§ 4 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for introducing this very interesting and important debate; and, though he is not at the moment present to hear me pay him the compliment, I would say that he makes his proposition sound so reasonable that it is almost difficult to marshal arguments against it. But to my ears it really is a siren song. A greatly increased programme of public works—transport, water, housing—would involve very attractive projects, but the total cost of undertaking it on any significant scale would be enormous if we were to provide improved standards, and, most importantly, as the noble Lord rightly said, to provide more jobs, bearing in mind the distressingly large number of unemployed men and women there now are in this country.
However, the fact is that all experience tells us that this prescription does not work. I agree that logically—and in the mouth of the noble Lord it sounded most logical—it should be possible to set up a large-scale programme of public works to carry out all these desirable improvements and to absorb a large number of the unemployed. That would relieve personal tragedy. I suppose that it is a serious criticism of the economic structure of our country, and indeed all the countries in the world so far as I know, that as yet nobody has been able to find a way to mount such a major programme of public works which is not self-defeating.
Despite the noble Lord's injunction that I should not rehearse the economic arguments, I am afraid that I really must do so because I find them of compelling significance. The fact is that over the last 20 years or so the economic system has failed not only in this country, but in other countries, too, with disastrous results. I am sure that the noble Lord. Lord Cledwyn, will well remember the efforts of his right honourable and noble friends in the 1974 to 1979 Parliament. They tried, and they did their very best with an expansionary programme. But by 1976 the degree of overspending had brought us into a position where the credit of this country had collapsed and it was necessary for the Government to call in the International Monetary Fund for it to make a huge loan to us to restore solvency and for it to ask us to impose strict financial disciplines; and that was done.
It is also significant that the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Callaghan, really spoke for everybody when he told the Labour Party Conference in 1976:We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession by cutting taxes, by boosting Government expenditure. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it did exist, it worked by injecting inflation into the economy, and each time that has happened the average level of unemployment has risen. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment—that is the history of the past 20 years".We all know that. It was a sad experience of our country, and now one has only to cross the channel to see exactly the same thing happening there. In France the Socialist President Mitterrand was elected two and a half years ago, with a very good majority and a policy 1067 of expansion and full employment, involving large scale nationalisation, great programmes of public works, and so on, with major industries to be made secure. But despite the fact that France has very strong natural wealth in her tremendous agriculture, there was a rapid serious loss of confidence following the Government's measures, and there were no fewer than three devaluations within a year.
The result was that the Government had to go rapidly into reverse, all kinds of exchange controls were clapped on, and for the past year the French Government have imposed a very strict financial policy—stricter even than ours—to try to retrieve the situation. Their objective is to try to hold inflation below 10 per cent. and to hold unemployment below 2 million. But both are slipping; unemployment is now over 2 million, and there is every prospect that it will rise, I should think to 2½ million, or possibly more, before the year is out, and inflation undoubtedly is going well over 10 per cent.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly care to comment on the situation in the United States, as opposed to that in France, where substantial economic recovery has been stimulated with a reduction in both unemployment and inflation? Is that not the example that we should set ourselves here?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I could wish that in Britain we had the advantages that they have in the United States, where they have a plenitude of every raw material, every metal, that they require. They have a huge domestic economy in which they could put up the shutters and trade with nobody, yet still be an immensely prosperous nation. But so far as we are concerned, having to sell at least a third of our goods and services overseas in competition with the rest of the world, it is a very different proposition. What is more, money continues to flow into America despite their enormous deficits, both domestic and on their foreign trade, because to oil states, to Arabs and others, it looks to be one of the safest places to put their money. They continue to lend their money in America, and so they are keeping the ship sailing. But it is a fairly precarious affair, and my guess is that sooner or later President Reagan will have to take a pull at this. The fact is that the United States economy is so different that there really is no basis for comparison.
So what I have been referring to is history that we all know, both here and elsewhere. The simple logistics are that the extra finance on the scale that we would require for the kind of programme which the noble Lord has outlined to us can be raised only by a substantial increase in taxation or by a major increase in borrowing. Obviously a substantial increase in taxation is the last thing that one wants when trying to recover from a recession, and so that is probably out. Thus one has to turn to extra borrowing.
Extra borrowing can be achieved only by increasing interest rates in order to attract the extra money that the Government require. That immediately gives a fresh twist to the spiral of inflation. We all know this. It affects not only personal overdrafts, but all overdrafts throughout industry. I think I am right in saying that the estimated extra cost to industry of a 1 1068 per cent. increase in bank rate is in the order of £200 million a year; and of course it affects mortgage rates as well. So it inevitably follows that up go costs in industry and commerce and down comes competitiveness, with the loss of markets and then the loss of jobs. That is all exactly the reverse of what we would hope would come from these praiseworthy objectives.
Nor is that the end of the story. What is also happening is that the national debt is increased by the increased borrowing at higher rates and therefore the annual burden to the taxpayer of servicing this debt is increased. The national debt doubled in the five years of the last Labour Government, and the annual debt service for the national debt—not only the amount but also the interest rates had increased—rose from £2.7 billion a year in 1974 to £7.6 billion a year in 1979, getting on for three times as much. This annual financial burden has to be met by the taxpayer.
These sums are not far short of the cost of financing a whole Government department. They are not much less than the total cost of our defence budget. The rate of increase of the national debt is a critical matter for us. Under the Conservative Government, it has been slowing up, with the stated objective of restraining the PSBR, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, within the limits of £10 billion this year and the prospect of a further reduction to £8.5 billion next year. This has a doubly beneficial effect.
When the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. says that his answer to financing the programme outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, is to add an extra £2 billion to this provision, that really would not begin to do it. I should also have to say, although I do not pretend to be an expert in the matter, that the Treasury would be very happy to be sure that it had its sums right over the £2 billion, but this really has a marginal effect in the total context. It would certainly not get us home in the sort of programme we are talking about.
These are the hard logistics of increased major Government expenditure on the kind of admirable programme proposed by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. The project sounds so attractive and ends up by making bad worse.
I should like briefly to refer to one or two points, although I have not the time to deal with all those listed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as our deficiencies. I give some figures relating to roads. The Secretary of State for Transport announced last October that £800 million is to be spent on English trunk roads in 1984–85—in the coming 12 months. That is approximately a 30 per cent. increase in real terms on the1979–80 programme. It is a substantial increase. Maybe, one could spend more. One can always spend more. But the Government realise that roads are a vital part of the whole transport system and. Therefore, of the economic system of the country.
Capital expenditure on the railways from 1979 to 1982 amounted to £1,600 million. That is approximately equal to the level of capital expenditure by the Labour Government, which spent £325 million in 1979. Translated into real terms, it is about comparable. So it is not all that bad. It could be more, of course. It can always be more.
1069 In the water industry, expenditure in 1982–83 was £746 million on capital schemes. This compares with a figure of £600 million in 1979–80. So, again, allowing for inflation, the figures are not far out of line. They are at about the same level.
On the actual infrastructure, I should like to deal first with the sewerage side and to acknowledge the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, on water research capacity. Here, certainly, I can go along 100 per cent. with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. An emergency problem really exists, especially for the sewerage systems of the great cities in the North. There, the Victorian infrastructure was not of the top quality. I am glad to say that down here, in the South, especially in London, it was very good and has been kept up. In the North, however, it is in a very shaky condition especially in mining areas where there is a good deal of subsidence. The conditions there are very bad, indeed. I hope that my noble friend Lord Bellwin will take note that there really is justification for at least an injection, I should have thought, of an extra £50 million a year to start with, going up to £100 million. Serious disruption is caused in our big cities when a huge hole in some road means that traffic has to be diverted. This is a matter that really requires attention.
On the supply side, there is, of course, a big element of leakage. This is not all that serious. A great deal goes back into the rivers. In fact, the water supply system is very good. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, the assurance that, even if there was another drought of the measure of that of 1976, the longest ever known in the history of this country, the water supply system would be secure. There might be some times in the evening when you would not be allowed to water your garden. However, there would be plenty of water not only to drink but also for baths. We have so secured the system by interlinking the surplus areas and the shortage areas following the 1976 drought that there is plenty of water and the system is very sound. We only use about 10 per cent. of what falls out of the sky.
That is not all. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that there is no other country that I know of where the purity of the water supply is higher than here and very few where it is as good. So we really have a super water supply system.
I must bring my remarks to a close. The conclusion I wish to make is that the financial policy of the present Government is admittedly tight. It is a matter of judgment how tight it should be made. I believe that it has been tightened to a point that was right for us. A reasonable provision has been made to finance major services that we can afford. That is, of course, a matter of judgment. But the policy is succeeding. It has brought inflation down to 5 per cent. or thereabouts with relative stability. What a blessing to industry and to every householder!
The policy has restored competitiveness to our industry. This matters above everything. We are now winning markets at home and abroad. The prospect of a moderate growth this year of 2 or 3 per cent. is again a marvellous improvement. It is not very wonderful but at least it is a move in the right direction. This trend is providing new jobs which are real new jobs. 1070 These are offsetting losses still taking place in some of the old industries. This means, I think, the prospect of some reduction in unemployment before this year is out. We are building on a basis of reality with continuing confidence for improvement in the future. All will benefit as growth continues. It will mean further improvement in standards in the infrastructure services.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has shown remarkable resolution and vision in holding to her policies, which are now beginning to show their benefits. The solid confidence of public opinion in her leadership is fully justified. She should not be deflected even by such a beguiling vision as that portrayed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his discussion in general terms of the control of inflation, except to say that I thought that the authority of his argument was somewhat diminished as soon as he came to a subject on which he is an acknowledged expert. Then he wished an exception to be made for expenditure to he incurred on that very necessary work, even if it did not happen anywhere else.
It is rather more than two years since The Times published a series of articles entitled "Crumbling Britain—an Accelerating Danger" with the sub-title "Living off the Victorian Legacy". The real purpose of our debate today is to inquire of the Government whether they have managed to decelerate this decline in the infrastructure of this country. In the introductory article it was stated:The fact is the country is crumbling about our ears. The cause lies in the way successive governments control expenditure the easy way by cutting back on building and repair programmes".Last year the New Scientist featured a comprehensive review of the infrastructure situation under the heading "The Empire's last stand". It said:Victorian sewers, water mains, railways, sea walls, reservoirs and canals are the last vestage of Britain's empire building. They are crumbling away".That is a sorry state of affairs, and we must think of it in this House as the legacy which people of the same generation as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and myself will be leaving to others if we allow this process of rapidly accelerating decay to continue.
Part of this state of affairs is of course due to the effluxion of time. Constructions of the last century or the first decade or so of this century must inevitably become more and more in need of renewal and renovation. The fault also lies in what many of us regard as the myopic attitude and procedures of Her Majesty's Treasury—a point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—and I also suggest the fact that the Prime Minister must have learned her economics, as well as her moral outlook, in some previous Victorian incarnation.
Anyone who listened to the interview which the Prime Minister gave last Sunday must have been struck by the purity of her Gladstonian conviction that money fructifies best in the pockets of the people, and that it is undesirable, if not actually sinful, for it to be 1071 spent in any other way, except, of course. on national defence. One might not have guessed when listening to some of her remarks that 100 years have passed since the "Grand Old Man" enunciated these principles. We are living in a society with a different economic climate and different social values, as Mr. Heath made clear yesterday in his two powerful orations. However, we must come down from first principles to brass tacks.
I propose to deal with two or three of the areas in which we are most concerned about the present state of our crumbling infrastructure. I propose to start briefly with a subject which was not included in my noble friend's catalogue of infrastructure problems, but it is one in which both he and I happen to be personally interested; namely, the state of university infrastructure in this country. Admittedly it is a minority interest, but it is no less important for that. On this occasion I turn for my reference to The Times Higher Education Supplement of 30th December last in which again the uncomfortable word "crumbling" appears. It says:Worry over safety standards in crumbling universities".The University Grants Committee, which is the watchdog for university well-being in this country, has become extremely concerned by what is happening to the structural state of university buildings. I am not speaking now of Oxford and Cambridge: they have their own problems but they also have their own resources. I am speaking primarily of the great city universities, the red brick universities of the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of this century, and also of some of the buildings which were erected much more recently in the 1960s where, for quite different reasons, there are very serious problems indeed.
The net result of the inquiries made by the University Grants Committee has not been published, but we know that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals last summer said that, in their estimation, expenditure on maintenance would need to be increased by at least 33 per cent. simply to achieve basic standards. In the article to which I am referring there appears a whole list of our university institutions which are in trouble. For example, at Birmingham part of the ceiling of the great hall has collapsed. We in your Lordships' House can have some sympathy with that, but perhaps our expenditure on repairs is less restricted than that of Birmingham University. Imperial College—where we would have supposed, at least, that the latest technology would be safely employed—is also in great difficulties; large pieces of wall cladding are falling off some of the high buildings. The same trouble has occurred at University College in Cardiff. It is not such a large institution as Imperial College, but some £3½ million is now having to be spent on the reconstruction of a building that is not more than about 20 years old.
I have with me a long list with which I shall not weary your Lordships. Salford, Leeds, UMIST and other establishments are experiencing very great difficulty in obtaining the resources simply to maintain their structure. That is partly because of successive cuts in the financing of the universities of this country. According to the latest announcements from the 1072 Department of Education and Science and the Secretary of State, Sir Keith Joseph, the universities may be expected to look forward to annual cuts for the next 15 years. In those circumstances it is natural enough that they will turn their attention first to their teaching and research staff and that they will then be tempted to postpone the good housekeeping which is absolutely essential if one is not going to lay up very expensive and far worse structural trouble for the future.
According to the list which I have with me, at Salford the water is coming through the roof; Leeds needs re-roofing, and so on. I do not want to over-emphasise the point because I understand perfectly that there are other larger areas of difficulty. However, this is one example of an area where, because of the way in which finance is being withheld for purposes which are legitimate and important, again we shall be passing on to later generations an infrastructure that is much less satisfactory than they would have every right to expect.
turn now to one or two other areas where there has been concern. As I am speaking between the noble Lord. Lord Nugent, and the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, I shall not say as much about the Government's reception of the Select Committee report on water as I might otherwise have been tempted to do. But I have the document with me. It was not published; it was tucked away in the Library of both Houses, which was a pity, because a number of people who are interested in it have not had an opportunity of seeing it. Perhaps that is a little Government economy. In any case in my view it is a very skilful reply to the recommendations of the Select Committee. There are some very good features in it.
The fact that the Government are now implementing the ReservoirsAct—which is nearly 10 years old—is perhaps a minor triumph. When I spoke to a very senior official in the water industry a couple of days ago and said that in our report we had indicated that we felt that the Department of the Environment was taking a rather complacent attitude to the infrastructure problems of the industry, he said, "Well, perhaps not so much complacent as bland". Four times on one page of the official response we find, "The Government is encouraging'' and in one place, "It is actively encouraging'' various matters to which the Select Committee drew attention, but, of course, without indicating that any further resources were going to be made available. I felt rather as though it was the headmaster standing on the sidelines saying, "Play up, school" regardless of the fact that the pitch was so badly maintained that people were slithering in all directions.
However, there are some good points in the Government's reply, particularly as regards research where we had suggested that the Department of the Environment was standing back from its responsibilities. I personally was very glad to read that there is some activity in that direction. I hope very much that it means that the department will take responsibility, as we were proposing, for the longer term basic research of the water industries.
As we all know, the Water Research Centre has become extremely entrepreneurial in the last few 1073 years, which is a good thing in itself, but in being so responsive to the consumers, the water authorities and the water companies, there is a strong probability that it may not feel able to undertake the longer-term, and obviously not profitable, activity. This should rightly fall within the departmental domain. I understand that the proposed new research committee in the department is now being brought together, and we must very much hope that this takes on the responsibilities which we suggested it should.
On the particular matters of water mains and sewers, it is perfectly true that there should be more operational research before we undertake vast programmes. I think that the reply is perfectly rational on that point. On the other hand, as a Select Committee we gave this matter considerable attention and we recommended that there was a great deal to be said for an increase in short-term expenditure over a relatively few years, so that we could get over the hump and then be able to establish a proper programme of maintenance instead, as is happening at the moment in both these areas, of carrying out crisis maintenance rather than preventive maintenance. I very much hope that the Government will appreciate that that is the way in which we should attack these problems of declining and deteriorating infrastructure; that is, by having a proper logical programme of preventive work and not waiting until disaster strikes, when it is so much more socially disrupting and inevitably more expensive to correct what has happened. However, I think that it would be presumptuous on my part to say anything more about the water report, because I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, will refer to it in greater detail.
Therefore, I turn briefly to one of the other main areas, which is that of the road programme. In company with other Members of your Lordships' House, I have received the British Road Federation's very recent publication, Room to Move. One must, of course, recognise that the federation has a special interest; it is not a disinterested party. I do not think that some of its proposals take sufficient account of what it admits in its presentation: that the economic recession has to some extent diminished the expected demand for new road construction. But it has not diminished it all that much. Here one is much concerned with the whole problem of proper forward planning and the Treasury methods of finance.
s I understand it, some time in the early 1970s the local authorities, which have responsibility in these matters, were required, and are still required, to produce annually a report on transport policies and programme. This was intended to be a rolling programme, I think on a five-year basis. But the way in which finances have been drastically reduced from what they originally proposed to spend has meant that the programme has ceased to be a rolling programme in any significant sense of the word. The local authorities recognise that, under the present Administration and perhaps under the previous one, no one knows just where they will stand more than one year ahead.
I understand that there is now some slight modification of the tolerance of carrying over from one financial year to another, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred, but it is a very slight modification.
1074 I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that, when one is dealing with capital projects where one has to take physical conditions into account or where in some instances marketing conditions have to be considered—and in some modest way as chairman of the Land Authority for Wales I experienced this—one cannot possibly tailor one's operations to a financial year. No business should do so. The way in which one has to modify what one is doing because of some unexpected occurrence or because some factor changes and then stands to be penalised at the end of the day is not the way to run the capital programme of this country.
In this debate we are talking about maintenance but also to some extent the renewal and extension of our infrastructure. I am assured by local authorities and others with whom I have discussed this matter that they are very far from happy with the carry-over from one year to another and with the impossibility of having anything approaching a realistic rolling programme. I understand that on capital receipts, self-generated by the local authorities, there has been some diminution in the amount that they can freely spend, and so on.
There are some particular difficulties in England over the transport supplementary grant which fortunately do not apply in Wales or Scotland, but I understand that there is considerable dissatisfaction among some of the English local authorities: they find it arbitrary as to whether or not their schemes will attract grant. Obviously, even allowing for special pleading, there is this undercurrent in the Road Federation report, on which I think we are entitled to ask the Minister to comment.
On this matter of roads, one can also have sudden, unexpected moratoria. This has happened in South Wales in the last few days. There, on the whole, we have not managed too badly in the sense that South Wales is a part of the country which is entitled to request grants from the EEC. If we did not have these grants from the EEC I am not sure where we would stand. We are very glad to have them. We are designated as special areas, and in part as a steel closure area of the EEC, and various other designations of the EEC apply. This has enabled us to carry out a reasonably good road programme in South Wales in recent years. But in the last 10 days or so Cardiff City and South Glamorgan Councils have been very much perturbed to be told that one of their essential link roads for the Cardiff docklands scheme is to be postponed for a period of a year or so. This will have the unfortunate effect of depriving them of some £2.5 million grant out of £8 million expenditure which they could receive if they were allowed to do the work this year. Because it is to be postponed, they will lose their place in the queue for the EEC grant. Is that the most intelligent way of dealing with a road which is an essential part of a development scheme in South Cardiff, which certainly has the full backing and support of the Welsh Office? Presumably they have to take their orders on these moratoria and exercise them on a United Kingdom basis.
Finally, apropos roads, I should like to refer to a matter already touched on by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn; namely, the infrastructure that matters most to all of us in South Wales—the Severn Bridge. The 1075 amount of damage that has already been done to our position as an industrial area seeking new investment by the thought that there is very serious doubt as to the future of our road transport from the rest of the country to South Wales is really incalculable. It is something that one can never quite catch up with. Once people have it in their heads that there is uncertainty, either about raw materials coming in or finished products going out, that sticks.
We have had enough trouble already trying to persuade inward investors from other parts of the world that Britain does not finish at Bristol. We have made considerable progress in pointing out that there are excellent opportunities in replacing our old and now declining basic industries of coal and steel by coming to South Wales. We have good high technology industries there which are very promising indeed; but the sudden shock of thinking that our main artery by road may be cut has done us great damage. It is essential that we should have in the very near future a declaration of Government intent that this position will be rectified. I know it is not easy, but if we have a firm declaration of intent and some idea of timetabling, that would restore confidence in an area that very much needs it.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, the deterioration in our infrastructure—which I believe is the only word to be the same in all known languages—is an important subject and one of which those of your Lordships who walk to work are constantly reminded as you trip ever more frequently over the discontinuities and inequalities of our London pavements. I can inform your Lordships that it is only sheer luck that has brought me to my place this afternoon, having recently escaped a devastating fall from this cause.
I must here say that if this debate runs beyond a certain point I shall have to leave to meet an engagement entered into before the Motion was set down. I apologise to the House in advance if this proves to be the case.
As the noble Baroness, Lady White, has correctly prophesied, I shall devote the major part of a brief speech in this timely debate to the infrastructure of the water industry; that is to say, reservoirs and other sources of water supply, the mains which distribute the water, and the sewerage which carries the effluent away. The noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Ezra, have made general references to the sewerage situation.
Reference has already been made in the debate to the report in December 1982 of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology on certain scientific and technological aspects of the water industry which gave special attention, inter alia, to the problems of infrastructure. The debate on the report took place on 25th April last year and the report was, on the whole, well received. The committee made 23 recommendations on the subject of infrastructure.
As the noble Baroness said, the committee has now been sent the Government's considered reply to its recommendations and a copy is in the Library. As 1076 chairman of the sub-committee, I take a rather less critical—or perhaps I should say a rather more optimistic—view of the report than the noble Baroness. The response is positive and the Select Committee has welcomed it. The Government had earlier accepted the committee's recommendation in relation to reservoirs which, in essence, was that effect should now be given to the Reservoirs Act 1975. I believe that this matter is being actively pursued in consultation with the interests concerned, and perhaps the Minister will tell us how all this is progressing after a year has passed.
On water supply and distribution, the United Kingdom's problems can be succinctly stated. There are about 160,000 miles of water main and 150,000 miles of service pipes. Half of this network is over 40 years old. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, gave a slightly lower figure, but 80,000 bursts are repaired annually and this figure is probably rising. Replacement costs for the water authorities alone, without counting the water companies, is estimated to be £16 billion. With a 100-year life expectancy this works out at £140 million per annum and at present £90 million per annum is spent on repairs and maintenance. There is obviously a serious shortfall, and the committee was sure that if there is no additional capital expenditure on the mains soon the eventual bill will be much bigger and the failure rate of the mains will be higher.
The Water Research Council has calculated the comparative costs of the present system of crisis maintenance and a policy of combined renovation, repair and maintenance. The net present cost of crisis maintenance is £4,605 million. The net present cost of planned maintenance would be £3,622 million—a substantially lower figure. Moreover, an average of 25 per cent. of water supply is unaccounted for, and while it is neither possible, nor indeed sensible, to aim for a zero leakage rate, substantial improvements in the present figures should be sought.
On sewerage the situation is equally simple and, if anything, more stark. No adequate maps exist of the underground sewerage system, though it is thought to be about 130,000 miles long, with some 15 per cent. of it built over 100 years ago. An official estimate suggests that £310 million a year needs to be spent to keep the system in its existing state. Annual investment on renewal is now £205 million, which is a shortfall of £105 million or 30 per cent. As a result, some 5,000 sewers fail a year, two-thirds of which are collapses, and these cost £100 million to repair. Collapses tend to take place in the middle of built-up areas and repairs lead to considerable disruption for residents and commerce with expensive, if hidden, social costs. Furthermore, allocations for preventive renovation of sewers in 1981–82 amounted to £8 million. If this rate is not increased, it is estimated that the frequencies of collapses will probably grow at 3 per cent. per annum.
The extent of the problem in both water distribution and sewerage was realised only after the reorganisation of the water industry in 1973. But the Government and the water authorities have now begun to recognise the seriousness and the extent of the problem.
The Water Research Centre—which, by the way, carries a heavy burden of responsibility in this matter—is active in recommending measures to 1077 improve leakage control which are being taken up by a number of water authorities and the centre will shortly be producing a strategy for the renovation of water mains. Meanwhile the Government agree with the committee's recommendation that instrumentation control and automation should be advanced among all undertakers. The committee found that, while two or three water authorities had moved into this field with notable success, other authorities were lagging behind.
On sewerage dereliction also the Government appear to be fully seized of the extent and seriousness of the problem and are taking steps to deal with it. Again, the Water Research Centre is spearheading the remedial measures. But the Government consider that these should be approached with caution, and that further analysis is required before a definitive policy can be formulated.
While I accept that network analysis is needed and that authorities should not rush into expenditure without prior assessment, urgent action is called for on the basis of selective maintenance. Before the recent organisational changes the water industry was open to the charge of complacency. It is in my view important that the Government should be responsible for keeping up the momentum of the changes in policy which are required, especially now that the National Water Council it has been liquidated and the industry is run by individual water authorities drawn together into a consortium. But, in general, what the Government say in their reply to the committee is, in terms, satisfactory, and as chairman of the sub-committee I have had a reassuring letter from the Minister concerned, so I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will be able to confirm this evening his department's determination to open its eyes (if, indeed, they were shut) and to translate these good intentions into solid achievement.
I now turn to a more general point. This is that the deterioration in the state of the economic infrastructure is not an exclusively British phenomenon but is equally serious in the United States and almost as serious in Canada. The noble Lord. Lord Ezra, said that the United Kingdom was trailing behind other countries. If this is so, it is due at least in part to the fact that since we led the Industrial Revolution our infrastructure is older than that of other industrialised countries. If we are trailing, I do not think that it is by much.
To take one example from the United States, there the inadequacy of at least half the sewage treatment plants is thought to be preventing economic expansion. These are the systems which are operated at more than 80 per cent. capacity. One estimate is that 119 billion dollars needs to be spent on renovation and expansion of sewers in the next 20 years if the system is not to deteriorate sharply, and 76 per cent. of this will be on backlog needs. The Environmental Protection Agency has calculated that 2.5 billion dollars needs to be spent just to correct infiltration and inflow problems in sewers. Between 1956 and 1982, only 29 billion dollars had been spent on all waste water treatment.
The basic reason for this situation is the same in all three countries: there has been constantly rising expenditure for current purposes—in the case of the 1078 water industry on maintenance and repairs—and a sharply falling expenditure for capital purposes. The parallel between the three countries is a striking one: so much so that an Anglo-American group with which I am associated, the British North-American Committee, has recently commissioned a comparative study of the problem in Canada, the United States and this country. There is, I am sure, much that each country can learn from the others' experience. Incidentally, the fact that the problem is getting acute in the industrialised countries should mean (since, as I have said, the problem hit us first) that British manufacturers should be able to exploit the market for renovation techniques and for equipment.
It is one thing to complete a comparative analysis of the problem; it is another to decide upon remedial action. There will be plenty of suggestions in this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, made a number. I shall not add to them, except to make one point. The problem is how to resume the necessary capital investment without risking a rise in inflation. Leaving aside the size of the PSBR (to which the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Nugent, referred) we in this country have been unwilling to take up a number of options which, in the United States for example, there is no hesitation in adopting—bond issues encouraging or at least allowing the private sector to undertake more public works and acceptance of toll roads. To take a single example of the latter, the 40-year-old Pennsylvanian Turnpike charges an average of 2.4 cents a mile, which pays for the resurfacing of 30 to 50 miles a year of the Turnpike. This charge is accepted without question or complaint. I am sure that every kind of objection would be raised to the adoption of these courses in this country, but this negative attitude certainly limits the possible lines of action. I leave it there.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Bowden
My Lords, it is extremely hard to know how I can best make a contribution to this debate when so many authoritative speakers have already been heard this evening. But there are at least one or two points that I should like to bring before your Lordships, and the first of them is this. The problem of the infrastructure has been much considered by all sorts of people, including, in particular, the Institution of Civil Engineers, which has set up a body called the Infrastructure Planning Group. This group has been studying the matter for several years, and has attempted to involve successive Governments in its discussions. But the Governments have adamantly refused to have any part of it. It seems to me that this is ridiculous. The civil engineers, after all, are the most authoritative and well informed of all learned institutes in this field; and I believe that the Government should try to collaborate with them. I should like to ask the Minister whether he can undertake to make sure that this is done in the future.
The second point I want to make is that we can at least congratulate ourselves on some of the things that we have done. We have not had an opportunity to do this before this evening. Let us consider, for example, what has been done to the infrastructure of London, and, particularly, Whitehall, by cleaning up the place. 1079 It is enormously more pleasant to live in Whitehall since, for example, the Banqueting Hall was cleaned and since the cleaning of Westminster Abbey was begun, as well as this noble palace in which we are speaking today. And I would remind your Lordships particularly of the effect of the cleaning of St. Paul's Cathedral. Before the cleaning started. St. Paul's looked as it if had been made out of anthracite as a monument to the Industrial Revolution. I dare say that some noble Lords may already have forgotten how filthy it was and how enormously the building improved when it was cleaned. Similarly, that wonderful building in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum, which was one of Waterhouse's great achievements, has been cleaned; and how enormously has that, too, improved. I would remark with some pride that we are cleaning up the town hall in Manchester, which was built by the same architect, and that, too, is proving to be a perfectly splendid example of that type of architecture.
The next point we can congratulate ourselves on is that it is no longer necessary to consider the adjournment of Parliament because of the appalling stench emanating from the River Thames; in other words, the sewerage system has much improved. If I may, I should like to take a few moments to talk about that aspect of the subject, with which I have been much concerned.
I think that perhaps I ought to explain to those of your Lordships who are not already familiar with them just how appalling some of the problems of Manchester have been. Since the sewers began to collapse the size of a hole is measured in a unit called a double-decker-busful—a DDB—and the biggest hole we ever had has been four DDBs. Four double-decker buses could have been put into the hole, although they could not have been got out again. There are several reasons for that, and one of the most interesting is that when they covered up the cobblestones with tarmac they left the tramlines in, thereby creating a curious form of reinforcement which would carry a very substantial load, so that if the water main cracked (which it did) it washed away the earth from under it, which went into the sewer and out somewhere else, and left an absolutely enormous cavity.
The particular hole to which I refer was at the very spot where the band used to mark time during Armistice Day celebrations; and citizens of Manchester have often wondered what would have happened if the hole had fallen in a month earlier and the band had disappeared during those celebrations. Fortunately, the thing held up for a week or so longer, and that did not happen. I hope this possibility gives your Lordships' some idea of the appalling size of the problem.
The City of Manchester has had 71 major holes in the road in the last 10 years, an average of more than seven a year. The last time we discussed this subject in this House, the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate said that it was a mind-boggling problem. The citizens of Manchester, held up in traffic jams, have no doubt taken such consolation as they may from the fact that the Minister's mind has already been boggled. We have a terrible problem up there, and it is only just beginning to yield to the improvements which have1 1080 been made possible since the Government in fact allowed a considerable increase in the funds for the repairs to sewers in the City of Manchester.
However, that is not all we have to face. Just south of Manchester, outside the city limits, the main road from Chester comes in through the little town of Sale, and the main sewer in Sale has to be repaired. Work will start at the end of this month, and it is doubtful whether it will be finished before next Christmas. During the whole of that time what is normally a four-lane highway will probably be restricted to one single lane carrying traffic in both directions. An appalling traffic jam is inevitable, and it is due to the fact that the sewers outside Manchester are suffering much as those inside Manchester have suffered, and, so far as I am aware, no special grant has been made available to the people of Sale to mend the hole. So there are very serious problems indeed.
My next point is that when the sewers have been made to work one has to ask oneself: what do they do with the sewage? There was a time when it went down the Thames from here and it was just let into the tideway and washed away as best it could be. Similarly, many industrial firms just put the effluent into rivers such as the Mersey—which is one of the filthiest rivers in England—and the river became foul and intolerable. However, about 100 years ago some very intensive work was undertaken (in Manchester, of course) by the institution over which I subsequently presided, although the work was done before I was born; and it invented what was called "the Manchester process", by which sewage was treated with what is called activated sludge.
I cannot possibly go into details of the process—it would be wildly inappropriate for me to do so in this House—but I can say that the process involves covering the particles of sediment with a coating containing a vast number of microbes which have been specially cultivated. That is then mixed with the sewage, which generates more sludge. Air is blown through it and, as a result, the effluent which comes out is so clean that many of your Lordships must have drunk it without realising it, because very often the water which we drink has been through three or four other people before we get it on its way to the sea.
This process has been enormously successful and widely copied, but we do not yet have enough sewage plants of that kind, and when the time comes to clean up the Mersey and other rivers we shall have to build many more such plants in order to make sure that the effluentis acceptable when put in and does not make the rivers too foul. Extra funds will have to be provided for that purpose.
It is perfectly clear that unless this work is done in some way or other the community in which we live cannot survive. You cannot run a city unless it has fresh water, unless its sewage is disposed of and unless the main roads do not fall in. The sewers here, as your Lordships know, are under the North Embankment, but sewers in Islington are already beginning to show signs of wear and tear; and if there were to be a major collapse of sewers in Islington your Lordships can imagine that the effect on the traffic through here would become apparent very quickly.
1081 I suggest, therefore, that this kind of work is an absolute prerequisite for any form of life which involves people living in communities. It may be all right on a small island in the Western Hebrides just to dump the sewage into the sea, but here in London or in any other big city we cannot escape without a vast expenditure on the whole of the infrastructure, in which I include the roads. At one time—the noble Baroness, Lady White, may not know this—it was discovered that secondary roads in Dorset were going to be resurfaced on average once every 300 years on present plans. The concentration on motorways and the relative neglect of the small-scale tertiary roads may have quite devastating consequences.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt him? With regard to his anxieties about sewage, has he never been to the sewage disposal station near Tilbury? I am sure such a visit would dispose of his worries.
§ Lord Bowden
My Lords, perhaps I shall arrange to go there. But I do know ours in Manchester. They are wonderful places now, and they play an absolutely essential role in the maintenance of civilised living. We have them, and we are going to need more of them in order to make it possible to clean up the rivers which so much befoul the country in which we live.
As I say, we are suffering from neglect of the secondary roads and from neglect of the whole process of planning—a process which civil engineers are most anxious to pursue in collaboration with the Government. We are neglecting many aspects of the structure upon which civilised living depends. It is no use saying that we cannot afford it, because if we do not do this we shall not survive as a civilised people.
I would not presume to say what effect that may have on the public sector borrowing requirement. All I can say is that, if industry cannot operate and if people cannot live, there will not be any source from which money can be borrowed. All manufacturing will, in effect, become impossible, because people will not be able to live in the conurbations where it is practised. I simply say that we have terrible problems. We are not facing them realistically. We ought to collaborate with the civil engineers more than we have done, and we ought to have a plan to decide how best to dispose of the relatively limited resources that we have. I understand that a commemorative volume is soon to be published called, Seventy Years of Activated Sludge. I hope that the Minister will read it.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Elystan-Morgan
My Lords, this debate is one which is of supreme importance and relevance to this House and to the community at large, and I welcome this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos on initiating it and, indeed, on the stimulating way in which he has, as usual, opened his case with great lucidity, with good humour and with his usual fair-minded balance. I was very glad that my noble friend Lady White widened the scope of the consideration here, to remind us that we are dealing not just with the basic physical assets that we regard as part of the infrastructure, but with something which is infinitely wider and more complex than that.
1082 I suspect that this is a topic to which this House and the other place will be returning on many occasions in the years to come. For too long, there has been a common tendency to take infrastructure for granted. People seemed to be saying, "These assets, these systems, have functioned tolerably well for a long time now. Therefore, we can suppose that they will probably trundle along in a reasonably efficient way for some decades in the future". This debate, and other debates which have taken place in this House in past years, most certainly endorse the truth that such complacencies have already been totally invalidated.
The roads, the railways and the water and sewerage systems, which are the very sinews of Britain's economic and social life, were developed very largely piecemeal in an uncoordinated, very often an utterly haphazard, way at some time in the past 150 years—most of them well over 80 years ago. Even where there has been planning—for example, in the context of major roads and motorways, to which I shall return in a moment—with the information that was at hand at the material time it is likely that the targets that were aimed for were utterly unrealistic in relation even to the current use now being made of such assets, and far more unrealistic in relation to the problems of the next two decades.
It was only after most of the major motorway programmes were completed that it was realised, after research done in the United States of America and in this country, that there were certain very specific phenomena which applied to the rate at which a road became worn and damaged. It was only after all the planning had already taken place, all the assets had been committed and most of those roads had been built, that it was realised that damage to a road varied with the fourth power of the axle load. I have not been blessed with any understanding at all of mathematics, but I understand that what that really means is that if you increase the axle load by 10 per cent. the damage factor operates at something like four to four and a half times that ratio.
The most heavily used of our motorways were designed to carry over a period of 20 years a total load of 100 million standard axles. That may sound a very high ceiling indeed at which to aim, but the irony and the tragedy is that those roads have been tested only to one-fifth of that capacity; namely, to 20 million standard axles. This comment was made by the Select Committee of this House which reported between a year and 18 months ago, to which reference has been made. It commented in these terms upon the cuts that were made in the finances of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and upon the inadequacy of the tests which had been carried out. It said:In view of the present lack of empirical data on the performance of road pavements capable of carrying those 20 million standard axles, this appears to us to be an extremely shortsighted attitude on the part of the Department of Transport".I am sure that every Member of this House will wholeheartedly agree with that comment.
The situation in relation to water and sewerage systems, as has been amply demonstrated by so many here this afternoon who are able to speak with great authority on these matters, is even more disastrous 1083 than the situation in relation to roads. These systems are so vitally necessary to the very existence of life itself. In an article in the New Scientist of May last year, to which an allusion has already been made by my noble friend Lady White, there is a comprehensive table which shows the calculated water leakages, to which reference has already been made by the noble Lord. Lord Sherfield. I was astounded to realise that, if anything, these are conservative estimates. The estimate for the London area is 29 per cent.; for Wales it is 35 per cent.; for the Orkneys it is 50 per cent. and—would you believe it, my Lords?—for the Western Isles, perhaps because of the acidity of the peaty water, it is 56 per cent.
In relation to sewerage, the situation is even gloomier, as the House well appreciates. There are hundreds of towns and cities the length and breadth of this land where the systems, which undoubtedly were the pride and joy of their creators a century and a half ago, are now very near the point of fundamental failure. I do not think I need add anything at all to the most specific testimony that has been given by so many here this afternoon. I would merely add this to what the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, has said about the double-decker bus factor. I was shocked to read in the report of the Select Committee of this House that a double-decker bus-sized hole can be made by a relatively small pipe with a diameter of only 250 mm. So it is not the massive mains alone that can cause this damage on such a spectacular and terrifying scale.
May I turn for a moment to the railways? Although I do not for a moment seek to make political points in this short contribution, nevertheless I do not think we can avoid the fact that it seems that there is an element almost of escapism in the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the problem of the railways. Rather than apply their minds diligently and robustly to the question of seeking to convert to electricity a substantial part of the railway system of Britain, so that that system would bear some relationship to the electrified railways of most other Western democracies; rather than apply their minds to the question whether the railway industry is an industry which must be subjected to the harsh disciplines of profit and loss exactly as if it were a manufacturing industry; rather than ask themselves the question whether or not this is a basic and fundamental public service which, in one sense, carries the whole community, industry and everything else upon its back, they sought to set up the Serpell study in early 1982 which, as the House will well know, reported almost a year ago.
It is perfectly clear that the £900 million loss that British Rail now suffers will hardly be dented by anything other than the most savage surgery that one can conceive of in relation to the existing track system of Britain. That, I suppose, is another way of saying that if you want to do anything substantial in relation to that massive loss you will have to close practically every railway in the United Kingdom. But you do not need Serpell to tell you that. Any intelligent fifth former in any secondary school would come to the conclusion that if you do not have railways they cannot make a loss. But if you do have railways, unless you reduce the track to something of the order of 1084 1,600 to 2,000 miles you will have a substantial loss on your hands. In my submission, Serpell can never be the proper answer to anything because the wrong questions were asked. The question which should have been asked was: what part has the railway system to play in an integrated road-rail transport system? Unless that question is asked, any findings are more dangerous than useless.
I rhetorically ask the question, having mentioned Serpell: what is the Government's final verdict upon Serpell? The financial models have been set up. It was not envisaged that the Serpell report should not be authoritatively commented upon by the Government. As I understand it—I have read yet again the Statement that was repeated in this House by the noble Lord the Minister of State almost a year ago—all that the Statement did was to thank the compilers of the report and say how stimulating it was. It left the matter firmly anchored in mid-air. Are the Government eventually going to give us the benefit of their collective thinking on Serpell? Do they regard Serpell as enunciating a basic truth? Is any action going to be taken on Serpell? Is Serpell now regarded as the daily sustenance of the chairmen of the various regional boards? These are extremely important questions. With his usual courtesy and co-operation, I am sure that the Minister will do his best to answer them when the opportunity eventually comes to him.
A great deal has been said this afternoon about capital expenditure for renovating and replacing the basic system. However, the problem that we are facing at the moment is that in many instances it seems hardly likely that we shall even be able to afford the basic repairs. The massive financial commitment that is required for replacement is almost beyond belief. A year or two ago the Greater London Council calculated that, even to replace the minimum which it regards as necessary to replace, it would have to spend over a period of 10 years many thousands of millions of pounds on water, sewerage and railways alone. The 1982 annual review of the National Water Council calculated that the cost of the necessary replacement of water systems in England and Wales would be £31,000 million.
But the most sorry picture, it seems to me, may well be in relation to rail. In 1976 British Rail said this to the Government:Current levels of investment are quite inadequate to keep pace with the rate at which the system and its assets are running down and wearing out … to maintain the present investment ceilings would entail the progressive decline and eventual closure of a substantial proportion of the system and its services".In 1976, at current prices, we spent £48 million upon maintenance projects. In 1981, at the same current prices. we spent £38 million. I do not have the figures for 1982 and 1983. No doubt the noble Lord the Minister will seek to give them to the House. But my guess is that expenditure was at an even lower level than it was in 1981.
I turn very briefly to one Welsh consideration. In the time available I can deal only with the question of railways. Serpell casts its shadow more deeply over Wales than over any other part of the United Kingdom. Options A and B would leave Wales, as the House knows, with only 25 miles of track between Cardiff and the Severn Tunnel. Options C.2 and C.3 1085 would deprive 90 per cent. of the Principality of any rail services whatsoever. So far as Wales is concerned, it is unnecessary for the Government to activate the savage surgery which is inherent in most of the Serpell Report. They can achieve much the same result by doing nothing at all—just by failing to renovate and replace and sometimes even to repair.
Within 25 miles of my home there is the beautiful bridge that spans the Barmouth Estuary. I have no doubt that it is well known to very many Members of your Lordships' House. It is a bridge, unfortunately, to which the Toredo worm has an obscene and terrifying attachment. In 1981 it was calculated by British Rail that it would cost £2.5 million to make that bridge safe. It regarded the money as being unavailable. A temporary scheme costing £500,000 was embarked upon to safeguard the bridge for a few years. It entailed the closure of the bridge for six months. It seems to me that British Rail, as far as its finances are concerned, is not in a position to meet a major bill.
I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is not in his place, for I should have liked to say to him that although he presented his case in a most benign and charming manner I cannot agree with his main proposition. I found it utterly incomprehensible that the noble Lord was able to say, in relation to a field in which he is so well qualified—namely, sewerage—that there must be renovation and renewal because sewerage is an exception. What earthly difference is there between sewerage and water? What does he say, if I may ask a question rhetorically of his absent self, about leakages of water? Is the noble Lord going to wait for X years until, on average, 70 per cent. will have been lost, and then spend? What will the bill be then? What earthly rule of common sense or good practice can be prayed in aid to distinguish sewerage from water, railways and all the other matters with which we have been dealing?
Lastly, the noble Lord mentioned that all these expenditures would be inflationary. I do not believe the House accepts that point. Expenditure upon the preservation and creation of wealth can never be inflationary. In any event, even if there ever were an inflationary element in such expenditure all the other alternatives are worse and impossible even to contemplate.
§ 5.30 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I want to talk about goods transport because I find that there is considerable misunderstanding on the whole subject. There seems to be an impression that faster is better, more or less regardless of cost—and there seems to be a tendency to spend large sums of money on trying to improve goods transport when the effect is a slight increase of speed at a large increase of cost. This may look like an improvement to some; it is, in fact, a disaster. The matter was explained to me many years ago and I will try to put to your Lordships the arguments as they were put to me, because they were made very clear.
I am quite sure I would be very safe to make a bet that every single one of your Lordships has in the past few days turned on a tap and that water has come out. Some of your Lordships, being of a philosophical turn 1086 of mind, may have thought about this and considered how pleasing it was that water always did come out of the tap. Others of a more economic turn of mind may have considered the cost of the water coming out of the tap. There is one point that I am sure none of your Lordships considered: the question of how long it took between the time when that water fell on the distant hills and the time when it came out of the tap. Why did none of your Lordships think about that aspect? The simple answer must be that it is unimportant, as long as the water keeps coming out of the tap with reasonable purity and at a tolerable cost.
Those are the matters which concern your Lordships, and the length of time that it takes the water to travel to the tap is almost totally unimportant. I admit that in transport matters there are certain items which have to travel fast, such as perishable goods or valuable pieces of replacement machinery which have to be rushed to a factory to keep production moving. Yes, such goods do have to travel fast—but those are not the items which industry normally needs. Any firm in business has a steady flow—almost like that through a pipeline—of goods coming to it from the places where it obtains its raw materials or half-finished materials. They are despatched, they keep on travelling, and they arrive in a steady stream at the other end. The firm then does whatever is needed to those items and puts them into another pipeline which distributes those goods to the company's customers. In each case the process involves transport to and from much the same places, if the firm is in business at all.
What interests the firm is, first, the regularity with which that material arrives; secondly, the cheapness of that transport. If the transport is cheap but slow, it makes very little difference because the cost of transport is accounted for first by the cost of the actual transport operation itself, added to which is the interest on the capital value of the goods locked up in the pipeline. There are certain small additional costs such as insurances and so on, but they do not amount to anything much. The big cost is that of transport, and added to that there is a small cost of the capital locked up. That figure depends of course on what is being sent. If you are sending something particularly valuable, then the locked up cost goes higher. But if you are sending goods by canal boat, it is not likely that you are sending diamonds—except, perhaps, black ones. So the cost of what is in the pipeline and the interest on it is comparatively small.
If you speed up that operation, the amount that you knock off the locked up capital cost may be quite small, whereas any addition to the cost of the operation itself is likely to be much larger. So a slight speed up at a cost is likely to be to the disadvantage of industry rather than to its advantage. This matter seems to be little understood. Sir Frank Price, chairman of the British Waterways Board, has recently been writing articles very much to this effect; that what we need in this country is not faster transport of goods but cheaper transport of goods. If you merely throw money at the process without gaining additional cheapness—not speed, but cheapness—then your capital cost is to the disadvantage of industry because it is making the operation more expensive, either by direct payment or because the money has to be spent 1087 by the Exchequer, which has to get it back by taxation or by other means. This point seems very widely to be ignored.
All this means of course is that we should look much more to considering what can be done to make our goods transport cheaper rather than making it faster. In this respect, we ought to be looking at our railways, our waterways, and also our ports. Our ports in this country rather fall into two categories. There are the old ports which had railheads, and the newer ports which do not have them. Very often, the older ports are attached to waterway systems. Unfortunately, the costs of our older ports are right in the sky because of various old habits, including the dock labour boards.
I believe—strangely enough in a debate on doing something about our industries—that something on which we might well spend money to advantage would be getting rid of our old dock labour boards system. It would mean paying off a lot of people but it would be worth it. In some cases the effects now of the dock labour boards are more than doubling the costs of the goods going through those ports. I know of one particular case where the cost is five times what it could be if the old dock labour board restrictions could be removed. That state of affairs, if only it can be dealt with, could do a great deal to make British industry's transportation cheaper. It is cheaper transport that we want, and that is a very different thing from faster transport.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I should like to begin on a genial note which I hope will raise the spirits of the noble Lord the Minister—by congratulating him once again on the action which the Government took when we were discussing the Water Bill last year; the decision to implement the Reservoirs Act 1975. I should like to follow the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, when he asked the Minister to comment on how the conversations and procedures were going in relation to that implementation. I hope the Minister will have something to say about it later.
My understanding was that the Act was to be implemented in two slices, the first of them in April of this year and the second part in April of next year. Since then I have been informed by the department—and I am grateful to them for giving me this information—that there has been some slippage in the programme, the ordinary kind of slippage perhaps which occurs when any measure of this sort relies upon consultation, discussion and perhaps even agreement, but a further complication arising from the Government's proposals to make certain reforms in local government at some time in the fairly near future. I am told that that proposal of the Government, that complication, produces a further slippage in the programme for implementation.
As I understand it, the situation now is that in Greater London and the Metropolitan Counties the Act will now be implemented in three stages instead of two, the first, the easy bit, to be done as soon as possible—in those well known words. I should like the Minister to tell me how soon is likely to prove to be possible; I hope it is very soon. The second stage in 1088 Greater London and the Metropolitan Counties would come on 1st January 1986, and the third stage on 1st January 1987. For the remainder of the country the process would be slightly faster, stage one again as soon as possible, stage two not on 1st April 1984, as we had supposed, but on 1st October 1984, and the third stage a year later. I am merely wondering why there is that first six months slippage from April to October, and, I must say, rather deploring the fact that the proposed changes in local government, which may or may not be necessary—I do not think so, but the Government do—have led to further slippage in implementing this Act.
I think that is a great pity, though we have to be thankful for small mercies; I think it is a pity, because the Act had its origin, your Lordships will remember, in proposals made by a working party of the Institution of Civil Engineers, to which Lord Bowden made reference earlier, as long ago as 1966. It seems to me unduly slow for proposals which were produced in 1966 to look like coming into full implementation by 1st January 1987, assuming, that is, that there is no further slippage, and assuming that the Government are actually successful in making these local government reforms which play an unreasonable part in complicating this matter. I think 21 years is rather too long for this sort of thing, and I sincerely hope that it will not turn out to be even more than that.
Turning to the Motion in a more general way, it covers a very wide range of construction activity. The speech of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn showed just how wide that range is. It is such a wide and complicated range of construction activity that it requires the most careful planning, first, in order to avoid expenditure becoming uncontrolled, and thereby avoiding some of the dangers to which the noble Lord. Lord Nugent of Guildford, alluded, and also to make sure that the tasks of maintaining and improving the environment, which is what the infrastructure is, are within the capability of the construction industry, within the capability, for instance, of the materials supply part of the construction industry, and within the capability of the labour force which is available.
At one time, for instance, noble Lords will remember, in the early 'seventies it was quite seriously proposed that at one and the same time the London motorway box would be built, a substantial programme of nuclear power stations would be built, the third London Airport would be built and the Channel tunnel would be built, and these would all be coming under construction at more or less the same time. Meanwhile, the everyday work of the construction industry, such matters as the Kielder reservoir, the Dinorwic pump storage hydro scheme would be going on at the same time.
It was extremely unlikely in the early 'seventies that the construction industry could have done all that without very serious overheating and without very serious effects on the economy as a whole. In a way, it did not really matter. Although the construction industry's appetite was whetted at the thought of all that work and civil engineers' hearts leapt with joy at the thought of all that work, it did not matter at all because all these four big projects were either totally abandoned or trimmed down to something very small. 1089 That is no way to plan the improvement of the infrastructure; it is certainly no way to plan a construction industry, because the construction industry must not be expected to gear itself up to a massive workload only to find that that workload is taken away before it even gets started. That is no way to run a country at all, and I think something should be done about it.
Something, I think, can be done. Lord Bowden in his remarks drew attention to the Institution of Civil Engineers and the planning work which the institution is doing. I think, quite frankly, that the correct place for this kind of long-range planning, looking ahead over a lengthy period, is really in the Think Tank, which noble Lords will remember. The Think Tank perhaps spent too much of its time worrying about the Foreign Office and some of its overseas activities, but the long-range planning of the infrastructure, the long-range future of the construction industry would have been a very precise and a very useful task for the Think Tank to undertake. Unfortunately, however, the Think Tank no longer exists and it will be unable to think the unthinkable so far as the construction industry is concerned.
But somebody has to do it, and the Institution of Civil Engineers is trying in an amateur way to do it. The institution twice since 1975 tried to interest the Prime Minister of the day, including the present Prime Minister, in setting up an infrastructure strategy board which would do this long-term planning which we have been talking about. The Prime Minister in neither case was interested, and the institution has been obliged to set up a board of its own. It is called the Infrastructure Planning Group. It was set up in 1981 and began work in 1982. Its terms of reference are:To review, to establish and to recommend infrastructure needs for the UK for the remainder of this century".The aims of the group are to contribute to the development of policies for infrastructure services and their implementation. Its expertise is rooted in management and civil engineering, in both the public and private sectors, throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, and it is thus able to draw on the wide range of practical professional expertise which exists in the institution's membership.
It has already prepared reports. It held a conference on the water industry last February, which was referred to in this House, I remember, by my noble friend Lady White during a previous debate. It will be producing reports on infrastructure planning from time to time as the years roll by. I commend its work to the Minister and to his colleagues and hope that they will pay, at long last, proper attention to what is after all the premier engineering learned society in the world.
During the course of his remarks my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos referred to Wales, which he felt was in special need of care and attention in its infrastructure problems. I am sure he is right. I want to draw attention to one aspect only of the problems in Wales and that is really in England—the Severn Bridge. There has been a fair amount of discussion in the press in the past few weeks about the Severn Bridge and not all of it. I hasten to say, has been terribly well informed although almost all of it has been highly dramatic, and indeed over dramatic. There has been some talk—I do not know whether there is any truth in 1090 it—of spending £28 million or £30 million on strengthening the bridge and another £5 million on renewing the road surface on the bridge deck. I think it is fair to say that, while the expenditure on the road surface is necessary to deal with the normal wear and tear to be expected on a bridge which has been carrying traffic for about 17 years, the much greater expenditure on strengthening the bridge is entirely unnecessary. My information from consulting engineers is that the bridge is perfectly safe although no doubt it requires, as anything of its age would, a certain amount of minor attention.
Let me say something in support of that contention. The bridge was designed to meet two main conditions—there were more, but two main conditions. The first was for a traffic load of 2,000 tonnes to be carried on the main span in addition to the dead weight of the bridge itself, and the second was to withstand a steady horizontal wind load of 100 miles an hour on the deck without traffic. Those were the two major loads, which are well below the loads which would cause major damage to the structure because of the factors of safety which were included. In fact, nothing like those loads have actually been experienced. Although the design load on the deck is said to be 2,000 tonnes, I am told that the load on the bridge is usually 300 tonnes and that occasionally the load has been as high as 1,200 tonnes. Both those figures are substantially below the design load. The maximum steady wind has been about 50 miles an hour, or half the designed wind load and that even gusts have never reached 100 miles an hour.
It has been suggested to me that during the process of checking the bridge unusual loading conditions have been adopted. It is of course true that unusual loading conditions can occur on bridges; but, generally speaking, when dealing with unusual loading conditions safety factors are adjusted in a sensible way to suit. I am informed this was not done in the checking process. Although I am in no position to verify this figure, it seems that the checking process has resulted in the bridge being examined under a load equivalent to 5,000 tonnes on the main span. That is two-and-a-half times the actual design load. It is little wonder that the bridge was found to be suspect. I imagine that if every bridge in the country were to be checked against an imaginary load of two-and-a-half times its design load the thunder of collapsing bridges would deafen us. There is not one bridge in the country which would survive a load of two-and-a-half times its design load.
Going on from there, even if the bridge is actually safe—and it is still standing as I speak, even after last weekend, and I am fairly sure it will be there next week, the week after, and for quite a long time—there is a real problem which has consequences for Wales. The bridge deck has a two-lane dual carriageway, whereas the motorway which serves it has a three-lane dual carriageway. The consequence is quite clear. When the motorway reaches its full capacity the bridge will be inadequate because one can no more get three lanes of traffic into two lanes than one can get a quart into a pint bottle. That is a serious problem. The bridge will eventually be unable to deal with the traffic flow. Therefore, at some stage another crossing of the Severn will have to be considered and I suggest that the 1091 time to consider it is now, while we have the time in hand and while we are thinking hard about the infrastructure.
A study should be set up and it should obviously include a traffic study. In addition, it should examine the possibilities of a second bridge, a tunnel—either of the bored kind or the submerged tube—or, if the study wanted to be really adventurous, it might even consider the notion of a road-cum-barrage across the Severn, which is something we hear about from time to time. I am given to understand that at today's prices, and assuming that we get reasonable site productivity, a new bridge similar to the existing suspension bridge would cost about £50 million, with approximately another £30 million for the approaches, and so on. The two bridges would then be able to cope with the South Wales traffic for a very long time to come. I should like the Minister to consider whether or not it might be more sensible to spend the money on a second crossing, which will become necessary, rather than spend £30 million or so on strengthening the bridge, which is unnecessary.
I want to conclude by referring to something which was brought into my head by the remarks of my noble friend Lady White earlier when she spoke of help from the EEC for infrastructure projects. That reminded me of a report called New Life for Old Cities which I was recently given by the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors. It reminded me of one paragraph which referred to EEC grants. The report says:This is further compounded by the British Government's approach to EEC finance for local projects since instead of regarding grants from the EEC as in addition to the funds allocated by the UK Government, the British Government take the opportunity to reduce central Government spending by an amount equivalent to any funds allocated by the EEC. There is thus no net increase of spending on infrastructure as a result of grants from the EEC. The only merit therefore in EEC grants under the present arrangement is that individual local authorities may advance their place in the queue for projects.I remember that was the case; I am not sure if it still is, but if so, it is high time that was stopped and that EEC grants for infrastructure projects should be in addition to Government spending.
I hope that the Minister will take these comments of mine in the kindly way in which they are intended. I am hoping to encourage him to spend more in infrastructure, and I hope that this House will accept the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend, Lord Cledwyn, earlier this afternoon.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I should also like to thank my noble friend, Lord Cledwyn, for having presented this very important subject to the House this afternoon and for having introduced it, as he always does, in a highly interesting and able way. As he suggested, I am going to confine myself to a very narrow part of the great choice that he has given us, and I am going to speak a little about Northern Ireland's housing.
I should, however, like to say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have spoken on more esoteric subjects, as I found them extremely educational and I feel a little ashamed that I am talking on such a 1092 mundane subject as housing. I think it is important to remember that Northern Ireland still has some of the worst housing in Western Europe, and I think that even the Northern Ireland housing executive acknowledges that conditions in the Province lag behind conditions over here on the mainland by 15 or even 20 years.
The reason for Northern Ireland's particular housing conditions are very varied and very complex, and I certainly would not want to go into them deeply. I should like merely to touch on the background of these problems, and comment briefly on the implications which the present Government's housing policy is having on the Province at this time. I think it is generally accepted that the worst housing conditions in the Province are to be found in Belfast: the city's terraces of pitifully two-up and two-down houses which are to be found in the Ardoyne and in Ballymurphy make one feel that one is no longer in the United Kingdom. These houses were rushed up about a century ago and since have been worn out altogether.
The big post-war housing effort took place mainly in Protestant areas outside Belfast, and Belfast city bosses neglected slum clearance altogether until the mid-1960s. This brought on the movement of the young and economically active out of the Protestant areas like the Shankill and left behind an ageing and dwindling population. Then during the height of the troubles, about 60,000 people moved their homes and this possibly must be one of the largest population movements in Western Europe since the war.
North and East Belfast were further depopulated and houses were left empty and bricked up; but, on the other hand, Catholic West Belfast became grossly over-populated with overcrowded dwellings standing at 23 per cent. compared with 12.4 per cent. for the rest of Belfast. To exacerbate the situation, moreover, the housing association inherited a considerable number of badly designed post-war estates, again mainly in Catholic Belfast, and the most notorious among these were the Divis flats complex and the Moyard estate. There, conditions for the occupants deteriorated very quickly after the flats had been constructed and there were severe condensation and damp problems. In many of the flats the rubbish chutes became blocked and the district heating schemes became too expensive for the residents to use. That brought on consequent bad heating of this particular accommodation.
There is ample proof that Northern Ireland's housing infrastructure was faulty right from the start and has consequently needed greater resources than any other part of the United Kingdom, if only to bring it into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, there are many statistics which reveal a very great disparity between the standard of housing in the Province and that on the mainland. I mention only one or two, but I think they are relevant ones: 15.4 per cent. of Northern Ireland's houses lack a bathroom against only 2.6 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland there are as many as 3.6 per cent. of houses without even a kitchen compared to only 0.4 per cent. on the mainland. Finally, it is estimated that 14.1 per cent. of Northern Ireland's houses are classified as unfit compared to 6.2 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom.
1093 These few statistics are enough to give unequivocal proof that the shortfall between the level of housing enjoyed by the citizens of Northern Ireland and those of the rest of the United Kingdom has never in any way been narrowed. It is therefore evident that the task which faces the Northern Ireland housing authorities is a formidable one: not only must they make up for the legacy of poor housing built up over those preceding years and give to their citizens accommodation which will meet their needs, but at the same time they have to correct the previous imbalance which existed between the two communities by a fair redistribution of the accommodation that is available.
There is no doubt that progress was made between the years 1973 and 1978 when there was a steady capital investment into the building of new houses, but it was between then and 1982 that the figures, both in the public and private sectors, fell in a disastrous way. Indeed, after the 1981 moratorium on capital spending on new buildings and rehabilitation, the Northern Ireland housing executive feared that there might even be no new building starting in 1982 and 1983. This leads us to wonder and to examine what the Government are doing today to grapple with the dual problem of bringing Northern Ireland's housing into line with the rest of the United Kingdom and creating a fair distribution between the two communities.
It would only be fair to acknowledge that the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has accorded a new and greater priority to the problem of housing. But it is the form that this renewed effort has taken which is a very great concern. Instead of putting capital funds into buildings and necessary new houses for rehabilitation, the expense has been carried by using funds coming from big rent increases, house sales amounting to 20,000 houses in the past four years, and from the extra EEC funds which they were fortunate enough to be given. Thus, the revenue for the present building programme comes from the increase in rents and, as I say, from the proceeds of those 20,000 houses.
That has resulted in many of the province's more well-to-do citizens being satisfied, though whether they will be able to maintain their new houses is still to be proved. But from the point of view of the less privileged, many of whom are from the minority community, the effect has been disastrous, in that the sales have substantially reduced the level of relets to the poorer families on the executive's waiting lists—most especially those from estates such as Divis and Moyard—who await rehabilitation.
According to Shelter, which has a big job to do in Northern Ireland, there are currently 27,000 people on the executive's waiting list, which is nearly 4,000 more than it was in 1977. Owner-occupation, Shelter contends, is not a feasible alternative for all of Northern Ireland's population.
So this policy of selling off housing stock has not worked out at all for Northern Ireland, and I believe that the few statistics that I have given your Lordships make that point. Not only does human misery and social injustice continue, but the policy has also given Sinn Fein—a political party which, as we all know, continues to include the use of violence in its 1094 armoury—an opportunity to improve its standing with its own community. In West Belfast Sinn Fein has now formed a housing department with a staff of 30 people and they have thrown themselves with enormous energy into housing issues. Thereby Sinn Fein has successfully broadened its base and gained electoral support, with all the difficulties that this will entail in regard to a future political solution for Northern Ireland.
I shall not further extend my remarks about Northern Ireland's infrastructure, except to mention that the other day I saw a report by the Department of Education inspectorate, which came out only last month, and which concluded that there is every evidence that the present capital budget available for school buildings is totally inadequate at the moment. The report found that increasing numbers of pupils are being deprived of reasonable educational facilities and the proper environment for learning, and it concluded by expressing a fear that the present level of funding would appear to be storing up greater problems for the future.
So surely there can be no doubt not only that after all this time do the Northern Irish deserve better housing, but also that housing is a vital part of any future political solution for Northern Ireland. If the Government continue to neglect the already vulnerable basic infrastructure of Northern Ireland's housing, with their main emphasis being on home ownership, that can only be to the detriment—and often the exclusion—of the thousands of poor, the unemployed, young children, and the disabled of this most economically crippled of Western European societies. In its wake it will bring on a return to the division of the communities which all British Governments have been committed to dispel.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, this is a vast subject for debate. There is always a need to modernise and improve. Some needs are urgent and must take priority, but the most satisfactory way to deal with existing and future infrastructure problems is surely to plan well and, as finances permit, to carry out the planned programmes of modernisation and improvement. New technology and a changing world, together with an element of built-in obsolescence, mean that these programmes will never end, but will simply be rolling programmes—the infinity referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.
It is always easy to see existing need; it is less simple to appreciate the amount that is being done and has been done in the immediate past. In transport, the Government have achieved much, in particular in terms of the road programme, and the three White Papers of 1980, 1982, and 1983 make clear the priority that the Government attach to this form of transport, which accounts for 90 per cent. of mechanised passenger travel and 80 per cent. of inland freight moves.
The trunk roads and motorways for which the Government are responsible carry 70 per cent. of the heaviest goods vehicles. The Government have set three priorities: first, roads which aid economic recovery; secondly, roads which bring environmental 1095 benefits; and, thirdly, preservation of existing investment.
As the last Labour Government cut investment in roads by 46 per cent., there was a need for clear action by the Government, who were elected in 1979, and their record in regard to roads is a good one. Three hundred miles of new trunk road, including 126 miles of motorway, have been completed and figures that I recently saw showed that a further 168 miles of roads, including 76 miles of new motorway, are under construction. Over 90 towns and villages on trunk roads have been relieved of through traffic.
As a one-time parliamentary candidate for North Cornwall, I was particularly interested in the by-pass plans for a village, St. Columb, and for Launceston, a much larger town close to the Devon border. In the case of St. Columb it was quite clear to all that a bypass must greatly improve life, as the footpath was not wide enough for even one pedestrian. The only argument there was over the route of the bypass, and that was eventually settled. In Launceston the concern was different. It was about the possibility that taking the traffic out of the town might also take the trade out of the town, and thus businesses and people's livelihoods would suffer.
Now these two bypasses are in full use and they have proved more than satisfactory. In St. Columb residents can safely walk the streets of their own village, and my inquiries in Launceston confirm that diversion of heavy through traffic has helped traders in the town and made a much better environment for those who live there.
How different is the situation in some parts of London. In my own Greater London Council constituency, Enfield-Southgate. I worked for four years to have passed a lorry ban, small in scale, but covering residential parts of Barnet and Enfield. The ban was to keep heavy lorries out of residential streets and on the main roads. The plan was approved in 1980–81, the road signs were prepared, and necessary contracts let, so that the scheme would come into operation when that section of the M.25 was opened.
Then the 1981 GLC election took place and a Socialist majority resulted. The lorry ban was immediately rescinded, though the money—over £20,000—for the road signing had been spent and was not recoverable. Because the present GLC cannot reconcile rejection of this experimental scheme with its publicly announced aim of improving the environment for residents, it has not dared to cancel the scheme, but has just put it into cold storage, and it is officially "deferred". The scheme has since gone back to the committee and to the full council for decision on a number of occasions. Each time the local residents' hopes are raised that the scheme will be passed, a further "defer" decision is made.
The scheme would be the first of its kind in London, and much valuable knowledge would he gained from its introduction for an experimental period, which would show the effects on road users and residents, as well as the practicality of this type of small scheme. It is to be hoped that with the opening very soon of the next portion of the M.25 around north-east London from the M.1 to Kent, the lorry ban may at last be introduced.
1096 The M.25, known as "the biggest by-pass of them all", will be complete by 1986. It is estimated that it will carry 83 per cent. of through lorry traffic as well as local orbital traffic. It will be a mixed blessing for London. It will relieve London of much environmental disturbance, and that is good. But it is feared that it will take much business out of London, rather than bring business and jobs into London, where they are needed, if this great capital is to survive, much less thrive.
Successive Labour administrations at London's County Hall have set their faces against road traffic. As a result, there has been little upgrading of London's roads and there is simply no effective road system in and out of central London. Industries that wish to make use of the M.25 to move their goods will tend to set up near the M.25. Many are now planning the move. With the present London rate burden, it is likely that they will opt to be just outside rather than just inside this circular motorway. In Peter Hall's fascinating book Great Planning Disasters, he says:As with London's third airport, so with its motorway system, the most important point is that it does not exist".This was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howie, in his speech. Strictly speaking, 40 miles of the motorway does exist, but that is only about one-tenth of what was planned at one time.
London traffic has been a subject of controversy since the start of the automotive era. In 1905, a Royal Commission produced eight volumes on the subject. A new North Circular Road was proposed in 1910. Is this the very same road as we are trying to improve now? Between 1888, when the London County Council was created, and 1939, it had completed just one major new road in central London—Kingsway. The Conservative GLC of 1977 to 1981 attempted to plan constructively for £20 million expenditure on a comprehensive road programme to improve traffic flow and to reduce or eliminate congestion, particularly dealing with so-called black spots. The ring road scheme, to which reference has been made in today's debate, was already dead, buried by the public inquiry into the Greater London development plan, which was one of the most protracted planning inquiries. Talking of the London development plan, I have today received draft alterations to the Greater London development plan extending to more that 156 pages of very small print, so it looks as if the Greater London development plan is still going strong.
The ringway scheme was very extensive and original and based on Abercrombie's plan, but it was not acceptable to people. There were over 28,000 objections. However, industrial decline in London is creating a new awareness of the need for effective road access in and out of London. I do not anticipate the return of any proposals for a vast network of roads. but if we are to ensure continuing employment for people in London we must look for a greater degree of reconciliation between the road lobby and the environmental lobby so that the necessary road infrastructure will be made and will be suitable for the needs that it must meet.
Naturally, people object to whatever is likely to affect them personally. It is right that public inquiries are held. But there is something amiss in the present system of public inquiries which can be prolonged, 1097 almost interminably, by any minority group determined to obstruct progress. The cost and the time of these inquiries is a heavy burden on the taxpayer. Some estimate that a two-month inquiry costs between £100,000 and £200,000 in legal fees alone.
When I had a degree of responsibility for deciding where to site new London fire stations—I look on them as an essential part of infrastructure—everyone objected to their street being chosen. Everyone wants a fire station within easy reach of their address so as to be sure of cover if they need it, but no one wants it next door, with its noisy bell and urgent rush to a call. It seems to be the same with roads. Everyone wants to have the use of good roads, but they want them away from where they will cause them personal discomfort. In other transport fields the Government have permitted private operators to provide coach services. Good, fast and inexpensive coaches now transport large numbers of passengers. This has made a very big difference, particularly to people in areas where there are no railway lines, such as North Cornwall.
I must refer to motorway maintenance, which has already been mentioned by many speakers in the debate. Some motorways are now 20 years old and require major structural works. I am glad that the Government have given priority to maintenance. About 70 miles of motorway are being renewed annually, and the increase in spending on major structural renewal of trunk roads and motorways has risen from £45 million in 1978–79 to £144 million in 1982–83, an increase of three times.
Returning to my opening remarks in favour of a rolling programme, I welcome the five-year rolling programme for motorway maintenance. Future plans must also look at the servicing of ports, airports and new industries. These are important aspects of infrastructure. They were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I know that he has a great interest in canals. I was briefly chairman of the London Canals Consultative Committee. I was particularly pleased therefore to see that the Government had given the first capital grant in 1983 towards reinstating and modernising a disused wharf on the Trent at Gainsborough, so that bulk cargoes such as steel, cement, paper, timber and grain can be transported by water to the East Coast ports.
As transport affects work and everyday life, so, too, housing has an enormous impact on each person. We debated housing only recently. I do not intend to repeat much of what was said. I am convinced that home ownership is the wish and aim of the vast majority of people. One way to improve the housing stock is to improve the do-it-yourself attitude. This happens automatically with home ownership. Under the Government's low-cost home ownership programme for first-time buyers, over 500,000 local authority and new town homes have been sold. Shared ownership and co-ownership schemes are helping many to own their own home. The right to buy has meant much to the people that it has helped.
The report in the press last week that empty houses outnumber those on the waiting list by four to one indicates that there is something wrong when so many people remain homeless. Obviously, there is a mismatch of location. The homes must be empty in 1098 one place and the people needing homes must be in a different place. People become attached to particular areas and dislike the thought of change. Studies have shown that it is the women of the family who suffer most from being uprooted when they have become settled in a home. My own experience is that, even within the City of Westminster—a fairly limited area—people have often refused housing offered in the Victoria area because they live in Paddington and think that Victoria is much too far away. Yet it is impossible to give everyone housing exactly where they want it. Space is limited, especially in London, although the docklands offer more possible space for development than we could ever have envisaged some years ago. Infrastructure is vitally important to the future development of the docklands area. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will assure us that there are adequate plans for this.
The release of publicly-owned land for sale to private builders for starter homes is proving most interesting. A group of such homes in Westminster was recently sold, priority being given to council tenants and those on the waiting list. Each property was bought by a council tenant who then moved out of a council flat, thus creating vacancies for others on the waiting list. Homesteading was introduced by the GLC. I greatly support that. I believe that in London it has brought many houses into good repair that would otherwise not have been upgraded. The setting up in March 1981 of a housing defects prevention unit at the Building Research Establishment should help to maintain housing stock by earlier detection of any need for action. This is a new idea and one that I welcome. Housing is a vast subject and I have been able to touch only briefly on some of the matters it covers. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider carefully the point concerning the EC which was made by two of the other speakers. I should like to bring to his attention a slightly different aspect—namely, where a grant is available from the EC to help a project in this country, could he assure us that the matching amount provided by the local authority will not be considered as part of its target expenditure for the various purposes at which his department is looking at present? If it is excluded from, or additional to, target expenditure, there will be much greater encouragement for local authorities to try to support more grants available through the EC.
In conclusion, I would repeat my original statement: we should plan well and, as through increasing prosperity greater funding becomes available, we should carry out plans for improvements in infrastructure in the United Kingdom.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I, too, would like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for giving us the opportunity to discuss this crucial and urgent matter. Crucial, because our domestic business and commercial interests demand an efficient infrastructure for those who live and work in it; and urgent, because of discussions now taking place about the proposals to restructure local government and to centralise more and more of its traditional functions. 1099 This debate takes place, too, at a time when millions of our people are suffering the indignity, the hardship and the hopelessness of unemployment—a very crucial part of the infrastructure—which costs the Exchequer an enormous amount of money, and when it appears to those unemployed people that Government Ministers and spokesmen are much concerned with trying to find ways in which to reduce the burden of expense by reducing benefits or taxing benefits or doctoring the statistics, but not doing much about pursuing the policies that will create jobs and reduce unemployment levels by public expenditure on, for instance, infrastructure.
There are signs, too, that the Government seem to have accepted the inevitability that hundreds of thousands of our people, of all ages, will never work again. To the unemployed it means that nobody seems to care. Yet the situation described by my noble friend and others in this debate this afternoon is fast reaching crisis proportions nationwide and is crying out for a planned, phased programme of public expenditure to update the infrastructure of our country.
In London, for example, 300,000 jobs have been lost since 1978 and now unemployment stands at around 400,000. The Institute of Employment Research has estimated that, if it carries on in the way in which it has in recent years, a further 300,000 jobs will go by the end of the decade. Thousands of those jobs are in the construction industry. It is a ludicrous situation faced with the problems outlined by my noble friend in his opening remarks about the construction industry in particular.
Like many of your Lordships, I, too, served as a member of local authorities for many years, and I can remember the concern and anxiety felt by all of us who were involved in the 1950s and 1960s every time restrictions and difficulties were placed in the way of making adequate provision for repair, maintenance and replacement of necessary parts of the infrastructure. It has been my experience that when economies were called for, when priorities had to be decided, some of those programmes involved with parts of the infrastructure were always the first to be relegated. The sewers, the water mains, road repairs, street lighting, the training of staff in apprenticeships and so on, were always the first to go. However, we knew—and we always used to say so—that these problems would have to be tackled one day, although it appeared that, so long as the necessary repairs were carried out and rents, rates and taxes were contained at acceptable levels, the problems were shelved by successive Governments and put aside for another day. This afternoon it has been called, "crisis maintenance". I must confess that I have heard little from the Government side so far to allay my fears that that situation will not obtain for many, many years to come—if they are allowed to get away with it. In my view we have now reached the end of that type of approach. Indeed, the view expressed by many of my noble friends on this side of the House agrees with that proposition. The time has come when that approach is no longer sufficient.
I want to comment briefly on one or two aspects of the problem that may have been touched upon and others that may not have been touched upon. I, too, 1100 speak mainly of London. I am grateful to the noble Baroness who has just spoken for dealing with matters which form a great chunk of my notes, which means that I can be briefer than I would otherwise have been. However, I speak mainly of London because that was where I gained my local authority experience and because London is under the most severe threat of further financial restrictions which could make the situation even worse than it already is in our capital city. So it is deserving of some special mention, at least by one or two of us.
A number of reports have been produced in recent years by London local authorities including the Greater London Council, and by the public utilities—the gas board, the postal authorities, the telecommunications people, British Rail and the transport authorities—covering every aspect of London life, and they are all very concerned about the problems of the deteriorating infrastructure. Some futher work is being done and will continue to be done if we can maintain the financial arrangements.
When my noble friend opened the debate he mentioned the housing debate that took place just before Christmas and which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead. Indeed, I think the noble Baroness also mentioned that debate and, therefore. I shall not repeat too much of what was said on that occasion. However, it is apposite during a debate on infrastructure for us to have in mind one or two statistics about London's situation. For example, 900,000. or roughly one third of London's 2.6 million dwellings, were built before 1919 and over half of those are situated in inner London where all the other problems that we read about daily in our newspapers and see on our television screens exist. So we do not have to have much of an imagination to see the effect that a further deterioration in that housing stock and the condition of that housing stock will have on those problems that already exist in inner London as they do in other inner city areas throughout the country. That is an important factor to bear in mind when we tend to push this discussion of infrastructure to one side. I hope that the Minister will reply to some of these points when he winds up.
I understand that the total cost of the backlog of repairs needed to housing stock in London, including all age categories, is estimated to be £7,500 million at 1982 prices. The figure for older houses is not immediately available, but undoubtedly a large proportion of the total repair bill would be incurred by older housing. It is the older houses which have the bigger problems. They are more expensive to repair, maintain, heat and so on, and therefore it is a colossal problem which has been neglected for far too long but which can no longer suffer or bear any further neglect.
Much has been said, too, about water this afternoon and it is inevitable that if we speak about London we have to speak about water for the same reasons as I outlined at the beginning. Although the Thames Water Authority boundaries are not exactly the same as the boundaries of the Greater London Council, and the information about the mileage, the size, age, location and conditions of London's sewers and water mains is patchy, we know that there are about 10,428 miles of water main and nearly 15,000 miles of sewer in London. Approximately 5,000 miles of water 1101 pipeline are more than 75 years old and 2,500 miles of that total are over 100 years old. That must present a fairly stark picture of the condition of some of those services under the streets.
We know, too, that most of London's sewer system is more than 70 years old, and again a substantial proportion is more than 100 years old. Of course, that does not mean that the system is immediately in danger of crumbling or collapsing, or is in need of total renewal. But it does mean that, given the life expectancy of some parts of the system, there is an urgent need for immediate detailed investigation and reappraisal of the whole system.
As I said earlier, the Thames Water Authority has done a great deal of work and is continuing to carry out surveys. But more resources are needed if this is to be continued without interruption and if its findings are to be implemented. Of course, the authority must be assured that existing resources will not be interfered with or disappear in this general argument that is now taking place about the restructuring of local government finance, particularly in London. I understand that a realistic estimate indicates the need for a 10-year investment programme in London involving urgent replacement of between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent. of both water and sewage systems, plus a replacement of 0.5 per cent. of each system per year.
The total cost of this programme over 10 years would be between £735 million and £840 million, or between £73.5 million and £84 million per year. Compare that with the existing capital programme of London for £25 million per year and we can immediately see at that level the shortfall and of course a worsening of the situation if it is allowed to continue.
All these financial problems were discussed in a recent report published by the Greater London Council entitled, London's Victorian Infrastructure; as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, knows (and I see that she nods approval) they discussed this some months ago. I believe that these problems and the fears about their future in the new procedures being proposed by the Government must be resolved fairly soon, and I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on some of those aspects of it.
According to that same report—and this is where I am grateful to the noble Baroness because I can skip chunks of my notes here—dealing with roads, within the GLC area there are 240 kilometres of trunk roads and motorways, 1,440 kilometres of principal roads and 11,000 kilometres of local roads. We all know the complex situation—it is almost a jungle—that exists between local authorities, county authorities and central authorities over the financial and administrative responsibilities for all roads. So, again, if there are to be any major changes, some people believe that it would be even more difficult to understand the situation.
Another report—T.345, the Performance Review—Highways Maintenance published in June 1982—gave a comprehensive analysis of the highway maintenance situation in London. Recommendations for ultimate expenditure to catch up with maintenance requirements suggested that the GLC should spend £44.5 million on maintenance and reconstruction of metropolitan roads over each of the next seven years. 1102 Compare that with £30·4 million estimated spending in the 1982–83 and again we see the dangerous shortfall and an even more possible deterioration in the roads.
My noble friend Lord Cledwyn quoted from an excellent report by the British Road Federation that I read the other day called Room to Move. If I heard him correctly, he too quoted the paragraph from the introduction where the federation voices some of the fears about the future when it says:The proposals now being drawn up for the restructuring of local government in the metropolitan counties may offer an opportunity for a new start. But they may also carry the very real risk that the existing road programmes may be delayed by up to three or more years while the district councils review their structure plans and consider the financial and other implications".It is my contention that we cannot wait another two or three years before we begin the process that we ought to start now. It is that on which I should like the Minister to comment.
I have mentioned that a number of reports have been drawn up. Local authorities, which in London have been very concerned about this for a long time, have also drawn up reports concerned about the present situation and worried about the future. For instance, councils like Camden, which I know fairly well, within whose boundaries are situated main line railway and coach stations, have produced reports and recommendations for urgent improvements to the infrastructure aimed at improving road approaches to some of the surplus railway land that exists, so that these sites can be opened up for industrial and employment purposes. They need assurances and finance.
These are crucial issues. In my view they will not be resolved within the context of the legislation which is now being steam-rollered through the other place. In fact, that legislation may well be counter-productive in the area of providing these facilities and of improving the infrastructure in the way in which we should like it to be improved.
Recently I was impressed when, towards the end of the year—in fact, I think it was New Year's Eve—I read a report in the Financial Times that nearly three-quarters of Britain's managers are willing to forgo cuts in personal taxation in order to help finance investment in the country's infrastructure. That report was the result of a survey that was taken of industrial managers. That must be significant if people at that level are bothered—and we know that people at other levels are also bothered—and I think that we are entitled to ask the Government to accept this Motion, to act on it and to give it the priority that it obviously deserves.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, first, I should like to join with previous speakers in congratulating and complimenting my noble friend Lord Cledwyn on introducing this debate and on the manner in which he did so. In fact, he covered a very wide area indeed. I should like to approach this matter in a slightly different way from that of other speakers, because my view of the infrastructure of a nation does not necessarily relate to roads, railways and civil 1103 engineering schemes, though they are part of it. I do not think that we ought to build an infrastructure and expect our people to live within it, but we should try to create the infrastructure that we think they desire. I have no doubt at all that over the past five years, infrastructure has been severely damaged because of Government cuts.
I want to limit my remarks to two particular subjects. One is housing, because some facets of it have not been touched on. I think it is probably the most important personal service that people require. I certainly agree with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. In passing, I was glad to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, on my native city of Manchester and the fact that the holes are still appearing there. When he described it, it was almost as though I was watching the last scene of "Paint your Wagon", when everything started to disappear down the holes dug by the miners. It was very commendable of him to express the peculiar difficulties of that city, which are of course compounded by the fact that underneath it Manchester has miles of now disused pit tunnels.
My noble friend Lord Stallard referred to unemployment. There is no question about the fact that the unemployed are at the worst end of an infrastructure that is deteriorating. We have had debates in this House in the short time I have been here—the last debate was initiated by my noble friend Lord Jacques—on employment and suggestions have been made about measures to be taken to reduce unemployment quickly. The building industry, whether in regard to house building, hospital building or civil engineering, is perhaps the quickest means of translating investment into jobs in real terms.
I cannot understand why the Government keep turning their backs on this policy despite the fact that now the CBI, the TUC and the Institute of Directors, to varying degrees, are suggesting such a policy of increased investment. It is now obvious that there is no unity in the Conservative party on this subject, because there is a growing number of dissidents, prominent people in that party. They are expressing total disagreement with the continuation of this policy. I hope on that basis that the Minister will impress on the Government the need to look at this matter.
It is a nonsense to suggest, as has been done in some quarters, that the slight reduction in unemployment figures announced at the end of December shows that a recovery is on the way. In fact, the figures show clearly that the number of people described as the long-term unemployed rose by some 5,000, which means in realistic terms that for someone who has been unemployed for one year or over the prospects of obtaining employment have receded still further.
I now want to turn to one of the two parts of the infrastructure I mentioned, which is housing. Various figures have been bandied about concerning public sector housing. I am using a set of figures I obtained today from the Library. The published figures show that since 1979, with the exception of the sale of council houses and the improvement of some existing housing stock—I should make it clear that I am talking 1104 only about the public sector—the position of our people needing housing accommodation has deteriorated considerably. I shall not go too much into detail, but I shall give the broad figures. In England and Wales in 1979 the local authority waiting list of people applying for accommodation numbered 1,067,118. Today that figure has risen to 1,180,145; a substantial increase by any criterion. The people included in those figures are at the worst end of the scale.
I know that broad-based figures can be produced that show that there are more empty houses than applications for them, but the geographical mix is all wrong. Collated in the figures of the present housing stock are over half a million, maybe as many as I million houses—the debate in the House which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stallard that was initiated by my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead some time ago examined this matter—which may not sustain even a 30-year life, let alone a 60-year life. Some of the large cities are having to demolish substantial numbers of properties that were built less than 15 years ago at a high cost. That is where figures can be confusing.
One can take one year out of context and suggest that the Government may have done better in some respects than the last Labour Government. The global figures I have for the years of Conservative control and governing of the country's housing show that from May 1979 until April 1983, 123,000 local authority dwellings were started in England compared with 348,000 starts in the four years to April 1979, which I believe was the lifetime of the last Labour Government. That is a substantial reduction by any measurement. I hope we shall not be told again that if local authorities would sell more council houses they could build more. The fact is that with the present cost of building, and the reductions that are given to sitting tenants of council houses, the councils may need to sell three or four council houses to build one new one. That would have a greatly adverse effect on the housing stock.
After dealing with that aspect of housing, I turn to a subject which one cannot quantify in terms of building, building materials, roadways or any such matter. I refer to the care of the aging population of this country, which is another part of the infrastructure. Fifteen to 20 years ago local authorities were made aware of and accepted gladly the responsibility to care for the elderly under their control. There was a national programme put into operation for the building of fine welfare homes where elderly people who could look after themselves, establish a home, and live with minimum interference from the people running the home.
Your Lordships would be horrified to see the change of use in those homes that has been forced on local authorities by successive cuts in public expenditure. Because of the increasing numbers of the aged population, those homes are now having to do an almost total geriatric job for the hospital services. If your Lordships visit many of these local authority elderly people's homes, they will find in the main that they are populated overwhelmingly by people who need total care. The homes have dedicated staff who are not on enormous wages and who work unsocial 1105 hours. I shall make a point that we must take on board because, as a nation, we have been lucky to get away with it so far.
These homes vary from small establishments of 12 places to large 40-place or 60-place homes. The staff go home for the evening usually leaving one or two people in control of many elderly people. We have been extremely lucky so far that we have not had an horrendous accident. In my opinion, if one of those homes ever suffers the types of blaze or fire that quickly occurs for unforeseen reasons, as we have had in schools and hostels, the depth in human suffering will be appalling. That is when people will start to shout for it all to be altered.
It is a nonsense to ask local authorities in the main to look after their aging population at a much cheaper rate than if those people were housed in hospital wards, where they should be, with total supervision. It is the worst form of action for the Government to say that it is just too bad and that public expenditure has to be cut. Weare told by the Government that public expenditure is behind all the arguments and cannot be increased without affecting inflation. Whatever form of infrastructure is created, maintained or improved, there will be imbalances because of the geographical locations and different regions. It would be difficult to tailor an infrastructure totally for the big cities that would satisfy the shire areas. There should be an attempt to try to equalise that as much as one can.
In some respects I have to disagree with my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs in her plea for extra funding for housing in Northern Ireland, because if we study the per capita figures dispensed by central Government for the population of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we find that Northern Ireland already far outstrips any other area of the United Kingdom in the Government subvention that they receive.
I have heard various speakers today say that a debate on the infrastructure ought to be kept non-political. But political decisions are required that affect this, and there is the national cake that has to be distributed. Although we have a different role from that of the Members of another place, one is entitled to express a view on how that cake ought to be distributed. The Government have said that they cannot produce money for this, but I submit that the Government can produce huge sums of money overnight when the policy decisions that suit them require it. I obtained from the library today the figures for the subvention per capita of the population of the United Kingdom. It runs to £2,126.5p. I also asked for the figures of Government subvention per capita to continue in perpetuity the "Fortress Falklands" policy in the Falkland Islands. The sum in total was £624 million, which represents £346,677 for the year 1983–84 for every inhabitant of the Falkland Islands—in other words, almost £1,000 a day in subvention from the taxpayers of this country to sustain a policy in the South Atlantic which eventually will have to end whether we like it or not. I should be the last to wish to see any part of any domain under our control taken over, invaded or suppressed by an authoritarian régime. But I do not accept it when the Government say that they cannot find the money to enhance and improve the quality of life and get the 1106 over half a million people who worked in the public sector back to work in order to improve the life quality of our people who need it, and need it badly
When one looks solely at the facts of the building industry one sees that between 400,000 and 500,000 building workers are unemployed. The latest figures that I have seen showed that a house per year could be built by each man in the building industry. Surely, it is the economics of the madhouse to continue to pay unemployment benefit to skilled labour that can produce the housing and other buildings, such as hospitals and nurseries, that would enhance our quality of life and improve the infrastructure. I hope that the Government will take heed of this Motion and will accept it in the spirit in which it was moved by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I too, wish to thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos for opening this debate. I am certain that he must be very satisfied with the constructive nature of all the speeches and the facts and information that have been given. It has been a very wide-ranging debate. In talking of the infrastructure, speakers could have ranged even wider than the subjects with which they dealt tonight, because the infrastructure, in effect, concerns the whole course of our economy, our environment and our living.
I shall not attempt to deal with all the various points. I have some feeling for the Minister in this. We want him to deal with all the different subjects raised, because we want to know the Government's attitude. The Government claim that they seek to modernise our industries and build our economy, yet we have the situation that there is a decline in what we term our infrastructure. There is deterioration and, while there have been improvements and advances in various places, there is an air of tattiness in various parts of the country. There can be no disagreement on the need to modernise and improve our infrastructure.
We can rely to a great extent, as I shall, upon statements by various responsible bodies. I start with the Group of Eight, which is a responsible organisation in building construction. I understand that they met the Secretary of State for the Environment as recently as 30th December and put facts before him. They emphasised the deterioration in housing, in public buildings, in factories and warehouses, in water and sewerage, and in rail and roads. In a briefing document, the Group of Eight said that the Government had so far failed publicly to accept or respond properly to the fact that there is an increasing backlog of construction work. The group say that money spent now on repair, maintenance and selective renewal will prevent the need for greater expenditure later on. My noble friend Lady White also emphasised that point. Your Lordships' own Select Committee on Unemployment made the point that expenditure on projects that could not be indefinitely delayed is a matter of some urgency. It will be very interesting to know the outcome of that meeting with the Secretary of State, and whether the Group of Eight were satisfied with the replies that they were given.
May I first refer to the question of the railways? I was pleased that this was dealt with by the noble Lord, 1107 Lord Ezra. We have debated the whole question of the railways on many occasions, and the Government seem to have indicated that they do not accept Serpell. But the situation is drifting. I would echo what Lord Ezra said: that we must know what is the intention of the Government on Serpell and the future of the railways. There is urgent need for track renewal; there is urgent need for replacement of rolling stock; and while we welcome what we have heard in the past few days—the Minister's announcement of the approval of the construction of 150 what we would term rail-buses, which is something that a number of noble Lords, including myself, urged in a debate on the railways which we had in this House some time ago—there is need for speedier and properly planned electrification.
Again, while we welcome the recent announcement of the extension of the London routes to Cambridge from Bishop's Stortford to Cambridge, piecemeal electrification is not the way to deal with this great rail industry. We need to have proper forward planning. British Rail needs to know where it is and so do the manufacturers of the equipment, which will come mainly from the private sector. British Rail has reported time and again in recent years that it has not been able to reach the investment limit set by the Government because of the constraint placed on its external financial limit. Even when we come to the public service obligation grant, that has been reduced in real terms by 5 per cent. for 1984 and the Government are seeking to have it reduced by the staggering figure of £230 million by 1986. We must know what are the plans for the rail industry.
I think most Members of the House have an affection for British Rail and, like me, want to see an efficient railway system. Of course we recognise the importance of road transport, both freight and passengers, and also the need for an effective road system. I would echo the plea that has already been made by several speakers that we really do want the Government to get down to telling us exactly what their plans are for a transport system as a whole. One can use the phrase "integrated system'' so glibly, but we do need a properly planned transport system in this country. That is an essential part of the infrastructure.
Then we have the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey Report 1982, which provides evidence of a marked decline in local authority roads in recent years. I have the report with me, and it says that as regards urban principal roads there has been a substantial deterioration over the last two years. Similarly, with rural principal roads there has been a deterioration over the last two years; and there has been a deterioration over the last two years in conditions on rural unclassified roads. That appears in an official document issued by the Department of the Environment.
Referring to the report of the Select Committee of another place, paragraph 26 stresses that all groups and individuals representing all classes of road user were virtually unanimous in their view that there has been a decline in the condition of roads and that the present standards of maintenance are inadequate. The bodies which give evidence, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, the AA, the Road Haulage 1108 Association, the National Farmers' Union, and so on, all put forward that view. The Select Committee said that all local councils interviewed expressed their concern at the condition of the roads and said that the present standards of maintenance were inadequate.
Similar concern has been expressed by the Institution of Municipal Engineers, the Institution of Highway Engineers and the County Surveyors Society. One might refer to a statement that was made by the society, according to the report of the Select Committee, that local authorities, in recognising the paramount importance of the structural adequacy of the highways, have tried to concentrate cuts on the amenity aspects of road maintenance but inevitably they have had to fall back on low-cost, short-term remedial measures to the pavements such as extensive patching and surface dressing. They tried, because of the cuts falling on local authorities, to deal with minor issues, but found themselves compelled to take short-term remedial measures.
I quote again from the society's evidence:The results of this short-term expedient must eventually result in an accelerating deterioration of the roads and necessitate in the not too distant future a fairly massive injection of funds to restore the roads to an acceptable condition.The Commons committee concluded in paragraph 46—and I quote:We find it impossible to discount the virtually unanimous view of the local highway authorities, professional engineers and road users that there is real cause for concern about the present condition of the network of non-principal and unclassified roads, and that necessary remedial work is being prevented by financial constraints.The Select Committee concluded:We believe that there is an urgent need for some increase in the funds available for local road maintenance".Various speakers today have made reference to the excellent report issued by the British Road Federation, entitled Room to Move. It deals with the urban road programme that it considers to be necessary. I would not go along 100 per cent. with all the proposals put forward, but it is right that the Federation should draw attention to the serious problems caused by the inadequate road system in urban areas. It refers to the congestion and delays, to the use of residential and shopping roads which are totally unsuited to road traffic and to the difficult and dangerous loading that takes place. It points to the general and serious problems which arise through the inadequate state of roads in urban areas. I would not disagree with the statement made in the report that improvement of public transport to provide mobility for the labour force and those without access to a car should not be treated as a substitute for road building and other necessary capital investment. I go along with the British Road Federation in saying that these two important matters are complementary.
The report of the British Road Federation points out that in 1974–75 the new county and regional councils that were then established inherited highways and transportation plans drawn up in the late 1960s which envisaged expenditure of some £2,000 million in the major urban areas over the following 15 to 20 years. These plans were prepared on a long-term basis, hut the Federation says that 10 years afterwards few have been implemented.
1109 A very important section of this report is where it sets out impressive plans prepared in the major conurbations. Six of these eight conurbations are the metropolitan counties which the Government now propose to abolish. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn and other noble Lords have referred to the possibility of danger in the drastic local government (I shall not use the word "reforms") reorganisation which is proposed of the GLC and the six metropolitan counties.
The Federation comments that the devolution of highway and traffic control powers to lower tiers would have a profound effect upon transport planning. It says that account must be taken of the fact that these metropolitan counties are entities in themselves in respect of all transport matters. I quote the Federation once again. It observes:the reasons for lack of required level of capital spending are numerous and diverse, but it is the unanimous view of the highway authorities that Government controls on capital expenditure are creating the greater difficulties".We need to find out from the Government exactly what their plans are for large-scale investment in a programme of urban roads and urban transport. It may be argued that the British Road Federation has vested interests. So have we all. But that should not make us discount some of the serious statements it makes or its analysis of the situation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, dealt with the position in Greater London. I have no detailed brief on Greater London and I shall not attempt to reply, but I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Stallard was able to deal with some of the points raised by the noble Baroness. All I would say as regards one of her comments is that of course there must be understanding between the road lobby and the conservationists, but she omitted one thing: there must also be an understanding of the needs of public transport and the problems of congestion. All those three things go together.
Some reference has been made to bypasses. I can recall the question which was asked, I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on 8th November on a report from the Civic Trust, Bypasses and the Juggernaut. We had figures given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on that occasion, and the point was made—I think I made it myself—that almost three-quarters of the villages and towns of between 500 and 150,000 persons are not bypassed or included in plans. About half of them will not be bypassed at all by the end of the decade unless some revision is made in the Government's proposals which is not contained in the Government's Plans for Roads 1983.
My noble friend Lady White referred to the transport policies and programmes which have to be submitted by the counties. There is a need for a carry-over with a rolling programme. I can recall the arguments that we had on the 1983 Transport Act regarding the metropolitan authorities, who have to submit an annual report over a three-year period. We pressed then that there should be a rolling programme; that it should not just he from year-to-year, and that money should be carried over, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and others have said. At the end of the day, when TPPs are submitted they need Government support and financial support.
1110 My noble friend Lady White also referred to the transport supplementary grant in England, and it has to be realised that the settlement for 1984, in actual cash terms, is a reduction of 11 per cent. The grant above the threshold has been reduced from 70 per cent. to 55 per cent., and this obviously carries additional problems for the counties in dealing with transport difficulties.
Reference has been made to bridges, and these were dealt with in the Armitage Report. I am still one of those sceptics who do not fully accept the fourth power law. I am still one of those who believe that the weight of heavy lorries presents a problem for the various types of bridges. I do not accept that the mere distribution of axle weight necessarily means that bridges will be safe. In fact, local authorities throughout the country are very concerned.
Again, the report of the Commons Select Committee on Transport points out that in all there are some 155,000 bridges. In evidence to that committee, local authorities all expressed concern about the position of older bridges and suggested that these would require a great amount of attention. I know that there is a new code of assessment for bridges built before 1922, which we hope will be presented very shortly. But the Commons Select Committee urged that when the assessment code is produced general assistance must be provided to both local authorities and other bridge owners if there is to be an effective rehabilitation scheme. There have been press arguments as to whether the Government have settled what assistance they will give to local authorities in dealing with bridges.
I shall say just one word regarding the Severn Bridge. The Government must surely listen to the pleas that are being made, and not necessarily for a second crossing. In view of the importance of the crossing to industry and to life in South Wales, they must surely put in hand very soon a feasibility study on whether or not a second crossing is desirable and on what form it should take. Otherwise, if a serious situation arises we shall be left with years that have been wasted and with the inevitable consequences.
I do not propose to deal with housing. This was debated very fully on 30th November. But the fact that I shall not deal with it does not mean that we do not regard it as an important issue. I share the view of my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick that this is a very important personal service. On the figures that were given in that debate, I shall make only two observations. The rate of clearance has fallen to a postwar low of under 20,000 a year and housing starts in 1981 were the lowest for some 40 years. Therefore, any improvement that we have welcomed since then is only an improvement upon what was a record low.
We have the situation that in the October announcement the Government cut £500 million off the housing grant, and in 1984–85 they are taking £250 million off the grants for improvements and renovations. This is a very serious matter and I should like to know whether the Government will reconsider their decision. There is a clear need for investment in older housing stock for renovation or clearance, whether it be in the private sector, in the public sector or in the housing association rehabilitation programmes. There 1111 needs to be a plan whereby local authorities and the private sector can know where they stand on the whole question of housing grants and housing construction in general.
I was very pleased that my noble friend Lady White raised the question of education. She referred to the structural problems in a number of university buildings. HMIs have commented unfavourably on the maintenance of education premises which they have visited, and a most recent report said that in a quarter of the primary schools visited by HMIs the maintenance was inadequate and the decoration was shabby. On secondary schools, the HMIs noted an undiminished backlog of necessary repairs and maintenance. They assessed that in only half of the local education authorities in the areas which they visited could the present state of repairs and maintenance be judged satisfactory. That is a statement made by responsible HMIs.
I have not mentioned many other problems. The question of inner city decay has not been mentioned in our debate, but this is a very serious problem in many parts of the country. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred to the importance of local government issues. Noble Lords will recall a debate that we had only a few weeks ago on the relationship between central and local government. This can be a very important factor in regard to all the points on infrastructure with which we have dealt today.
The Minister may say that those who have spoken in this debate are just crying "woe" and wringing their hands, but practically all speakers have supported the need for action to deal with these problems. I ask the Government to recognise the situation. There is a deterioration and it seems that everyone accepts that except the Government. There are two aspects. First, we want to put the infrastructure in a better position in order to help economic recovery. Secondly, we want to improve our lives and the environment in which we live.
Before I close may I refer to the coment made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that the kind of expenditure for which we are asking does not work. If that statement is to be repeated by the Minister, it means, in effect, that no real firm action will be taken to remedy the situation in which we find ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, spoke as if there was no alternative, and as if other measures that have been introduced by the Government are working. But, in real figures, we have 4 million unemployed. That is not unavoidable and it is not acceptable. We are not putting forward these points today merely in order that we can employ staff, and we are not proposing projects that will suck in imports. We are asking for a programme of essential, constructive efforts and revitalisation.
We have the labour. We have 400,000 unemployed in the construction industry. We have unused capacity in the factories to produce all the equipment and materials that are required. Also, efforts of this kind will reduce the very heavy costs to the country of coping with unemployment. If the Government do not accept what noble Lords have said tonight, I ask: what is their attitude?
1112 May I ask the Government whether they have made any assessment of all the improvements that are required. Have the Government assessed the total cost? Have the Government produced a national programme to deal with this problem, or do they intend each department to deal piecemeal with the position? My noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos said that this need not be inflationary. There must be an overall plan, forward planning and a rolling programme. I have to emphasise that this will cover a period of years. I should like the Government to tackle the situation with the same sort of inspiration as those of us who had anything to do with the election of the Labour Government in 1945 dealt with the important reconstruction programme that was required after the war years.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for introducing a subject which needs to be talked about—not, I should have thought, on the odd occasion but at fairly regular intervals throughout the years. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord. I hope that he will be as pleased as I am by the contributions. They were interesting and in some cases, as opinion, enlightening. I shall try to comment on as many speeches as I can; but the frustration of sitting and listening to a debate for several hours and being asked to comment by so many speakers on the points they have raised is. I find, almost intolerable. The more years I do it, the more I find it so. The only way you can get even halfway towards it is to promise to write to speakers on matters which you omit to mention. Therefore I ask your Lordships to bear with me. I appreciated also the way in which the noble Lord introduced and spoke to the Motion.
There is no doubt that since the war there has been a massive investment by the nation in its capital stock of buildings and infrastructure. The public sector contributed substantially to it. The peak came at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. Since then we have seen a decline in the level of provision, reflecting that, as a recent assessment by the National Economic Development Office said:The large investment programmes of the last decades have met the worst deficiencies and overcome the major shortfalls in public service and infrastructure provision identified over time. For example, the bulk of the motorway and trunk road programme as planned is complete, although much improvement work remains to be carried out on the road network, and especially on that part controlled by the local authorities".I believe it is becoming increasingly recognised that in future our concern will come to be the repair and maintenance of what we already have and the modest improvement of the existing stock. It will also be in new sectors such as telecommunications and cabling, but as these latter two subjects will before very long be the subject of major debates in your Lordships' House, I shall not touch on them tonight but will concentrate instead on the subjects referred to in the Motion: water, transport and housing.
May I begin with the general argument posed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos; namely, the importance to the economy of increased capital investment. I would not quarrel with the proposition 1113 that the nation needs capital investment to secure its economic future, but it is very important to recognise, as noble Lords opposite will I am sure recognise, that we would not be serving our interests best by simply investing in capital for its own sake. I took very much on board the point made by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. I, too, was going to say that I do not believe that it would be desirable to inject a major fiscal boost into the economy by expenditure on the infrastructure. Indeed. I would go further than my noble friend. I know that, apart from what has been said in this debate. the case for such a boost has been argued in many quarters. Studies carried out by different bodies—the Economist Intelligence Unit and others—are often called into aid in arguing the case for a modest boost, as they call it, to capital expenditure. However, as my noble friend said, the record shows that it does not work.
There could be some short-term output gains and perhaps some immediate (although I believe limited) reduction in unemployment. But those benefits would rapidly and progressively be crowded out by the inflationary pressures of higher prices and higher interest rates which the boost would generate. This is what has happened before and this is what has happened in other countries. Clearly there is a difference of view on this point. We fear very much that it would happen again and that it would lead us back to where we were: frustrated and in the same pickle (if I can put it that way. which is the nicest way I can put it) as we were in the past.
I would also point out that not all capital spending is necessarily good in itself. It should meet three requirements. As far as that can be assessed, it should be economically justified in its own right. In other words, it should pay its way. It should not impose continuing extra current expenditure burdens. And it should be appropriate to the public sector, not something which could be done by the private sector.
That is the approach which the Government have adopted since 1979. I submit that it can now be seen to be paying off. Noble Lords opposite will of course take a different view. However, we are not going to go into that tonight. I could quote many figures (I shall quote some, which properly I ought to do) to indicate that this is so, without using them in any way to distort the picture. If we were simply in the business of making clever points the debate would have been a waste of time, but I do not consider that it has been a waste of time. Quite the contrary. I want to make these points only to justify the arguments that I shall put forward, and for no other reason.
There are those who are more pessimistic about the new position in the construction industry. However, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in a comment on the building materials producers' forecast, they seem to be unduly pessimistic about future economic growth. What they say is hard to square with the very encouraging figures in output and the new commissions which are there to be seen. That is not to say for one moment that we are complacent. I entirely take the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, towards the end of his speech: that the improvement is fine but that we started from a low base. I am not going to spoil what I believe to be a good case by failing to recognise that point. Yes, my 1114 Lords, we do start from a low base. Tonight I do not intend to go into the history of how it comes to be a low base, because points could be made on both sides. However, there is a significant move in the right direction. I want to quote one figure from the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. He said that the Government's public expenditure provision for new construction in 1984–85 will be about the same level as during this year—about £10 billion. I believe this to be a substantial sum of money by any standard.
It is important to note that there is a change, and a very significant change, in the pattern of spending. As your Lordships have recognised, we must keep what we already have in good condition. This is happening much more than is perhaps generally recognised. I was very grateful for the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Bowden. He said that I had told him that my mind boggled when he told me about the problems of the sewers in Manchester. He has been kind enough to say that the boggling was to good effect, because we have now made available certain resources. I can tell the noble Lord that our minds are not boggling quite so much as they were; we are making some progress in those areas. But only a decade ago repairs and maintenance accounted for only one-quarter of the total output of the construction industry. Now it accounts for 40 per cent. Moreover, at constant 1980 prices—perhaps I could repeat that: at constant 1980 prices—expenditure in 1982 on repairs and maintenance was £6 billion, compared with little more than £4 billion in 1976. That is at constant prices, adjusted for inflation. Repairs and maintenance expenditure on housing was £3.3 billion, compared with £2.2 billion in 1976. Expenditure on other public works was almost £1.4 billion compared with less than £1 billion.
In quoting these figures I quickly say, in case anyone else should make the point, that you can take figures and, depending on the time when you take them, you can make them mean all sorts of things. I have taken those figures not to make the most powerful case, because I am sure that if I delved deeply I could do that to an even greater extent, but it would not be meaningful. What really matters is, is the trend right? Is it moving forward or is it falling back? I believe that it really is moving forward in these areas.
A significant new study on this whole matter has been put in hand by the National Economic Development Council, which will be investigating the criteria for assessing and investing in the public infrastructure. We and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have promised the fullest co-operation of my department and of the Government in this study. I hope that we shall be discussing what is put forward during the course of this year—I might have said the summer, but if it was a bit later someone would be disappointed. That is not to say that one will fob these matters off on to surveys which one knows will not come back embarrassingly on one's desk for the next two or three years. That is not what I am saying, and I am being serious about this point: I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, would welcome that.
Others are undertaking studies as well. We have heard mention of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is a very distinguished body. The CBI, the 1115 Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors and others are looking into this matter as well. We look forward anxiously to the outcome of those studies. To pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, about the Institution of Civil Enginers, I was concerned that he felt there was a lack of Government co-operation with the institution. I intend to take that up tomorrow to find out what was meant. If there is anything untoward there, the noble Lord should be assured that we shall do something about it.
I come now to the points raised about the water industry by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who is a most distinguished person to speak on the subject of water and sewerage, as I think we would all agree. I want to study some of the noble Lord's comments carefully, but it would be acknowledged that he was very fair when he commented that he was by no means dissatisfied with the Government's response to the Select Committee's report. He wanted to know what exactly was being done. I will certainly write and tell him, and I will send a copy of my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, because it is one of the important areas discussed. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and by what I am told is happening in that area. I must pay tribute as well to the noble Baroness. Lady White, and to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for all their great work in this whole field.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, touched on a point about research. It is important, and I must say to her that considerable efforts have been made to establish the general extent to which the national system is affected by structural decay. Without going into detail, because there are so many other points I wish to mention, I want to tell the noble Baroness that we are seized of the importance of the matter. As she knows, it is a very easy one to bypass if one wants to do so when one is looking at the spending area—but it is very foolish to overdo that.
I turn now to housing. I would like an hour just to talk about housing. Although I have in front of me pages of notes and statistics, I need no notes to talk about housing. That is something the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, will know because he and I were on the AMC housing committee many years ago and I have lived in this whole area of housing for so long. What am I to say when I hear discussion and debate about clearance and demolition? My mind goes back to the great debates we had in my own City of Leeds. How many houses should one pull down? How far should one be rehabilitating? Is it right, and is one selling the soul of the future if one does rehabilitate? If one does not, one has to move the communities. What about the back-to-back houses? What about the out-door toilets? What are the answers? What should the rate of clearance be to the rate of new building or to the rate of rehabilitation? These are massive debates on a vast, vast subject. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, said that my mind boggles—and it does when I begin to think about all the nuances and heartaches which go into the matters we are discussing and which affect people on an everyday basis.
I could talk for hours about waiting lists. I had a waiting list of 18,500 people analysed. I want your 1116 Lordships to know how many of those people were in need, how many were living in accommodation which was quite good but who wanted something better, how many wanted to move elsewhere, and how many wanted to move to smaller accommodation because their children had left home and the parents no longer needed a three-bedroom unit. At the end of it all, the analysis showed that fewer than 3,000 people really had to move—and we moved them all within the year. This is not to decry waiting lists. I do not decry them because there has to be a bench-mark somewhere and the waiting list is a bench-mark. What I would question is the numbers within those bench-marks, if there was any purpose in doing so.
The debate on housing has now moved on from the days when it was a mass of housing that was needed and when success or failure was a matter of how many houses were being built in the country. Governments of the day of both complexions measured their success or failure by housing attainments; by how many houses were built. Today we are reaping some of the results of that approach because of the type of housing which was built purely because numbers, numbers. numbers were what counted. It is not just a case of numbers and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, was the first speaker to make that point today when he commented that quality is what matters. The quality of the housing has to be the point that really matters.
From the masses of material I have in front of me, I could quote figures to show how much money we are putting into repairs, maintenance and grants. I do not do so because I have no wish to score points by saying that this Government have put in so much and that another Government put in so much less. That is not what I understand this debate to be about. This debate is about recognising a problem, if it is there, and being willing to face it. All I am saying. without quoting any of my statistics, is let us be willing to look at what we can do about the millions of houses in the country which are of less than an adequate standard. There are the four-storey walk-up fiats which are "disasterville" for the people who live in them; but some really exciting things are being done about them today in collaboration with local authorities, by Government when they have to put in some pump-priming money, and then by the private sector.
I could take your Lordships to at least six developments around the country now where you would walk away almost shaking your heads in disbelief at the transformation which can take place. That is what we should be discussing together—not scoring points but doing something about the existing mass of housing stock. That is where the debate should be. If that requires money, then that is where money should go. I will illustrate, perhaps on another occasion, that money is going in that direction and that we are encouraging people to do things.
I am not going to trot out all the rather impressive figures I have about private sector interest and so on, but before I leave the subject I must say that the private volume house builders are doing a very fine job in housing today. Let us not say that it is simply self-interest. If it is, then all right; there is nothing wrong with that because it creates jobs, work, and wealth. and they pay taxes. Many of the builders are diverting from 1117 some of their work to do fine things. I will mention no names but I can mention places.
In the North and the North-West—especially in Liverpool and Manchester, which is the area of the noble Lord. Lord Dean of Beswick—the names Stockbridge Village Trust, Cantril Farm, Regent's Park and Minster Court are beginning to sound like the battle names of famous victories. But they are pointing the way and I hope that on another occasion your Lordships will be willing to look into this aspect more closely. It is really encouraging. I have gone on a little about that and I feel deeply about it, but I promise your Lordships I will not take up too much time.
Referring to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said about Northern Ireland, I wish she had not said "so much for the Government's neglect". All I will do is give three figures. The "neglect" was £325 million in 1980–81 and £490 million this year, and £520 million has been agreed for 1984–85. I myself would not have called that neglect. If the noble Baroness argues that it needs more, than I could not quarrel with that. The answer probably is that it always needs more.
As to the motorways, if we had listened we might have assumed that the road system is all crumbling to pieces and everything is in upheaval. In fact that is not so. I would not want to be complacent, because if we are complacent we should not be debating tonight. We are not complacent, but 1 can quote figures to show that in recent years expenditure on motorways has increased dramatically, from £19 million in 1978–79 to over £80 million in 1982–83. It is perhaps as well to note that the transport Select Committee in another place, in their report on road maintenance, welcomed the department's motorway renewal programme and said they were interested to learn of the real progress made in the planning of motorway works. That is going on all the time. There is a 4½ per cent. increase this year: a capital spending programme by local authorities of £647 million, which will enable them to keep up work on new bypasses and urban relief roads.
As for the railways, I think we are really getting our signals crossed. I know this is very dear to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill; he and I have bandied this across the Floor for some years. Can I say to him, and to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that British Rail have invested about £3,000 million since 1975? About half of it has gone on infrastructure, signalling, tracking, track rationalisation, long welded rail and electrification. Only this week the Government have given the go-ahead for a new electrification scheme; and an additional £10 million electrification scheme from Bishop's Stortford to Cambridge; the Anglia electrification to Norwich, £25 million; and the Tonbridge-Hastings line, £24 million, have also been recent approvals.
I am very pleased to note the recent major signalling projects of £16 million for Leeds, stage 2—that gives me great pleasure—of £40 million for the West of England and of £22 million for Leicester. About £90 million a year is spent on replacing old track with continuous welded rail. It may well be possible to say it is not enough, and I would not quarrel with that. But then you would have to say what 1118 is enough in relation to what you can afford, which is the real argument.
I should like to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and those other noble Lords who spoke about the Severn Bridge. I am sure they will know this. It was nice to be able to announce to Parliament on 17th November that the round-the-clock restrictions on the use of the bridge had been lifted and that revised arrangements to safeguard against traffic jams or danger arising from high winds were being introduced. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Howie, was quite fascinating on this subject, with his great knowledge and competence in these matters. I found his words were frankly encouraging. I think it does no harm for me to repeat—and I am advised to do so—that there is no basis, as he said, for the more alarming rumours that have been circulated. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport said in his Statement in November that he would continue to act with urgency and speed on this.
The question of a second crossing is related to the strengthening of the existing bridge and the traffic control that can be introduced to make the flow greater. These three matters should he studied together and should be looked at with all possible speed, and I am told that that is being done. As to the second crossing, we said that we were ready to begin building whenever it is needed. I apologise for my lack of detailed knowledge. As the waiter would say, "It is not my table"; but in your Lordships' House we answer for all departments, and my information is that that is something which is there for discussion all the time.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said that we need (to use his words) to return to reality. I should like to think that he would feel that we are very much in a world of reality; and the reality, the trick, if you like (if that is the right word, which I am sure it is not), the secret, must be to get a balance, and not for the Government or for me to say, "No, all you say is not true; it is not like that". One has to recognise the validity of much of the concern expressed; but, conversely, I would ask your Lordships to accept that this Government have a policy of trying to hold the balance between the need and what we can afford to spend. As I have indicated—and I shall gladly do so in greater detail if requested either now or on another occasion—greater spending is going on, greater input is going into infrastructure, the water, the railways, the roads, housing and so on. The only argument can be whether it is enough, and on that clearly there is a difference.
My Lords, I am sorry if I have not covered all the points, especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I should have liked to have taken up some of the points he made, but perhaps we might effectively do so in discussions outside the Chamber.
§ Lord Elystan-Morgan
My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, I wonder whether I might ask him this question. I did not want to intervene in the full flow of his rhetoric. With regard to what he has said about projects for the electrification of various parts of British Rail, and the continuous welded track developments, in deciding what parts were to be modernised what heed did the Government pay, if any, to the Serpell Report, and to which of its options? 1119 If they did not pay heed to any of those options specifically, does that mean that they have totally abandoned that report?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, clearly I am not privy to the discussions on the Serpell Report, and I am sorry to have to say that that is so. But I will gladly undertake to write in detail, with a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, everything I can possibly obtain by way of information on that point.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, my pleasant task, very briefly, is to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their contributions, which I think have made the occasion a constructive and valuable one. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his contribution. He was, as always, constructive and persuasive. We recognise, of course, that the overall task is a massive one, and no Government could possibly be expected to deal with it in a year or two. Nor, indeed, do I detract from some of the good things the present Government have done. But we do think that more rapid progress could and should be made. What we advocate is a planned programme, say of five years, to increase the productive element of public spending. We do not believe that public expenditure, properly planned, would be dangerously inflationary. On the contrary, we think it is the only way to recovery and to economic success. Having repeated that article of faith, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.