§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Lord Nelson of Stafford rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Innovation in Surface Transport (2nd Report, Session 1986–87, H.L. 57).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this Motion as chairman of the sub-committee which conducted the inquiry. I should like to pay tribute to the help given to the sub-committee by its specialist adviser, Professor Tony May, Professor of Transport Engineering at the University of Leeds. Any study of history shows that transport has been an important factor in a nation's economic development and in the growth of prosperity in the world's major cities. There is no doubt that that principle will continue to be reflected in the 21st century. Change, however, in any mature transport system, such as that in the United Kingdom, takes place only after lengthy periods, and hence the committee's inquiry was directed at the changes that this country must introduce into its transport system to meet the needs of the first decade of the next century.
§ The long-term nature of those developments requires that the research and development necessary for their fulfilment must be initiated in good time. The committee sought to establish where that was in doubt. In making its recommendations, the committee had much in mind the importance to the country's economy of an efficient transport system, fully competitive with those of other industrial nations.608
§ Transport in all its forms represents a huge national investment. The cost and the efficiency of the whole system are important elements in the country's commerical and industrial competitiveness. To give emphasis to that I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that transport accounts for 20 per cent. of the country's GNP. The committee was told during its inquiry that in round figures approximately £3 billion is spent each year on highway maintenance; transport delays cost £2 billion per annum; routeing errors cost £1.6 billion per annum and accidents £2.820 billion per annum. Those are enormous figures by any standard.
§ It was clear to the committee that a carefully planned and adequate research and development programme was essential to ensure the timely introduction of innovation, which would help to keep those costs under control and at a minimum. Evidence also showed that failure to undertake such work at this time would lead to costly remedial measures at a later date. Central to the committee's recommendations was the establishment of a transport advisory committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Transport. The evidence which was submitted to the committee brought out clearly the advantages to be gained from such a body for the following reasons. First, the country's transport system is made up of many different self-contained systems. They include rail (mainline and suburban services), road (centrally controlled trunk systems and numerous locally controlled urban systems) and the international connections with worldwide air and sea systems at airports and seaports.
§ Within those different systems, the requirements of freight and passengers presented their own special problems. It was made clear to the committee that many of the potential changes in future years would relate to the application of new technologies at the interfaces between those many different systems and authorities, particularly through the application of information technology. An example of that is the need for efficient through freight services both within the country and with the world's international transport systems.
§ The evidence that the committee received showed that while the authorities of the different segments of the system were in varying degrees giving some attention to the introduction of new techniques, it was only within their own remit and within their own systems. It was evident that the problem of the interfaces among the systems was not being adequately handled because it was no one's responsibility. The evidence also showed that among the systems there was a lack of co-ordination on the introduction of new technologies and on the effect changes in one section of the system had on another section of the system.
§ Secondly, the committee was convinced that industrial initiatives should clearly play a major part in meeting national transport needs. But it was impressed by the problems that industry was encountering in contributing to the exploitation of new technologies. That was because there was no clear long-term strategy for transport against which 609 firms could make decisions on the investments needed to prepare such innovations for introduction into a public service.
§ Finally and thirdly, the committee also felt that the form and scale of basic and applied transport research should be materially improved in the light of the important part transport played in the economy and in the scope for potential savings which existed. A clear understanding of the needs and objectives for transport by those concerned in the direction of this work in government establishments, in industry and in universities was essential if this objective was to be achieved.
§ Therefore because of this evidence and other points that are detailed in the report we recommend that the Secretary of State for Transport should create and chair himself a top-level transport industry's advisory council. The members would be the leaders of the various parts of the system, meeting no more than twice a year. At such meetings the needs and aims for the country's transport could be discussed, forward objectives clarified and steps initiated to ensure that interface problems were properly covered.
§ I know that it is easy to recommend a new institution and essentially a new advisory committee. But the committee felt very strongly that there was a problem here and that the council proposal did not imply another quango with its own secretariat. On the contrary, it sees it as a simple, practical means of stimulating co-operation at all levels between different interests. It should justify itself by its usefulness to each member in his own spere of activity.
§ For the reasons which I have just touched upon your committee was impressed by the importance of timely research and development in transport innovation. It was therefore surprised and disturbed by the severe cutback which had occurred in the resources made available to the government research centre responsible for this work, TRRL, the Transport Road Research Laboratory. This cutback had been severe in any terms, and as a result TRRL's activities had been cut in half.
§ It should be said that the committee was very impressed with the competence of this establishment and the high reputation which it had both in this country and in international spheres. This drastic reduction in the TRRL's available resources had severely reduced the number of experienced research workers and new entrants into this important field, both in the establishment and in the university research groups which it sponsored. The committee strongly recommends that it would be wise and financially prudent to expand again the work of this excellent team.
§ We came to this conclusion because of the needs as presented to us of our national transport system, but also in the light of the very positive forward research and development programmes we saw being undertaken by our European neighbours during the visits which we made there, which are reported. It will be seen that the committee makes a number of recommendations to this effect and it is our belief that this additional research expenditure will be more 610 than fully recovered through the direct and indirect savings to be made over the nation's whole vast transport network.
§ The introduction of new technology and new equipment into our established transport system must be handled very carefully. Serious interruptions to the existing system are unacceptable; full safety standards must he adhered to and and the innovation must be reliable from its first introduction. Such innovations can he introduced only when the transport authorities have satisfied themselves that these conditions will be met. For these reasons the committee received much evidence of the need for the early initiation of demonstration projects, on which manufacturing industry and its sponsor, the Department of Trade and Industry, the transport industries and their sponsor, the Department of Transport, all need to co-operate. The demonstration project is an important stage in the safe and timely introduction of innovation and gives scope for joint funding by the parties concerned—a system that we found widely practised in Europe. The committee makes recommendations to this effect.
§ In considering this point, the committee has also been impressed by the large export market which existed for the supply to other countries of proven advanced transport equipment, based on the experience of operating in the home market. Orders for such equipment would create large numbers of jobs in a wide variety of industries, and help to recover the research and development costs involved.
§ I am sure that all in this House welcome the Government's statement in the Queen's Speech of their intention to pay special regard to the needs of inner cities. Evidence presented in our inquiry indicated that transport had an important part to play in meeting this objective. It can be seen that the light railway system in the London Docklands area, shortly to be opened by Her Majesty the Queen, is playing an important part in this imaginative plan to redevelop a major rundown inner city area, largely by attracting private enterprise—private capital. Having seen this work, I must say to your Lordships that I do not think the Government have been given enough credit for what will, I am sure, prove to be one of the major inner city development schemes of Europe, perhaps the world.
§ On questioning what can be done in other inner city areas, the evidence presented to the committee indicated that adequate modern and integrated transport, including light railways, could be a key element in such revival programmes. It would be helpful to your Lordships, I am sure, if the Government could give some indication of their thinking on this matter and of where the responsibility will lie for the study and, where appropriate, for the approval and implementation of such schemes.
§ Your Lordships are now debating the Channel Tunnel project, but my introduction to this debate would be incomplete if I did not refer to it. On the evidence presented to us, we came to the conclusion that this project must be seen as establishing a very important link between the transport system of the UK and the interconnected transport systems of 611 Europe. Such a link would alter the whole centre of gravity of our transport system and have a number of profound effects. One of these would be the ability of our industries, especially in the northern part of the country, to improve their competitiveness in European markets. It could also be envisaged that through fast and efficient through freight services to European centres, new opportunities could be opened up for our west coast ports to provide economic entry points for world-wide shipping into the European surface transport system.
§ Our report contains a number of other important recommendations which will no doubt be touched upon by other speakers. However, I have said enougth to introduce this debate. I conclude by saying that while we shall welcome any comments that the Government may wish to make in response to this debate we are not expecting their formal reply to our report today. But we shall look forward to receiving this in writing after the new Secretary of State has had an opportunity of giving it his consideration. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Innovation in Surface Transport (2nd Report, Session 1986–87, H.L. 57.—(Lord Nelson of Stafford.)
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nelson of Stafford on introducing this debate and on the valuable report produced by the Select Committee under his chairmanship. I am very sorry to have to tell your Lordships that because of another engagement I shall not be able to stay to hear the whole of the debate. but my noble friend Lord Caithness will reply to the points raised. I also look forward very much to hearing the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord Harlech and Lord Manners.
I should like to remind your Lordships of reasons why the Government have an important role to play in transport research and development. I take first road safety. Motor traffic continues to inflict a terrible toll in road casualties. But at least we can say that though traffic continues to increase, the total number of casualties has for some time been held steady and is starting to be reduced. There are many reasons for that. An important one is sound policies based on good research. This research has to be led by the public sector.
We have recently reviewed our road safety effort and have decided to increase the amount we apply to road safety research. The increase will total £3 million over several years. In particular, we are hoping to develop new lines in research into drivers' behaviour. This is a very difficult field, but it is crucial. So the House will see that we are trying to push forward the frontier and to have sound research-based innovation and further policies in 10 or 20 years' time.
Next I want to talk about route guidance for drivers. Technology has now advanced to the point 612 where we can envisage a system that will tell the driver in his car what is the best route to take in the light of actual traffic conditions. This system, which is called Autoguide, is a very striking innovation. The system has been developed in collaboration between the private sector and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I very much hope that a pilot application will be tried in the London area this autumn. At the same time, we have to co-operate with our partners in Europe to make sure that the equipment is compatible for installations in different countries. We are, in particular, working closely with the Germans who have been developing ideas along similar lines within the framework of Eureka. So there is a good example of the public and the private sector working toegether, and developing European co-operation to practical benefit.
Third, I want to tell the House about the high speed road monitor. If we can get better surveys of the condition of the road pavement, then we can plan our road maintenance and repair much more cost-effectively. Again, in collaboration with the TRRL and the private sector, a new road monitoring machine has been developed and is undergoing trials which will measure the changing profile of the road surface by reflected lasers as the measuring machine is towed along the road at up to 50 miles an hour. One machine will be able to survey the whole motorway network every year. I give these examples to show that there are real benefits to be gained in transport innovation and that we are fully alive to the opportunities both of new knowledge and of new technology.
The Department of Transport will be spending some £25 million this year on transport research, and the Department of Trade and Industry will be putting some £8 million into research by the supply industries. So the House will see that we have significant programmes. I recognise that the Select Committee was concerned that we had reduced the resources available for transport research from the peak they had reached in the late 1970s. It is true that we did not think it right to exempt this head of expenditure from our fresh look at priorities and value for money. But the number of scientific staff employed at the road research laboratory is still over 300, about the same as in the early 1970s and we are recruiting steadily. We expect to maintain a broadly stable position, and we are ready to expand the commitment in particular fields where that is judged right.
I have referred to the decision we have already taken on road safety. The scale of spending on transport research by government will continue to be reviewed alongside other government research programmes. But we shall be particularly keen to see a greater research effort in the private sector, and a more rapid transfer of technology to the private sector from government research. So we are fully committed to the LINK programme in which I hope there will be a useful transport element. LINK is an important new initiative announced during the previous Session. It aims to strengthen the technical base of firms through jointly conducted and financed research projects with universities and government laboratories, and the Government intend to put in 613 some £210 million over five years provided there is a corresponding commitment from industry. We are actively studying ways in which the Transport and Road Research Laboratory could make its resources available to the private sector for repayment. These are important initiatives.
In addition to the transport research financed by the Departments of Transport and Trade and Industry and by the Ministry of Defence, a major contribution is made by the Department of Education and Science through the research councils. The Science and Engineering Research Council supports the work of universities and polytechnics, particularly in studying the operational and safety aspects. Some of these grounds also receive contracts from the Department of Transport. The Economic and Social Research Council is just embarking on a new programme of transport research at a cost of about £100,000 a year, which, under the dual support system, will support several projects. The Select Committee pressed for more social science research and I am sure your Lordships will welcome this announcement.
But we must not talk only about the resources put in by government. The Select Committee was rightly concerned about innovation in the whole transport field. This is very largely a private sector matter. The manufacture of vehicles and equipment and road transport operations generally are overwhelmingly in the private sector. The committee identified freight transport as an area where there should be a greater awareness of the need for transport research and development within the industry. I support that. But we should not to too pessimistic. After all, the biggest revolution in freight handling has been the development of the container by the private sector.
The Select Committee urged strongly that the Government should take the lead in stimulating innovation: it suggested two ways of doing that. First, as my noble friend said, it suggested that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport should convene and himself chair a top level transport industries advisory council which, as a forum, would review transport needs and be a stimulus for the research and development necessary to meet them. I applaud the intention, but I think we have to reflect carefully about the means. Certainly, we must all want the fullest debate and exchange of ideas. This already happens at conferences and seminars convened by the Chartered Institute of Transport and the other professional institutions. The external Visitors to the Transport and Road Research Laboratory have the opportunity to come together and give their advice. A new standing committee would naturally bring together people who are already distinguished in the relevant fields. We do have to ask whether the best way forward is to create a new body of this kind, or whether needs are best met in some other way. I shall be very interested to hear any views that are expressed on that this afternoon.
The Select Committee went on to suggest that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport should develop and publish a strategy for 614 transport which would give a broad outline of all transport needs which the Government believe will have to be provided for at the start of the 21st century. It envisages that he would identify the priorities for innovation to meet those needs and indicate the responsibilities of central and local government and of industry for carrying out the necessary research, development and application of new technology.
I have to say that it would be a very brave man who set out to fill that prescription. Just to make forward projections from past trends would obviously not be enough. Some way would have to he found to identify future needs for innovation that have not hitherto been recognised. Certainly, the Government have the responsibility to make clear their own policies and their own priorities and that is something that we do. But I have to tell the House that the idea of producing a sort of national plan for transport does not appeal. I really do not think that the Select Committee has much changed the problems inherent in that by calling not for a plan but for a strategy. This is a matter which we find somewhat perplexing, and we will listen keenly to any views your Lordships may express in the course of this debate.
The Government are grateful to the Select Committee for the substantial work which went into the preparation of its report. I hope I have shown the House that we want to promote innovation in surface transport and to maintain the Government's commitment to that. I have expressed one or two reservations about particular recommendations of the committee, but I believe we are agreed on the general aim. We welcome this debate, and I can assure the House that we will study carefully the points made in the course of it before giving our formal reply to the Select Committee's report.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, at the outset I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, not only for initiating this debate but for chairing the Select Committee. I should also like to thank the members of the committee for what I think is a valuable and useful report.
The introduction lists the four questions on which the committee invited questions. These were four important issues. One notes in Appendix 2 the substantial number of organisations and individuals who submitted evidence. I am pleased to note that the debate has attracted two maiden speakers, and, as has been said already, we look forward to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Harlech and Lord Manners.
At the outset I should like to refer to the final recommendation of the committee. Paragraph 7.28 says:A programme of research should he undertaken into the effects and potential advantages of the Channel Tunnel.Those of us who were busy until 11.30 last night may appreciate the value of that recommendation. It is unfortunate that the report was published in January. We have had no opportunity for such a programme of research to be undertaken. It is a matter which the Opposition have been pressing for some time. We 615 needed such a research opportunity in order to assess the values of the Channel Tunnel.
Some important points are mentioned on this aspect in paragraphs 6.59 and 6.60. The noble Lord, Lord Nelson, referred to some of them. It may be well worth while to quote some of the points made in paragraph 6.60, the very last paragraph in the report. It says:The Tunnel occurred frequently in evidence, which is not surprising: it is potentially the most important development in the transport system of the United Kingdom for many years. But … its effects will be felt throughout the whole country. At present, however, it seems that it is only the impact of the Tunnel in Kent which is the subject of any formal study … The ability to run through-trains, whether carrying freight or passengers, from the North of England to Paris or Brussels and other important centres in Europe may profoundly alter patterns of movement throughout the country. Industry in the North of England may find itself able to compete more directly with Continental companies since cities such as Liverpool or Manchester will have direct rail links to customers all over Europe".It concludes:The Committee believe a programme of research into these effects, and how the Tunnel can best serve the whole of the United Kingdom, is called for".Obviously we are not going to get that programme of research before the Channel Tunnel Bill passes through this House, as I am sure it will. Some of the points made in that paragraph, and also in the preceding paragraph, might be kept in mind by noble Lords during the closing stages of the Channel Tunnel Bill because these are some of the points on which there has been considerable emphasis.
What is said on the tunnel is linked in my view to other matters in the report, particularly in what is expressed in paragraphs 5.9 to 5.19 on market forces. Paragraph 5.12 of that group points out:Many benefits from the transport system are moreover not capable of being traded in the market place".The example is given of car drivers who can drive to work in London only because subsidies enable others to use the train.
Paragraph 5.13 makes it clear that some more direct benefits to changes and innovations,may not be amenable to assessment in the market place on purely financial grounds".It refers to matters such as congestion, accidents, routeing and delays. All these factors are involved in traffic management. These are matters which some noble Lords stressed during the Government's reorganisation of transport in the deregulation Bill. In fact, I note in paragraph 5.15 that the committee believes,that the Government must not base their policy-making too exclusively on narrow financial analysis or assume that too much can be left to purely commercial interests".Paragraph 5.16 stresses:One major area where the market forces are an insufficient trigger to research and development is the maintenance of the existing transport system".But paragraph 5.18 says:The Committee do not believe that everything that is needed to promote innovation should be left to the Government. Local authorities, research institutions and industry all have a major part to play".Recommendation 7.6 says:The Government should develop and publish a strategy for transport as an aid to forward planning by transport industries".616 That could be a useful proposal but it would be a White Paper and the political outlook of whichever government produced the strategy would be involved. The strategy produced by the present Government would be totally different from the strategy for transport which I am certain a Labour Government would wish to produce.
Points are made in Chapter 3 in relation to the kinds of innovation that are needed and achievable. Paragraph 3.13 refers to the valuable point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, about the potential value of marketing overseas British technology in transport matters. The paragraph states that no witnesses put emphasis on appropriate technology to meet the needs of the developing world. I note that TRRL pointed out that this was the main focus of its overseas unit. It would be useful to know what success that unit of TRRL is achieving.
An important point is made in paragraph 6.10. It says:Many of the changes in Government transport policy over the last few years have come about because of the general need for public spending restraint—that is, what the Government see as the general need for public spending restraint. The Department of Transport seemed to stress that this continued alteration in public spending restraint made it impossible for the department itself to suggest plans. In this connection it is important also to read paragraphs 5.3 to 5.6 which contrast the comparative attitudes to transport in some European countries. In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, referred to the visits which the committee had paid, particularly to West Germany, France and the Netherlands. This point is also stressed in the evidence of the Secretary of State, although he did not particularly accept the position in those three countries.
These paragraphs clearly reflect the difference in political philosophy on government intervention where necessary in the sphere of public transport. There is a different attitude in West Germany; there is a different attitude in France; and there is a different attitude in the Netherlands. The different attitudes of these governments in supporting research and development in transport is emphasised in paragraphs 6.44 and 6.45 of the report.
The committee rightly stresses the need for research and this is referred to in particular in the first three recommendations in the report. In paragraph 5.1 the committee states quite clearly that it is of the opinion that,In view of the importance of transport to the nation, more positive support should he given to the development of the surface transport system".Reference must be made to Chapter 4, which lists some of the barriers to innovation. Briefly, I picked up that we must decide,what sort of transport system does the nation want?That is one point that is made as a possible barrier to innovation.the transport system has [itself] a built-in resistance to change".That is one of the points made in paragraph 4.4. Also, there must be determination on the part that the 617 Government must play, not least in linking the question of the environment to that of transport.
Paragraph 5.10 states—and possibly rightly—It is too early to judge the results of the abolition of the metropolitan authorities and the deregulation of bus transport".Some of us have some apprehensions on what is happening in certain areas. However, in paragraph 5.17 the committee points out that investment on information technology to provide essential information to passengers may not be attractive to competing bus operators in a deregulated market, although it will be of benefit to passengers. That is a point not being made by me from the Opposition Dispatch Box, but a point that the committee makes in paragraph 5.17.
The important recommendation for setting up a top level transport industries advisory council is one to which we would give some support. It is intended to assess transport needs and give stimulus for research. It is of course absolutely essential that the composition and membership of that advisory council must be right. I am not talking about "right" politically, but it must be composed of the right sort of individuals of knowledge and experience who can make a valuable contribution to such a transport industries advisory council.
It will be noted that no fewer than seven of the listed recommendations deal with the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. Paragraphs 6.12 to 6.28 are devoted to aspects of its work and what should be its future. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, who stated on behalf of his committee that there is a critical attitude adopted towards the cutbacks in the TRRL in recent years. What the Minister said on that does not satisfy the point made by the committee.
Most noble Lords will share the view of the committee—a view that I certainly have—of high regard for the work of the TRRL. Will the proposed advisory council include the universities? I hope so, but at the same time I hope that it will not affect in any way the independence of universities in their research. Considerable work has been carried out on various aspects of transport research by the universities.
Noble Lords must have had the communication in the last few days which intimated that the University of Birmingham Department of Transportation and Highway Engineering would definitely be going out of existence as a separate body on 1st October 1988. I was sorry to hear that. Many of us know of the splendid work that that department has carried out. We also know of the splendid work that other departments of transportation at other universities have carried out from time to time.
Paragraph 6.15 makes the comment that there appears to be a rather too close control from Marsham Street of the TRRL, and in paragraph 6.20 the committee suggests that TRRL should become still more clearly established as a national transport research establishment. Although I praise the work of TRRL there is a tendency for it to be a little too much in-house, and it is so valuable therefore that the work that is carried on in transportation matters in the universities should not in any way be impaired.
618 The committee points out in paragraph 2.7 that since the abolition of the metropolitan counties specialist technical services for transport have had to be restructured and that with the position in Greater London the situation is weakened. Paragraph 2.8 states that in the committee's view the passenger transport executives now have less direct responsibility for research and development than they had formerly.
Moving on to paragraph 4.15, the committee states that witnesses confirmed fears that abolition of the metropolitan counties would lead to a loss of specialists in this transportation field. That is to be regretted. We know that some of these teams have been weakened, a point that was made when we were considering the abolition Bill.
I note the three recommendations on freight. I do not know exactly what they will mean in practice. Having said that, the paragraphs on freight, 6.37 to 6.41, are particularly useful. I noted the comments of the Minister on the industry and questions of freight, but paragraph 6.38 quotes the view of the Freight Transport Association that far too many companies do not seem to regard transport as a matter for management. If that is correct it is indeed a matter for concern. I note that the committee expresses the same view.
One of the problems raised is the question in paragraph 6.57 on the lack of action by British Rail to co-ordinate train services with other forms of transport. This was beginning to happen in the metropolitan counties, which have now been abolished. The reorganisation may have some effect on that type of co-ordination. This is the sort of matter that requires a political decision because it involves the question of an integrated transport policy.
Freight is also dealt with in paragraph 3.16. The committee expresses regret that fewer witnesses mentioned freight, and there was concern that there was less innovation in the freight system than was desirable. That is a contrary view to the one expressed by the Minister. While there have been some innovations, the committee believes that there could be far more in the freight system compared with other bodies.
I have picked out sections of the report and made comments upon them. It may appear a disjointed way of doing things, but in my view the only way to deal with a report of this kind is to pick out what the committee says—not what I think it should say—and make comments about it. I thank the committee for its work and for its valuable report, which will prove useful for the future.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, I rise to make a few observations on your Select Committee's report on Innovation in Surface Transport. It is the final report of the Select Committee in the last Parliament. Unlike its predecessor, the report on Civil Research and Development, which ranged over a wide field, it deals with a relatively narrow though important subject. I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, and his colleagues for 619 the effort they have put into the production of this report.
Relatively narrow the theme may be, but I have been greatly struck by the manner in which it illustrates and reinforces many of the themes and recommendations of the report on Civil Research and Development. In parenthesis may I say how much I welcomed the indication from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, in the course of the debate on the Address, that the House may shortly receive the observations of the Government on the recommendations of that comprehensive report.
The present report, for example, recommends the setting up of a central advisory council to review the whole field of transport needs and to stimulate the necessary research and development to meet them. The fragmentation and lack of co-ordination in a particular area of research and development is a condition which the Select Committee has found in almost all its fields of inquiry. Nor is this finding a brainwave of the committee, it is firmly grounded in the evidence received. In the event, the Government have usually accepted the recommendations of the committee in this respect. In forestry research and development, a research committee was set up under the director of the Forestry Commission, and it is flourishing and producing excellent reports. In response to our remote sensing report, the Government established a remote sensing board. In marine science and technology, they have undertaken to establish a co-ordinating committee on the subject. Therefore, it is much to be hoped that they will also accept the recommendation so rightly put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, to the same effect in the area of transport.
Even more importantly, I hope that the Government have also listened to the recommendation in the Civil Research and Development report for a body to exercise similar functions over the whole national effort in science and technology. Although those bodies to which I have referred are in practice very different animals, they all illustrate the same point.
The second recommendation of the committee that a strategy for transport be developed and published follows on naturally from the first. A co-ordinating committee is in the best position to commission such a strategy and to oversee its execution. However, I felt the impact of the bucket of cold water which the Minister poured on this idea.
I should now like to add a few remarks to what has been said on the position of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. Three or four years ago, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and I, as members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, paid an unofficial visit to this laboratory. The noble Earl is not in his place today; I think that he has been pursuing his scientific interests in South-East Asia. However, I expect that he will agree with what I shall say.
I was extremely concerned by the situation that we found in the laboratory. This distinguished establishment has been savagely cut, and, under instructions from the department, it had not recruited one new employee in eight years. It had just 620 been authorised to begin recruiting again but, not unnaturally, was finding difficulty in securing candidates because almost a generation gap had opened between the existing staff and the potential entry. What a way to run a laboratory. Indeed, what a way to run anything!
Not unnaturally, although the staff were scrupulously careful in what they said to us, it was clear that morale was pretty low and that there was a sense of considerable frustration. Judging by the findings of the Select Committee, the situation had not improved much by the beginning of this year. The laboratory, tightly controlled by the department, does not seem to have the resources to fulfil all the requirements of the department let alone the requirements of others.
Although the Government, I am sure, will not agree, I do not consider it a good thing that research and development laboratories should be the exclusive creatures of government departments. They should have some degree of autonomy, some chance to do in-house research and some scope for creative effort. For example, I thought it was a mistake—a piece of bureacratic tidiness—when, a few years ago, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment was taken over by the Ministry of Defence from the Atomic Energy Authority.
There is also the question of the so-called Rothschild 10 per cent. When recommendations on this point in the Select Committee's report on civil research and development were debated in the House, I was able to quote a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, stating that his proposal for a 10 per cent. surcharge was intended by him to be an average figure. That is to say, according to the programme of the laboratory, the surcharge would vary from zero upwards but the average over the whole field should remain at 10 per cent.
In the case of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, the evidence given to the committee by the department was of considerable interest. The official concerned said that because the department felt that transport studies were not a basic science, the 10 per cent. would not be helpful. However, he had previously stated that the laboratory did quite a lot of research without guarantee application—presumably, basic or strategic research. That seems a good illustration of why laboratories should not be run by officials in Whitehall. Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, said these activities are called general research because they do not necessarily consist of applied research and development or of basic research.
There was also some rather confusing evidence when the director of the laboratory was asked what he would do with an incremental 10 per cent.; that is, more money. This was not in the Rothschild context. But it is perhaps an indication that the establishment is under-funded. Equally significant was the only specific answer which the Minister gave in his evidence about the transport laboratory. It was Question 1,096, too long to quote here.
I hope that I have said enough to explain why I strongly support the recommendations of the committee on how the transport laboratory should 621 be treated in future; in particular that it should more clearly become a national transport laboratory. I was only mildly encouraged to hear what the Minister had to say about this but perhaps rather more so by his remarks as regards the new programme to be run by the Economic and Social Research Council. That is certainly welcome.
I should like to conclude with a few remarks about the international aspect, and particularly the European dimension of this subject. On the wider international point, the main and apparently the only agency of the Government concerned is the overseas unit in the transport laboratory which is wholly funded by the Overseas Development Agency. There seems to have been no attempt to assess whether this effort is adequate. Presumably the Government think that it is, but it would have been useful to have had a second opinion.
As regards Europe, the situation is clearer. It is obviously desirable to have the greatest possible measure of standardisation in traffic management and control and in the equipment needed for its development. The Channel Tunnel project makes this standardisation even more important to us. The report demonstrates the effort which our fellow members of the Community are putting into transport problems and it seems essential that the results should be compatible with each other. At present the main focus for co-operation with Europe seems to lie in the Prometheus project which the United Kingdom has joined under the Eureka umbrella. However, our commitment seems to be less than that of our European partners and to be rather less than wholehearted. Again, I was mildly encouraged by what the Minister said about this.
I consider that the Select Committee has done well to put the spotlight on the field of transport innovation. One can only hope that the Government's reply, when eventually it is received, will be both positive and constructive.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Harlech
My Lords, I consider myself humbled and greatly privileged to speak in the Chamber, and I trust that I may make some worthwhile contribution to the affairs of this kingdom that is so very dear to me.
Picture now, if you will, a dark, winter's morning which is further darkened by heavy fog on a trans-Pennine trunk road. In a lay-by, stopping for a cup of tea at one of those strange ex-caravan snack bars that seem to have proliferated over the years, I speak to a fellow driver of an articulated lorry coming from the opposite direction fully loaded with 28 tonnes of tinplate, bound for St. Helens. I ask him what the conditions are like over the pass. He replies with the typical candour of a long distance driver, "It's that thick up there the crows are walking".
We then discuss a theory he has long thought of to bring a greater degree of safety to driving any type of road vehicle in hazardous conditions when there is poor visibility; namely, to have the aid of illuminated cats' eyes placed in the centre and sides of the carriageway, delineated by colour codes for what 622 would be centre markers and what would be verge markers. Although on a much larger scale, aircraft runway landing lights give the idea.
Innovation, my Lords—and, before the sceptics of an idea such as this sigh too audibly, I should reassure them that today's technology gives great scope to such ideas very economically. If cats eyes were placed first in identifiable accident black spots on trunk roads and motorways, this simple idea could have very beneficial consequences in terms of road safety and the reduction of costly hold-ups as a result of delays caused by accidents, quite apart from the saving of human life and suffering.
I purposely commenced my contribution to the debate with a reference to road transport since I must declare now a personal interest as an operator of heavy goods vehicles for many years.
The advent of the competition to the highly successful flanged wheel on a fixed rail came immediately after the First World War. Large numbers of ex-army trucks and buses were bought, often by demobilised men investing their gratuities in these vehicles and setting up in business with fierce competition between them. The dawn of the flexible road transport industry was at hand. In the first quarter of the 20th century the railways had successfully fought off inroads into their long distance traffic of passengers and goods by not attempting to compete with short distance urban movement by electric trams and charabancs. However, by the early 1920s, the success of the internal combustion engine—and in particular private motor vehicles—was having a serious effect on the railway monopoly.
I give this brief historical note to draw attention to a point that I made a moment ago with respect to the railways—that they did not attempt to compete. Had they as private companies, or 25 years later as nationalised companies, considered the position of transport as it was then and into the future, a prudent investment plan in research and development would have been highly productive, not only in terms of efficiency but in durable employment also.
Perhaps I may illustrate this by one or two facts for the last year for which figures are available. While the railways moved 15 billion kilometre tonnes of goods around this country, lorries hauled 102 billion kilometre tonnes. The 38-tonne vehicles, the so-called juggernauts—and, as will be seen from what I am about to say, they are not the hated phenomenon of our roads that the uninformed would have us believe—were responsible for over one-quarter of the tonnes moved by road, environmentally reducing the numbers of prime movers of lesser capacity on our roads.
One articulated supermarket lorry filled with groceries contains goods that will be carried away by 500 shoppers' cars. This volume of distribution service has been achieved since the abolition of the British Transport Commission, which in its final years had upwards of 900,000 employees and, apart from the Russian railway system, was the largest transport undertaking in the world. Was it cost-effective or efficient? Far from it.
623 It is undeniable that a 2,250-horsepower locomotive on rails pulling in excess of 300 tonnes of goods has much to recommend it, taking, say, 16 to 22 heavy goods vehicles off the roads, especially when the distribution of its cargo can be effectively undertaken by prime movers from the point of arrival. Lack of innovation—or, more particularly, lack of foresight—in railway management has taken its toll.
An old colleague of mine with a seed potato business in Scotland made it all too clear. A few years ago at great expense he built a vast new warehouse into which he had built, with the blessing of British Rail, a branch line to service part of his operation. One morning he had an order for seed to be loaded aboard a ship bound for Cyprus and berthed at Tilbury. The British Rail booking clerk in the freight office inquired from him his reference number and the date he booked the train. My friend explained that he had just received instructions for the consignment. The clerk told him that without 20 days' written notice and confirmation he could not have the wagons. The rails have grown rust and groundsel ever since.
I shall refer briefly to the very important contribution of systems such as Maglev and other rapid transport technology that must increasingly operate within our urban areas. As to the much older concept of inland waterways—an area sadly neglected in the United Kingdom—we should endeavour to examine the future practicalities and potential.
Surface transport, whether in regard to people or to goods, is an undeniable part of any modern developing society. We must all see to it with every effort at our command that both government and industry, with the vital input from universities and specialist organisations, have the investment and encouragement with the least restrictive controls imposed so that the byword of our society's future is innovation.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I must begin by congratulating the noble Lord on his maiden speech. His first contribution to opinion in this House has whetted our appetite for more. All of us appreciate the fact that he has been able to bring his own knowledge and expertise to the debate, and we look forward to hearing him again. Perhaps the best thing that we can wish him is that he has a similar—though different, as his contribution today has exemplified—distinguished public career to that which his father had before him.
I should also like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, for chairing the committee and for the way in which he has presented the report this afternoon. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, some members of the committee like myself had their previous experience of transport largely confined to being a user. Therefore the inquiry was to us of particular interest but we thank the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, for the way he guided us through it.
624 The general view of our witnesses was that within the timescale set by this inquiry innovation in transport is likely to be incremental rather than revolutionary. I must confess that at times I was less sure. For instance, I wondered how many increments there would need to be before I could drive my car down the M.1 and, by a switch, could place the car under completely automatic control in terms of speed, spacing, steering, braking and the like. We were told that the technology for this already exists but that the problems remaining are how to facilitate the changeover to manual at junctions when leaving the motorway. I would find that a substantial incremental change in my driving experience.
The evidence abundantly confirmed the significant position transport assumes in our lives as individuals and as a community. This is equally so at local, national, European and even international level in terms of social, economic and industrial affairs. It is not surprising therefore that the spin-off from innovation has widespread benefits and ramifications which are difficult to quantify in straight economic terms. "The faerie gold" was how witnesses described it, and what the then Secretary of State referred to as the "externalities" are widespread.
It is because of this all-pervasiveness and because so many witnesses said they were unaware of the long-term aims of transport strategy and policy or were unaware of what other sections of transport were doing that our major recommendations were made: the major recommendation for the establishment of an advisory council chaired by the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, mentioned. It seemed to the committee that the necessary co-ordination of all the transport elements was missing and that such a council could, as we say in paragraph 6.1:provide both a forum to review transport needs and a stimulus for the research and development necessary to meet them".Like the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, I found the response of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, very lukewarm— more graphically put by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, as a bucket of cold water. I also found his response to our recommendation that we should publish a strategy for transport equally disappointing. The Minister said that it would take a very brave man to do what the committee was suggesting. It would take more than a brave man: it would take a brave government to do it, and that is what we need.
The committee was impressed by much that we saw in the transport field. For example, we were impressed by the research and development programme of British Rail, with its long-term fundamental research element. We were impressed by the programme that the London Underground has for the future, by Tyne and Wear's integrated transport system and by the facilities at Felixstowe port, which compared well with the highly automated system we had also seen in Hamburg. Nevertheless, we were concerned about some aspects of the United Kingdom situation, and even the Secretary of State's impressive responses when he met the committee in November last year did not completely allay those concerns.
625 I should like to look at two of the areas covered by the committee's report: the local government and the European dimensions. Local government still has a considerable role to play in our transport system. A previous report from your Lordships' Select Committee dealt in detail with the contribution to technological advance being made then by the metropolitan counties. The committee referred to their contribution as "centres of excellence" which it did not want to see destroyed.
Some members of this transport sub-committee, myself included, had also been members of the previous committee. We were concerned, as was the committee as a whole, at the apparent decline of these centres. We are told the present position is that only one of the unit's technical services in the areas previously covered by the metropolitan counties survives. That is the one in West Yorkshire, although it survives on a more limited scale and with an uncertain future.
Competition, as we understood it from the then Secretary of State, is the cornerstone of the Government's transport policy and it may effectively serve the consumers' needs in some spheres; but in the opinion of the committee there are other factors that have to be taken into consideration too. Co-operation in the provision of expensive equipment and expensive and scarce expertise is one of them. Co-ordination and integration within urban areas, and in particular the integration of urban transport systems is another. As your Lordships' committee recognised in its previous inquiry, a successful urban traffic control system in a large conurbation must straddle district council boundaries. Therefore in the absence of an over-arching authority, co-operation and co-ordination are essential.
Both inquiries noted the success of some of our urban traffic control systems, and the committee paid tribute to TRRL, to local authorities and the industries involved in this success, which is apparent in the export field as well as in our local communities. It underlines a conclusion of the committee, that successfully to export high technological products will need a home market base both to demonstrate successful application and to ensure an economic return. Thus, a little pump-priming in the domestic market can bring faerie gold to the export industries and thereby to the economy as a whole.
I turn now to the other end of the spectrum, to Europe. All the evidence seemed to suggest to the committee that our European partners put a higher priority than we do on transport. This is a matter of much concern, bearing in mind, as the Secretary of State recognised, that future developments in road transport must be compatible within European countries. As has already been said, with the advent of the Channel Tunnel this becomes increasingly more so. An outstanding example is the development of the route guidance system mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon.
When we were in Germany we were given a presentation of the German scheme AliScout, which has already reached the stage of on-street demonstration. That was one stage ahead of us, although we 626 were appreciative of all that was being done by TRRL and industry in this country.
During our inquiry the Department of Tranport issued its consultative document. The results of that consultation process have not yet been published, but this afternoon we heard from the Minister that there is to be an on-street demonstration in London in the autumn. I understand too that regrettably the prototype equipment used in that demonstration will be the German equipment. Clearly with so important an innovation we must obviously invest in the best but again it would seem to be yet another example of Britain losing out. One hopes that we shall do better when it comes to the use of the software for the equipment.
Although policy as such did not come within the scope of the committee, nevertheless we had the impression that there was a fundamental difference in approach between the United Kingdom and some other European countries. That difference is outlined in paragraphs 5.3 and 5.4. In the case of route guidance the Secretary of State was absolutely firm that the users must pay; in other words, "Autoroute" must be commercially viable, and that includes the on-street equipment. Paragraph 5.5 summarises the Secretary of State's evidence to the committee and I commend the whole of it to your Lordships. If one looks closely one can clearly see the disadvantages that are faced by the United Kingdom through the operation of such a policy.
Government support is essential not only in the development of route guidance, but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, indicated, in the European Prometheus programme. In its inquiry your Lordships' Select Committee by and large is looking towards the end of this century. Prometheus is looking towards the next century, which is not far away. We must be sure that any research, development or innovation in the next century is as much British as of any other country.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Manners
My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I address you, but I should like to say that I found the Select Committee's report extremely interesting. It was sensible to suggest that there should be an advisory body rather than any national plan. In these days technology proceeds at such a rapid rate that any plan finds itself out of date almost as soon as it has been formulated.
The committee and the House quite rightly referred to the very serious losses caused by transport accidents, and in particular road accidents, and their financial consequences. Five thousand deaths and one-third of a million injuries on our roads must be extremely serious. In nearly all transport related accidents a significant cause is human error. At one time I used to appear for British Rail at coroner's inquests, and, if I may be allowed to say something in favour of British Rail after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, I would add that its systems seemed to be almost foolproof. Nevertheless, accidents did happen, if not very often, and they were nearly always due to some human failure or misjudgment.
627 The task on the railways is far simpler than on the roads. The situation on the roads is much more difficult and the scope for human error much greater. We must all consider most carefully what can be done to improve the situation.
Modern technology has given us the opportunity to impart information to drivers and to warn them of dangers and traffic congestion ahead while they are on the road. It should reduce the possibilities of human error—for example, in those horrifying motorway crashes in fog where apparently sensible people appear to have acted entirely irresponsibly. I believe that drivers will react quickly if the information that it is given to them is updated and local. Otherwise it may well be ignored. We have all seen motorway signs indicating a danger of which there is apparently no visible sign and which seems to have disappeared. I am aware that the BBC and local radio stations attempt to give up-to-date information, which I am sure is helpful but which of necessity is of far too general a nature. People need to be told of the situation immediately ahead and what is happening in their immediate area.
In order to take advantage of the new technology, expenditure by central government will be required in order to provide the equipment. It may also involve legislation to enable the appropriate equipment to be installed in vehicles. Central government are the only body that can do that and therefore they must take the lead. One must stress the importance of providing the Transport Road Research Laboratory with sufficient resources to enable it to advise the Government and the Minister on the systems that should be adopted and what is practicable and flexible. At the same time whatever system is adopted must be made compatible with those of our European partners.
One other small point that I should like to raise is that I feel that some research should be undertaken on a method of making public transport more attractive to the public. As the committee admits, car ownership is becoming more widespread. Once available the car is used by its new owner and his use of public transport is reduced. I can think of only one example. Here again I am going to be kind to British Rail. The innovation of the Inter-City 125 trains has certainly attracted businessmen from the roads to the railways. I should like to see this sort of experiment and innovation repeated and the possibilities examined. Finally I wish the new advisory council well. I am sure that it will be able to produce many interesting and helpful ideas for consideration.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, it is always a great honour and pleasure to follow a maiden speaker, and this afternoon is no exception. My noble friend Lord Manners has given a most interesting and informed speech on two topics—accidents and improving public transport. Also, I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Harlech. I am sure that we all wish them to speak again very often.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the report of the Select Committee in so far as it recognises the need for a greater commitment to, and investment in, 628 research. It also puts forward an interesting suggestion for a transport industries advisory council, which one welcomes. Even so, there are areas where the report does not go far enough, but that happens in practically every case. Rightly the report would place responsibility for policy directly on the Ministers concerned. It also sees the need for a national strategy for the implementation of this policy, which nevertheless must have regard to international developments, particularly within the European Community.
Much research and development needs to be maintained over a long period of time in order to establish the benefits and their magnitude—and here the political element is unhelpful. Ministers come and go, particularly in transport, while a major piece of legislation in almost every Session of Parliament works against the need for a stable base for research and is a discouragement to the researcher and his backers.
In this respect the advisory council holds much promise, although I feel it would be a mistake for the Secretary of State to chair the council. It would be better to find someone outside the transport industry with a deep and wide knowledge of the latest technology, particularly in the field of controlled technology, electronics and the computer arts. The Department of Transport, together with the Departments of Trade and Industry and of Energy, should be represented, while officials from other departments should be enlisted when appropriate. However, this council should not be overweighted with civil servants and politicians. It should have a broad mix, including technical experts from the relevant fields of research, manufacturing industries and operating industries, and from the academic world.
While as has been mentioned this afternoon the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is an excellent organistion, it should not be alone in providing research experts. Indeed, the report places too much emphasis upon the TRRL, which is a reactive body rather than an innovator. I say that with the greatest respect for that organisation, having paid a fairly recent visit there when I found everybody very helpful and keen.
Even the addition of the Motor Industry Research Association and the Cranfield Institute of Technology would not provide a wide enough basis. That is why I have suggested the need to involve academics—which has also been mentioned—and representatives from other technological institutions. As the report says, informality would be an essential ingredient for the success of the council. It should not become bureaucratic and this again suggests that there should not be too many officials involved. It should not be too plush and comfy. It should be a workhorse.
I have concentrated upon the proposed council because I see it as a valuable way of involving and stimulating government in the formation of policy and in their commitment to research. It goes without saying that the council would be a waste of resources and money if government did not respond to its initiatives. It should be recognised that research—ongoing research—costs money.
629 For the bus industry, which I know well, it must be said that at least during the initial stages of this new, competitive era, with many companies being returned to the private sector, the industry itself is unable to find the people or resources to initiate and fund its own research. There must be a partnership with government, who must see the importance of their own role while the industry is finding a new equilibrium.
One should recognise that many senior and experienced people have had to leave the bus industry. A number of operating units have been closed down leading to the dismantling of, or cuts in, both organisations and workforces. The specialists who previously undertook investigative research and development work have been more easily dropped from the team than those immediately concerned with operations.
Let me interject that if I seem to concentrate on the engineering side I am not unmindful of the importance of modern technology in traffic management. Paragraphs 3.24 and 25 of the report give good examples of this, although bus stop information is really a utopian ideal. It would be incredibly expensive and could have difficult side effects. Having said that, one notes in the PSV industry that central workshops with specialist staff have given way to depot-level engineering, geared to maintenance, rather than innovation.
The bus manufacturing industry is striving to survive in a declining market and, again, this provides less opportunity for development of new designs and projects. Even in the Department of Transport there is less technical skill than in other government departments. The Department of Transport does not appear to have a chief scientist, as do other government departments, and there is a notable lack of officials with a scientific or technical background. With all due respect, it seems that the Department of Transport feels a greater need just to create legislation than to think in terms of its effect on the scientific, technical and engineering needs of the industry. It is against this background that the committee notes the Government's lack of support for demonstration projects, compared with the work undertaken in other developed countries.
It is of course right that we should consider the international scene and that there should be exchange and co-operation. Aerospace provides a notable example of successful co-operation, but in surface transport it seems more likely on its track record that Britain would export its ideas for others to exploit rather than have the courage to commit itself to developing the potential opportunities which arose from such an exchange.
Speaking of track brings me to my final point. One of the committee's other recommendations—tucked away in paragraph 6.58 at the end of its report—is that light rail schemes should be encouraged, with better arrangements for promoting and funding them. Your Lordships may be interested to know that a number of such schemes are already being developed, notably in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and, most recently, in Croydon—not to 630 mention the Docklands Light Railway shortly to be opened by Her Majesty the Queen.
For this country these represent a major innovation in surface transport. If I may, I shall use the Manchester scheme as an example. It seeks to combine the best features of existing railways with better access to the city centre, which the bus currently gives. The Bills which your Lordships' House has already agreed give the Passenger Transport Executive powers to extend two existing lines, on-street, through the city centre. The trains will in effect become trams in the city and take their passengers where they want to go, not just to the railway stations consigned by our forefathers to the periphery of the central area.
By skilfully using existing railways in the suburbs and on-street running in the city centre—carefully segregated from other traffic and pedestrians, I might add—the costs can be contained, compared with a conventional railway. The Department of Transport is currently evaluating the Manchester scheme. I understand that it will produce a satisfactory rate of return and give good value for money. That scheme is a prime example of innovation by the Passenger Transport Executive, together with British manufacturers and consultants. Further innovation will allow us to develop the concept and produce low-cost solutions to our urban transport problems. In view of these exciting developments, I am particularly keen to know what action is proposed on this recommendation.
Ultimately this report throws down the gauntlet and faces the Government with the task of taking a proper responsibility in the field of innovation in surface transport. It clearly points the direction and I hope that the additional suggestions which I have made will help in the fine tuning of an important project.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Stokes
My Lords, may I begin by adding my congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Harlech and Lord Manners, on their excellent contributions to the debate today. I hope that we shall have the benefit of their practical experience in the future. I endorse completely the conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Select Committee and the points so well highlighted by my noble friend Lord Nelson, who proved to be such an excellent chairman of our committee. However, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to add comments on certain aspects which seem to me to merit deeper consideration and study.
Previous speakers have spoken about some of the broader issues. However, we must be reminded again and again that modern surface transportation is too often accepted and taken for granted. It cannot be emphasised often enough that it represents 20 per cent. of our gross domestic product. It affects every aspect of our lives and in post-war years the particular development of road transport for both passengers and freight has completely revolutionised our economic and social life.
The Secretary of State for Transport, when he attended our committee meeting. made great play 631 with the thought that if market forces were encouraged to operate in the transport field, private industry would undertake the necessary research and development. The vehicle industry was quoted by a number of witnesses as a clear example of an industry where innovation was the child of market forces or supply led. Most witnesses felt that to be desirable. There was also a suggestion that technology-led innovation ran the risk of producing solutions in search of problems. From my own experience in industry, I doubt whether one can compartmentalise conclusions as readily or easily as that. One does not have to look back very far for practical examples. Automatic or hydraulic transmissions for heavy vehicles and cars were introduced by British manufacturers in the 1930s. However, it took many years to convince users of their many undoubted practical and safety advantages. The pioneers in the field lost a lot of money.
Market or competitive forces may seem politically plausible. However, they cannot always be the answer to problems which, in transport in particular, have so many inter-facing factors impinging upon them. If we look at current trends in the motor industry, we see that car advertising, reacting to so-called market forces, constantly extols higher maximum speeds plus the ability to reach the magical 60 miles per hour in five, six or seven seconds. A yuppie image is created of cars that can exceed 120-plus miles per hour in an economic community where such speeds are only allowed in one member state. The manufacturers react to these market forces by building even more so-called GT models that in many cases are uneconomic, unsuitable for our roads and positively dangerous in certain circumstances.
Surely, a partnership between government research institutions and industry could arrange innovation-led developments that would lead to maximum effective operation within the given parameters of road potential, traffic safety and human capability. My own experience is that government partnerships with one company rather than several are preferable, and that the company concerned should have prior claims on any profitable benefit.
American legislation in recent years has decreed annual improvements to fuel consumption per make of vehicle. It has succeeded not only in its economic purpose but also in dramatically changing the American car users' preference for large gas guzzlers into one for the more modest, economic and safer medium-sized car.
The high social cost of traffic delays and accidents, running into billions of pounds sterling per year, emphasises that whether it is by means of market forces or supply innovation policy, safety with compatible performance is where efforts should be directed. Government, through research as well as legislation, have an equal responsibility with industry in this matter.
I believe that the work done by TRRL is magnificent. It is most unfortunate that it appears to be under-funded. Its £25 million budget is minuscule in relation to the total cost of transport to the nation. I put it to the House that it is equally minuscule in 632 relation to the benefits that could accrue through further research on road accident prevention, vehicle guidance systems and the like. The £3 million that the Minister announced earlier this afternoon is obviously welcome. However, I feel it is completely inadequate for the purpose intended.
I fully support the recommendation that the TRRL should have much more support from government and that the recent reductions and restraints on its activities should be reversed. If our industry (both manufacturer and user) is to prosper, we must constantly continue to seek more ways to improve its efficiency, not only in a narrow commercial sense but also in relation to wider social aspects. There is no comparable commercial source that could fill this gap on its own.
Previous speakers have mentioned that the Rothschild report recommended a 10 per cent. surcharge for general research. This should be applicable to the TRRL and could well be increased to allow more freedom to investigate new ideas which manufacturers individually may be unwilling or unable to develop. Perhaps attention should also be given to rewarding more adequately individual successful scientific innovators who work in government research departments so that they can share in some of the commercial rewards, if any. That would certainly help in attracting high-calibre recruits. The British car industry is now so small and fragmented that only through institutions such as the TRRL and the MIRA can we hope to innovate broad-based new ideas which will have an impact on our enormous national transportation costs.
The number of vehicles on our roads is increasing at an almost alarming rate. One million new vehicles have been registered this year. We must do more to utilise what poor road systems we have to the best advantage. The Autoguide system developed in this country seems to have considerable advantages. But it does not seem either realistic or fair to expect a privately-funded scheme to compete on a commercial footing, especially when it has to provide roadside equipment for the benefit of all users and when it is faced with a generously-funded system being developed elsewhere in Europe. Surely, here is a situation where the Government should come out clearly and either support the scheme wholeheartedly and financially or else give it up completely, admit defeat and join as a substantial partner in the main European rival, Aliscout.
With the advent of the Channel Tunnel, we shall have to bear in mind that we must keep compatibility with our European partners. Otherwise, we will have a disastrous situation, not only so far as our drivers are concerned but also in respect of the import and export of vehicles. In-vehicle guidance systems sound technologically fascinating but we must remember that we have a huge vehicle park of many millions of vehicles in Europe which will last for many years. These vehicles now in use will not be equipped with the latest electronic marvels and obviously cannot be scrapped en bloc. I bear in mind also that perhaps the greatest single source of roadside failure in the motor car lies in its electronics. I doubt whether this situation will change in the future, and we may see some people relying on vehicle guidance systems 633 stranded in the middle of nowhere and not knowing where to go.
I should like to refer briefly to the problems of the bus and truck industry. Buses have been deregulated. This may be a good thing. I have a suspicion that the privatisation of big bus companies will eventually benefit property speculators more than the passengers.
Deregulation was carried out so quickly and without enough prior consultation. As a result the market has been flooded with foreign imports of all shapes and sizes. Surely well prior to deregulation an in-depth study should have been made jointly by TRRL and industry of potential requirements. A British specification should have been agreed for a smaller bus with adequate turning circles for negotiating new housing estates; low floor heights for elderly passengers and other amenities which would have given us a more appropriate smaller bus and also safeguarded some of our home market and made it more difficult for some of our foreign competitors.
It was disturbing to hear from witnesses of the lack of interest among senior management of big companies of their transport needs and problems, especially when it clearly represents such a substantial part of the cost of an undertaking, whether it be in distribution or manufacturing. The proposal for one or two chairs of transport studies, particularly for freight distribution, might focus more attention at senior management level on this particular problem.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, transport, despite its vast overall cost to the nation, has long been regarded as a sort of ugly duckling. I would commend in the strongest possible terms the setting up of the suggested advisory council, chaired by the Secretary of State. With all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, I do not think anyone other than the Secretary of State should chair this council. This would give the council an authority which would mean that its views would be taken on board by the Department of Transport and other interested people. Such a council would provide a much-needed forum to review future trends and a stimulus for research, even if the council met only once or twice a year.
There was a suggestion made, I think by the Minister, that this matter is covered effectively by a number of conferences, and so on. I believe that there are too many conferences. Most of them turn out just to be jollies on their own and contribute very little to the progress of the industry. I remind the House that the Ministry of Defence had (and probably has still) an industry advisory council, of which I had the privilege of being a member some years ago representing the British motor industry. I and all my colleagues in the motor industry found the council an extremely valuable forum, where overall long-term strategy could be discussed and co-ordinated. I hope the Government will take this proposal much more seriously than they seem to be doing at the moment.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords on behalf of my noble friend Lord Shackleton, who was called away to a meeting but hoped to be back. Clearly, he has not been able to return. He asked me to use the opportunity to express his view (which I heartily endorse) that the House would wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for his chairmanship of the Select Committee, which he has now relinquished to my noble friend Lord Shackleton. I am sure that noble Lords who served on the committee and on sub-committees would certainly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and welcome my noble friend Lord Shackleton as the new chairman of the committee.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord. Lord Nelson, for initiating a debate on what is not an easy subject to deal with. He did so in a cheerful, benign and yet effective way. I should also like to join him in thanking our specialist adviser, and someone who has not yet been referred to today; namely, the clerk of our Select Committee. He had a large part to play in seeing that the report was legible and written in English, and indeed, if the truth were known, probably had a bigger input than that.
Clearly one would wish to welcome both the maiden speakers. How interesting it is to have noble Lords who are prepared to make their maiden speech on the subject of transport. Those of us who normally sit late into the night—those four or five of us who spend happy, but slightly wearying, hours in the Chamber—are glad to find two more recruits to the subject of transport.
The noble Lord, Lord Nelson, set out very clearly the scope of our report. It is interesting to look at Chapter 1, where we say that transport matters to everyone. We accept transport unthinkingly in our daily lives—that is, until it goes wrong. It is difficult for people (and also for politicians) to think ahead in the transport field. It is there and we use it, and provided it is running properly we do not really think much more about it. Therefore, perhaps because of that, innovation tends to be problem led.
I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Stokes. I agree with him that it does not have to be problem led. We need to look at innovation without having to be driven simply by problems, and this I think is the purpose of the report. Due to the fact that innovation is problem led, we agree that it is incremental procedure at the moment. In the report we say that it is incremental, but we do not necessarily feel that that is essential. Indeed, we should like to get away from that to a degree, although to a large extent it probably still has to be incremental.
In the committee we had to guard against falling too much into the trap of making the report a transport policy report. The interaction between transport policy and innovation is a subtle one. Perhaps one has seen evidence of that in the debate this afternoon. Where you draw the line between what is a Science and Technology Select Committee report and a transport policy report is very difficult. We managed to guard against that temptation. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that where we get into the areas of transport policy it is simply 635 because policy impacts on the whole business of innovation.
We make it clear that the initiatives are not all in the hands of the Government. This is by no means a report which says that the Government shall do this, or that, and that the Government should do everything to put matters right. We point quite clearly to the fact that we are extremely disappointed at the lack of innovation in the freight and vehicle manufacturing areas. A sort of fatalism seems to have crept into those areas as if they are driven by forces totally beyond their control.
As has already been said, we show concern at the low priority given to transport in the management field. Apart from some large organisations particularly concerned with food retailing, transport takes a low priority in management thinking and management hierarchy. That cannot be good for industry as a whole.
We show concern at the lack of funding by industry of research in universities. We also show concern that the industry associations are not as aware as they should be of their role as co-ordinators of innovation. We are concerned that the universities should become more aware of industry's needs. The remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that Birmingham's department is being scrapped is very depressing indeed.
As has already been said, we do not believe that basic research can be totally ignored in this field. The Rothschild 10 per cent. for speculative research and maintenance of expertise should certainly be put to full use. Therefore we are by no means saying that the Government alone are responsible for solving problems, because clearly they are not. However, there are a number of areas in which they should have a major responsibility. The funding of research councils is a case in point. One was encouraged to learn what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, had to say about research being started, including that into the psychology of driving which, I think, is a big step forward and long overdue.
The problems of funding the TRRL have been dealt with at considerable length. I was sorry, as I am sure were many other noble Lords, that we were unable to go into the funding of overseas projects for the third world in respect of which a very small amount of investment is being put into the TRRL. It goes mainly into research concerning road raw materials. I should have liked more money put forward for appropriate technology in transport innovation in the third world.
The most important aspect of the report to which the Government really must pay attention, is that of developing a transport strategy and also an advisory committee. To go down the age-old road of transport planning is a very different matter from having a transport strategy. The only strategy which the Government seem to have in relation to surface transport is based on the White Paper of 1977. It was felt by all members of the committee that 1977 was a long time ago and that the department ought to start thinking about the future.
636 The committee has been dealt with at some length, and I re-emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, has said. It is crucial that the Secretary of State takes this committee seriously. I felt that the response of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was a typical "Sir Humphrey" answer to suggestions. The bureaucrats, suddenly realising that this was not going to be a bureaucrats' committee, believed that it should be strangled at birth.
I hope that the Government recognise that it is in their interests to make sure that this committee comes into existence. It will provide a valuable opportunity for people at the highest levels in all sectors of transport to come together, as the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, said, perhaps a couple of times a year, to talk about the gobal strategy for transport in this country. We have seen quite clearly over and over again in all the speeches today and in evidence before the Select Committee that transport in this country is very fragmented.
It may be that the Government are correct in insisting that market forces have to be the driver behind the whole transport system. Some of us have doubts about that. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would perhaps prefer a greater degree of government intervention than I would. There is a spectrum here. Nevertheless, it is fragmented at the moment and it needs some co-ordination, some way in which major ideas affecting coming decades can be exchanged between people at the top of their part of the transport industry. This would include the universities. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I believe, asked whether the universities are going to be involved. Very clearly, they must be. The centres of excellence, whether they be in research, manufacturing or policy, must be brought together. We must ensure that those people are prepared to commit their valuable time to it. The crucial factor is that the Secretary of State says that he is interested in making it work.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has already referred to the Channel Tunnel, and I do not want to go down that part of the track again. There are many echoes in the report of what was said in this House last night and last Thursday and, doubtless, will be said again next Monday. I hope that the Government will listen to views whether expressed by your Lordships' Select Committee or by noble Lords speaking on the Bill.
Demonstration projects, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, and others have referred, are the other major item. One of these, it seems to me, is related to the regeneration of inner cities. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has already referred to the light railway project in Manchester. Another opportunity coming up in the Greater Manchester area about which we have questioned the Minister is the new Manchester docklands development in Trafford Park. Trafford Park provides a very interesting test bed for a maglev operation on a commercial scale. That will not happen unless the Government are prepared to intervene, not to fund the whole thing but to act as the prime mover in a demonstration project. That is precisely what we had in mind in the committee when we were discussing demonstration projects.
637 On the Continent there is more activity in this whole area of innovation in surface transport because European governments are more involved. I am not saying that we should consider funding projects to the level which they do in Europe. Massive sums of money are put into innovation over there, much of it in France and Germany going into new track for railways or for various types of magnetic levitation. I am not suggesting that we should go to that scale of funding, but I think that we in this country go to the other extreme. The Government gives far too little help to this kind of demonstration project. I believe there is money available provided it is properly coordinated. In other words, it must not all he left to market forces.
I commend to noble Lords who have not yet read the report the sections relating to market forces. I believe that they provide a very balanced analysis of the way in which market forces can and cannot work. I do not believe that this is, or should be, a purely party political matter. If people read the report in detail they would gain a very interesting and comprehensive view of the way in the which market forces can impinge on innovation in this field and, I am sure, in many other fields.
Opportunities abound in this area. There is the need for a strategy and there is a need for industry to get its house in order. To do that, the Government must help in stimulating innovation. I am pleased and proud to have been associated with this committee and I thank everyone who has been involved, my colleagues and all who have joined in this debate today.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be given the opportunity to speak following so many impressive and knowledgeable speeches. There are three things to be done. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, who gave us the opportunity to discuss the report of his committee outside the normal framework of the future of transport. The noble Lord ranged much wider than the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the transport buffs in this place. It is a much wider report than normal and it has brought in a broader group of people who are particularly interested in transport. Therefore, it has enriched the general discussion. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, for the opportunity to discuss this very valuable report. I did not serve on the committee and I must confess that I have not read the entire report, though I have been through a fair amount of it.
One aspect raised many times by a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, is the importance of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. This topic occurred all the way through the report. The three points which the Minister emphasised are the importance of road safety, the studies of road safety and, as everyone who spoke about the TRRL and roads in general mentioned, drivers' behaviour. The work that the TRRL is doing on that is of great value. The work that it is doing on route guidance and the autoguide is also breaking new ground. I discovered some years ago that the TRRL is held in high regard in Europe. 638 It is working on road assessment, especially on motorways, where there is heavy traffic, both in weight and quantity. I am glad that it is now working on high speed road assessment. According to the reports, and what the Minister said, that will allow an annual survey to be made on our motorways.
We have had two maiden speeches. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said. Both noble Lords obviously know what they are talking about when they speak about transport. That is something we welcome. The noble Lords, Lord Harlech and Lord Manners, both spoke about accident prevention, and the work that still needs to be done on that. The noble Lord, Lord Harlech, gave us some ideas about cats' eyes from his knowledge of the bad driving of heavy lorries over the Pennines. I wonder whether he has seen one of the submissions made during the Channel Tunnel proceedings. We seem unable to get away from the Channel Tunnel: it keeps coming back to us. A submission was made by a group which was concerned about the drive-through tunnel which has cats' eyes and spots in the road. The spots in the road were at measured distances, and if two spots could not he seen in the road, the driver was driving too close to the car in front. From all the reports we receive from the police, particularly the motorway police, it seems that the single biggest problem with motorway driving is that people drive too close to one another.
The noble Lord, Lord Manners, spoke about the rate of technological change. He gave the figures, which amount to 5,000 deaths and one-third of a million injuries on our roads. When such figures are given, we realise how serious the problem is, Technological change is continuing all the time, but the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, made us realise that it does not all come at once. There are large numbers of cars on the road. They are now coming on to the road at about 1 million a year. It will be a long time before all cars have all the latest accessories, if that will ever be possible.
I am worried that we might go too far. I have already mentioned the problem of car telephones in your Lordships' House. A car telephone being used while a car is being driven at 125 miles an hour, as the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, said, is a recipe for disaster. Even with the latest hands-off telephone the idea of such a speed is appalling.
One of the most interesting parts of the report came, strangely enough, close to the beginning. Any thinking that we do about transport must be affected by it. Paragraph 1.3 states:The transport system now represents an almost incalculable investment. The system is mature and entrenched, with an intricate web of vested interests giving rise to fierce competition between different modes and operators. It is hard to conceive of a new Railway Age, where one innovation will sweep all before it by simple technological superiority. New Technologies will nevertheless enhance and modify the existing system".One of the problems and challenges is that transport is so all-pervading. It has been frequently said that we take it too much for granted. Any change has many repercussions. It becomes so expensive that it is difficult to have the change accepted in the way originally envisaged.
639 Some years ago, when Cape Canaveral began to run down, a number of scintillatingly brilliant space scientists and engineers, employed by a number of governments, particularly that of Canada, made a fundamental study of transport in towns. Some of the ideas that they came up with were marvellous, but they were bathed in a Cape Canaveral-type money solution rather than the solution that is essential having regard to the present enormous vested interests that there are in transport. Some of those ideas were looked at in this country. Sheffield looked seriously at the idea of suspended rails going around the city centre. However, it never came to anything.
Despite some of the great ideas, to a large extent any innovations in transport will continue to be reactive, as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said about the TRRL. One of the difficulties with the TRRL is that, with the money which it has to play with, it has little option other than to be reactive and to accept the Government's programmes.
I hope that the TRRL will continue to be considered abroad as one of the best research organisations in the whole field of road transport. I also hope that British Rail's research will continue to enjoy a high reputation abroad. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said that she was impressed by the research carried out by British Rail.
Any of us who have had close contact with the APT will be sad that it failed. I am not sure of all the reasons for that failure, but one was that we did not invest enough money at the right time. That applies to all governments. I think that we invested about £50 million, whereas the French invested about £800 million in the TGV, which was a different type of system. I have been in the driver's cab of both trains. It would be impossible to use the TGV on the west coast line to Scotland. The only solution would have been the APT, which was an extremely advanced piece of physics. I hope that something of the work that was done at Crewe will survive and that something will be learned from the revolutionary suspension system and the theory of the wheel and rail contact.
We should not be despondent about the nation's ability to solve difficult engineering problems. We can innovate, but we need to finance our innovation much better than we have until now. As the committee rightly says, the financing of the TRRL should not be circumspect and the research should have about 10 per cent. for innovation. One of the ways we will obtain young scientists, physicists and chemists will be by having genuinely innovative work for them to do. There must be some basic research for them to do and 10 per cent. of the rather low figure that the TRRL now receives is not a high price to pay for that.
Finally, it is important that we give every possible support to the idea of an advisory council being set up. Again, I agree with the sentiments of those who have already spoken that to give it proper status the Secretary of State must chair this committee. I am sure that in the future this excellent report will be used by many Members both inside and outside the House in debates on transport and in many places 640 where the problems of transport are raised. I commend the report to the House and hope that the Minister in his reply will be slightly more positive than the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was able to be before he heard the speeches from the wide range of people from all parts of the House.
§ 5.20 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my thanks on behalf of the Government to my noble friend Lord Nelson of Stafford and his committee for their hard work in producing this report and again thanking, through him, the staff and research assistants who helped in its production. I add my congratulations to my noble friends Lord Harlech and Lord Manners on two excellent maiden speeches. I hope that they will join the select band on transport matters, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. It is an exciting moment for me to join that band once again, having sat with them for a year at all times of the night, and in particular with the noble Lords, Lord Underhill, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and Lord Tordoff. We have battled across this Dispatch Box, and I fear that we shall do so once again.
I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is now in his place. I too should like to congratulate him upon his appointment as chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I know that he has been involved in other things this afternoon but I should like to report to him that the level of debate has been up to the normal high standard following a report of this committee. I am sure that that sets a continuing good precedent for future debates.
I have listened with interest to all the views expressed in this debate. I can assure the House that in the preparation of the Government's response to the Select Committee we shall consider most carefully everything that has been said today. We hope to be able to reply fully before the Summer Recess.
It is right for me to stress one point. Noble Lords will understand if I do not anticipate our response to all the specific recommendations in the report but try rather to concentrate on the general issues which the report considers and some of the points raised this afternoon. The Government recognise the importance of giving positive support to technical developments which promise to improve the efficiency of surface transport and to strengthen the capability of British industry to supply the goods and professional services needed to apply these developments.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that the report chastised both the Government and industry. Surely the answer is that the key to successful innovation lies in the partnership of an industry which has confidence in its ability to live with the product at the right price and the right time, a user confident in his ability to exploit it and the Government. Indeed the Government may be the user, for example, in providing the trunk roads and motorways, but they cannot push through innovation unless there is this 641 joint confidence with industry. Once that exists, governments always stand ready to help through legislation, administrative arrangements and appropriate regulations. Where financial aid is crucial there are several ways in which this can be provided and we do not believe that our support is in any way inadequate.
My noble friend Lord Nelson mentioned in particular during his very interesting speech highway maintenance, routeing areas and accidents as three ways that money may be spent unnecessarily. Where innovation can be expected to lead to overall benefits to the public we shall continue to seek to foster it. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara referred in his opening speech to some of the innovations which my colleagues in other departments have helped to promote. There are many others. One accumulative success story over many years has been the efficient management of traffic by integrated signal control throughout an urban area culminating in the latest version of a technique called Scoot, which constantly revises the timing of all the signals in response to traffic conditions, minute by minute. Other countries are fast learning how to do this but Britain remains in the forefront of this technology.
Another important programme about which the Select Committee heard was Prometheus, a complicated title for a very wide-ranging series of studies into almost every aspect of how information technology can be applied to help drivers. On that point I am not as cynical as the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, but in due course I shall look back at this debate to see whether he was right or I was right. Some of these ideas are internal to the vehicle; for example, monitoring the drivers' alertness. Others may involve exchanging messages between vehicles to prevent collisions. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Manners will he pleased to hear that.
A most important aspect for early application is driver guidance. The House has already heard from many speakers today about Autoguide, which is part of this. Here, in the way that the Government believe is right, the lead has been taken jointly by European industrialists, drawing on the help of their governments in shaping common policies and internationally compatible technical standards. Government departments are working very closely with the many firms and research teams to see that the United Kingdom plays its full part in advancing these technologies and exploiting the benefits. It is one of the examples where we are working on an international and European basis. That point was specifically brought to our attention by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield.
Perhaps I may turn to an almost tangential point. It is an area in which I am heavily involved in the Home Office. It is perhaps best summed up by that dreadful word "autocrime". There is here a massive area for future research by industries. It is interesting to note that the first part of a British standard for vehicle security, dealing with mechanical locking systems, was launched by the British Standards Institute in November 1986 and the Department of Transport has already taken the first steps towards 642 having that standard adopted as an EC directive. There is therefore the other flow into Europe.
On the issue of a forward policy strategy for transport, my noble friend has already pointed out some of the difficulties in producing long-term forecasts in which the Government can place enough confidence to base comprehensive plans extending far into the future. Policies have to evolve to match changing circumstances and prospects. But the Government ensure through their statistical and research services that those in industry have the best information possible against which to make their own judgments on investment in both manufacturing capacity and transport infrastructure.
Perhaps it would be remiss of me not to mention something called the Planning and Transport Advisory Council known as PATRAC. This was a research advisory council created in the beginning of the 1970s but was finally wound up in 1979. It was not—just to jog the memory of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—a bureaucratic council. Indeed I think it is wise (as I have just been handed a note) to remind him that Sir Humphrey said that there are no such things as bureaucrats: just hard-working civil servants. As I rely on them daily I think it is wise to point that out and to give them the support that they need.
It was difficult for PATRAC to find a satisfactory role, yet it took up the time of many distinguished people. The chairman finally resigned since he found that PATRAC was not fulfilling a useful purpose. Notwithstanding that, and reminding noble Lords of the fate of that advisory council, I have heard the very strong views from all parts of the House, most of which my noble friend Lord Brabazon heard. I shall make sure that they are drawn in particular to the attention of my right honourable friend.
The TRRL was mentioned by many noble Lords. I too should like to join in paying tribute to its work. I thoroughly enjoyed my visits when I was at the Department of Transport. I think that it does excellent work. It is still very much the Government's central repository for scientific expertise on highways, road safety and institutional matters. As my noble friend Lord Brabazon said earlier, we spend some £25 million a year on transport research which respresents a significant prgramme. The scale of the programme reflects the Government's needs at present and this is reviewed from time to time.
Although the number of staff at TRRL has been reduced from its peak of just over 1,000 in the mid 1970s, the number of staff has stabilised over the past few years at about 600 and we expect to maintain this position and review it as required. This will permit us to increase effort in certain areas such as the recent plans to increase road safety research over the next few years.
The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Sherfield, asked what success is being achieved by the overseas development unit at TRRL. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the unit continues to do very good work in a number of developing countries. The cost is about £2 million a year which is financed by the Overseas Development Agency which also 643 decides the unit's programme. I am sure we all agree that this is money well spent.
The TRRL is particularly keen (and we are keen to encourage this) to seek greater research effort from the private sector. We are actively studying ways in which the TRRL can make its resources available to the private sector on a repayment basis. I believe that this is another way of getting the liaison we so badly need because the TRRL in its present form can complement higher education to a greater extent.
The view of my noble friend Lord Teviot was contradicted to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, when my noble friend said that the TRRL was reactive. I think it has to be reactive in some circumstances because it has a very important role. While we are encouraging industries in the outside world to carry out development, perhaps I may say that TRRL is there as the bastion of safety to make sure that what the private sector is producing is safe and therefore can be used by all people using transport and by all those affected by transport in this country. In some respects it has to be a reactive agency.
I turn to another of the recommendations of the committee about the research councils. These councils have to make judgments—often difficult ones—on how to allocate the total resources available. The Science and Engineering Research Council has been consistent in its support for the work of the transport studies teams in the universities and polytechnics. Your Lordships will welcome the announcement which was made in March that the Economic and Social Research Council is to increase by £400,000 the allocation of grant for transport studies. That will be over a four year period. But the whole question of finance for research in higher education has been addressed by the Select Committee so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, in its report on civil research and development. I ask the House to await the Government's response which is to be published before the Recess.
The Government do not share the view of the Select Committee that the transport industries are unaware of the need for R&D. Companies in the highly competitive freight and distribution industries may not always publicise the research which they carry out, sponsor or use. We shall certainly wish to discuss this matter with the trade associations and the Chartered Institute of Transport. I remind your Lordships of a report on some very useful research on freight opportunities in Europe which was published recently. That research was sponsored jointly by the chartered institute and the Department of Transport.
My noble friend Lord Nelson and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, drew attention, to the new opportunities which the Channel Tunnel will open up for operators and users of the European transport system. Everyone concerned will want to take the fullest advantage of these opportunities drawing on the necessary market research. Both British Rail and Eurotunnel are among those bodies carrying out detailed studies for this purpose. We intend regularly to collect statistical data which will help to adjust investment plans from year to year on this matter. 644 But I agreed with my noble friend Lord Nelson when he said that there are opportunities to be seized. It is impossible to foresee all the opportunities that there are, or that will result from the obvious ones that may be taken, such as those offered by the west coast ports. I was very interested in those when I was at the transport department. They have a chance to come back to some of their former glory—if not all of their former glory—by the fact that container traffic will be able to go rapidly all the way across Europe on the train.
Some of your Lordships still seem to cling to the belief that the Government know better about potential possibilities and opportunities than the users and operators themselves. I should perhaps give one example of where I think that philosophy is wrong that is, the advantage deriving from deregulation. Deregulation in 1980 of long-distance coaches led to new services, new types of vehicles and lower fares. Deregulation of local bus services has quickly encouraged widespread introduction of minibuses, now to be seen in over 200 towns. Operators can innovate when free to do so.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that deregulation of buses has made it more difficult for information technology to be introduced, where there are a number of competing operators? It is difficult to see who will put in the passenger information (which is certainly technically available now) at the bus stops and at the central points when there is no co-ordinating body.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, there are still, as the noble Lord has just pointed out, further opportunities, as a result of deregulation to fill that slot. However, it would be wrong of me to go too deeply into bus deregulation at the moment, as I am no longer in the transport department.
The recent innovations conducted by London Regional Transport were praised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. There are several examples that I can give, such as the selective vehicle detection system which detects buses on approaches to signal-controlled junctions by means of detector loops in roads and hence gives priority to buses which are fitted with special detector devices called transponder units. This system is currently on trial in South East London and if it is successful it may be applied across London and hence more effectively regulate the buses in London. Another scheme gives passengers information about the arrival time of the next buses by electronic information displays at bus stops. That is now on trial on Route 36 in London.
Other innovations concern ticketing on both buses and the Underground. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government have already approved investment schemes, costing £135 million, giving a fully-automated ticketing system on the Underground which will be operational by the end of 1988. This will greatly improve the issue, checking and control of tickets; and it will reduce labour costs and the opportunities for fraudulent travel. Similarly a bus ticketing system, which is currently undergoing trials at Thamesmead, will reduce boarding times on buses and improve the service.
645 The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, compared the level of public funding of service transport research and development in many European countries. They said that we were not doing too well. It is notoriously difficult to look at comparisons such as these throughout Europe. I have tried very hard to do that on crime figures in the Home Office; but everybody seems to have a different basis for statistics. Different departments are not included in the comparison figures. Broadly, I assure the House that our investment in the United Kingdom is basically comparable with Europe; but certain countries devote additional expenditure to more specialised fields. I draw attention to the German Federal Government's high speed maglev system.
My noble friend Lord Teviot talked about light rail transit schemes. He mentioned in particular Greater Manchester. The Government are presently considering an application from the PTA for a Section 56 grant for the proposed light rail scheme. I cannot say exactly when a decision will be announced. However, we appreciate the PTA's wish for an early decision; and an evaluation of proposals is being pressed forward as quickly as possible. My noble friend also mentioned Sheffield, where there are proposals for a supertram system costing about £50 million. These are being actively developed by the PTA and PTE. A Private Bill has completed some of its parliamentary stages but enactment may depend on Sheffield City Council, which has not yet decided whether it will support the scheme. No approach has yet been made to the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, quoted quite extensively from the report. I have not been able to check that his wording was absolutely right. Perhaps I may pick him up on one small point relating to paragraph 2.7 on page 11 of the report. He said that the support services had been weakened as a result of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils. In fact the report says "restructured". Whether the position has been weakened, we shall see. I believe it could be strengthened but it is a small point on which to pick up the noble Lord.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am certain that later on the report says that the position has been weakened. If I find it I shall write to the Minister, which is a rather different way of doing things.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I thought the noble Lord would say that.
In my reply I have sought to answer many points which your Lordships have raised both in the committee's report and this afternoon. This has been a most useful debate on a wide-ranging topic. Innovation in transport involves many different manufacturers, operators and local authorities, and indeed central government. There can be no single approach which will guarantee that the best rate of innovation is made in every element of the transport system. However, I can assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to pursue their two prime objectives—an efficient transport system 646 served by a prosperous and competitive manufacturing industry.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Nelson of Stafford
My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have participated in this debate and who have made it a most valuable addition to the report which your committee has submitted. I should like, too, to add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers, my noble friends Lord Harlech and Lord Manners, for their contributions to our deliberations today. It was a pleasure to have them participating in this debate and, like other speakers, I look forward to hearing them on other occasions.
Contributions from noble Lords have brought out a number of important points. I am glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Caithness that the Government will take due note of what has been said during the debate. I shall not add more than three points just for emphasis. I hope that they will review the scale that they are considering as appropriate for research and development in this field. As was said by my noble friend Lord Stokes, £25 million is really very small beer when one looks at the size of the figures involved in transport in all its various facets. My noble friend Lord Brabazon mentioned some additional moneys which would be forthcoming for ESRC and for the Link programme. I shall look at the record of the debate later hut, if I remember correctly, I do not think that these are anything new. We took them into account during our deliberations, and therefore his statement does not in any way alter our recommendations.
I welcome the noble Earl's reference to looking again at our recommendations on the advisory council. What has been said during the debate is extremely important so that the Government understand clearly what we have in mind. We do not want a bureaucratic set-up; we do not want White Papers; we do not want it to be a political debate. We want it to be an opportunity for those who head the various sections of this great industry and those in Government who are responsible—the Secretary of State—to get together and discuss things from time to time so that everyone knows what they are trying to do. I also hope that what has been said has drawn out the difference between what we have in mind in the way of a strategy as distinct from a plan. A plan is something which you set out and say. "That is what we are going to achieve". A strategy is where you have an objective which may be varied from time to time. Believe me, I would say to my noble friend, you cannot expect industry to invest and to come forward with ideas if industry does not know what you are trying to do. That is the object of having a strategy so that all know what the objectives are and can come forward with some imaginative proposals and investment to go with it.
I welcome very much the fact that these matters will be looked at again. I welcome my noble friend's indication that we shall have a reply from the Government before the Summer Recess. We look forward to examining that when it comes before us. I commend the Motion to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.