HL Deb 27 January 1982 vol 426 cc994-1026

5.53 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye rose to call attention to problems of Inner London traffic congestion over the next six years resulting from growth of public, private and commercial road usage; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an entirely non-party issue, because it affects members of all parties and members of no party at all. I have drafted my Motion to cover only short-term problems for a traffic organisation which is out of date by 20 years. I propose to leave entirely alone consideration of long-term issues, such as how much public transport we ought to have and who pays for that transport. I propose, also, to leave entirely alone the effect of any roads which are likely to be opened over the next five years. Incidentally, there are no significant roads which are likely to be opened in that time. When the M25 is opened, it will have very little effect without feeder lines, which are as yet unbuilt, and, as it takes 10 to 15 years for planning, designing and negotiating for any road, they come right outside the province of my Motion this evening.

I wish to concentrate on the need for a dynamic effort for short-term relief, if traffic in London is not to be snarled up in the comparatively near future. There is a very real danger of this. I do not want to bemuse your Lordships—nor do I want to bemuse myself—with too many figures, but I must use three. First, figures show a steady increase of traffic levels throughout the GLC area. The increase has been approximately 10 per cent. in the last five years and 16 per cent. in the last 10 years. The second figure which I should like to give to your Lordships is of the number of cars entering central London in normal peak hours. The number has risen from approximately 120,000 daily in 1976, to 140,000 in 1981; and we must remember that a 1 per cent. increase in overall traffic in London means a slowing down of all traffic by roughly 1 mph.

I should like to deal briefly with three categories of London's traffic which we have to consider—public, commercial and private. On each of these I shall say a few words, and be so bold as to make certain suggestions as to what might be carried out. First, let me take public transport. In order to attract, public transport must be what it is not at present; that is, efficient punctual and reasonably priced. But as London Transport will tell you, it is virtually impossible to run such a road service with those qualities under present conditions.

Any reduction in private and commercial transport must have the immediate effect of helping transport efficiency, but such a reduction will come about only when public transport can show a greater ability to satisfy customers than it does at the present time. As public transport improves, so do the chances of road traffic being reduced voluntarily or, possibly, by agreed regulation in the future. It is no good harassing private motorists now, while public transport's short- comings can be seen. It is something like a vicious circle. Until public transport improves, private transport will go on increasing. As and when public transport improves, then, possibly, private transport will be reduced. It is rather like the chicken and the egg—which came first?

The second category on which I want to touch for a moment is commercial transport. I think that one can divide commercial transport into two broad categories—transit through London and originating in London, by which I mean point of departure in the GLC area and point of completion of journey in the GLC area. For transit vehicles there is only one course which we should follow. We should introduce, with enforcement powers, designated routes for all such heavy transit vehicles. I regret that the proposed North London big transport inquiry was abandoned by the present GLC pending what they termed, "a large scale traffic inquiry". We all know what "large-scale traffic inquiry" means. It means a very, very long period of time and, at the end of it, a rather doubtful conclusion.

There has been a Government admission that lorry transport is unsatisfactory. I have here an admission by the Minister dealing with transport in a debate in the House of Commons. He said that there are several areas in South London where the presence of heavy traffic merely exacerbates road conditions and is offensive to local residents. The Minister went on to say that the Government are dissatisfied with existing conditions and are trying hard to find a way of making progress. I very much hope that when he replies tonight to that admission by one of his colleagues the Minister will be able to tell us what is to happen and when it is to happen. Only when that occurs shall we see some improvement in lorry transport in North London.

That traffic which originates in London fills many streets with unnecessary congestion at the busiest hours. Again I would suggest the designation of certain central streets which should be marked, "No stopping for commercial vehicles between 8 am and 5 pm". I appreciate the social change which such an introduction would involve—staggered hours of work for drivers and staffs. But we all know that social change must be accepted. Equally, in some streets where loading and unloading is an essential part of our commercial life, particularly around places like markets and docks, I should like there to be notices which read, "No stopping for private cars".

The third and last category of traffic, which I think is the most important category, is private cars. I believe we should provide considerable assistance if the Government and local authorities were to encourage commuter parking development to a much greater degree than has occurred hitherto. The more commuters who park their cars and finish their journey in public transport the better for British Rail, on which they may travel, and for London Transport, on which they may travel. The more cars that are kept out of London because of the provision of commuter car parks the better for the traffic and the better for the GLC. The more commuter car parks there are the better also for local authorities, because they will obtain rates from them. There is much to be said for the development of commuter car parks. Those in authority should consider whether it would be possible to have a series of partnerships for commuter car parks based on a combination of British Rail, London Transport and local authorities. It might be possible to link commuter travel from the car park to the centre by the issue of rail tickets combined with car park tickets.

I come to parking in Central London, a very vexed question. I say: do not further reduce resident or meter parking but, rather, enforce—that is a word which I think needs much stressing—enforce strictly existing regulations and also increase penalties for unauthorised parking and all-day parking by feeding meters, a practice which we all know too well.

Enforcement is the key to any early traffic improvement. I will give an example. Recently the police, in conjunction with the local authority, conducted a 14-day experiment in Tottenham Court Road of strict enforcement of regulations. The result was astounding to the authorities and certainly astounding to the travelling public. Traffic flow was revolutionised, compared with hitherto. I should like to see further development of such enforcement experiments and then a general level of enforcement. We all know that very shortly we are going to have to pay £10 for illegal parking. I do not think this is sufficient. For double parking or for parking on a pavement I should like there to be a pink ticket. I believe there should be two coloured tickets; a white one for an ordinary offence and a pink one for parking on a double yellow line or for parking on the pavement. I would certainly make the pink ticket carry an automatic penalty of £20.

That brings me to the question of traffic wardens. By and large, with certain exceptions, they are an admirable body of people who are doing a very unpleasant job under not easy circumstances, and they are doing it, in the main, thoroughly courteously and efficiently. Enforcement would require a considerable increase in the number of wardens. But let wardens concentrate not on easy residential squares. Let wardens concentrate to a greater degree on main thoroughfares and adjacent roads to those thoroughfares. I only hope that the Minister will note that point and make suggestions to those in charge of the organisation of parking that they should concentrate more upon the main thoroughfares and less on the side streets.

Turning to finance for more wardens, although I have tried to find out, I am puzzled about the standard practice of local authorities over the revenue received for parking. Some earmark it specifically for road improvements, others designate it for traffic wardens, while others make a considerable profit from it. I should like the revenues from parking to be concentrated upon traffic wardens in order to enlarge the army of traffic wardens. Next I come to the matter of late evenings. I would leave the matter of late evenings in London alone. There is no great traffic problem there. Dangerous parking can be dealt with by the Metropolitan Police with their tow-away organisation. So it is really at particular hours during the daytime that congestion is greatest, that new regulations are required and that enforcement is imperative.

I would like to see more one-way streets—I believe we all would—more bus lanes, and possibly even temporary flyovers, if only we could stop the tremendous delay which takes place in planning and consent for temporary structures. Every measure I have suggested would affect some public or private interest and is bound to meet with resistance in some quarters, but unless we all accept the need for urgent action now, in an understanding frame of mind, we are going to get nowhere. May I finish by quoting a phrase not unknown in our political life and in the political history of this country: something must be done.

6.12 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for opening this debate and for giving us an opportunity to discuss this important matter as well as for the practical way in which he has put forward some valuable suggestions. I only hope that my suggestions will be equally valuable. I am pleased also that we are going to have the advantage of a maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone, whose vast experience as a previous leader of the Greater London Council will be very helpful to us in this debate. I recall that a former Prime Minister is alleged to have telephoned the noble Lord in Tokyo and told him to clear Parliament Square. Perhaps we may know tonight what proposals the noble Lord made.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that we must deal with the situation as it is at the moment, which could be aggravated by the possible and almost certain increase in the number of cars and lorries. The situation today would be even more desperate but for the services which are provided by our public transport system. The noble Lord referred to the number of cars which come into London each day. Over and above that figure, during the morning rush hour each day, some 900,000 passengers come into London using British Rail and London Transport's bus and underground services. Over and above that, far more people use public transport services on cross routes, and vast numbers use cars on cross routes. It is often where the cross routes converge with traffic bound for central London that huge congestion occurs.

Whether it is practical or not, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that we know that where there have been temporary flyovers a great benefit has been achieved—and if it is possible to do this elsewhere, let us see it done. Anyone who uses the Southend arterial road who knows what the conditions were like at Gallows' Corner long before we had the temporary flyover, will appreciate what great benefits can be secured. Setting aside all arguments about 40 tonne lorries which we shall have later, I am glad that the noble Lord referred to the problem of large lorries. When I travel into London by car I cross Graham Road in Hackney, which was featured in a BBC programme not so long ago. This suffers a continual procession of extra-large lorries, and not only does this interfere with traffic flow, but, in addition, this is a road which large numbers of people use as their residential road. We have to live with the lorry, but I believe we must contain its effect both on traffic flow and on the environment.

There are already powers for excluding lorries from certain areas and for defining lorry routes. One thing we must always be aware of is that, whenever one defines a lorry route, one pleases some people but upsets others. I believe that the GLC found this out in a survey they conducted a few years ago. Speaking for myself, there is one thing I am very definite about. Any suggestion of a general ban on lorries in London is absolute nonsense, both for economic reasons and because it would be impracticable to administer. Lorries of more than 40 feet are already excluded from a six square mile central area. This helps that particular area, but it also presents acute problems for the roads just adjacent to the area from which those lorries of 40 feet or more are excluded.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to the M25 orbital road because, while that may bring some improvement, the Armitage Report has stressed that benefits would be limited—and I quote, to a maximum of 5 per cent. of all lorries because so great a proportion of the lorries have business in London". So while there will be some benefit in moving around London, there is always that problem in the end. In paragraph 235, the Armitage Report also points out the difficulty of enforcing the present limited controls on lorries. I quote: The GLC have found a 40 per cent. infringement rate in central London for their length restriction in spite of improved signing, a number of prosecutions, and the involvement of significant police resources". The next paragraph of the Armitage Report disturbingly points out that the police do not give high priority to devoting resources to lorry control. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point in the Armitage Report, because if it is correct there is not much use our talking about further control to expedite the flow of traffic by dealing with lorries if the police do not regard this as a high priority.

I wonder also whether greater encouragement could not be given to the development of transhipment centres. These could be established on the M25 and other motorways, and also near the start of some urban clearways, where loads of large vehicles can be broken down into smaller vehicles for delivery. I know it will be suggested by road haulage interests that this is costly, but we must consider the present cost to the environment and the cost of congestion on our London roads.

On the question of car parking, I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the problem is the avoidance of obstruction—and that is the real purpose of on-street parking control—and this obviously means enforcement. No one wants to harass private motorists—most of the Members of your Lordships' House are motorists—but this important question of enforcement is one to which we must pay some regard. In our debate the other night on the orange badge scheme for the disabled the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes referred also to the shortage of traffic wardens at the present time. The latest figure I have, which comes from a GLC document, is that the number of traffic wardens is down to 1,200, while the required strength is 2,500. We must ask why. Is it because conditions of work are unfavourable? Is it because people do not like the way they are treated by motorists? Or is it a question of wages? Someone needs to tell us why it is, especially in these days of unemployment in London as elsewhere, that we cannot get the number of traffic wardens we need. Without an effective number of traffic wardens, all our talk of enforcement is pie in the sky.

We are also concerned to learn that the courts are able to deal with only 20 per cent. of parking tickets not paid within the statutory period for payment as a fixed penalty. If that is so, then, together with the other factors to which reference has been made, it means that the system of parking control is in absolute disrepute and people take no notice of it. Yet I believe we all agree that the enforcement of parking control is essential. A way must be found to see that parking penalty tickets are paid. There must be both a foolproof system and a cheatproof system. I cannot believe that with our modern computer records at the licensing department in Swansea there should ever be any problem in "chasing" individuals who have offended.

I agree completely with the criticism of the noble Lord of the large contravention of the regulations through meter feeding and exceeding the time paid. I understand that no less than one-third of the users of the 15,000 meter spaces in central London come under that offence. The number of illegal parkings on yellow lines which impede traffic flow, and in many cases cause traffic flow to be in one lane instead of two, is very substantial. I am told that 20,000 cars each day are parked illegally on yellow lines in central London alone. Enforcement again is the important factor if you are going to reduce obstruction of traffic flow. The GLC has sought legal powers to introduce wheel clamps. This was discussed in the debate on the 1981 Traffic Act and I was prepared to second the Motion. I think the Minister was looking at this matter. But I regard this as a last resort. I believe that clamp sets are expensive. Obviously this is the thing to do for removal from a dangerous position, but again, if there is shortage of police resources in dealing with obstructions, that is a factor which we have to consider. Again it comes down to the question of resources available to those who have to carry out enforcement.

Then we must look at the question of the provision of off-street parking. I know noble Lords would not want too many figures, but in central London I understand there are 32,000 spaces provided in public off-street parking, one-third of which are controlled and owned by local authorities. But there are another 60,000 spaces provided in office buildings. How far should the number of cars coming into the centre be controlled by increasing charges? The GLC can tackle this matter on the public car parks, but it has no powers at present—I do not believe there is legislation—to deal with the position of the 60,000 which are in the private car parking provided in office buildings and so on. The 60,000 is something more than half of the non-resident parking places in central London.

We are also told that 70 per cent. of all new car purchases in London are for companies. I must ask the question, is travel by car always essential because there are business visits that have to be made during the day, or in many cases is the car an employment benefit?—in which case one ought to look at this problem. The effect of the company car situation is reflected by a survey conducted of parkers in central London. This showed that 38 per cent. had company cars; 68 per cent. were persons whose work made other trips necessary after they had parked, and therefore their situation is understandable. Some 40 per cent. actually had their parking provided for them. If we take 68 per cent. of parkers needing to move their cars later for important business engagements, which one can understand, that still leaves 30 per cent., and 30 per cent. is something like 40,000 cars coming into the centre which have no need to move again once they are parked.

For many years I worked not far from here, in Smith Square. I never travelled up by car unless I was going to a late-night meeting either in London or in the provinces. But I looked across the road yesterday at the Abingdon Street car park, with 250 places, at quite an early time; there were "House Full" notices, " Season Tickets Only ". If I tell your Lordships that the parking fee for between six and nine hours is £3.15, which is £16 a week, then it must be people with very high salaries or people who have the whole of their expenses paid by the company. I am certain I could never have afforded that.

There is always the danger, too, that whatever we do in central London could worsen the situation in adjacent inner London areas. We have to consider the problem of making a worse situation in the near inner London areas; often that is where congestion occurs. When I travel to this House by car, as I do when we are sitting late—I never travel when I have an early morning meeting because it takes longer—I have to cross central London through the City. I can assure your Lordships that the worst congestion is in the inner London areas, not the central London areas, where the routes cross over and where all the lorries are diverted.

I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, referred to encouraging the maximum number of motorists to leave their cars at car parks and travel in by public transport. It was a very welcome step when we found BR stations and London Transport making this provision. I make two pleas in regard to this: first, charges must be kept to a minimum if we are to encourage people to do it; secondly, the number of parking places in the suburban areas must be adequate—and this affects outer London as well as the GLC. I am in the first district council over the London barrier. I can tell your Lordships that quite a number of travellers put their cars in the car parks, but the car parking facility is very limited and people overflow into neighbouring residential streets and shopping areas and create a nuisance or an obstruction to traffic flow.

It is, I believe, impracticable to carry out what has been suggested in some quarters, a system of licensing for entry into central London. I believe the administration would be almost impossible. If we cannot cope with the illegal operation of meters and illegal car parking on yellow lines, I am certain we are not going to cope with a customs place at every entry into London to see that people have the entitlement to come in.

Surveys show that in most cars travelling into central London there is only the driver; I am told the average is 1.3 persons per car. We must ask ourselves: why do people travel in and out each day by car, with all the inconvenience and frustration, despite travelling at the same time morning and night and not shifting their car once they get here? We have to understand why. A number do it because of the cost of public transport. This applies particularly to those in the south of London—I live in the north-east—who have no underground service to speak of and rely mainly on British Rail. The costs to many people are prohibitive, and they find it worthwhile having all the frustration of travelling in by car to central London. We have to consider what will encourage car owners not to suffer this frustration and to make use of other methods of travelling into central London. It surely can only be by the provision of suburban car parks reasonably priced, and the provision of adequate and reasonably priced public transport.

I do not want to go into the political arguments surrounding the recent House of Lords judgment, but we must consider what is to be the policy. How do we encourage an efficient public transport system, which already in London carries, on average, 4½ million persons a day? If we take out Saturday and Sunday it means something like 5½ million people using public transport services already. How are we going to increase that number? Whatever one says about the Fair Fares policy, it was an effort to try to meet the needs of people in London and to get cars off the roads. Therefore, I must ask: What do the Government propose to assist the GLC to meet this situation?—because we are going to be faced in the very near future with higher fares on public transport in London as a result of the Lords judgment. We are going to be faced in the immediate future with a reduction of services, a contraction of services. Frankly, unless we tackle this problem we are not going to find it possible to divert people from using cars and come in by some other method, because public transport will be the only means. I agree we want it to be efficient. I am reasonably satisfied with my Underground service. I get from Buckhurst Hill, even though I have to change at Mile End. Unless the Government have some policy for assisting the GLC, I believe we are going to have increased traffic problems in the years ahead.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I must agree with the last speaker. I am absolutely certain that, as things stand at present, we shall have increased traffic problems, and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for raising this question at this moment. It seems to me that all of us are going to say variations on the same theme. However, there are three or four absolutely obvious things which could be done, which must be done, and I hope that this debate will make them clear.

First, I should like to support the noble Lord, who opened the debate in his demand for a dynamic effort, because that is what there conspicuously is not. There are a number of different people working very hard on different problems but there is no dynamic effort at the moment and that is what we must have. The situation was already visibly deteriorating even before the GLC capers, and after the legal decision it is perfectly clear that it will be deliberately worsened and two things will be done which are the opposite to what ought to be done; fares will be increased and services will be reduced. They are the opposite of what everybody in this Chamber not only wants, but knows must happen. Therefore, we must look for some kind of concerted effort.

It is ridiculous not to recognise the social and commercial side of passenger transport. I found the views on commercial transport of the noble Lord who opened entirely satisfactory and I shall not talk about commercial transport because I think that he has dealt with it, with some additions from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I shall confine myself to passenger transport which is something about which I know, because I use it every day. The waste of time, the waste of petrol, the damage to the nerves, the noise, the fumes, the accidents, the deaths and the terrible conditions for old people humping their baggage about and all the rest of it is a disgrace to this country. We must have a comprehensive plan. I think that the noble Lord was absolutely right to limit it to six years. It is no good going too far ahead. But the money should be set aside in a phased plan and this Government, the next Government and the one after that should either keep to it or be seen clearly not to be keeping to it and we the public can then blame them for it.

I should like to tell your Lordships one or two short facts. In London the buses carry three times as many passengers as does the Underground—5½ million; 1¾ million every day. Secondly, each train mile more or less breaks even financially: each bus mile costs 80p. Therefore, the common sense approach here is that we should try to extend the scope of the Underground and switch more passengers to it. How can that be done? To extend the Underground is expensive and long term and comes outside the six years, to some extent, but it is a good investment. The LPTB suggest various extensions which they think would be not only efficient but economic, but they say that there is no immediate prospect of capital becoming available for any of them. That is the counsel of despair and that is what is so fearfully frustrating. Sir Peter Masefield somewhere suggests that at least two miles a year of Underground extensions should be undertaken; I think that we should demand a minimum of that. We must not succumb to the hope-destroying rule of the Treasury; never buy today what you can pay more for tomorrow. But I admit that the Underground extensions are long term. If the service were better, more people would use it. Therefore, that is the next common sense approach which has been made by both the previous speakers.

At present the current capital investment of the Underground is about £140 million a year and it is perfectly clearly inadequate. What would make it adequate I do not know, but that could easily be found out. When I was a boy trains used to run every two minutes. Last night I left this House at a quarter to six, which was absolutely the middle of the rush hour. I waited for five minutes on Westminster station and for eight minutes on the Embankment station. Both plat-forms were dangerously crowded and the trains were only fit for sardines. Nobody will travel by tube in these conditions if he can avoid doing so. This is a perfectly simple question. Sir Peter Masefield and his colleagues know how to make a railway run properly, but they are not given the money to do it.

The only point on which I differed from the noble Lord who opened, is that it is no good not talking about money. There is not any other serious problem. Given the money you can make all the stations as good as the new Embankment station or Charing Cross, both of which are very nice. If you came to Chalk Farm, you would see a very serious difference—the wind is so strong going down the stairs that you cannot stand up. There are all sorts of things which are dreadful about the tubes but they need not be—the skeleton of the service is absolutely first-class. So at least we should extend the tubes every year by a small amount and at least we should give them the necessary money to run them properly.

I turn to the buses. The buses lose 80p, a bus mile. So the more people we put on the buses the more we shall have to subsidise, but that I think must be accepted. We are told that if they ran every day at the same speed as they run on the less congested Saturday roads, they would go 15 per cent. faster and save £30 million a year.

There are two main reasons why they are congested, both of which are perfectly obvious and have already been mentioned. First, parking; and secondly, private cars—too many, and many of them with just the driver. Common sense suggests, which the noble Lord worked towards, that a heavy fine—I said £30 and he said £20 or £25; I do not mind the figure, so long as it is a heavy fine—should be substituted and there should be enough traffic wardens to enforce it. The GLC say that they have just about half as many traffic wardens as they need. There may be difficulty in getting them. I do not believe that that difficulty is insuperable. In my view, with a little bit more money and a little bit more attention, they could get it.

The first debate I ever opened in this House was on penal affairs and as an example of the fact that sanctions sometimes work, I said that if any parking offender was strapped to the parking meter and given 40 strokes of a split bamboo there would be no more parking offences. That is clearly true. I am not suggesting that, but I am suggesting a heavy fine which is rigidly enforced. My belief is that that by itself would do more to let the buses run not in triple ranks as they invariably do now. If you want a No. 137, you cannot get less than three. It is not their fault: it is the fault of the traffic. I believe that such a situation could be avoided by this matter aloned—dealing properly with parking. In my view, we must, between us today—and I think that everybody will, as it were, vote for it—insist that whatever else you do not do, you must do this.

When it comes to too many cars and solo drivers, there is only one way to deal with that; namely, to make motoring short distances in London so disagreeable and expensive that people stop doing it. I stopped driving here in a car years ago, although it is the one place where we have the splendid perk of a car park, so you can do so. But nobody can drive legally around London and hope to park legally. It simply is not possible. If people want to go shopping, they have to stop and that is the end of the matter.

So we must do what we can. The price of petrol and maintenance is doing the best for us and, if we could enforce the car parking, it would be all right.

Thirdly, British Railways—who run, in London and the South East, the most intensive commuter service in the world—are in exactly the same position as the Underground although, of course, on a larger scale. If we look at what Sir Peter Parker says, we find that they do not have enough money to maintain their stocks, their signalling and the other things they have to do to make travelling by rail attractive. Actually, they are already full and pretty well up to capacity in the commuter times. By careful advertising and salesmanship they have increased their passenger traffic between peak hours by about 25 per cent. This is very valuable and very good; it takes people off the roads.

But Sir Peter said that he had had to extend the use of his coaches from 30 to 40 years. A 40-year old coach is getting on. Clearly, the equipment is deteriorating in a way that will make it more expensive to put right when it becomes too old, and so on. I do not want to go on too long because I think that everybody will agree with me, and I shall agree with everybody else; and I hope that we shall get somewhere.

However, I should like to refer to the noble Lord's vicious circle. This is not quite a vicious circle. One remedy will not deal with this situation; it needs several remedies. In my opinion, if you dealt with car parking, if you dealt with the Underground, and if you dealt with the bus service, one by one, they would improve one another. If a few more people went on to the Underground, if fewer cars were parked in the way, the buses would go faster and gradually the service would become better. Without a good public service there is no hope of putting matters right.

I just want to conclude with these few words. I never understand what lawyers are doing and it seemed to me, after a very superficial look through the papers, that someone had suggested that public passenger transport should not be subsidised. This cannot be true. If someone did suggest that, it should be altered at once. There is not the slightest question that public passenger transport must always be subsidised. It must be subsidised a good deal more than it is at the moment. We must face that. I hope that the dynamic effort which sets out those things that must be done as an absolute minimum can be phased over six years, and that we can force our Governments at least to allow that expenditure in order to keep this great capital a place in which we can live.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for enabling me to join in this debate. I enter into it with some caution as the subject of central Inner London congestion has been a matter of contention for a very long time. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, remarked, a Prime Minister was forced to comment upon this on another occasion.

I hope that your Lordships will accept that the points which I shall endeavour to make are in no way intended to be provocative, but are merely to seek a solution. My credentials are that I was at one time Opposition Leader on the Roads Committee of the London County Council and on the Highways and Traffic Committee of the Greater London Council. Subsequently, for some six years I had overall responsibility as Leader of the Greater London Council. From the 1960s to 1973 there was largely a bi-partisan policy at County Hall which enabled several much-needed long-term measures to be taken to alleviate the problems of road congestion in London and Greater London. This agreement became even more important on the advent of the Greater London Council because of the likelihood of a change of political control from time to time.

My experience on this has been that traffic congestion in Inner London cannot really be solved only by measures that are taken there. Unless long-term commitments are adhered to, the necessary changes simply cannot be made. As I see it, the solution to Inner London's congestion must surely be found in an overall strategy, which will, in fact, take many years to implement, and also be part of an integrated transportation plan with public transport, which has a vital part to play.

From the start—and, indeed, with very few exceptions—London's roads were unplanned and just grew up from the centre, like the spokes of a wheel, to meet the needs of the horse and carriage. Little or no action was taken in building roads to enable movements to be made round or across the area during the rapid expansion of London in the 19th century and of the suburbs during the early 1920s. As a result of this, traffic is constantly directed towards the centre to find its way across the area, and long-term solutions are conveniently shelved while conditions become steadily worse.

Although successive Governments planned and constructed massive motorways pointing to the Greater London area from all sides, little or nothing was done to receive and disperse this traffic, which could only force its way through suburban shopping centres and down residential roads. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people are condemned to live on the principal radial routes within a few feet of heavily trafficked roads and all the damaging effects there are of noise and fumes. On the few routes which have been planned and completed, it is very striking indeed that, in the long interim period to completion, housing and offices have been successively constructed so that the design minimises the environmental problems and gives much improved living and working conditions for those alongside.

I agree that lorries cannot just be banned from the central area. I do not think that that is any solution. If they are to be put on lorry routes, as has already been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, then what is good for some people will be bad for others. Ninety-two per cent. of goods in Inner London are carried by road, and nearly everything that one eats, wears, uses or reads comes by a motor vehicle. Surely it is time that provision was made for this flexible form of transport and thus reduce costs to the consumer. The hidden costs of congestion must now be enormous and, with the high cost of fuel, the need for action is even more urgent.

If I may say so, it is only when one deals with the huge area of Greater London and the impact of the built-up areas beyond it that one can appreciate how large it is. It is evident that the decline in industrial development in London has to some considerable extent been brought about by the poor quality of the capital's inadequate road system. A great deal has been said about the need to complete the outer orbital route known as the M.25, which it is said will syphon off traffic passing through the central area. But I think that this ignores the enormous generation of essential traffic journeys actually created within the area surrounded by the M.25.

Traffic in London is made up of a complex mass of cross-country journeys, not only for commercial purposes but also by the more than 50 per cent. of households who own a car; over 90 per cent. of those journeys originate and finish within Greater London. In order to relieve the congestion in Inner London from time to time various palliatives have been taken, starting with white lines, yellow lines, on-street and off-street parking schemes, traffic management schemes, one-way streets and banning right-hand and left-hand turns. Most of the opportunities to do more on these have run out and all depend, as has already been said, on enforcement, which is so clearly lacking at the moment.

One of the matters for which I pressed the Government very strongly when I was on the GLC was owner liability. This meant that when the car was transgressing one could serve the summons on the owner and not on the driver. It was surprising how many people suffered from amnesia when they were asked who was driving on a particular day. We got the legislation, but it was not taken further. When the licensing of vehicles was removed from the GLC to Swansea and to the large computer, which we all hope is working now, it was then intended that an offence should be marked on the computer and when the driver came to renew his licence he was told, " Yes, when you have paid your fines. " I still think that this would be a very good penalty, and would deal only with those who transgress.

Now everywhere cars are parked on the pavements, which is a danger to pedestrians and of course breaks the pavingstones. Unless regulations are enforced they inevitably fall into disrepute. More and more people find that the regulations can be ignored. Thus the congestion escalates and the problem is compounded. I would submit that over the next six years it is essential to strengthen enforcement, and at the same time to invest in a long-term programme of primary roads in Greater London, especially to exist with the existing motorways outside.

Although I would very much like to comment on London Transport, I feel that this would not be the occasion. But, as has been said by other speakers, an improved road system is not the only consideration. It is also vital that we maintain, and indeed improve in order to obtain, an efficient public transport system, as each—that is, dealing with enforcement and the public transport system—is essential to London and a solution to congestion. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour that something must be done, and quickly.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I know that your Lordships would wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, on one of the most knowledgeable maiden speeches we have listened to for a long time. I am very happy that the luck of the draw should give me the privilege of congratulating him because he and I both served together on Marylebone Borough Council many years ago, and I then had the privilege of congratulating him on his maiden speech in that council. I am very happy indeed to tell your Lordships that it was just as good as the speech he has made tonight. I hope that we shall hear him frequently because he obviously speaks with great knowledge.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, who introduced this valuable debate, was, like Lord Plummer and myself, an inhabitant of St. Marylebone. He and I lived in the next street to each other. He will remember that the streets in those days were peaceful and quiet little backwaters. If he went down them now he would find—leaving aside today as being a special occasion because of the strike—that they are once again parking places, and on the pavement at that. I therefore endorse the remark that he has made, as many other noble Lords have too, about the need for enforcement. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate will be able to confirm that some steps are being taken to increase the number of wardens who, with all their misfortunes, are at least doing a job as best as they possibly can.

The noble Lord, Lord Plummer, also referred to the horse and cart. When I first joined your Lordships' House—and I had the honour of joining here some 39 or 40 years ago—I remember hearing with pleasure one of the senior policemen here telling me that as a young policeman one of his duties was to hold my father's horse when he dismounted at the riding block, which was then at the front door of Westminster Hall, and help him off with his spurs because he was not allowed to wear spurs in the House. I think my father was the last Member of Parliament to ride there on horseback and take his place. He had to give it up because he could not get across Marble Arch in safety. My Lords, you could not get across Marble Arch in safety now in an armoured car. You only have to stand and look at the traffic outside our own door during the rush hours to realise how serious the traffic on that main artery is. Only this country would allow a main artery to drive right through the main capital city of the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, went out of his way to say that we are not to discuss long-term remedies. I quite understand that. But the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, has endorsed the fact that we must not forget them; we must not overlook them. I think it was Voltaire who said that the best was the enemy of the good. The best, of course, is putting a main road system right; but I quite agree that we should not over-look some of the smaller things that can be done.

I agree with two noble Lords opposite who praised the Underground. It is far and away the best way of travelling around London. We have done a good deal since the war: the Jubilee line; the Victoria line; the extension out to Heathrow; the rebuilding of several stations. If there are any pennies going spare I would say give priority to the Underground. Reinforce success. It is by far and away the best way of getting around.

Let me turn to two or three of the smaller things which have been ventured in the past but seem to have gone by default. We have moved out Billingsgate and Covent Garden. There was an appalling row when this was started but it seems to be working all right. What about Smithfield? What about Spitalfields? What about many of the other congested centres of London which could be moved out—only, of course, after a considerable row; we have to face that.

We used to talk did we not?, about the staggering of working hours. This was done to a considerable extent, but that seems to have gone by default. I have asked many people in businesses with which I have contact whether they stagger their working hours, and only a few do. Why cannot we revive that? Why cannot we revive the movement of business out of London to the country and the suburbs? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who was the Minister who started that.

Croydon, which used to be a small suburban town, is now a large commercial city. Some of the seaside resorts have also followed suit. But this is lagging. It should be revived. We should find more means of encouraging people, and private firms as well to move, out. What about shops on Saturdays? There was some talk of that in days gone by. Do your Lordships realise that Fifth Avenue in New York, one of the principal shopping centres of the world, is open all Saturday? I believe that a few of our principal shops in the centre of London are open on a Saturday, but very few indeed.

What about taxis? taxi meters, that is, not the taxes you pay. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has a Question down on 4th February about taxis. I shall be interested to see how the Government deal with it. Taxis are a paradox. They are never there when you want them. If you do get them you cannot afford them. And always, if you want one urgently in the rain, they are travelling home in the opposite direction from yourself with their lights switched off. When I was a boy there used to be many taxi ranks around London. They have almost entirely vanished. I know of half a dozen, and no more. There is one in Sloane Square; a very obvious one. They take the taxis off the street where they are cruising, wasting time, money and petrol, and blocking up the streets. They are there where you want them, where you know the taxi rank is, and they always do a good business there. Why cannot we revive the taxi ranks that we had in the old days?

I appreciate that these are only small remedies, and when we get up and try to go home after this debate we shall see the big trouble that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, told us that we must not discuss: that is, enormous, thundering hordes now going up to 40 tonnes, past our own front door in the House of Lords—where, incidentally, I should like to see a taxi rank installed as soon as possible. How serious the situation is was brought to my notice only a few weeks ago when I was coming down to listen to a debate on defence in your Lordships' House. I was stuck behind a lorry for about 10 minutes in Belgrave Square. The taxi driver said sympathetically " I hope you are not pressed for time, gov'nor ", to which I replied, " I am, rather. I am going to listen to a debate on defence in the House of Lords ". " Defence? Don't worry about that, " he said. " If the Russians ever get here, they'll never get any further than Hyde Park Corner ". Voltaire said that we must not let the best be the enemy of the good. We have discussed the good today and have left the best, which is the main road, strictly alone. But let us remember Voltaire's next line: The best is the enemy of the good, but it is often an excuse for doing nothing ". I hope today we can prove Voltaire wrong.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, I wish at the outset to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, on his maiden speech, coupled with the hope that he will draw from the well of experience of his distinguished career often to address your Lordships' House in the future. The terms of the Motion for the debate are drawn very simply, but, while supporting their irrefutable contention that traffic in Inner London is getting more congested, I cannot agree with the implication that that applies equally to commercial, public and private transport. My own experience and the data from the supervising bodies which I shall quote shows that some of those categories are increasing, some rather steady and others decreasing, albeit with a marginal overall increase, which is not quite what the Motion says.

I have no special vested interest to declare except that, as president of the Islington Society, I am committed to trying to support that arguably worst affected United Kingdom borough from total traffic strangulation. I warmly thank Transport 2000 and LATA, the London Amenity and Transport Association, for the collection of data I shall use, but in all cases I shall quote the origin of the data and, as is the custom in your Lordships' House, take personal responsibility for any errors and omissions.

London traffic is like an onion and is best analysed in the same way; that is, by peeling it layer by layer and examining the result. I believe the true picture to be mercifully simple and clear, although many would obscure and confuse it to make themselves wiser by their understanding, and—to use that awful modish word— "interpretation" of it to the rest of us. To try to present a balanced picture, I may wish to repeat some figures we have already heard, and I hope noble Lords will bear with me.

The first layer of my transport onion is total traffic density. Inner London percentage changes in traffic levels increased by only 1 per cent. in the seven years from 1973 to 1979, or on average less than .2 per cent a year. That may surprise many, but my figures are drawn from an impeccable source, the historical data in the Greater London Council Traffic Planning Programme for 1981–84 published, as required by the department, annually, and in this case in 1980. Indeed, these total traffic figures are so full that the changes in level are stated month by month for all the 84 months of the 1973 to 1979 seven-year period. If the actual level in 1973 is taken as a base of 100, the corresponding levels for the next six years, to 1979, were 99, 97, 97, 98, 101 and 101, or a 1 per cent. net increase, as I mentioned—very moderate.

The second layer of my transport onion is that of all commercial traffic. Evidence given by the department to the Armitage Inquiry, which reported last year, showed that in the five years from 1973 to 1977, goods lifted by road transport fell from 1,672 to 1,422 million tonnes, or by 14.95 per cent.; let us call that 15 per cent. or on average 5 per cent. a year. More recent figures were not quoted to that fairly new inquiry and therefore, subject to anything the Minister may tell us, are not available. However, while I understand that the trend in national commercial road tonnage is again upwards, so far as I have been able to discover, it does not look like approaching anything like the 1973 levels in the foreseeable future. So the total weight of freight on all United Kingdom roads was down from 1973 to 1977 and now rises only slowly. And, without specifying actual figures, the department confirmed to Armitage that the figures for London were similar.

Contributory causes for that, perhaps surprising, fact may be conjectured in the closing of the London Docks and the fact that the resident population of London is falling sharply, combined with the greater part played in commercial freight movement by airports and other United Kingdom seaports. But, although it may never reach 1973 levels, the trend of commercial traffic is again upwards, and what is of more concern to us here today perhaps, the vehicles used are getting bigger and less manoeuvrable, causing more congestion by virtue of their size than by their change in number.

Next I wish to consider public transport. The GLC TPP, already quoted, states in Annex C the number of passengers entering Central London between 7 and 10 a.m. daily. By London Transport bus it was 157,000 in 1969, 144,000 in 1973 and 103,000 only in 1980, a fall in 11 years of 34 per cent., of which over half took place in the last two years. I shall return in a few moments to the part buses must play, but, on present evidence, there is no congestion from that vehicle category's passenger demand. Indeed, simple arithmetic projection of the rate of decline of passenger travel into Central London by bus over the last four years of the period quoted—that is, for 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980—predicts that the decline is so staggering that the last passenger will be carried in 11.13 years from 1980—or, more digestibly, that every present Central London bus will be empty by 1992, which is in 10 years time. I wonder whether the Minister realises that. Did the bus passenger levels fall or were they pushed is a question I shall return to shortly?

Although tube and rail cannot contribute to Inner London traffic congestion, they are closely related and it is essential to see what has been happening to them. The London Underground passenger level has fallen by 20 per cent. over the 11 years 1969 to 1980. But, after a low in 1976 of 316,000 passengers each morning, there was an upwards trend in the next four years to 1980 of 8,000 per morning or ¾ per cent. per year. But these last years should surely have seen increasingly full use of the two completely new and extensive lines, the Jubilee and Victoria lines, which is hardly the interpretation I can get from an increase of ¾ per cent. per annum. So we add two complete underground lines to the seven existing, making, crudely, 29 per cent. extra underground lines, and get ¾ per cent. extra utilisation. There is something very wrong here.

Passengers entering central London by British Rail have fallen from 450,000 each morning in 1969 to 411,000 in 1980. Taken together, rail, underground and bus passenger numbers fell by 178,000, from 1,016,000 in 1969 to 838,000 in 1980, that being 17.5 per cent. or roughly 1½ per cent. a year, accounted for by falls of 9.5 per cent. on British Rail; 20 per cent. (but now rising again slowly) on the tube; and 34 per cent. down (and sharply worsening) on the buses.

The next and last category to consider is cars, together with motor and pedal cycles. Each morning, 105,000 cars entered central London in 1969, and by 1980 that had risen 31 per cent. to 138,000. Significantly, nearly one-third of the whole 11-year increase took place over the very last recorded year; namely, over 1979 to 1980. Motor and pedal cycles nearly doubled over the 11 years to reach 26,500 in 1980—surprisingly to me at least—to one-fifth of the level of all cars.

Consolidating the figures I have quoted for the 11-year period 1969 to 1980, the changes in inner London traffic levels were as follows: All traffic up 1.1 per cent., of which rail was down 9.5 per cent., tube down 20 per cent. but rising slowly again, buses down 34 per cent., and fast declining, cars up 31 per cent., and accelerating, and motor/pedal cycles nearly double.

Doctors say that fast performance is generally a reliable guide to future behaviour. Over the next six years specified in the wording of the Motion all traffic seems likely to move very slowly upwards in level. Those types using roads and contributing to congestion will exhibit widely different patterns; the tube will rise very slowly, buses will be over halfway to disappearing altogether, motor/pedal cycles will proliferate, and cars look like rising by an extra one for every five that we now have.

The total number of people entering central London each morning from 1969 to 1980 fell 17.5 per cent., but the proportion using private cars rose from 12.4 per cent. of the total in 1969 to 17.5 per cent. in 1980—an increase in cars approaching half as many again! We may calculate that if enough people switched from private cars to increase the usage of public transport by just 10 per cent., there would be a reduction in private cars of 45 per cent.

Older, but nevertheless interesting, information from the Greater London Development Plan inquiry of 1970, based on 1967 figures, showed that 67 per cent. of road traffic in central London was then cars, and I understand that there are approximately double the number of cars now.

Inner London has, I believe, got itself into a closed travelling-thought loop along the lines of, (as we have already heard) " I cannot rely on the number and frequency of buses, the tube only marginally attracts me, rail less, so I'll use my car ". Traffic management schemes are not working in diverting traffic, still less in restricting it, for, in 1968 (the latest year for which I have been able to discover the figures) the Metropolitan Police district issued 1½ million tickets—1,499,634 to be precise. Of those 1½ million, 52.3 per cent. were paid, 44.8 per cent. got away with it for seven different and specified reasons—some of them quite amusing—and a tiny 2.9 per cent. were brought to prosecution. So if you did not choose to pay, you had a 15 to 1 chance of getting away with it.

I believe that the Metropolitan Police commissioner has about only 1,200 wardens towards an agreed establishment of 2,000, and needs 4,000, he says to do the job effectively. I wonder whether the Minister believes that there is now an argument for separating all aspects of traffic management—parking, speeding, et cetera—away from the responsibility of the police, who I believe find the work inappropriate and disagreeable to their endeavours to maintain good relations with as many of the general public for as much of the time as possible.

The national game in Italy is avoiding paying income tax, and in London it seems to be " playing chicken " with the traffic wardens. Most illegal parking risks a £46 total fine if towed away, and usually is from within a few hundred yards of an organised, established parking facility usually at a rate (as we have already heard) of £3 to £4 per day.

The solution must be to attract travellers in, and into, Inner London back on to the buses, to reinforce an under-utilised tube network, and thereby provide the carrot, obviating the necessity to use the seductive, but in practice totally ineffective, stick of parking restriction penalties.

But, alas! just as the figures seem to show that passengers are being drawn back on to the tubes, I heard Mr. Tony Riley, manager of the London Transport Executive's Underground service say on LBC radio last week in an interview that he has been required by the executive to trim £10 million from the 1982 part of his forthcoming budget, equivalent to £15 million in a full year, and that he proposes to do this by cutting all tube operating hours from a 5.30 to a 6 a.m. start and back to a midnight from a half after midnight close down. This must surely encourage those planning to enjoy London nightlife to bring their cars in in the morning to be sure of getting home afterwards. But Mr. Riley did say that his measures need the approval of the Secretary of State under the Act. Please will the noble Earl restrain the Secretary of State from giving his approval?

GLC figures show, however, that the number of London Transport buses entering central London each morning between 7 and 10 o'clock has fallen from 4,000 in 1969 to 2,600 for each year from 1978 to 1980—that is, by 35 per cent. So, having had one-third of our buses taken away, is it surprising that people are collapsing, disgruntled into their motor-cars, exhausted, fed up, and half awake?—and each full double-decker bus is replaced by 80 to 90 single-passenger private cars, which must lead to rampant congestion.

Whatever the national debate on the "Fares Fair" policy has or has not decided, it has shown conclusively that the demand is there and that seats will be taken up again if the right financial deal is offered, for in the first three months the number of passengers, on each of what must have been the same number only of buses and tube trains, increased by about 10 per cent. That is an increase that is doubly significant when it is remembered that these increases were both in the teeth of adverse conditions; protracted bomb scares on the Underground, and bitter, icy weather—the coldest October for years, and protracted pre-Christmas snow—for the buses.

A comparison of subsidies for public transport for London compared with other capital cities show subsidies at the following levels: New York, 45 per cent.; Paris, 65 per cent.; West Berlin, 61 per cent.; Brussels, 70 per cent. And London? Livingstone would have given London 55 per cent. Full implementation of the Law Lords' recent judgment reduces this to only 25 per cent.—just over one-third of that of Paris.

Others more expert than I in law and economics must argue the mechanism for legal and affordable increased support, but one thing is certain: if we do not offer greater encouragement—and this means financial subsidy—to extensive, but under-utilised tubes and our dying bus service, congestion by private car will soon strangle Inner London.

Building more roads, reliefs, and by-passes is certainly no effective treatment for increasing congestion, which simply follows Parkinson's Law, fills the space available, and leaves our roads with Parkinson's disease. Maybe it is time to reconsider a toll on all vehicles entering this city. But these are "stick" techniques really. What the donkey needs is the "carrot" of financial subsidy for tubes and for buses. I see no alternative. Does the noble Earl who is to reply? I warmly welcome the spirit and the intention fo the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in setting down this Motion for debate.

7.17 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, first, I should like to add my congratulations to those already extended to my noble friend Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone. We are extremely fortunate that he chose this evening to make his maiden speech. I am also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for initiating the debate, because it enabled me to go to Scotland Yard last evening and very early this morning to visit its central traffic control and area traffic control, both of which I found extremely interesting. I was able to see at first-hand the enormous problems which the police face and to hear from them how they think things might be eased.

We all have the right of free passage on the highway, but it seems that we are becoming increasingly selfish and aggressive to achieve this ideal; and I also feel that we are less law-abiding, possibly because of lack of enforcement of regulations on parking in our cities. I think that we all have different figures, but from the figures that I have received I understand that of 12,000 vehicles illegally parked in central London each day, only one driver in 10 gets caught, despite 5,000 parking tickets being issued every day. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that a fine of £6 or £10 is completely unrealistic and that in this day and age we should think more in terms of £25. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that the car costs the London community more than crime.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour that there should be more, and larger, car parks alongside suburban stations, as is the case outside Paris. His suggestion that one should be able to buy a rail ticket at the same time as one pays for a car parking ticket seems to be an extremely good one, which surely would not cost much.

I do not understand why taxis cannot be called for from, for example, the Hyde Park car park, which is not the most convenient of car parks. I understand there are no means of getting a taxi there. I wonder whether the GLC should not have direct control over all public car parks, in the commuter areas as well. Another thing I should like to know is this. I walk and I use London buses a great deal; I do not like the Underground very much, but that, I think, is a female reaction. Why are our buses not controlled centrally by computer, as in many major cities? This would surely prevent the bunching which infuriates one as a passenger, and in itself causes congestion. Are there enough bus stations in the centre of London, so that these vehicles, when they are not needed, can be parked?

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the scheme which was used in Tottenham Court Road to enforce regulations. I understand that the £20,000 experiment roughly equated with the resulting fines; and, hopefully, this might be used again. I was hearing from the police, and was shown by them, what happened when there is a breakdown. If one lane of a two-lane highway is blocked—it was the Blackwall Tunnel, I think, this morning—a mile of queue forms every six minutes; so any noble Lord who is sitting in his car about six miles from Blackwell Tunnel may have some sympathy with the police who are trying to sort out the problem. It is not their fault if it takes a little time.

My Lords, I appreciate that I have not really produced anything in the way of a solution but have posed a number of questions, and decisions will have to be taken. But what can we do now to alleviate the congestion? This evening, no one has mentioned the clamp—I believe it is called the Denver clamp—or the Hannibal wheel lock, and I wonder whether, if it is introduced, it might be called either the Howell Hasp or possibly the Avon Arm lock. But in this clamp, which I saw today—and I hope it will be accepted—it seems we have an excellent deterrent. I tried it out for size, and it weighs about 24 lbs, so 50 of these could be taken in a van with a team of four policemen. The great advantage of it is its simplicity, and, being bright yellow, it is easily visible. I feel sure it would deter any of your Lordships who saw it attached to an offending car in the street. I understand that the cost is about £200 to £250 per clamp—that was the price I was given today—and police in Central London would require 300 of them to do the job effectively.

Another reason for using the clamp is that car manufacturers—and they include British Leyland, with their new, wonderful Mini Metro—are making their vehicles far more thief-proof. This means that in some cases, whereas previously the police have been called and have been able to get into a car and drive it to the pound, they are now unable to do that. That is so even in the case of the small cars; and very often, as your Lordships know, the transporter which takes these cars to the pound is a large vehicle and in narrow streets cannot get near to the transgressing car; so we have an unending problem.

Like other noble Lords, I feel that decisions to deal with congestion in our capital city must not be taken on any political grounds. Co-ordination between all interested parties is absolutely vital, and I hope that this evening the Minister will give us some encouragement as to the future of our great city.

7.25 p.m

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those expressed to my noble friend Lord Balfour for putting this subject down on the Order Paper, so enabling this debate to take place; and I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, on a most admirable and well-informed maiden speech. We long, I think, to hear Lord Plummer's second speech, which may be more controversial, because his views on the operations of London Transport and the Law Lords would indeed be fascinating; and doubtless we shall have the opportunity to do so.

I should also like to thank Lord Underhill for the tone in which he spoke for the Opposition; and the fact that the great majority of speakers in this debate will be agreeing on some of the major questions at issue is, I think, in itself significant. But, if I may, I should like to go slightly wider than Lord Balfour himself did in introducing the debate because Lord Balfour said he was specifically going to exclude the long-term ideas about how much public transport there should be and who should pay for it, and personally I think this is the heart of the question of congestion in Inner London.

First, I think I should say, as someone who uses London Transport regularly, frequently and intensively, that it really ought to be said, in relation to the figures that Lord Broadbridge drew to the attention of the House in what I think was a fascinating contribution, that the reason why the private motorist uses his private car in London is because the service on the public system has been deteriorating. The regrettable situation resulting from the industrial dispute on the railways has revealed that there are immense advantages to individuals and to the community as a whole in having private transport available, so that they can in fact get into London even when the railways are not operating.

I remember on one occasion when we had a London Transport strike as well—I think it was in 1958, as I recollect—that even so the city continued to function, even in those days, when there were many fewer private car owners than there are today, largely because the private car was there. So I think we must not take it as axiomatic that the person who uses a private car is necessarily acting against the public interest. The reason why he is using a private car, as I think almost all your Lordships have said tonight, is because of the problem of public transport, and it is that particular question that I want to raise tonight.

There have been repeated suggestions for a co-ordinated strategy for public transport in Inner London, or in Greater London as a whole, and this is a view which I myself used to share; it seemed to me sensible that all public transport throughout the capital should be co-ordinated. But that, I must say, is a view which I have ceased to hold, largely because I have come to the view, regrettably, as a London Transport user, that the present structure of London Transport cannot long survive. I think that if London Transport had added to it responsibility for what effectively was the old Southern Railway, the commuter routes of Southern Region, I hate to think how soon confusion would become worse confounded than it is at present.

At the moment we have in London Transport a managerial structure which manifestly, for one reason or another, is not capable of coping with the problems of serving a great city. That is not an attack on Sir Peter Masefield, for whom I personally have the highest regard—he is an immense public servant of tremendous experience and ability—but the whole managerial structure clearly is not standing up to the strain of taking the radical decisions which need to be taken. So the first proposal I would suggest for the noble Earl who is to reply, and through him to the Secretary of State for Transport, who clearly must be thinking about London Transport pretty radically at the moment, is that I do not see why it is necessarily logical that the organisation which runs the tubes should also be the organisation which runs the buses.

I happen to share very much the view of the SDP spokesman in the debate that the gradual extension of the tube service throughout the capital would make a radical improvement over (I think, in fact) a quite short time, but it would require a more efficient tube service. I mean, we all have horrible stories of the tube. The other day I stood on St. James's Park Underground Station, which is beneath the kind of skyscraper in which the London Transport Executive actually lives, and I waited literally for over 35 minutes before a train arrived. By the time the train arrived, the Black Hole of Calcutta had nothing on it. I complained to London Transport and they wrote back and pretended that this was a one-off incident. Anyone who travels regularly by tube knows that it happens frequently. It does not happen in Paris. It is caused by poor quality management. Perhaps the management is blackmailed by the unions or perhaps the unions are blackmailed by the management. I do not care. All I can say is that if the management cannot run the London tube they cannot run anything.

It is clear that this set-up cannot run the buses. I have been using buses all through this winter. From my home in Chiswick to Richmond is a 10-minute drive and a 20-minute walk, but you must allow 50 minutes by bus. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes by bus but, more often, 50 minutes. To say that this is caused by traffic congestion is absurd. It is caused by rostering duties and by buses being abandoned in the middle of the street while the crew go and have their dinner. Then there are the poor old-age pensioners who form 99 per cent. of the people who travel on the buses. They are pleased to be on a vehicle which, at least, is warm so that they are not at home paying high heating bills. Whoever runs the buses cannot do it properly.

I have a drastic solution to the bus problem. One of the few pieces of recent legislation which seem to work well and efficiently is the 1980 Transport Act. Independent bus operators now run coach services which people previously said could not be made to run. I met a man who lives in Bournemouth. There is now a regular coach service from Bournemouth to Heathrow. Previously he had to go by Southern Rail to Waterloo, change, and get on a British Airways coach—and it took about a day and a half! The journey is done now in two hours. The reason why the ASLEF dispute will not bring the whole of England to a grinding halt is because people take coaches. And when they do that, very few return to British Rail.

I know that the reason why London Transport was set up allegedly was to stop the pirate buses who were driving down the living standards and working conditions of the people who were working on the London General Omnibus Company buses in London in the 1920s. Personally, I would de-regulate bus travel in the Greater London area and allow people to ply for hire and to operate vehicles according to the demand in the market. Why should it be thought that the present double-decker bus, plus or minus a few cosmetic variations, should be the sole form of public transport available in the London area apart from black taxis? Anybody of whatever class of income who wants to go about the City rapidly uses a mini-cab. This is because the black taxis will not go to the suburbs where people live, but only across town, and the buses are unreliable.

I think—and I now introduce a partisan note into the debate—that the Conservative Government, who are supposed to believe in the working of the market, might try to see whether the market works in the case of the London bus system. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man to devise some alternative transport mode on the roads of the capital.

I have an interesting study from the World Bank of urban transport provisions throughout the world in the developed and developing countries. There are enormous cities which run on Jeep-links, as they call them, in Manila—converted Jeeps bought by enterprising Filipinos, which provide an adequate and rapid system in Manila. There is a whole variety of transport systems which are monolithic urban monopolies like London Transport which, as the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, showed, are failing to provide a service on the buses which people will use. Can we not replace this monopoly by some more radical form of transport? We must be more ingenious in thinking about what form of public transport provision we can make on the roads if we are to talk in terms of reducing private passenger car usage, which is something we all favour.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, may I express my gratitude to the noble Lord who has just spoken for having left a reasonable time. I am grateful. I apologise to the House for not having put my name down previously. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, yesterday, who asked me if I should like to speak. What I want to express is my satisfaction, as a motorist who has driven in London regularly for over half a century, with the improvement which I see has happened. When I was driving in the early 1920s, traffic blocks lasting half an hour were regular. There was a lot of horse traffic and no one-way streets. Steadily, the situation has improved. Apart from the exceptional occasions, one can now get from here to a motorway inside half an hour, and from a motorway to here from any direction within half an hour. I call that very good indeed. I have driven in, and shopped in, every capital in Europe. I do not think there is one which is as good. I feel that this pretty satisfactory state of affairs in our being able to get about better, even as the number of vehicles increases, is something we should be proud of.

It is certainly not brought about by a system of strict enforcement. I remember a friend of mine, now a Member of your Lordships' House, who, as a young man, was rash enough to summons, and summons successfully, a police car for exceeding the 30 mph limit. For every single day of the next six weeks, he got a summons for something. If you tried to enforce the traffic laws strictly you would bring the traffic to a total standstill. Look out and think on it!

Traffic laws are there as a moderate deterrent to get people to behave sensibly. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, says that at any given time there are 20,000 people in the Greater London area parked on yellow lines. The conclusion I draw from that is that that is a measure of the parking capacity of the yellow lines which is probably about right. It works this way. Nobody has mentioned the zig-zag lines. Where the police put zig-zag lines, I have noticed that they are almost totally observed. They are the places which the police think are dangerous. Where you have double lines, in effect they say, "You are at risk here and pretty serious risk; but we will not worry too much if you pop out to get a newspaper or make a single purchase". On single yellow lines, I would say the message is: "Do it at your own risk, probably but if you are inside half an hour you arc all right".

That is the way, I think, in which those lines are understood by the motorist. In bringing about the balance between the transit motorist who wants an open road and the shopping or business motorist who wants the opportunity to stop, we have not got it far wrong. I would suggest, from the point of view of the motorist who uses his car in London, that one does not want to expel him. A large proportion of motorists use their cars because they like doing so. It is a free country. It is something we like to do. We ought to try to make parking more available. In a tremendous number of areas the streets are over-used and pavements under-used. It is only at exceptional times and in exceptional places, that the pavements are anything like fully occupied.

I believe that a system whereby vehicles were parked with two wheels on the pavement and two in the gutter would subtract very little from the road and would be an absolute minimum inconvenience to the people on the pavement, because there is lots of room for them anyway. I think this is a very good idea.

Another point is that we do not make use of the room available in our parks. Whenever there is a garden party at Buckingham Palace look at the number of cars that can be fitted into St. James's Park. Why can we not do that every day? They are not inconveniencing anybody. There is a great deal of area where cars can be parked, preferably on meters, because one does not want car owners to turn the park into a garage and to leave their vehicles for a month in the park. There should be a reasonable control of time and a reasonable level of deterrence which is tremendously short of strict enforcement. I believe that we start from a very good level of the most satisfactorily trafficked city in Europe, one in which the standard of driving has improved quite astonishingly during my lifetime, in which the accident and injury record is the lowest in the world, and for which I should like to say "Thank you".

7.42 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Balfour on secur- ing this debate on a subject which is of interest to so many people and which is always topical because it is intimately related to everyday matters of life in this capital city. I also much appreciated his constructive introduction. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone for his excellent maiden speech. I am sure he is correct about his overall strategy, although I will have some more to say on that. The whole House will join me in saying how much we look forward to him speaking in the future.

I welcome the occasion for having an opportunity to outline the position of Her Majesty's Government in regard to traffic and transportation matters in the inner area of Greater London and on roads in particular. It may be wise if I say something on the responsibilities because I have been asked a lot of questions which fall way outside the brief of the Department of Transport.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is highway authority for the national system of trunk roads and motorways. In that capacity he is responsible for reviewing the adequate functioning of the system in terms of its extent, its safety for those travellers who use it and its maintenance. There are no national trunk roads in the inner area of London. However, my right honourable friend carried on behalf of Her Majesty's Government an overseeing responsibility for the safety and proper management of all public roads in England which are under the ownership and management of the numerous local highway authorities.

The Greater London Council are responsible for the main or metropolitan roads in their area—but not the trunk roads—while the London boroughs are responsible for the network of minor roads; Inner London is the area covering what was previously administered by the old London County Council. It is now made up by 11 London boroughs plus the Cities of London and Westminster; and, apart from GLC's metropolitan roads, these authorities are responsible for all the roads in their areas. As well as being highway authority for metropolitan roads GLC is also the traffic authority for all roads in Greater London except, of course, for my right honourable friend's trunk roads.

My Lords, I am sure you will agree that this explanation is essential background if there is to be proper appreciation of the Greater London Council's responsibilities in regard to road and traffic matters in the inner area. I have a few statistics and was going to say a word on them. The House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, for his excellent resumé. I am not quite sure that I appreciate him using the idea of an onion. That always leads me to tears, and I am not at all sure that traffic matters will not do so as well!

I think I should say a word of warning. Some of his statistics were, I thought, a little selective. Perhaps they did not reflect, for instance, the changing work patterns in London and the growth of suburban centres such as Kingston and Croydon. Also, his statistics about the subsidy were not quite complete so far as London Transport is concerned because the total grants mean that London Transport has had over 50p for every £1 earned from fares over the past few years.

My noble friend Lord Balfour mentioned something on traffic growth. Statistics are not easy matters to consider, and there are different ones going round. My statistics are that traffic growth in the inner area has been only about 10 per cent. in the past 10 years—this compares nationally in the country with 30 per cent.—with growth in the next six years likely to be at a lower rate. There has been a one mile per hour reduction in speed for the 10 per cent. growth. However, whatever the statistics, nearly all speakers are agreed that inner area traffic flow conditions are not satisfactory. I do not think that we should be too critical. Here I agree to a certain extent with the noble Lord, Lord Paget, but not on his abuse of a lot of the laws which he seemed to he encouraging us to break.

Your Lordships may recall the submission in 1969 to the Minister of the day, of the Greater London Development Plan. Foremost in that plan was the proposal to build a primary road network in Greater London consisting of 13 radial routes and three ringways. This plan was examined in great detail by a monumental inquiry headed by Sir Frank Layfield, QC. The panel presented their report and recommendations in December 1972. But the issues were so controversial in a time of shifting attitudes to major urban road programmes that the plan was not finally confirmed by the Secretary of State for Environment until seven years after its original submission. By then the GLC, elected in 1973, had announced that no new motorways could be built in London and abandoned all the major road plans of their predecessors. The plan therefore emerged with the primary road proposals reduced—particularly in relation to the three ringways.

There was a further change of administration in 1977 and that council sought to redress the balance of new road building in Greater London in a fairly modest manner. But, as my noble friend Lord Plummer mentioned, such is the time needed for preparing major urban road schemes that none of their proposals was under construction last year when a new administration, with a distinct leaning towards a public transport solution, decided against proceeding with the preparation of some of these major road proposals.

Of the originally proposed innermost ring road (the so-called " Motorway Box ") only the Blackwall Tunnel and its north and south approaches have been built. Ringway 2 north of the river is essentially my right honourable friend's North Circular trunk road, which is being consistently improved as many noble Lords who use it will know, and who see the frequent roadworks. The M.25, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned, now incorporates a substantial part of Ringway 3, mainly to the north and north-east of London. I believe that when it is finished, in 1986, it will alleviate the problem of some of the through traffic in Hackney and that area.

The pattern of radials remained much as it was because these are essentially the existing main roads converging on Inner London. However, since the Greater London Development Plan was confirmed in 1976 the M.11 has been constructed so far as the North Circular Road. The largest casualty in the GLC's road programme has been the West London relief road which was intended to connect the Chelsea Embankment to the M.41 at Holland Park. The last known estimate for this 2½ mile long scheme was £220 million and this will give the House some indication of the astronomic costs of road building on a large scale in Inner London. However, two or three very large GLC schemes in the outer area are proposed, and the council is seeking general public reaction to them. This is not a satisfactory story; but I believe it is unreal to argue these days in favour of new roads on the scale of the " Motorway Box ". However, it is not unreal to expect that the largest local authority in the country should be able to proceed towards an agreed objective which maintains a reasonable balance between highway investment and public transport investment.

If I may turn to one subject which I do not believe any speaker mentioned—traffic control—I feel this is a pertinent subject to the central issue of this debate and it is one way of combating traffic congestion. In recent years there have been considerable advances in traffic control techniques, in which British equipment manufacturers and the Department of Transport have played a leading part. A problem can arise with existing fixed-time computer-controlled traffic-light systems which are set to traffic patterns predetermined by extensive traffic measurements. To maintain the efficiency of the control system, these measurements have to be repeated as traffic patterns change. This is a laborious process and it has proved particularly difficult to keep the complex control plan of signals in central London up to date.

The new computerised systems that have been developed are traffic responsive and can make the necessary adjustments continuously and automatically. The GLC's decision to make a substantial investment in the new split-cycle offset optimisation technique system is to be welcomed, and it is hoped that it may lead to significant improvements in traffic speeds in the central area.

I shall now turn to illegal parking, which I think almost every speaker has mentioned. The Government, of course, recognise—

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, regarding the strict enforcement referred to, these automatic timing devices are in fact based upon a speed of nearer 50 mph than 30, are they not?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I hope they will be based on the maximum speed limit, which is 30 mph, and I am sure they are able to be set correctly. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Paget, has a lovely way of trying to beat the law, but we shall make a point of ensuring that they will keep a speed of 30 mph. The Government recognise that the extent of illegal parking in London is a constant frustration to the authorities in implementing their traffic management plans. The GLC and the London boroughs have a statutory duty to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of traffic. They are greatly hampered in that objective when very large numbers of people feel free to disregard parking regulations—regulations which are made in the public interest to safeguard the capacity of the roads, for the movement of traffic and to preserve essential access.

We acknowledge that there is far too much illegal parking and that the risk of a penalty being imposed, from the point of view of the person who parks illegally, is low. These problems are being given detailed attention, and legislation will be introduced this Session to secure a major reform of the fixed penalty system. The changes will be based on proposals published in the report of the inter-departmental Working Party on Road Traffic Law in May 1981. They should make the system much more effective and substantially strengthen the disincentives to illegal and irresponsible parking. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced an increase in the fixed penalty for parking offences to £10, in association with the proposed legislation, and I look forward to our debates in this House on those measures when they come before us, because I have a feeling there is going to be some pressure to increase them.

I should like to pay tribute to the traffic wardens in their efforts in law enforcement. As many noble Lords have said, they are very short of staff. My figures show that they number just over 1,300 at the moment, which represents an increase from the level they have been, but their establishment is about 500 more than that. Until we get up to establishment we shall not know whether that is a satisfactory number for law enforcement or not. However, we are looking at ways to try to get more recruits. It does seem strange, as my noble friend Lady Gardner said the other night, that with unemployment in London of over 300,000, there should be 500 vacancies for traffic wardens.

The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, mentioned that law enforcement might not continue to be the responsibility of the police, but I am sure that on reflection he will feel that law enforcement must remain the duty of the Metropolitan Police.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has consulted interested organisations on the case put forward by the Metropolitan Police for the introduction of wheel clamps to deal with illegal parking. My noble friend Lady Sharpies mentioned that. They can be called the Denver Shoe or the Bulldog Clamp, and we think that possibly the Bulldog Clamp is a rather more successful mane. If wheel clamps are introduced—and I emphasise that no decision has yet been reached because the responses to consultation are still being evaluated—they would be complementary to the fixed penalty system, and not a substitute. Their supporters claim that they would improve traffic conditions through a general deterrent effect, although vehicles causing serious obstruction would still have to be towed away or moved to a position where they could he immobilised.

Turning now to London Transport, one cannot get very far in discussing traffic conditions in any major city without considering their effect on public transport and the effect of public transport on traffic. There is no doubt that for London Transport's bus services, road traffic congestion is a major problem. There are three main reasons which make the problem in London worse than in other provincial cities. First, the congestion is over a wide area and not just confined to the innermost areas; secondly, the congestion tends to last longer; and, thirdly, the traffic flow is so delicately balanced that any minor disruption such as a traffic light failure or vehicle breakdown can cause widespread disruption. Your Lordships will recall that my noble friend Lady Sharpies gave a descriptive example. I have spoken earlier about congestion in general and about some of the ways in which things might be improved. So far as buses are concerned, the use of bus lanes is a further option, but I cannot pretend there are any overnight, magic solutions.

It has been said that the imminent fares increase on London Transport will force masses of passengers to travel by car instead of by public transport. We believe that this is fancy. There is no evidence to suggest that significant numbers of car-users switched to public transport when the lower fares were introduced and there is no reason to believe that the reverse will happen later. Such increase in the use of public transport as occurred under the low fares policy is likely to have been mainly through the greater use of the system by those who already use it. I do not deny that the increase on fares may lead to lower use of the system, and this is to be regretted. We should all like to see a better public transport system with lower fares, but let us not delude ourselves on two issues. First, such a system has to be paid for by someone. Secondly, it is unlikely to tempt many car-users out of their vehicles. We have had some quotations given about Paris and, if I may, I would take that as an example where, despite a highly-regarded and relatively cheap transport system, road congestion is still a major problem.

London Transport has been very much in the news since the noble and learned Lords gave their judgment just before Christmas on the GLC fares policy. The House may recall the discussion that followed the Statement made on 18th January by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. I shall not dwell long on this matter, but I wish to make quite clear where the Government stand on the question of subsidies and, in some measure, to answer a question of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Like our predecessors, we believe that subsidy should continue to be paid where this is needed to keep necessary public transport going. Indeed, last year some £1.2 billion went in support to the bus and rail services of this country. The transport supplementary grant settlement approved by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport reflected this policy; and over one-third of the expenditure accepted for revenue support within that settlement was for the GLC and London Transport.

We deplore the fact that Londoners will shortly be faced with much increased fares on London Transport services. But let there be no mistake about where the blame for this lies. This state of affairs arises from the irresponsible policies of the present administration in County Hall, which deliberately increased the costs of the services at the same time as they reduced the fares.

We, like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, want to see healthy and efficient public transport in London, with a fair balance being struck between the costs to the fare-paying passengers and the costs to the public purse and the ratepayers of London. An important factor in achieving such a system is for London Transport to review its operations to try to ensure that the services meet real demand and are provided as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. To this end London Transport is already making to the Greater London Council proposals which have been published in the press, and which were particularly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge. It is not for me to comment on them individually but where closures are concerned they must be agreed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I understand that London Transport are concentrating on those parts of its operations which carry few passengers or where facilities are duplicated close by. So far as bus services are concerned, I understand that the bus miles it is proposed to run this year are still above the level operated in 1979. I hope that this will put the matter in proportion.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that the Government will legislate to enable the GLC to provide travel concessions for old people. He has also said that he will if necessary, introduce legislation to allow London Transport to spread the cost of paying off this year's deficit over a reasonable period. But the Government will not legislate to enable the GLC to return to its unbalanced policies at the expense of the ratepayer.

I began by reciting the responsibilities of my right ho nourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I should like now to remind you, if I may, of the contributions which Her Majesty's Government are making to the problems of transport and environment in the Inner Area. My right honourable friend is concentrating his programme of trunk road works in the London area on routes such as the North Circular Road, the extention of that route in North-East London through the proposed South Woodford to Barking Relief Road and subsequent linking to the London—Dover route A.2 at Falconwood to South-East London, via the programmed East London River Crossing. I hope that this will please my noble friend Lord Balfour. In this way, the Government are making a very substantial contribution towards providing a means of keeping longer-distance traffic out of London's Inner Area. To relieve Greater London of its element of through traffic, the Government's most noteworthy contribution is the pressing ahead with the M.25, which, as I said earlier, we hope to complete during 1986. These trunk road improvements in and near Greater London amount to an investment of about £1 billion over the next decade.

It might be appropriate at this point for me to remind noble Lords of the substantial financial support which the GLC receives from my right honourable friend by way of Transport Supplementary Grant. London has over the years consistently received the lion's share both of resources, in terms of its share of accepted eligible expenditure, and actual cash grant. In the settlement for 1982–83 which was announced recently, London's share of approved resources was nearly 25 per cent. of the national total of just over £1,600 million. Also, its cash grant of nearly £200 million was close to 40 per cent. of the national total.

Before closing, I think that I ought to say something about heavy lorries. Each year about 250 million tons of freight is carried by road, rail and water in Greater London. Over 200 million tons is freight generated by London itself and of this, as my noble friend Lord Plummer said, about 90 per cent. goes by road. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that London life, as we know it and see it, depends on lorries.

The GLC have set up an independent inquiry panel to assess the benefits and costs likely to arise from imposing bans on heavy lorries within the Greater London area and the conclusions are awaited with interest, although I think that my noble friend Lord Balfour slightly jumped the gun by saying what his views of the conclusions could be. But I look forward to the current year, 1982, as the year in which we shall at last be able to take action on the heavy lorry. The Government have put forward a comprehensive and realistic approach to the problems of heavy lorries that holds out the first serious hope for years that the whole issue will be dealt with constructively and vigorously. Proposals were set out in the White Paper, Lorries People and the Environment, published on 1st December. Our aim is to get safer, quieter and cleaner vehicles on to the roads as fast as possible, to keep these vehicles away from people as much as possible, to make full use of alternative forms of freight transport where practicable and to give our enormous and vitally important transport industry a full chance to move freight competitively.

Far from making the present unsatisfactory situation worse, these proposals go in the opposite direction. For instance, they point the way out of the present deplorable pattern under which lorries are not allowed to carry the full load for which they were designed, with the result that there are more of them on the roads than there need be. Our proposals will make a very significant contribution towards reducing congestion on our roads. We estimate that if the proposed regulations were in force now, there would be over 9,000 fewer heavy lorries on the road. None of them would be bigger than the large ones we see now, but they will carry up to one-fifth more. They would run fewer miles in total and most would be required to have additional axles to spread the weight more evenly on the road.

There are those who are resisting the Government's initiatives for civilising the lorry and coping with the growth of environmental damage. I find it odd that those genuinely concerned to improve our environment should align themselves against the approach outlined both by the Government and in the report by Sir Arthur Armitage. Attempts to block the Government's measures for making the lorry more acceptable amount to condoning the present pattern. I am sure it is in the interests of every community suffering from heavy lorry traffic to see that the opportunity presented by the Government's proposal is seized and built upon. Reduced congestion is just one of the benefits that can be gained.

To answer one or two specific questions which were raised, my noble friend Lord Mancroft mentioned staggered working hours and shop opening hours. It is, of course, for individual firms to decide themselves whether it is in their own interest to stagger working or opening hours. Her Majesty's Government do not want to impose this, but any initiatives by firms will be welcomed if congestion is eased. There is, of course, a restriction on shopping hours, which I believe my noble friend Lord Mancroft may have had some responsibility for bringing in when he was in the Home Office in the 1950s. There is also a new Bill by my noble friend Lady Trumpington to change shopping hours, which would, of course, help this.

I was asked about the parking revenue and what it is used for. It is used mainly for making up deficit in parking accounts, for road improvements and for the support of public transport. I should like to join my noble friend Lord Mancroft in his tribute to the Underground. I find it hard to take some remarks which were made by noble Lords. I, too, have travelled on the Underground and have always found it excellent, and considerably better than in many other countries. Of course, over the last few years they have opened up new lines and stations, and it has been a fairly good success story.

I should like to remind noble Lords that car sharing has now been legalised and that is one piece of legislation of this Government. Business cars have, of course, been caught in the last two Budgets and are no longer as acceptable as they were. There are, of course, still taxi ranks around. However, I have a slight feeling that they wait outside the more expensive hotels rather than around Sloane Square. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, mentioned coaches and the 1980 Act. I appreciate his kind remarks on that. Of course, it is early yet to know what will be the final results of the freeing of coaches to private enterprise, but if it is highly satisfactory it may well produce further legislation.

All London road users cannot but be interested in the many points which have been raised this evening. If I have not answered them all, it is because there were so many. But the Department of Transport and, I am sure, those in County Hall and local governments in Inner London who are interested in traffic will study the numerous points made by various speakers in this debate. All noble Lords have contributed interesting suggestions, which show that no one involved in traffic laws can rest on his laurels. We have stretched from pink tickets to car parks, to shopping on Saturdays, to owner-liability. Tonight's short debate can only be of value in the continuing discussion of this capital's congestion problems.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, in asking permission to withdraw my Motion, may I say that I think it has been a two-way debate. We have received from the Minister a most admirable and full reply, the contents of which I hope will be circulated well beyond the limits of your Lordships' House. Secondly, the Minister has received something. He has received the views of many noble Lords on all sides of the House, views which are varied and of which, I am quite sure, Her Majesty's Government will take notice.

I should like to thank all the speakers who have taken part in the debate today, and particularly do I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, who has enhanced the quality of our debate today by his maiden speech. I beg to leave withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.