and it is well worth making use of. But, of course, at the moment we are up against the fact that British Rail are running constantly at a loss. I am not pretending to be one who can probe into all the sources of that failure, but I am going to try to suggest of a few of them.
I am very much in favour of total electrification. It can start on the main lines and be extended later. There is no doubt that British Rail have done some adventurous things in their introduction of high-speed trains, but I am afraid that I cannot share the enthusiasm of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, for the Inter-City trains. I once travelled on one as far as Ledbury in Herefordshire. It was over the lunch hour and there was no restaurant car nor even a buffet. I do not think that that sort of thing makes for a very outstanding service.
As far as high-speed trains are concerned, I have not yet travelled on one; but a friend of mine did so a short while ago and he tells me that the vibration at certain points was so frightful that he could hardly remain seated. But that may be due either to bad condition of the permanent way or perhaps to old rolling stock that has not got the proper suspension. That, I dare say, can be solved. But I do not think that what the average person wants when travelling by rail is nearly so much high speed as comfort.
Whenever I attend your Lordships' House I travel up to London for quite a short distance from Epsom. Some of the things that I can complain about I am sure your Lordships have encountered in other places. For one thing, in smoking compartments, there are no ashtrays; in other compartments, there are no litter bins so that one can see empty beer cans and various articles rolling about on the floor. The rolling stock is always filthy so that one cannot see out of the windows. We stop at every station on the way up—that is, to Victoria. They have recently introduced some semi-fast trains to Waterloo (which I now always take) 471 which stop at only two stations and then at Waterloo. Why cannot we have some of those to Victoria? Then there are the waiting rooms in most stations. The one at Epsom is smallish, of course, with hard wooden benches, whitewashed walls with no decoration at all—except decorations from some supporters of some football club or another. There is a fire only when it is so cold that one cannot bear to stay outside and, even then, it is scarcely visible. There is altogether a total lack of any kind of comfort.
As to the terminal stations, Victoria is one of the most disagreeable places I have ever been in. You have to look down to see that you are not treading on a piece of orange peel or something. It is absolutely appalling. And if you want information, there is never anybody to ask. The men sitting at the ticket inspectors' box very often simply do not look at you when you go through. If you ask them a question—and you have to repeat it—they usually say, "Dunno. Look at the board. "That sort of thing is not good enough. What people want to make them travel by train is some comfort and some feeling of being looked after. I am sure that many people who at present travel to London by car could be encouraged to travel by train—because driving on the roads today, particularly in London, is no fun.
There is a strong case for transferring some of the heavy goods traffic from the roads to rail. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, mention something which I have been thinking about for a very long time; that is, the possibility of a roll-on, roll-off service. That would be quite possible if one constructed lorries which were suited to the loading gauge of the railways; it would save an enormous amount of labour in loading and unloading, and it would be extremely efficient. Another point is this. Why cannot factories which are close to the railway have their own sidings as they used to? They would be very useful to them and I cannot see why it should not be worked. The potential is there. We have only to get down to it, to think a little bit, to try to make improvements and it will pay us a thousand-fold.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would be prepared to list those goods that he so confidently thinks can be transferred from road to rail with perhaps the generosity with which he listed the faults of the railways. Would he not agree that there is no professional traffic manager who does not look at all the options open to him whether carrying cement, oil, motor-cars, parcels or anything else? If one system is not suitable, for one reason or another, then he chooses the other system. It is not just a question of listing a certain number of goods that ought to, or could, or might be transferred.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, is there no such thing as co-operation left? I should have thought the two could get together and form a perfectly good policy.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hawke spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and said to your Lordships, "I have heard speeches of this kind for 30 years". I had just said to my noble friend 472 Lady Faithfull, "I heard this speech by the late lamented Lord Stonham in 1964". The fact is that Lord Underbill's dream and mine have not come true. It seems to me, hearing the exchanges this morning between the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, one could say, "Well, it looks as if Socialism has failed". I say it like that because one of the things that grew out of the policy which was enunciated by Lord Stonham in those days was the depot at Didcot. At Didcot the grass is growing up through the sidings. Why, my Lords? Because the dockers refused to load the containers that were packed there, and because the car delivery people from Coventry would not take the cars a few miles to Didcot unless they were paid the rate to go to Liverpool.
I feel that this is a challenge to this Government. If I am right in saying that Socialism has failed, do not let this Government fail; let us have a policy. As my noble friend Lord Teviot said, this debate is about policy—the policy that should follow. Therefore I make no excuses for intervening in this debate in place of the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, because I feel duty-bound to your Lordships' House to make these two points: first, the failure of all these dreams for 30 years is a challenge to the Government today to get on with it and have a plan. The second point—which may be equally disputable—is that I am one of those who take the view that a Channel tunnel is simply not on. It is a nonsense, in my view. We are planning to spend hundreds of millions of pounds; bankers say that they are going to finance the hundreds of millions of pounds needed to dig this tunnel under the Channel. The railways say that they have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to put a railway tunnel under London in order to feed it. That policy is going to concentrate Britain's continental traffic in one area. One malicious bomber could knock the whole thing out. My noble friend Lord Inglewood talked about policing the tunnel. What railway police will patrol it when 50 per cent. of the traffic is coming from the Continent?
I feel very strongly about this. The reason why I say that I am not making an excuse for taking part is that I feel this debate would not be complete if I did not express the view, which I know is held by a large number of Peers, that the Channel tunnel would be a most dreadful mistake. I shall not go on about trivia; but, in terms of policy, it is to be remembered—and as a Scotsman I am side by side with my noble friend Lady Elliot—that traffic to the Continent via Dover is not really much help. I talk of goods traffic entirely, because air traffic is taking the passengers. Therefore, there is a high on-cost when taking goods from Scotland to Europe if the route has to be channelled through the south of England.
Another point arises in terms of policy: the authorities have said for years that various rail systems in Scotland which have been referred to already have to be closed because they do not pay. The losses are fractional compared with the losses on London commuter traffic. The load factor on London commuter traffic is so low; millions of pounds worth of stock has to lie idle for hours each day. In terms of policy I wonder whether, when my noble friend replies, he will indicate whether, in calculating the profitability or otherwise of our railway system, we 473 should not take a leaf out of Lord Lucas of Chilworth's book and say that, whereas road transport bears such a very high measure of costs which the railways do not have, why should we not use the losses on commuter traffic and charge them to the existing overall cost of railways? There should be an even spread.
My two points are these: I believe this debate is a challenge to the Government and I believe that it is proper at this juncture to declare without equivocation that the idea of a Channel tunnel is not a workable affair. I grudge every pound spent on even planning it.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Evironment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, may I too first of all congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, on tabling this Motion and on his interesting and constructive speech in introducing this debate. I should also like to congratulate the other noble Lords who have contributed to the very high standard of the debate. It is over four years since transport policy generally was last debated in your Lordships' House, in response to the previous Government's consultation document in 1976. We have of course considered various aspects of transport policy in detail since then, not least in the Transport Bill last session, but much has changed since 1976. I therefore welcome the opportunity which this debate affords to describe the Government's transport policy and the philosophy on which it is based. I shall also attempt, in the course of so doing, to deal with some at least of the specific points which noble Lords have raised.
Transport, of course, as has been said, affects all of us and in different ways. So it is obviously of great importance that the Government should have a sensible and enlightened transport policy and, contrary to the implication of the terms of the Motion, I hope to illustrate that we have a clear and distinctive one. The principles which underlie our policy were set out three years ago by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, while in Opposition, in a pamphlet entitled The Right Track. Those principles still hold good today. They are the principles which my right honourable friend has sought to implement since this Government came into office. They are perhaps best summed up by saying that we are concerned first to ensure that all types of transport are run as efficiently as possible, taking account in addition of the need for energy conservation; secondly, that the role of Government should be restricted to those areas where it needs to be involved; thirdly, that no unnecessary restrictions are placed by Government on individual choice in transport; fourthly, and most important of all, that the needs of the user should be put first.
I should like to point to some of the ways in which we have made those objectives reality in the time since we came into office, and to the initiatives we have announced for the future. I take as my starting-point the Transport Act 1980. That Act contains important provisions to remove restrictions on the bus industry, and to allow private operators to compete for a bigger share of the market. We have seen an immediate and dramatic effect on long-distance express services. The public now has a much wider choice of services, many 474 at much lower fares. The Act also removes irksome restrictions on car sharing. We want to encourage car sharing as a means of conserving fuel and reducing traffic congestion, because it can give individuals greater choice in transport, and, particularly in rural areas, because it can provide mobility for people who would otherwise be unable to get about. The same principles are reflected in the initiatives which we have taken to introduce private capital into the transport nationalised industries.
The Transport Act provided powers to return the National Freight Corporation—now the National Freight Company Limited—completely to the private sector. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will take steps to do so as soon as practicable. The current Transport Bill, which received its Second Reading in another place last Tuesday, contains provisions to allow the introduction of private capital into the British Transport Docks Board and into British Rail's subsidiary businesses. The British Transport Docks Board has a good track record and should prosper in the private sector. British Rail's subsidiaries, Sealink, British Transport Hotels and British Rail's Hovercraft, have for too long been starved of the investment funds for expansion.
I am sure that your Lordships would want me to say something about British Rail's current problems. Therefore let me first reiterate what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made clear so often: there is no question of further "Beeching-style cuts", if I may so call them. I cannot immediately assuage all the concerns of my noble friend Lord Gainford, nor cover the specific cases to which he referred; but I can and do say—and I hope it will make him and perhaps others of your Lordships feel happier on this point—that the passenger network will for the foreseeable future remain broadly the same size as at present, with no substantial closures. British Rail has responded positively to this commitment by producing ideas for low-cost renewal and operation of services. So I hope we shall not have to hear more talk about the wholesale closure of passenger services.
For the Government's part, I believe we have shown a flexible and realistic attitude to the question of finance. Last September my right honourable friend increased the Board's external finance limit for the current year by £40 million to £790 million. The limit for 1981–82 is £920 million—again an increase above previous plans and an increase in real terms. In December my right honourable friend announced that the ceiling on the public service obligation grant—that is, the Government's grant to the railways for passenger services—had been increased for 1981 by £23 million, to £678 million. This was specifically to avoid another fares increase in less than 12 months. So the Government are playing their part. The financial targets which the board has been set are tough but also realistic, and they have been ack-knowledged as such by the board's chairman. The answer to the railway's problems does not lie in ever-increasing subsidy. The railways themselves have an important—indeed the most important—part to play. Sir Peter Parker recognises this and has already taken action—firm but necessary—to cut costs by tailoring services more closely to demand.
Perhaps I might at this point refer to something said 475 by the noble Lords, Lord Tanlaw and Lord Underhill, on the subject of the railway inspectorate's report on traffic deterioration. It is a slight digression but the point is important and I want to respond to it because I should like at once to allay any safety fears. Safety is not in question. It is the responsibility of British Rail to operate with due regard to safety, and they have given an assurance that their standards, which are very high, will not be allowed to slip.
My right honourable friend has done two things: first, he has freed all track renewal from control through the investment ceiling. The board still have to find the money but they no longer have to fit it into a separate ceiling on investment. Secondly, in increasing the board's external finance limit this year he had particularly in mind the need to avoid cuts in essential maintenance.
Let me turn now to investment in transport in general. In some ways this is at the very centre of the noble Viscount's Motion. Of course, the Government recognise the need and the importance of long-term investment, and especially the need for consistency in investment levels. I know that consistency is particularly important to those industries which in turn supply our nationalised industries, to enable them too to plan ahead. It is because we recognise those points that we have sought to stabilise the investment levels on both road and rail. Total public investment in inland transport in 1980–81 will amount to £1.3 billion. Several noble Lords today have in effect made bids for extra investment which would increase that total. My right honourable friend has made it clear that he will do all he can to preserve transport investment, but at a time when public expenditure generally is under severe constraints I cannot hold out any realistic prospect of an increase in that total.
I would not quarrel with the following quotation from the Transport Policy White Paper which was published by the last Labour Government:Those who wish to see a significant increase in transport expenditure have a duty to say where the additional money should come from. Those who want to spend more in one area or another of transport must show where, within the budget for transport, compensating savings can be found".As regards investment in the railways, we have maintained the Railway Board's investment ceiling in real terms at exactly the same level as that set by the previous Government. I stress that point—exactly the same level in real terms—because in recent weeks it has been frequently misrepresented in some of the media. The ceiling is currently £384 million estimated out-turn prices. I submit that is a significant amount. The fact that we have maintained the ceiling at a time of severe cuts elsewhere is a direct reflection of our commitment to the railways. We believe that this ceiling is adequate at present to meet the board's needs. Priorities for investment within the ceiling are a matter for the board itself. Within the existing investment ceiling the board have managed to achieve substantial modernisation of the railways. My noble friend Lady Elliot referred to the excellence of the board's Inter-City services. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, was perhaps slightly less convinced. Might I say, from my own not inconsiderable experience of using those services, that on the whole I tend to side 476 with my noble friend in the light of experience. I want to say that, and am glad to have the opportunity to do so.
I think it is fair to say that speed and comfort have increased considerably with the introduction of high-speed trains, of which over 60 are now in service. A total of 95 have now been authorised. For the noncommercial railway there is a rolling programme of electrical multiple units of 220 a year. These will be mainly deployed on the London commuter services. These are already benefiting or will benefit from improvements to rail infrastructure; for example, re-signalling the lines into Victoria (at a cost of £50 million) and re-signalling the London to Brighton Line (also at a cost of £50 million). The London Bridge services have been re-signalled at a cost of £45 million. Electrification of the Great Northern services out of King's Cross cost £90 million and electrification of the Bedford-St. Pancras-Moorgate line cost £100 million. All these major investments should considerably improve the service and, hopefully, reliability. Perhaps it will also give encouragement to the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, and others, who are quite properly so concerned about investment in transport.
The noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, urged the Government to take account of the long-term objectives in determining their investment priorities. He and others talked about electrification. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, also mentioned this point. I think I should say that the Department of Transport has for some time been engaged with British Rail in a joint review of the case for a main-line electricfiation programme. An interim report was published in September 1979 which showed promising signs that a case for electrification could be made. I am pleased to say that the study is now complete and the final report will be published very soon. The study has concentrated on a financial appraisal of the case for electrification, as befits an investment which would benefit primarily the commercial rail businesses—passenger, Inter-City and freight.
It has also looked at wider effects, including possible savings in oil consumption which would follow from reducing the extent of diesel traction and the effects of an electrification programme on the railway manufacturing industry. Because electrification would involve a very substantial investment, primarily in businesses operating under commercial remits, my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport will wish to consider the findings of the electrification review in the context of the prospects for the development of these businesses. The outlook for the economy as a whole will also have to be taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to trunk roads and I should say on that that our policies for investment in trunk roads, for which the Government are directly responsible, were set out in the Roads White Paper published last June. We fully recognise the importance of investment in the road system, but we acknowledge, too, that the programme cannot be exempt from the measures necessary to bring public expenditure under firm control. We have stabilised expenditure plans at roughly the level we inherited when we came to office. Indeed, despite all the national economic constraints, the Government have considered this to be a priority which has resulted in our actually 477 spending more in our first year in office, than did our predecessors in either of their last two years.
Within the resources available, our first priority is schemes which will help economic recovery. A prime example is the M.25 London Orbital Motorway. This will provide a quicker, more convenient and safer route around London, for through traffic, and will improve the environment of many towns and villages on the outskirts of London. Over half the road is now either open to traffic, or under construction, and planning of the rest is well advanced.
The second priority is roads which will take traffic out of towns and villages which were never designed with cars and lorries in mind, and particularly historic towns. Such roads are often major industrial routes. The M.40, for example, will take traffic out of several historic towns, including Banbury, Woodstock, and Stratford-on-Avon. In many cases, the right answer is a by-pass. I give a few examples of by-passes, which will greatly improve the environment of the towns concerned. Construction is currently taking place on by-passes for Colchester, Canterbury and Wimborne. Tenders have been, or will shortly be, invited for by-passes of Bowes and Gloucester North. And, looking further ahead, the programme includes by-passes for Lincoln, Okehampton and Leominster.
Our third priority is to protect existing investment. One of the striking features of road traffic during the last 20 years, has been the success of the motorways and trunk roads in attracting traffic, and particularly freight traffic. They have been more heavily used than was anticipated when they were designed and built. Although motorways account for less than 1 per cent. of all road mileage, they carry some 10 per cent. of all traffic—and up to 25 per cent. of the heaviest lorries. Inevitably, this success has been accompanied by heavy wear on some of our older and most heavily-trafficked motorways. A comprehensive programme of maintenance is essential, if they are to be able to cope with traffic in the future. The Government are therefore spending over £100 million a year on motorway and trunk road maintenance, and this amount is likely to increase. My right honourable friend has emphasised that he will continue to keep the balance of expenditure on new construction and maintenance under review, so as to obtain the best overall value for money.
I wonder whether I may just refer briefly to what I thought was a particularly splendid speech from the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker. He spoke most movingly of the impact of road accidents. No debate on transport could be complete without discussion of road safety and road accidents, and the Government are deeply aware of the enormity of what I would call—and I go even further than he did—a nightmare situation. However, I do not intend today—because I know that there will be an opportunity when we come to the Transport Bill—to go into detail or to say other than that the Government are deeply concerned to reduce accidents and injuries on the roads.
The Transport Bill, which has already received its Second Reading in another place, contains important provisions to tackle two of our most important road safety problems—the contribution of drink to road casualties, and the very high injury rate associated with motor-cycling. These proposals will come to your Lordships' House for consideration in due course, 478 and the whole road safety situation will continue to exercise the Government's mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, my noble friend Lord Mountgarret and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, stressed the importance of inland waterways for freight transport. They pleaded for more investment in those waterways, although I was most impressed by the very kind way in which the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, touched on that point. Let me make it quite clear that the Government are very well aware of the importance of this mode of transport.
The British Waterways Board is currently investing upwards of £10 million in improving the South Yorkshire canal. I am glad that the noble Viscount was able to put us in the picture on that. Coming as I do from Yorkshire, it is something of which I was not unaware. I suggest that this represents a major opportunity for the inland waterways to show their current potential for attracting and carrying freight. I do not think we should get that out of proportion in the context of the totality. Nevertheless, there is a part to play.
I was intrigued to listen to the fascinating suggestions and comments made by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. As he will know, inland waterways are a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I will certainly draw my right honourable friend's attention to the points which the noble Viscount made.
Finally, reference was made to the Armitage inquiry. It would not be appropriate for me today—nor is there time—to go into this issue in any depth. The Government are considering Sir Arthur Armitage's report very carefully. One recommendation, on which we are already acting, is the restructuring of vehicle excise duty, so as to reflect more accurately the damage done to roads by particular axle weights and configurations. We are taking powers to do this in the current Transport Bill. My right honourable friend has made it clear that the Government will not reach decisions on the other recommendations in the report, until it has been debated in Parliament. I can only repeat, therefore, that it would not be appropriate for me to say more at this stage. But I again assure your Lordships that it is being considered very carefully—
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? When he gives an assurance that it will be debated in Parliament, will that include a debate in this House?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I am sure that there will be an opportunity to debate it in this House. I am not sure of the procedural priorities or ways, but I am quite sure that in one way or another someone will ensure that it is debated in your Lordships' House. I have every confidence in that. I hope that I have been able in the short time available to set out, at least, the key principles of the Government's transport policy. The Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, implies that there is no transport policy. May I respectfully suggest that that might be said by many who would disagree with the policy. A transport policy we certainly have, and it is clear and coherent. Furthermore, I submit that it is an enlightened and progressive policy.
479 The old policies, so beloved of the Labour Opposition, of greater and greater State involvement and regulation, have been tried and found wanting. Our transport policies involve a significant reduction in the role of the state. We have a policy which will enable transport to play its full part in the Government's overall objective of regenerating the economy. It is a policy which, once implemented, will help to lead to more efficient transport industries, responsive to the needs of the user, and providing the right services at the least cost in terms of resources, for both industry and the public. The success already of the Transport Act 1980 in changing the face of long distance bus services is proof that this way works—a way based on removing restrictions and setting people free, not on planning and controlling, nor on dunning the taxpayer for more and more subsidies.
I have not covered all the points which were raised, and I am sure it was not expected that I would do so. However, I assure all who have spoken in this most fascinating debate that I and my colleagues will read very carefully everything that has been said. If nothing else, the debate has brought out how enormously wide-ranging this topic is. It has so many facets which concern our everyday lives. Heaven knows! the Government are anything but complacent. We are well aware of the problems with which we have to deal.
I hope I have said enough at least to illustrate that a policy we do have, and that we are putting it into effect. It is a policy which I hope most of your Lordships will be proud of, as I am.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Sidmouth
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and, as has just been said, wide-ranging debate. That is usual in this House. I am truly grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and who have spoken so well. The hour is late and I do not think it would be appropriate for me to prolong the debate beyond making two points before sitting down.
The first is about road transport and the suggestion that there should be no restriction of individual choice. Both the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the Minister referred to this point. Of course this is right. There is no suggestion that there should be any return to the restrictive situation which prevailed before the war. Indeed, I think it is agreed that in the last two decades road transport has won the largest share, fair and square, in competition with rail. But it has been won at a considerable cost. In many cases, the basic cost of road transport is higher than the cost of rail transport. The reason why people use it to an increasing extent is the convenience and flexibility which road transport can provide. It is a quantifiable benefit. However, we are just beginning to count the cost in terms of energy and the damage to the environment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, has very rightly pointed out, in terms of road accidents. This is beginning to tip the scales and will increasingly do so.
My second point is about safety. I was glad to hear, as I expected to hear, that safety considerations on the railways will not be lowered. However, there 480 is one consideration to be borne in mind. Already, because of the financial limits, British Rail are falling behind on track maintenance. At present the figure is over 1,000 kilometres. Various figures have been quoted projecting this into the future at the present rate of shortfall. These lines will not be used if they fall below the very high safety standards which have always prevailed on British Rail. But what will happen if standards continue to fall to such an extent that lines can no longer be used? This is another form of the withering on the vine to which I referred in my speech and which should not be overlooked. It is not a direct closing down, but the situation might very well be reached when lines are not safe to use, first at the required speeds and later because they are not safe at all. That is all I wish to say. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.