HL Deb 13 April 1989 vol 506 cc450-64

7.53 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The provision of rapid transport systems, or people movers as I prefer to call them, in urban areas of this country and abroad is becoming increasingly common. But naturally the choice or the system to be adopted depends in each case on the nature of the problems to be surmounted, the existence and effectiveness of transport systems and the available land corridors on which the system can be based. The London Docklands Railway and the Tyne &Wear Metro are recent examples, and light rail schemes have been authorised for Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, extensions of which are also planned. Other light railway schemes are on their way in Avon and the West Midlands. All these schemes are for improving public transport over wide areas.

However, the present Bill, which is promoted by the Southampton City Council and is unopposed by the Hampshire County Council, is of a different kind, as it is intended to improve transport in the city centre of Southampton but be capable of further extension if necessary. Southampton, like many other historic cities whose shape was determined by history rather than by planning, has serious problems of traffic congestion, allied to car parking problems. The existing transport termini—railway, ferry, coach, bus and car parks—are widely spaced and the walking distance to destinations is often considerable, since office centres, retail shops and the newly developing leisure and tourist attractions in the old dock area are also widely spread. All these problems are likely to be aggravated by approximately £1 billion of private sector development in the city centre, further stretching communication lines both south to the waterfront and to the west.

Southampton City Council, like many other local authorities beset by problems of this kind, has been seeking to identify possible solutions. Consequently it appointed a team of consultants with expertise in all the relevant skills to investigate the range of options available to the council and to make recommendations. This team carried out a detailed analysis of the city, its structure, its highways and traffic, its economic future and developments in the pipeline, its parks, leisure and tourism facilities, its offices and retail establishments and, last but not least, its historic and conservation background.

It became clear that in practice there were two chief ways of increasing accessibility within the city centre: namely a light rail system, such as I mentioned before, or the kind of system authorised by the present Bill; that is to say, a system of electrically-powered automated vehicles running on rubber-tyred wheels on a segregated guide way completely separate from other means of transport. Further research, not forgetting common sense, ruled out the first alternative; that was the light railway system, involving significant surface running on the streets in the city, which would have conflicted with existing and well-established highway use, with the inevitable delays which would lead to an inability to plan journey timetables with any degree of accuracy and I believe the consequent poor support for the system from potential passengers. I should add that these obvious disadvantages resulted in this light railway system becoming unpopular with those private enterprise firms that were consulted with a view to providing the necessary funds to design, construct, operate and maintain such a system. Everywhere in the world today it is recognised that people movers must not conflict with the traditional transport routes. They must either go underground or overground.

I believe that Southampton City Council has been remarkably successful in recent years in developing a partnership with the private sector over many commercial issues in the city. The council felt it was right to act as a catalyst for the private sector in respect of this rapid transport system. It subsequently invested £ million in professional work examining feasibility and viability. I should say that this investment came from the city's capital account, and it confidently expects the money to be recouped when the operating concession is granted. The studies have also been grant-aided by the English Tourist Board, which is a strong supporter of the concept both regionally and nationally.

The Bill authorises a system which would be convenient, comfortable, quiet and pollution-free. It is planned in such a way that it does not disrupt the established highway activity and will cause least harm to the environment. Speaking about the environment, the reason the loop is not complete is that the council felt that the environmental advantages of not going to the park at this stage were paramount. However, it can be completed later.

I am perhaps one of the few people in the country to have experience in building and operating a monorail system, because one was established in my grounds at Beaulieu in 1974 and has been operating successfully ever since. It certainly does most expertly the job that it was designed to do; namely, to spread visitors round the grounds in a quiet and effective way.

Noble Lords will be interested to know that supporters of Southampton's rapid transit system include the local Chamber of Commerce and prominent business people in the community. There has been wide consultation through regional television, radio, local and national press, exhibitions, targeted information packs, public meetings and an independent scientific public attitude survey. All the evidence suggests that the majority of Southampton's residents are in favour of the proposals. Significantly, the major public transport undertakings in the city—that is, bus, coach and ferry operators and British Rail—which might have been expected to object, have not done so. They are supporters of the scheme.

As I have indicated, it is the private sector which it is hoped will provide the necessary finance to get Southampton's rapid transit system going. Although at this stage before the scheme is authorised by Parliament there can be little in the way of definite commitment, the private sector, when consulted, expressed definite enthusiasm for linking proposed developments to the construction of the rapid transit system. A positive funding interest has been shown by major banking institutions and there has been interest from one property developer in building and operating a section of the works. Ten out of the 12 proposed halts have identifiable beneficiaries who would gain from increased trade, enhanced freehold and leasehold values, increased floor space rentals and so forth. What could be better for the business of, say, a departmental store than to have a rapid transit station halt close to it or even forming part of the building?

I have been assured by the Southampton City Council that, in the unlikely event of private finance not being available to build and operate the system, under no circumstances will the ratepayer be expected to fill that gap.

I stress that the route seeks flexibility in alignment, reflecting the integration opportunities within new development, some of which has yet to be finalised. For those reasons the limits of deviation are wide in several areas and, naturally, have drawn some protective petitions.

There are 16 petitions, which can be divided roughly into three interest groups. Four petitions are from individuals of past or current local political office. Eight petitions are from interested landowners or occupiers along the route, but, of those, seven welcome the proposals in principle but quite rightly wish to protect their interests. Officers of the city council are already in the process of visiting the petitioners to see what accommodation can be made. I understand that only today one major petitioner—Debenhams—has indicated that it wishes to support the scheme in principle. The four remaining petitions are from conservation groups.

It may be appropriate if I now speak as chairman of English Heritage. Although we have not yet resolved our formal views, one of my fellow commissioners together with a senior official has recently visited Southampton. Although we shall wish to express concern over the detailed design of this scheme and the actual route where it affects Mayflower Park and the city walls, we are confident that the matters can be resolved. We certainly should not wish to oppose the scheme in principle.

The detailed evidence of the petitions is of course a matter which can be examined by a Select Committee. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in expressing great faith in the ability of the Select Committee procedure of the House of Lords to give petitioners a fair hearing and to produce an objective and politically unbiased report on the scheme.

There is one new feature in that the Bill authorises an automatic system of a kind not yet in public service in a city centre in the United Kingdom. The promoter may be accused of being radical but is in fact following a well-established public transport trend both in finance and in technology. There are numerous examples of this tried and well-tested public transport technology operating in other parts of the world. For example, in the past three years Jacksonville, Miami and Sydney have opened their own systems and the early 1990s will see similar operations starting in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Orly, Taipei and Chicago.

However, one of the best examples of a fully automated, electrically propelled public transport system working successfully in an urban centre can be found in Lille, a city not dissimilar in size to Southampton. It opened in 1983 and has been extended twice in order to cope with increased demand. To date it has carried over 130 million passengers. The operators of the Lille system rightly claim that it is one of the most efficient public transport systems operating anywhere in the world.

I turn briefly to deal with the provisions of the Bill. Part II confers power to construct the rapid transit system. Clause 4 authorises the proposed guideway. Clause 5 authorises the stopping up of parts of two streets and the construction of adjustments to footways. Clause 7 will enable the council to construct various subsidiary works. Clauses 8 and 9 confer necessary powers upon the Secretary of State to approve the rapid transit system and particular details of it.

Others powers in Part II (including the temporary stoppage of streets, the underpinning of houses, the use of sewers for removing water and the making of by-laws and regulations) are generally common form in such Bills and I need describe them no further. Likewise, Part III of the Bill contains the usual land provisions for such Bills. Parts IV and V contain certain protective and miscellaneous provisions.

I believe that concern has been expressed by certain people and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 37 in particular. It gives the powers to form a company. Your Lordships will appreciate that this is a highly desirable method of enabling private interests to fund, manage and control the system free of local authority control. This approach is being encouraged by central government in relation to other local government activities such as bus transport undertakings.

I commend the Bill to the House and trust that your Lordships will see fit to afford it an unopposed Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.)

8.7 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for the manner in which he put forward the claims of the Southampton City Council in respect of the Bill. Were it not for the conventions of your Lordships' House I should have tabled a six-months' Motion or a notice of rejection of the Bill on the grounds which I shall later describe. However, I abide by the conventions of your Lordships' House and expect that the Select Committee to which the Bill will be committed will give due consideration not only to the petitions, to which I shall refer, but to this short debate.

I was born in Southampton and had business interests there for several years. I no longer have such interests. However, I claim some knowledge of the city. When I lived there it was a town but now it is a city of approximately 206,000 people. Over the past few months the local press has described the project variously as a "sky bus" and a "toy bus" which runs over three miles from nowhere to nowhere and back again. I do not believe that it is right for my noble friend Lord Montagu to equate his aerial system with that serving a city. I shall come back to the kind of people who use the city and where they come from.

I start by suggesting to your Lordships that the survey, of which the city council make great play, has suspect details. When the scheme was put before the people in Southampton—and it was put forward in a variety of ways, at public meetings, in leaflets, during door to door surveys and so on—one survey suggested that 51 per cent. of the people who responded were in favour and 48 per cent. were not, with a few "don't knows". That was on the basis that the scheme was an entire loop. Subsequently, the northern section was omitted. My noble friend has given a reason for that. My understanding is that that is not the total reason but that does not matter. The northern loop is not there so it is not a circular system.

It was also put before the people before the total costs involved were known and long before the deposited papers indicated the lines of deviation which are now of great concern. My attention was drawn to that matter in late December by a small group of businessmen and I have been very surprised by the number of letters and telephone calls which I have received and by the number of people to whom I have spoken about it. There are 16 petitions, as my noble friend said, and I accept that he accurately described, broadly speaking, the three groups into which they fall. I am sure that he would agree that none of those petitions is frivolous or vexatious. As he said, there are a number which deal with the retention and use of parklands, rights given under Acts of Parliament going back to 1844, the 1850s and 1860s culminating in the 1938 Act.

This horseshoe people mover, which does not have the flexibility claimed, can certainly be extended but that is not flexibility. If you put up concrete pillars to support an aerial tramway, you cannot move them around. You cannot easily move them should the centre of leisure, shopping or commerce shift. Since I was a boy in Southampton back in the 1930s—oh dear, that is a long time ago, is it not?—I have seen the centre marginally change.

To the east the suggested scheme starts just above the railway and goes to the coach station. If you alight at any of those halts or stations you still have a fairly uphill climb to the centre of the city. To the south the scheme goes down to the ferry, marinas and waterfront. It is still three-quarters of a mile or so to the centre of commerce and shopping. To the west it goes through the parklands and finally stops behind the top third quarter of the main shopping area. Above that quarter of the main shopping area the transit system does not meet any demand at all. It does not meet any requirement in that above London Road and into The Avenue there are a number of professional houses, law houses, dental surgeries, commercial buildings and offices. Indeed, the magistrates' court is three-quarters of a mile away from where the railway either ends or starts, depending on which way you apply yourself to the loop. In truth, it does not bring shoppers or business people nearer or more easily to the centre or anywhere near to the new law courts and law centre.

The economic basis of the city is essentially commercial and shopping although there is some light industry. It has a population of 206,000 people. The authorities (the economic development unit) claim a catchment area of something in excess of half a million people. They admit that daily 40,000 people come into the city to work and to shop and, conversely, those 40,000 people move out at night. There are 16,000 people who move out in the mornings to work in Winchester, Romsey, Portsmouth or wherever and come back again. Therefore, there are something like 100,000 car movements daily. Where do they come from? Basically they come from the conurbations to the east, from Bitterne, Hedge End and possibly as far as Fareham. To the north they come from Chilworth, Chandler's Ford and possibly as far as Romsey. To the West they come from Redbridge, Totton and possibly Lyndhurst. All those three areas, because not many come across the sea from the Isle of Wight to work, have difficult approaches. There are either bridges or causeways or the narrow avenue from the North.

Of course, the promoters say that the scheme envisaged in the Bill is not intended to provide access for the very people who work in and subscribe to the financial success of the city. It is not intended to help them. Presumably it is intended to help them when they have arrived. I believe that I have earlier described how it does not help them.

I suggest that the scheme envisaged in the Bill is no substitute for a real traffic engineering plan not only for the city and the environs, but the conurbations surrounding the city which provide the wealth of the city. There is no conflict. It is wrong for my noble friend to suggest that with a proper traffic engineering system, a surface transit system would conflict with existing traffic because year on year, as fashions change, a surface system can be adopted and car parks on the periphery of the city should be provided.

There really are very few car parking spaces. I believe that there are about 10,000 public spaces in the city. For some years the city has said that it would double it but no one has yet identified where it will be doubled. If it were to be within the city area, then there is still the problem of transporting the workers and the shoppers into the city. That is the real problem.

It is claimed by the city that it will provide a tourist attraction. I do not wish to be demeaning to the City of Southampton, my birthplace, but I have to face the fact that it has no unique selling feature as a tourist centre. Tourist authorities describe Southampton as a route centre. There are 1,100 beds in the hotels around the city. There is not a five star hotel there and those beds are largely occupied by business people during the week and at weekends by some visitors whose main reason for staying there is to visit the Maritime Heritage Centre at Portsmouth; the cathedrals at Winchester and Salisbury; the New Forest and the Isle of Wight. Southampton itself has the Mitchell Museum, one or two other small museums, some medieval remnants—notably the old walls—but nothing else. The city claims, rightly and properly, the famous International Boat Show, which it expects to retain because the city is very energetic about it. It has been talking about a world trade and exhibition centre to my certain knowledge for the past 20 years, but it is not yet there.

The crucial question is, who pays for this? My noble friend said that business and some financial institutions are in favour of the project. I have failed to find, despite great diligence not only locally but in London and in the City, any commitment from the private sector to put up money for the scheme. My noble friend might well argue when winding up, "Why should there be an up-front contribution and a commitment until they know they have a Bill?" In Bristol, which I admit is a somewhat different and larger city, some millions of pounds of private sector money are already committed to its scheme. There is no such commitment from the private sector for this scheme, so far as I can establish.

The council says that the scheme is to be backed by private sector money. Perhaps my noble friend will make a commitment tonight, with his experience of such schemes. Perhaps he knows people. I do not. No one has come to me. Therefore, if the city has made that clear—I shall come in a moment to its recently produced statement, which was delivered to your Lordships and others on 11th April—why does the city need Clause 36 and, more particularly, Clause 37? I draw attention to Clause 37. It states: The Council may form and promote, or join with any other person in forming and promoting, a company for carrying on any activities", and so on. Clause 36 states: The Council may sell, lease, charge or otherwise dispose of, on such terms and conditions as they think fit, the whole or any part of the RT system or the right to operate", and so on. If the city council is so determined that the cost of this scheme, estimated at about £60 million, shall be subscribed from the private sector, why does it need those two clauses unless to preserve its position in the event of insufficient private sector money being attracted?

It is said that the scheme will not cost the ratepayers anything. So far, £75,000 has been expended in surveys, research, and so on. My noble friend was right that the Tourist Board provided £23,000—he will correct me if I am wrong, but the amount was of that order—towards that initial work. It is interesting to note that the council has provided for another £750,000 in the 1989-90 budget. That is all ratepayers' money.

It is suggested that, if this Bill goes through Parliament and provided the money is made available, 1993 is expected to be the operative date. We shall be in a very different local tax system by 1993—the uniform business rate. It has to be added that there are not many residential dwellings within the confines of the city. Your Lordships will note the petition of a Mr. Knox, who has a dwelling in the Town Quay area. In his petition he says that it is his sole dwelling. The aerial bus way will run within 75 yards of his home and will destroy his amenity. Therefore, there is some residential development and residents will also have to pay.

However, the business community suggests to me that it is the business rate which will have to provide the safety net. The business community can see no benefit, for the reasons I have already given, for tourism or for the commercial and shopping area of Southampton. That area itself is being developed towards the north end of what is called Above Bar Street. Southampton was rebuilt after the war, following the 1920s, in one straight spine with some lines off. There is a considerable amount of commercial shopping development which is to be undertaken, or is in the planning stage, at the northern end—the third quarter of the shopping area, as I have described it.

Clauses 36 and 37 give rise to great concern in the business community. It is not unusual in such Bills that a statement of interest should be issued. It is surprising to me, however, that Southampton City Council, apparently so assured of the support of local people—I have described some of the suspect points in the survey—should on Tuesday, 11th April distribute a statement through its parliamentary agents. I suggest that that statement was issued purely and simply because the local authority felt that the Bill might be denied a Second Reading in this House.

I draw particular attention to paragraph 5: Although the City Council have initiated the scheme for rapid transit, it is intended that the system should be largely financed by contributions from developers and from other sources in the private sector. The Bill indeed contains provisions under which the city council may form or join with other persons in forming a company for carrying out activities to be authorised under the intended Act. It seems odd to me that a declaration of that kind should have to be made. If it is made, what then of Clauses 36 and 37? Why not add this statement to the Bill, thereby assuring the business community that in no way will any costs fall on it?

Paragraph 6 of the Statement says that: Several petitions have been deposited against the Bill, but the City Council submit that the merits of the Bill raise issues which can more conveniently be discussed in detail before a Select Committee of your Right Honourable House". As I said in my opening remarks, I accept that point. My noble friend spoke about Debenhams. I believe he said that it has withdrawn its objection. I had no knowledge of that. I do not know whether he meant that it has withdrawn its objection in principle or whether it has withdrawn its petition. It matters not because your Lordships' Select Committee will deal with the petitions as they arise. There is a real issue here, and that is the threat that the residents, the ratepayers or polltax payers and the businesss taxpayers may have to pick up the tab for a scheme which does not bring the clients of commercial and shopping interests nearer to them. It does not deal with the crucial problem of getting 40,000 to 50,000 people in and out of the city twice a day. It does not substitute for proper road traffic engineering. I ask that the Select Committee appointed to give consideration to this Bill has regard to the matters that I have raised in this short debate and perhaps it will make a special report to your Lordships' House.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who introduced this debate for the way in which he did so. The noble Lord has clearly studied these matters with great care. He made a presentation of this imaginative scheme in such a way that it has led me at any rate to take a different view from that expressed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.

As the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, rightly stated, the growth of modern cities requires a new approach to urban transport. Many are being tried out in the major cities of Western Europe, America, Australia and elsewhere. The initiative taken by the City of Southampton in pioneering this scheme is to be commended and encouraged. It has very carefully researched the project and it has come down in favour of one which will minimise the interference with existing built-up areas. As I understand it, 70 per cent. of the route will be through areas which are either being developed or are to be developed. Clearly Southampton is a City that is expanding. It is right that, at this stage of physical expansion, a new communications system should be developed.

Another aspect that attracts me to the system is that it will link different transport termini. When we debated recently in this House the problems of traffic in central London, many noble Lords deplored the fact that the linkage between termini is virtually non-existent or inadequate. Here is an arrangement that will provide just that kind of linkage. When speaking to my noble friend Lord Ross of Newport today about this subject, he asked me to say, as someone who is familiar with travelling to and from the Isle of Wight, everyone who makes that journey would welcome this development. It would facilitate usage of the fast train service from Southampton station more than has been the case hitherto because of the difficulty of getting over the short distance between the ferry terminal and the station. That link will now be provided by this system.

The council has given a very clear commitment that the scheme will be financed from private funds. It has stated that if private funds were not raised in no way would it proceed with this project. We must accept that commitment. I wish to deal with one or two of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He said that he was concerned about the inflexibility of the system. Of course any fixed transport system is inflexible. Once laid down a rail system is inflexible. But flexibility can be introduced by extension. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, told us, regarding the very successful and similar station that they have in Lille, introduced in 1983, it has been extended now a number of times. That would be the way in which flexibility can be obtained.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that instead of going ahead with this scheme, there should be a real traffic engineering plan. In all probability that is needed as well. I do not see why the one should necessarily replace the other. We need as many ways as can be devised for improving movement in and around our cities. He expressed some doubt about how the money would be raised. The acid test will come as to whether the money is raised', or not.

The noble Lord drew attention to Clauses 36 and 37 as implying that the City Council might take the project over itself. I do not see it that way. I believe it is doing what any prudent organisation would do in drawing up its articles of association. It would draw them up as widely as possible to meet any possible contingency. The council has made it very clear that this scheme is to be privately funded. While I totally respect the very great knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has of Southampton—I have been only an occasional visitor to that eminent city—I nevertheless feel that this is an imaginative venture, and that it is worthy of support. It has been very carefully researched and presented. I conclude by hoping that this Bill will go successfully through its remaining stages.

8.39 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I also welcome this Bill and the proposals so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. I wish to approach the subject from a slightly different tack initially and perhaps in not such a parochial way. I draw your Lordships' attention to a speech made by John Banham, the director general of the CBI, at the Chartered Institute of Transport last Monday. He said that in national terms we are developing a huge problem of congestion. He said that congestion costs money, and at the end of the day costs are not passed on to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas' businessman friend, they are passed on to the consumer.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I am not quite sure what he meant when he said that the costs would be passed on to me and my business friends. I said that I have no business interests in Southampton. The inference that I draw from what he said is not totally fair.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had listened to what I said, he would have heard me say that the costs would not end with him and his business—I withdraw the word "friend"—but with his business advisers and contacts. At the end of the day, the costs are borne by the consumer.

The CBI carried out a nationwide survey and worked out that the cost of congestion may be in the region of 15 billion per annum. That represents about 10 per household per week. That brings me back to the question of Southampton and its householders. It is a national problem and a long term one, be it nationwide or that which Southampton is so ably seeking to address in bringing forward this Bill. Not only are there the current costs of congestion but there are problems of developing a new transport infrastructure. That is what Mr. Banham was getting at. A new railway can take 10 years from conception to opening. A new road—the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Montagu, know of the problems we have with the Winchester bypass—can take well over 15 years, of which perhaps only three years is taken on actual construction. The approach adopted by Southampton is innovative and is a determined and positive attempt to get round such problems.

The scheme seems to have three merits. The first is segregation. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that this did not address itself to the problems of people travelling in and out. This is a Southampton Bill. Totton is not in Southampton district: it is in the New Forest. Romsey is in the New Forest. The noble Lord can tell us better than I exactly where Chilworth is, but I do not believe that it is in the Southampton district. Most of the places on the other side of the estuary are not in Southampton. One has a sympathy with Southampton in addressing itself to a Southampton city problem. Segregation is an easy way. If it is put up on stilts most of the roads will be untouched. There are not many stopping-up orders or proposals in the Bill. It leaves most of the arterial roads in and out of Southampton untouched as far as I can see.

I turn to integration. Many of those who dabble in the transport debates in the House believe that transport should be integrated. That point was also made by Mr. Banham in his speech. The fact that the scheme will link the Isle of Wight pier and will link the bus and coach stations seems to be a form of integration and is thus to be welcomed. That is why, I presume, no rail, bus or ferry interest has opposed the Bill in its general principles.

My third reason for supporting the Bill is one I have mentioned before. Over the past decade the Government have created an environment in which private sector investment in transport infrastructure has become, if not fashionable, then certainly acceptable. I pay tribute to them for that. We have the undertaking from the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, on behalf of the council that this will be a privately funded project. That is absolutely excellent. This proposal is a rational approach to the complexities of transport planning and to some if not all of the problems of Southampton. I urge the House to give it a Second Reading and to pass it upstairs to a Select Committee.

8.42 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, I believe that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, and a Third Reading in time. I support it for the following reasons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that transport needs new ideas. This is not the first light rapid transit railway to which Parliament has been asked to give approval. Parliament has given approval to schemes in Greater Manchester and in the West Midlands. I am aware that those schemes are rather different because they amalgamated existing and redundant railway lines and rundown streets and busy streets and their shopping centres. This is different. It may not be a monorail but it is a light rapid transit scheme. I wish it were a monorail, for which reason I shall explain later.

The London Docklands Light Railway has been a phenomenal and immediate success against all predictions. This scheme will, I hope, follow that success. I am not trying to show off, but I was in Sydney, New South Wales, last October. I travelled on Sydney's monorail, which links the city centre to the Darling harbour complex. This was originally docks and marshalling yards but is now an impressive exhibition and conference centre with many splendid shops and extraordinary eating places. One can sit in the middle of the complex and see many different restaurants. Some serve prawns and others serve Vietnamese food, Indian food or French food. I recommend Darling harbour.

The Sydney monorail faced immense opposition but now it is a success. It fails slightly in the sense that it does not link Circular Quay or Wynyard station, which is the link for the north shore. Nevertheless, it is fairly accessible. If people want to get out—as my wife and I did—it does not take very long to walk down the street to Wynward station to take the train to the north shore or the bus station. Sydney is a fine city. The monorail does not interfere with the traffic. It is neither unsightly nor noisy. As my noble friend Lord Montagu mentioned, this type of system is totally free from pollution, as the Southampton scheme will be. I can describe myself as a typical Pommie. I have been to Sydney three times and I believe that the monorail enhances the city.

The second reason for supporting the Bill is that the elected representatives on Southampton council have supported it strongly on two occasions, including once this year on a free vote. That vote endorsed a resolution which, among other things, stated that the system was not to be subsidised by the ratepayer. That point was put strongly by my noble friend and I am happy with it. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will be happy with that now. Perhaps he is not.

My third reason for supporting the Bill is that the system will be a tourist attraction. Unlike the scheme in Sydney, this one will link up the station, the docks and the shops. I agree with my noble friend that one may have to go downstairs; but there may be a lift. My noble friend said that Southampton was not an historical, medieval city. It has absolutely splendid walls. However, whoever thought that Wigan would be a tourist attraction? George Formby may have helped with his song about Wigan pier. People flock to Wigan. People flock to Liverpool. I shall not say very much about Glasgow because the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, will extol the virtues of that city very shortly. Tourism comes not only to ancient and historical cities. People are interested in industrial exhibitions and museums.

The scheme has some shortcomings. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned Nursling, Totton, Bassettand other places. I am not totally unfamiliar with Southampton. A good deal has to be done to deal with traffic congestion. It may be possible to link various stations with other monorails at a later stage. From that point of view the system is flexible and pliable. I sat down in the Library of the House and was told by one or two noble friends that the scheme is not circular but circumvents certain areas to avoid going through a pretty park. That is a mistake and should be considered again. At this point in the scheme poles could be erected and then painted rather attractively. The train will be shaped rather like a bullet and will not exude fumes. The poles might have to go through certain flowerbeds or various shrubs. If he were here my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale would be able to tell us whether moving a magnolia or other shrub would cause damage. One could use a good heap of dung when replanting them. Unfortunately, my noble friend is not here. If the scheme were circular it would be very much more economical.

I really do not have very much more to say save that I very much hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading tonight. Various petitions against it are coming in all the time. However once the Bill has been to the Select Committee of this House there will probably be fewer of them. One wishes this scheme well and other like schemes in other cities in this country.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the House is most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for the way he introduced the Bill. Indeed, other noble Lords have commented upon the fact that he did so with a great deal of completeness and that he displayed a great knowledge of the area. However, it is. also only fair that the House should recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who was born in Southampton, obviously has a knowledge which most of us—certainly myself—do not have. He too raised many points which cannot be totally ignored. However, having read the literature, I believe that most of those points can be answered and will not be ignored. I think that one can say that the noble Lord spoke with a certain subdued passion about the whole business. In my view, one of his main points was obvious when one looked at the plans; namely, that it is not a circular system. That point has also been mentioned by many noble Lords tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, made one of the really important points—I believe it was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans—for all those who are interested in transport. He said that there are many ways to overcome urban traffic problems. Undoubtedly urban congestion is a national and an international problem and many methods will need to be used to resolve it.

This scheme put forward by Southampton City Council seems to me at this stage—although obviously we need to await the results of the Select Committee—to be one which causes the least problems to the area and which in fact gives the best benefits to the area. There is no doubt that it is widely supported by the local people. I have only been in Southampton once—perhaps twice—and therefore cannot consider myself, by any means, to be someone who knows the geography of the area. However, I have a certain training in map reading. I think that the scheme covers a fairly important part of the city. Further, I must accept the fact that those who live in the area would not be pushing such a scheme if it did not at least superficially appear to solve some of the traffic problems.

I turn now to the question of whether the city is a cultural centre. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, suggested that it may be. He mentioned the point about Glasgow. All I shall say about that matter—indeed, I really cannot resist it—is that the City Fathers of Glasgow opened our circular railway on 15th December 1895. In those days it went under ground so we are slightly ahead of Southampton in that respect. They showed a great deal of foresight. However, it moved by cable then. It was later electrified and modernised. It went through a bad period—and this is something we should think about in connection with Southampton—when the city began to be cleared and there were new developments going on. From being an incredibly successful money-earner, the Underground in Glasgow began to deteriorate. But, it is now on its way up because the city is living again.

One sometimes gets these ups and downs in transport. There was even talk about whether it was worth continuing with. However, nowadays, no one would think of getting rid of the Glasgow subway. It consists of only 15 stations, but it is extremely successful, and, having had that experience of the city and knowing that cities all over the world are having great problems in this respect, I think the very least that the House can do is to allow this Bill to go forward to a Select Committee. I am sure that what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said will be well examined in that committee. Moreover, many other points will no doubt be made for and against the scheme. Nevertheless, I hope that this time your Lordships' House will allow the Bill to go forward, and perhaps we may have a wider and more knowledgeable debate on the subject once we have the Select Committee's full report.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it may be helpful at this point if I intervene to give a brief indication of the Government's view on the Bill.

This is one of a number of private Bills providing for new light transport systems in our major cities. Potentially these systems have many advantages: for example, where segregated from other vehicles, they achieve faster speeds than buses; they also have the flexibility to cope with gradients and curves beyond the capacity of conventional railways.

The Bill promoted by Southampton City Council seeks powers to construct and operate the proposed system. I understand that it is intended to be financed by private developers. We welcome the involvement of the private sector in the provision of innovative passenger transport systems.

The Government traditionally stand neutral on private Bills, and we have no objection to the principle of the Bill. My department is satisfied that aspects of public safety are to be adequately dealt with. We have a few minor points outstanding with the promoters, but expect to resolve them satisfactorily.

It is of course for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are justified. There are, as has been mentioned, 16 petitions against the Bill from affected landowners, and those who object to the Bill on general and environmental grounds. They will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The committee will be in a very much better position than we are this evening to examine in detail the issues involved and it will have the added advantage of hearing expert evidence.

I hope therefore that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading to allow it to proceed, in the usual way, to committee for this detailed consideration.

8.57 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, especially those who supported the Second Reading of the Bill. I listened with great interest to what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said. He has great knowledge of Southampton. I hope he will forgive me at this late hour for not answering his points in detail. However, I can assure him that I, or the promoters, will be in touch with him shortly to do just that. I certainly take issue with him about Southampton not being a tourist centre; indeed it is improving all the time. Further, he forgot to mention the famous and fine art gallery which the city possesses. However, having said that, I am sure that all such matters like the question of a company are covered in my speech. Indeed, if the noble Lord reads my speech, I think he will see that I explained why I believe a company is necessary.

However, at this late stage. I should just like to say that I believe and am confident that the Bill will authorise a system which will be convenient, comfortable, accessible to all, quiet, pollution-free and space and energy efficient. In my view such a reliable, frequent, low-fare paying public service will be of benefit to the residents, visitors and commercial interests. It will provide transport for large numbers of people in what is now a fast expanding city centre. I believe that the proposal will have positive effects and benefits to trade and employment opportunities in Southampton.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.